It’s Sunday night at 5:45 PM and I was just about to get back to work on a Gatsby drawing when it dawned on me that I don’t feel like working on a drawing right now. It’s Sunday night and I can relax and not draw. Or I can relax and do little bit of writing.

I’m feeling pretty good about the Great Gatsby illustrations that I’ve been working on. After being stuck on what to do next with it I finally have some ideas flowing. I worked on the Gatsby illustrations all of 2022 and have a couple of dozen of them finished and a lot of the design work done but I wanted to do a few more drawings plus I still didn’t have the cover done.

That’s how things stood during the first two months of 2023 (it’s March 5 as I write this). I was unsure of how to do those last few illustrations and wrap things up. I had no idea what I wanted to do for the cover. I still worked on sketches and things for it but nothing became of them. I was going nowhere.

When I first started this project in January of 2022 I decided to give myself a year to work on it. That wasn’t a deadline or anything but I knew I would need time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with what was only an idea of “My own illustrated version of ‘The Great Gatsby’”. A year was plenty of time to get things going but not quite enough time to finish it. As time passed in 2023 I decided to give myself another six months to finish it. I figure I’ll be done by the end of August. Once again that’s not a deadline but just a projection.

As I wrote before I was working on a bunch of sketches but they weren’t going anywhere. I decided to pick out a few of them and make one of those few the cover. That seemed like a good idea but it still didn’t help me to figure it out. Then I heard an artist talking on Instagram.

The artist was Phyllida Barlow and she was on Art21’s Instagram (they seem to be producers of art documentaries). She was waxing poetic about “Art without a destination.” This is art made by the vast majority of artists who don’t get art shows and whose work doesn’t get viewed by the public. Yet those artists still make art. That’s the kind of art I make. Art with no destination. I haven’t been seen but with her waxing poetic I felt a little seen. So I got back to it.

The type of sketches I was working on for the finishing stages of Gatsby were dense automatic drawing sketches. I want to make some busy double page spreads to end the book so in order to do that I made some busy ink drawings with lots of figures and faces in them.

Automatic drawing is a technique invented by the Surrealists where an artist will try and clear their mind of any idea of what they will draw and then start drawing. I’ve practiced this technique for decades and it serves me well to pull images out of the corners of my mind. I often have no idea how I come up with some of the stuff I come up with but it’s how I find images that have not been seen before.

As a technique automatic drawing is better suited for art than for illustration. With illustration you usually have to have the idea of what to draw first. If I want a Gatsby cover I had better draw Gatsby. The problem was that in all of 2022 I wasn’t able to come up with an idea for a Gatsby cover.

I ended up spending a couple of days working on around half a dozen really busy double page automatic drawings. I figured that eventually I’d pick one of them and transform the images of people and faces on them into characters from the book. That didn’t happen though. I liked the drawings but I saw nothing Gatsby in them.

It was then I decided to get literal. I wanted to illustrate the climactic scene in the book where Tom confronts Gatsby. I took a morning and did a bunch of quick sketches. I really thought I could work it out but I couldn’t. All the sketches were boring and led nowhere interesting. It was right after this I heard the Instagram of Phyllida Barlow talking. After that I decided to go back to the Surrealist sketches. After all, this book I was making has no destination and there is no one to please but myself. So I may as well go my own way with it.

It’s funny because back when I started this Gatsby illustrated project I had to tell myself that there was no one to please but myself. I’m more of an artist than an illustrator. By that I mean that an illustrator has to please an editor, art director, or fans while an artist has to please themselves. After all most of us make art with no destination and therefor no audience.

When I take it upon myself to make illustrations I often put an imaginary editor or imaginary fans in my head. I get in my own way trying to please these imaginary people. Plus there is no pleasing them because they’re not real. With an illustration I imagine a destination in a way that I don’t do when I’m making art for art’s sake. It’s a strange quirk of my creativity.

As a consequence of that quirk as I was working today I had to shut up my own inner editor. The drawing was going well, I had a clear idea of what to do for the cover, and I could see the path before me. That’s when my inner editor said “You can’t do the cover in a different style than the drawings on the inside.”

This is actually kind of funny because I did the inside illustrations in a few different styles. I had already wrestled with the question of style last year and concluded that I could work in or change into any style I wanted. It was my project. I was the person I had to please in order to get it done. So I told my inner editor to shut his mouth and I would get back to pleasing me.

I’ve only got about five percent of the drawing done so far. There is a long way to go with it but the path is clear. I can see how it’s going to end up and I like the destination. But I won’t be traveling that path any more tonight. It’s Sunday night. Time to relax. I’m a morning person anyway so I’ll work some more on it tomorrow morning. Meanwhile I’m happy to finally be seeing the way forward.