Self-Portraits

When young artists start drawing self-portraits, they most often pay attention to what’s on the paper rather than what’s in the mirror. Their drawings are a reflection of what’s in their mind’s eye. It takes a lot of training to learn to trust what the artist is seeing in front of them rather than what the mind is telling them.

The same is true of myself when I started drawing self-portraits; I had an internal visualization of myself that was much more idealized than how I actually looked. That is to say, I did not draw myself as the plus-size, round-faced person that I am. After quite a few people and professors telling me that my self-portraits didn’t look like me, I started avoiding drawing self-portraits altogether. I didn’t want to come to terms with my fatness because it was (and still is) a primary aspect of myself that I hated. I loved art – why would I sully that enjoyment with struggling to represent myself as I really am?

I believe I’ve had low-key depression for most of my life, but in recent years it really put in the effort to make sure I knew it was there. During that time, my hatred of my body was dialed up to 200%, and if I even glanced in a mirror on the wrong kind of day I would fall into a horrible spiral of self-deprecation and self-loathing. I drew a lot of journal comics around that time so the awful feelings would have somewhere to go. The problem then was that I had to draw myself again.

13. Thirteen
From my 100 Day Project in 2018

Some days were fine, and I would draw myself as just kinda chubby and large, but never cute or beautiful. I couldn’t even conceptualize what a beautiful fat person would look like, let alone myself. On bad days I was incredibly vicious. I have some sketchbooks with pages of grotesquely exaggerated figures with bloated faces, drooping stomachs, and flabby limbs.

It was around this time that I discovered the artist Sarah Winifred Searle, a wonderful illustrator and comic creator who primarily draws plus-size characters. I had never seen fatness so lovingly and beautifully rendered before, and it blew me away.

I read her comic, “Fatness, Femininity, and the Media We Deserve” that she created for The Nib, and I saw my own experiences reflected in hers. What differed was that she had chosen to reject society’s treatment of fat people as jokes or as villains and to create work that celebrated unique bodies. This in particular struck me as powerful:

“Associative learning is a real thing. Our culture had assigned me negative net value as a fat queer woman, and I had believed it for a long time. I had to build myself a new environment to teach myself otherwise.”

When I started the 100 Day Project last year, my goal was to learn to draw myself honestly and without vitriol. Sarah’s artwork and mission was a big inspiration for that. I wanted to unlearn what our culture had taught me and to learn how to appreciate the body that works so hard for me every day. As I grew more comfortable drawing myself over the course of the hundred days, I had fewer and fewer periods of body-focused self hate. I still had bad days here and there, but I also had plenty of days where I drew my fatness as a cute, endearing aspect rather than a revolting aspect. I can’t begin to tell you how healing that was for me.

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A recent self-portrait on a day that I was feeling pretty cute!

I think I’ll always struggle with my body image. My disgust towards my body is so deeply ingrained into my psyche at this point that I don’t know what it would take to get rid of it. Counselling is definitely helping, and the anti-depressant I take has been wonderful in giving me the ability to climb out of the negative spirals I still sometimes find myself in. For now, I’m going to continue using my art to build an environment to teach myself that I have value.

Peace and love,

Katie

Art…Can Be for Fun??

Most days, when I sit down to draw, I automatically go through the different projects I’m juggling to determine what needs work. I associate artwork with just “work”, with self-improvement, and with playing catch-up to the other folks who got a degree in digital arts, illustration, comics, or animation. I want to be a full-time, self-employed artist someday, so I feel like I need to work really hard in order to live up to that.

The problem with that mentality is that I end up stressing myself out instead of actually producing artwork. I make lists and plans and I research for hours, but I don’t put pencil to paper or pen to tablet as often as I would like.

I have a difficult time making artwork for fun. I grew up thinking fanart would get me in trouble with whoever punished people for breaking copyright laws, and so I tried very hard to only draw original characters. It was still fun, I think, but now I often wish I had indulged in some good ol’ fanart funtimes. Fanart can teach young artists a lot about composition, design elements, proportion, and expression, but I think the greatest benefit is having fun! I think of it like encouraging play in infants and toddlers – they’re learning without realizing it, and their primary takeaway is the simple joy of doing the thing.

I think that’s a big contributor to why I’m so stuck in this destructive pattern: I’ve lost the joy of doing the thing.

I really want to work on making artwork that makes me joyful this year. I want to have fun! I want to run around my metaphorical, artsy playground and try new and unfamiliar things, and fall down, and get back up, grinning and laughing madly, to do it all again.

I do need to hold on to some discipline, though. I feel like if I just treat art as funtimes, I’ll be tempted to lump it in with my other funtimes activities. I’ll end up spending hours playing video games and reading comics instead of drawing. I definitely do need to spend time doing those things to recharge and give my brain a break, but balance is needed.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but I think this would be a good one to aim for. In the coming month, I’m going to try to make that goal more defined and attainable, but for now I think I’ll give myself some time to play with pencil, pen, and paper.

Happy 2019, all! Love and peace to you and yours.

Katie

Comics as Therapy

Stories

Processing emotional baggage can take many forms. For me, I process my problems with comics and illustrations. I really discovered this during my 100 Day Project, during which I made one illustration of myself for each day. Some days were great and super happy!

25. Aida

Other days were tough. I’d get caught up in negative thought spirals, I’d get irrationally angry and upset, or I’d just feel…numb.

19.

For me, some things are really hard to put into words. I have so many thoughts and feelings overwhelming my mental processors that words come out as “Spllusdfuehkjwjeh!” and that’s not very helpful, is it? Joking aside, it really helps me process what I’m feeling my drawing it out. When words stop making sense, I turn to imagery, the earliest form of humans communicating ideas.

Initially I make these comics just for me. If I like them enough, I’ll post them on the internet for folks to see. My aim is to share what I’m going through in hopes that it might help someone else who’s trying to process their own internal struggles. I want to encourage people and to remind them that they’re not alone.

Just as a reminder, if you’re struggling with something and feel at risk, please reach out to someone. If you don’t feel safe reaching out to people around you, please reach out to one of the help hotlines linked below. You’re an amazing, wonderful human just by virtue of being you! You make the world a brighter, better place just by existing.

Suicide Prevention Hotline

Crisis Call Center

GLBT Hotline

Trans Lifeline

Wishing you peace and love,

Katie

 

Inktober and Obligation

I really enjoy Inktober and other challenges like it. The 100 Day Challenge, Hourly Comic Day, National Novel-Writing Month, Mer-May, Witchsona Week – they’re all great! I like participating because these events help give me structure and accountability, two things I struggle with. It’s also really nice to see my social media feeds flooded with wonderful artwork from so many amazing artists! I don’t have an artist community to be a part of in New Hampshire, so these communities of art challenge participants are comforting to me. Even if I don’t actually know anybody, I finally feel like I belong to something!

I’ve noticed that there’s a weird atmosphere surrounding Inktober this year. Overall the theme is positive: don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do all of Inktober, it’s meant to be fun. Some people are more salty than others though, and they almost seem resentful of people who are able to draw for all 31 days, or resentful of the idea of art challenges in general. I saw so many posts with things like “Oh yay Inktober is here! I’m going to NOT DO ANYTHING BECAUSE EFF INKTOBER I HATE IT”. That made me sad, and it made me feel a little guilty for being excited to participate.

I tend to be very easily influenced by others’ opinions on things. I’ve got issues with seeking approval and prioritizing being liked over standing my ground on my own opinions, so stuff like this makes it harder for me to enjoy doing art challenges or posting them online. I don’t want to upset anyone or make anyone feel bad by posting and celebrating my own work. I’m still unsure of what to do about it, but for now, making art makes me happy, so I guess I will…keep doing that?

I do agree with the main premise of the arguments going around, that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if we don’t complete every single day or complete things on time, and neither should we feel obligated to do art challenges in the first place. Social media often feels like a pressure cooker full of expectations, and for artists with little free time on their hands (most artists, I think), the idea of making extra artwork for art challenges to appease their audiences can be super stressful.

I think art challenges were initially meant to be fun exercises to challenge folks to draw things they might not usually draw. If that’s something that appeals to a person, then they should go for it and have some fun! If it’s something that would cause a lot of stress and strain to a person, it might be better for them to prioritize doing what they need to do in order to take care of their self.

In general, I think we could all be a little kinder to folks who do and to folks who don’t participate in these things. Just – be nice, everyone! We’ve all got a lot on our shoulders, and not all of that is apparent on social media. So, whether you are or are not participating in Inktober, I hope you’ll give yourself space this month and remember to be kind to yourself. You’re doing great.

Peace and grace,

Katie