Sourdough Saved My Life
The right materials, a process that works, and practice: these are what you need to make good sourdough. They’re also the things I use all the time in order to take bolts of creative inspiration (which can strike at any time) and turn them into something tangible, for you.
During Lockdown Level 4 (March and April 2020), I was bubbled by myself and one of things which kept me focused and connected to other people was this year’s Instagram-based 100 Day Project. I had hummed and haa-ed about what to base mine on this year. I’d done it five (and a bit) other times and had a few possibilities lined up. I settled on watercolour painting and called my project #watercolourconversation. This daily painting and digital drawing practice, along with a long-standing and very enjoyable habit of coming up with teeshirt design ideas, stood me in good stead to create my latest design:
It wasn’t my intention to make any kind of COVID-19-esque design or anything at all to commemorate 2020, despite being asked to. We were living it, we didn't need merch about it. My designs are usually tongue-in-cheek and there was no way I was going to make light of the situation. I also didn’t want to “profit” from something so devastating. I figured that would be in pretty poor taste. But thanks to creativity, friendship, and BREAD, I ended up designing something anyway.
Something that wasn’t in “poor taste” at all were my friend Rita’s sourdough bagels. As New Zealand ran out of flour (for a week there we had to wait for the mills to make more) and as commercially-made bread and yeast flew off supermarket shelves, I’d watched her and many other people make sourdough starters from scratch and begin baking their own loaves. I had a crack but ended up killing my starter stone dead. I’d found a reliable source of active yeast at my corner store though and anyway I had my hands full with watercolour painting and turning into a slightly French chef every Friday (a whole other story). I loved watching people make such beautiful, obviously tasty things. Every time I saw Rita’s bagels pop up on Instagram my mouth would water.
Eventually we were released from Level 4 and I was able to leave the house on "essential business" (which included going to my local art shop for more watercolour supplies). I had admired Rita’s bagels so much, she offered to bake me my own batch. “I’ll make you some Art in exchange”, I replied. I had no idea what this “Art” would be as I flicked off this hasty text message but I breathed out and set my mind to it.
It came out of nowhere. The good ones always do; when I try to retrace my steps I can only go back so far. I made a little watercolour drawing, testing my new “gum pen” which creates a resist surface that you can rub off later, revealing the paper underneath. It's a cute effect. I quickly drew a loaf and wrote the words in cursive writing, put a wash over the top (my favourite technique during my project), and waited impatiently for it to dry. Once I’d rubbed it off, I looked at it and realised: there's something in this. This is an idea that other people might like.
I scribbled different variations down in my Ideas book til I found one that pleased me most.
When it came to turning my new Sourdough idea into something more “professional” and digital, I was able do a lot of it myself because I'd been learning how to use Adobe Fresco on my iPad during my 100 Day Project. I had been drawing over my "analog" watercolour paintings using a stylus and discovered some tools I liked so I asked Rita for some photos of her own bread. I sketched over a photo of the best loaf, chose a free font online, then enlisted my long-time collaborator Terrease to help me with arranging the words. It started to come together.
Within 24 hours I had a design perfect for screen-printing. It's the version you can buy on totes, tea towels, and bread bags. My printers had been able to open at Level 3, so I got it put on a teatowel using a fast-turnaround process. Rita said “So, when do you want these bagels?” and I arranged a date for the day after her “art gift” was made.
She was stoked.
During Level 4, people had asked for copies of the digital artworks I had made during #watercolourconversation. A quick internet search led me to a specialist art printing business just around the corner from me. They were able to open at Level 3 as well and within 72 hours of sending my “art gift” text, I was able to make an A3 hot pink print for Rita and they framed it too. I took a punt and had twenty A4 printed, as limited edition prints, with $10 from the sale of each going to the Auckland City Mission food bank. I had some apparel screen-printed as gifts for the sourdough queens in my life (who will feature in coming blogs). Oh, and I had some badges made too.
Fast forward six months and finally I have this website. I launched it late November and it has been quietly ticking along. In a way, SDSML was really the kick in the pants I gave myself to get my website finished and live. I’d made loads of things I needed to sell, after all. The website is now the most direct way for me to share the SDSML collection with you. I can offer it to you and the sourdough masters in your life as a good humoured (and possibly quite accurate!) memento of a year that has been intense, challenging, transformative.
In a way, the sourdough process is a kind of metaphor for how people coped/thrived in this incredible year: paying attention, being responsive, embracing flexibility, having intention, letting go and hoping for the best, appreciating the fruits of one’s labour, sharing it, all combined with the responsibility and joy that are part of raising something (or killing it, giving up, and chalking failure up to experience, like Yours Truly over here).
So. Here we are at last: only my second blog post and an origin story blog, made sweeter by the fact that New Zealand is effectively COVID-free and a vaccine is on its way. More SDSML storytelling will come over the next week or so, as I share my friends’ journeys with sourdough in 2020, as well as sharing their tips and tricks for a successful sourdough journey.
At its most basic, baking became a way for many of us to create a routine and pass time “productively” during Lockdown. At its best, it really helped people thrive, in so many ways. Perhaps you experienced this yourself. Let me know in the Comments, below.
And if you have anyone in your life who would love this design, please go ahead and forward them this blog.