I’m a visual girl – I think in object lessons and pictures. My mind is always full of comic strips and animations. When I started this blog, I realised I had a chance to explain life with chronic illness through pictures: they’re easily understandable, bite-sized, and just fun to look at. The challenge was how to get them out of my brain, and onto the screen. I started drawing pictures in Keynote (for example, the ones used here), but it was a long, slow process. Keynote (the Mac version of PowerPoint) is designed for slideshows, not digital drawing, and drawing with a mouse is definitely not easy or natural.
So I started researching digital drawing. I contacted one of my favourite digital artists, Nick Seluk (creator of The Awkward Yeti) to ask what he recommended. He suggested I get a Wacom digital drawing tablet. I spent the next few months learning everything I could about the different models on offer (it took a while, because there are so many different options, and as a beginner, I found it all really overwhelming!). Eventually, I decided on a Wacom Intuos Comic, a package that included both the tablet and the software I would need for digital drawing or comic making. I saved up, and then, heart pounding, ordered one.
While I was waiting for it to arrive, I watched hours of tutorials. I wanted to be ready for it when it came. None of this ‘fumbling around’ for me, I wanted to get stuck in! But when my package arrived, I was dismayed to find that using the tablet and software required a big learning curve. I’d never used anything like either of them before – I was starting completely from scratch. You’d think it’s just like drawing with a pen on paper, but natural drawing on a tablet takes a lot of practise. Especially when it’s the kind of tablet that you draw on while you’re not looking at it (you look at your computer screen – where the picture is appearing). Some days I’d feel like sending the tablet back. It was too hard. I couldn’t do it. Who was I even kidding. Me? A digital artist? Pffft.
But part of me was determined to get the hang of it. All these pictures stuck in my head were useless if I couldn’t share them with others. I looked up beginner tablet exercises, and started retraining my brain. I committed to half an hour every day, no matter how difficult I found it. After about a week, something clicked in my brain. Over time I progressed to scribbly sketches, and then better sketches, and then actual drawings.
Finally, it was time to make an actual comic! The most helpful tutorials I came across were a six part series by digital artist Cat Farris. I watched them multiple times before my tablet arrived, and then multiple times more after it came. Excitedly, I watched my comic take shape. But when I got to the second last step, shading…I got stuck. My computer wasn’t doing what hers was doing in the tutorial. Did I have a setting wrong? Was I just not understanding something? Did I just really suck? I sent Cat a timid email asking if she maybe knew where I was going wrong. To my astonishment, she not only replied, but she couldn’t have been happier to help. She went out of her way to solve the problem I was having, all the while being unbelieveably encouraging about my baby steps. When she told me she thought my bear was ‘darn cute’, I literally had to lie on the floor and try not to burst into confetti from overexcitement. AN ACTUAL REAL LIFE DIGITAL ARTIST COMPLIMENTED MY WORK, PEOPLE!!!
Life with chronic illness is often hard, scary, confusing, upsetting… but it also provides a lot of opportunities to laugh at yourself. The first sentence of fellow blogger Michelle’s ‘About’ page reads, “Living with Bob is about finding the funny when faced with the absurd and disheartening world of chronic illness.” Reading through Michelle’s posts, I often find myself laughing out loud, while at the same time commiserating. I’ve been there too – and it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone.
I have a lot of those moments where I say to myself, “I’m SURE I used to be smarter than this!” I was the top of my classes – intelligent, eager, passionate about learning, with an amazing photographic memory. And now, depending on the day, I’m lucky if I can remember how to operate the toaster. How do I cope with that? Tears? Anger? Frustration? If I’m honest, I’d have to say all of the above, on different occasions. But humour is my weapon of choice. It’s hard to be mad or sad when you’re laughing at yourself.
My brain may no longer be the sharpest crayon in the box, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to let it lie abandoned. I’m going to use that crayon. With my trusty new digital drawing equipment by my side (or on my lap), I hope to help people better understand chronic illness, and to find humour in it – not just through my words, but through my pictures too.
So, I’d like to introduce you to my new comic series —> ‘Brain Fog Files‘ <— (click on the link to view). I hope you like it!
P.S. If you’re not familiar with Nick Seluk’s work over at The Awkward Yeti, or Cat Farris’ blog and comic The Last Diplomat, I highly recommend you pop over and check them out! They are two seriously awesome artists, so go give them some love!