A lot of outdoor art is really stinking sincere: the sun setting over mountaintops, eagles soaring against a blue sky, eagles soaring over inspirational quotes…did we mention sunsets? But the art that San Francisco-based illustrator Wendy MacNaughton makes is decidedly not.
MacNaughton recently was commissioned to do all the art for the hip new South Lake Tahoe hotel Basecamp, where she poked fun at yuppified campers, reinterpreted the geography of the lake, and created some vegan taxidermy. AJ caught up with her to learn more.
Where do you get your ideas?
Umm, coffee? Some people sit and look at a wall and they can focus, but I get ideas from doing things, like drawing. I start with a kernel of an idea and it evolves into something that I couldn’t expect. Like, say I have a plan, I’m going to draw a mountain, but this mountain, if you turn it upside down there’s a reflection, and it turns into something else entirely.
The map in the bar at Basecamp is a great example. We actually did two versions, and that was the last thing we decided to do. They gave me a board and I transferred the map and then started making jokes (for instance, the mistakenly drawn state line). I’m kind of obsessed with map pins, so I put, like, 100 map pins in it. It was supposed to be much cleaner, but it devolved into a total crazy fun tangential map.
You draw a lot of maps and diagrams, what do you like about them?
Maps are a way to understand something. It’s a way to make sense of information that would otherwise be totally convoluted and confusing. The maps that I make speak to a very casual or emotional use of a place. Like, Tahoe it’s really fricking deep. If you put that on a map, everyone knows what that means. I can draw a map, but I can’t find something for shit, I’m terrible at directions.
Which of the Basecamp pieces was the most fun?
I could draw giant deer heads till I die. I am not a fan of trophy animals, I’m kind of an animal lover and this whole taxidermy trend was bugging me. I get the aesthetic appeal, but as far as the ethics go, I’m not into it. But for Basecamp I still wanted to acknowledge that theme. It was nice to be able to give them a trophy vegan deer head.
My favorite piece of yours is the “Screw Breadcrumbs” drawing. Where did that come from?
I had this idea about going somewhere to get lost. The best adventures that I’ve had have been when I haven’t had a clear destination. Or I might have a destination, but I’m almost looking to get lost. You go into a forest and you don’t leave a trail, you just figure it out. I actually have that hanging in my studio, it’s not only about the wilderness, it’s a good life mantra.
Outdoor art is often really earnest. Yours is not so much. Why?
I love eagles, don’t get me wrong. I can appreciate a beautiful eagle flying, but I can also appreciate that I’ve seen that a lot of place.
Do you always have a notebook with you?
I draw everywhere I go, especially if I’m traveling and not working. I’ve been sent places to document things – I did a road trip through Death Valley for Afar magazine – but I’ll do that kind of drawing anyway. That’s what I do instead of taking pictures, I draw.
See more of MacNaughton’s work at wendymacnaughton.com.