Putting your self on the line and playing a part in your story

A few months after starting my new life as an artist I remembered, out of the blue, an old children story about the goat of Mr. Seguin. That goat, tired of eating bland grass and living with a rope around her neck, escapes her little enclosure and goes to the mountain. There she has a grand old time for a day then, tragically, gets eaten by a hungry wolf.

That ending didn't bother me as a kid, that I recall, but reading it again as an adult I felt kind of conflicted. Especially that I had just left the security of a job to have my own creative business, in other words live in the mountain. And I didn't want to accept that ending for myself, or the goat.

So I made a drawing of the story with the intention of getting to the bottom of this conflict. And what the image put in focus wasn't so much the goat's run for freedom as the moment where she meets the wolf and has to make a decision. That's the turning point of the story, and where change can happens.

 
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How the goat ended up at this turning point has a lot to do with her character. She's independent, willing to take risks and venture beyond limits, in search of some ideal (like discovering new pastures). There's nothing wrong with that. These are all attributes of creative people, necessary for the process of creation. And sometimes that comes with making mistakes. 

Mistakes are not always bad, they lead to experience, but perhaps the goat's tragedy is a result of her all-or-nothing attitude. She's either in the farm- completely safe (but not free), or in the mountain- (free but) completely vulnerable, with no option in between. 

In my drawing however, the goat has left the farm but she isn't actually in front of the wolf, it's only a matter of perspective. If the mountain is a symbol for artistic venture then the wolf could represent whatever hinders it: creative blocks, fear of failure, an unresponsive audience, impracticability, a lack of resources, etc.

In other words, the wolf can mean an obstacle to overcome, a sign to change direction, or maybe a warning against going too far. It's not that putting oneself on the line is wrong - with creative pursuit a certain vulnerability is inevitable and necessary, but maybe there's a way to do that without losing one's self.

 
 

My goal is not really to change the goat or her story - symbols don't change - but to understand the character as an archetype with positive and negative attributes. When I sense a conflict my approach has been to examine the other side of the story by creating an opposite drawing, based on a similar kind of story but with symbols that are opposite.

Since the beginning I felt that a donkey should be in the other drawing because donkeys have a strong sense of self-preservation. And one similar type of children's story with a donkey is that of the Musicians of Bremen. The animals in that story also leave their farm, but contrary to the goat they're running from danger, not toward it. Another major difference is that they don't venture alone, they form a group to help each other. And rather than follow an idea no matter what, they adapt to situations as they come. 

In my version I substituted the cat and dog for a well-dressed fox inspired by the tales of Reynard and to symbolize the capacity to adapt. I also changed the rooster for a wise owl and a witty crow. The mountain has become a hill, roses have grown on the tree, and the thistles turned into irises.

 
 

In contrast with the goat, the fox's attitude is practical. He's focused on making things work, and also has to benefit in some way. He's not the type to sacrifice for ideals or work by himself. He brings people into his ventures and plays a part in his story, in others words pulls strings rather than leave things to chance.

One might say the goat is the idealistic visionary side of a creative person while the fox is the business side. And as I'm learning, to succeed both sides are needed. Well I guess I knew that, but knowing and doing are different stories! Being able to picture what it looks and sounds like maybe is a first step in that direction.

Brand new fable in progress: it's a goat! Right in time for the Chinese New Year

I didn't plan this at all, I swear it has nothing to do with the Chinese Year of the Goat..  nevertheless I got inspired to start a brand new fable and turns out it features a goat as the main character. Some people might say there are no coincidences, maybe I've just been seeing a lot of goats lately.

While flipping through my book of symbols looking at insects for my journal cover with all the bugs I came across the page of the goat, and out of the blue the title of a French kid's story popped in my mind. "The goat of Mr Seguin". I completely forgot what the story was about, so I googled it. Here's an english version. In a nutshell it's about a goat that wants to escape Mr Seguin's little patch of grass to go to the mountain and eventually she does, but there is she meets a wolf and dies after fighting him all night. It's meant to warn us of the dangers of freedom. 

After reading the story, I thought about it a couple seconds, then it hit me: that goat is me! Since I was a kid I have had this desire to be free. And I can't quite describe what is that freedom I am after. Because I have escaped practically every patch of grass (I even quit my comfortable job) but that darn feeling is still with me. I felt I really needed to explore this further and try my hand at a new fable.

After eight pages of notes and scribbles and an inspiring walk with a friend up a hill I came up with a sketch. But in my version of the story I placed the goat up a pollarded tree. I'd seen pictures of goats on trees and thought they looked pretty funny. Unconsciously, I drew the tree looking like a hand with a pointed index finger, as if the goat was sitting there in judgment. The fence symbolizes the farm and thistles the temptation of going to the mountain. The circle behind the goat's head is a moon, Pink Moon, inspired by Nick Drake's song.

Now that I have the first drawing the idea the next step is to create an opposite drawing that would give a possible solution to the goat's conundrum. But it's easier said than done...

 
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Closing stories of the nightingale and mockingbird

Yes I said I was done with my series, but as I was preparing to post these last two to my instagram feed it dawn on me that they needed new stories too. In the previous version they were called the dreamer and the performer.

 Now that I've gone through a whole bunch of these I understand the trick is to find the elements from the image and translate them in the text, using idioms if I can find good ones. On the left there was the moon, and the bird split in two with one half fleeing and the other half hiding. Turns out the final lesson was.. be yourself! Sounds so simple, doesn't it. I don't know why it's such a hard thing to do, but it is.

As a child I was told many times, find out who you are, yet at the same time there were many expectations and teasing which seemed to tell me that who I was in reality was not acceptable. This can create a kind of tug-of-war within, wanting to adhere to a certain ideal while keeping the real self under wrap for fear of being ridiculed or criticized. Even working through this series of illustration my inner critic kept telling me it's stupid and I should stop. All throughout this fall I've had this feeling of something coming to an end. And maybe it is the end. Or maybe it's a new beginning? The New Year will tell.