Jolie Kaytes is an artist, writer, and landscape architect. Her art and writing focus on recognizing and celebrating the complexity of landscapes. She is particularly interested in how landscapes are represented, how design can be used as an environmental advocacy tool, the role of landscape architecture in food systems, and the Columbia River Basin. Jolie’s work has appeared in The Fourth River, Terrain.org, Camas and elsewhere. She has held residencies at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest and PLAYA.
A little backstory: How did you begin working with/in response to natural environments, or what are your primal experiences with the natural world?
In South Florida, where I grew up, it was easy to be outdoors. There’s a blurry boundary between inside and outside. It was simple to go to the beach and spend summer days in the sun and sand, play in the water. At the beach there was the perceived safety of my mom keeping an eye on me, though I was also exploring independently, making sense of the creatures and phenomena around me.
When I was quite young, around 5 or 6 years old, my brother and I went to New Jersey to be with our grandparents. Being with our grandparents, in their garden, and witnessing their care and delight for cultivating tomatoes was special. The garden love was palpable. Taking in the lightening bugs at night was further wonder inducing. (It still is!)
I think that all of these experiences were literal seeds and figurative seeds of light and love and discovery and joy.
A love: Share one of your favorite creative pieces and the natural environment it responds to.
I wrote a piece that was in ISLE called “Putting Down Roots” that explored literal roots from plant materials as well as bigger ideas of where do we come from, where is home? The essay also discussed landscape architecture drawings, which typically don’t show roots. This is striking to me, given it’s a field dedicated to creating meaningful outdoor places that help people connect to the earth. And yet, the typical representations we do are rootless. That essay is sweet for me because it’s braided with lots of ideas around things that continue to intrigue.
Another favorite is a recent Letter to America in Terrain called “Cycling Through It,” which reflects on the sites along my bike commute, how to work with students on environmental issues, what it means to do good, and the open-ended and messy and complicated and beautiful aspects of this work.
I regularly grapple with the ideas in these pieces and how to express the places we love; how can we share “feelscapes” and the “thinkscapes” simultaneously.
A lesson: What advice do you have for someone who wants to co-create with the natural world?
One of my pieces in Wild Journal called “Have Time, Will Play: 5 Easy Steps to Sketching Nature” offers some lessons!
Image info: During our interview, Jolie related to me her morning practice of spending time in her journal writing or drawing in a free, undirected way. Sprinkled throughout this interview are some images from her morning pages.