-By Lauren Panepinto
All of you readers of Muddy Colors know me as an Art Director and a Designer-of-Book-Covers, but if any of you also follow me on social media, you have quickly noticed that I have another sphere of geekdom:
How I ended up as big a geek about cocktails as I am about, say, Dune, is kind of a long story that started with a wine allergy, passed through a bunch of classes and gorgeous vintage books, thru helping my husband launch a cocktail garnish company, and ends up with me skipping San Diego Comic Con every year for a different convention, the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Which, again, if you follow me on facebook or instagram, you've seen the literal flood of cocktails this past week.
|(clockwise) Cthulhu's Kiss by Zac Overman at Fort Defiance (extra credit for tentacle garnish), proto-tiki drinks at Cane & Table, a Ramos Gin Fizz (and lovely 1930s murals) at the Sazerac Bar, a Brandy Milk Punch and a La Louisiane at Kingfish, a Bramble at Kingfish, and two St. Germain-based drinks I suspiciously don't recall from Bellocq|
Trust me, I can go on about cocktails at length, but the point is, being involved in other passionate, creative, uber-geeky worlds outside of visual art is important. People who have passion about their craft share the same universal truths about creativity, dedication, burnout, and inspiration—and it doesn't matter what the medium is, the messages are applicable to art and art careers.
I was reminded of this by a writeup of one of the Tales of the Cocktail seminars, Letters to a Young Bartender, in which established pros give advice to newbies that they wished they had gotten, given in the form of letters to themselves. Jackson Cannon participated this year. If you live in Boston you might know Eastern Standard, The Hawthorne, and Island Creek Oyster Bar, where he is Bar Director. He's won a ton of awards in the industry, but there's no better sign of geekdom than designing your own tools.
Here is the letter he wrote to his former self, and I think it's easy enough to see how this relates to any artistic career (just maybe substitute "Fan Art" for "Cosmos"):
Pick your destination. Think carefully about what you really want. Look at your shoes.
Your first step: Get new shoes.
You will not have to map your route to your destination. You will be guided. All of the people you work with from now on will be your guide to the destination you have chosen. If you are clear about what you want, are truthful when people ask you what you want, and make yourself humble and available to guidance, you will reach that destination. If you chose Local Sports Bar Owner, you will be guided there. If you chose Celebrity Bartender On A Reality Show, you will be guided there.
Some of your guides will explicitly help you and say, “Your next step is to put this glass in this spot.” Some will be less obvious and say, “I’m not sure this is a great fit.” Some will shrug and their disinterest will help you. Some guides will be outright warning signs. All of them are guides, and none of them know how to get to where you want to go. Your destination is yours alone. They may have some idea of how they themselves can get where you’d like to go, but their path and yours are not the same thing.
Your first job is to observe. Watch the way the other kid in the black shirt puts away the glassware. Watch the way she puts away the beer. Watch the way your boss looks at the beer when she’s done. Turn on all of your sensors. Observe with all of your senses. Watch the way the bartender holds his hands when nothing is going on. Watch the way he dries his hands. Watch the way his boss looks at him when he’s working. Notice how you feel when you observe that.
Your second job is to do. Jump in. Ask questions. Get your feet wet. Get your hands dirty. No matter what you are told, do it. When you have to do it a second time, do it faster. When you have to do it a third time, do it faster and cleaner. Get on your belly and clean something. Find a ladder, get up there, and clean that. Faster. Catch your boss watching you. Notice how you feel.
Your third job is to get watched. All the time. Feel the eyes of your peers upon you. Sometimes you will feel their envy. Sometimes they will cringe. Sometimes they will look awed. Sometimes they will laugh. Ask for feedback. Ask how they would do it if they were you. Feel the eyes of guests on you. Begin to notice that you are on a stage. Try moving more artfully, knowing that you are being watched.
Fourth: Expose yourself. Go places. Taste things. See the outside. Look inside. Notice. Notice. Notice. Remark. Take risks. Enter contests. Develop a menu of drinks you love (and make those Cosmos). Make a menu that sells itself and notice how you feel. Pour your soul into a project and feel the boots trample on it. Get up. Pour your soul into a project and feel rewarded.
Develop a character that speaks for your projects. Develop a voice. Speak. Recite. Write. Repeat. In a mirror/on a tablet/in a text/on your grocery list/in your pillow/to your friends/to your mother/to a stranger. Say, write, repeat: Every single drink recipe you ever see. Every single drink recipe you ever hear. Every single drink recipe period.
Spend a paycheck. Get the booze. Have a party. Make, say, make again, over and over. When you catch yourself reaching for the bottles before you remember what’s in the drink, then you are starting to get it.
Speak up. Ask. Ask if you can help. Ask if you can run the drinks for a busy server. Ask if you can show the new kid how to juice. Ask if you can pull the tickets off of a colleague’s printer. Ask if you can make a few tickets. Ask if you can taste their contest entry. Ask them to taste yours. Ask if you can do the money. Ask if they will check your work. Ask if you can do inventory. Ask to look at the invoices when the fruit comes in. Ask to look at the liquor invoices. Ask if you can close for a sick colleague. Ask if you can close for a burnt out manager.
Look over the bar top. Look at the women ordering. What do their faces do when they drink what you made? Do their eyebrows go up and away or down and together? Look at the men. They are better trained not to react. Look back at the women. Look at the entire bar from six paces. Go straighten your bottles. Wipe the sticky ones. Watch the fingers of the man on a first date. Offer food if his hands are too frantic.
Listen. Listen to the bartender ask an older man how he likes his martini. Listen to the hungover barback polish with a cloth that is too dry and isn’t working. Listen to the dishwasher, and learn what a broken glass sounds like.
Our senses are sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, intuition.
Get a nice apartment. (Nice for sleeping.) Get a place where you can sit outside within a ten minute walk. Just a bench where you can sit and wonder what’s next.
Fall in love. Sleep with a few people. Don’t give it away. Live with someone. Your time will be ever more precious. Don’t f*!& everyone.
Your mate is likely to be near you. You might know her as the new server. He might be your boss. She might be a valet. He might be in the kitchen. Anyone can do intimacy when they’re drunk, and everyone will connect over the shared hardships of this business. Your mate is the one you can talk to about your sister when you’re picking mint for the off-site. Your mate knows how you take your coffee the second time and never forgets. Your mate has impressive flaws that you see the day you meet them and are not cute now. Your mate is a human that you respect. They can list your flaws. They are not delusional about them. (That thing you do is not cute.) Your mate is curious to discover who you are going to be. You are dying to know how their story turns out, and hope that you’re in it the whole time.
Whether it’s kids or animals or plants, get something living and care for it. Be reliable. Pay your rent on time. Get your oil changed. Pay your taxes.
When you find a home, put down roots. Take your time. Don’t settle. But settle eventually. Have a local. Know your neighbors. Bring your garbage cans in. Pick up litter. Say hi to kids. Watch the news. Know who’s on the ballot. Vote. Watch your community change. Engage with the people who are trying to change it for the better. Take a Saturday off to clean a park. Host a fundraiser. Be known.
Play. Tell jokes. Pick up an instrument. Find your perfect ball: golf, tennis, soccer, foot, basket? Be a fan of a team. Root for someone. Dance. Sing.
Ice someone. Prank. Punk. Look silly for the laugh.
Remember you are not the drinks you make, you are not the glasses you polish, you are not the people you train nor the bars you build. You are not the children you create. You are not the failures you suffer. You are not the awards you don’t receive and deserve. You are not your undeserved kudos. You are who you are and what you believe. If you are a bartender, you will know it, and so will the world.
This is all great art career advice, especially the advice to Observe, Jump in, Get Watched, Expose Yourself, Speak Up, and Listen.
And far be it from me to have a cocktail-related post without an art-themed cocktail recipe and some beginner knowledge:
I went back to one of the most revered cocktail books, The Savoy Cocktail Book (first published in 1930), and found a cocktail apt for Muddy Colors:
The Artist's Special Cocktail
1/2oz Lemon Juice
1/2oz Grosielle Syrup
(this is a red currant syrup, but you can substitute Grenadine)
Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
The note in the original Savoy Book says:
"This is the genuine ‘Ink of Inspiration’ imbibed at the Bal Bullier Paris.
The recipe is from the Artists Club, Rue Pigalle, Paris."
|The Artist's Special Cocktail and the awesome cover of my copy of The Savoy Cocktail Book.|
—If you want to order anything cocktail-related such as tools and bitters (everything except the actual liquor) go to The Boston Shaker. And if you have a question, they're fabulously friendly and helpful to newbies on the phone or by email.
—If you buy one cocktail book a great one is The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan, from his bar PDT (Please Don't Tell) in NYC. Not only is it great for recipes, the production value on the book was so high it's a pleasure as a design object. It has fabulous illustrations by Chris Gall. Each piece illustrates a different cocktail. You can see them all in the cute promo video below.
|Chris Gall's illustrations for The PDT Cocktail Book by Jim Meehan|
(For extra credit, every serious drinks geek should own a copy of The Savoy Cocktail book. Be careful, chasing vintage cocktail books on ebay gets to be an expensive obsession quickly. There's a company that does exact reprints with all original art and binding called Mudpuddle books, they're all available on the Boston Shaker site too.)
—Cocktail DataBase is a good website to look up recipes and ingredients.
—A good app to keep on your phone that has most of the best classic and new recipes is called Bartender's Choice. It's $2.99 and well worth it.
—For those of you who don't drink liquor, you can still be a drink geek, there's some great books on zero-proof and low-proof cocktails out there with recipes for virgin cocktails and homemade soda syrups and other delicious things to drink. Just don't call them "mocktails" — that's just insulting to a good drink. Here's a few great recipes.
—If you want to geek out on cocktail history, the Museum of the American Cocktail is a great place to start. Drool over the amazing vintage collection of tools and books and advertising ephemera.
—If you are already a cocktail geek, you should go to Tales of the Cocktail next year, it's amazing. All the world's best bartenders hanging out in the French Quarter with all the liquor brands in the world throwing drinks and food and samples at you all week. Non-professionals are welcome and it's not expensive to attend. If you go, remember: do not call bartenders "mixologists" and do not expect flair bartending. Although there was a Cocktail showing (mostly in jest) and accompanying 80s party closing nite.
Disclaimer: The author of this post, nor the blog it lives on, is responsible for intoxicated driving or art-making. Please refrain from operating heavy machinery or paintbrushes while drunk. Thank You.
Thank you to Alex van Buren for the letter transcript and Jackson Cannon for writing it.