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40 Trips Around The Sun
How I focus on what feels good.
My birthday happens to land on the very last day of December. So, I spend a lot of time in reflection during the holidays. Thinking about the year that’s past, the year to come, what I am thankful for, and what my goals are as I take another trip around the sun. I guess the whole world is doing the same thing, but mine is compounded by the added bonus of leveling up my age. This year I turned 40. Could that be right?
I think it’s perfect timing for me to answer our IlloGuild question of the month: “How do you feel GOOD as an illustrator?” It’s really easy to compare yourself to other artists, feel overwhelmed by work, convinced you are an imposter, like everyone else is doing better than you, and of course fearful of rejections. So, it’s critical for all of us to care for our mental health. Illustrators or non illustrators.
The biggest gift 40 years has given me is the ability to look back and see patterns. Good or bad. Observing myself over the years has provided a clear path to growth and the motivation to take action on the things I love. There have been fear hurdles I’ve revisited more than once, nagging dreams that have haunted me, wrestling matches of self doubt, but always a persistent desire to create art.
I don’t know about you, but the world seems aggressively noisy to me! There is a lot of input! And being a visual person myself…there is an overwhelming amount of incoming images and messages. My brain is on overload most days. There is pressure to take care of my family, find my artistic style, to succeed in life, and to make the same noise everyone else is! Make videos, more content, and post it all at the perfect time. Everything is moving at lightning speed.
As I age, I find that more and more my heart has fought back. I seek calm and the simple joys I found in my youth when there were no expectations. When simply drawing a picture and getting it hung on the wall was enough. I didn’t need anyone to like it. I liked it. I liked making it. I liked looking at it. I liked how I felt when I walked by it. I had confidence in my creativity. I didn’t need fancy art supplies. All I needed was the warn down pencil I found in our drunk drawer. Anything could be used as a drawing tool. Anything could be used as a drawing surface. AND I used to be more observant. I noticed how fast the clouds where moving. I noticed shadows and shimmering light. I remember finding a smooth little rock during school recess once. It was orange, soft like chalk, and it was perfect for drawing along the sidewalk. I showed my best friend. There were thousands of them all over the place, sprinkled through out the gravel in the playground. You just had to find the right one. It was as if we had found gold. I drew my name, I drew a rainbow, and anything else that popped in my head. My best friend and I drew for the fun of it and it felt good! How far could we draw along the path before recess was over?
So, the fact that there is so much more than that to juggle now, is inevitably depressing!
Even as I answer this IlloGuild question, my brain has already thought of several different ideas. I could talk about the comparison trap. I could talk about the FEAR monster living in our closet. I could talk about specific steps to take to become an illustrator. Yet, none of that will feel “good”, unless you find your simple “why”.
I noticed one night, last fall, that my brain was racing before bed. This is normal mom brain right? I had so much on my mind. My own check list for work, my mom duties, my worries about my family, our future, and then a random song that was jammed between the empty spaces. Then I realized, there were NO more empty spaces left. I searched in my mental catalog of things I read in an article or heard on a podcast for how to fix this monkey brain. How about a brain dump? Writing things down before bed helped me fall asleep, but it didn’t fix the real problem. I had officially let the “noise” into my brain. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was always something to do, accomplish, or buy. This is not how humans should live! This is not how I want to live. I mean, I’m not saying I shouldn’t think about those I love, my plans for the following day, or be fully invested in my family, community, and illustration goals. I’m saying… I don’t want to be consumed by the noise. I shouldn’t be so wrapped in what I have to do (or should do) that I can’t fall asleep or find a peaceful moment to do nothing. How do I truly stop the brain engine?
My son turned 5 this past week. 5 trips around the sun. He’s spunky and curious. His observations are straight forward and honest. He’s not caught up in all the complicated layers of life. Somehow he still has permission to notice what seems trivial to the average adult. To notice the ladybugs, the imaginary lava chasing him, the moon reluctantly leaving the morning sky, and the way the snow glitters in the sun. The only “noise” he hears is “show mom, she would love to see this!”. And I do.
It reminds me… when simply drawing a picture and getting it hung on the wall was enough for me. I want that simplicity back. I NEED that simplicity back. The permission to just be me. To listen to the child in me. I seek comfort from the things I’ve always loved. I seek an authentic connection to the world I know. I want to participate in activities that make my heart sing. For me that means cuddling with my family, talking to friends, making new friends, being playful, enjoying nature, making lots of art, telling stories, and teaching others. These are my love languages. That’s it! That about sums me up.
So, my advice is: Keep it simple. Search for your simple “why”. Why do you like illustrating? Where did it start? Maybe “stopping and smelling the roses” isn’t so cliche any more. There is adulting, there is work to be done, and there is being a responsible adult. Yet, maybe we really should STOP more often. Unplug. Just stare around us. Listen. Not to the noises around us telling us what to do, but inside us. It’s nice to read books, listen to podcasts, and take classes, but how often do you listen to yourself? The reaction YOU have to the world. What do you notice? Lets give ourselves permission to pay attention to or own simple truths. What we like to do when there is “free time”. Let’s look at the details that made us, the details that hold us together…and the moments we feel happiest.
You’re likely to be doing one too many things. Why? Because that’s what the noises tells us to do. Did you know, time to do “nothing” can also be productive. Nothing doesn’t mean looking at your phone. Nothing doesn’t mean binging on your favorite shows. I’m literally talking about just looking around and observing. What if you set a 5-10 minute timer. And you just sit. Maybe look around, listen, see…feel. Use your senses. Right now as I right this, I’m in my kitchen/dining room. It’s quiet because both of my kids are in school. I have about 2.5 hrs before I pick my son up from preschool. I normally don’t sit because I’m “on the clock”. I feel it ticking by as I try to get as much done as I can while no one is interrupting me. I’m about to finish an illustration I’ve been working on, but right now… I see the pine tree outside swaying in the wind. I like the texture of the needless. A snow storm is on it’s way I think. I notice the houseplants sitting in front of the window. Gosh, they’ve grown. There a light knocking I hadn’t noticed before and I realize its the pine tree again. Maybe it was trying to get my attention this whole time. The refrigerator buzzes. I take a deep breath. I have an urge to check my phone. That’s annoying. I close my eyes. I’m sleepy. My eyes are open again. This room has good lighting. That’s why I like working here. There are a few party decorations left over from my sons birthday party. I’m reminded of how fun it was. My daughter helped me party plan and I really enjoyed that. I spend a few moments thinking about it. How fast it past! It’s nice to pause and relive that joy for just a moment. I feel a familiar urge…to make something. To tinker with something. I take a deep breath and I feel fed some how. Inspired.
As I move forward in age, hurdling in space, I hope to keep seeking these quiet moments. These simple joys. That I’ll listen to me first. That I’ll focus on those that I love. I’ll unplug when I need to. That I’ll run into nature when ever feel like it. I’ll leave room for finding hidden treasures. And I’ll put my mental and physical health first! I’ll share when I need to share, but I’ll do it on my own terms, not because the algorithm told me to. And you know what, it’s that kind of authenticity that really speaks to other people. It reminds them to search for their own truths too. To search for their “why”.
And maybe it will always be a see-saw back and forth, but that’s okay as long as you keep searching.
What patterns do you see in your own personal history? What do you keep coming back to?
What makes you come alive and feel connected to world you love?
What would you hear, if you turned off all the “noise”?
What would you do if there where no expectations from yourself or anyone else?
Leave room for play. Think of your current goals. Make sure you’re doing it for you. Not because you’re “supposed” to. Be playful. Be observant. Find your treasures. Humor yourself.
That’s where you’ll always find what feels good.
Each month members of the IlloGuild, an international group of illustrators, answer a question together. Head over to IlloGuild page to read the other responses.
If you read this far, here is a little behind the scenes:
I drew the top image before I went digital (March 2020) for my old newsletter. I worked mostly in pen and ink. Then I would color in adobe illustrator. I drew this image again to see how I would do it differently now (February 2023). I drew the bottom illustration in the Pocreate App on my Ipad Pro. I still enjoy the linework, but certainly the style has changed. :)
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