SANTA FE, N.M. — Jeffrey Schweitzer wasn’t setting out to make a book about his camper.
The Santa Fe-based illustrator bought the 1957 Sterling Corvette travel trailer from a rancher after he moved here about six years ago.
Over several years, he renovated the old camper from the ground up. It became not only his mode of transportation for various adventures, but also somewhere to work on his art free from distraction.
Owning something outright like the trailer became something of a “safety blanket” for the former city dweller. It provided a sense of comfort, he said, which lent itself thematically to the work he was making inside the old camper.
“It was something I was working on in slightly, I guess, a selfish sense, but it’s something I was working on to always have this private space,” Schweitzer said of the camper. “A place to call home, really. It sounds a little hokey, but I was, like, well, you know, it does feel like home for me to spend time there. So it naturally inspired the art I was working on at the time.”
A collection of drawings and writing made over a two-year period in that space makes up his new book, “Home.” Schweitzer, who described the publication as a “labor of love,” is hosting a release party at his Bindlestick Studio on Canyon Road this coming Friday (March 8).
This is Schweitzer’s sixth book, all of which feature his signature whimsical illustration style. While it’s still image heavy, he said, “Home” includes more writing than any of his previous projects.
He described his other books are more narrative poems. “Home” features short thoughts and anecdotes inspired by his own life experiences.
Typed on his vintage typewriter, the words were either added directly onto the drawings or on separate pieces of paper that are also shown in the book. He described the creative process as incredibly fluid, with the art sometimes inspiring the text and vice versa.
Throughout the book, a male traveler character that represents Schweitzer is going on adventures over the seasons. He travels by land – sometimes with the camper in view and other times not – as well as by boat in a few illustrations. Schweitzer said the boat images were inspired by the way one feels when a trailer rocks back and forth out on a mesa when it’s incredibly windy, an experience he likened to seasickness.
The book’s short anecdotes start out with him using his $500 in savings to purchase the camper. The stories range from his first winter trip in it to one that he calls “Dead Boots.” In a few sentences, he tells the story of his continual use of his disintegrating boots. He described the story as related to how he dedicated resources to the camper by purchasing secondhand or recycled materials, which in turn didn’t leave money for some other things.
“I kind of just started piecing together thoughts about redoing the camper, living in the camper, not having enough money to buy new shoes or trading stuff for other things to get by for years, and it all thematically worked with that idea of not having much and living a sparse lifestyle,” he said.
“All of these stories (in my other books) are kind of adventures, so it made sense to start melding some of my real life with some of these fictional stories I was writing.”
Errors that Schweitzer made while typing – resulting in words he had to cross out, or words that had to be added in or changed by hand afterward – were kept in the final product to represent the book’s journal-like quality. Though the story toes the line between fiction and reality, he said it is very much reflective of his experience and his life today.
The book, he said, is a newer version of his popular “Drifter” series from several years ago. That series derived from a short animated film for which he took photos of himself as a wanderer-type character in front of a green screen and superimposed them into playful landscape illustrations similar to the ones in “Home.” He ended up selling the storyboards and it became a whole body of work for the artist. There wasn’t an actual written storyline, he said of the “Drifter” work.
For the new book, he said, “I wanted to do a little more writing, still leave it a little bit obscure, a little bit for the viewer to be able to discover something or bring something to it and for it to not really spell it out for you.
” I kind of like doing things that are snapshots and you can fill in the gaps in between those snapshots. That’s what this project is about, more about my actual life, but it’s not a beginning-to-end linear narrative.”
This time, he has made an illustrated version of himself rather than using photographs.
He also explored a new illustration technique for him in which he layers varnished, handmade paper onto the top of his artwork. He found that if he put clear varnish on the paper, it would become transparent.
According to Schweitzer, when he covers the center of the layered paper with clear varnish and the edges with a matte varnish, it creates a desired “halo effect.”
“It almost makes it look a little encaustic,” he explained. “… This whole book is about faded memories, so I wanted it to look foggy or dream-like.”
Going forward, he said he’s not sure if he’s done working on his “home” theme. He described it as still “fertile territory” for him, and he isn’t ruling out making a second edition with all of the work that ended up on the cutting room floor of this book.
“I tell a lot of open-ended stories, so I kind of feel like there’s no reason why it needs to be done, with that move on to the next thing, you know?”