If you live on the eastern side of the country, pretty much anywhere, by now, you are likely sick of the snow, which given the dirt and dog piss, is looking pretty ugly. But not every mark on nature’s winter canvas is so distasteful. Brooklyn-based author and illustrator Shelley Jackson is adding her own mark to the wintry palette: a short story which she is writing in the snow around New York, one word at a time.
“What I’m doing can be seen as a kind of publishing, part of the long long history that includes the printed book,” says Jackson, whose previous project, “Skin Project,” saw the artist write a novella in tattoos on the skin of volunteers. “But I also just like the way it looks: the incongruous regularity of the letters against the accidental forms and textures of the snow.”
She writes in snow on a variety of surfaces, from mailboxes to garbage can lids, to the toe of her own boot. Each word appears in a precise font of her own design. The letters look as though they’ve been imprinted from a typewriter, though Jackson’s intention is more “traditional book font.” Her goal, she says, “is to remind readers of a printed text, so that for a moment the snow becomes a page and the letters, ink on paper.”
Jackson carves the words with a pencil, her finger or her entire hand. Her technique depends on the kind of snow she finds each day. “Sometimes the snow is so icy that I have to sort of chisel the letters into it with the tip of my pencil. Sometimes it’s so powdery that I have to keep blowing away the loose snow that fills up the lines I draw.” Jackson adds that “one blunder can destroy a whole word.”
The project is uncomfortable; her hands end up raw and freezing. She has even come down with bronchitis, possibly the result of so much time outside.
Jackson wrote the short story in full before the sky began to dump and is currently a third of the way finished. The first sentence reads: “To approach snow too closely is to forget what it is,” said the girl who cried snowflakes. If you’re intrigued, you can read more at Jackson’s Instagram (start at the very bottom and read backwards), or try to catch some of her sentences out in nature. She recommends hoofing it around Prospect Park. But you have to be quick. “The words don’t last long,” she says. “Every time I’ve gone back to look, they’ve been obliterated. They are–and are meant to be–utterly ephemeral.”