It’s certainly been a while! I keep trying to figure out how to concisely describe what my life has been lately, but it feels almost impossible to adequately put into words. I’ve spent the last two months typing in scraps of writing on my phone while commuting in the early mornings, or while I’m sitting in my workspace with too many confusing thoughts to concentrate through. When I tried to consolidate them into a coherent blog post, they kept falling through. Today, fresh out of a rather rough midterm week, I find myself in a good position to actually offer something more put-together for my poor, neglected blog.
It’s been pretty intense these days, a long hard lesson in the concepts that being a professional illustrator is not just about being able to draw.
I thought I had a good work ethic. I quickly establish myself in almost every setting as a hard and intelligent worker. Yet this semester has shown me just how small I still am. I have been pushed to hardcore self-motivate even when my work environment sometimes feels stifling, to not make excuses or waste precious time complaining, to develop systems and efficiency but above all putting in the hours because there is no way around it, to deliver however much is asked of me when it is due, and to decide all over again that I want this enough to work harder than I have ever worked for it.
And my efforts have been fruitful. I’m learning a ton and, though I’m overwhelmingly busy and often exhausted, my inspiration is amply bolstered by everything.
I’ve found I like watching the hands and eyes of illustrators. The eyes of storytellers are always thinking, taking in visual information for both physical navigation, but, more significantly, for absorbing reference and inspiration. In a way, illustrators and storytellers are always studying, always crossing back and forth between reality and the realities they create in their own minds. Such line-crossing has been my experience for as long as I’ve been alive, and I am so excited to be able to see it all around me, to get to learn from people who have made it their livelihood, and are extremely good at it.
I’m convinced illustrators are wizards. And with as hard as this semester has been, demanding more time and effort in my art and processes than I feel I can always keep up with, that thought helps keep me going. Skilled illustrators are capable of things not a lot of people can do. Every moment I spend working toward my classes, I am learning. I am pushing into the reason I decided to plunge myself further into student loan debt instead of teaching myself. I see my art improving almost weekly in speed and quality. I’m connecting with fellow students, learning from people a generation or more ahead of me, yet cut from the same aching, dreaming fabric.
It breathes in their work. In the searching, considering gaze of their eyes, of the steady, analytical efficiency of their hands.
And slowly, I’ve been watching my hands take on a sort of slenderness they’ve never had before. They’ve always been kind of wide, shortish, sturdy. Growing up, I used to think they were kind of mannish. There’s a deep-seated callus on the right ring finger from years of nearly constant writing. Most of the calluses on the palms from gymnastics have faded from 5 years of disuse, but I like to think their memory is still there, buried and dormant. The fingernails are short and ragged, nervous habits fueled by stress and restlessness from the tendency to forget I have human needs.
They are often jittery. A nearly constant pressure to work and create and learn, working as hard as they can stand, but still not perhaps fast enough. This is what the last several weeks have been. The standard my professors hold me to can be overwhelming, but it’s also empowering. I am training to attain that standard, after all. All I have to offer is my best, and that is a bar that is constantly raised and reoriented.
Sometimes I glance down when I’m writing, consider my hands in the mirror as I use them to command my toothbrush. And I can see it, that sense of becoming.
I can see it in my face too. Sharper lines, cartoon-villain-like dark circles under my eyes. An unimposing frame of straight, steady contour lines, most often shrouded in some kind of sweatshirt. A body used to sitting still for hours and hours on end. Of doing whatever it can to adjust to what I’m putting it through. 3 hours of sleep is the new 5. Meals are short and simple, usually only to keep me steady. It holds out as long as it needs to, long nights and even longer days capped by tramping up the steep hill back to the apartment, toting all manner of supplies after an endless day of class.
Over the last month, I have been seriously intimidated by what I’ve gotten myself into: Painstakingly time-consuming assignments to understand paint and color, training myself to be patient and pay attention to realistically render a portrait with just two colors of pastel pencil, spending hours hunched over a tablet screen, drawing out comics more sophisticated than I’ve ever challenged myself to perform, trying to prepare 3 fully inked pages for critique in just a short week’s time. Working my hardest and still having to pull a near all-nighter to stay on track.
I’ve gotten away with too much in my time as a student in higher education. This graduate program’s been teaching me a thing or two about pulling myself together, staying calm, and putting in the hours. I’ve had to take a good hard look at everything I’ve been working for, demanding an answer from myself of whether or not I want this enough.
My life is currently a constant series of adjustments, of striving, of becoming. It has pushed me to the edge and back more than I can count, and I know this is just the beginning. I often wonder if I am capable of pulling this off.
That very fact tells me I’m right where I need to be.