Posted by: James Wapotich | September 21, 2014

Island Dreaming

Two years ago, while out hiking the trails, I had a number of owl encounters that were the inspiration for a series of collages I eventually made called Owl Dreaming. That same year I made several trips to the Channel Islands. In the summer I visited Santa Rosa Island and made a huge loop out to East Point through the Torrey Pines and back via Clapp Spring. And then also made the hike out to Lobo Canyon and back. A month later I visited San Miguel Island and hiked all of the trails there.

Those trips to the islands were the inspiration for this next series of collages, Island Dreaming. The idea that came to me was the feeling of washing up on an unexplored island and moving towards the interior…

etching engraving collage shipwreck

etching engraving collage valley canyon

etching engraving collage oaks owl

etching engraving collage dragonblood tree ruin

etching engraving collage water

etching engraving collage waterfall staircase

etching engraving collage fortress lab

etching engraving collage lab

etching engraving collage airship

If there is a metaphor here, for me, it’s that exploring the backcountry is a chance for us to meet the land on its own terms and through that process connect with our own ancestry on the land, and by extension our own innate wisdom. Each of us through our ancestors, if we go back far enough into our family tree, were native people connected to the land. And yet in our modern incarnations the land is largely unfamiliar to many of us and awaits rediscovery.

As the collage series developed I was drawn to the idea having the character eventually find an airship, not so much as a means of escape, but as a way to journey still further.

In some ways this is the strange blessing of technology, the tremendous amount of freedom it affords us. I can visit a trail behind Ojai one day, and the next day visit an area near Figueroa Mountain many miles away; and then a week later visit one of the Channel Islands. In fact, in just a few short years I have visited a huge variety of places in our local backcountry, something a couple hundred years ago that probably would’ve taken the better part of a lifetime.


engraving collage

…possible preview for a forthcoming, still in the works, collage series…


  1. Happy to see these works here. Your artistry with collage is fascinating, and unlike anything I’ve seen before. Thank you for sharing both the art and the story behind it.

  2. This is so amazing. How are you making these wonderful, beautiful, spiritual collages? Also, is it easy to plan a pack camp hike trip to the Channel Islands and when is the best time to go? Thanks so much. Love reading your blog.
    Lori from

    • For these collages I’m using photocopies of the engraved illustrations that were common to books and magazines during the 19th century. If you do an image search for “Illustrated London News” you’ll see examples. Gustave Doré is probably the best known illustrator of that era.

      After I’ve selected the elements I want to use for my composition, I make a copy of the source images and cut out the pieces I want and build the final image by placing and taping the elements together. And then make a final photocopy of the finished piece to help blend it together further.

      Specific to the Channel Islands, your first step will be to see if there are campsites available for the island and dates you want. On the Island Packers website, at the bottom of the page for each island is a link to the website where you can make campsite reservations and see what dates are available.

      Once you know a campsite is available, contact Island Packers to confirm that they have space on the boat. Typically if there are campsites available then there are also seats on the boat available.

      It terms of the best time to go, temperatures on the island are more moderate than on the mainland, meaning then answer is somewhat subjective.

      Some people might argue that it can be hot in the summer, or windier in the fall on the outer islands. And that the springtime is the prettiest.

      However, every time I’ve been to the islands they’ve seemed beautiful. I’ve yet to experience Santa Rosa when it’s windy, but it definitely has a reputation. And seems like San Miguel is always windy and so it almost seems like there’s point in trying to plan around it.

      It also depends on which island. Santa Cruz is a very popular destination and from what I can tell December-March is the off season and therefore less crowded.

      Another factor is that while Island Packers services Anacapa and Santa Cruz year round, they only service San Rosa and San Miguel from approximately April – November (check their site for the specific window).

      So that partially defines when you can go. And the further the island, i.e. San Miguel and Santa Barbara the fewer the trips. For example, Island Packers typically only offers 2-3 trips a year to Santa Barbara Island, and so getting on the trip can require some advanced planning.

      Hope that helps.

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