Last weekend was a definitive anniversary, as it marked 40 years since I signed the contract on my first proper illustration job, on 1st October 1982, a book commission no less, for Jeremy Strong’s Fatbag, commissioned by Jill Coleman at A&C Black, which was released early the following year.
I thought I should mark the occasion with a little social gathering. I signed the contract on the 1st, but 1st October this year fell on a Saturday, I thought this could be difficult for working friends, so opened the house to “Tea, cake and fizz” on a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon. This proved a wise decision as it narrowly avoided the train strikes. I didn’t expect anyone to travel far just for my little waypost gathering, so was overwhelmed that friends came up from London and Cambridge to help mark the occasion. It was a crowded house of artists, writers, booksellers, family and friends, Cherry Leaf Cafe on St.Giles made a beautiful cake for the occasion, there was plenty of vegetarian and gluten free food (I probably over-prepared!), the Cava flowed rather more than the tea in the end, special thanks to my brother and sister-in-law for helping to keep things rolling. I think everyone enjoyed themselves. With such a good turnout (over 40 people, for 40 years), a little chaotic perhaps - I had intended to give a speech, but ended up being mainly stuck in the kitchen, I also completely forgot to take photos, eek!
I’m aware that marking anniversaries has become a habit these last years, especially since returning to the UK. It’s always 10 years since this, 20 years since that… it’s as if I’m looking for comfort by looking back at my career, rather than focusing on the next project. As much of my career overseas is unknown in the UK, it’s easy to feel isolated and on permanent furlough the longer I stay here. How much longer can I stay in this country I ask myself. However, much as we should always focus on developing our craft and pursuing future projects, sometimes, especially when things seem to be slow, it’s important to mark our achievements. It’s so easy to forget that there are many who dream of making a living from pictures but follow other career paths, by choice or by circumstances, the fact that I’ve had any career drawing pictures is a wonder, the fact that I’ve survived on this for 40 years, and despite enormous ups and downs still have a comfortable home at the end, on funds generated almost entirely from scribbling in ink and paint, these are not inconsiderable achievements.
I don’t suffer from depression, but I do get very despondent on occasion, about the ever increasing awfulness in the news, about the publishing business etc., these last few years have been especially hard for everyone, and then bang goes confidence. Suddenly nothing I’ve ever drawn means anything any more, I become fearful of my studio. Like many experienced during the pandemic, one way we side-step such thoughts is to just switch off, to meander and procrastinate with other activities, rather than face up to what really needs doing, and getting down to work. It’s a necessary coping mechanism, but we can't allow it to be more than temporary, it has to end eventually. At some beautiful point, frustration with stagnation combines with a small spark that overcomes the comfort of switching off, the taste of inactivity becomes bland and then sour, being creative is sweet, the energy begins to slowly flow once more, and we click back into gear.
I wish I could force that moment, that point where we take a big sigh, and start drawing again, undertaking Inktober again this year is helping. But it takes time to find that spark, and until that point, past career seems like a weight - a baggage carried around, less of a mile-stone, more of a mill-stone. Who cares about my overseas books, or what I did in Japan in the 1990’s? This is the UK, in the 2022’s, those times arn’t coming back.
But, and this is an important BUT - Every time I'm tempted by such miseries, I try to remind myself that the achievements of the past happened for a reason, some degree of luck may have been involved, but it wasn't all just some random bit of fortune. There is a continuity in maintaining a career that continues now, something that needs to be grasped, and held onto. Forever forwards!! We did it before, we can do it all again.
So, to the next 40 years!!
My deepest thanks to everyone who visited my home and helped the corks pop!