A Great Year For Life.

Almost titled: What it was like to be an artist for Kaitlyn Jo Smith in 2016..

Here it is, the comprehensive, everything I’ve done in 2016 blog post, more for my reference than yours. It seems like just last week I was writing 2015’s post and as predicted 2016 was a year of intense growth and change. 2017 will be even more so. Looking back on the year now is incredibly reassuring. There were so many moments after graduation where I felt incredibly stagnant, making no new things, thinking no new thoughts. Now I see that even in those moments, I was moving forward. I laid underneath the covers in the dark in my childhood bed at my parents home and cried eight hours straight after crossing the stage and receiving my diploma. The next day was a little better, and slowly but surely things began to look up.

2016 was a whirlwind, turbulent, unsettling, but good. I have said for so long that I wanted to be an artist, and I have finally gotten a taste of what that maybe might mean. I saw so many beautiful new places and met so many beautiful new people. This has been a very unexpected, unplanned, roll with the punches kind of year, something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Things I never imagined I would get to be a part of have happened to me this year because I said yes to opportunities. I adopted a cat, I flew (without an adult) to Las Vegas, I dug my car out of a four foot snow drift in Colorado with a license plate, I wandered to Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, I slept in a tree house twenty feet up in the air, I drove to Maine and watched the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, I was baptized in the name of art, I tried (and hated) calamari and I saw at least a million cacti. It has been a good year for art, but a GREAT year for life.

***Cheers to 2017! ***


As always, January started by jumping into a frozen(ish) pond with my mom, my dad, and other close family and friends. We drank mimosas before and took shots of Jack after. I saw an Eagle as I drove home through the country.

January was a wonderful start to 2016 and my final semester of undergrad. I showed work for the third consecutive year through ROY G BIV in ImageOHIO. I adopted Elly May aka Smells from the Wyandot County Humane Society, began working at Art With Anna and bought a plane ticket for Vegas.


I started my Royal adventure in February, meeting and photographing Fair Kings and Queens from all over the state of Ohio. A photograph of mine hung in Young Hearts 5 at the Sean Christopher Gallery, I wandered through the junkyard and began planning a cross country drive to Rocky Mountain National Park.

On an un-art-related note, I got to see Kacey Musgraves perform live with one of my closest friends (an event that would be repeated seven months later).


March was one of those incredible, life altering, months. The type of month that completely changes you as a person, your beliefs, your goals, your limitations. March opened my eyes to the fact that I can be unstoppable, that I can go wherever and do whatever I want and that I would be wasting my life if I didn’t take advantage of this newly discovered freedom.

I, along with three fellow seniors, drove to Cleveland and boarded a plane to Las Vegas where we met up with some of our teachers and a few CCAD alums to attend SPE’s national conference. We stayed in a five-star hotel (for free), wandered through the desert, bumped into Dan Aykroyd, ate at a fancy buffet and a Panda Express and explored Caesar’s Palace. You can read more about this trip here, here and here. While lounging poolside, I opened up a PDNedu magazine to find my photographs staring back at me. Turns out I won their 2016 Student Photo Prize for my work shot in Ireland the previous May.

Four days after returning from Vegas, my soon to be roommate and I drove twenty-four hours to Boulder, Colorado, a story told here. It was the longest I had ever been in the drivers seat, the furthest I had ever gone without a ‘real’ adult.

March was four different time zones in under two weeks, it was infinite hours in cars and my second ever flight. March intensified my need to travel, something I tried desperately to satisfy throughout the rest of the year. Now also seems like a good time to mention that in March I found out that I won a scholarship to travel to Maine.


The culmination of four years of undergraduate stress came to fruition in April. Two thesis shows hung less than two weeks apart. Two opening receptions and a defense that left me in tears (not the good kind). It was emotional, exhausting, rewarding and confusing all at the same time. Though I wasn’t fond of all of the outcomes I was incredibly proud of the amount of blood, sweat, tears, thought and effort I put forth.


I graduated, and as stated at the very beginning of this post, I cried, a lot. I took me until around September, when school started without me (kind of), to realize how incredible an accomplishment this was. Only fifty percent of the kids I started freshman year with finished. College isn’t something that everybody does; it is hard and it is physically and mentally demanding. Earning a BFA at CCAD means something in the world of art and I am damn proud to be an alumni from such a highly regarded establishment. I have promised myself to remain more composed when I finish grad school.


May’s cool art thing was a feature in Archive Collective Magazine and work hanging at Pennington Custom Art Services.


I called my mom and told her I was driving to Memphis, then asked her if she wanted to come. We left on a Tuesday, setting out on an incredible mother-daughter bonding sort of adventure that you can read about here.


July was spent in a tent. This seems like a good time to mention that I was more or less homeless from May until August, living on couches between leases. I spent the fourth split between Lake Erie and home, slept in a tree house in the woods near Hocking Hills and stepped on a bee in Vinton County.

The tree house was a wonderful night, a night I needed after graduation. I got to hang out with my favorite photo friends drinking beer around a fire (which I would get to do a few weeks later with a different group of people in celebration of my twenty-second year on earth). For my birthday, we went tubing down the river, frying in the sun; it was the first birthday in as long as I can remember that didn’t leave me in tears.

My work hung at the Ohio State Fair and I wrote an overly nostalgic blog post about it hereI showed a piece at the Tiffin Art Guild and it was also around this time that The Hive began to take root.


August was the end of my post-grad homelessness and the start of a fresh new beginning. I began working as Assistant to the Photo Lab Manager at CCAD. Equally exciting, I moved into a crappy townhouse with a claw-foot bathtub, three cats and my very best photo friend. Almost immediately after the move, she flew to Portland, Oregon, and I drove to Portland, Maine.

You can read about my Maine trip here and here and find mentions of her west coast adventures on The Hive.

While in Maine I began to see differently, accept failure and play with new aesthetics. In doing so Vacationland was born.


This was a month of musical magic. Labor Day weekend was Country Jam, a music festival somewhere in rural Ohio, where I camped out with one of my very best friends. There we drank beer and saw Charlie Daniels, Justin Moore, Chris Young, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves (again), Chris Stapleton and Hank Williams Jr. I also got to see Brad Paisley (a second time) for free outside of The Shoe. To top it all off, my childhood dreams came true as I screamed Sin Wagon at the top of my lunges in an arena packed full of twenty-five year old women at a Dixie Chicks concert.

Unrelated to this musical madness was an impromptu trip to Hocking Hills, my cats first birthday, the annual Upper car show and Wild Art Columbus (which flows into October).


Wild Goose Creative’s Wild Art Columbus was an incredible start to my month. An organization and event by artists for artists, I stood by as my photograph Three Sheep, Ireland was auctioned off, selling for $140. The woman who purchased the piece came up to me afterwords for a picture and to tell me that she came specifically with the intention of buying it. More wonderful art things began in October, the collaborative piece Baptism with the Honeybees was shot and Vacationland was printed. On Halloween I began a new job as the Web Production Assistant at Grandview Mercantile and ReVue in the Short North.

On a note unrelated to art, I spent one weekend romping around Southeastern Ohio at a bachelorette party celebrating the marriage of one of my dear high school friends.


The start of November was great with a trip to Chicago, Kentucky (words and photographs from that adventure to come) and a beautiful wedding, but the end of November was hard. It grew colder and I grew sadder feeling stuck in a city that has begun to feel less and less like home. It was the first full month of working twelve hour days, which has left me both mentally and physically exhausted leaving very little room for new ideas to take root, let alone be executed. This was especially hard considering I had finally begun making again, producing Vacationland, when creativity came to a screeching halt.

Miranda Lambert’s new CD (The Weight of These Wings) came out and I cried countless times while listening to it in the car, relating profoundly to so many of her words.

“Happiness ain’t prison, but there’s freedom in a broken heart.”

“Oh Lord when will the road run out? I’m on a roll but I’m in doubt, and I don’t know why, but still I second guess my place.”

“I can’t count time. I can’t count money. But I’ve been counting every mile for a month on sunday. Whatever road, however long, I’ve got wheels, I’m rolling on.”


On December 2nd at 6:43 pm, my car broke 100,000 miles, then a piece of it broke off of the floorboard and sparked violently into the ditch. Note that while photographing and driving may not be the smartest (although it is a technique I use to make a lot of my images), at least I was doing the speed limit.

I got to run away, briefly, towards the beginning of December to the desert sun of Arizona (words and photographs from that adventure to come). It was exactly what I needed to get me out of my slump and, although leaving Phoenix was hard, I walked away with every intention of returning. Saying goodbye to the sun is difficult, especially when you know you won’t see it again for months. It snowed, quite literally, at least five inches the day after I came home to Ohio. The following week, we hit a high of twelve degrees.

This was my first ‘adult’ Christmas, which basically meant instead of having a month off like every other year of my life, I got nothing. Neither my roommate or I were feeling very festive, resulting in the unpackaging of only three decorations: a tiny pink Christmas tree to place presents under, a plastic needlepoint Christmas tree I got at the GoodWill and a small porcelain reindeer with a sprig of holly coming out of its ass. Tamrin got her wisdom teeth out on the 21st and that evening a package came in the mail with two more decorations from my mother. Two stockings, hers with a bottle of Jose Cuervo and mine a bottle of Jack. These stockings currently hang over our functionless fireplace out of reach from the cats. That gift was the spark of festivity needed to get in my car and drive back to Sycamore after work on the 23rd. This December has given me the insight to write an entire blog post (although I probably won’t) about how true every lyric to There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays is and how I didn’t relate to any of it until this year.

The last day of the year will be spent in the middle of nowhere Wyandot County with some of my favorites. We will count down to 2017, share a toast (and our lives) wee into the first hours of January. Then we will get up, jump in a pond, chase a shot of Jack with a spoonful of sourkrout and look with bright eyes ahead at a brand new year.

And (because why not) here are what I believe to be some of the best things I’ve had to say in 2016:

  1. Beautiful Life (just before I ran away)
  2. We Were Free (just after I ran away)
  3. My First Story (happy birthday)
  4. Lake Scum and Dirty Feet (how family portraits are a thing of the past)
  5. Twenty-Five Times I Felt Something (a list of just that)

Happy New Years to all of you following alongside my crazy journey!

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