When I told my husband that this was going to be the title of my new blog post he said, "who is he?" I laughed and replied, "don't worry, you are the only man for me. I'm talking about writing and illustrating." He sighed with relief.
Here it is, Valentine's Day, and I thought that to be the perfect timing for ruminating on one of the most strange relationships in my life: the seeming "love triangle" I have with both words and pictures.
When I speak in schools I am often asked, "which do you like better, writing or illustrating?" I have used a somewhat pat response, "when I'm writing I wish I was illustrating, and when I'm illustrating I wish I was writing." There is a smattering of truth in that statement, but it's not really the honest answer.
Since I was a child I have always created "the whole book." That meant everything from the cover design to the marketing blurbs on the back. I majored in illustration in art school, and I'm also trained as a graphic designer with some art direction under my belt as well. I even did off-set printing and letterpress as a teen. My writing has been a part of my life like the very blood that courses through my veins- and like that blood, sometimes it has left me a bit bruised... more so than the strength of my artists' bones.
I have always been a storyteller, a poet, a songwriter... but I never majored in it. Why do we seem to place such importance on degrees? I have a BFA in illustration and for years after I graduated I thought of myself as an illustrator and made a living as one. However, I kept writing in my journals, creating stories, writing poems, making notes for concepts of future books.
I love illustrating. I am at peace. Listening to music (another love that sometimes demands my attention) and playing with technique and style, lost in my thoughts, and yes, coming up with new ideas for stories while I draw, or paint, or create collage. I just write them down and then get back to illustrating.
But somewhere along the line I stopped loving being a freelance illustrator, a wrist for hire. I didn't want to do art for advertisements or corporate brochures anymore. The main reason was because the work didn't have any soul. I need soul in order to thrive. The money was not worth the loss of the depth of meaning I craved. That was around the time that I had finally gotten my first book, "The Night I Followed the Dog" published.
There was a time when I dreamt of winning a Caldecott award. I wanted the recognition of my souls' creations. But that turned out to be a very disappointing desire and I taught myself to not wish for it anymore. I also started falling a little out of love with illustration and I started pursuing writing in the heat of lust.
Delving deeper into my writing was the product of a personal epiphany that I will share with you. I came to the realization that what drew children, or people to my books were not my illustrations, although they did love them. What captivated them were my stories. Story, I discovered is the most important element. Story is what brings you back again and again. Story is what lives in your heart. I love story.
Loving story is not as simple as loving illustration. Story is writing, and it is far more fickle and complicated and moody and sometimes brutal. For me, illustration is generally a walk on a beautiful beach, finding treasures at every step. Writing is almost drowning in an angry ocean, treading water at all times, desperately wanting to feel the ocean bottom under your feet, keeping your head above breathing air. I have a tempestuous relationship with writing. I love it and it tortures me ofttimes. Yet when it flows, it is sublime and soul-satisfying on an even higher level than my art.
I wrote my first novel, "Jacked" over a period of years and it is currently being shopped. It was scary, almost death-defying experience to write this first huge hunk of story. There is a lot of my soul in those words, and there is truth behind the fiction. I have no idea if it will see the light of day yet... but I am now working on a middle-grade novel and other ideas are auditioning themselves in my head, too.
However, I have not forgotten my first love, illustration. I still love to dance with her, and I have a line-up of picture books and board books that we'll be reunited in wedded bliss as soon as I get permission from designers to start sketching and then painting.
But again- it was my stories/poems/ideas that let me paint those pictures- so I know I will always need both in my life. It can get complicated, but this is the path I am on, and all I hope for is that I can be the best lover to both of them.
Here's wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day.
Celebrate all of your loves.