While I was in Singapore for the Illustration Art Fest, I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Raphael (one half of duo Icinori – his partner is Mayumi) on how they got to where they are today.
What they had in common was their love of personal projects. Icinori continuously pushed the envelope when it came to self-publishing their ideas and graphic experiments in the form of limited edition zines, books and prints. Anouck and Louis experimented with pop-up books and pushed the boundary of creative learning by creating apps as companions to their beautiful books.
It wasn’t solely about the money (that came later), but it was a lot about quality, craftsmanship, attention to detail, creativity, ingenuity and about having a whole lot of fun while trying to find out who they were and what they wanted to do. And because of this, people started to knock on their doors. Clients didn’t tell seek them out to emulate another artist. They wanted their work. Their style, their story, and their spin on things. Not anyone else’s.
I wasn’t surprised. It was a common thread that I find come up again and again as I talk to other artists, illustrators and designers.
was is my personal project too. It’s where I began to spread my wings by continually striving to go deeper into what I loved – illustration – and had lots of fun experimenting with wild ideas. Right now I cannot remember if there was a bigger purpose beyond it being a place where I could talk about the things that fascinate me, and where I could talk to the people who inspired me. I didn’t plan things out, and I didn’t write for others – I wrote for myself. I chipped away to create a small space in the interwebs, just for me.
Then interesting things started to happen. I met many like-minded people, and opportunities that I wasn’t even looking for began to come my way. Illustrating, researching, teaching, writing, speaking – I said yes to many of them. I created mini projects that were fun and sometimes silly. What surprised me the most was how others came along for the ride too.
I had never thought that 10 years would fly by as I go about digging and feeling my way through my thoughts. I sometimes I dig myself into a corner, and there has been many a time where I hit hard ground, unable to continue because of a setback, or because life just happened.
But I’m still digging.
Perhaps you’ll notice that I don’t come up for air sometimes – only because I’m deep underground, chipping away, even if bit by bit. It can get frustrating. It can get lonely. I’m very aware that there might be no gold, no reward at the end of the tunnel – but for me, this whole underground chamber that I’ve built is it. I’ve twisted my way around obstacles and figured out rocky bits as I charted new territory for myself (and I hope for others too).
I come up for air from time to time to share with others how my process has gone, and what new discoveries I’ve uncovered. Sharing this with others allows me to evaluate what I’ve done, what I did not get right, and what I could improve on. I come up for air to get away too. I’ve traveled more in the past few years to get away from life a little, and to take in more for myself.
But I still go back underground, every single time.
As I step back, I see a vast labyrinth of underground tunnels, pathways and passages. It looks like a map – one that I’m continuously building as I put one feet in front of another. There’s dead ends, and there’s plenty more unexplored territory. I catch myself asking sometimes: Why are you digging? What are you looking for? What’s the plan here?
I don’t have an answer.
I still don’t.
Maybe I’ll know it when I see it.
But until then, I’ll keep digging.