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Meet Graeme Smith Part II

Graeme Smith

Read Part One

A: Why does working in coffee make sense for you?  Is there a connection, or a draw, between coffee and your art?

G: Um, I don’t know.  Well, I always drink coffee when I make art (smiles).  I don’t know if there’s a big connection.  It’s just a fun job to have with great people to work with, and flexible hours.  Which you need as an artist, because a lot of the time you aren’t making a living solely on your art.  That’s what being a barista has been for me.  It’s been a gig to support me so that I can make music and art.

But, on the other hand, coffee is sort of an art in and of itself.  You can get as deeply into it as you want.  Especially with espresso, which I’ve been getting really into recently.

A: Like with the sensory skills used in art, you’re using a similar part of your brain when you’re tasting things.

G: Yeah, exactly, with all of the sensory experiences that you get with tasting coffee, it really can become a never-ending journey.  It’s the same with art.  You can always push yourself to go deeper.

Being a barista, you’re always talking with people.  And that’s important, because a lot of my art is inspired by how I’m picking up on how people I talk to are feeling.  Being in a social setting like that, you get to hear a lot of different people’s opinions.  From people you wouldn’t normally ever talk to.

A:  One thing I’ve noticed working with you is your ability to take feedback and criticism in a really positive way.  You seem very confident in your ability to take people’s comments and suggestions and roll with them.  I know a lot of artists that if you start to knit-pick at their art, they can get really defensive, maybe even get their ego bruised a bit.  You seem really laid-back about it all.Graeme Smith

G:  Yeah, being an artist is pretty humbling.  It’s just a long process.  Anytime you see someone really making it, more times than not, they’ve just been putting in countless hours for years.  I just like getting feedback.  And I like working with other artists because they’ll give you feedback a lot more honestly.  I think that’s what you need to continue to develop your voice.

A:  You play in several bands as well.  Do you think there is a correlation between that desire to work with other artists and creating music with band mates?

G: Yeah, collaboration is an interesting process.  In bands you can give feedback right away if someone is doing something you don’t like.  You just have to be very honest.  Visual art is tough because you’re just by yourself for the most part.  Sometimes all you have is your own head talking to yourself and it can end up in disasters a lot of the time.

A: Yeah (chuckles)

G: But there are ways to avoid that.   Art groups in Olympia like Sunday Night Drawing Club at Obsidian where it’s groups of people doing art together and giving each other feedback. That’s been super helpful for me over the last year.

Music can be the same way.  If you practice too much by yourself without playing with folks you can start to really get in your head, as well.  Playing with other people, you develop that collaborative interaction a lot faster and on a deeper level.

A: Yes, it’s like developing a skill-set-set in the flow of how you’re actually going to apply it.  That’s really important.  You could translate that process to the coffee shop.  If you’re constantly working on your detailed barista skills like dosing to a certain gram or latte art, or whatever, if you can’t accomplish the skill in the flow of business, I wouldn’t say that it was wasted practice, but I’d say that you haven’t completed your training process yet.

G: Yeah, sometimes if you’re focused on one thing and trying to make it perfect, you may be missing on the bigger picture.  Like how the process all works together.

Graeme SmithA: I think sometimes this can lock people into their comfort zones, and it’s important to get out of them from time to time.  In the coffee shop you focus on drink quality, customer service, and running a profitable business.  There are a whole bunch of things entailed in excelling in these areas.

G: I think that requires not always being a perfectionist.  Being satisfied with what you do even if it wasn’t perfect or you’ll stay in your head for too long which can lead to more mistakes and missed opportunities in the moment that you’re in.  It’s not always about being better than someone else.  It’s more about just continuing to do the thing that you’re working on to the best of your ability.  Sometimes you have to trust yourself and improvise.

A: Yeah, they’ll always be another moment, right?

G: Plenty, more than enough (both laughing).

A: I know a lot of artists that struggle with this.  Getting caught up in the perfection of things.  It can really stall the creative process sometimes.

G: Especially being around other artists who are really good at their craft.  It can sometimes make you want your stuff to be better.  Or, at least, you tell yourself that.  But, in the end, it’s more about the feeling that you put into it.

A:  I agree with that.  The technique of conveying feeling is 80 -90% of it.  The detailed skill is the other 10%.  If art or a craft of any kind doesn’t have feeling, it’s not going to translate emotionally to an audience.  With that, it won’t be very relatable no matter the precision involved.  And with coffee, well, the proof’s in the pudding, right?FB_IMG_1450237364552

G:  Because, as far as skill goes, there’s always going to be a lot of people a lot better than you.  A lot more skillful.  So, you have to rely on something else.  You have to put your soul in it.

A:  Yeah, if you need to feel bad about yourself, just jump on Youtube and watch the 5 year old that can do what you do, but like 100 times better (both laugh).

G: Then you’re like, was my childhood really worth it?

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