Illustrating is an interesting art form. It is a companion to the words. They are part of the story like narration can be part of a movie – it gives a different perspective on what is going on. Illustration’s whole purpose is to communicate, and maybe that’s why it seems to be put to the side in the visual art world. For me, it’s a way to help my words come alive.
With my illustrations, I knew in Africa I wouldn’t have a lot of artistic supplies available to me, and so I decided to use only paper and mod-podge, a type of glue you brush on. I brought a stack of canvas boards, scrapbooking paper, cardstock, tissue paper, two large containers of mod-podge, and paint brushes. All things that wouldn’t take up too much room in my suitcase and that were not too expensive either. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
I think it’s interesting that I am using a medium (scrapbook paper) that is usually used to document people’s personal lives, and instead using it to tell a story that is not really my own.
It has taken me time to discover collage as a means of illustrating. Before this project I had tried illustrating with acrylic paints, but these pieces are mere shadows of what I am able to do with collage. I also thought I would be able to do 24 illustrations in 3 months. Hilarious! By the end of my three months in Malawi, I had done 6 illustrations.
One of the things that I have learned is - illustrating well takes a long time. I recently told someone that it took me 20 hours to do one illustration, and she bluntly asked, “Can’t you do it faster?” I was shocked by this question. It hurt my feelings and took me aback because it made me feel like what I was doing didn’t have value, or if I were a better artist I would be faster. I think at the core of the question though was a lack of understanding of what it takes to be an artist.
To be an artist with integrity, it takes a lot of time. Illustrating is a craft – it takes time to do it well. I’m sure if I had chosen a different medium, it could be faster, but then it wouldn’t be my unique voice. I could also cut corners by drawing in lines or not having so much detail, but by doing that I would lose the depth of my art. Paper lines are different than lines drawn on with sharpies.
I think especially in the Christian world there is a questioning about the value of art. I feel myself having to justify things like taking 20 hours to do one illustration or charging for different services I offer. It’s ok to be an entrepreneur as long as you have a physical building and are meeting a “real” need. It’s as if stories and art are not considered “real” needs in the Christian community, but I think they are because they force us to imagine and empathize – two things we all desperately need more of.
I know I am not alone in feeling these things, but I also know that I have received great encouragement as well from my friends and family. You have no idea how meaningful even a simple “like” on facebook can be to me. When you are stuck in a room alone with your art work, as I am most days, it is nice to feel connected to people who are supporting you. I sense changes happening in the Christian community to make it more okay to be an artist/writer/creative – thank God, but I know we still have a ways to go.
And so, I continue cutting out little bits of paper and painting on glue to make words come alive. Hopeful that my storybook will get published. Hopeful that others might experience a moment of joy – grace – transcendence one day as they read my book. Hopeful that it might inspire families and communities to draw closer together.
You can view past illustrations & follow me as I create new ones at: instagram.com/aftenlt