I signed up for another one of Jocelyn’s online classes last month, and so far I’ve found it incredibly helpful in finding my way back to bits of myself and my creative practice that have been occluded by caregiving. One of the exercises was a mind map exploring all the tools we use to access and interact with our creative selves. The four stages she suggests are Ritual, Connection, Collection, and Synthesis. Here’s a big mess of ideas around those hubs:
I love letting myself use little doodles to explore concepts like this. I think it started after Shay Mirk shared some More/Less lists they’d made for the year and inspired me to make my own. (Pretty sure I did one for 2022 as well but I can’t find it so here’s an old one.)
I see these inventories and remember that I have such a robust series of practices for doing what I do. I also see how the things I’m pursuing in my life right now have roots in this list from two years ago, which I love. It all takes such a long time.
I recorded a Ramble about all this the other night that I still haven’t edited and uploaded to Patreon, but it’s coming. Still circling the question of my job and what I think it is vs. what it actually is.
This collection of poems by Tara K. Shepersky features loads of full-page watercolor illustrations by me and gorgeous printing from our publisher, Bored Wolves. (You can even grab our first collaboration, Tell the Turning, as part of the campaign—not to mention a host of other goodies like postcards and special bookplates by calligrapher Amber D. Stoner.)
The book is a love letter to a particular river in Northern California, and to Tara’s peregrinations from north to south along various West Coast highways and byways over the course of her lifetime. Her work is contemplative, rich, tender, and full of love. It’s an honor to be in conversation with her words through watercolor. When describing the book, she writes:
Serpentine is blue and green: many shades, from cerulean to viridian to young-alder to haze-above-the-Pacific. She’s soaked with sun, even when the particular poem takes place at night or in deep shade. Sunshine permeates. Blooming permeates. Celebration permeates. Refuge permeates.Serpentine reaches out to help you shuck your anxiety and displacement. I hope Serpentine will turn out to be a strong companion for you, as she has been, for a very long time, for me.
Once again: HERE’S THAT KICKSTARTER LINK. This is a short campaign (just two weeks!) so I’ll be writing about it again with some more watercolor work before things wrap up.
Drawn in Procreate with my finger while feeding my dad supper.
I keep trying to look—really look—at all of it: what’s not here, what’s still here, how his face changes when he’s tired or alert or confused or happy. I keep thinking about cartoonists who have been in this position before me and the drawings I’ve seen them do of the people they love at the end, when it feels as if there’s no other way to stay present.
I am trying to stay present.
Sometimes (like this week) that means staying somewhere else, using the mild distance of a local housesit to recalibrate my understanding of where we’re at. My fatalism wanes at a distance because when I visit I see more of him. My presence becomes a novelty, and he perks up at novelty. I get to err more on the side of what’s here than what’s not.
I’ve been taking these pieces out and shuffling them around my floor for months, stacking them this way and that way, leaving them awkwardly in the middle of the room for weeks before whisking them back to the box from whence they came. I kept chickening out about committing to a single composition to have up for the rest of the year. Something about the imagery I was choosing scared me.
I think it’s about cycles and mortality and isolation. Writing letters to the underworld. I still don’t know, but it’s up.
2021 came down earlier this week.
That year ended up being about multiplicity and sexuality and ingenuity. A sense of the absurd. Family coming in threes. The ocean as home. Situating myself in a flock. Returning to a primitive sense of belonging.
2020 was my first. Jocelyn put us up to it during Hi-Fi. I’m a wall maximalist, so the idea of putting imagery up wasn’t really new, but she encouraged us to focus on images only. No words. This continues to appeal because I’m shifting my brain from thinking in words to thinking in pictures. Allowing the meaning of something to be layered and evolving over time.
This first year felt very instinctual, since I had no idea how the exercise would unfold. I just went through my big shoe box of blank postcards (everyone has one of those, right?) and picked things that felt…something. Good. I don’t know. And lo and behold I ended up with something that was saying, even before it was something I’d acknowledged consciously, “Time to move back to Ojai, you numbskull.”
I mean, it was saying other stuff too. “It’s okay to feel prickly for a while” “You’re going through a tunnel” “Hey, there’s a lady trapped in here who’s great and you should probably set this other stuff aside so you can get to her,” not to mention “GET IN THE SEA.”
I was a really nice thing to have at my desk, because I could just space out and stare at it between bouts of answering emails or watching city council meetings or drawing or whatever else we were all doing on our laptops for so much of 2020. Like being in a gallery all the time.
The longer I looked at it, the more stuff seemed to come out.
(Haven’t shared a lot of Actual Comics in this new blogging life I’m living. Does this work? Is it better than reading something on Instagram? Who can say. I’m going to pick this train of thought up on Patreon next week, though, so it’s a good time to join.)
This week I relaunched The Right Number, the confessional voicemail box I started in 2020. I’ve been sitting at the kitchen table for the last 15 minutes listening to the messages people have left so far and it’s just…so nice. It’s so nice. I really like this project. It’s warm and small and human and noncommercial and I want to nurture that.
A friend who’d called said their motto for this year was going to be “every step forward,” and that in addition to their own movements (large and small), me restarting the phone line also felt like a step forward.
I can’t think of higher praise.
(Also, SIDEBAR: when I went to find the first mention of the project here so I could link to it, I learned that announcing it in August of 2020 marked my actual return to blogging on my own site! Holy shit! My relationship to writing and existing online has changed so much since I started prioritizing sharing thoughts in this space. I love it. Here’s to a year and a half of being back in the corner of the internet that’s mine.)
Hourly Comic Day is an annual tradition in the comics community where folks set out to draw a panel (or two, or three) for every hour they’re awake on February 1st.
It took me a couple weeks to get through finishing my pages from this year because it was a) hard to fit in inking and watercoloring and posting around caregiving, but also b) just exhausting to deal with emotionally. Still: I’m so glad I did it. In 2021 I was right on the cusp of uprooting my life in Portland to move down to Ojai and look after my dad. Now I get to have a record of what the rhythm of these days has been like, and I’m sure I’m going to appreciate it more and more as time goes on.
There’s more to say but I’ve been formatting and posting these pages in various ways all day as I spread them across my internet haunts and I am wiped, so I’ll just get on with sharing them. If you’re finding this through an RSS reader, be warned that the gallery won’t work! Ya gotta click through to read it easily. (Also! An accessible edition with panel by panel alt text is available here thanks to a collaboration with various folks from the Friends of the Space Gnome Discord server. Blessed be their name.)
Trying to get better about sharing these things across my different internet haunts, so! I just posted my second monthly update on Seacritters! over on Patreon. If character design notes and thoughts about capacity and sustainable pacing for making graphic novels and also goofy bespoke dancing gifs appeal to you, get thee hence. These updates are Patron-only from here on out to preserve goodwill with my publisher, but the first one is still free if you want to get a sense for what they’re like. The Data/Art/Ritual format is really working for me, since those do feel like the three pillars of my creative practice. I’m excited to leave myself this paper trail and see where it goes.
Also, y’know, possums.
(Also I’m noticing that it feels weird to post this kind of promotional, audience-addressing stuff on my own blog. I’m assuming an audience in writing this (“if you want to get a sense…” etc.) and realizing that I don’t often think that way when I write here. I’m writing to myself, about my own thoughts, and acknowledging in the back of my mind that some people might read those thoughts, but not actively addressing them when I write. Don’t have a solution to it, really, just thinkin’.)
For many months, earlier in the Pandemic, my elementary school had a banner of this Kobayashi Issa haiku hanging outside their driveway:
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!
The entire family had a very good time yelling “O SNAIL” very loudly whenever we drove past. It made a hard season easier to bear.1
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on a collaborative publishing project with my friends Tara and Stefan called Tell the Turning. It’s an illustrated collection that’s very much rooted in place: a poetic celebration of flora and fauna, a compendium of walking companions, and a testament to three people finding out that they’re on the same page about the correct pace at which to make something special (slowly, slowly).
In contrast to that preference, the Kickstarter campaign we launched this morning funded quickly, quickly. It took 78 people 4 hours and 42 minutes to turn this from a book we three collaborators believe in very much to a book that will actually exist. Though her poetry’s been published in various external venues, this is going to be Tara’s first book-shaped collection of her work. When I think about the difference it made in my life and career and whole *arm waving* identity as a creator to cross that threshold, I get choked up.
It takes so few people, relatively speaking, to make this transformation possible.
I felt allergic to the idea of crafting a bunch of flashy Instagram graphics to try and plug the launch earlier today, so I just sat in a field and recorded a 7-minute video ramble on the things I love about my collaborators and how capitalism traps us with a false sense of urgency and posted that to my story instead.2 (I’m no expert at these things, but maybe you can watch it at this link? Unsure. It’s pinned on my profile, anyway.)
The Kickstarter doesn’t have to be a runaway freight train. In fact it feels nicer as something intimate, held close to the chest, tucked into a pocket, or passed to a friend.
I have a lot more thoughts about this whole experience (of course I do, hi, hello, I’m Lucy Bellwood), but for now I’m gonna go take a long walk. If you want to investigate the campaign and watch the goofy video I made and marvel at Tara’s work, you can absolutely do so here, but you don’t have to pledge a dime because it’s already going to exist. This is enough.
And now we get to beam at each other and go make something beautiful.
1. According to Wikipedia, the poem was used to title a novel by the Strugatsky brothers called Snail on the Slope. I only learned about the Strugatskys for the first time from Jez last year, which made this feel like a bit of serendipity. ↩
2. Apparently Stefan watched the whole thing with his young daughter and it was the first time she’d heard anyone say the word “motherfucker”! I feel honored. ↩