I hope you are all getting through these weird times in ways that work for you. I hope you are able to breathe fresh air and that you can find some humour in our new obsessions. ( one of my current ones is trying to get hold of eggs. when my elderly hen Nancy finally laid her first of the year recently I could have kissed her, I nearly did to be honest, I am missing hugs from friends more than I can say)
I was close to panic at the beginning of the stay at home period of the crisis. After a couple of weeks of confusion about risk, anxiety about continuing to go into school after everything else had closed down and worry for friends and family I knew were very vulnerable, I was exhausted and stressed. I sat at my kitchen table and cried the Tuesday before they finally closed the school. My hypertension raged and I felt as though I was in fight or flight mode all of the time.
The decision, when it finally came, to ask us to stay at home came as something of a relief. Some of the constant fear subsided.
I managed to focus on work long enough to finish the book cover I was working on and send it off. I had another book cover and some colour spreads in my inbox but my publisher then emailed to say they were closed for now and my editor would be on furlough so there was now no idea when anything would go to print or be signed off/approved
For a few days I tidied cupboards, repotted plants and planted vegetable seeds to try to ground myself. It helped. I took long walks in the woods. I tried sporadically to work on my commissions, these things I now had no deadline for… without much success.
I have a piece to do for one of my Patrons but couldn’t manage to focus on that either. I felt frustrated and disconnected. I wasn’t drawing. It hurt, I could feel panic creeping back, and it made me feel rudderless.
Then I remembered my friend Su had created a drawing challenge at the beginning of February called ‘ A fortnight of fuckdoodlery’ for those of us who were feeling low and discouraged about all sorts of things. I messaged her and asked if she would consider setting up another to give us all something to focus on other than our current scary situation.
She very kindly obliged and made it an alphabetical challenge for the sake of simplicity. It was immediately a lifesaver for me. Creating for the sake of it helped me pick up a pencil again. I looked forward to curling up in a chair every day and finding something beginning with A to F
I decided to only use pastels and pencils as this was all about drawing rather than painting. Some were simple, some silly, some were from life, some were heartfelt. It gave me a chance to try to draw my Dad once more and be reminded of our last trip to Barcelona together.
When I got to the Letter G I instantly thought Griffin! I need to draw a griffin… and as I started to draw him I realised he was expressing something about what I was feeling that day about this unsettling time, this strange bright spring shot through with darkness. I joked to my son that perhaps I should do a series of mythical creatures in self isolation. He raised his eyebrows in that ‘well? Sort of way he has, so the idea was born.
Since then it has become a sort of obsession, after doing the first few curled up in an armchair I found I was taking longer and longer over them and so finding this more and more problematic. I struggled to unfold myself afterwards my limbs grumped and groaned and the eye strain of working in the dim living room lighting started to show. I don’t know why I resisted returning to my desk to do these for so long, some strange sense of guilt that it wasn’t ‘proper’ work somehow? I am not sure. But by the time I got to R I was back at my desk.
Each day I posted the new drawing to social media and the responses were encouraging, affirming and sometimes poignant.
This also helped me more than I can say. Images are my main way of connecting with people, I can say more with them than with words.
Then people started to suggest there might be a book in these pictures at some point. Maybe, I thought…maybe. Finally my friend Tom, who is a wonderful storyteller from Orkney added that perhaps people could write stories to go with the images and as I imagined giving all these isolated creatures a different voice it seemed it could be something lasting and positive to come out of these times. This has all exploded somewhat now. And I have many people wanting to contribute. This morning as I am writing this I have decided that anyone who would like to can do just that, so we can have as many voices as we like. I will need to be the final arbiter of what is published but anyone who wants to write a story or poem about any of the 26 creatures can go ahead and send them to me at katherinesoutarillustrator@gmail
These images are of themselves but also very much of me. They express so much about how I felt on that day. Some are unfinished, some polished. Some are dark and brooding, some thoughtful, some hopeful, even celebratory, some sad.
I will be approaching my usual publisher about making a book of these when they are open again. I really hope they will take it up, but if not I will look elsewhere or possibly even think about crowdfunding and self publishing. This has been the most personal series of drawings I have done so far. I hope you find something that speaks to you in them.