Kay Frank Goes West

A drawing a day kept the pandemic blues away on this sketch artist’s cross-country road trip.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Kay Frank always felt a spark of wanderlust when she saw those 19th century paintings of the American West — the vast dramatic landscapes that were first immortalized as masterworks by Bierstadt and Moran, then preserved for posterity as national parks. 

So in January of 2020, Frank packed up her things on the Vineyard. She cleared out the GMC Savana camper van that she uses as a flower cooler for her florist business, Plant Post, and installed a desk from which she could run her graphic design business. The desk would also serve a second purpose, as a place to draw. 

You see, a couple of years ago, Frank made a pact with a friend: a drawing a day, for at least 100 days a year. Frank’s cross-country road trip would be no exception. She gathered her sketchbooks, her pens and pencils, and her little dog Kirby. Then she hit the road.

Not long after Frank departed, the COVID-19 pandemic struck the US. She’d made her way down the east coast in a leisurely fashion, but by the time she hit Florida, all “non-essential” venues had shut down, including all those national parks she’d been dying to see. After two months in Floridian limbo, Frank turned around and happily resigned herself to another summer on the Vineyard.

This year she tried again, with much better luck. She visited a friend in Austin, Texas, and explored Big Bend. She trekked across White Sands in New Mexico, and discovered the desert and red rock of Arizona. She hop-scotched her way up the California coastline, saw friends in LA, and was humbled by the redwood forests. She visited her brother in Portland, Oregon, then wound her way back down to Utah and the wonder that is Zion National Park. She marveled at just how accurately Moran’s watercolors had reflected the grandeur of the landscapes. All in all she visited 25 states, 13 national parks, and more state parks than she could count. 

And she drew daily, with very few exceptions. The “100 Days of Sketching” challenge had started out as an excuse for friends to keep in touch, a way to encourage each other and inspire accountability for a daily drawing practice. But once Frank was on the road, the drawings took on a new meaning. 

“It was a nice way to store memories of the places I visited,” Frank said. “I think that eye-hand connection when you’re drawing, stores memories in a different way. Because I did drawings of them, I felt so much more connected to that place or that time.” 

Frank’s approach is minimalistic. Blind contour drawings thrive on simplicity and skill to help capture the bare essence of a scene. “It’s all about putting the pen to paper without caring so much about the outcome,” Frank said. “Keeping my eye on the subject and not on the paper takes the pressure off, in a way. It doesn’t need to look exactly like what I was looking at. Whatever comes out is what it is.” 

She based her drawings on photos that she took each day. This allowed her to distill a wealth of information into simplified lines. Frank is particularly fond of drawing architecture, but her subjects run the gamut from people to pets to fast food signs. There are flowers and front porches and moments with friends. Not the glorified van life selfies that inundate Instagram, but honest mementos of everyday life on the road.

Back on-Island, Frank is excited to operate Plant Post for another summer. The van is unpacked and has assumed its alter-ego as a flower cooler. The sketchbooks have joined more than 15 years worth of their ilk on the shelves, but Frank doesn’t feel done with them yet. She’s dreamt about a book where all of her sketches, keepsakes, and collections come together. But that’s a project for another year.

After all, the future is not so different from a blind contour drawing … or a cross-country road trip … or a plan-ruining pandemic. Sometimes you have to loosen your grip, and just go with the flow. 

Leave a reply

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites