Tea Time: Inspired by Illustrated Tea Packaging

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As I sip down a glass of cool tamarind iced tea accessorized with slices of mango, orange and starfruit, I feel instantly relaxed, recharged and mostly at ease. There’s just something about tea, about its history and its beauty before being cultivated that enchants me. Even more so than coffee, tea evokes a need for storytelling. Of ancient days in China when tea was the taste of royalty, to its more common existence in the British Isles where 4pm is always teatime.

Tea when repeated in a foreign tongue, is even sweet: chai, thé, tsai. Even in the unromantic German tongue, tea is called der Tee. Unlike its cousin coffee, the caffeine in tea doesn’t make you want to jump in the air; it’s softer and sweeter. While tea leaves actually do contain more caffeine than roasted coffee beans, tea leaves tend to be drunk with a higher water consistency than coffee.

One of my favorite qualities about tea is its aromatherapeutic traits. Think orange blossom, lemon balm and ginger, and Chinese jasmine green tea, and inhale. Not too long ago in a Ugandan supermarket, I smelled a heavenly lemongrass black tea two aisles away and instantly bought for its pungent odor alone. I left it in my bedroom, untouched for three weeks, enjoying the scent that wafted to all four corners and back. I slept well.

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Besides its history, taste and romantic character, one of my favorite things about tea is buying it: In tins and boxes where artists were paid to let their imaginations run wild. Tea in advertising when left to creatives is one of my favorite joys of food store shopping. Back in the day, it started with collecting Celestial Seasonings. I remember buying Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice mix back in the mid-90s, like the packaging above, so excited to open the box and sip into a world of Rajasthani princes only to find that the taste was just not my style. But who cared, I had the illustration of the Rajasthani tiger albeit an additional 19 teabags left un-drunk. Thank goodness there were more reasonable adults willing to finish it off.

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In 2007, Lori Anzalone was commissioned to re-illustrate the Bengal Spice tiger, largely keeping the same theme as before.51dgcebkeyl Apparently when the company tried 2015 to go away from the original illustrations that were their hallmark since the 1970s, customers were confused with the new 21st century packaging design, seen above. I actually think that the new artists did a great job of moving the company stylistically into the new century, however due to an overwhelming negative response the illustrations won out and Celestial Seasonings has returned to its staple beloved packaging. Which tiger suits your fancy, the old or the new?

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This brand is newer to me, but I stumbled upon it in a rather remote Canadian sweets shop this past summer: Clipper. Clipper tea is an English brand that instantly won my heart when I saw Lorna Scobie’s whimsical black and white teacups. Among other things, Lorna has just come out with a new adult coloring book.

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Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who does judge a book by its cover. If it doesn’t entice me graphically, I won’t pick it up. Lorna’s Snore and Peace won me over for her great use of nighttime colors and handcrafted typography.

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static1-squarespace-com2Another box that has made its way into my shopping basket these days is from another English brand, Heath & Heather. I instantly fell in love with Dawn Cooper and her illustrations from seeing these boxes alone. Her portfolio opens up a whole other magical world: hats off to her for these delicious floral masterpieces created under her agency’s name.

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In a way, they remind me of the detailed yet muted botany watercolors found in Miss Beatrix Potter’s work in the early 20th century.

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I’ve purchased their Echinacea flavor, whose rosy pink florals are very welcome in the afternoon after an adrenaline pumped morning in the office. Even the inside of the box is hot rose. Compare Dawn’s new 2016 design to Heath and Heather’s much blander former design. You can see why I’m mesmerized with her artwork.

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Lastly, another favorite English tea box design of mine is by brand William Whistle who specializes in both artisan teas and coffees. There is just something about great Victorian styled typography, detailed ink illustrations with a splash of modern color overlay that makes me want to taste this brand over any other tea box on the shelf. While I haven’t yet found where to buy these teas and coffees other than in specialty shops in the UK, the brand design as certainly been noticed around the web.

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I love how the brand has created a fictional character who travels the world to bring us, the clients, new exotic flavors in a very 19th century colonial way.

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And for all of you coffee bean fanatics, aren’t the spots on this giraffe just to die for?

By large, tea brands are one of the more creative industries when it comes to package design. There are several Pinterest portfolios devoted to showcasing those out-of-the-box designers, check out mine here, as well as branding sites that highlight a number of good tea company product designs. My favorite part of these new modern designs is that they harp on older times and styles, yet still can appeal to the modern era. And they bring back whimsical illustration to a technology dominated world, reminding me that for all of the good that our laptops, smart phones and whatever cherished device we carry with us do for us, that human spark of imagination is still very much alive.

Compassion Fatigue at Home and Abroad

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Today I wanted to approach a less whimsical subject, one that is perhaps a little less full of light and color but one that is very much a part of all of our journeys. I had written up a post for this blog over New Year’s, but never posted it. And then one for springtime too, but still couldn’t find it in myself to post. I write now from an artisanal ice-cream shop, sitting on an old time stool and a repurposed wooden bar with scratches, spills, and ingrained sprinkles. That blueberry lemon kiddie cup (since when did kiddie size mean two scoops) hit the spot. I am on home leave for five weeks, away from South Sudan and in green Pennsylvania and can finally process. Ice cream here is good.

For the past year, living in South Sudan has not been physically difficult. Sure, walking around on the Juba streets is not the same as walking in Europe or the U.S.; biking is neither an option in Juba, but life is a far cry from difficult. But what makes it difficult is time: time spent writing from my desk hidden away in a concrete block building with barbed wire fence outside the window about 4.3 million people expected to reach near famine levels, or whatever number in vogue from the latest nation-wide report, became mundane. 4.3 million people became numbers, not faces. Statistics of pregnant women who die while giving birth became just that. Mundane behind block walls.

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Seeing those faces in person should have been the solution. Kind eyed ladies with their children lagging behind them at the distribution points. But then, visiting the projects in the field, rural areas targeted for assistance, didn’t always make it any better the mundane, lifeless feeling. I saw the faces, and took their photos, usually smiling and happy despite having only reemerging from six-months of living in the swamps, skin covered in scabies in an attempt to hide from the very government that is supposed to be protecting them. Even those faces, I didn’t want to really see. Because it gets you tired, trying to love everyone when the situation seems to be only getting worse.

The second night when I came home in green tinged Pennsylvania, images haunted my sleeping mind. Of me, having to escape with some of my co-workers from armed men. Running through precarious passageways, rebels being killed at an arms’ length away. Nightmares evolved, me, the protagonist of my mind, knowing that I would escape but they, the people left behind, couldn’t. The people could never escape the war. When I work up, that image really frightened me. Compassion fatigue has bothered me much more than I had even thought.

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Unfortunately, I don’t write this to share a solution if you like me are feeling tired or feeling overwhelmed by a needy world, no matter how small that world may be. I can’t give a list of ways that one can commence to address personal compassion fatigue, or for that matter even trauma at its various degrees. But I have come to realize that my compassion fatigue did not start in South Sudan, it started at home in the U.S. I would define compassion fatigue as a soul tiredness, a tiredness from having to love and trying to love those whom we don’t know or even those we do know. Especially when the situation seems impossible. A tiredness that makes us stare blankly and makes us not really care or want to be affected by having to care.

I found that compassion fatigue in my life has been as a result of continual subliminal messaging of a hurting world: seeing news clips in urban Philadelphia of a homicide in a community bogged down by addictions, hearing of a car crash five-minutes from my house in which a young sixteen-year old girl dies, reading of another airstrike on a hospital in Afghanistan, riots in China, shootings in Colorado, Paris, Orlando. And social media, for all its good intentions, is only making the constant feed of bad even worse. The consistency of having to ingest violence and hate in our world, a constant flow from the media, from a friend, from personal experience. It can be too overpowering to our senses that we fail to feel any longer.

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These past seven months of silence have been that in South Sudan. While I have had amazing experiences and adventures that have taken me to Amsterdam, New York, Jaipur and all the way back, I haven’t been able to write. Because sometimes it’s hard to see joy, to feel joy, amidst this over-stimulation and the resulting deadening of my ability to care and to love.

I am grateful: I have a God, a friend and father all the same, who knows how to love and care far more than I will ever comprehend in this lifetime. And he lifts that burden from me, to care and to love for all of those hurts. And while my job in South Sudan is to know where those hurts are around the world, the wars, deaths, abductions, social injustices that happen in my very back yard, I know that for each word I read, I can commit that situation up to God and move on. Because while I can pray for healing in far off catastrophes, I can’t be emotionally involved in every situation.

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So for now, I want to keep being informed, but I want to disconnect from immigration crises in Australia because I can’t do anything about that while floating in between East Africa and the U.S., but God can. Instead, I can chose to take on the hurt of those in my immediate world, my family, friends, colleagues and even new people that are placed in my life as the journey continues. And by only concentrating on those small hurts, my burden lightens and I can keep choosing joy and sharing joy. We all hurt too much and can’t let those hurts be the end all. Because it will all end one day. For now, we just have to keep moving onward.

For now, I want to walk outside along the canal in a slightly less golden sun than that in Africa, I want to pet my furry little friends, sit in coffee shops, visit farmers markets and marvel at growth and substance in food. I want to breathe in joy so that I can breathe it back out when I return to Juba in just three-short weeks. My laptop’s lid will be closed much more frequently and I will paint, camp, read, watch the stars, catch up on this lonely little blog and be inspired by others around me who have faced trials and tribulations so positively.

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For all who are out there, thanks for reading along, thanks for your patience and friendly hellos. Please know that your hurts mean something to someone far greater than any person in this world. I look forward to catching-up and sharing some of my latest adventures in subsequent posts!

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Paris, je t’aime

IMG_9469awebIn light of the recent events, I find it appropriate to post this now. One of my favorite cities, France was my home for five years and holds a very special place in my heart.

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IMG_9485awebAround the globe and in places of conflict, these atrocities are not new: Syria, Iraq, North Korea, even here in South Sudan. Yet each life, no matter what color of skin, language spoken or even nationality, each life is invaluable.

IMG_9484awebWhile the city of light is temporarily darkened, we are praying for these people, that they find an even more real and everlasting light in the midst of this violence and hate.

IMG_9481awebI painted this months ago, in a moment of nostalgia. Paris, vous êtes tous dans nos cœurs.

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Birds of Africa: Pink Flamingo, f comme flamant rose

IMG_7673webAfrica undeniably has a wanderers allure attached to it. Think the ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Conrad or any other 19th early 20th writer who romanticized the continent’s wild and indigenous qualities: “You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions” (Karen Blixen).

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Flamant rose. Famille des Phoenicoptéridés. Ordre : Phoenicoptériformes

Unfortunately these romantic notions more or less lumped the continent together; people outside of here have a tendency to ask, “So how is Africa?” instead of making it even a regionally specific place.

IMG_7674awebAlas, I can’t help but dream it up a bit myself, when I think of its fabulous colors and great adventures that await. Sometimes I am blue living here, but in the scope of things, this is a pretty fabulous opportunity. I only wish I could take more photos to share with others what I see, but for now it will have to remain in an illustrated form.

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Harping back on my European animal collection, here is F, the majestic pink flamingo. While I was actually drawing the pink flamingo who lives in the Camargue region of France, Eastern Africa and the flamingo just seem to go hand and hand. Juba does not allow me to see a great amount of nature, but once in a while I catch a flicker of a yellow breasted beauty flying around, oblivious to the chaos lurking under wing.

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120 Days in South Sudan

IMG_7111Today is a rarer day in Juba; today it rained. Although it is rainy season and the temperatures have consistently stayed in the mid-80s F, today it was different. Much welcomed and appreciated, the surrounding dried-out vegetation is having a happier day as am I. Wearing a long sleeved shirt, no matter how thin the weave, seems a little bit more appropriate for the month of October.

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11889982_10152991121927791_8154667427361956776_oToday also marks slightly over 120 days since I’ve come to live in Juba. I write very little about this place because in all reality, it seems as if very little changes from day-to-day. I go into a ten-hour work day, some days demanding more time than others, and walk to my little home on the far end corner of our compound. From door-to-door the distance is one-minute, work and home in the same place.

11705308_10155729169825184_4130865334814466319_nMy after hour activities sometimes consist of visiting other acquaintances in NGOs and UN organizations across this city via a driver; most of the time it is going back to my room for a bit to rest and then meeting up with fellow friends and employees in the common room sitting area. Other nights it involves just reading blogs and webzines online, catching up with personal life in the U.S. and in Europe, and Skyping with friends who live in different places. Sometimes it is swimming at a nearby hotel.

IMG_7115What makes South Sudan hard, Juba more specifically, isn’t the lack of access to everyday amenities. There is food made for me each day and night, Nutella and Pringles can be bought just down the road. Rooms are swept and cleaned daily, washing machines available, water, albeit cold if you don’t take a shower when the sun is up, and internet and electricity most of the time.

IMG_7114What makes Juba hard is the lack of a normal life, the little mundane things that take up time in life, but make it sweet all the same: stirring garlic in a hot oiled pan after work, taking brisk autumn walks along a wooded path, putting out a bowl of kitty chow each morning, meeting up with friends for coffee without giving a thought to security or finding a driver. Life’s little quirks and mundane twists and turns that come with living in a secure environment are what I miss. That and taking photos to document my experiences, which were very possible in Niger but not here.

10953195_10155722411835184_2999206376653120923_nSo 120 days is an achievement of sorts, in a place where internationals mark their time spent here in months. What I have to share of my life here does not seem very significant to date, but maybe it doesn’t have to be significant to matter.

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How to Make Chapati and Other Things in South Sudan

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I took this strong woman’s photo a little over a week ago. As I peeked into the kitchen, dim and furnished in periwinkle and burgundy plastic chairs and tables, my grumbling tummy took a back seat as I saw the light fall upon her and her work. A faded dark light rested so comfortably on her ebony tinted skin. Somewhere north near the Sudanese border, I found myself transfixed with this scene.

IMG_7209I don’t even know her name, could only communicate a few words of my classical Arabic into her Khartoum Arabic, but she willingly let me capture her and her morning efforts of chapati making. You may be wondering what is chapati, or for that matter, what South Sudan has to do with anything? But this is the world I now find myself in, almost as if by accident, but still completely guided. Things move fast in the NGO world, even faster in South Sudan where 4.6 million people are facing emergency levels of food insecurity.

IMG_7214aOne of the hardest things I find to grasp here is the magnitude of continual misunderstanding between people: the acts of selfishness that have ruined generations and continue to do so. This article by the Human Rights Watch (“They Burned It All”) hit a bit closer to home, as several of our own staff, now my friends, had to leave behind the places they loved when the government moved in and deliberately attacked its own people.

IMG_7219My life in South Sudan is not like it was at home, but it’s not hard either. I have running water, air conditioning and a comfortable enough bed. The most difficult part is that I can’t walk wherever I want and practice my photography like I could in Niger; my camera will be confiscated in Juba.

IMG_7222aSo when I find peaceful moments like this one away from government central locations, with this woman and her simple beauty of rolling out dough to make into breakfast chapati, a fried, round flatbread, I need to capture them. Peace is a temporary notion in this place and the innocent are the one’s suffering the most.

IMG_7203But this moment, this still quiet light, reminds me of a peace that we are blessed to have if only choose to accept it. Here is my formal introduction, my welcome to you as I share what I can of my life in South Sudan over this next year. Wishing everybody at home and afar a blessed, peaceful Sunday!

Giraffe Dreaming in Niger in the Guardian

IMG_7075awebThis month has been consumed by numbers and words, but mostly numbers and refining budgets, which is not always the most comforting and carefree of ways to spend a day to a natural born creative. Since arriving here, into a new job title and a new country, more to come on that, the majority of my world has been enclosed in a less than well-lit office and concrete walls that surround my daily existence. Finding and growing friendships has been a nice reprieve.

IMG_7079aAlas, dreaming is a necessity and key part of staying sane! Here is a sketch and gouache illustration that I sent off to the Guardian’s call for aid worker art, a little over a month ago, and it was selected to be posted in their blog here!

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Wishing everyone a sunny and joy-filled weekend!

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Portraits of Home: Happy birthday, America

IMG_6483awebToday is July 4th, the 4th of July, and I type on my computer using electricity from a nearby generator, in a war-torn country in East Africa. This country is brand new, yet freedom has very little meaning here. Today, I’m trying to understand independence and freedom from oppression and constant warring factions.

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As an expat, I am continually proud to be an American, despite past errors we’ve made, and even more recent national changes that will affect the larger landscape of our American culture and personal freedoms as we know them.

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But living here, hearing horrific stories that our minds can’t ever seem to fathom, I wonder why God placed me in America? Why was I born in a place where I could go to school and grow up beside a beautiful, unchanging riverside town, while the girl sitting beside me has tears in her eyes because her family’s hometown was recently burned to the ground?

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America is 239 years old, still young, but enough to have faced years of figuring out what freedom means. I’m so very thankful to understand a little bit more about what that means.

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IMG_6112awebWhile I won’t be seeing any fireworks or eating cook-out hotdogs in a Kaiser roll bun, I wanted to share a bit of my America, my beautiful country full of people I love and places of natural beauty where one’s soul can find contentment and refreshment. May is one of the sweetest times of the year in the northeast too.

IMG_6607awebIMG_6588awebHappy birthday, America!

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ABC Animals: R comme Renard

IMG_6828awebIs there ever an age too old to fall in love with the classic ABC illustration? A visual mnemonic device for children learning to read, I find ABC illustrations to be the quintessential project for artists new and old, seeking to express and perfect their artistic style.

IMG_6765awebWilliam Denslow did it, Graeme Base did, and so did Oliver Jeffers. What I love about these designs is that they bring us back to our younger selves, at a time when we were more creative, more trusting and more daring. We dreamed of all sorts of fantasies that somehow our adult selves choose to ignore.

IMG_6767awebI painted this one a few months back. After searching high and wide for a cute ABC illustration that would whet my appétit for all things French, I decided that it was about time I made up my own ABC animal alphabet. With the idea of the French countryside in mind, I soon expanded my alphabet to instead encompass all European animals, the stuff of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. My first letter is R, r is for fox. I think this fox would make a darling add to any kids or adults wall collection!

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