I never thought I’d be one to bubble in “Yes” for the post-deployment health assessment where they ask you “Do you have difficulty engaging in hobbies/favorite pastimes?”. A couple months ago I admitted to myself that my creative output since getting back from Afghanistan was lower than it’s been in my entire life, and it wasn’t getting any better.
A lot of previously engaging things have been completely bland since I getting back… Kind of like noticing your taste buds no longer register the flavor of your favorite dish, and then you just get angry as hell because you’re realizing how fake the world is and you’re stuck with it. Drawing used to be the most satisfying and thrilling thing in the world, now it wasn’t. What few sparks of enjoyment I could stir up from the cooling ashes were only possible after hours and hours of moving my hand with a pen in a purely mechanical chore.
My rackmate and partner for many convoys put it best, “We will never feel that alive again”. Unless you take up a life of banditry, nothing in the normal world can compare to the rush you can get over there. Giving visuals to stories in my head was what made me feel alive and gave me that little creative high, that rush of enjoyment. Not anymore.
And that’s a really, really fucking terrifying realization for someone who’s entire life has revolved around drawing since age 16.
I didn’t quite give up on drawing. You’ll notice I’ve been posting almost nothing but life drawing/observational sketches. That’s because it’s a purely mechanical process for me. I didn’t have to set myself up for disappointment by thinking creatively with those. I could just go through the motions and hope something would change for the better. Hope. And Waiting… But a slave is one who waits for someone else to free him.
Without going into specifics, the past few weeks have involved a lot of very intense personal rediscovery and relearning how to see beauty. Some of it was initiated by an encouraging conversation with Justin Cherry (aka Nivbed) who definitely deserves some credit, and Jennadelle for being incredibly supportive as a drawing collaborator throughout these disappointing months. Ultimately it required some risk and deep inner voyaging to catch a distant glimpse of that lost homeland. A direction to head in, I suppose. If this sounds all weird and mystical, it’s because it absolutely is.
Now I’ve actually been finding drawing and my mediocre piano playing to be very enjoyable and fulfilling and truly loving the learning process again, more than either have been in over a year or two. Key thing here being not just enjoying the image or final product, but enjoying the PROCESS, treating it like the journey it can be.
No idea if somebody out there might find encouragement in this, but there it is. I’ve been through the usual up & down periods of productivity shaped by everyday joys/stresses, but this was something far deeper and dangerous. I don’t think of these things as merely “art blocks” since I find the term misleading, but I’ll tag it as such in case this is of use to anyone affected by them.
In other news, I recently applied to Virginia Commonwealth University’s Communication Arts program (Illustration) for Fall 2014. I’m definitely excited to be getting back into the art school thing again, and really looking forward to that kind of immersive studio environment and hands-on learning.
Another one of those people I see every time I go out in Richmond. Don’t know him, I just know he’s in a band, and has really cool boots and jackets.
A particularly dashing French soldier, sketched January 2013 in Kabul.
Normally I’m pretty good at drawing people without them realizing I’m drawing them, but the Frenchmen in my camp had an uncanny ability to sense it.
Something from my Afghanistan sketches. Think this was from a cluster of pages drawn while I was doped up on DXM during a bout of Afghan Flu.
Maymont Park, Richmond. Summer 2013.
Sketches of people at Lamplighter and a little overheard dialog. Summer 2013.
Quick little still life. Summer 2013.
Nice dog at Crossroads RVA. Sketched in Summer 2013, also.
Probably the best drawing I will ever do of somebody putting cream cheese on a bagel.
One of the staffers at Crossroads RVA swapping out coffee pots. Can’t remember this dude’s name other than he was cool. Sketched in Summer 2013.
Girl reading at Crossroads RVA. Sketched in Summer 2013.
More Crossroads RVA. Drawn sometime in Summer 2013.
Sadly Crossroads closed down, which sucked to hear since it was my favorite place to get coffee. But on the bright side they were bought by Lamplighter, another excellent roasting company in Richmond, so I look forward to seeing what the old Crossroads shop will be like when it’s reopened as a Lamplighter extension.
Noticed a bunch of sketches in my book that I never scanned, so I’ll be catching up on those now. This one was done at Crossroads Coffee in Richmond, I think around June/July/August 2013… Sometime in that blur after I got back from Afghanistan.
Thank you very much! Great to hear that my FLIGHT comics still have an audience after all these years.
Hey there, so sorry for how long it took for me to realize I never responded to you. Thanks so much for the supportive comments, and thanks even more for linking me to your own work . Holy crap you’ve got some spectacular stuff! Definitely will have to keep in touch with you.