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fighting back

Last night I felt so scatter-brained and weepy and depressed, that I knew I had to take stock of things and try to figure out what to do.

I've just finished one picture book, which I should have kept simple, but I ended up making it incredibly detailed, and took the full amount of time I'd been allotted, and then some. My lovely designer, Rebecca Essilifie, is racing around now getting it ready to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair, in the absolute minimum amount of time I possibly could have given her. (Sorry, Rebecca! You are wonderful!) Actually, take a moment to stop and think of all the book designers absolutely FREAKING OUT right now, in the run up to Frankfurt. Yesterday, my designer at Oxford University Press, Jo Cameron, was doing a very late working night and ordering in pizza supplies. (I know this from Facebook.)

But ANYWAY... When I posted updates that I'd finished my picture book, people said 'Hooray! Now I hope you can take a break!' and I knew I couldn't. Pushing to the final extended-extended deadline on the Scholastic picture book meant I was late in starting up my chapter book with OUP. So I didn't have any time to get my head in gear, it was straight to character design and thumbnails. ...Oh, except there were two weekends of festivals, and lots of dressing up in silly wigs and performing and coaching kids in their own creativity. And I was exhausted.

I got home and the house was a mess with all my paper, letters I don't know where to file, stacks of books, craft stuff, those little canvas bags one gets at conferences, and random computer cables making the floor look like spaghetti. I knew that this mess was all my fault, too. Fifteen years ago, I moved in with a very tidy minimalist, and he puts up with so much, but there's always pressure for me to keep my stuff under control. Or not even pressure, he just gets glummer and glummer and then I feel terrible and try to make giant tidying sweeps. These cleaning rampages usually end very quickly, when, in trying to deal with the bits of paper, I find some form I needed to fill out, or something that requires an e-mail answer; Stuart comes into the room to find me sitting in front of the computer, not tidying. He looks at me working on the computer, and the untidy room, and - to my utter annoyance - doesn't see how the two tasks go together. And you know what... they really don't.

Doing things on the Internet does not mean stuff is happening in real life. But it's so easy to forget that.

I feel like I'm living inside a computer right now. All the e-mails I need to answer, all my connections with work people and friends, my digital artwork, news updates, all of it comes through the screen of my laptop and my phone. I keep in touch with my American family through Skype, but even then, I don't Skype often enough and they rely on my blog to know what's happening with me. I find myself getting twitchy if I'm away from the Internet for very long. When I used to go to cafes, I would sit and draw; now I go online and see what everyone else is doing. Or I post an only-vaguely-interesting photo and wait for people to validate my existence. I get overwhelmed with things people are asking me to do and sort of shut down, and then feel horrible because I feel like I'm letting everyone down, all of the time, including myself. This is the feeling that gets me most depressed.

I feel like I've fallen out of love with drawing.

I can't believe I'm saying this.

I used to draw in any spare moment I got, play drawing games, make comics. And now I'm supposed to be drawing so much for work (and doing a zillion other non-drawing admin tasks) that I've neglected the fun stuff. I'm finding it takes me three times as long to draw things for work; everything looks tight and tense and crabbed, and I find myself scrubbing it out and starting over again, and over, and over, and procrastinating with cups of tea and snacks (and getting chubby) because I'm hating every minute of it. I get a sore neck from craning around at my desk to look over at my computer to see what's going on everywhere else.

This is ALL WRONG. But I'm going to fight back.

Here's a silly drawing I did last night, to try to cheer myself up, based on a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger (from 1532-ish). I didn't let myself do any pre-sketching or erase, just went straight into the drawing and allowed the mistakes to make it more interesting. (It's not something I ever feel I can do with my 'professional' work.)

I know that haven't lost my love of drawing forever, it's in there somewhere, but I need to weed some space around it, to let it grow. I need to stop feeling guilty for drawing things that aren't work-based. I need, somehow, to stop letting the Internet give me self-worth. I used to write this blog completely for myself, as a diary, and I need to get back to doing that, and stop seeing it as some sort of marketing tool. I need to stop worrying it if gets any 'likes', or whatever. I need to get back into playing. And I need to come back to the physical world.

What does this mean? Well, exercise. Argh, I hate it so much, but when I get fat and ungainly, it makes my brain go all slow and fuzzy. It means talking with real people. I'm so glad for my studio mate, Elissa Elwick, who's been in a lot the past couple weeks and is there for real conversation, and cups of tea, and having a laugh. It means getting rid of some of the clutter in my flat. The last time Philip Reeve stayed with us (on his way back from the Manx Lit Fest), he helped me get rid of some of my book pile. Gosh, was he MERCILESS!

Him: 'NO, you do NOT need this book. It goes OUT!'
Me: 'But I haven't read that one yet! But my friend wrote it! But it's about a mermaid!'
Him: 'You're never going to read it, are you.'
Me: 'But I might! Some day!'
Him: 'If you really want to read it, you can buy it again.'
Him: 'This is really upsetting you, isn't it.'

I pleaded the case for keeping too many of the books, but I had three huge bags full for the charity shop when we'd finished. (Thanks, Philip.)

It means I need to set Internet limits for myself. Not answering e-mails between certain hours, setting exact times when I'm allowed to look at Twitter. (I've been doing that a bit already, telling people not to let me back on until 5pm or so. It really helps.) I somehow need to stop making the Internet and ever-present part of my life. It's hard, though; the lines are so blurred; I use the Internet for image research, I sometimes need to contact colleagues during the day, I have tea breaks where I think, I could surf Twitter while I drink this cup of tea. Maybe I need to set myself a challenge on certain days, that every single time I get the urge to go online, I have to make a doodle instead. That could be interesting. Here's today's Morning Sketch. (I love the way dry shampoo gives me awesome Gibson Girl hair.)

Anyway, I'm fighting back. (I'm going to keep saying this phrase, in my head, over and over.) I used to make Morning Sketches, and that helped get my head in gear for the day. I hate, hate, HATE routine, I'm not a routine kind of person at all. But I think I need to force myself to do a daily Morning Sketch and go for a run. Otherwise I think I might fall apart. Here's today's Morning Sketch. And blogging about it is making me run late again, but I'm not going to use that as an excuse to avoid exercise, like I have done for the last two months or so. Argh.



( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
April Nash
Oct. 3rd, 2014 10:07 am (UTC)
You are doing all the right things - I'm so sorry to hear that you're having a rough time with your work. (It still always looks beautiful - I think I've bought my little sister copies of all your books for her primary class now!)

I've been like this too lately and mixing it up again is really helpful (I'll be starting the gym again tomorrow *weep*)

- and by doing drawings you like doing and just creative/artistic PLAY makes a world of difference! It gets difficult when the thing you love is the thing you HAVE to do for your living. Expectations, deadlines and personal standards really put a lot of pressure on artists who would originally just create for enjoyment and entertainment.

Don't worry about replying - I just wanted to leave you a supportive message!

You fight Sarah, you're incredible! :) xxxx
Oct. 3rd, 2014 10:15 am (UTC)
I can relate to a lot of this -- I spend too much time on the Internet, I have a lot of clutter at home (A LOT), and I don't enjoy drawing like I used to.

And I'm nowhere near as successful and busy as you. As I have said for the last few years, you continue to amaze me with all you do.

I really think you and Stuart ought to take a vacation (with no book fairs, no fancy wigs, and no Internet). Or a stay-cation with no internet so you can get things done at home (if it's possible to be at home and not have the Internet available). Give yourself permission to do a little less. Say no (politely) to some requests if they are not what you want to do.

I really need to exercise. Your post is inspiring to me. I'll let you know if I actually do the sit-ups I keep thinking might be good for me...
Oct. 3rd, 2014 10:23 am (UTC)
Yay to fighting back ! To celebrate, here's a fighting mermaid that someone posted on twitter this morning (source : Gallica):

Oct. 3rd, 2014 10:44 am (UTC)
Thanks for posting this, it's sad to hear someone going through the bad times- but really great to hear the fighting back! I have the same feeling sometimes- I just get waves of dealing with it well and then not at all... I think getting some structure back and doing a daily drawing is a great idea- escaping the house too (and the always interesting but time eating internet!)

Some of the best things that have worked for me- apart from the one's you have already said - have been things like - looking at work I like. sitting in front of a book or a screen and just soaking up, for fun - the things I love. I don't know if it would work for everyone but once I stopped drawing for a month or two. My hand was really hurt bad and I couldn't hold a pen at all. So I just looked a things I liked, thought about what I really liked about them, how I could move more in that direction. I realised I love the mistakes that show me things were painted, or drawn by a human- but I wasn't giving myself room to make any. I was trying to polish everything clean and crisp, when the fun was in the smudge or the grainy photograph.

When I came back to drawing - I expected to be rusty (and I was!! just hide those ones) but my work had got better than ever (I think- more fun anyway!) I think it was down to the choices I was making. I wasn't drawing through habit or muscle memory or something- it was like learning to draw again- and so became a thrill again. I didn't just repeat the same process again and again like I was- I tried new brushes- I drew real- cartoon- anything I wanted to try. I painted if I wanted. So variety, and taking a break too. Let things stew in the back of the mind- feed the brain stew with fun things!

Sorry, I don't want to ramble-I could ramble about this all day- having made a million mistakes and had several dozen breakdowns I know a little about it- though I I just wanted to say good on you for tackling it head on and being positive! I love your self portrait, the hair especially!
Oct. 3rd, 2014 11:22 am (UTC)
Good for you! There are apps to help you take breaks - things that block access for a set time. Also of course on LJ you can turn comments off or on - I know it is very tempting to want to see what replies you get on things (and how many) but maybe turning them off might work for you sometimes?
Oct. 3rd, 2014 11:35 am (UTC)
Sarah - Sue Eves here - be kind to yourself - don't do routine doodles. Give yourself an Artist's Date and play, like you say - you're not having fun but you can. Start with giving yourself permission to play at anything for 20 minutes. Buy an artist toy (be a child again and find something new for drawing - have you seen those chunky crayon rings?). Go somewhere - anywhere just by yourself - on a date with yourself for an hour - a day. Give yourself down time - nothing to do with work, Everything to do with play.
Yes - and timed internet helps.
You have had an enormous workload and promotion period - Let go of some of it. We won't forget you!
Oct. 3rd, 2014 11:44 am (UTC)
I think a lot of people feel like this about life -- which is not to diminish what you said, just to empathise. A lot of what you describe is actually similar to what it's like with a longterm health condition (like me with ME/CFS). I used to be a bit "all or nothing" about everything (like you describe with your tidying and drawing for books) and since being ill I've had to learn how to pace myself. It was hard work getting used to pacing, but it's really made a difference, and I'm beginning to realise that it's a skill that would actually have been beneficial before I even had a health condition to contend with. And I really didn't/don't like strict routines either. But they *can* help!

I think taking time off Twitter/FB/Instagram will give your brain more space to focus -- it really helped me. The fast-updating fragmented nature of them leaves my brain fragmented and distracted, and being a bit disconnected from that means my brain is clearer and I can focus better, so it might be the same for you too. You don't have to quit them all together like I have, but people *won't* think it's the end of the world if you don't update in real-time about every event you're at, or if you don't post a picture every time.

Maybe instead of going online to do picture research you could look at your books? I bet you'd find something that no one else would, because everyone else looks online.

I remember you used to cycle a lot, perhaps you could try to fit that into your day again for exercise? Even just going for a walk would make a difference if you can't face running. Go and say hello to the goats at the city farm :) Also, maybe try some mindfulness exercises. Instead of getting your phone out, or even your sketchbook, just try to actually BE in the moment, with ALL of your senses. Just for five minutes (this is much easier to do in a park or by the river where it's quiet). Focus on your breathing. It'll help, I promise.

Anyway, I've rambled loads more than I intended to. I hope you figure something out soon. And I miss you! Haven't seen anyone for so long... Hopefully I will soon :)

ps. I love the disco ball hat!
pps. the LJ captchas are making me laugh, I've had "downward slope" and then "people like me" (which could be taken two ways)
Oct. 3rd, 2014 12:40 pm (UTC)
Big hugs.

Also you are one of the most industrious people I know of.

Seriously if doubt grab some Belgian chocolate.
If you're doubting your work methods try introducing other people's work methods into your routine. If doesn't work for you, dump it. At the very least you'll be breaking up your routine :)
Oct. 3rd, 2014 01:25 pm (UTC)
I think we are all to a certain extent struggling with the same malaise. I won't offer nay unsolicited advice. Just a virtual hug. Take care of yourself and focus on the fun stuff.
Oct. 3rd, 2014 01:28 pm (UTC)
Being supportive!
I SO know what you mean. Substitute writing for drawing and it's exactly how I feel at the moment. Add supporting lots of family members who are also struggling. Where am I? Where is my time for friends and enjoying stuff? Obviously glad to be successful, but sometimes it's so draining.
Oct. 3rd, 2014 04:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much, everyone! Really good to read your comments. Thanks for your kind words, and for sharing your thoughts. xx
Oct. 3rd, 2014 05:18 pm (UTC)
Fighting back
Just sending my love. I'm sure you will bounce back after a rest. Your work cheers up so many people!
Oct. 3rd, 2014 05:23 pm (UTC)
The last comment sending love was from me. Odette
Forgot to put my name. (I thought a picture would appear.) xx
Oct. 3rd, 2014 09:26 pm (UTC)
Awww, Sarah, his is so very similar to how I feel about my writing at the moment. I mean my fiction writing, not my non-fiction stuff which people keep asking me to do but the fiction stuff that I used to WANT and LOVE and NEED to do but which now is far, far too hard. And I live in the interwebz, too, and it makes me feel sick that I like it so much.This month I have vowed to put writing a novel before everything else and for three days I have done just that but I've ended the third day completely sure that the novel is absolutely terrible and not worth writing. Ughhh. Courage, lovely one. You CAN get your love of it back again but you need to give it time, which is exactly what you've just said. And I hate exercise, too! xxxx
Oct. 4th, 2014 07:54 am (UTC)
That disco ball picture would cheer up a rock
Oct. 4th, 2014 12:00 pm (UTC)
Hugs from me too xxx
Oct. 4th, 2014 12:01 pm (UTC)
Anita :)
Oct. 4th, 2014 03:27 pm (UTC)
Sending support and hugs your way. I can definitely relate to how you're feeling, and so can many of my students (I'm teaching a class on Digital Media and Culture this semester), in terms of how being productive online doesn't translate to the world outside the computer. It's brilliant you're fighting back, and the quality of your lineart and shading in your pencil drawings is a joy.

Also, I showed your Trained Librarian image in the aforementioned class, and my students loved it ♥
Oct. 5th, 2014 02:50 pm (UTC)
It sounds as though you and Stuart need a little "you together" time" -leave the laptop, just take the drawing pad and/Sudoku...find a nice cottage (I would offer our Perthshire one - you can't get the Internet!!! but October not good for mid Scotland) and chill for a couple of days - Or go to Florence.
And do I sympathise about the clutter - bags of books all over the place just waiting for the decision "Not going to read that"...but the guilt! Stay strong
Phil Knox
Oct. 6th, 2014 12:50 pm (UTC)
Open and honest
Another disturbingly honest and well written blog -thanks!

You're not alone - I think anyone in the creative industry who has deadlines and commercial pressures to meet, regardless of how much they love the work and creativity, finds these pressures sticking a mini-straw into your brain and sucking out the love and passion at times. I've certainly felt that recently with some photography.

Doesn't last forever. Setting some personal goals and scheduling fun (as much as that sounds like an oxymoron) does help.

Oct. 6th, 2014 08:55 pm (UTC)
So interesting to read all your comments, thank you! :)
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )


Sarah McIntyre

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