The Vortex

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Philly is a vortex.

My friend Sarah just reminded me the other day. Psychic Jackie, who all our friends swear by, told Smoot once. There’s a vortex under the art museum—that’s why people get stuck. I moved away seven years ago and I still feel the pull.

When I lived in Philly, I was very ambitious for the immediate future. I was always making plans to put on an art show, to bake a strawberry pie, to go on tour. Now, older and living in New York, I’ve become ambitious in a different way. For the first time in my life I believe that if I persevere on the path I’m on, it’s possible I can eventually make a living doing art.

Specifically, I think it is possible that I can eventually make a living doing illustrations and animations. I never used to think of those things as distinct from just ‘art’. In Philadelphia, making crafts and cards and drawings all seemed like basically the same thing. When did they start to seem so separate from each other?

I thought of all this because making my wedding invitations brought me so much pleasure and satisfaction, even though (or because) it was just a small project to share with friends and family. Because it was strictly a personal personal project, not for a client or to try and put in a gallery, I experimented, I tried new things, and I persevered, blithely confident that I would figure it out in the end. I even worked with a team and didn’t get all uptight the way I normally do. In short, I let go of a lot of my normal hangups.

When I completed the first one, I looked at it and thought, “this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made!” Which may not be true, but which is the appropriate feeling, I think, on completing a project. And which is not what I usually think these days—I’m so worried about being consistent, living up to my own standards, pleasing the client.

The thing I’m trying to learn from this—the thing I’m trying to remember—is that making things is just that: making things.

Graphic design or illustration or art or crafts or puppet show or pies . . . the drive behind them is the same. The impulse to create doesn’t need to be informed by market realities. It’s about diving deep and coming out shaking and surprised. It’s about figuring out problems and their solutions so quickly they’re inseparable. It’s about joy.