I have a problem with keeping things. As in, I keep too many things. I know it’s not en Vogue to be a collector thanks in part to minimalism, Joanna Gaines’ farmhouse chic aesthetic and Marie Kondo’s brutal logic on joy. I’m a pack rat. I keep a lot of things that don’t bring me joy and simplicity doesn’t always resonate with me. I’ve found that feelings are as fleeting as decoration trends, so I guess I’ll keep holding onto things that at least once brought me joy or some other strong favorable feeling. I’d like to start writing about some of the things I find. As a visual person, an object/image can transport us to a specific time and feeling.
My first entry is a photograph.
Today I am rifling through mixed tubs of high school and college ephemera that are equal parts embarrassing and sentimental. I came across a photograph. I’m standing in front of Fountain Street Church in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan and I have just spoken in front of a few thousand people. I had graduated as Valedictorian and as a reward they asked me to prepare a speech for my classmates, teachers and everyone else in attendance. As an artist and a bit of an introvert, it seems they ought to give that role to the kid who placed dead last as a punishment. Never mind, that kid won’t show up, and they know those of us who worked as hard as our bodies and minds would allow aren’t going to skip graduation just because of glossophobia. So I spoke, and when I was done, I was met by family. Someone took this picture.
Today, roughly 12 years later, I noticed two things about the photograph:
First, my face. A lovely mixture of relief and joy. I mean, I had just spoken in front of all those people. Past tense. Only minutes past, but I had survived it. The same goes for my BFA in illustration. I had walked into this college a handful of years earlier completely intimidated by the things hanging on the walls around me. I was scared walking in but after all those classes and finally finding a place where I felt most myself, I was proud to have done the work. I was walking out as a good student and growing artist. I had also met some enormously talented people and made relationships that I still cherish.
Second, my hands gripping that diploma. It’s like they know this is just the beginning. It’s like they are saying, ‘hold on, this is going to be an insane ride’. It’s like they know being a professional freelance artist is an exercise in patience, self flagellation and a TON of rejection. My face doesn’t know it, but my hands do. Look at those white knuckles.
If I had known how hard this life as an artist was going to be, I’m not sure my young self would have chosen it. Which is one reason why I’m glad we aren’t able to see the future. Stepping out of graduation I told myself I would just keep doing my best every day and it would be enough. And it is enough. I just didn’t know that 12 years down the road I would still consider myself an illustrator breaking into the industry. (Did I mention not seeing the future is a blessing?) I’ve gotten to do some amazing projects with some truly special people, but I’m still working at this career and trying to be the very best version of myself as an artist (and person too. Admittedly, not always successfully)
At mass the other Sunday, the Deacon gave a homily and reflected, “hard is just the human experience”. Such a simple sentence. Such a TRUTHFUL sentence. But isn’t hard what makes it worth trying? The fun is in the trying, in the ‘what if?’, in the small victories within the larger battle. I prefer a 1000 piece puzzles to 24 piece puzzles for that very reason. The hundreds of mini victories that paint a much larger picture. Why wouldn’t the same be true for life or work?
I look at the picture again and I see hope too. Hope for a future where I can share my artwork and it will resonate with someone.
At this very moment, when I distill what I’m really doing with my degree as an artist, my goal is to bring joy and spark curiosity in others. If I can inspire someone to read or draw the way other artists and illustrators have inspired me, that’s more than enough for me to continue down this crazy ride.