Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Kate Wood -- a Sketchbook Conversation

Today's Sketchbook Conversation is with Kate Wood. I discovered Kate's Instagram feed thanks to the recommendation of Leigh Anna Newell. I'm so glad I did. Not only is Kate's sketchbook distinctive and beautiful, but the story of how she began her sketchbook practice is so inspiring. I'll let Kate take it from here.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Kate Wood, The Best Comic Book Ever, My Giant Strawberry

I started my current sketchbook project and visual blog, The Best Comic Book Ever (@thebestcomicbookever), in September of 2016. I have a chronic disease that infects my central nervous system, and in September, after two years of being symptom free and in remission, my condition re-seated itself and I became suddenly very, very ill. At that point I was the sole owner/operator of a small farm business, specializing in the organic production of mixed vegetables and honey. I had spent 7 years prior working on, managing and eventually designing my dream farm, which I then built from the ground up. In two years I created a profitable farm venture on an acre of land.

Kate Wood, Kate Wood's farm, aerial view, farms, farming, small scale farming

I knew the moment my disease returned, I was at my Wednesday morning farmers market, and I also knew I would never do another market. A lot changed for me very quickly, and I’m still in the process of selling off pieces of the farm. 

Kate Wood, Farm, small scale farming,

I started The Best Comic Book Ever with a very simple goal in mind: to find a creative way to quantify my time spent in treatment. I wanted to give myself an alternative way to approach and document a huge life shift and I wanted something I could hold and reference. Mostly, I wanted to give myself a daily task outside my aggressive medical protocol. I started my daily drawing project the same day I started treatment, and I’ve made a drawing a day for the past 8 months. The Best Comic Book Ever has filled nearly 5 sketchbooks and continues to grow.

In September, when I started this project, it was with the understanding that I was only committing to a 9 week daily drawing practice. My medical team was hopeful that 9 weeks of treatment would bring me back to a stable spot, and 9 weeks of a new project seemed tangible enough. It became clear, however, after those initial 9 weeks, that my condition was more serious than we had thought, and in the space of a doctor’s visit, my project grew from a 9 week commitment to a 4 month one. 6 months in, still in treatment, still drawing every day, I was making good progress but still had more ground to cover, and 6 months became 8. Had I known that I’d be in treatment for 8+ months, I probably wouldn’t have signed up for this sketchbook project. 

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Kate Wood, The Best Comic Book Ever, My Giant Strawberry

While a daily practice can be small and simple if you take one day at a time, 8 months feels big and heavy, too shapeless and unknown to be able to say with confidence “I can do this for … 223 days, every day.” There’s something to this, though. 8 months IS a long time – it’s a long time to be unwell and in transition, and it’s a long time to do such a specific thing, day in and day out. But I’ve learned, largely because of my daily drawing practice, that the only way to approach something that feels too big, insurmountable, abstract or scary, is one day at a time. “One day at a time” is very basic, I know, and a concept that’s been fed to me a million times over, but the context of this time has changed my relationship to those words. There’s no way around it, 8 months is a long time, 223 drawings is a lot of work, but today is just today – I make a drawing, walk the dogs, and know that I’m one day closer to something else, hopefully health. Anything is possible, when put in perspective. If you had told me in September that I’d still be struggling 8 months down the road, I wouldn’t have handled it well, I don’t imagine. One day at a time, I’ve found, I’m able to tackle and digest. And so I’m tackling this pickle of a health crisis, one day at a time, one drawing at a time.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Kate Wood, The Best Comic Book Ever, My Giant Strawberry

Prior to this, I’ve had a torrid relationship to sketchbooks, dating back to childhood. I have always been plagued by “sketchbook anxiety”. I would rip out pages that I didn’t like – I would abandon sketchbooks 1/3 or ½ or ¾’s of the way through. I would beat myself up if a sketchbook wasn’t purely visual and had ANY words … I was psychotic about their presentation and was obsessed with “what they were”. I’ve always been someone who is never without a sketchbook, but I’ve truly always hated them. I have never been someone who can just sit down and fill up pages. UNTIL NOW! My relationship to working in sketchbooks has totally changed in a surprising way.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Kate Wood, The Best Comic Book Ever, My Giant Strawberry

They are no longer precious. Making and sharing a drawing a day has made me more accepting and understanding of the ways in which creativity can ebb and flow. I don’t care as much. Sometimes I have good days and sometimes I have bad days, sometimes for many days in a row, but it doesn’t matter. A daily practice, I’ve learned, is not so much about making every day amazing as it is about building a relationship with the self through a commitment to something outside the self. Everyday is not special, every drawing is not brilliant, but that I sit down and do it every single day, ironically enough, brings a new individual meaning to my days and my relationship to my illness. Working in a sketchbook everyday has allowed me to make important connections between practice, process, and productivity. I’m so grateful that I set myself to this task, for so many reasons, but it’s monumental for me that I’m no longer afraid of sketchbooks.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Kate Wood, The Best Comic Book Ever, My Giant Strawberry

An important part of this project was giving myself an external accountability structure, which I would cite as an ongoing inspiration. I decided to post my daily sketchbook entry on a project specific Instagram feed (@thebestcomicbookever). While no one was breathing down my neck and forcing me to stick with my project, committing to creating a visual blog generated an expectation, whether self-imposed or not, that helped me contextualize and focus on my project. Sharing my experiences and my drawings, which was honestly secondary in considering going live with my work, has proved to be … a really good idea. I feel now that I have a community of support, individuals who have found meaning or inspiration in my story and the visual narrative that has come out of it. The opportunity to connect with other artists and makers through Instagram has been an added bonus. I find daily inspiration, scrolling through creative feeds – there are so many folks out there, making amazing work. It’s not intuitive for me to seek out social media interactions or relationships, but I’m so glad I have.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Kate Wood, The Best Comic Book Ever, My Giant Strawberry

For those opening a sketchbook for the first time, or for those (like me) who are trying to break new ground with their sketchbook practice, I recommend finding an external accountability structure that works for you. It doesn’t have to internet or social media based – you can show your work to your mom or your favorite teacher or your cat – the point is that if you know someone or something is expecting you to show up, it can give you that extra push to get the work done and out there. I HIGHLY recommend a daily sketchbook practice. It has completely changed my relationship and approach to making artwork.

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Kate Wood, The Best Comic Book Ever, My Giant Strawberry

You don’t have to go crazy with your practice either, I am currently unemployed and sometimes making my daily drawing is literally all I do (and all I am physically able to do) in a given day – I realize this is not a reality for everybody. Choose one day a week to work in your sketchbook, or one day a month. Organize a drawing party with your friends for the first and third Fridays of every month, do whatever works with your schedule and is sustainable. And don’t rip out any pages!!! Allow yourself space to make mistakes and remember there’s always tomorrow’s drawing, or next Wednesday’s, or next month’s. For me, the practice of keeping a daily sketchbook has allowed me to develop, grow, and build in the face of complete health fallout and loss. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time. Who knows what your sketchbook will do for you … Happy Drawing!

sketchbooks, Sketchbook Conversations, Kate Wood, The Best Comic Book Ever, My Giant Strawberry


Thank you, Kate, for sharing your story with us today.

Dear readers, you can keep up with the progress of Kate's daily drawing project by following her Instagram feed: @thebestcomicbookever.

Want to see more of Kate's sketchbooks from her project? Check out this video she created to share their pages:

The Best Comic Book Ever Books 1&2 from kate wood on Vimeo.





Missed the other Sketchbook Conversations posts? It's easy to catch up at the series web page.

And for even more inspiration, check out my Artist Interviews



*Photos in this post © Kate Wood. Used with permission.

6 comments:

  1. Kate, how wonderful that you had your own dream farm! I would imagine that you put your heart and soul into it. I am sorry that circumstances meant you couldn't carry on with it. I've been finding life a struggle recently in a new job and told myself just to take each day as it comes. If I say I have to stay there for x amount of years I would freak out but I say just one more day, just one more day... Your sketchbook drawings have such a distinctive style and I love the colours that you use. I really hope that you get a reprieve from your illness. Your sketchbook and story are an inspiration to me. Thanks Anne for featuring Kate Wood's lovely work. :)

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    1. Thank you, Simone.

      One day at a time is the only way to get through difficult times. I'm sorry to hear that your new job isn't going as well as you'd like. I hope that you can either turn things around there or find another job to which you're better suited.

      Have a lovely weekend!

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  2. There is so much to digest here. Such a fascinating story. A new "friend" over on IG. Thanks you Anne and Kate for sharing this inspiration. xo

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  3. Your story is very compelling, Kate. It sounds like your daily sketchbook practice has given some meaning and structure to your life as you go through this difficult medical process. Your drawings are fascinating! I wish you better health and a smooth transition to whatever your next phase of life will bring. You seem like a real self-starter!
    Thanks for sharing this, Anne.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Judy. It was my pleasure to be able to have Kate here sharing her story with us.

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