A 38-year long germination
Welcome to the latest issue of Feed the Monster, a monthly art journal for people who miss getting letters in the mail (…and for those who seek to feed the monster! You know who you are).
The past month or so has been devoted to working in my sketchbook (see above), trying to figure out what I want Life’s Work—my visual memoir about my mother’s Lewy Body dementia—to look like in book form. I haven’t found the magic formula yet, but that’s okay. From the beginning I envisioned making a book as well as having an exhibit, but the way I’ve imagined that book has mutated over time. Initially I could only imagine text and paintings, like so:
I also wanted to use family photos, which I may still do. A few examples:
But since I started experimenting with graphic memoir a year or so ago, I’ve been drawn toward a more painterly approach to telling the story. My attempts at memoir comics began with entire stories squished into one square panel, and I felt frustrated with how stiff a lot of the drawings were. Eventually I got to the point where I started to allow more room for the stories to unfold, and started working in a looser style which included hand-lettering. Now I see that of course I must paint both the words and the story simultaneously, and allow the stories to unfold as they will. I can’t believe I didn’t see this sooner! Weirdly, I did always have the idea to do at least part of the story this way, but I kept avoiding it. Because I was scared. It’s tempting to feel that I’ve wasted time, but I simply wouldn’t have arrived at this point without doing all that other work first. You can’t get there from here.
I’ve started to wonder if the desire to work in this loose, impressionistic way actually started to germinate in 1983, when my friend Eva Durlacher insisted on giving me a copy of Charlotte: Life? or Theatre? while I was staying with her in Haarlem, a small city outside Amsterdam. This is a massive 600 page hard-cover tome that I dutifully hauled back to Canada. It always stood out as an important artifact in my life, but it’s only now I’m starting to suspect its real significance for me.
Between 1941 and 1943, Berliner Charlotte Salomon painted her life in 1300 gouache paintings (edited down to 769) before losing her life at Auschwitz at the age of 26 (she also—it was revealed in 2015—killed her grandfather. But that’s another story). Could this book be the first graphic memoir? And has its influence on me been percolating these past 38 years? Some things take a long time to unfold...
I started my sketchbook pages in mid-July after joining The Creative Good’s Follow-through Sessions for their summer season. I’m aware of how many times I’ve mentioned Jill Margo and GOOD (recently renamed The Creative Good) in this newsletter, but there’s a reason for that and damn it, I’m going to do it again. Jill has consistently been a positive influence on both me and the work I’m doing since she moved back from Toronto to Victoria, in so many ways: through her classes, consults, her laser-sharp insights and her wealth of knowledge about the roadblocks and pitfalls of living the creative life. She’s above all a fabulous writer, which you can experience and enjoy if you subscribe to her newsletter Over Here.
Due to the pandemic, The Creative Good has pivoted to an online business model, but you can still take advantage of her eminently helpful Creative Consults, Creative Practice Sessions, and Follow-through Sessions.
In the Follow-through Sessions, a group of 6 – 8 writers, artists or musicians (depending on the group) meet on Zoom for 2 hours every two weeks. Participants keep track of, and reflect on, the work they’re doing with GOOD’s very own planner, and there are also check-ins with the group on Facebook twice a week. I credit the Follow-through Sessions with keeping me on track with my sketchbook pages, as well as making consistent moves toward improving my platforms (website and newsletter) and sharing what I’m doing on social media (to a degree that I’m comfortable with). The group covers 5 specific questions during the Zoom meetings, which give insight into the process of the other participants and provide community and feedback on any niggling questions you might have. In the words of Jill, “Follow-through Sessions support you in consistently showing up for your creative practice with focus and intention”.
Below are some of the sketchbook pages I’ve done so far. Through painting these pages I’ve initiated an inner process that I myself cannot yet fully see… that’s the way the brain works sometimes, my friends. Through each iteration I’ll (this is the hope) loosen up more and move closer to what this book wants to be. The voice in my head that normally says I shouldn’t show work that isn’t “better” or “finished” has become quite faint, thankfully. But I certainly still turn out pages that don’t pass muster. I’ve decided that if a sketchbook page turns out really well, it can potentially be used for the book. If not, I’ll paint the episode again (on better paper). And of course the writing will continue to change—there’s apparently nothing like writing something out with a bamboo brush and ink to know if it makes the grade!
Since starting Life’s Work I’ve been challenged over and over with trying things I haven’t tried before, and showing work I’m not sure of. It’s been scary and sometimes awkward, but I’ve never felt more engaged and invigorated as a result of taking risks and exploring (for me) uncharted areas of art-making. It turns out that dipping your toes into shark-infested waters will make you feel far more alive than if you stay safe on shore! WHO KNEW? (Uh… loads of people).
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