Kate Brandes

Riegelsville, PA

A couple years ago, my friend Lauren Kindle and I decided to collaborate on a project. We were both just starting out as painters and we wanted to do something creative together. We decided to interview and paint portraits of strangers we met on the streets of Easton. We called the project Intersections.

There’s a concept in Zen Buddhism called “The Beginner’s Mind.” Basically, the idea is that in the beginning of anything, there are many possibilities and in the expert’s mind, there are few. Before the Intersections Project, I’d barely painted anything, let alone portraits. And Lauren had dabbled in making art, but she’d mostly devoted her time to her children. When we started our project, Lauren and I hardly knew each other. So we were very much of the Beginner’s Mind.

Over several months, we met on most Thursdays and set up our easels somewhere in Easton. We mostly painted on the street, but on cold days also in laundromats and once in the post office. We’d show up and start painting something random, hoping to interest some passerby in talking to us and having their portrait painted.

Inevitably a stranger would be interested enough in what we were up to and stop and talk with us. Often we could convince that person to sit for us.

There’s something inherently intimate about painting someone’s portrait. It requires a deep kind of looking not only at the contours of a cheekbone, the hue of brown in the iris as well as the width of the ring around that brown, but also noticing how faded the tattoo is, how tattered the earring. It’s trying to capture the spirit of that person in the moment. The interview was as much of the portrait as the painting.

The Intersections Project showed me people are waiting to tell their story. We have a shared history and humanity and hunger for connection. I think one of the most human things we can do is bear witness to each other’s stories with a Beginner’s Mind – one that is open to possibility.