After three years, I’ve had a major relapse. I’m once again drawing. That thing with actual pencil and paper.

I’m actually thankful for this, because if I’d gone without drawing much longer, I would’ve probably snapped and gone (clinically) insane. I didn’t know this right away, but not drawing may have been one of my worst mistakes (and it’s a tough list to crack). It could’ve almost made me lose my whole identity.

Drawing was my iPhone

 At school I frequently drew Gale Rogers, one of my favorite characters from a story I was writing.
At school I frequently drew Gale Rogers, one of my favorite characters from a story I was writing.

I should probably give some backstory here. In high school, drawing cartoons in my sketchbook was like how many use their iPhones today – obsessively and often to avoid talking with others. It was to the point where I was voted “Most Artistic” simply because I was drawing so much between classes (instead of actual artistic talent). That’s because my drawing had another thing in common with people using iPhones – just because you use it constantly doesn’t mean you know a lot about it. While I wasn’t “bad” at drawing, I knew it wouldn’t be my career (and I like my current digital path anyway).

Due to a lack of time, an increased number of weird looks, and that nagging need to figure out what I’m doing with this “life” thing, I wound up stopping drawing in my freshman year of college. Some people also said my drawings were a bit too weird for the professional world, and they could make harder to be taken seriously (or get hired). While I’ve never cared much about others’ opinion of me, I did care about my future paycheck. So I stopped cold-turkey, and after a few hard minutes of withdrawal symptoms, life went on.

 Lincoln was actually an old friend’s character, although I promised I wouldn’t say who or why (serious here).
Lincoln was actually an old friend’s character, although I promised I wouldn’t say who or why (serious here).

Thinking back, that’s really when life starting feeling more frustrating and incomplete in general. The feeling was definitely subtle but certainly there, like hating the texture of something without knowing what it was. But I didn’t pin it on drawing then, I thought it was just the effect college had – like gaining weight, smoking weed, breaking windows, and waking up one morning without pants (though most of those didn’t happen to me for me first three years there). My best guess now is it was really my lack of drawing and I just didn’t notice.

Like I Never Stopped

A few weeks ago, it finally reached a point where I got a random urge to look through my old sketchbooks (clearly God’s way of yanking me in the right direction, or something). The second I saw them, I felt all warm and nostalgic inside. They were filled with old memories, of both my characters and life moments that inspired them. Things felt right all over again.

Naturally, I thought, “What the hell. Let’s unclog those mechanical pencils and go another round.”

I didn’t have high hopes about starting drawing again. My cartoons were rough enough before, not practicing for three years likely wouldn’t help.

But I was wrong, since it was like I had never even stopped. I went right back to drawing the same characters in my head for years (and any other random ones). Their moods would mirror my own, from being joyful to wanting to crawl into a hole forever (good times).

That’s probably my biggest benefit from my drawings since I couldn’t sell them for lots of money: they’d take the weird, obscure, and sometimes borderline thoughts in my mind and give them a physical form. It’s like my mind was an ocean, and drawing was pulling out small cups of water. I could examine the water in each cup and be fascinated with the details, but still fantasize about what else was in the wide-open sea.

Why Is This Outlet So Important?

Good question, size three header. Even after three years, when I’d built this shoddy thing I call a life, how could drawing still mean so much to me? I didn’t have a really satisfying answer until I stumbled upon Erich Fromm, a German social psychologist from the 1900s. While he had plenty of ideas (I’d read similar ones before, see the left cartoon), one that caught my attention was about finding “wholeness.”

Fromm wrote that to find “wholeness,” or our sense of self, we must discover our individuality. This is done by discovering and following our ideas through creative activity. This then allows us to discover and embrace our identities, love ourselves, and then finally love others without becoming dependent on them.

To put it simply, creative expression lets us find meaning in our lives and brings us closer to others.

This all certainly felt true for me, it explained a decent amount, and it sounds like a good set of perks for drawing. Plus it explains why I dug up my old sketchbooks the day after I first read those same ideas.

Sentimental Reflection Time

I’ll admit that lately, despite all my work in school and everything, I’ve been struggling to get a clear view of my identity. While starting to draw again isn’t going to magically answer this dilemma, it’s definitely helping. Instead of trying to understand that huge ocean of my mind all at once, now I can pull out and examine one small cup of water at a time. Each is one step closer to really knowing what kind of person I am, what I want, and most importantly, what I need. All I need to do is keep taking samples and I’ll understand that turbulent ocean eventually.

I still accept my drawing isn’t part of my career and it never will be. But I don’t think that matters when it comes to having a good outlet to express and enjoy myself (other than writing here, I suppose). Drawing is there without a battery charger, and I’m always a bit surprised with what I put on the page. Plus it helps me actually get away from my work online and return to my favorite hobby of playing around with a few cool ideas – one part of my identity I’d forgotten.

Dear God, I needed to draw again. I can’t even think of a good metaphor for it, that’s how much I needed to.

~ Cheers, Max A