The Outdoor Office and City Bag

Doing my Outdoor Office thing in Kenilworth Park. Kenilworth Park. 28 Aug 2020. Camera: Olympus XA2. Film: Ilford HP5+ 400.

It seemed to be a thing amongst my artist peers: The studio space separate from home. Many other artists I knew had one, and they’d ask when I’d get my own, or maybe go in with them on a shared space. But I never did. The work I did was pen-and-ink, rarely bigger than 11″x14″. I could do this type of stuff anywhere. I wasn’t a painter of large canvases, or a sculptor, or someone who needed lots of space to create their work. I didn’t need my things to dry overnight without being moved, I could pack up my art kit in less than a minute.

Sure, the idea of having a studio or office had appeal. There’s something about working away from the distractions from home. But I was too cheap, too broke, even in the era when commercial rent in this town wasn’t that bad. So I’d improvise. I’d use places like the Independent Publishing Resource Center or The Know Mark I as a pseudo-office. Thankfully my art could fit into my bag so if I wanted to work outside the house I could work almost anywhere.

I did have an actual office/studio at one point. Around 2007 my friends who ran a comics shop on SE Foster had a little hole-in-the-wall spot in the back and they wanted a cartoonist to use it for free. So I bit. It didn’t have any windows and could get toasty in the summer, but I definitely did my share of art there. It was nice having a separate space for my art and other stuff, especially since this was an era where my living situation was quite fluid and unconventional. But I didn’t use it as much as I thought I would, and sometime in 2008 or 9, after a long fallow period, I gave up the space.

Since then, my other office has typically been a coffee shop. I’d find one that had suited my needs: good coffee and possibly food, not too crowded, decent lighting. I’d spend a couple hours there, my rent being the coffee I bought.

Now we are in pandemic times, and the once simple act of going to a coffee shop has gotten way more difficult. Most shops have been closed to any kind of indoor seating since last March, and even if I could sit inside, I wouldn’t feel comfortable. This is a big bummer, as sometimes I’m most productive when I’m freed from the distractions of home.

A little Outdoor Office and Coffee action at Oregon Park, 23 Nov 2020. Note radio and sketchbook (in leather.) Camera: Olympus XA2. Film: Kentmere 400.

Thankfully the weather is getting better, so the idea of sitting outside has grown more appealing. And there’s a great variety of parks in town, so having an “outside office” is pretty easy. I bring along the things I’ll need: sketchbook, notebook, pens and pencils, perhaps letters or postcards to write, maybe the book I’m trying to read. I’ll often bring a radio too. Since I’m not in a coffeeshop I’ll either bring made coffee from home, swing by a cafe for to-go coffee, or heck, since I’m outside, I could just make coffee there. So I often bring my Coffee Outside kit and brew a cup en plein air.

The big thing to remember now is to remember everything I need. This wasn’t an issue in days gone by, as my bag usually had everything I needed all the time. Y’see, after tiring of the suburban/exurban lifestyle I lived in my teens and early twenties in Connecticut, I moved to a city so I could live a life in a place where I wouldn’t feel inadequate and cut off for not owning a car. Over the past twenty years I’ve walked, biked, and taken transit around Portland. When you’re living the urban life, you want to be ready, so a bag packed with the things I needed was essential. I might have a long-enough bus ride, or want to swing by a coffee shop or bar on the way home from work. I’d want to have something to read, something to listen to, something to draw with if inspiration sparked. Yeah, nowadays a smartphone will suffice, but we forget how recent this invention was.

What this boils down to is I always had my City Bag with me, and it was always ready, even if it wasn’t always the same bag. The thing would be loaded with all the things I could possibly need, and I wouldn’t need to think whether I had a certain thing or not. But that has changed, not just due to the pandemic. It changed at the end of 2018 when I ended my tenure at the hostel. Since then, I’ve been “working from home”. The necessity of having that City Bag always ready has lessened. This means I often forget things, whether not so needful, like Society of Three Speeds stickers I can put on bike racks. or more so, like a charging cable with a plug or power block when my iPhone’s battery dwindles. I always make sure I have the basics, like a tool kit if I’m on a bike. But sometimes those extras make the experience.

Now that I can do more “Outdoor Office” type of stuff, I need to get that City Bag back to where it was. In goes those stickers, the charging stuff, the snacks, the sketchbook, the iPod Touch, the postcards of events I host, the business cards. You’ll never know when they’ll come in handy.

Full-on Coffee Outside action at Rose City Park, 22 Nov 2020. Camera: Olympus XA2. Film: Kentmere 400.

3 thoughts on “The Outdoor Office and City Bag

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  1. Love this post! A good chunk of my work can be done at a coffee shop whenever I feel like it and it’s the perfect mix of my favorite things: coffee, dessert, film photography of said coffee/dessert/shop space and work that pays me to be at the coffee shop, all at the same time.

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