Current Occupant

drawings, Illustration, mail

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began I have been culling my lived experiences for ways to connect to strangers. Practicing social distancing, my part time jobs shuttered or cancelled, sheltering in place, and the necessity of confronting financial precariousness has provoked me into active reminiscing, and reflecting on the places I have lived and how each place affected my sense of stability. Perhaps I am simply missing places and people more acutely now that I do not have access to them. Although I certainly wish to see family and friends in person again, phone and video calls allow me to connect with them meaningfully. What I realized is strikingly absent, is the opportunity for me to be a stranger to someone. My effort to recover (or replenish?) these encounters is called Current Occupant. The project begins with hand drawing my memory of each residence I have lived in. This image and a letter was then sent to the current occupant of each address, a complete stranger to me. The endeavor is an offering,  an autobiography, a memory palace, and an ode to that which exists only in memories.

Each original drawing is 6 x 8 inches, ink on bristol.

A handmade artists book of this project is available here.

Click on each image to read more about each residence.




Email me directly at:

workofott (at)




Michelle Ott makes illustrations and hand-cut photographs focusing on observations of our physical and social world. Her work has been shown nationally and internationally most recently at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Berkeley Art Museum, and the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Her illustrations have appeared in the New York Times T Magazine online and are featured throughout The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee (2012) and Candy Is Magic (2017) both published by Ten Speed Press. Ott has given visiting artist lectures at both UC Berkeley and Stanford University and has recently taught in the Art Practice department at Berkeley. Michelle is the recipient of several awards including a residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (2013), an exhibition and grant from The Institute for the Future (2014), a travel grant and exhibition at the College Art Association Conference (2015), and the Eisner Prize in Art Practice with a post-graduate fellowship residency from UC Berkeley (2015). For her service over four summer seasons at McMurdo Station in Antarctica Michelle has received the Antarctica Service Medal. She holds a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley. Michelle works at The Bookstore and is currently the Artist in Residence at the Gateway Science Museum in Chico, California

Resolution Buttons

drawings, Illustration

Archival Prints in Metal Pin-backs with Mylar Covers, 2012-ongoing

Resolution Buttons are an annual drawing project I’ve been doing since 2012 in my effort to draw the things we wanted to see/have/do in the future. The past buttons become an archive of what was happening, what we worked on and a record of what we think we needed. Reviewing the past, I like to remember when that past moment was the future. The hopeful trajectory of the project is about recognizing a sense of resolve in moving f o r w a r d —–> and spending some time identifying what you need to get you going to where you want to be.

I consider each drawing a talisman to manifest the future, or to refine the present. Their meanings change as our needs and desires change. I love giving them to people and hearing the interpretations that different people have of each image. In this way, the project becomes a marker of what each recipient considered important to them each year.

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2018 Resolution Calendar

The Postcard Machine

drawings, Illustration, The Postcard Machine

Video by Felix Jung

The Postcard Machine (Possibly from the Future) was first constructed in 2006 out of a giant cardboard box at McMurdo Station Antarctica, for the annual McMurdo Craft Fair. It is now made from marine canvas and has traveled between both coasts in the US, most recently at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts where visitors were invited to spin the dial to receive a postcard, or create postcards of their own:


It is a vending machine, a social experiment, and an art project. I sometimes consider it my sketchbook. Postcards are frequently screenprinted on discarded paper backed with cardstock from my household recyclables. Here are some samples of postcards:



List of Postcard Machine Appearances:

McMurdo Alternative Art Gallery, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Renegade Craft Fair (San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles), North Beach Art Walk (SF), Beyond Eden Art Fair (LA), Maker Faire (San Mateo, CA), Chikoko Bizarre Bazaar (Chico, CA), Manifesto Gallery (SF), Oakland First Friday 2007, American Craft Council Show (SF), Handmade Nation (the movie), on the street in Jack Kerouac Alley (SF), Powell’s Books (As Candy Machine), Heath Ceramics (As Candy Machine) (SF), Treasure Island Music Festival, University of California – Berkeley.

Antarctica With/Without

Antarctica, drawings

Installations variable. Includes Graphite on Wall, Handcut Archival Inkjet Prints, Graphite on Paper. 2004-ongoing

Between 1999 and 2007 I spent four summer seasons working as support staff at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. This project is an ongoing negotiation of my participation and observation of human intervention in the ice landscape, and includes photographs (sometimes with handcut surfaces) and drawings.

A Passage from Proust

drawings, Illustration

Ink and Colored Pencil on Paper, 2015

I had the special privilege to illustrate and hand letter a passage from Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time in honor of the book which was read nightly, aloud, throughout a pregnancy in preparation for a daughter to be born. A beautiful girl she is!

Riffing on the linden blossom tea and the time of year (nearing July) I made a fireworks display of linden leaves and blossoms to loosely frame an oval of text.


Scraps (Processed)


Paper, Thread. 2015

In 2014 I performed the Postcard Machine (Possibly from the Future) at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts during their Open City/Art City Symposium. I brought 500 postcards, plus enough materials for visitors to make their own postcards envisioning their future cities. After preparing the postcards and materials for the gig, I was left with this lovely pile of scraps. They awaited processing patiently on the studio floor until a frenzied week of weaving and sewing ensued. Bibliography at the time: Waste and Want, A Social History of Trash, Susan Strasser.

Inhabitable Postcards


Quilted Printed Fabric and thread. 2014


An indoor picnic on inhabitable postcards

In the spring of 2014 I participated in a Studio Seminar as a part of the Global Urban Humanities Initiative at UC Berkeley. Our Seminar was called No Cruising: Mobile Identities and Urban Life in Los Angeles and we made several trips to LA over the course of the spring. My focus became researching the Minnesota Picnics which were part of a larger series of picnics held by midwestern states-people who identified as Minnesotan, Iowan, etc… but lived in Los Angeles in the 20th Century.  My aunt, a Minnesotan currently in her 70s had lived in LA for a year with my grandmother at some point near the end of the 1940’s. Through my interview with her I discovered that they went there for a year to accompany a friend whose daughter was unwell and it was believed that the Southern California climate would help heal her ailments. She never attended a Minnesota picnic but I found several newspaper clippings for the once annual event. At the Long Beach historical society I got to look at their collection of historic photographs from the Iowa Picnics that were traditionally held at Bixby Park. Inspired by images of those mid 20th century pictures I set out to photograph the sites as they stand now, and made picnic blanket quilts based on my photographs. After presenting them in our final seminar, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on the blankets, prompting a guest critic to call them Inhabitable Postcards.

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Scavenging Sculptures


Graphite on Paper, C-Prints, Gelatin Silver Prints. 20 x 24 inches each. 2013

I lived in West Oakland from 2007-2013, across the street from a cement factory and near a metal recycling facility. Trucks line up on the street to await their turn to drop the scavenged materials at the recycling plant. I spent time on the street with the drivers and their trucks by using my large format camera to photograph them, and then continued the process by drawing the trucks. Acting as a scavenger myself, I redrew these delicate temporary sculptures as an effort to honor the work of accumulating and building the trash heaps in the first place.
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blue bottle coffee, drawings, Illustration

I started working in the office at Blue Bottle in 2007 and over the course of seven years wore many hats: Office Manager, Bookkeeper, Production Artist. During my time there my illustrations were used throughout the company: in-house events, point of sale signage, retail merchandise, a coloring book and in 2012 in The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee (published by Ten Speed Press.) Although I’m not a fixture in the office anymore, I still do illustration for Blue Bottle Coffee. Here are some examples of the work. More on view throughout too!

Unwieldy Beast


Title illustration for short film by Brandon Loper.

Description from Vimeo: Unwieldy Beast tells the story of Gary Frank Skaggs and his unique piano, which happens to be set atop a three-wheeled bicycle. St. Frankenstein, as it is so aptly named, is a rare combination of bicycle wheels and piano strings and was literally resurrected by Skaggs and given a new life as an unwieldy beast roaming through San Francisco. The film features all original music from Skaggs, as he pedals ever so slowly, in and out of tune, through the streets of San Francisco.

Watch the movie here.


Postcard Project #1


In 2005 I traveled from Portland, Oregon down the west coast to Los Angeles, CA before embarking on my third season in Antarctica. I had with me a set of 100 numbered postcards I had collected or made, which were stamped and addressed to myself, that I then left along the way. Postcards were left in public and private spaces. I received 19 of the postcards, with varied notes. My favorite response the one which outlines “The Five Fallacies about Life”