Content Note: List-style blog post, discussion of art techniques and experiences, with some pictures dotted throughout.
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes
Another October, another Inktober, and the Internet is flooded with great pieces of art. Only this year I actually participated - not just in one month-long challenge, but two. In July I also challenged myself to do a month of cat-related drawings as a parallel to Camp NaNoWriMo, then picked up my pens again for Inktober.
There have been several aborted attempts at trying to do month-long drawing challenges in the past, but I've always given up after the first week or so. I'm incredibly proud of myself for doing two this year, and wanted to write about the experience I had and the lessons I learnt.
Content Note: Discussion of self-esteem issues, growing up as an artist, and constantly comparing myself to other artists.
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes.
Artists are a fragile lot, generally. We begin from scratch and build our talents up, quite commonly starting at a young age when the most important thing is our parents' approval and our identities are still forming.
I don't know about you, but I was really sensitive about my art at a younger age. I was particularly sensitive to criticism. Every good artist knows that (constructive) criticism is key to improving your own artwork, and that listening to what other people have to say about your stuff is essential to getting better. It's not easy to have the flaws pointed out in something you poured your heart into, that you spent hours on, but without criticism you're making the process of removing those flaws much slower. Sometimes you just need another pair of eyes.
Content note: Frustration of being disabled, ranting about society, capitalism.
Going forward this blog will have content notes at the start of every post to make it more accessible.
Sometimes it feels like the only emotion that really encapsulates the disabled experience is frustration. I think able bodied people expect things to be a lot less centred around anger; they expect us to be either sad and self-pitying or blithely ignoring our disability in order to forge our way forward and "not let it hold us back". Yes, those are themes too, but if it's anything I've found to be the crux of my disabled experience it's flat-out frustration.
Becoming chronically ill at the age of 18 wasn’t a shock. That would imply a startling, one-off incident that sparked everything to go after it. No - becoming chronically ill, or more accurately realising I was ill, was a slow, unpleasant dawn. And the diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) wasn’t a lightbulb going off, an “ah-hah!” moment, and in reality it wasn’t even really a relief or an answer. CFS wasn’t an explanation, it was a label slapped onto cases that mystify medical science. There was no cure offered to me on a plate, and no biology given for what was happening to my body. To this day my poor health can be somewhat flippantly reduced down to “I’m tired, I’ve been tired for seven years, and no one knows why”.
I first learnt to draw - really draw, not just a kindergartener's squiggles - from Neopets. I'm sure there are those of you around my age who are reading this now and remembering with fond nostalgia the virtual pets website where you could 'adopt' cartoons that resembled dogs, cats, gryphons, and other weirder things. At the tender age of 7 or so I discovered this website and spent a large portion of my childhood years on it, and I fell in love with the cute animals. (I was an animal lover at the time and even picked up the Animorphs series because there was a cute bunny on it. How little I was prepared... But I digress.)
This week I have been continuously thinking about laptops and tablets. Even when I lie down to sleep, all I can see are laptops flying through my vision. I've visited Curry's twice, and the Apple Store once.
The reason for this is that I want to upgrade my computer setup. At present, I do most of my art traditionally despite owning an external graphics tablet (several years old now, the Genius Mousepen i608x), because my laptop's screen is too small for me to draw comfortably on, it does not have faithful colour reproduction which has led to problems in the past when I have tried to draw digitally on this, and it does not run demanding graphics tasks smoothly due to low RAM.
Not only that, but it struggles embarrassingly with gaming, an issue for myself as a frequent gamer, due to having no dedicated graphics card as well as low RAM. I manage to make it work somehow, a fact that apparently surprises my boyfriend as according to reviews I shouldn't be able to do so at all, but where there's a will there's a way and I won't be stopped by lag or having to run at minimal graphics. Still, it would be nice after years of using this setup to upgrade to something that can both run games decently, and allow me to return to digital art with vigor.
Having another creative for a partner is invaluable. (For those who don't know, my partner is a published writer who is currently studying a creative writing master's degree.) Being able to discuss my insecurities with someone who gets it, who knows how difficult it is to make it in the creative field and who knows the wrenching self-hatred and self-doubt that comes so commonly to you when a project is going slowly or not at all - it helps me struggle through. It is incredibly easy to give up, to adopt a self-defeatist attitude, and to not complete something out of a fear that all your effort will amount to nothing.
There have been differences I've noticed between the writing and illustration worlds, although this is all second-hand as I've never tried to make it as a working writer. Writers seem to have an easier setup for agents, and publishers - do illustration agents exist? This is still something I'm looking into. One of the things I struggle enormously with is marketing myself. I never went to art school, and as never taught entrepreneurial skills at school, only how to sign up under big companies and fulfill a role under middle management. It's a valid career path, but at times it seems my entire pre-university education was based around a very particular and narrow approach to making a living that I can no longer follow even if I wanted to for disability reasons.
About the Author
Julian is a 20something freelance illustrator who was diagnosed with CFS/ME in 2012. He is passionate about comic books, Victorians, superheroes, and minority representation in media. He lives in Manchester with his boyfriend and their various pets.