As I begin this post, it’s 9:17 PM on October 3rd, 2017. Exactly one year ago I was in the hospital, waiting to start drugs that would induce contractions. My water broke the night before without triggering labor.
I had a sketchbook with me for #inktober. I had never done #inktober before, and I had no intention of following it through for the full month. I was about to have a newborn. That takes up a lot of time, right?
Giving birth hurt. It hurt so much it changed the way I understand the world. It was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done. It almost went very, very badly. Then a nurse put this squishy little human down on my chest, and my spouse and I said hello to them. Hello, Helen. Welcome to the family. It was the first time we’d told anyone else their name.
A few hours later, as Helen slept next to me, I drew this picture.
And the next day we stayed in the hospital.
And the next day we came home.
It turns out that taking care of a baby is full of tiny moments of downtime. 20 minutes here, maybe an hour there.
The first month I was wrecked all the time. I never slept more than two hours at a stretch. But I drew pictures.
Mostly while Helen slept and mostly from photos because very little babies are terrible, terrible models.
But at the end of October, having done nothing all month but keep a tiny human alive and produce one drawing a day, I figured, what the hell, this can only get easier, right?
So I kept going.
Helen’s birthday is tomorrow. I have drawn a picture of them every single day since they were born. I haven’t missed a day.
Here are a few things I have learned:
- I spent my entire life as an artist thinking I needed to draw every day, and failing to do so. “Draw every day” is shitty advice for someone like me, for whom doodling doesn’t come naturally and finished pieces can take days. “Draw the same, small, specific thing using the same medium and style every day,” however, that is great advice.
- Drawing the same subject every day makes that subject immensely easier to draw. But also, it invites shortcuts. I still stop myself every time and think, “No, look at that ear. Don’t just draw their ear the way you remember it.” (I still don’t have the hang of their ears. Ears are hard.)
- I have gained some very specific technical knowledge about markers, paper, and Instagram filters. Specifically, #dailyhelen is drawn on Canson XL Cold Press Watercolor paper, with Tombow ABT markers №45 and №95, and run through the Inkwell filter on Instagram. It took me a few months to settle on these.
- If my life is in chaos, overwhelming, and I find myself unable to produce the art ideas that ping-pong around in my head with the speed and intensity of electrified bouncy balls, doing one small thing every day makes me feel better.
- Helen’s name makes a specific sound when written in marker. Ba ba ba badum dum badum dum.
- Drawing from photos is fine. Drawing from life is nice, but if photos are what I have, they’re what I’ll use and no harm is done. Growing babies are terrible, terrible models.
- I have internalized sexism about my art to contend with. I do. I’m working so hard to root it out, to seed and grow the idea that making art about children and motherhood is not somehow lesser, less critical, less important. And I have encountered people who gloss over this work because they don’t really get it, they don’t really like babies, they aren’t so interested. Every time I am angry. Do you realize — I want to grab them and shake them — do you realize I have produced an immense body of work about a critically important subject during an incredibly difficult time? I don’t care if you don’t like babies. Billions of people dedicate years of their lives to shepherding new humans through babyhood. Fuck yes there should be art about it.
- To be fair, a lot of people like babies. And drawings of babies.
- Including me. I love my drawings of this baby.
- I drew so much of the process of raising Helen in ways that are evident to me, if not to other viewers. Here is the day we went to the park and I tickled their round belly in the sun. Here is a flower behind a little ear. I love that I got to draw the first time they played with a rattle, the first time they stood, and the first time they ate with a spoon. I love watching their expressions change from vacantly content to joyful.
- I didn’t set out to create a physical manifestation of my love and care for my child, but I have. Helen won’t remember this year, but the drawings will be there.
I’m done with #dailyhelen now. I could keep going; the routine is ingrained in my day and it would be easy to keep it in motion. But then when would I stop? First day of school? When they move out? I want to fit something new into that space in my life. Something colorful, nourishing.
So I’m pleased to announce that I’m beginning a new daily project, beginning today. As I finish this post, it is Helen’s birthday, October 4th, 2017. Over the weekend we took them for a picnic at our local park on the East River. They ate cake with both hands and smeared the crumbs all through their wispy hair. I love watching this child grow. I love being one of the people who tends to this small life.
Welcome to the #floweringyear.
Thanks for reading. You can view all of the #dailyhelen posts on my Instagram.