My hope is that when my work is exhibited, not only will people be struck by the extraordinary beauty of the places I find, but it will also strengthen their resolve to protect these places from depredation.
– Tony Foster
Every once in awhile, you encounter an event that ends up changing the course of your life for the better. In this case, I was privileged enough to be a part of the website and branding project for the Foster Art and Wilderness Foundation. Based in San Francisco, the Foster creates powerful exhibitions that inspire people to connect with our natural environment. The exhibitions and educational materials are available to museums and other public venues at no cost. As a web designer and owner of Non-Affiliated, I was called by my great friend and colleague Dan Saal of StudioSaal in San Francisco. StudioSaal was contracted to provide all branding, visual communications, and exhibition space design for the Foster. Since my company’s expertise is in web design and development, I was asked to oversee the digital side of the project. I didn’t know how lucky I was.
The mission of the Foster is altruistic and inspiring. The large question was, how do we get the word out? Who do we need to reach? What is the most effective way of doing this? Why does the Foster matter? What need does this fulfill? These questions were part of a largeer discovery process that we executed. By providing many questions and using a productive thinking framework, we were able to create several documents that mapped out the journey before us. They included brand briefs, a brand messaging workshop, brand moods, a digital project canvas, personas, a buyer’s journey, and creative briefs. These documents provided focus and structure, and supported the larger goals of the foundation.
The best part for me?
I did’t know anything about Tony Foster before beginning the project. Now I had the chance to dive in to get to know the man and his work. I was immediately impressed with his process for creating work. He paints outdoors. He doesn’t work from photographs. He stays out in the elements to capture the essence of the place he is painting. He gathers all of the details, battling the elements, and takes his time. He absorbs the places he paints. He becomes a part of his landscapes, and communicates the soul of these places through pigment and paper.
From the Sacred Places catalog:
Though he is part of a tradition of landscape artists who paint outdoors, or en plein air , Foster’s working method is unique. He does not seek to produce an artistic snapshot of a specific site, but rather to document the elements of a journey throughout time as a way to deeply understand a place. In a modern age where cell phones allow us to take ubiquitous but ephemeral digital photos, this dedication to preserving the bond between time and space is rare and often challenging.
Carrying his own supplies, and even removing the handle of his toothbrush to reduce weight, Foster travels at a deliberately slow pace, step by step, to be fully present in the experience of his journey. He creates watercolor paintings of carefully selected sites, while also keeping a daily journal of the weather, wildlife, plants, and people that he observes and encounters, often writing excerpts directly on the paintings. He gathers and paints souvenirs of his journey that may include soil samples, stones, fossils, leaves, feathers and talismans inspired by evidence of man’s impact on the land. Foster’s watercolor journeys provide a full sensory experience of a place, imprinting it in the most elemental and intimate level of our consciousness.
This method of working was inspiring to me, and as I read further through the book, I was brought along on his journeys as if I were there with him. I knew we had to communicate this sense of journey to the digital user. My idea was to create a place where the journey unfolds in front of the user. As they learn about his process, his work and commitment to nature, they are brought along, step by step, through his world. Although creating a total immersive experience was probably out of scope, we could still create something simple that incorporated elements of discovery, allowing viewers to interact with his work.
Creative Rationale for the Foster
We agreed with the Foster that we should start with a simple site that explained the mission, and provided enough information to provoke curiosity, and created a clear call-to-action for viewers to take the next step in the process. This site was geared primarily towards museum directors and curators, as well as decision makers at public venues. Our goal was to communicate the mission, tell Tony’s story and the inspirational nature of the exhibition and offer private viewings of the collection to interested institutions. When it came to marketing, the decision was made to communicate with the targeted audience through a series of high quality, personal interactions at conferences and cultural events, with the site serving as a follow-up presence. The site would give more insight and information to the prospects, ultimately prompting them to get in touch to set an appointment to experience the collection firsthand. We designed the site to unfold
as the viewer scrolls, with more information revealed as the user experiences the journey.
One of the many benefits to being in my industry is the opportunity to meet new people that are doing great things. I have adopted some of Tony’s “slow” methodology to my practice, taking the time to settle in and absorb my surroundings and be inspired by them. Here is an excerpt from the book describing Tony’s process:
While not inspired by the Slow Movement, Foster models its philosophy. The sites he paints often require arduous travel by foot or waterways. Every two hours, without fail, he stops to take a break—to sit, sip tea, and breathe in the wonders of the wilderness that surround him. Once finding a subject to paint, he sets up camp, unfolds his portable drawing board, and sits at times for days until the work is resolved enough to finish in his studio in Cornwall, England. He then takes meticulous notes on color and weather before packing up and starting the slow trek back home.
Now every few hours at work, I take a break, make some tea, and go for a walk. This is when most of my great ideas and insights occur. This has become a necessary part of my day. Slowing down is proving to be more productive for me.
For art—both its creation and appreciation—flow happens when we slow down. That Foster spends so much time in one place is an integral part of his work. It grants him the opportunity to observe how the light hits a hillside at different times of the day. Or notice the native flora and fauna and the mark they leave on the landscape. The impressions of these observations are felt in artwork that manifest from this experience.
Flow allows you to take everything in, to immerse yourself in it, to become a better communicator of the beauty around you. It is a way of life that has been forgotten and is easily left behind in the daily rush to make a living.
The site is up, the launch event has passed, and we are very happy with the results. But Tony’s impact will always be with me now. And I thank him for that.
The Foster Art & Wilderness Foundation was established with the belief that Tony Foster’s complete watercolor journeys have the power to help people connect deeply with the natural environment. By developing comprehensive exhibitions of the watercolors Foster creates on his journeys and making them available to public venues, the Foundation hopes to inspire a wide audience to reflect on, learn about, and take action to protect wilderness areas. The first exhibition to be launched, Sacred Places: Watercolour Diaries of the American Southwest , captures the distinctive beauty of a region that has been revered by a variety of peoples and cultures over thousands of years. Throughout his travels, Foster’s close observation and meticulous renderings convey a timeless reverence for the natural environment.