I updated my website recently (LONG overdue) and asked the hive mind for feedback. (Much as I hate to admit it, Facebook is amazing.) By necessity, my website is just a small selection of images that represent my work. But a dear friend requested that I add one image that didn't make the cut. It is enormous—a 5 1/2 foot tall charcoal drawing done in 2004—not an illustration, and has no place on the website. But, it was a game changer when I drew it. So I am giving it its moment here.
I was in my last semester of art school. I had put so much pressure on myself in my illustration work that I no longer really enjoyed making art, though I wouldn't admit it to myself. The one exception was a figure drawing class with Mark Eanes. The immediacy of figure drawing allowed me to stay out of my head in a way I could not in my other work, and Mark's approach to drawing urged us to leave visible the pentimenti, the errant marks and mistakes and do-overs rather than erase them. It was incredibly freeing, particularly after all the planning and sketching and refining that went into my illustrations. But for the final assignment we were asked to create a near life-size figure drawing and spend eighteen hours drawing it. I panicked. Procrastinated. Overthought it. My modus operandi for any assignment. Did some sketches, snapped some reference photos. And then, with eighteen hours to go, I started drawing. I couldn't see around the drawing because of its size, and I couldn't see the passage of time because I was in a windowless campus studio, and I couldn't hear what was going on around me because of my headphones. So I drew...and drew. Occasionally I stepped back to get some perspective on my drawing, and was surprised to find that I had a whole new cast of studiomates and that my drawing was gradually coming to life. More than that, I became aware that I was smiling. Really smiling, inside and out. I was having a blast...for eighteen straight hours! And that was when I realized how unusual this experience had become. I needed to feel like this more often. How could I transfer this experience to my illustration work?
To this day, before I begin working on an assignment, I spend a minute remembering this drawing and the ingredients that made it most joyful—the fearless mark-making, the clarity of the task, the focus, the humbleness with which I approached the page, and the layering of imperfect marks to create a finished piece. I don't always succeed, but I always try to incorporate all these elements into my working process, and, when I do, I do my best work.