Sloe Gin Fizz: the Whimsical Art of Nicole Ray
As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops, and as I sipped my way through Ypsilanti’s various offerings, I noticed something similar about the art on their walls. There were colorful prints of cute, whimsical animals, household appliances, book nooks, and other cozy scenes. The artist behind these endearing works is Nicole Ray, also known as Sloe Gin Fizz.
Some of my favorite prints are an otter relaxing in a teacup, a giraffe wearing five scarves, a robot riding a fiery unicorn and holding a banner that reads “Let’s Ride!” Actually, it’s really hard to choose favorites in the playful world that Ray has created in her art. I wanted to know the story behind these mischievous creations, so I contacted Ray, who was kind enough to answer my inquiries.
Ray was not born in the Ann Arbor area, so I wondered what brought her here. “I grew up on Long Island in New York and in Northern Virginia for my high school years,” she said. “My husband is from Chelsea, which is what brought me here.” As for becoming an artist, she said, “I’ve always drawn, though resisted it as a profession for a very long time. I went back to school for a degree in illustration in my early 30s, but still didn’t truly pursue it until I moved to Michigan in 2008. I was coming out of design work in the newspaper world, so knew that was not a way forward. I opened up an Etsy shop while searching for jobs, got invited to participate in my first craft show and dove head first into that world which opened so many doors.”
Animals are featured often in her art (“I love to draw all kinds of animals”), but so are “calm interior scenes.” She explained, “I love to read and books are a great influence on my work, both in terms of content and the idea of making a time and a space for reading. Much of my domestic imagery revolves around calm spaces that are conducive to reflection and time to oneself. This might explain why my animal themes are more kooky and out there in the world.”
“Windows are a favorite motif,” she added. One print that I have often seen around Ypsilanti is of a wall of full bookshelves framing a window seat with pillows, a blanket, and an open book, as if someone has just stepped away from a cozy afternoon of reading and will be back shortly.
“I always seem to have more ideas than the future can hold!” Ray said. “But, I am always slowly moving forward with ideas for new products and outlets for my illustration work.”
Outside of coffee shops, find Sloe Gin Fizz prints and other products for sale around Ann Arbor at the Ann Arbor Art Center, Found Gallery, Literati Bookstore, and in Ypsilanti at the Brick and Mortar General Store. Check her website for more locations, or order online!
Find Nicole Ray online at sloeginfizz.com or @sloe_gin_fizz on Instagram. Contact her through her website or email nicole@nicoleray.
Writing the Future With Emmy Jackson
Tahir Shah has rightly said, “Stories are a communal currency of humanity.” No one feels that quite as deeply as a writer, and while the stereotype of the hermit author isn’t entirely off base, we can be also, on occasion, social creatures.
One of the extremely talented local wordsmiths that I am delighted to have in my writing community is Emmy Jackson, author of the female-driven urban fantasy series Empty Cradle, which takes place in a post-apocalyptic America touched by the eponymous epidemic called Empty Cradle, rendering 85% of North America’s women infertile. The first novel also begins along what is now I-75, six hours south of the “walled city” of Detroit, the destination of one of the main characters.
Beyond solid writing technique and easy storytelling, I am always impressed when a male author writes women so well, and I wanted to get to know Jackson better and ask him about his writing.
Like many of us, Jackson got his start writing fiction in high school, of which he says, “It was terrible. Absolutely terrible. I cringe to think about it now.” He also wrote for the high school newspaper and literary magazine. He then went on to minor in creative writing at the University of Michigan. “I wrote as a hobby, then eventually tumbled into freelance journalism, which would be my first job as a paid writer.” His first post-high school publication was “a review of the 1999 Ford Explorer.”
Jackson was born in Detroit, so it is rather fitting that his favorite topic to write about is, “Cars! I am a car person since childhood, and when appropriate, you’ll see wheeled vehicles in my stories. In the same vein, I like writing stories that take place on roads or during travel.” This knowledge is put on full display in the Empty Cradle books, which begin with a woman who built her own truck from scavenged parts.
As for other influences, Jackson said that the “most noticeable” is his daily life is, “A carryover from childhood play; at any given time there are three to four worlds rolling along in my head, in real time, and I tend to find ways to translate whatever’s going on in my life into one of those,” he said. “As a result, happenings in day-to-day life, both significant and insignificant, have a way of creating plot points and driving stories.”
Emmy Jackson can be contacted through his website www.emmyjackson.com. His books are available online and for purchase at the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tea Room in Ann Arbor and Grey Wolfe Scriptorium in Clawson.
Molly Jones and Free Jazz
For someone as talented as local musician Molly Jones, it is surprising that she did not decide to seriously pursue music until college. “Since then,” she said, “it’s been a journey of meeting a lot of people who have encouraged me and led me to opportunities.”
While still very young, Jones started piano lessons. Now, though, “I play saxophones (all of them), flutes (all of them), and electronics (laptop and samples), and I also can but rarely do play piano and electric bass. I’d say I like the saxophone because of its ability to be expressive, but I like the flute because it can fit into any style of music.”
Jones now holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jazz and Contemplative Studies with Highest Honors from the University of Michigan and Master of Fine Arts in Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology from University of California, Irvine. Her debut album Microliths, a jazz septet, was nominated for Debut Album 2017 in NPR Jazz Critics’ Poll. Last January, Jones was named one of 12 musicians to watch by the Detroit Metro Times, calling her “without a doubt, the real deal” and praising her compositions.
Listening to Microliths, I found the tracks innovative and interesting, each one unique and distinctive. It’s not the jazz I once listened to with my grandfather, but I think Grandpa also would have found the free sounds and creative flow compelling. My favorite is “Olbers’ Black Sky Paradox,” which has a swinging start!
I wondered what inspired Jones and influenced her music. “I’m influenced by experimental artists including the AACM, Alice Coltrane, Meredith Monk, Pamela Z, and other multidisciplinary artists,” answered Jones. “I’m inspired by artists who create performance work that goes beyond the traditional boundaries of concert performance.”
Current projects include, “writing an opera-ballet which will premiere in March with some awesome collaborators, and I’m planning to start working on my second album soon.” Jones also added, “I always have pieces of music and video art that I’m making, so I’ll fill in my time with that between larger projects.”
Molly Jones can be contacted online through her website www.mollyjonesmusic.com, where you can also find clips of her music and poetry.