Slow Down & Sketch

Project Designer Kelly Olinger had two goals for her MTQBatical: First, explore Montana through a sketchbook. Second, compare and contrast Bozeman to other cities and towns in Montana. She experienced as many new places as she could in 4 days, while learning about what it means to design in Montana, and for the rapidly-growing city of Bozeman. Kelly used sketching as her vehicle to slow down and focus her attention on patterns she hadn’t noticed at first.

Kelly’s Route (Bright Green)

Kelly found the slowness of drawing to be a powerful tool of reflection. In four days, she drove east from Livingston to Big Timber, then north to Lewistown through Harlowton and Judith Gap. From Lewistown she traveled to Great Falls, then to Lincoln and Milltown. From there she dropped south through the Bitterroot Valley. From Hamilton, she went east through the Skalkaho Pass to Phillipsburg followed by Anaconda, Butte, and finally back to Bozeman.

This is what she learned:


Montana is made up of two things: towns (some of which have morphed into cities) and in-between space. Most of her time was spent in her car driving. In four days, she totaled 700 miles. It became a trip in which the next town over was an hour or two away. The in-between space can take different forms, ranchland to forests, mountains to crop fields. Montana’s in-between spaces invite us to see beauty in everything, not just the destinations. To fully experience Montana, means experiencing in-between space.


Kelly left on this trip thinking that she would find a true Montanan thread, something that would reveal how to bring ‘Montana’ into our work at Comma-Q. She thought she might make a discovery that said ‘Montana’, but instead she found a series of towns with links to the people that lived there. Harlowtown and Judith Gap were reminiscent of agricultural towns she had grown up with in the Midwest. Lincoln drew on its connection with the forest. Milltown’s defining character came from the railroads. Beyond the brick-fronted main streets and new construction built with the same materials palette, the makeup of each city, its needs and functions, and character were all unique. Kelly realized there was something much deeper than a Montanan aesthetic that tied all these places together. Instead of finding an individual Montana, she found a collective one.


Many of the towns Kelly visited are towns today because of mining. Some hit the jackpot and were boomtowns. This also had a ripple effect on nearby towns. The copper kings of Butte put refineries in Anaconda and sourced wood from Hamilton. Bozeman is going through its boom now. People aren’t flocking here for mining, but maybe Bozeman’s boom is one of its most Montanan qualities. Maybe Bozeman has much to learn from the booms and busts of the past.