Scope of work:
1.) Illustration for the 2015 Nevada Reading Week Conference. Check.
2.) With dogs. Check.
3.) Must use the theme "Got Books?" Check.
4.) Must appeal to a variety of ages (K through middle school + adults). Check.
5.) Must fit on a t-shirt + bookmarks and publicity materials. Check.
6.) 5 colors, including black and white. Check.
7.) Vectorize for reproduction. Ch...vector-what?
So, for those of you who didn't know this, I used to illustrate children's books. Which is not to say I never will again, I'm just taking a break for a variety of reasons. One reason is ironic -- it's because I now have children. When I started in 2000, I could work the way I needed to work to meet deadlines, make the changes required from artistic directors, and submit on time (ALWAYS submit on time, people, ALWAYS). And when I had my first child in 2006, I thought I could insert him into the backpack and keep right on working. He, of course, being a person, had other ideas.
Child #2 had some good ideas, too. And the 8pm to midnight illustration shift will get you by for a while but it's not sustainable. Mentally.
The other reason I felt the need to take a break was the ultimate cliche. I was that woman who'd left a career to have a family and then when she was ready to return to work, everything about her job had changed.
Fed Ex original artwork to the publisher? Nope.
Did my trusty 2001 scanner talk to my new Mac so I could scan and upload properly? Nope.
But I'm flexible and a learner and a worker, so that's a bad excuse. So here's another:
Did my hair start falling out the summer I prepared to head to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrator's conference in LA after not having gone to this phenomenal gathering in 8 years? Yup.
The third reason is that motherhood changed me. I lost the lightness and naïveté of the first books. I had other people's cels roaming around in my body and I would never be that self I was before children again. I was now, dark. Mostly, I was sleep deprived. One art director I met with in LA looked at my portfolio and said, "Normally I'm never without words. But right now, I am." (And not in a good way, let's be clear folks). Another writer and illustrator, who'd just won a Newbery very graciously sat down with my portfolio and after some thought said, "Your work is threatening." (And not in a good way. Again folks, let's be clear). He said, "You are forgetting that this work is for children. This is dark. This is terrifying." He understood. His own work is dark. (Which is what I LOVE about it, by the way). He had to check himself, his own artwork, constantly.
(And yes. I completely recognize that there is a place for dark children's book art. However, this was not apparently...umm...in demand at the moment.)
Soooo, sometimes the Universe has to resort to whacking you over the head so you'll listen. And then you become a textile artist, where you feel completely uninhibited and dark and moody and allow yourself to take a break from the "Bunny Eat Bunny World" of children's book publishing. Temporarily. Or something.
But every once in a while you get a call from an old friend and agree to do a side job, which turns out to be pretty fun. And luckily, you're able to phone the t-shirt printer in Nevada and ask about "This Vectorizing Business" and when she sees your artwork she says, "No problem, I can do that for you." But mostly what she wants to talk with you about is Alaska. Sweet, because you're not interested in a crash course in vectorizing. You have a feeling it will make all your hair fall out. And you can talk about Alaska all damned day because it makes you feel wildly interesting.
Perfect for reproducing on a t-shirt? Yes!
Am I a graphic artist? No. I didn't do the vectorizing. And I don't want to learn how. Ever.
I like ghost lines. I like smudges. I like the mark of the maker's hand. I like a wonderfully crappy underdrawing demanding some attention beneath the final marks. And I tell my kids this all the time: "I want to see your underdrawing." I take erasers away. We have favorite illustrators whose underdrawings are what we admire most about the final illustrations. "Underdrawing" is a word like "Caldecott" and "Newbery" and "Trace" and "Final Design" and my children have known these terms since they were 3.
Don't get me wrong, I'm no purist. I recognize the shift from page to screen. And I have to say, I'm totally THRILLED to upload images to a site and not have to deal with building in an extra 3 days for shipping and insuring illustrations. That's a freaking game changer. But it's just one of many tools. I think the biggest fear residing within me is that everything will become vectorized and screen ready. Including my children. Do I read bedtime stories on the iPad? No. My husband does. I flatly refuse and say, "Sorry, I just don't know how it works," and then I sneak away and go work on my blog in the dark while Papa takes over. Do I read on a Kindle/tablet? No. It makes me feel like I want to puke. Something about the "page turns" makes me sea sick. Do I sometimes look at Pinterest before I fall asleep? YES! And then I wake up 4 hours later (!), completely overstimulated (!) and thirsty (!) and lay there reminding myself for the next 3 hours (!) never to do that (!). Again (!). But then I do.
But this isn't a post about screens vs. paper pages. It's just a post about a side job and it would fun to hear your thoughts on the above process images vs. the final outcome.
My humble-yet-opinionated-because-I've-seen-a-lot-of-bad-art opinion? There's a tool for every job. The real skill lies in recognizing when something is a useful tool and when it's just a gadget/gizmo/whizbang/hot-new-thing. Are you using a hot-new-thing because it's a hot-new-thing, or because it's the right tool? This is the same lens I apply to working with textiles. I am constantly asking myself: Is this the right vehicle for what I want to say? Could I say the same thing with a photograph? With a painting? In writing? Is this the right medium at all? Do I need a hot-new-thing?
And then I make a go or no-go choice.
The most important part about a work-for-hire job, any job, is that the client is happy. And I think those librarians will be. I sent them the original artwork to frame and use however they'd like. My kids are thrilled. They'll each get a t-shirt in the mail.
And I've learned a new word (VECTORIZE!) and get to go back to stitching now. However I like.
So I had this fabulous metaphor, about how changing careers was like steering an ocean liner (no, really, it made a lot of sense ... just bear with me for a second) because there's this feeling that you're cranking on the rudder to change course, but the momentum is keeping you from switching directions right away. I was going to wrap this up all inspirationally, too. Something about how when that new course is finally set, you'll have all that riveted, massive, smoking energy fully able to commit to your new fabulous intent. You just needed to be patient and that ship would eventually turn, sound its horn and you could get all Titanic on the bow. It came to me while doing dishes. It was going to be an awesome piece of writing.
Except that today there was no ocean liner, or rudder, or direction, apparently. No, today there was just this crappy lashed together life raft bobbing alone out there with me on it and I still haven't decided whether I was watching the metaphorical ocean liner veer away or bear down on me, but let's just say ... it wasn't a high confidence day.
I think I need to get out more. Or do less dishes.
If you've considered changing careers maybe you already know that the pity party of how you've spent years working hard at something only to walk away from it is, well, one of the more lonely parties; that people want to be supportive ("What?! But you were so good at that job! But that was such a fun job!"), but are secretly probably -- no, definitely -- wondering if you'll ever stick to anything meaningful ever again. And that ultimately, when it's time to move on from something you've 1.) wanted for years, then 2.) did for years, and then 3.) questioned for years, you know in your heart that it's the right decision, even if you can't make it happen right away.
And for the record, I do stick to things. For 12 years, I did this:
And for 14 years, I did this (not full time, I cranked out an MFA and two kids too, but still):
And now I think I'm doing this:
Okay, so I'm taking a year to explore this last part with all my heart and riveted, smoke belching energy and then see where the journey takes me.
I do still love children's books. I still do not love wedding gowns. Do NOT ask me to make a wedding gown. I will put you on that life raft if you ask me to make a wedding gown.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.