Connecting the Dots

I am an “illustrator.”  I draw what I like to see, and there’s usually not any “deep” or lofty meaning behind any of it.  It’s nearly always taken best with a good sense of humor, never with a serious face.

But lately, I’ve been trying out a few things that mean something.  And since I’m usually so bad at it, I thought I’d sort of go through my thought process, in case anyone else was having trouble connecting those same dots…

There was that time when our daughter was going through a thing.  You know those things?  Where they’re nearly insufferable, and they make you crazy because you don’t know how to handle it, and the way you’re handling it isn’t working?

Well, I was trying to describe to myself how that FELT.  It felt like holding too tightly to too many wild, flapping things, flapping in that aggressively frantic way wild animals act when they’re scared.  It felt like I was trying to explain too many things in too much detail, and none of it was taking any hold.  It was going skyward, it wasn’t making any sense to this wild, frantic creature.  It felt like I had lost my way, and couldn’t even tell from the stars which way to go.  And this is what came out (I called it “A Very Bad Day”):

1 bad day

And that felt good.  Much better than words.

And as the days went on, I felt like I had sort of found my general shape, but I was torn into so many different directions, in so many different ways.  I was having trouble focusing on priorities, because EVERYTHING seemed like a priority, and everything needed attention.  And yet nothing was working the way I wanted it to work.  It was hard–It would be SO much easier if you just didn’t CARE, wouldn’t it?  But I wasn’t going to give up.

So I drew this, and added this line to describe it:  “We’ll get through this, one screaming monkey at a time…”

2 one screaming monkey

After a bit, I became more comfortable with the chaos, and just sort of settled in.  I thought of Ren’s maddening laugh in Ren & Stimpy’s “Space Madness.”  You know–the kind in cartoons where someone straight up loses their mind?  Yeah that.  That’s what it felt like.  Like I didn’t know who was more crazy…  And that’s like a hyena laugh, right??  That crazy animal giggle because as hard as you’re trying, it’s NOT WORKING and it seems like you’ve tried everything…

So that’s where this one came from…not so much a title as a statement:  “You have to keep a sense of humor about these things…”

3 a sense of humor

After a bit longer, things start to settle down a little.  What’s so frustrating is that we’re trying to keep a handle on everything, do the best we can, and raise a happy, healthy kid, and she WON’T LET US.  All that stuff my parents said about it “being harder on me than it is you,” is true, and I was only JUST realizing that.

And yet, even after all of that, I can look at that sweet little person (usually when she’s asleep) and remember why we’re struggling so hard.  Because she’s special and amazing and wonderful.  I thought of those wild things, all primitive and clumsy, and how they still survived for years and years without much effort at all…Because you have to protect the Delicate Things

4 the delicate things

I thought of how much attention we give to this one little tiny thing that has such a HUGE impact on our world, and how all you want to do is love it and hug it, and sometimes it just doesn’t WANT that.  I thought of two or three or four grown adults and the hoops they jump through for a crying baby or a restless toddler on an airplane, because they just want to calm and comfort that spiny little thing…but sometimes it HAS to pull away.  I thought of a mother lion, and all these very attentive hands doing their best to cuddle this small, prickly, spiny creature….

I called it “Attempting to cuddle the crankies…”

6 cuddling the crankies

Around this time, I had an experience that reminded me to breathe…that reminded me that I had no control over anything, no matter how hard I bash my head against the wall.  That I could do everything that I considered “right” ALL the time (which I realize is impossible), and things could still go terribly wrong.  There is no REAL control.  And keeping it all in and pretending it’s all fine doesn’t help anyone.

And I thought I would try to describe that feeling of bottling everything in…

And this, as silly as it sounds, is one of the most special things I’ve painted because I was able to get out in a drawing almost exactly how I feel.  I wrote this thought down, because it came to me so clearly, like a meditation:  “Breeeeeathe deeply. Then push it all down low and tighten it all up inside…Maintain what awkward poise you possess simply for the sake of appearances. And keep as calm as a Hindu cow…”

5 calm down

And that’s kind of sad, isn’t it?  Not a very good way to behave.  I thought of all these unpleasant things, these things that weigh on me, that poke and grab at me in a huge dustcloud of shadows, and how I keep telling myself that there’s no time for them right now….that they’re not important enough to spend time on.  I thought of them like a corset, giving the false appearance of control, while simultaneously NOT ALLOWING ME TO BREATHE.  I thought of trying to cram all that stuff inside while trying to keep strong for everyone else.  While trying not to make waves.  While trying not to be a burden to anyone.  While trying to take care of everyone else.  While trying to manage everything and keep it all going.  While keeping a calm, brave face because with all that stuff going on, there’s no room for anything else.

And I thought of how painful and harmful and isolating that is…

And I’m working on that.

And it might not look like much, but it was one of the few times I’ve been able to connect those dots–to help my hands get out what’s in my mind.  And it helps make things feel a little better.

Art does that for me.  Usually, just the act of drawing something (even if I’m emotionally unattached to it) is fairly meditative and calming.

But for some people, it’s cooking, it’s sculpting, it’s reading, it’s whatever.  So what connects your dots?

41 responses

  1. This is a great post! Very accurate for how I feel about some similar things and the illustrations are exactly on point for each feeling! Great work!!

  2. This is me right now with my 4 yr old. Great post. Thanks!

  3. I love this post. I really, REALLY LOVE this post. And I think you did a brilliant job illustrating (literally…) your feelings. It sort of goes back to when I was in art school and one teacher in particular would ask quite frequently, “What do you want to SAY about your subject matter?” Well, what you have done is told a visual story about how you FEEL. I think you did a brilliant job. Bravo!

    1. Thank you! Yep, drawing how I FEEL is a relatively new thing to me. It usually seems too private to share. Now I think of it as drawing in “code.” It helps!

  4. Yep exactly what she said! You are amazing. I’m a Gramma and I still have days like those–but I’m the small child that I’m trying to comfort. You have such an incredible gift. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    1. Thank you so much for letting me share it!

  5. Fantastic artwork as always. I love the symbolism in these pieces, the emotions they convey so powerfully. I can so relate to your writing too and have felt every one of those feelings you describe in my own experience of motherhood. Right now all four of my boys are hedgehogs and I am rather failing in my lioness role.

    1. Thank you so much! Some days, the hedgehogs are just too much to handle, I know. But the good thing is that we can start over every single day….so there’s no such thing as failing, really!

  6. I just read this post with such intensity it made my face ache. You described so perfect in words and images what life is like as your child grows. I relate to everything you said. I’m an artist too ( well claims to be ) and I do find my art calms me and helps me deal with my emotions. But you nailed it, your talent is just wow and your post made me feel like ” yeah I totally get that ” My daughter is growing up fast and all I want is to keep her In a bubble and keep her safe. Shes at that age where she yo yo’s in and out of tiny little girl and then fiery and angry Heading towards teenage years. Every day is a surprise. So thank you for your post. Not only is your art a truly accurate picture of how it feels, but your honesty about how it feels,what we juggle, how life grips us and shakes us like a rag doll is brilliant. Thank you xx

    1. Wow you described that very well….I can relate to what YOU feel! Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  7. Fabulous! Absolutely fabulous! Perfectly meaningful.

  8. Oh, thank-you. In the same way, but under different circumstances, I can relate. Thank-you, thank-you.

    1. You’re very welcome…thank YOU!

  9. This is beautiful and brave. I was just thinking today about how writing connects my dots. For a while I got away from it but now that I’m back with a notebook in my hands just taking notes on life and what I’m reading and what I’m hearing and what I’m saying I’m able to make sense of everything, to connect those dots. I don’t think I grow without writing.

    1. I just started listening to Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking,” and coincidentally, she has a whole chapter called “Connecting the Dots.” Freaky! She says artists collect things, make a connection between them, and then share them. “Collecting the dots.” Pretty interesting read. Thank you for your words!

  10. This is so beautiful. Each one of your drawings moved me in some way. There is something so visceral, instinctual, deep, primal, compelling about turning to images to express what clumsy words cannot. I have turned to my journal many, many times, to draw a face, or multiple faces, to try to draw the saddest ones I can when I’ve felt sad…and that moment of drawing the sad face was an act of naked self-honesty, a place where I was able to admit to myself in pictures what I couldn’t admit in thoughts or words. I’ve been able to express complex concepts also, like banging my head against the glass ceiling and making it partially through, or the way the moon glow on mountain snow made me feel. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your wonderful work with us. I can relate to all of your images. They are archetypal and so speak to us on the soul level, and they are an invitation to realize that we are never alone during these moments of intense human emotion. And just the pure skill involved to render such images has me very impressed! So thank you again and again and again. I loved this.

    1. Thank YOU again and again for sharing! It’s difficult to put your feelings onto paper, but when it works, it feels like a weight off, like the easiest thing in the world. Thank you!

  11. Such talent … Awesome post, but a little saddening, also. Shows me that I’ll never be able to draw at this level.

    OMG. So gifted. Great great work!

    1. Thank you so much! Sad, yes, but once it’s out, I can look at it and deal with it. As far as your level, you CAN get there if you want to! Just have to do it and do it and do it and do it and do it…and do it…

  12. My sister is an illustrator and many of my friends are artists, so I understand perfectly what you mean here. Your way to connecting the dots is amazing, you are say something so profound and complex in each artwork… Congrats. I try to do the same writing, but I think I have a long way to reach this level. Wow.

    1. Thank you so much! I’ve had a lot of time and a lot of practice trying to draw what I mean, and I still have a long way to go. I’m sure you’ll get where you want to be!

  13. Those pieces of art!! Oh My!! How great!!

  14. Love these. I am going to share them on the parenting pages I am on. They are spot on!

  15. Beautiful! I hope things calm down soon.

  16. I subscribed to your blog a year or so ago, because I thought collaborating with your daughter was awesome and that you really just seemed like a cool person and and a great mother! I always enjoy your posts, but none of them have ever spoke to me like this one did. I’m not a mom, well at least not to any human children… I have quite a few furbabies that I treat like my children. But this post made me cry, and it wasn’t just that I really related to everything you said…it was the way you expressed your feelings through art. I’m not an artsy person (I can’t draw stick people), and most of the time, I feel lost when people describe what artists were trying to portray with their pieces. I just wanted to thank you and let you know that I really connected to this post and the artwork. Keep doing what you’re doing! You’re awesome! 🙂

    1. Wow, thank you so much, it’s so amazing to have had that reaction. Getting my feelings out on paper is quite awkward and wonky and new to me, but I like it. It helps. I don’t like that lofty way people describe their “deep” artsy work, either. I’m a literal person. I do my best do draw a metaphor of what I’m feeling. I can only ever cross my fingers that it works and makes sense! Thank you!

  17. I subscribed to your blog a year or so, because I loved the collaborations with your daughter. I always enjoy your posts, but I have never related to one like I did this one. I’m not a mom,, atleast not to any human children…I do have quite a few furbabies that I treat like my babies though! I am not artsy…I can’t even draw stick people lol, and I never really understand what artists are trying to convey with their pieces. But I found myself crying during this post. I related to everything you said, but it was the way you showed it in your art that really let me know that you were feeling just like I do at times. I’ve never looked at a piece of art and understand and related to it like that. I just wanted to thank you and let you know that you’re awesome! And you’re a great mommy! Keep doing what you’re doing! I know if one post could speak to me like that, you must be touching other people’s lives on a daily basis. Thank you again! Lots of love! Jess 🙂

    1. Thank you again and again!

  18. Very cool process, I enjoyed the illustrative language you use here, as well as the illustrations. I keep the mania at bay by immersing myself in multiple disciplines. If my art isn’t working, I go to the kitchen and play with food. When I get antsy in the kitchen, I go play some music, or write poetry. Rarely does my mania drive me to tidy up, which is a sadness. ~TH~

    1. Thank you! Yeah, isn’t there anyone who finds their passion in cleaning up? I’d gladly offer my house to them…;)

  19. All so true. I’ve been reading your posts for ages – I am an illustrator and I work with my kid – “my 8 year old art director”. We’ve got your book too. Anyway – I find your posts reassuring, inspiring, wicked funny – and your art pushes me to get back to work on my own stuff. Your kick-butt-princess attitude inspired me to go back to school for my Masters (in Applied Cartooning!). I’ve been out of school for… about 20 years… and I had to do some seriously crazy stuff to make this work. My kid has to stay in our hometown (because her dad and school are here) so I don’t get to see her very much. We have different details/situations – but the general emotions are the same. 🙂 Your images – in this post in particular, made me yell “OMG – that’s exactly how I am feeling!” And somehow – that made it better. Thank you.

    1. Wow, what a wonderful thing to hear! Thank you so much. Good for you for doing something you love. Amazing you connected with it all. Thank you!

  20. You are amazing…your writing, your art, the way you express yourself and connect with us. Truly gifted! And sharing yourself with us…just wonderful 🙂

    Sent from my iPad


  21. truly a gift when you can outwardly express inner emotion and acknowledge it. WHen things get frazzled, I like to sew. Just thinking of a clean seam and an ironed hem makes me be still inside. My friends think i am nuts, but it works for me. Keep art-ing

  22. ❤ ❤ ❤ Love what you dit here!

    1. (did* sorry for the typo)

  23. Oh man, I LOVE this post. Great to see a summary of all of these beautiful, crazy drawings and what they mean! I have recently settled on pursuing a degree in art therapy and I’m collecting your story in my treasure box of why I made that decision. Art, whatever form it takes, is healing and human. Thank you for sharing this part of your story!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: