I keep a folder of personal writing to help me grow as an illustrator. On a particularly aimless moment in 2013, I wrote a manifesto to better understand what I’m all about, or what I want to be about but might not be there just yet. I hadn’t reread it til today, but I am glad I did. So now I want to share it with you. It’s long, but I didn’t want to break it up. I hope you enjoy. -meg
Making art is probably not key to our survival as human beings; it may not clothe us or protect us from the elements. But it does feed us, and like food it can be nourishing or it can be junk. I despise the idea of contributing to the junk, to be easily consumed and forgotten. It will never last eternally, and I will never work on a magnum opus– that implies I have no more left to give. I must always move forward like a shark; but I should have a mind and heart like an elephant. A tenacious, complex and thoughtful giant willing to attack when it counts.
My work should have heart; it does not have to trumpet loudly a MESSAGE! all the time because some of the most powerful moments are very small and often aren’t noticed unless you’re really paying attention. Sometimes it’s important to elucidate these things no one notices– those details only I notice. These key moments of heart are the showcase of my work. I am fascinated by the world at large as well as the smaller human interactions, by societies and cultures both old and new. I am not interested in riffing on pop culture; it has its own manifesto and pathway. It is important to me that my work builds on concepts, not riffing on a punchline. Pop culture is often too easy to digest and throw away, unless you have a way to connect beyond. I respect it but it’s not for me. There are too many easy jokes, callbacks– I’m in it for a deeper read. I want to find ways to tell stories, push deeper into ideas and connect different weird threads. I want to draw you in close and tell you secrets, ask you to sit with me to spend a moment together, to stir something in you.
Even so, I will always want to think about emotion. Laughter and joy should present themselves in my work, as well as delight. But at the same time, sometimes I want to explore darker or more thoughtful moments– and these ideas should be in my work too. Too much joy is bland and saccharine, artificial and cloying. There needs to be balance to temper it and a willingness to explore things more unexpected. This balance is that heart I am seeking, and I need to find something in the things I make. If I don’t feel delighted by an idea (even a serious one) I must question why? It’s not about having to create a BIG important idea that’s never been seen before, but it should stir something in you (no matter how small) to explore in future work. It’s necessary to explore more than just the most literal, at least initially- sometimes straightforward solutions can serve a purpose but metaphor, puzzles and wordplay can open up new exciting directions.
It is vital to my process to never stop learning and growing. Through experimenting and reflecting, I can learn new ways of seeing. By recognizing that I will be learning throughout my life, the world becomes that much richer and I become its willing pupil. Curiosity is my driving force. The more I ask questions and dig deep, the more honesty I can find, the larger the bounds of my world become. I must listen, engage and be willing to learn from any source. I must accept that I know nothing but the world can teach me everything. I can learn things from exploration as well as education; experimenting leads to ideas, and research leads to remixing, building ideas like towers.
I must look outside the internet for enrichment. I must look outside illustration, find new hobbies, meet new people, travel the world. I must not spend my time, money and resources on things that do not enrich my being.
It’s important to be honest. Honesty and transparency with my peers, with my clients, with my family and my heart will lead to new realizations. I care about this little world I inhabit; I give back to it by teaching these younger versions of myself and my current self in the process. I must be willing to gather up my research and give myself away– I cannot be hard and secretive; I must be willing to let go and show myself. There will always be more ideas, even when I think I have no more inside. Scrape the inside of the bowl and you’ll find a morsel; find those little scraps of kindling to throw them into the dying fire and it’ll build back up.
Process is so much more important in the long run than tangible results. Awards and validation, pats on the head are not why I spend so many hours working and worrying. I am trying to make things in order to understand my limits, understand my world and what I have to say. It’s okay to not be polished all the time, and it’s okay to not know what my life’s mission is. Process will help define this and show me new directions to stretch in.
When I freeze, I must ask myself why and unpack those ideas before moving forward. Failure is not an option, because there is no such thing as true failure. Remember there is nothing to lose in taking a risk; perhaps making an ugly little child, but this experiment might lead to an attractive sibling or cousin later. You can always let it go be something else and move onto new creations. In other words, say ‘fuck it’ to preciousness. Do not worry about good or bad, or about right or wrong. Pithy sentiments are not the point either; you must attack with vigor and reflect after. Be fierce. Look back, look forward, find the rhythm and step back to see where you’ve gone. Forgive ugly work and learn from it. They have lessons to teach you if you’d only listen instead of run away and hide.
It’s different though to say no. Saying no is ruthless yet empowering; say yes to the things that truly matter.
Reacting to my weaknesses is okay; but fixating on my missteps serves no one and is looking at the problem the wrong way. Instead I must look towards solutions and realize I have been given a path to travel; and it is going to be rough and knock me about the head until it starts making sense. But this is the creative process! Better to be knocked about the head than avoiding problems til you’re dead. In the long run, I wouldn’t have it any other way.