Syd Weiler
Sep 23, 2019 · 8 min read

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Mention of online harassment, ptsd/mental health.

Early September 2019, I flew to Pasadena for LightBox Expo — a new conference for creatives working in the entertainment and animation industry, co-founded by Bobby Chiu and Jim Demonakos.

I’ve been looking forward to this event for years — plural — since hearing about it. Leading up to LightBox has been difficult. Aside from dealing with work-related trauma (detailed), and feeling cut off from my community because of that, I lost my mother in February. I really needed a win for the year. I knew that even if nothing else lined up, I’d be going — simply based on the community response, mutuals and artists I admire announcing their own intentions to attend. (The FOMO would have been too painful, to say the least.)

I’ve been struggling with anxiety at crowded social events my whole life, but this worsened to the point of paranoia after the Doves virality (and the threats that brought me.) I went from low-key panic while speaking/teaching/being able to see my audience, to full-blown, mind-reeling stress levels whenever someone I did not know recognized and approached me.

At an event in summer 2017, immediately after the online chaos, I attended an event in South Georgia. While walking alone on the street from the hotel to the convention center (broad daylight, in a populated commercial area, though few people were around in that moment) someone yelled, ‘HEY! SYD WEILER!’ from behind me. I turned around and a man — obviously a designer by his clothing, but no event badge visible — was approaching. I froze, mentally and physically — as he closed in, he said, ‘Trash Doves, right?’ I had no idea who this was — more than likely, he was just someone who knew about my work with the Residency, and not a channer — but in a flash of fight-or-flight response, I turned and ran straight to the conference center and found people I knew.

Every event since then, I’ve feared this happening again. I have withdrawn from other events and obligations with this as a variable considered. I rarely venture anywhere alone without touchpoints of friends nearby, and am not inclined to socialize at events where introductions will be needed.

I was not expecting the reaction to my Doves essay to be so immense. Online, I think I was braced for the worst — the fear that no one but 4Chan would read it and come after me again. I did not expect, and certainly did not get my hopes up for, the outpouring of support my story received online.

The imposter syndrome heading to LBX was severe — I felt I would not be welcomed, or that I would leave feeling as defeated as I have all year, with nothing to hold onto. However, this was not the case — the opposite happened.

I TRULY did not think that would spill over, in person, to the event that is practically my twitter timeline walking.

The first day of the Expo — still reeling and processing in the wake of the online response — aside from handing vinyl Doves stickers to mutuals met in person, I intended to guard the fact of my bird ownership and attempt to avoid triggering recognition anxiety. By the end of the day, I was being introduced to others because of the essay — to find they had also read it. The conversations that followed often took a similar route — apologies, gratitude expressed for the story, and even some commiserating over some horrifying, contextually-overlapping experiences. It felt like I was living in a feedback loop — however, it became the best exposure therapy. I felt minimal anxiety about these experiences — mostly, just warmth.

The next day, I was teaching, and talking about the birds anyway, so I wore my beautiful felted Doves pin (Made for me by Booky Margoof ❤) on my shirt — by the end of the day I took it off, simply because people were stopping me on the street — to say hello, give me a sticker and often thank me, and I was being made late to things.

I personally get into such terrible headspace when I’m online. I’ve spent a large part of the year analyzing my habits and choosing how I want to be engaging in the digital space, from a health-first perspective. I had many conversations at LightBox about this — with other creators equally as tired of being wired.

If you’re feeling similar digital fatigue — I’d encourage you to seek out new, fresh spaces. Discuss, listen and commiserate with others, face-to-face… It’s so fundamental, but so easy to forget when you’re isolated, only viewing the grass-is-greener, heavily-filtered versions of people’s lives they choose to share online — but it makes all the difference to remember and internalize that every creator you admire from afar is just a person too, doing their best, with their own struggles, goals and hopes.

I was gifted small items, many of you asked to hug me (thank you! consent is important!) and I’m so grateful for the positive Doves experiences I was given. In fact, I don’t think I had a single bad Doves experience at LightBox. Every single conversation was positive, every single person compassionate. It was wonderful, surreal and healing.

If you read my Doves story, reached out or spoke to me in person about it — know that I am eternally grateful for your time, and hope it had a mostly-positive impact on your digital life. Releasing myself from that was step one of my hard healing — I heard recently that it takes five good things to undo a bad thing. I am simply well on my way to that cosmic quota. Thank you all.

I taught my Photoshop Brushmaking workshop — its fifth event !— to a room full of lovely students. Thank you to Adobe Drawing for bringing me to the event, sponsoring my class and giving me such a beautiful space to teach within — I’m forever grateful for the unending support and opportunity. If you came to my class, thank you — it was a lot to dedicate your precious LBX afternoon to my workshop, and I hope the knowledge I gave you is being put to work!

From a teacher’s standpoint, the event was great — fantastic venue with clear organization. I felt completely taken care of, from start to finish — the ‘last minute’ emails with everything organized per exhibitor was ASTONISHING and SO helpful. My single hope is that next year, you’re able to sign up for multi-hour technical classes beforehand, so that everyone knows what they’re getting themselves into!

I attended a few panels and a class and loved every second of them — congratulations to all the rest of the programmers for great panels and demos, and thank you all for sharing your knowledge!!

LightBox was the stage for a massive drawing app contingency — both Procreate and Adobe Fresco had huge presences at the event.

I’ve been playing with Fresco for quite some time, and I enjoy it greatly as a media emulation software — I’m constantly blown away by the Live brushes, and playing in that area of the software has been a personal treat for myself. I’m excited for more updates to come to the app in the future, especially clipping masks, so that I can truly utilize the software independently, without leaning on other programs for cleanup. I think Fresco — though as-of-this-writing, unreleased — is going to age like fine wine with more features supported, and can’t wait to see what creators make with it.

Procreate unveiled some huge new features coming in the 5th edition, including .ABR support — this means that all of my custom brushes now work in this software. Given Procreate’s userbase, this is a huge marketing roadblock removed for me — I no longer have to worry about converting brushes within Procreate for consumers use (which previously meant: rebuilding them from scratch) — I got to test Procreate 5 on the LBX floor by airdropping and importing some of my braid brushes. They worked perfectly. I was floored.

Mobile drawing apps are growing and evolving daily — Digital painting process is finally teetering over the edge into full-blown mobile possibility. I am personally, slowly, migrating — able to finish smaller projects on the iPad, and after years of fighting battery life and screen brightness/sun issues on the Surface Pro line, I’m simply thrilled at the true freedom to paint from anywhere that these two software behemoths will offer.

While reflecting on LightBox, I painted this piece between both Fresco and Procreate. Utilizing the beautiful Live Oils in Fresco, and Procreate’s more robust transform/masking abilities —I find they play very nicely together (on the iPad, at least. Gentle reminder that everyone has their own painting process and preferences, and different programs support different things at their various stages of development, and that’s okay. :D ) and I can’t wait to make more pieces with this cross-pollinated workflow.

I am grateful for the wonderful friends who let me sit behind their tables with them for periods of time — oasis from the social chaos, not forcing me back to my room for a break, only to then fight myself about leaving again. The floor and events were so vast, but I loved being in the middle of it — exhausting and exhilarating as it all was.

My art was on two of the attendee badge varieties, and I was so thrilled to keep catching glimpses of them attached to lanyards. Thank you again to Adobe Drawing for making this happen.

I’ve been painting nearly nonstop since getting home. I have hundreds of ideas, work to keep me busy for years. I feel like I have my bird, and my work life, back. So thank you, everyone — and thank you, LightBox. I cannot say it enough —and most of this has just been me saying thank you — I’m so grateful.

See you all next year.

Syd Weiler

Written by

illustrator. she/they 🏳️‍🌈 // @sydweiler

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