50 (ish) days ago, I had reached an ending - or what felt like an ending; but it was also a beginning… I had finished the MA in Children’s Book Illustration I had been doing for the last two and a half years. It left me feeling at once exhausted and energized; with a feeling of mourning, and that tingle of excitement you get at the start of something new. I also felt completely lost - dizzy with the array of possibilities ahead of me. Where would I start? What to focus on first? I am easily distracted at the best of times, but with nothing to focus on at all for the time being, I felt untethered and woozy with possibility. If you were filming it as a moment, the camera would pan upwards away from me, overhead, and then spin out of control until everything blurs. Or like that shot at the end of the Matrix, where Keanu shoots up into space, except I am not Keanu Reeves, and I stay on the ground while the camera shoots upwards without me!
Suffice to say, I needed something to focus on, and I decided that, for the time being, I would focus on the day-to-day. Step 1: eating, sleeping, taking walks, and generally looking after myself. Step 2: find something creative to focus on. Although I had just spent some of the most creative years of my life doing the MA, the last few months had been filled with admin tasks around the MA graduation exhibition and participating in the MA Bologna Bookfair stand. So I decided to start a #50dayproject. I had done a #100dayproject the summer before, which had been rewarding, and had helped form the visual language I had used for the last module of the MA. So I thought: hey, I’ll do a #50dayproject, that will see me through this weird time! And it worked. These projects aren’t always straightforward, however, and as I discovered when I did the #100dayproject, the beginning is the tricky part. I felt immediately out of my comfort zone, oscillating between resistance, negative voices in my head, telling me what I was producing was crap - and what sort of artist did I think I was anyway! And feeling generally timid and unconfident. But that’s the thing about working every day - it works as a method of practice, quite literally, and you swiftly begin to improve. I found I would have days of creeping along, making timid work, and then suddenly bound ahead in confidence and ability, then crawl back again and hide from that feeling of, dare I even feel it…success…and then when I felt brave enough, tiptoe out and try again, until, suddenly, I found I was in the Zone (oh yeah, the Zone!), and I began questioning things less, doubting less, thinking less… I think of it as being more fluent. Like you would be if you practiced fingerpicking on the guitar every day.
But…and there is a but…I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was cheating; hiding; staying too much in my comfort zone. There were a lot of shoulds and shouldn’ts happening; I should be more of an illustrator; I shouldn’t just be drawing from observation; I should be working from my imagination. I tried to be kind and say to myself that I needed a rest after the MA, and that this was a good way of resting. And I do think that is true. But I couldn’t escape that feeling…
(Bear with me here, it gets complicated! Welcome to my meandering mind!)
So I began to formulate a plan. I know that Instagram is a good way of holding me accountable. By saying I was going to draw every day for 50 days for the #50dayproject, I felt accountable to make that drawing every day. So I decided: I will do a #50daysofillustration project. But… making illustrations isn’t always something you can complete in a day, so I began to think, well, how can I do this…? And then I thought perhaps I could do something around getting back to the studio, and back to illustration: #50dayillojourney I was thinking. I thought I would post for 50 days: make posts showing work, if I have made any that day, sketches if that’s what I did that day or just photos of the books I had been looking at. Keeping it a bit less tight, and about a journey back to the studio and back to illustration after the MA.
Then I was chatting to some of my lovely Patreons during Motivation Monday (which is a meet-up I do every Monday on my Patreon) and I was telling them about my ideas, and they said they would love to follow some prompts if I did them - and I thought: yes! That would be perfect! I could make prompts for 50 days, and I could use them to do 50 days of illustration, and anyone else who wants to play along can use them too. But…! I was kind of sad to lose the spontaneity and the “journey” aspect of it. So I have spent the last few days pondering all of this, thinking about what I need, what I am feeling intrigued and inspired by. How the heck I’m going to do this next project, quite frankly! And I think what I want is accountability, but freedom; to get back to illustration, but with the option to spend a day making marks if I want to, or going for a long walk... So welcome to #Ellamayrella AKA #meanderingmay
How it will work:
Note: I can’t promise a straightforward month, I have designed it to be free-flowing, with plenty of give, but I hope it will also be inspiring and fun!
I will post a daily prompt in my Stories every morning in May (as early as I can), along with my post for that day in my grid. (I will make my work the day before and post the next morning, so I will work a day ahead of you all). You can either play along on the same day and post whenever you are done that day or in the evening, or just post the next morning. The actual day doesn’t really matter, does it? Thoughts, please!
The prompts will be posted live every day, so you don’t have to worry about the pressure of pre-planning. Hopefully, this will help keep things light and fresh.
They might be straightforward words, they might be a call to action, they might give you the day off…!
I want to keep it fun, inspiring, creative, spontaneous but also for it to hold me (and you!) accountable to make work every day.
My commitment is to get back to the studio and to make illustration work every day. I have projects I want to get back to, and I want to start work on a new book idea, and so that is the focus for me.
Feel free to make your own commitment for your focus for #meanderingmay.
For me personally, I want to use the prompts in a loose way, so I have the freedom to design each day as I want to - so maybe one day I will make a one-off illustration from the prompt, and spend all day on it. Maybe one day I will make a quick sketch based on the prompt and spend the rest of the day on a longer illustration project, and post photos on both in a carousel post. Maybe one day I will just post a photo or a reel.
Make your own rules! If you want to use the prompts to do a full illustration every day, go for it! If not, do what you want and use the prompt anyway! I could have called it #rebelmay probably, but I haven't - ooh, the rebellion!
There will be some days where I will feel busy - too busy! - but l above all else, am making the commitment to post every day in May, inspired by the prompts.
By spending May making illustration work again, I am hoping for that bound forwards that I got from posting every day for the #50dayproject, and I hope that if you join in, you will bound forwards with me - boing!
If that sounds fun to you, if it makes any sense to you at all (!) do join in with me and we can have a #meanderingmay together!! See you on the other side!