Why I Draw
The post below was written about five years ago. At that time I remember that I was living in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn... I had a studio in Bushwick... I was teaching an illustration course at the School of Visual Arts, in New York City, and I was also enrolled in a Creative Writing class at NYU. I don't recall exactly what prompted my wanting to write about my love of drawing except that I have, since I was a teenager, kept pages and pages of my thoughts, journal entries, diaries, whatever you want to call them. I wonder if I did this because growing up as a gay boy and then as a gay man (I didn't come out until I was twenty three years old) meant that I had to keep so much of myself hidden from the world for fear that if I revealed this part of me, then another part of my world would start to crumble and then disappear. And so writing, I believe, like drawing kept me safe because it allowed me to process things that I may not have been able to process out loud. I could share parts of myself that were squashed down inside of me, and I could, like drawing, harness a kind of energy and confidence inside of me that didn't always exist in my day-to-day life.
I wanted to share this post from 2010 because I still think it's relevant and it essentially captures where I am again within my creative process, in my career, and in my work as an artist and illustrator and designer.
Sometimes when I'm sitting in class and listening to my Fiction Writing Professor talk about the process of writing, my mind begins to drift; not in a way that I fail to hear what he's saying, but I start to align his words alongside my craft of drawing. I have a terrible time with labels, assigning and boxing things neatly (or not -) into some kind of space and then calling it a name. You'll notice that I switch between the words, art, and craft, and illustration, and design, and drawing in many of my posts -- and when I do, I think it's because I'm starting to see them more and more each time as being extremely similar to one another in a sense that they share so many of the same traits. Although there are many people who I'm sure can clinically delineate the difference between each of these disciplines, I'm beginning not to care so much anymore.
When I was 13 years old, I clearly remember saying out loud that I wanted to draw for a living. Back then, I had no clue what I was talking about because I didn't know anyone who made money from their drawings. When we moved to Canada, my father worked in a factory and my mother did data entry at her first and only job for decades. Drawing was not practical in their eyes, and as a result I could not foresee that it would take care of me.
There were moments when I thought that I would give up on drawing. In third year art college, I almost dropped out of school even before the semester began. I wanted to, I needed to move out of my parents home, and so I thought that I would stay working full time at a clothing factory in a suburb of Toronto to save up enough money for rent. Had I done so, I have no clue where I would be now, fortunately for my sake I snapped out of this delusion of mine, and with the help of my brother and sister, stayed in art college for the remaining years, and then moved out shortly after. During this time, I probably drew more feircely than ever because I guessed at that moment, that I had no other choice. In a way, I cast all of my hopes and frustrations into this particular discipline wanting so badly for it to lift me out of the place that I was in.
And so I drew.
I sometimes look at my drawings and wonder if are they good or if they are not. I understand that if the drawing has been commissioned by someone else, that there are reasons that make it successful; that in addition to the aesthetic component, that it needs to communicate an idea and have a concept, and satisfy a viewership. I know all of this, I believe it, and I teach this to my students: content is paramount. But when I distance myself from my work and really stare at it, surface and content together, the parts of it that are not so good begin to reveal themselves to me. I have always fantasized about being a great artist, like the ones whose books I keep on my shelf. They are the ones who are able to manage shape and line in such a way that make me feel that they have exclusivity to use them. The ones who employ colour with such beautiful ease, as though they were the ones who gave birth to such colours. But I know that for many of them, or at least, I tell myself, that I believe not all of this came easily for any of them. Not any of this came quickly either.
I recently opened up Charley Harper's book, the one that was put together by Todd Oldham, and it makes me feel good because the pictures in it reminded me - it reminds me of why I draw. The photos of Harper's work span his entire lifetime, showing images of drawing as the content. The way in which he relates colour to one another is magical and the restraint that he holds in his brush when rendering the details of the figures and objects convinces me that there is a reason and place for every mark that he puts down. And even though he is one of these artists who I have come to revere, I am learning to appreciate the work that he has done as just that, work that he has done. I try to remind myself now of the importance of the act of drawing, drawing for drawing sake, not drawing for money sake, nor for the sake of fame, or for the sake of trying to be like someone else. These things grow less important to me.
And so I draw.
I draw because I enjoy simply moving the paint around on the page, and stylus on the tablet. I enjoy mixing colours and arranging them next to each other to create patterns. I enjoy making marks on the pages and allowing them to twist and turn into something figurative or abstract. I draw because I have things that I want to say that I might not be able to express through words, through actions. I draw because when I do, the world around me falls away.
* This post was inspired by Joan Didion's essay, "Why I Write."