Last year I decided to be an illustrator. It’s not that I performed the most radical career change, I trained in Plastic Arts and Design and I had been working as a Graphic Designer for more than a decade.
I was always told I couldn’t make a living out of drawing. It’s no one’s fault but mine that I believed it and I went for the next best thing, but then I spent years as an Art Director in advertising enduring the fact that I didn’t get to draw the illustrations that I was commissioning for the pieces I was directing. The worst part of all is that I just forgot I wanted to draw.
After some time of confusion and disorientation, last year I found myself drawing again and I decided to give it a go. Boy did it work! I’ve been happier for the last 6 months than I have been for the past 10 years. I feel I have a decade of undrawn stuff hidden somewhere in my hand wanting to get out and flood my studio in London. I’ve been so lucky as to get some clients that trusted me and I have been building a portfolio that makes me really proud of myself.
It’s a lonely ride
Part of this job is the enormous amounts of time I spend alone, I can go days without speaking to anyone else than my partner and I sometimes worry this is going to make me lose touch with my fellow humans. But for the most part I don’t even notice because, the truth is out there, I am a bit of a loner. I could say I am a lone wolf, because that sounds wild, like I’m this undomesticated creature with only the wind in my hair. But sadly it wouldn’t be true. Because I really am a loner in the most prosaic of ways; that is I’m terribly awkward socially so I don’t like being around people that much.
Most of the time I don’t really miss talking to other people but I do love to look at them!
I know this sounds like an inconsistency but these two things are not incompatible. As an introvert I have always felt something is demanded from me in social situations that I don’t know exactly how to give. I see people having small talk casually and it seems like magic to me because for me chitchatting feels like tearing off my own arm and nonchalantly presenting it to my interlocutor with a smile. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like the person in front of me or that I dislike people in general. I would compare it to looking at a gorgeous pair of shoes in a shop window that you know you would feel awfully uncomfortable wearing. That doesn’t stop you from appreciating their beauty.
And I do think people are beautiful, I live in a city with 8 million of them so they’re literally everywhere; walking down the street, going to work, talking to each other, queueing in the supermarket, running in the park, waiting for the next train at the station.
Thousands of different stories intertwined, happening in the same place at the same time, and it’s precisely looking at them what sometimes makes me feel a bit lonely.
A strange love
For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the strangers around me, I find myself peeking into other people’s lit windows at night and trying to imagine what kind of people they are, what kind of lives they lead.
The mystifying idea that my partner, who is my favourite person in the world, was once just a young man in the crowd I hadn’t met, I didn’t know and, of course, I didn’t love, bewilders me. This idea is very present in one of my favourite books of all time, a delightful graphic novel by Taiwanese illustrator Jimmy Liao, whose title is also puzzling on its own. The book is the wonderfully illustrated story of a young man and a young woman who can’t seem to find one another despite the fact that they live in buildings next to each other, because when they go out, no matter where they’re going, one always turns to the left whereas the other always turns to the right.
The Chinese title (向左走·向右走) translates to ‘Turn Left, Turn Right’ (A nod to the characters habit), I believe it was published in English as ‘A Chance of Sunshine’ (Because the weather is the backdrop of the story) and my Spanish copy goes under the title ‘Desencuentros’, which can be translated as ‘disagreements’, ‘missunderstandings’ or ‘failed meetings’ and which I think really captures the essence of the book (but that might be my native language, hardwired to my brain, speaking).
For a long time I have wanted to explore this broad and complex concept, how we are all strangers in a lonesome journey and we are doing nothing else than looking for each other and seemingly missing one another. That’s how I came across the Missed Connections section in Craigslist.
Craigslist is not ugly
For those of you who don’t know what the Missed Connection section is, it’s simply a message board where people try to reconnect with strangers with whom they’ve had a brief encounter in a public space and they kick themselves for not mustering the courage to start a conversation. It’s quite a popular section in America but a fairly abandoned one on this side of the pond, with a few posts a day for most subsections and none at all for weeks for others.
But for me (after dodging the people just looking for a quick hookup) it turned out to be a wonderful secret hidden in plain sight, a very voyeuristic trip to a place where the strangers around me talk about those stories I always felt I was missing. It speaks to me about the purely optimistic nature of the human heart and how we are willing to try some pretty silly stuff for the very slight chance of connecting with each other.
I know I’m not the first person looking at this sort of ads from the distortion of my own romantic ideas, this one beautifully written by a man looking for a woman who saved his life in 1972 captured the public’s imagination a couple of years ago. And I know there’s always the cynical point of view; they might be fake, they might be written by bored people or amateur writers. And I say; who cares? the message is the same whether the story is real or not.
Enters the artist
So I started visiting regularly (probably more often than I should), peeking into other people’s lives and wondering if someone ever goes there looking for someone looking for them, what if two people were posting in the same section searching for one another and they never get to read each other’s ad? It could be another case of desencuentros. So, naturally, I began collecting their stories with the hope that they wouldn’t be lost. And at the beginning of the year I decided I wanted to illustrate some of the stories I had been collecting and put them together with the original ads as a tribute to the lonely hearts out there.
So I grabbed my pencils, watercolours, my brushes and ink and I tried to picture these encounters as instants of spark. I wanted to draw them as from the future, as if, whether these people did or did not find each other, they are just now reminiscing fondly about this chance meeting.
“You — tall, elegantly dressed lady, late 40’s (I would guess) at Australia’s Impressionists exhibition at National Gallery on the 28th December. We stood next to each other at the Golden Summer painting. We discussed how much we loved the exhibition. You seemed to look very deeply into my eyes as we talked. You had the most lovely soft Irish accent. You were wearing heeled black boots, tight black trousers and a white blouse under a long coat.
Me- blonde girl, early 20’s, tight blue jeans and green roll neck jumper. You said you loved my coat.
I wish so much I had asked you if you wanted to go for a drink. If you see this please get in touch. You were so gorgeous and I would love to see you again.”
Some of these stories are very detailed, and I find these the most fascinating with their dates, locations and descriptions. Because it somehow feels that those connections were really important for their posters and that’s why they remember specifics; they are trying to paint a scene that meant something for them.
“I was in the Royal Thai Restaurant, having dinner with friends, on Thursday evening about 10.30pm. Sitting on the next table, was an incredibly pretty woman, short, dark hair and blue eyes with a lovely accent that I just couldn’t place!
I kept being distracted — you were obviously gorgeous but also seemed so lovely, full of sparkle and life, I really wanted to talk to you! Finally I came up with a reason, plucked up the courage and asked about your accent — you asked me to guess! I went with French. Completely agree this was not my best effort — basically I had no idea! You explained with a lovely smile it was “German, but educated here!” My friend dragged me off to catch our train to Scotland, but you seemed absolutely lovely and I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not staying longer, perhaps missing the train, asking for your number and if you’d like to meet up!”
But sometimes it’s precisely the lack of details what intrigues me and I feel it’s a story worth drawing so I just fill in the details myself.
“I started noticing you back in August. We used to see each other often in the early mornings on the W7 bus to Finsbury Park.
After a while, in mid November, I said hi and we exchanged a couple of lines, you told me you live close to the Queens Pub. And this is the only thing I know about you.
Well, this and the fact that you read Jo Nesbo.
Unfortunately I haven’t seen you since and to be honest I think about you way often than I should.”
We all want to be seen
It’s easy to think about romancic love or even plain old lust when coming across this sort of ads, but for me they are mainly about a fundamental human search; the search for each other. Much has been written about loneliness in cities and how modern life and technology may or may not be separating us. And maybe it’s true and we have figured out that we don’t need to live in packs anymore but perhaps because of that we are sincerely seeking each other for the first time in history.
As a young woman I felt sometimes that it wasn’t right for me to desire someone’s company if I wanted to be strong and independent. And I have come to realise that loneliness doesn’t make me less independent or weak, it just reminds me of how wonderful connecting with someone feels and like any other feeling it’s weird and beautiful.
John Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden that all great and precious things are lonely. I believe what he meant is that greatness comes at a price, but over the years people have been taking this quote out of context and reclaiming it as a celebration of the beauty of loneliness, of that very outlandish idea that we can enjoy loneliness because it’s a reminder of when we have felt connected to someone.
In a way this project is an ode to that same contradictory feeling. These people felt it but they only realised too late, so they turned to the internet if only to say ‘I was there and I saw you’
Well, I saw you too, and this is how it looks.
Be sure to check the project.