Being Both

Who am I? A writer or an illustrator? Which? Both?

Yikes.

For years I drove myself insane with that question. Sometimes quite theatrically. “Is there a name for somebody who isn’t just an artist and isn’t just a writer but is something that doesn’t really have a name? How do I tell people what I ‘do’? What am I?

Many a 2 a.m. distress session there. Until a friend clarified things.

He said, “Your nouns are fighting each other: artist vs. writer. If you used verbs instead—I’m painting or I’m writing—then it’s just a question of time allocation.”

Duh!

For more on leading a double life, click here.

Mysteries of Educational Illustration

One would think that if “Show a child deciding it is unwise to stick a pickle fork in a light socket” is considered a spot illustration, then more cash and elbow room might be offered for “Show thirteen multi-ethnic children, two of them in wheel chairs, with their multi-species pets, deciding by concensus not to stage Chinese New Year (with dragon) on a transformer.”

Interestingly, this is not always the case.

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For more on educational illustration and its antidote, click here.

Three Systems

Daybook drawing: Peppers

We writer-artists—those in the arts in general—have interesting stuff happening in our brains. Which is why we can do the cool stuff we do…and why we can’t speak coherently when, in the middle of a paragraph or a painting, we have to pick up the phone.

And why we’re so often late bloomers. Most people have to learn only one system—the culture they were born into—but an artist must learn two: the culture they were born into, and their own idiosyncratic brain/psyche. They must then, on their own, invent a third: a system which, like a bilingual ambassador or a car’s transmission (choose your metaphor), mediates between the first two.

No wonder it takes a while to sort it out. If you’re in a creative calling, or working your way into one, be patient with yourself. You’re inventing a new world.

For more on creative process, click here.

Betsy James on Writing, Art, and Walking in the Desert