Once the words were done, I threw myself into the unfamiliar, beautiful, terrifying territory of illustrating. I was wholly, utterly, entirely consumed. I spilled india ink twice. I wore the same jeans for a week, paint accumulating across my thighs. I skipped class. I considered only this: How the images I was creating might tell a little more of the story. How they might be a hook, a glimpse, some kind of emotional spark of evidence that might help you find your way into the moments I was describing and also into your own. I imagined making every postcard just for you: 22 notes from me to you about ways to be right here, to fall in love with this life, to hold on, to keep on, to become, be present, persist.
It was harder than I thought: To say just exactly what I meant to say with images. To get the right lines, the right metaphors, colors, shapes, words, gestures down on the 4×6 canvas of a repurposed postcard. Words are so much more precise and unambiguous. Illustrating is like writing poetry: It’s all about gesture and suggestion, nuance and hue.
Each time I finished a piece I would instantly fall in love with it or hate it… then lapse into a state of doubt, hanging it on the wires spanning the wall above my desk for a couple hours while I worked on other things and eyed it warily. Sometimes I’d look at it with new eyes and certainty; other times I’d scrap it and start again.
It was so incredible and scary and amazing to start, and start again. To make some terrible pieces. To make some pieces that made me proud. To become fixated on a piece and have it throw off everything: Becoming too precious, so that all the other pieces following it would feel derivative or contrived. To question everything. To commit to something. To find the right lines, the right color of a moment captured.
I discovered I was capable of more than I imagined. This is always the case, I think.
You are always more capable than you imagine. It’s buckling down and pushing through and doing, doing, doing the work you say you want to be doing that is So. Effing. Hard. But oh, so rewarding.
I discovered how much farther I could push, under the creative constraints of a deadline and the requirement of producing a cohesive body of work. There is something to this–the creative constraints part that I want to explore more here. I’m also going to be devoting some upcoming posts to exploring the relationship between word + image. It’s a powerful one, and one I would love to explore in conversation with you.
If you haven’t read the comments from yesterday’s post, you should. Such amazing leaps of courage + faith + joy.
Today I want to ask you: When have you pushed yourself past a point you believed yourself capable of?