Recently I was reading through bunches of material online. Fairy tales, folk tales, fables, and then…poetry. I was looking for something to illustrate as part of the constant exercises that are so much of the work I do in my illustration practice. I sat on my couch, coffee in hand, and opened up PoetryFoundation.org.
On the homepage, I noticed a poem called ‘Two Men & a Truck‘ by Laura Kasischke. I am not entirely sure what about that poem drew me in – as I certainly had no particular emotional connection with the title’s offering of the idea of two men and a truck. But something most assuredly did pull me in, and when I read the poem I was absolutely floored. I was moved to the very bottom of my soul. Because I’m a mother? Because I’ve been through divorce? Because, like many parents who are brave enough to be open and honest, I can say that I have done some things well – and I’ve stumbled quite a few times in my attempt to raise my kids? Probably all of those things. And more.
I read through the poem and cried.
Then, the next day, I started working on something far less touching but equally as sob-inducing. Taxes.
During the several days I spent doing my accounting (yes, artists have to keep their books too…) and figuring out what the final upshot of all of that number crunching would be, that poem haunted me. The first lines crept in and out of my thoughts.
Once the tax adventure was done (don’t worry – I won’t be posting anything about the tax process…), I felt compelled to take a look at the poem again. This time, at half past five in the morning, I printed it out, parsed it into segments.
I’d had the idea that this would make an incredible picture book. Not for kids, necessarily – but for the countless women who have either given birth to, or taken into their lives, small human beings who for one moment thought their mothers were The Everything.
When I sat down to ask my pencil what to do about this whole emotional tangle of a poem-with-pictures thing, my pencil responded by giving me the entire storyboard set.
I cannot describe what it was to again cry – or, in this case sob – over this poem. I watched my tears fall and run around between the lines of graphite that were laying claim to the paper. And – when I was done – I photographed the whole thing and emailed it to Laura Kasischke, the poet who had strung together these perfect little strands of motherhood, joy, and the sort of grief that can only be felt in the long, sweeping arc that is parenthood. I asked Laura if she would allow me to illustrate her poem as a picture book.
Her response: “Wow! I’m incredibly flattered, and so moved and impressed by your work. Of course I would be thrilled and honored!
I was thrilled – and excited and terrified.
This morning when I sat down to work on one of the illustrations for the second time – the first feeling like a completely abysmal failure – I got angry. When I untangled the mess of feelings that had me in an uncomfortable place between immobility and nausea I realized the reason this first illustration was so incredibly difficult to get going was that it left me utterly
So, I’m sharing the results of this first piece – the initial spread of this picture book – because I have to. I have to know I am strong enough to share the feelings I have – towering love for my children, thoughts about my failings as a parent, shiny and sometimes glowing little triumphs here and there – through artwork that will only dance if it is an apt partner for the incredible work given to the world of mothers by Laura Kasischke.