04. Sustenance

Two weeks, in ruminations & photographs

I have been ten days in this temple
and my heart is restless.
The scarlet thread of lust at my feet
has reached up long.
If someday you come looking for me,
I will be in a shop that sells fine seafood,
a good drinking place,
or a brothel.
—Ikkyu, fifteenth-century Zen Buddhist high priest


Friends, welcome!

We’re at Issue 04—already past the halfway point of The Line Between’s inaugural six-issue run.

There are quite a few new folks with us again; a diverse audience of designers, animators, entrepreneurs, writers, and the generally curious. I’m humbled by the interest, and as always, grateful for the support. Huge thanks in particular to Animation Obsessive and I love Typography for the love and recent boosts.

At its heart, The Line Between is about navigating and engaging with the every day, solving problems, making choices—in an art-centered life. I provide glimpses of my experiences in and out of the studio, sharing progress, struggles, and questions from current projects. In loosely alternating issues (such as this one), I go beyond the project itself, reflecting more broadly on related topics, or addressing questions from readers.

Speaking of which, I’m collecting questions about projects, process, anything you’re curious about. Ideas on subjects you’d like me to ruminate on are also welcome. Feel free to comment on issues, or send me an email or message.

I believe that daily rhythms, both in part and in aggregate, have an outsize influence on what we make. In Issue 03, we were deep in the throes of developing a style primer for Chamoe. In this issue, I give the project some space, turning the gaze outward onto recently encountered places, people, and conversations.

Here’s a look at what I chose to consume in the past two weeks—sounds, images, and bits of sensation that will slowly become the bones and body of everything I make.

Some highlights:

  • A quick update on Chamoe

  • Vaccinated life is complicated life

  • Writers around a fire (or, the woman with branches for hands)

  • Rituals, victuals, and running around town

  • Notes on the Annecy Film Festival

A quick update on Chamoe

Last two weeks I began wrapping up an iteration of the style primer. Even though there was progress, I wasn’t connecting with the style as much as I would have liked. I wasn’t having fun painting the frames, and I know from experience that if I’m not going through the motions with joy, it doesn’t bode well for my stamina.

At one point, I went back to vetting ideas in watercolor, partly to re-engage with the feeling of brush on paper. I think I wanted to switch modes, rejigger something, wake up whatever instinct or inclination was being sluggish.

Finally, by early morning the second Tuesday, I got a break back at the Cintiq. Painting felt good again; I had found a groove, and felt relieved. Since I spend so much time entrenched in the minutiae of motion when animating, I’ve learned how important it is that I enjoy the physicality of the process.

More on this in Issue 05.

Later that day, NY reached 70% adult vaccinations,

and all state-mandated covid restrictions across social and commercial settings were lifted. In some parts of Manhattan, vax rates are at 100%, and I see fewer masks than ever. We still wear them on subways, hired cars, and when passing through indoor spaces of restaurants. For better or worse, I feel these customs too will soon fall by the wayside.

The weekend prior, I’d attended a Fully-Vaccinated™ gathering of designers and artists. I hugged friends and strangers alike while stubbornly eschewing hand-shakes, entering introductions with pointedly pocketed hands. (I know. Rude!)

There, I casually mentioned to someone that I’d forgotten how much time, effort, and money it takes to engage socially—makeup, coiffure, and elevated dress are firmly back as general expectation—and how this has been a rumbling among women friends in cities such as New York and Austin. He replied, “Just come as you are! I personally go out in my underwear to take out the trash! Everything is fine!”

It was a good-natured exchange but I couldn’t help but feel that a point had been missed. I was making an observation of the price exacted in this context, regardless of whether or not a woman chooses to go with conventional expectations and practices, and whether or not she enjoys grooming and fashion. I left thinking, however many times one says “it’s your choice,” for some there’s a fee, at times hefty and manifold, either way you “choose.”

All this to say that life feels more complicated again,

and this most certainly has an effect on the painting, animating, and writing I do.

There’s more pulling at me, more often, and away from the studio. It was pretty grim this time last year, but it had felt simpler too; I had only this body to contend with, in this space, and there was little else to do but cook, do some client work, exercise, and read.

Ironically, during most of 2020, I’d put everything art-related on hold. I was able to finish Tuscany only once NYC had been through the worst of the pandemic, with the new year upon us. I’m more creatively active now versus then.

I’m not sure what this points to—I regularly yearn for a “simpler” day, for more time in the studio, to myself, to cook, to paint—and yet, my own recent past shows that solitude and space alone don’t guarantee higher volume or quality of creative output.

I guess this makes sense; taking things in to “replenish the well,” using seclusion to draw off of it. One fills, the other empties.

Still, if I have to be away from the studio I prefer serendipity to schedule. Last week I had an appointment or two every single day, which felt burdensome. One meeting involved commuting for over an hour to some exotic depths of Brooklyn previously unknown to me. It ended up evolving into a social affair, an unexpectedly intimate garden cookout where I consumed a very large piece of steak and gamely dispatched a cob of sweet charred corn.

I spent the evening with seasoned writers and editors,

one of them an 18-year veteran of Esquire and a contributor to The Atlantic. Late into the night, we sat around a fire telling stories. The host strummed his guitar, and we laughed at Angelina Jolie’s extreme tardiness to a meeting with him, his subsequent walkout from the hotel lobby, and the house call/apology the following week by Jolie to belatedly complete the interview.

I listened with smarting eyes as the wind regularly bathed us in smoke. I shared a few stories of my own from my days as an accidental journalist in North Korea. We drank tumblers of wine. We compared the merits of gesture-free list apps, and dictation, as competing means of note-taking.

These conversations took place at a house full of strange, Gorey-esque relics—antique bottles, sedate cats, and fascinatingly, a woman with branches for hands. The editor who had invited me didn’t know anything about her origin, and encouraged me to ask the owner about it later. The evening flowed on and there were so many stories to hear and tell. When I arrived home past midnight, I realized that I’d never ended up asking about where she came from, and how.

There’s something reminiscent of home-coming, something so bonding, about

sharing a meal with other people,

and for the rest of these weeks I continued to exchange ideas outside the studio—usually with one other person at a time, over food and drink.

When I met the first founding member of TLB mid-second-week, we conversed over soft cheeses, bivalves, and Belgian ale for almost three hours. I thanked him with a set of ceramic coasters and a letterpress print from the Storylines project. Photo at table courtesy of Behzod Sirjani.

The weather has been warm but mainly unoppressive too, coinciding with Juneteenth and an influx of (hopefully) vaccinated visitors. The streets seemed incessantly full and flowing. I took in Gansevoort in unexpected bloom. Beer with a friend and photographer at the iconic Caffe Reggio. Street fashion and musicians. Random urban ephemera. A favourite bookstore in the West Village—followed, as always, by a guilty exit with new books.

On top of everything, there was the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, which wrapped on the 19th. I’m kind of impressed that with all the running around I did

I watched almost 50 short films

from the festival’s competition program. Great animated films bring me back to the primacy of the story. I was struck by the gamut of style and narrative this year, so in contrast to something I myself might produce, (e.g., Easter Eggs, so delightfully weird!), the humor and subjects so removed from my own sensibilities and history.

I found L’Ecorce and Bestia particularly inspiring, for reasons that I can go into in a following issue. As I absorbed short after short film, I was reminded, too, of how I can spiral into what feels like bouts of madness when I’m too long at the desk, becoming obsessed with the odd detail, or belaboring style over story. It re-emphasized for me the importance of pulling away to expose myself to other work, other people, other angles. Or to witness, thrillingly, methods and forms succeeding where I’d dismissed them, or failed.

Eventually of course, I do miss the madness,

and holing up by myself to work. Another two weeks are somehow at an end and I feel spent in the body, full in the mind.

After I take the train back up to the studio, I check on the plants, open the windows. Someone is playing 60s soul from an idling car around the corner, and I run a load of laundry while the afternoon elides into a long golden hour.

On Sunday nights I like to make a simple salad and a nice, cold martini. As I slice the summer tomatoes, I think to myself that I should finish Cusk’s Aftermath soon. Into the martini I drop just a single olive, because that’s what I do when I’m at home.

This was a long one, thanks for making it to the end.

Until next time.