Welcome back to my series where I get nosy with artists and find out what they take with them in their bag. My guest today is artist, writer, and graphic designer, Jamie Harris. I’ve known Jamie for about 20 years and I adore her. She is intelligent, kind, talented, and a disruptor of society’s expectations. You’ll hear all of that, and more, in her answers. Jamie included a beautiful photo of the contents of her bag, which you can refer to below. So, grab your favorite beverage, settle in, and let’s get nosy with Jamie!

Hey, Jamie, so what’s in your bag?

First of all, my criteria for any bag I carry is that it will hold a book. I always have a book. Right now I’ve got a romcom, which is a little easier on the shoulders than the 500-page fantasy hardcover I was previously hauling around.

Then there’s the usual necessities: lip balm, wallet, keys (with my myriad library card tags and a sentimental keychain), swiss army knife, headphones, etc. The random receipts are actually ones that misspell my name the same way a friend of mine intentionally misspells it as an inside joke, so maybe those count for keepsakes instead of useless rubbish?

I always have a pair of socks. People have teased me for this! But so many times I have pulled out that pair of socks and put them on, because I needed an extra pair of socks. 

Other current necessities include my feelings wheel, courtesy of my therapist, which I really do pull out and consult when I’m having A Feeling, to work on identifying it. There’s a color swatch where I recently painted my office/library, so if I run across something decorative I can see if it goes with the walls. I’ve also got a sensory ring, my favorite rock, and my other favorite rock. (If you’ve reached your 40s without multiple favorite rocks, I don’t even know what you’re doing with your life.)

I’d count the rocks under the creative column too, because rubbing a rock and walking and thinking is my creative process in a nutshell. 

Like it or not, my phone is the best creative tool I have on the go. A camera in my pocket! (The do-not-disturb mode is a must, though.) I use the Bear app to collect any stray thought, observation, spark of inspiration, quote from the book I’m reading, etc. I also dump all my to-dos there to free up space in my mind. It really is my second brain. The mynoise.net site and app are indispensable too. There are hundreds of seamless looping soundscapes, and that’s the first thing I put on my headphones when I’m overwhelmed or needing to zone out and be creative. I’ll match a sound generator to whatever I’m reading or writing, and it’s this deep immersive experience that’s really amazing and calming.

I’m sentimental though, and still keep my pre-smartphone Field Notes (graph pages—has to be graph pages), because sometimes a pen and paper is the only thing that will do. 

I think that’s it, so back to you!

Ok, I am simultaneously not surprised and completely delighted by the book situation. Because of COURSE you would carry around a 500-page fantasy hardcover at one point or another!

Hahaha, usually the difficulty is which book to have with me. I have tried to fit two or three at once, just in case!

So…the extra socks. 🙂 Are they for extra warmth, extra cushion? And is this a year-round necessity?

Year-round necessity, for temperature reasons. I don’t go out much, but when I do, it’s difficult to anticipate what the temp will be, and it’s a source of excruciating discomfort to have my feet either too hot or too cold. So in the summer, it’s usually a matter of wearing ankle socks or no socks, and then needing some crew socks if a place is blasting A/C. In the winter I’m wearing wool socks, which could then need to be swapped out for thinner socks if I’m too warm or wearing both pairs if I’m too cold. Spring or fall is just anarchy. It’s a complicated process! Very Goldilocks-esque—gotta get it just right, but with constantly changing variables. 

And the rocks! Where did you find these two favorite rocks, and when did you realize that rocks were an important part of your creative process?

Rocks have been a part of my process so long that I can’t even remember where my first favorite rock comes from! Probably the beach? It’s just the perfect weight, size, smoothness, everything. The second rock is a recent addition—they paved our road over the summer, and this one pink quartz got stuck in the asphalt right in the path where I walk every day. I would notice it and touch it every day, as just this acknowledgment of you’re not supposed to be here but you’re here, look at you, so beautiful, kind of thing. And then one day a big tractor dislodged it, and I picked it up, and the back side of it just fits the curve of my thumb, so it now it’s a second favorite walking-and-thinking rock. 

I do that a lot, just collect orphan rocks and sticks and shells and things. Anything I feel has a story. I have bowls of them all over the house. It’s not quite anthropomorphizing them, I don’t think of everything as human, but I’ve always had more of what you would probably call an animist view, where everything is alive and has this rich inner life that I can’t understand but am humbled to observe. 

So with a rock in my hand, part of it feels like a sensory grounding thing—it’s so pleasant to hold a rock, the texture, the weight, that it anchors my mind and helps me focus. Part of it is feeling this kind of kinship with it, befriending it almost. Part of it is that if I get stuck on a thought, either a loop I want to get out of or just a brainstorming dead-end, I can shift and think about the rock instead, the age of it, where it’s been, how it got here, which frees up my mind to sort out the rest in the background. It helps alleviate anxiety too, when the volume turns up on that. There are a lot of different layers to the process, and it’s tough to articulate. I don’t think anyone’s ever asked before! But that’s the best way I know to explain it. 

I love everything about this. And I like what you said, “Anything I feel has a story.” Incidentally, I had never heard of the Bear app or the mynoise site and I will be checking both of them out. I usually use my Notes app for cataloguing my thoughts and ideas, but I’ve wondered if there is something else out there that might be better at organizing them. 

I won’t go all tech-bro on you, lol! Basically Bear is similar to Notes, but it’s Markdown-based formatting, which I’ve used for so long it’s second-nature to me. That, with some other features like tagging and a powerful search, make it frictionless to use in a way that Notes isn’t for me. I don’t have to organize anything because I can find it with a keystroke. It’s very cute too! The bear. The whole experience is aesthetically pleasing. (Are we back to the animist thing? I suppose that’s only fair for an app I use a hundred times a day.) It’s also friendly with the app I use for long-form writing, Ulysses, which is also based on Markdown. So I can copy back and forth all day long without the headache of reformatting anything. 

But yes, it’s the same concept as Notes, a way to brain-dump all the thoughts and ideas. I like to think of it as composting, dumping everything in there to see what germinates. 

And for us non-designers…why graph paper? What does it do for you as an artist?

Oof, I think it’s just the way my brain works. I don’t know if I have a better answer than that! It’s true that as a designer, not an illustrator, I often work more with grids than just… sprawling artistic creativity. I like the way it helps me line things up, but also that I’m not restricted to thinking only horizontally, like with ruled paper. And blank paper is too intimidating. I just think best on graph paper. The perfect amount of restriction + freedom, guidance but not constraint. 

THIS IS SO FUN! I feel like a kid in a candy shop, for real.

Same! It’s so fun to think through some of these things I do without thinking! Especially with an inquisitive soul such as yourself. 🙂

Anything you’re working on at the moment – or future projects – you’d like to tell us about?

I’m actually all-in on the project of hibernating and resting. My creative pursuits at the moment are for pleasure and fun, not for public consumption (yet). I’m working on collages for the first time since college, and those may eventually show up on my portfolio or on instagram. I’ve also embraced the idea that reading is my vocation and the biggest part of my creative practice, so I’m fairly active on goodreads and have been tinkering with a hand-coded site where all my “field notes” and book thoughts can live. It’s in its infancy, but I’m excited to keep building it out—I miss the old days of non-social blogging, haha. A place to collect all my digital rocks and sticks, and to compost ideas. 🙂

That sounds amazing. Thanks for doing this interview, Jamie. It’s been neat to peek inside your bag (and your head)! You’re so creative and funny and whip-smart. I love the way you’re determined to be you.

Awww thank you! If I was publishing anything I’d get you to write the blurb, that’s an excellent compliment. And right back at you, Jess—I feel free to be me because you are free to be you.


Jamie Harris is a reader, writer, artist, and freelancer with over 20 years of experience in the field of graphic design. Born and raised in North Carolina, she currently lives on a farm in Archdale, NC, with a bunch of squirrels, cows, trees, and a collection of nearly 2,000 books. You can connect with her via GoodreadsInstagram, or her website at jamieharris.co.