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.

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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

YouTube and Accountability

Hey, folks!

Did you know I have a YouTube channel? I have a YouTube channel! I tried to do Vlogmas this past year, but goodness did I underestimate how much work goes into making videos. Particularly since the videos I wanted to make were less vlog-y and more informational, which requires research and scripting and more time than I had on my hands. Maybe someday I’ll get back to them, I had some really interesting ideas!

For now I’ve decided to use my vlogs as a form of accountability. I am someone who has a hard time sticking to things unless I’m prompted or encouraged. It’s so much easier to give excuses like “Eh, I don’t have enough time right now” or “I’ll do it later, I’ve got plenty of time tomorrow” and instead spend my time on video games and Twitter. Unfortunately, all my friends and my dear husband have said they are also terrible at accountability, so I can’t ask them to hold me to my goals. So, I’m turning to the internet!

The knowledge of how many subscribers I have will be really helpful, I think, because I have a visual reminder of how many people are interested in and looking forward to my videos. Having people depending on me is a huge motivator. I hate letting people down! So, I’ve decided to use this as my means of accountability. Each Friday, I’ll film myself talking about what I’ve accomplished that week, how I think I did, how I can improve, what I struggled with, and what my goals are for the next week. In the future, I’m planning on sharing some art process videos, art supply reviews, and lots of other artsy things as well! I’m excited, I think this will be fun.

Anyways, here’s the video!

Thanks for reading, and for watching! Have a great day, folks!

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

Networking! Awkward, but Necessary.

Ahh, networking. The social construct created by extroverts, for extroverts, and now expected of everybody in order to achieve a modicum of success, regardless of social comfort levels. It’s awkward enough for an introvert like me to introduce myself to new people in hopes of making friends. Throwing the concept of “selling myself” into the mix opens up awkward possibilities the likes of which few introverts have ever dreamed!

(Disclaimer! Not all introverts are the same. “Introvert” really just refers to people who feel drained after various degrees of social interaction rather than energized – it doesn’t necessarily mean awkward, anxious, or antisocial. I have days in which I feel great and act with confidence and much cheer! However, I can also be quite awkward when caught off guard, I have generalized anxiety disorder, and I tend to need a lot of alone time to recharge my social batteries.)

Today I had a surprise networking opportunity…and I flubbed it super duper hard. This blog post is to first and foremost emphasize to myself that this encounter was a great learning opportunity, and second to hopefully help out some other folks who are nervous about networking. With practice, I can do it! With practice, you can do it! It can be really intimidating and anxiety-inducing, but it’s the best way to get your name and your work out there.

This week, my husband Aiden and I have been volunteering at a board game convention in Vancouver, BC. While waiting in line for a panel, we met a pretty neat person and we chatted for a while. We were talking about YA fiction, and about how I like writing stories for YA that encourage, empower, and validate the experiences of young people. He then asked if I was published, and…my dear friends, I am not. And I said as much.

I knew instantly I had failed some sort of test. I was floundering badly, so I mentioned something about being super busy! I’m going back to school for a second bachelor’s in video game art and design, I do some freelance work on the side, and I also work full-time. He asked if I work in the games industry. I said no, I work at a university. He asked how I like it there, and I gave my honest answer – I do, but it has a lot of issues right now that I’m not terribly happy with. I mentioned something about the university treating students like commodities instead of people, and he laughed a bit and said something along the lines of, “Sounds like you may not want to work in a corporation, then!” I had failed a second test! Another one that I hadn’t known was there!

Worst of all, when the panel was over, we chatted for a bit longer, and then Aiden and I had to get to our stations for our volunteer shifts. Friends. I HAD BUSINESS CARDS. I DID NOT GIVE ONE TO HIM BEFORE WE PARTED WAYS. I felt self-conscious about my lack of professionalism, embarrassed about not having anything published, and a little ashamed of how bare-bones my website is. Test number three, failed.

But! I am resolved to think of this as a teaching moment for myself, and to not continue to dwell on it as a failure. In my experience, all that will do is exhaust me and make me feel sad. So, without further ado:

Lesson One: Know How to Pitch Yourself!

It’s true that I’m not published – yet! I actually have a book of illustrations and an illustrated short story zine in the works for a self-published print run. I should have lead with that instead, and I should have continued on to talk about the plans I have for an autobio comic. This would at least have shown that I am working on things and that I’m dedicated to my work.

Lesson Two: Be Positive!

Instead of going on a small tangent about the things that make me cranky about my job, I should have talked about what I really love about it! That way, it showcases the passions I do have and showcases things that I’m really good at outside of creative works. Plus, you can’t put forth a positive image of yourself if you’re complaining about the job you already have. For me, I felt like I was whiny, like I didn’t get my point across properly, and like I didn’t represent my job well. AND now I have a tiny undercurrent of fear that I’m going to get fired (who knows how, but that’s how my mind works).

Lesson Three: BUSINESS CARDS AND CONTACT INFORMATION

What good is networking if the person you’re talking to has no idea how to get in touch with you or to check out your portfolio of work? I should have been more confident in myself and given him a business card. I could have even framed it as a way to keep in touch and discuss more books, if that would have made me less nervous. My card still has all the information on how to find me across various social media, so if he wanted to see examples of my work, he could.

Lesson Four: Remember That You’re New to This and It’s Okay to Mess Up!

There will be plenty of other opportunities in the future for me to meet people and to network. It’s okay that I fudged this interaction up. This convention is a safe space, and probably one of the best places to have had this experience. The person I spoke with was very nice and easy to talk to, and I didn’t feel like he judged me at all! I think that’s what made it easier for me to see this as a learning experience and not as a failure.

I always imagined networking experiences to be shameless schmoozing and bragging about accomplishments in order to get ahead. I hadn’t considered that networking could be a way to just get to know other people in my field and to make friends. That makes it less scary, somehow!

I’ve set some personal goals for myself for when I return home. I want to ensure that when an opportunity like this comes my way again, I will be better prepared. I’m going to beef up my website, I’m going to continue my book projects, and I’m going to start writing for short story anthologies so that I can pursue publication and become a better writer at the same time! I’m going to figure out how to balance my time better, so that I can juggle my full-time job, my schoolwork, my professional pursuits, and making time just for me so that I don’t go crazy! I will learn from these lessons and strive to do better – and remember to give myself some grace along the way.

Love and peace,

Katie