Sketchbook Project 2011 – Completed and mailed

Open Mic Friday will resume next week!

Sketchbook Cover

Click to view entire sketchbook

I finished my book for The Sketchbook Project on Wednesday evening, complete with the above cover (painted in gouache), a taped-in photo of Tisha when he was healthy, and links to this blog.

I’m very, very proud of this book. I believe it’s the first lengthy creative project I have finished as an adult, so it boosts my belief in myself for sure. But most of all, I’m just satisfied with how it came out. It’s not a formal book at all; the writing underwent no revisions, and the drawings are crudely executed. But it captures the emotions I wanted it to contain; as always, I am a firm believer in the power and momentum of quick sketches (as opposed to careful, finished work). So I have nothing but satisfaction in my accomplishment.

Making the sketchbook was a good process. I wrote it in three major increments, all corresponding to milestones in Tisha’s illness. I started in August, shortly after receiving the book, when I was trying to process Tisha’s initial cancer diagnosis. I worked on it for a couple of days then, but left off after that. As Tisha became more and more ill and I had to face his mortality daily, the thought of putting it into permanent words and pictures was just too much to handle. I didn’t return to the sketchbook until November, when it was clear Tisha was in his dying days. At that time, it really helped to write about him: it was performing an act of love and creation when death and separation were imminent. But I only wrote once during his transition, and after that I couldn’t stand to look at the sketchbook. I really feared I would never finish it, because it had to be sent out by mid-January, and I still had three-quarters of the book to do, and those would encompass the most painful parts of my history with Tisha. But I started again a little more than a week ago, and worked steadily away at the book for six days, writing and drawing from four to eight pages each day. I knew this part would be the hardest, and it was; for the January 10th installment, I procrastinated half the day, cried while writing, and then bawled afterward. On that day I wrote about the first signs of Tisha’s illness, and in doing so, realized that they occurred only a year ago. That was a tough day, but working on the sketchbook helped ease my grief, and it got a little better after that. But I think I still cried each day that I worked.

When I finally finished the book last night, I felt so sad to be done with it, I cried a little more. It’s hard to explain exactly what this feels like, but when I’m drawing someone or something, I feel so connected to that subject. Even if it’s a total stranger, I invest each observation and each line with such care, it’s impossible that I not come to love what I’m drawing. (Writing is similar, but a little less alchemical.) For these two weeks, while I was drawing Tisha every day, it was like having him with me again: getting to know the exact markings on his fur, remembering his movements and the warmth of his body, re-imagining us curled up together on the reading chair. In both the writing and the drawing, I lived my time with him all over again, and then when I finished the book — no more Tisha. All over again. I remember right after he died, I wept because I would never get to love him anymore. But while I made this book, I could; I put so much love into my words and my pictures, they gave me a way to love him again. So of course I felt sad when this ended.

Still, it’s easier now to let our tiger go, knowing that in this small (but public) way, he continues to have an existence and to touch people’s lives. My scans are now online (and will later be supplemented by better scans from the official project), and The Sketchbook Project will tour the country starting next month. As of now, the sketchbooks will be visiting Brooklyn, Austin, Portland (Maine), Atlanta, DC, Seattle, SF, Chicago, and Winter Park (Florida), and there may be more locations added. With almost thirty thousand artists participating (no word yet on whether all will finish their books in time), I don’t expect mine to reach too large an audience, but still, it will be out there. I included a contact email at the end of the book and invited readers to email me, so we’ll see if I hear from anyone. I’ll keep you posted. And I plan to visit the exhibit when it’s in San Francisco on June 18!