I don’t know if there’s anything quite like the feeling of being wrapped up in sketching and mark making after a long and very emotionally trying creative block. Not to say that I’m past it entirely, but I can feel it starting to give way, starting to see slim rays of light breaking through the chinks in what was, for months, a great, black, concrete mass of despair.
As with every artist’s block I’ve suffered through before, I’ve had to be almost tender with myself in overcoming it. There is a conflict inherent in this process of going easy on yourself in order to get better at something; on the one hand, you want to push yourself harder than ever to increase productivity and catch up with the time you’ve lost out on, but on the other hand, you can’t reach that sublime state of flow without relaxing your expectations of yourself. Sometimes the only way to accord devotion to your craft is to not take yourself too seriously as a craftsman. The thing you love is enduring, immortal, eternal- it spans the entire history and geography of our world- and yours are just one pair of hands among millions that will contribute to its everlasting appeal.
The craft is so all encompassing, so intricately woven with the fields of literature, music, storytelling, theatre, and acting, that even its most influential individual practitioners cannot claim dominion over any aspect of this great universal force. It’s something I’ve always loved about the way stories are produced and shared in the modern world, where every brilliant creative venture is nearly always greater than the sum of its parts, even if many of its parts operate from the shadows backstage, never to take a bow in the limelight.
I’ve never wanted to be front and centre stage anyway, because of my crippling shyness. But that introversion and wanting to work discretely from the corners of libraries and studios clashes with my desire to collaborate with other people on projects I really care about, and with the need to speak out against employers and clients who just want to use the medium to peddle the same old tired and toxic content.
And so, for the love of art, from the belief that it deserves better than one more illustrator who cashes in on corporate greed to market products and storyboard brain- dead scripts, I find myself drifting back towards literature and academia. Revisiting great literature and watching brilliant cinema reminds me of why I first picked up the pencil to draw anyway- because of the love I have of stories, that has sustained me through good times and bad. I don’t want to be another artist turned web designer, another essayist turned copywriter, at least not in this part of the world where even the most progressive people in the field find themselves complicit in the perpetuation of a regressive culture.
I started to read and to draw because I, like so many other people of my generation, was inspired by the transformative potential of literature and art to make the world a better and more exciting place for all those who are marginalized on account of their sex, sexuality, race, caste, and class. So I cannot, in good conscience, continue to ply the trade only to sustain those hegemonies instead of challenging them.
How can I express what it means to me when an abused girl, raped and sold into slavery, is empowered when a dragon chooses her to be its rider in a world which respects only what it fears- fire and blood? How can I read Frederick Douglass’s account of his bondage and his freedom without seeking to resist the remnants of that oppression that still causes millions of others so much suffering? How can I not feel elated by tales of neglected and half starved orphan boys making their way up through the world, narrowly avoiding the the miserable fate that meets most of their real- life counterparts? That, ultimately, is the beauty of storytelling, whether the story itself is real or fictional: that ability to endow ordinary young people with dreams and passions that, when collectively fulfilled, lead to extraordinary and far- reaching outcomes.