A Drawing a Day, Week 5

Just keep drawing, just keep drawing…

Day 29: A love letter to my farmers.

Dedicated to Chispas Farm, April 26.

Happy Sunday! My weekly day of rest, drawing-wise, and chance to share a throwback drawing. This week’s goes out to the fantastic crew of Chispas Farm, who labor year-round in the most essential work a human can do: growing food to feed their community. We love participating in their CSA every summer! When the harvests concluded last fall, I drew this two-part non-card thank you card. Bringing it back this morning as a pre-thank you for the coming season.

The Farm That Feeds Me, Part 1: Thank You Cards
The Farm That Feeds Me, Part 2: The Love Letter

A pen and ink drawing of farmers stooped in a field between rows of plants, with chickens off to one side.
A pen and ink drawing of farmers stooped in a field between rows of plants, with chickens off to one side.

Day 30: “This postcard.”

Commissioned by my college roommate, April 27.

I mentioned in my animated kisses illustration last week that I’d just received a postcard from my friend in Seattle and was touched, pun intended, by the physicality of the connection that established between us in this time of isolation in our separate homes.

The postcard was actually a black and white line drawing in the style of a coloring book. Her note on the back: “Please enjoy coloring this postcard that reminded me of our amazing camping trips all over beautiful WA state.”

I think that counts as a commission! And wow, coloring in the lines instead of conceiving a complete illustration from scratch: relaxing. The adult coloring book trend. I get it now. More, please.

Day 31: “Something that comforts.”

Commissioned by my friend from grad school, April 28.

Man. I needed that prompt.

This whole drawing-a-day project, which I’ve now been doing for a full month, was meant to be something that comforts. I needed an activity that was utterly absorbing, that prevented me from constantly reading horrible news stories or ruminating over the same anxious worries on loop. What better way than to collect a hodgepodge of art prompts from friends and family, and try to interpret each one in a surprising and distinctive way. The concepts occupied my brain. The process occupied my eyes and hands. Flow, achieved!

Then there’s the pleasure of sharing the results with others. Each time I post an image to Facebook, I imagine it popping up on others’ screens as a pleasant little surprise in their newsfeeds.

Newsfeeds, in general, do not comfort. Newsfeeds, particularly right now, are endless streams of disjointed headlines and posts, mixing political bile with frightening facts with nasty opinions with someone’s baby pictures with more political bile and frightening facts.

As the artist and writer Jenny Odell put it, “the bits of information we’re assailed with on Twitter and Facebook feeds are missing […] context. Scrolling through the feed, I can’t help but wonder: What am I supposed to think of all this? How am I supposed to think of all this? I imagine different parts of my brain lighting up in a pattern that doesn’t make sense, that forecloses any possible understanding. Many things in there seem important, but the sum total is nonsense, and it produces not understanding but a dull and stupefying dread.”

Many times over the last 31 days, I’ve had the urge to post links to seventeen news articles in a row because EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT AND PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW. I’ve had the urge to write angry screeds about the political systems and politicians who are failing all of us right now, especially the most vulnerable among us. I’ve had the urge to respond to others’ ignorant posts and ugly comments with corrections and reprimands.

Instead, for the most part, I haven’t.

Instead, I’ve sharpened my pencils and sat down to draw.

Partly, this is for the sake of my own mental health — to manage my anxiety.

Partly, this is for the sake of everyone else’s newsfeeds. Because you don’t need to be assailed with my upsetting bits of information along with the rest of the world’s upsetting bits of information. You already know. You know we’re in a pandemic. You know that your daily routines have been turned upside down and you and your kids and colleagues are struggling to adapt to this new not-normal “normal.” You know that millions of people have already lost their income and possibly, ironically, stupidly, their health insurance along with it. You know that thousands of people are sick and dying and healthcare workers are overwhelmed and don’t have the resources they need to cope, physically or psychologically. You know that the virus is a mortal threat to you and your loved ones. You know that you need to stay home, stay six feet apart, wash your hands, wear a mask when you go out. You know some people are doing what they need to do to keep from catching or spreading the virus, while others are spreading conspiracy theories and behaving in horribly selfish and nonsensical ways. You know which politicians are fighting to protect public health and reform systems to support the people they represent, and which politicians are corrupt, self-serving blowhards who value the stock market above individuals’ lives and spread dangerous misinformation. If you don’t already know these things, then you and I have been living in different worlds of information for a long time now, and I’m not going to be the one who informs you or changes your mind with Facebook posts, am I? If I post my articles and screeds, I’ll just be dumping them into the newsfeeds of like-minded people who already know, or un-like-minded people who might pick a fight. Either way, the result will just be more “dull and stupefying dread.”

So, instead, I’ve been distracting my mind, eyes, hands, and time with art projects. And I put THOSE in your newsfeed.

I hope this is something that comforts some of you out there, as much as it’s comforted me.

At least for a few good weeks. One month in, I guess some of the art-making magic has started to wear off for me. My anxiety is ensnaring me again and tightening its stranglehold on my thoughts. The last few days I’ve had trouble focusing on much of anything. Hence, following someone else’s recipe to bake a pie instead of using my own brainpower to create a new design. Hence, the relief of coloring in someone else’s outline yesterday instead of sketching something original for myself. Hence, the political news provoking hours of physical rage in me, the tragic firsthand stories making me numb, and John Krasinski’s hope and humor making me weep. Repeatedly. So much unexpected weeping. DAMN IT, JOHN KRASINSKI.

I don’t know, guys. I’m gonna take another day to meditate on this drawing prompt. Can you help? I need all the suggestions I can get in the comments, please. What’s something that comforts YOU?

A simple sheet of white paper with block letters in colored pencil: “I NEED YOUR HELP! What’s something that comforts you?”
A simple sheet of white paper with block letters in colored pencil: “I NEED YOUR HELP! What’s something that comforts you?”

Day 32: “Something that comforts.”

Commissioned by my friend from grad school, April 29.

This is take 2, since yesterday I wasn’t feeling focused enough to be creative. Thank you to everyone who commented on yesterday’s post to share what comforts them.

A lovely theme emerged as I read through your comments: our bodily sensations. I thought I might see suggestions like remembering a happier day, looking forward to the next time you see someone, a quote or verse or lyric, ideas or beliefs that reassure us. But, no. All the suggestions were the precise opposite. You are comforted when you center yourself and your attention very much in the moment and your own animal bodies. You are comforted by steaming tea and tall drinks, baking oatmeal cookies and eating tiny jellybeans. You are comforted by quilts, fuzzy blankets, and stuffed dogs. You are comforted by puzzles and books. You are comforted by feeling the sunshine on your skin, rolling down a grassy hillside, planting seeds in the soil, and relaxing into a hammock. You are comforted by hearing a birdsong or listening to music. All the senses are present: scent, taste, the texture of cloth and paper and the earth, warmth and light, beautiful sounds.

And, most of all, you are comforted by being near fellow animal bodies: dogs, “always dogs,” and cats who make you smile, and hugs and snuggles with your kids or loved one or “a dear relative.”

Physicality again! I keep coming back to lately. Well, we’ve been been made very aware of our bodies. We mask our faces and fog up our glasses. We’re warned not to touch surfaces and told to stay away from each other’s warmth and skin and breath. If we’re lucky, we’ve each been cooped up in the same few rooms for weeks now, where we can’t experience new sensations and start to lose track of time passing as if we’re floating disembodied in an endless beige of stress. If we’re not lucky and we still have to go out and interact with others regularly, we’re afraid what the consequences might be for the very bodies that ground us in the world and allow us to feel fully alive and meaningful.

So, physicality. Time to tend to my distracted, neglected senses. Thanks to you all, this afternoon I put in my headphones. I listened to the soundtrack of “Into the Woods” while baking oatmeal cookies and brewing tea. I’m sorry I can’t give you the scent of my kitchen right now, because it truly is comforting.

Since I can’t offer you any physical comfort — I can’t hug anyone, or invite you to pet my dogs and curl up in the sofa and do a jigsaw puzzle in my living room while I stoke a fire in the hearth — I will just share a glimpse of mine. And wish you the time we all need to breathe deeply and treat ourselves to some simple sensory goodness.

Oh, and along the way, over the last day and a half as I tried to let my thoughts relax, I kept coming back to this single phrase. “You are not alone.” Words might not work as well as touch when it comes to connecting, soothing, reassuring. But this is perhaps the most comforting concept I know. Wherever you are, however you’re feeling, whoever you’re with or not with at this particular moment — there are others out there who are going through all of this, too. Whatever you’re struggling with on any given day, there are others who will listen and help. You are not alone.

A drawing pad with the words “you are not alone.” Framing the page are headphones, a journal, a mug of tea, and cookies.
A drawing pad with the words “you are not alone.” Framing the page are headphones, a journal, a mug of tea, and cookies.

Day 33: “April showers…”

Commissioned by my preschool teacher, April 30.

Come May, we’ll see what they bring.

Eyeshadow palettes sit alongside a “drawing” of gray clouds and driving blue rain, created with the makeup.

Day 34: “…bring May flowers.”

Commissioned by my preschool teacher, May 1.

Brought to us by April showers, whose shadows have been supplanted by a whole bunch of bright pinks.

A row of lipsticks sit alongside a “drawing” of pink flowers, created with the makeup.

Day 34: “Piper and Ella.”

Commissioned by friends of a friend, May 2.

What a magnificent pair of floofs. Piper adopted Ella as a little sister on Leap Day! At the time, she weighed less than ten pounds, but I’m told she’ll likely be about 80–100 lb and bigger than Piper when she’s grown.

A photorealistic pencil drawing of a two fluffy Great Pyrenees dogs, one a floppy pup and the other looking quite serious.

I’m an Albuquerque-based writer of criticism, commentary, current events, and semi-connected musings. She/her. karieluidens.com

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