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June 13, 2024

black and white drawing of robed figures sitting in a twisted tree surrounded by swinging lanterns

At the end of last month's blog post, I talked about a recent event that I would describe as an ego death experience. During that event, my understanding of self – the part of me that identifies with my thoughts, emotions, and physical body – completely melted away and I was left with a state of simple, unobstructed awareness. Just the raw sensory data of existence. The drawing I'm sharing here today was the first new piece of art I created following that experience, which means it's also the first since healing up from double jaw surgery and returning to life as normal.

I mention this because, as always, the circumstances of my life and the emotions I'm feeling have a significant impact on the content and imagery of my drawings, and that's certainly true for this one. (More details on that when I share the finished color art.)

I'm tentatively naming this one A Moment's Peace after Motoi Sakuraba's song of the same name (aka the Dark Souls' character creation theme) as I’d like to think they share a similar vibe, but I'll likely change it before finalizing the art. That said, here is the initial rough pencil outline for the possibly-to-be-renamed A Moment's Peace.

pencil drawing of hooded figures sitting in a tree with dense foliage below them

The reason I'm sharing the pencil outline and not the full pencil renders is that my process for this one has changed and I decided to ink it digitally. As a result, the pencil rendering step has effectively been rolled into the ink work. (You may have also noticed that several figures from the pencil drawing were either re-drawn or completely reimagined once I starting inking it.)

There are a few reasons for the change to digital ink, primarily that it allows me to easily make white marks on a black background. As a kid, I remember working on scratchboard, which has a black surface that can be scratched and scraped away to reveal the white board underneath. It's marvelous for making heavily shadowed images because you can simply scrape away a few areas, ie the cheek and eye of a person's face, and the rest of it is already cloaked in shadows.

I always wished I could incorporate something like that into my inking process. Sure, a person can use white inks, but my experience with them has been disappointing. It just feels too difficult and time-consuming to make a quality white line on top of black India ink, and I could never get the flexibility I was looking for.

ink drawing of young man and woman wearing dark robes with hoods pulled up in front of swinging lantern

But by inking my artwork in Photoshop, I get the best of both worlds. I can easily create black marks on a white background just like drawing on paper, but also create white marks on a black background similar to working on scratchboard. And unlike physical media, I can easily switch between the two, giving me much greater freedom in how I'm rendering objects in the image.

So, for example, if I want to create white silhouettes of leaves, I can simply black out an area and then take my white inking brush and draw them in. Or add white vines wrapping around a black tree trunk. Or generally just fine tune shadows on an object.

black ink drawing of hooded figure surrounded by mushrooms and foliage with lantern swinging overhead

It might be worth elaborating on this process a little more in light of general confusion around "digital art," especially with the sudden prevalence of AI art. In the case of what I'm doing here, there really are no shortcuts. I am still drawing each and every line and filling in every shadow by hand, exactly as I would be if I were using my crow quill pen and brushes on paper. And I have specifically created brushes in photoshop that produce a rough line similar to how my ink work looks on toothed paper.

black ink drawing of girl in hooded robe sitting in tree with knees pulled to her chest

One other benefit to using Photoshop, however, is that the layers allow me to try different inking approaches and scrap ones that don't work. For example, I could try inking the same figure twice, each one on a different layer, and then toggle between them to see which one has a better result. This gives me a nice safety net compared to the unforgiving nature of ink on paper, and it allows me to experiment and find the best approach for each part of the image.

Ultimately, for a visually dense image like this, I feel the change helps me get closer to the vision of it I have in my head and (hopefully) create a more compelling end result.


So that's what I'm up to with art right now, but as always I want to share some personal life stuff as well. Specifically, I feel I've had a really positive breakthrough recently regarding my art practice. In some of my early blog posts here I mentioned that I'd had a challenging experience in art school during which scathing critiques about my art and my ability to find success with it caused me to stop creating for many years after graduation.

Even once I started working on my art regularly again in the summer of 2021, the process felt...different...for me. Whereas I could once sit and joyfully work on my art for hours, even entire days at a time, I've recently found it difficult to work for even an hour a day. Somehow it just felt frustrating and kind of exhausting. I also noticed that any time I sat down to draw, my head would fill with angry and irritable thoughts. These might be about work, family, stress about money, etc. Just any kind of life thing. This was particularly odd because I'd been working so hard with meditation and spiritual exploration to make peace with those things in other moments of my life.

But over the course of the past couple months I've felt things shift and then recently break wide open. Gone now are all the angry thoughts while I'm working and gone are the limits on my endurance. I'm suddenly able to sit and excitedly chip away on my artwork for long hours at a time. I almost have to peel myself away from whatever I'm working on.

One way I'm thinking about this is like a see-saw, where one side is negative emotions like anger, disappointment, and frustration, while the other side is positive emotions like joy, excitement, and optimism. I left art school carrying so much emotional baggage that it just buried the negative end of the seesaw. Like an old cartoon where a giant anvil or boulder gets dropped onto one side. There was so much pain and resentment there for me that I couldn't even touch my art.

But over the past few years, by sticking to a goal of one hour on my art each day, I feel I've been able to stack tiny bits of weight back on the positive side of the seesaw, and little by little those pieces have added up until they finally outweighed the giant pile of emotional trauma on the other end. I could feel it shifting over the past couple months, but I recently got covid and spent my days home from work happily toiling away on A Moment's Peace and abruptly the whole thing just gave way. And suddenly I'm on the seesaw feeling a bit stunned, like Tom outweighing a boulder on the other end of an I-beam.

tom the cartoon cat standing on i-beam and outweighing boulder on other end

There's also no question in my mind that this sudden freedom in my art practice is related to the ego death experience I described. That event enabled me to let go of insecurities and fears to an extent that has eluded me in the past, and in the process I moved closer to a connection with the universal energy that lives within all of us.

I mentioned in my last post how I have felt more peaceful since that event, and in addition to changes in other areas of my life, I’ve able to accept the quality of my artwork with fewer thoughts that it "should be better than it is" or that it needs to be different than how I envision it. Mercifully, that feeling of peace has extended to my literal art-making practice and relieved much of the tension I'd been experiencing.

I'm currently listening to Wayne Dyer's Your Sacred Self on audiobook and he helps me see so clearly how the texture and quality of my daily life changes depending on how and where I allow my ego to run the show. So although I don't relish the idea of going through the same level of struggle that brought about my recent ego death experience, I can still say I wouldn't mind being on the other side of a few more of them in the future.

That's all this month, thank as always for reading. If you enjoyed this, please subscribe to email notifications and share my work with a like-minded friend or family member.


ink artwork of hooded man sitting in tree surrounded by vines and tree leaves


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