Reading Now You See It and Other Essays on Design by Michael Bierut the other week, I was reminded of the first time I was “published,” the thrill of it all; it was high school, and for some reason I don’t properly remember, our high school had two pages in the local newspaper to fill. (It was some scheme to promote journalism, I think? It wasn’t just our school, the other high schools in the area got two pages as well, spread out across a number of weeks.)
I wasn’t writing back then; I was the artist of the group, the one always drawing with big ambitions that involved drawing but were somehow entirely formless beyond that. I was going to go to art school, then there was an undefined Step Two before we hit that “Step Three: Profit” part. So, when I was asked to contribute an illustration for someone else’s story, I said yes with the mixture of ego and arrogant well, of course you were going to ask me that speaks to the teenage experience.
I then proceeded to psych myself out about it for days after.
I don’t remember what the story was that I was illustrating, but I do remember that the illustration was to be a deer riding a sledge down a snowy hill. (Why? I genuinely wish I could remember.) I drew that deer on that hill multiple times in multiple ways to the best of my meager ability — cartoonishly, realistically, from different perspectives — and none of them were right. I just knew it implicitly; this could be my big break (into what, I had no idea, but still), so I had to not fuck it up and everything I was doing was fucking it up. Nothing I could do was good enough.
In the end, I submitted this terrible, lifeless painting — yes, a painting, counterintuitively — that was the closest I could come to acceptable by deadline. I hated it, and felt like I’d let myself, and everyone else, down. When the piece ran, the illustration was a blurry mess and I was suitably embarrassed, but I remember being okay with it, because even though it was shitty, I was in print. It was still a rush, still this feeling of, “I’ve made it, I’ve arrived.” I was, in my head, real at last.