Sometimes you're trucking along with your textile art, the kids aren't coughing up massive amounts of phlegm so they're actually at school and the sun's coming back and the cat is only mildly annoying in your studio, when you get an email that floors you. Like the one that comes from your art director in Canada, who you haven't spoken with in a while because you've been doing a few other things, and the letter says that a book you illustrated has made the Shortlist for maybe a Lovely Prize. It's a prize that might involve a gold sticker (oh, don't be silly -- not THE gold sticker).
And your first response is: Seriously?
You measure time by your children. The shapes of their faces. The size of their feet. The clothes you know they were wearing in 2013 when you were working on this project, the shirts and pants and little monster-print underwear they've outgrown. You have a vague moment in the kitchen just now where you wish you could look at their height measurements and dates on the wall, just to check this perception of time, but that would've required making those milestone marks on the door trim in the first place and this isn't something you ever did.
Why didn't you?
When the book came out, one reviewer commented that the artwork was "old fashioned," and you wanted to punch this person's lights out. But you'd never do this. Because you are, in fact, old fashioned. You've come to accept this much since then: you want to create work that demands the viewer acknowledges the presence of the hand, not the hard edge of the machine. And this feels like a quality. Something good that you'll never lose. But what seemed like a criticism hurt at the time, even though you told yourself you have a thick skin.
Sheesh, you're so bad at lying.
And maybe you just needed some space, because now that comment does't seem like a criticism at all. It just seems truthful.
When you inform your husband about the Shortlist and the Maybe Lovely Prize he is pressing hamburger hurriedly into patties because your great plan to have poached eggs for dinner, again, isn't appealing. He molds and shapes and just says, "Huh."
You think he should be more excited than "Huh," you think maybe there should be a party, or a half a beer and then you have an internal hissy moment where you consider punching his lights out. But you'd never do this because you're old fashioned. And anyway, he isn't saying "Huh," because he doesn't care. He's saying "Huh," because he's just gotten off an airplane and he's making hamburgers because he doesn't want poached eggs and he probably has a headache and because he's stuck in his brain trying to remember that wife-working-as-an-illustrator time and that person who you were when you made this book, when really, he's still getting used to wife-as-a-textile-artist-and-always-poached-eggs-for-dinner time. And that first version of you seems like it happened a long time ago.
Because it sort of did.
And later, when the kids are sloshing in the tub upstairs while your husband reads to them and you're still cleaning in the kitchen (good Lord, do you ever leave this kitchen?) you're left groping for the invisible marks on your heart. The ones that measure time and happiness and growth.
Are you sure you're ok not illustrating right now? Yes.
Were you happy before the Maybe Lovely Prize Shortlist? Yes. And now? Yes.
Do images of baby beavers still make you crack up? Yes.
Do you still want a half a beer? Yes.
Are you going to stop making the art you're making now any time soon? No.
And we're all in agreement that you're old fashioned? Yes.
Is the cat making you only mildly insane?
Oh, for Pete's sake.
Many thanks to Orca Book Publishers in Victoria, BC for asking me to illustrate Eric Walters' book Saving Sammy and to the Nature Generation for considering this sweet little story for the Green Earth Award. What a total honor on all fronts.
Other posts about children's book illustration on this blog are: A little side job and Rudder.
(But most posts are about textile art + history + family. And how none of it exists without the others).
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.