Leaning back into a “yin” experience
Last week I was at a yoga retreat in Dominical, Costa Rica. The evening yin yoga classes were profound. The yoga sanctuary, a thoughtful curation that included the physical layout and organization of the space, as well as the art, music, and props, as well as the tone and expertise of instruction, was designed to create a proufoundly peaceful and expansive experience. And it was. The experience I had was a thoughtfully curated collaboration of many artists working together as a team: from the business owner who conceived of creating this yin-rich retreat experience, to the management, designers, artists, and teachers. As I write I’m listening to music from one of the classes, extending that singular experience back to my “real life”. A memento that reminds me of the whole immersive experience.
My work as a visual artist is only one aspect of a larger effort; I work alongside other creatives to curate remarkable environments, springboards for immersive experiences. I recently collaborated with lululemon for their new Napa and Los Gatos retail stores. I witnessed firsthand the thoughtful execution and level of detail that is considered so that every store has the feel of their brand. My role as a visual artist is to translate a feeling, narrative, or “in-vironment”, into the environment, and make sure it aligns with the overall vision for the space.
In my life, brand loyalty has meant whatever I can scrounge up on the racks of my local Goodwill store. After watching how lululemon rolls, I have been converted into a fan. Their manifesto bags are famous, but, even better, they live their manifesto in their company culture. Their big picture is solid: they pay attention to ethical supply chain, environmental impact and also donate to community impact yoga programs around the world. If you have owned a lululemon garment personally, you have experienced the longevity, many times over, compared with “best price” athletic wear. The lululemon culture is positive, supportive, and markedly pro-female. When we were in the design phase, the manager for the new Los Gatos store reached out to see if I wanted to take a hike. Not metaphorically, but literally. Making friends at work is baked in to the culture.
The Napa store had already opened when I started painting. When I am painting I am very much a fly on the wall, perched in the corner, my mind absorbed with an obscure section of a flat surface while the rest of the world continues on its merry way around me. From this vantage point I’ve developed a delightful eavesdropping habit. I was privvy to team meetups where the lululemon ambassadors (employees) connected over questions like “What is your current theme song?” or “When did you have your best customer service experience outside of the store?” or simply, “What’s up for you today?” I obeserved the easy camaraderie among employees, and their conversations were as genuine with the guests (shoppers) as with each other. They were wasting a LOT of time building relationships with guests. They were unmistakeably having fun. Half the employees I talked to in the Napa store said their primary reason for working there was for fun, the way one might join a sorority in college if membership came with an employee clothing discount. Mostly they had other jobs to pay the bills. One ambassador I met was retired but told me that working there made her feel youthful and hip and got her out of the house. True story. And she was.
The creative direction for the artwork was to celebrate the local landscape and outdoor adventure. Any project that requires me to put on my hiking boots to conduct research is a project I am happy to take on. I understood they wanted to preserve the clean aesthetics of the store, that the art would help create a soft container for a luxury product and experience. An ultra-soft color palette with simple, expansive compositions would inspire store guests to enjoy the outdoors without overwhleming the space visually. The glazes and soft layers are ambient more than arresting.
If you are near the Los Gatos store or Napa store, I hope you stop by to see the artwork in situ. The Napa store is located directly below the Beckstoffer landscape mural I painted on the side of the adjacent building. Standing across the street from the store you can see peeks of both mural projects with just a tilt of your chin.
Something else I appreciate about lululemon: they use normal sized, everyday women as models for online shopping and in their advertising.
I was running an errand at my local Target last night and at the entrance was a floor to ceiling photo of a full figured woman in a bikini. I almost started crying. Not because it is bikini season again, but because she was super sexy, and it looked like she was having too much fun in life to skip a meal or indulge in self-loathing. The bikini’d mannequins around the ad were also diverse shapes and sizes. I I choked up as I tried to explain to my fourteen year old daughter how momentous it was that corporate marketing is finally ready to celebrate female gorgeousness in all its diversity. Being fourteen, she rolled her eyes as I enthusiatically delivered my speech, but I didn’t need to say a thing, the message from store advertising spoke louder than mom’s words: Don’t confuse being skinny with being beautiful. I feel grateful to all the corporate brands that are embracing this trend. It’s time to stop the nonsense.
Each store has an “About the Artist” plaque. The plaque in the Los Gatos Store reads:
Our environment influences how we feel, and how we feel influences our actions. I create murals with nature-based imagery because I believe the calming influence of nature is the perfect antidote to our fast-paced culture. My hope is that seeing the artwork will inspire viewers to lace on their running shoes or boots and experience the trails firsthand.
I love painting large-scale murals because the process engages all of my physical and creative capacities. I blend and layer rapidly drying pigments, keeping in mind the vision of what I want to create and how it will serve the space.
“Breathe Deeply” is my favorite manifesto quote because a single deep breath can ground my whole body and mind into the present so that I can create my best work.
Thank you for reading, for listening, and for breathing deeply.