Better for me than Twitter: My new morning routine

The first thing I do in the morning is reach for my phone. I’m sure most of us do. Ten seconds after I wake up, I definitely want to expose myself to every toxic, terrible, cynical piece of news and commentary I missed overnight. I used to lie in bed for an hour catching up, and I never really felt like a better, more informed person because of it. In my last media job, it felt urgent and necessary — I had to know what was coming for my long day in a daily newsroom. But it doesn’t really help me that much anymore. I never really feel better because I started my day like this.

On a visit back to Chicago in March 2016, I spotted a cheap copy of Lynda Barry’s Picture This at my favorite comics store. Even though I’d sworn not to buy more than I could carry (and I’d already accidentally bought a second ukulele that trip), I couldn’t stay away from this book. It stayed on my bedside table for weeks; I’d just drink in the pages, every inch covered with ink and collage and text. It’s a dreamy, dark, childlike book that asks us where images come from and how we make them. I say childlike because I can’t remember the last book I got lost in the pages like that. I can say the same for What It Is, Barry’s rumination on storytelling. Any time someone visits me at home, I shove these books at them.

Earlier in 2016, I’d taken a comics-making class with the great Summer Pierre. I’ve loved comics all my life, but actually doing the work opened up this part of me I’ve missed for so long. As your typical high-achieving millennial, I spent a long, long time trying to impress other people with my brain — elite school, competitive industry, high-flying peers. The things that made me feel most alive were always the things I was told I should develop in my free time. Yes, write that novel you feel in your bones every day, but only in your free time. Yes, let yourself explore visual language, but only in your free time. Free time, of course, is a joke in journalism. Now I’m a freelancer, though, and I’ve done a lot of work making myself believe that means I can chart my own course.

Earlier this month, I realized a long-held dream: I invited a bunch of friends over and we hung out and played with art supplies. It was amazing. I truly felt like I was combining all kinds of things I love into one event that gave my friends something too. If you missed the first one (which I scheduled on Easter Sunday, the weekend of Passover), I plan on holding these salons regularly. (Exciting/clever name suggestions welcome.) To keep up the momentum of that day, I decided to give myself a small, daily way to get art-making in my life.

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Lots of comics teachers love the index card. It’s a great way to introduce a student to panels, and it’s such a low-stakes canvas, it’s easier to get messy and just let yourself make something. I’m an art-supply hoarder who generally feels like I have to save my materials for Something Really Special, which is so not the case and so antithetical to this philosophy I’m trying to cultivate. So, every morning, after I’ve taken my dog for his walk and made my breakfast and tea, I sit down with an index card and commit to filling it up.

My only rules are that every bit of the white space needs to be covered with color and/or texture. Nothing else really matters, so long as I get that done. Ten cards in and I never want to stop, frankly. I feel like I’m reconnecting with this oddball kid side of myself that’s been holding back and doesn’t need to answer to anybody. No judgment, no critique, just pigment and pens and play. I really recommend it. Thanks to my friend Hassan for telling me to stick with it — I think you might be on to something.

001 - Ira dreaming
Day 1: Ira dreaming. I was feeling stuck one morning, and my dog was asleep behind my chair, as he often is. I decided to try sketching him, and the picture turned surreal when I saw how much space I had left.
002 - Uniform portrait
Day 2: I wish I could say I had a personal connection to this photo, but I bought it at a vintage shop in Prospect Heights. She’s delightful and compelling, though, as you can see in the header image. For this, I was drawing at a distance and thinking of some colored pencil favorites: Bill Peet and Emil Ferris.
003 - Fishcat
Day 3: Lynda Barry has this exercise that I adore. Draw a squiggle. Turn it into a monster. Write down a worry you’re carrying and turn it into a speech bubble. You can see the original squiggle inside the fishcat; I like how it looks like a nervous system. Getting the scales on the tail right is my favorite result, though. Watercolor, colored pencil and Micron pen.
004 - Messenger goddess
Day 4: Messenger goddess of the seed catalog. Look, I had glitter pens and I wasn’t going to not use them. This is from the frankly fascinating Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which a previous tenant seems to have enjoyed receiving. Watercolor, collage and glitter pen.
005 - Glam rock alien
Day 5: Glam rock alien, inspired by the constant book birthday hype on Catherynne M. Valente’s Twitter account for her latest, Space Opera. Haven’t read the book yet, though I’d like to — apparently it’s Eurovision in space, but also it might make you cry. Colored pencil, marker and glitter pen; squiggle monster.
006 - Radio of the spheres
Day 6: The radio of the music of the spheres. This radio lived in our basement for most of my life, and I hauled it away in my 20s so it wouldn’t get tossed. I had a work bench in our basement, and this radio always overlooked it. I love its Bakelite keys and the way it lights up. Unfortunately, something broke in it recently, but I’d love to get it repaired. As for the background, well… needed to fill it in. I was hoping for a suggestion of ~energy but it all looks a bit furry to me. Watercolor, marker and Micron pen.
007 - Posthumanity bowling ball
Day 7: Post-humanity discovers the bowling ball. One thing I love about watching Barry’s comics-making students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is how adept they become with the use of ink washes. I was super intimidated, but got the hang of it quicker than I thought I would. This also started as a squiggle. Liquid watercolor, India ink and Micron pen.
008 - Finger monster
Day 8: I did the thing I was scared of and I still might just faint. You know this finger monster! They still make them, to my delight; I just bought five on a recent splurge at the Park Slope Artist & Craftsman. Watercolor, India ink (with dip pen!) and Micron pen.
009 - Atrocity mug
Day 9: Hellish occult mug of tea with vile coaster and spell. Look, sometimes you can develop new skills and show off your technique, and sometimes you just want to tool around with scented markers again. Crayon, watercolor, Micron pen, Prismacolor marker and Mr. Sketch marker set.
010 - Ira wyvern
Day 10: Ira as wyvern. Another squiggle monster, though I was also feeling a little off-balance this morning and wanted to draw something a little grumpy. Watercolor and Micron pen.

I’m going to keep sharing these in batches of seven or 10, probably. If you want to follow live (or something like that), I’m posting them on Twitter first. (Yeah, I know, the title and the whole first part of this. A girl craves validation too.) Hope you’ve enjoyed these, and also that you’re thinking a bit about how to get art and unstructured play in your life too. That’s been one of the driving features of my life all along; here’s to what more will come from it.

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