Sunday, January 29, 2012


As of today, January 29, 2012, it has been exactly one year since I completed the final illustration for my Moby-Dick project. I expected the year that followed to be surreal and for me, a librarian from Ohio, it absolutely was. I was able to see up close how books go from ideas to reality. I was able to travel to places I had never ever been to talk about the book and my experiences making the art. I ended up drawing pictures in somewhere between 300 and 400 books for all kinds of people. I had a gallery show of my art for the very first time. I did more interviews than I would have imagined possible. It's all been...well, surreal. That's really the best description I can think of.

A one year anniversary really is an arbitrary thing. There's truly nothing spectacularly different between today, the anniversary, and tomorrow, the first day of the next year. But still, these arbitrary landmarks are opportunities to pause and to re-examine things. This last year, while surreal and thrilling and unexpected and amazing, was also challenging and confusing. I struggled with what it all meant for me. Since I had now had a book of my art published, did this mean I was an artist? And if so, what kind? An artist who shows his work in galleries or an artist who creates illustrations for book covers and magazines? Was it time for me to start thinking about making my work marketable? And what did marketable mean? I really had no idea how to answer those questions, and I still struggle.

I have no regrets about this past year at all. I did my best, I tried to be myself, and in the end all of my experiences due to this book were really uniformly positive. I did, though, for a time follow the idea that now that I had made my debut as an illustrator, it was time to "get my name out there" and take on whatever opportunities others pitched to me. I ended up saying yes to quite a few things and I completed those tasks. I completed them well, I think. And while I have no regrets, it's time for me to stop that.

I am very very lucky in that I truly like my career. I enjoy going to work at the library every day, and I love what public libraries are and what they stand for. I never once even considered making the transition from librarian to working illustrator. I don't even want to. That gives me a lot of freedom to continue to make whatever kind of art I want, with no real concern as to how popular or marketable it might be. I don't have to depend on book cover gigs or illustration jobs or gallery sales to pay the rent or put food on the table. That's really exhilarating. And honestly, I've been drawing pictures with great intent for around 15 years now. For the first dozen or so years, no one at all anywhere had ever heard of me, and that was just fine.

So, like I said, no regrets at all. I am deeply thankful for this Moby-Dick project, my relationship with Tin House Books, the wonderful book they helped me create, the places I was able to travel and every single person who came out to see me, bought the book, gave some of my original art new homes, and supported me with kind words and friendship.

And yes, I hope that continues. I do have plans, and I do hope to be lucky enough to publish another book or three in the future. But I'm excited about this anniversary and about moving past it. I've lived with the White Whale for almost two and half years now, every single day. I need to put this behind me. I need a kind of catharsis, to clean the slate and start off in a new direction. This new, brief but thrilling art project I have in mind will help a lot. And over the next week, I will be adding every single remaining piece of Moby-Dick art to my Etsy shop. A lot of it has sold, which is wonderful, and I will keep a few pieces. But there are still almost 200 pieces sitting here in my home and it's time for them to go. It's time for me to step off the Pequod for a time, to wander around somewhere new, to look inward again. It feels pretty good, a little scary, and really necessary. I do hope you'll stick around.


  1. Reshifting is good. New projects are good.

    Later days, Moby Dick...he has served you well. Enjoy your new muses!

  2. I'm psyched to see what you do with this Monster Manual project -- partly because its mood and tone and gaze sound totally different from anything I've seen you do before, and partly because you're working from a source with existing, canonical illustrations, which is going to add a neat layer of translation.

  3. Absolutely, Hannah. People often ask me if I have read Moby-Dick since finishing my project, or if I will read it again. I have not read it since, and while I am certain I shall again, it will be quite some time. This journey was the most challenging and harrowing reading I have ever experienced. I need some distance after that.

  4. Rachel, I do hope you like what you see. I am not sure if you've ever played these games, and my own experiences with them are now nearly 3 decades removed, so it's paradoxically both familiar and unfamiliar. I suspect my own pieces will end up being quite a bit removed from the canonical visuals which I hope will provoke some delight but may also draw down calls of blasphemy. We'll see.

    Oh, and yes, an email is forthcoming VERY VERY SOON now. I can't believe it has taken me this long. January kind of hugged.

  5. I dearly hope "January kind of hugged" wasn't a typo.

    I've played a bit of GURPS, but no D&D -- I'm kind of attached to the aesthetic of D&D character sheets, though.

  6. Ha! Nope..."hugged" was absolutely intentional.

    A few friends of mine were wild about GURPS back in the day. I never did play though. I, too, have fond memories of those D & D character sheets. Remember the little box where you could draw a picture of your character if you were so inclined?

  7. Sure do. Did D&D have a coded system of roleplaying strengths and weaknesses like GURPS? That was another fascinating manual.

  8. Matt, I attended one of your talks recently, and it was very refreshing to see your humility come through. You do have a God-given artistic gift, and it is good that you practice it.

    You've also given me some inspiration in terms of expressing emotions through art, being more open to explore more artistic media, and to keep creating art in my free time.

    I also could resonate in another way. I work as a library assistant at an elementary school, which I thoroughly enjoy. (I have my MLIS now, but I haven't been ready to move on in the library world.) Thank you for sharing your ideas and your art in the way that you do.

  9. RF, what I remember most about the D & D character were the 6 traits, the values of which were all determined by rolling three 6-sided dice, which defined each character and in many ways determined what "class" they would be. If I recall correctly, these were strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution and charisma. All of which, I suppose, are strengths of one kind or another and none of which address weakness. Odd. Anyway, if you had high strength, you'd be a good fighter. If you had high intelligence, you'd be a good magic user. If you had high wisdom, you'd be a good cleric. If you had high dexterity, you'd be a good thief. Constitution seems like it had something to do with hit points? I can't recall. And charisma was important for all of those conversations with non-player characters, like when you were trying to convince the local innkeeper to tell you where the hidden temple of evil was.

  10. Anonymous, thank you, those are all very kind words. It has been difficult to make myself as accessible as I have had to be, in this blog and in interviews and in book appearances. For a time, I thought I would have to create some sort of "artist persona" that would both dazzle people and protect me. Ultimately I just couldn't do that though, so I am relieved that just being myself is working out. I do try to remain humble and grateful for the chance to share my art like this. Good luck with your own pursuits, and please do stay in touch.


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