Creative Friends: Lydia Cruz

This is my second Creative Friends blog post, the series where I spotlight friends whose art inspires me. This week’s featured artist is (wait for it!) a writer, photographer, illustrator, editor, publisher AND small business owner. She also makes a mean cup of coffee. Have you guessed it yet? It’s none other than the mega-talented Lydia Cruz.

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Lydia and I met at the University of St Andrews when she studied abroad there during her third year from Sarah Lawrence. We quickly bonded over our shared loves of books, kale chips, caffeinated beverages and doing too many projects at once. Eventually, she went on to collaborate with me on my first poetry chapbook, Grown Up Poetry Needs to Leave Me Alone, which she published through her indie publishing house (which she founded last year!): Knockingdoor Press.

She has exhibited work in Colorado, Scotland and New York and she’s currently working on a series of creative nonfiction essays. She’s also the current Artist in Residence at Bindle Coffee in Fort Collins, Colorado where you can see some of her work including a recent series of watercolor paintings: the girl learning about joy. Here’s Part I of my chat with Lydia:

You chronicle the world around you through various mediums (writing, drawing, photography…). Are there subjects (or themes) you would prefer to draw rather than write about? Or write about rather than draw?

That’s interesting. It’s hard to say, I suppose, but maybe only because I’ve only been drawing for a few years and fell into my portrait niche of street photographed people right away. I suppose my drawings have never felt particularly personal, where my writing is very personal. These new watercolor paintings were the first time I had ever drawn something I felt exposed by.

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the girl learning about joy (3)

It was a bit unsettling, actually, especially since I did all four paintings within a week and a half—two in one day—which is something I never do. I tend to move very slowly, in both writing and drawing. I would say that both mediums fall under wanting to see and write/draw what I see. And it’s interesting how, just as a good personal essay is both very specific and universal, so many people have recognized people they know in my portraits of specific strangers. So it’s really all the same thing, I think.

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the girl getting hot chocolate with her mother

I love your pen drawings (I’m the proud owner of one!) and I know you’ve been experimenting with watercolors recently. What are your favorite materials to use?

You’re so nice 😉 I still mostly use pen, jumping into watercolor whenever I feel that particular itch. I keep all my paints, brushes, and waterjars handy so I’m always about thirty seconds away from beginning if I feel a sudden pull, but I default to pen. I love drawing on a lot of different materials and prefer brown paper or other found paper/board. I had the opportunity when I was in Scotland to take possession of a whole stack of slate roof tiles, but it was right before I was flying home and I had no way to transport them. Drawing on slate really sounds like such a dream. Chalk is fun for weird typographical endeavors. I’ve also enjoyed doing some embroidered portraits in the past and am really interested in doing more with that.

A lot of your creative non-fiction essays I’ve read deal with your experience of living abroad and searching for your role in a new physical landscape amongst new people. Do you think this exploration of being a stranger in a strange land will continue throughout the collection of essays you’re working on?

Probably haha. I’ve been a bit of a stranger in a strange land since I graduated high school—moving from Laramie, Wyoming to New York, then to Scotland, then back to a very different experience of New York, and then to Greeley, Colorado, where I was born but haven’t lived since I was five. So even though I haven’t been in the UK in a few years, I have been thinking about and experiencing a lot of the same things in new ways. Which has been interesting in terms of how I approach the essays because they are all written in such immediate present tense scenes I’ve had to think about Well, was I really thinking about all of these things in that moment or am I thinking about them now and is inserting them into the piece affecting the integrity of the experience? I felt particularly strongly when I was in school about those kinds of Insertions being ultimately untrue. And there is a line. Somewhere, I suppose. Though I remember my mentor describing the process of writing personal essays being the narrativization of an experience, not a transcript. This is the door through which we could walk into discussing accuracy versus truth in memory and writing which is a bit of a minefield, so I may stop here. But yes, I think the rest of the essays will follow a similar track. They’re all kind of generally about those things, but each one (I hope) narrows down into a more specific aspect. And actually, a friend recently pointed out to me that almost all of the essays so far have taken place near the time I was going to return to the US and so, right now, the collection also seems to be about saying goodbye, which is an interesting thing to think about.

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the printing of the people on the street

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Next week, I’ll be posting Part II of my interview with Lydia…

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