“purse of wisdom”

A mangled metaphor about the abundance of clear lessons to be had in this craziest of years. It initially came from pondering the universal ones.

How can anyone deny the reality of climate change while the country literally burns around them?

Why does it take a senseless racist murder in another country for 432 deaths in custody in Australia to even make the news?

How is the science of vaccinations under attack during a global pandemic?

Then I had some personal lessons to learn. Working from home made me feel disconnected and unmotivated, doubting my abilities while lashing myself with guilt for not being more grateful.

I applied for a new job and lay awake the night after the interview worried I’d get it. But I would have taken it just for a permanent position, out of fear of the future and to run away from my doubts.

Not long afterwards I applied to go back to study, not to learn something new and move forward, but to get a qualification for what I already do. To prepare for a fallback career in teaching, out of fear of being an old has-been designer.

Maybe these lessons are just as obvious from the outside. That rather than give up, I should believe in myself and keep trying. That instead of aiming low I should be learning skills to build the projects I’m passionate about.

Maybe I need to be more forgiving, and not just more grateful.

“drone #3”

I just ignored the obvious, and kept plugging away at this drawing. A moment of stress and tiredness amongst a pretty happy year (obvious elephant not withstanding), that got chosen as a good exercise… mechanical is easier than biological! Turned out better than expected, didn’t quite nail the textures

The first one was youthful feelings of vulnerability and loneliness, and a homage to the mannequins of de Chirico, with a “secret” message in the blocks.

Have to look up the date – 1996?

Only a couple of years back, 2017. Love those oil can birds!

“reductionism”

One last for the year. Really the absolute reduction of this concept, the ball and chain dragging, treadmill spinning, Sisyphean task.

There’s some positive spin you could put on this, maybe it’s all downhill, and it’s been a pretty amazing year… but a pretty tough one in patches. I still haven’t quite gotten hold of the idea of never catching up, of never having an empty inbox, of letting unimportant tasks be done badly or never.

After a lot of drawing procrastination, this one came together quite quickly. Set myself a deadline to do it before the new year. Got four weeks off, going to catch up on all the things I’m behind on…

too hard, didn’t finish

Drawings have been few and far between this year. Not that it’s been a bad year, the time at the Botanic Gardens getting my hands dirty with design again, an awesome family holiday to Japan, but wondering what it was all about. Being more of a manager than a designer. Being more inspired to code than draw. There are no comics where the hero settles down to being a dad and public servant in middle age!

Hence a drawing about my self-image and its changes over time. Which then seemed pointless and self-indulgent – ‘who will ever see it?’ – or more strongly – ‘who would care if they did?’

Ringing ears and dark ales

But then I went out for a boys night and saw some amazing heavy bands at the Crown and Anchor.* They were old dudes, my age, living the dream and smashing it. We ended up talking to some of them outside afterwards, I was confessing my lack of motivation and they were inspiring. Do it for the love of it, do it for yourself.

And I did. Got all motivated and made good progress to a point… then just stepped back to my coding project. Got really obsessed with it, staying up late and on weekends trying to get new things to work. And they did work, and the satisfaction was massive. But no drawing was done.

Intrinsic demotivation

I’ve been doing more management training at work, as well as a great questionnaire about personal strengths. Lots about how to motivate people, and much pondering on how to get it to work with my staff, or my two headstrong daughters! Turns out there’s a whole lot about challenges and learning something new.

So I started comparing coding and drawing. The first seems like a hard sell. After a day of being on a computer at work, sit at another screen at night, mostly in a bare bones code editor typing Javascript that I mostly didn’t understand. Spend weeks trying multiple things, searching forums, just to get a single thing to work. Being elated when it finally worked. Then seeing the next thing I could do to build on it. Loops.

Drawing should be a no-brainer. Something I’ve always loved and is quite meditational. Something that’s always been a strong part of my self identification. Now a thing where my skills are getting rusty, having to spend longer to produce drawings that aren’t as good as they were before. Oops.

This drawing really was the straw that broke the camels back, but also that finally made it clear. The thing I find hardest at the moment is drawing people. With a good reference pictures, and at a big enough scale I can can still get it together. I was really enjoying this when it was all about the perspective and the pen outlines of the canvases. Then it was going to be lots of detailed small drawings of people, often specific people like the family shot set in Japan… the only one that I actually finished.

Too long, didn’t read

At this point you’d be expecting some resolution, some truths, but they’re never that easy. I’m not ready to give up on drawing yet, but there may be a few more posts about writing a novel along the way!

*Thanks again for the birthday tickets cuz!

8 and 10

Passed cystoscopy number 10 yesterday. Maybe it was because I’m on a week’s holidays, but I was pretty blasé about this one. No drawing even!

On the bus to the hospital there were a group of Down Syndrome teens on an outing. It was a sunny day and they were having an infectiously fun time. But it also made me intensely grateful for the health of my two daughters. Why do we need reminders to feel it?

It was my wife who remembered it would be 8 years nearly on the dot since my first surgery. Cancer and family deaths in the past have given me bursts of motivation, seize the day, etc… but it never lasts. My life is going well and I wallow in happy complacency, feeling a moment of guilty regret after a night of bad television. Should have done some drawing. Looking at my gut in the mirror. Better do some exercise.

There’s a blank board on my desk waiting to be drawn on, a bookmarked headless CMS waiting to be downloaded, a novel synopsis waiting for the difficult second half, and a blog post waiting for a pithy ending. How lucky is that!

“resilience”

As a family we weren’t really that resilient. We all need extra time and space to ourselves to keep our equilibrium. If we do more than one thing in a day we feel frazzled. Travelling to Japan was the crucible for that.

We really surprised ourselves with some crazy adventures of endurance. The epic train, bus and icy mountain climb to spend a half hour at the snow monkeys was the high point. We all had our moments of losing it, but we pushed through and got some great rewards for it. Crepes after 9pm in Harajuku anyone?

This idea came together on that journey, rollercoasters and bullet trains and giving yourself up to the ride. It doesn’t look much like what I initially imagined, with arrows peppered everywhere and blood. It also doesn’t have much of the zen asymmetry of Japanese prints I was aiming for, but it does have a ludicrously accidental mirroring of the banner and the serpent!

Despite being a bit of a train wreck of mediums it needed no resilience to draw, coming together in a two week purple patch of late night sessions. The unexpected revelation was after a week or so of repeated scribbling, trying to get the feel of the coiling serpent in tiny thumbnails, I threw caution to the wind and just started on the big A2 board. The freedom of big drawing gestures was amazing, so I’ll have to start going big and to hell with the practicality.

I just have to learn how to take good photos instead of scanning!

“despite”

A reminder to myself from today, vowing to let other people do crap work and not stick my nose in. A play on cutting it off instead, I originally imagined it as a leaping action pose wildly slashing with a sword to narrowly slice, leaving a skull-like nose stump. As you do. Maybe Japanese flavoured with a samurai sword and Tengu mask. Or Venetian flavoured with Scaramouche mask and ruffled collar both being chopped. Both with a conveniently big nose.

But I’ve already got one half-started drawing, so maybe I can let myself do something quick and dirty too!

chauvinist apocalypse

I watched one of my all time favourite movies over the weekend, Blade Runner, set in an apocalyptic 2019 as imagined in 1982. I had dreamed of chartering a helicopter to fly over Los Angeles just to fully live the alternative real version.

There are no offworld colonies, no flying cars, but we do have sex robots. You don’t need a feminist reading to be disturbed by the movie, a reconstructed male view will do just as well.

I always loved Rachael. She was beautiful and doomed, and I wanted to be gritty and tough and rescue her. Now she just seems like a blank for the male characters, or a teenage boy, to project their fantasies on.

Tyrell makes her as an experiment, loading her up with girl memories to make her chaste and uptight, obediently tottering on heels where she’s told to go. Deckard isn’t interested until that identity and her elaborate hair unravel, then he overwrites with his own operating instructions: “say you want me” – “I want you.” Afterwards he leaves her passive in his bed while he works through the rest of the plot, returning at the end of the movie to issue a second set: “do you trust me?” – “I trust you.”

That’s not even getting into details of the love scene where Deckard kicks the door shut so she can’t leave and throws her against the wall. Or that Sean Young’s tears in the scene were real because Harrison Ford actually threw her against the wall. Or the reports of repeated bullying she was subjected to by Ridley Scott.

I often remark on the great and tough female characters of sci fi, Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor especially. Rachael, sadly, is not one of them.

“germination”

Just for a change, I was delayed completing a positive picture by going on an awesome overseas holiday!

The year kicked off with a bang, splitting my job to spend two days a week at the Botanic Gardens, and on the countdown to that holiday to Japan. Walking through the gates into lush green those first few mornings I knew I needed a botanical metaphor, that there was growth and optimism in flower.

The return of the budding avatar was a given, but it was the rebirth from the ashes that made it real. There’s been some fire on paper in the metaphors, and in life over the last year or so, bottoming out my stress levels and sleep deprivation.

Been too long since the cycle kicked over, let the new baktun begin!

darker grass

I was ten when ET came out. Unequivocally I thought Elliott should have gone with the aliens, had no hesitation about the idea of leaving family and world behind. Two years later, I was appalled Tom Hanks didn’t swim away with Darryl Hannah at the end of Splash. Into the unknown with a girl!

Maybe all of my generation’s teenagers felt alone and different, but I remember watching the couples easily making and breaking and remaking like interchangeable pieces of a simple jigsaw. And feeling like a piece from a different type of puzzle altogether.

I spent too much time with my own thoughts, and smoking weed probably didn’t help that, but eventually found my own way. There was a long planned but never started picture idea in my early twenties. A wild lone wolf me following a harsh and isolated path through the night, pausing to look in the window of a bright and warm house, pausing to look at a mirror self inside. A self connected to a family, peering out at the darker path.

Looking back at some of the things that darker self did, taking social risks I couldn’t imagine now. Loving going to parties where I didn’t know anyone so I could be free of worrying what people thought. Moving to another city not knowing a single person. That me was fearless, but often very lonely.

Two decades later I’m inside that warm house, a piece in my own puzzle connected with family and purpose, wondering where the hell that guy outside would have finished up. Watching movies with themes of alienation, and hoping they’ll have a happy ending.