Story Time... What Happened to My Cartoons?

Over the last year, I’ve referenced my illustrative, cartoonish work from college and how around graduation I got really sick of it. These illustrations used to be really fun for me but they became something that I had to force. There was a time where I could sit there and let my mind wander and tons of unique characters would effortlessly spill from my pen, but that dried up as my passion for doing these characters did. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them, it was just that I felt I’d pushed them as far as they could go and they weren’t going to get much better or get me anywhere.

When I left school I had to rediscover my passion for art in a lot of ways and one of the ways that I did that was figure drawing. Figure drawing and the human form was always something I’d been interested in, especially in highschool, but I’d gotten really far away from it. So after a 3-4 month period of not making anything, I busted out some anatomy books, figure drawing references and just drew things in a way that I hadn’t before. I got just about as far away from the cartoonish stuff I was doing in school as I could. Though what I don’t often mention is that I found my way back. Right around when I came on board at Plebeian, I’d started making these large illustrations where I’d splash paint on a page and pull something from the blobs and drips created. They were a lot of fun and I could create them quickly and easily. I was cranking these things out, one after another yet as time went on they became more challenging. Again, not because I didn’t like them or couldn’t do them, they just felt forced. I’d pushed them about as far as they could go, as I had when I was in school. So I had to find the next step in my creative journey, but with Plebeian getting off of the ground, working a job, and life itself becoming more busy I didn’t have a lot of time, I couldn’t put forth the effort to do an entire painting or drawing or anything. Yet for the first time in my life, I was ok with it, I was ok with not creating anything. Those 3-4 months post-college were brutal because I was constantly kicking myself because I had all of this time, I just couldn’t find what I wanted to create. This time, however, all of my energy was focused positively on other things. I’d gotten far away from my art, sure, but it wasn’t in a bad way and I knew I’d find my way back.

The story of me picking it back up isn’t all that exciting and can probably be summed up as me saying, “fuck it. I want to paint again.” Being the adventurer I am, I tried to do something different. I had two things in my head, I knew I wanted to try to represent life and I knew I wanted to push the boundaries and capabilities of line. So, I sat down and gave it a shot. It was a struggle at first, but over the last several months I’ve found all sorts of different things that really drive me to be better. I’m constantly pushing my abilities and the abilities of line, the surface, the media, and whatever I can. This body of work, or style that I’m currently working on seems to me to be the culmination of years of working strictly representationally and years of working in cartoonish illustrations.

I’m a huge fan of this body of work, but the difference is I can’t pump them out like I did my past illustration work. While I still think that I work relatively fast, these projects take some time and I often need a mental cooldown after making one of them. So, while it seems like I’ve gotten lightyears from the title I haven’t, I promise. With all that’s going on with the quarantine and being stuck at home all the time I end up with quite a bit of downtime. I’ve still been making work, a shitload of it in fact, but I’m a person who always wants to be drawing, or painting, or just making something, so I was trying to find ways to fill the gaps between paintings. In a conversation with my dad he was telling me he liked my new paintings then asked, “whatever happened to the Freaks?” (the name I’d given to the illustrated characters I’d spent years making) I was caught off guard by the question because truthfully I hadn’t thought about them in a while. Occasionally I’d cross paths with one of the previous illustrations I’d done, or I’ll throw down a doodle as I do something mindless, but I hadn’t strived to make a finished illustrative piece in a long ass time. My dad said I should bring them back and I was fully behind it… well until I tried to do it at least.

I sat down a couple of times to try and do some cartoony illustrations but they just weren’t coming to me like they had in the past. They used to be automatic, almost subconscious as every element would just sprout from the last without me really thinking. Yet, when I sat down to try and do a finished piece this time it felt like a chore and I hated the result. I chalked it up to being rusty and gave it another shot. I failed again. Ok, one more. Garbage. It just wasn’t happening and I wasn’t sure why. Doing these goofy little illustrations was harder to me than the last 10 large paintings I’d done. I didn’t know what was going on so I really sat back and pondered what was going on. Was I not good at this anymore? No, I was just forcing it. The whole foundation of my cartoonish work was its spontaneity, it came to me and I made it. And at the time where I was making the most work like that it was coming to me very easy. It’s not now, and that’s ok. As artists we’re always going to develop and change in our styles, mediums, thought processes, everything really. So many times when I’ve interviewed artists they’ve said they used to do this, or that their old body of worked progressed into what they do now, and for some reason it took me a while to realize that’s what was happening to me.

I guess what I’m trying to say in this is that it’s ok to move on from what you’re doing or have done. You might find your way back to that old body of work some day, you might not, and either way it’s fine. Our creative processes are always going to be developing and changing in ways that we can’t predict or plan. I have fond memories of making cartoonish, illustrative work but that’s not where my head is at right now, so why force it? I’m making a body of work that I’m really invested in and I believe that a lot of what’s happening in this work is learned from my days of cartooning. Maybe I’ll find my way back to that style again, maybe I won’t. For now I’ll just keep making what I feel right making, and you should too! Don’t force your creative process, do what you like, what you want, how you want to do it. At the end of the day that’s what matters.