Monday, January 11, 2021

2020 - A Year of Holding My Breath

At one time on this blog, I was extremely diligent about posting my 'year in review' commentaries. In some ways, that is how my blog cemented itself in my life and I attracted readers. I shared many thoughts and history regarding my life as an artist as I looked back at 2009 in January of 2010, and I realized I would be writing on this blog for the foreseeable future. Over the years, I have done my best to do these yearly recaps, and I have had varying success. As I have focused on my first book and moved away from client work in the past few years, I have had difficulty writing the recaps. Each year, I felt like I was in the middle of things. It was not yet the right time to share. There were much more important events about to happen. Or I ran out of time, and it was March before I made the time to write, and by then, it was a moot point. Then we come to 2020. 2020 was the big year to look back on. 2020 was the year when it all came together, and I would finally be able to share all of the ups and downs of the past few years of writing and illustrating my first book and how it all paid off at conventions, and I reap the fruits of all my labors. But, in the end, we all know that 2020 had different plans.

It Started With a BANG

For me, 2020 was firing on all cylinders a year ago. As 2019 came to an end, I was already working on outlines for my following two books. I had sketched out and prepped multiple new illustrations, some of which I have been waiting for years to see realized. My first book was not yet finished, and I had begun work on the following two books. I was energized and excited. At the close of 2019, I had the linework of the first of these new illustrations already completed. I was in a mindset that had me churning out work on my books indifferently, and nothing was standing in my way.

As January 2020 continued, we checked off all the boxes, crossed all the t's, and dotted all the i's as my book neared the Kickstarter launch at the end of February. My editor, Achsa Nute, my designer, Steve Leacock, and my publisher, Jon Schindehette, worked nonstop to get me and the book over the finish line. Looking back at it now, it feels like a dozen years ago, and at best, it is a blur. But it was happening; my book was becoming a reality, and nothing could stop us now!

Pensacon took place at the end of February 2020, and we timed the Kickstarter to launch while I was at the convention so that I could promote it there and make it an active event at the con. My books' proofs arrived at the convention, and I had them on display all weekend.  And it went perfectly. I could not have been happier with Pensacon, the Kickstarter launch, and the book's reception. The campaign quickly funded, and since many friends were attending the convention, we celebrated the achievement. I was looking ahead to seeing the book go into production, Gen Con, and eventually Illuxcon. I had a full year ahead of me, and it all centered around my book. But, even at Pensacon, at the very beginning of March, the threat of COVID-19 was already looming heavily.

It All Happened Extremely Quickly at a Snail's Pace 
Articulate Polyglot - Drawing
13 x 17 - Pencil on paper
© 2020 Christopher Burdett
After Pensacon, I took a small breather. We had done it; the book was funded, the book was going to happen, and I could finally relax a little. My wife, two close friends, and I took a weekend trip we had planned for a while at the beginning of March. The campaign was still running, but this trip was to celebrate and relax. Little did we know that this would be the last trip, excitement, and personal interaction we would have for the foreseeable future. After we returned home, it happened all at once. The university shifted us to work from home. Equipment was lugged home, and makeshift workstations were set up. In the middle of deadlines and Kickstarter campaigns, it all changed. The new normal was upon us. Almost immediately, we saw the effects of the global pandemic on the Kickstarter campaign. Not that this matters, but the results of the changes in the world's economies, spending habits, fears, and more were clearest in those early days as they affected unnecessary spending. I also have a wife who is an ER nurse, and overnight, she was thrust to the front lines of a global pandemic.

Then It Ended
Elemental Essence Shard
Tasha's Cauldron of Everything
11 x 14 - Digital 
Art Director - Kate Irwin 
© 2020 Wizards of the Coast LLC
I am not sure how it happened or when it happened, but I now know why it happened. Sometime around the end of March, I stopped making art. I think many of us experienced it this year in our own ways. Artist or not, we shut down as we managed the events of the world. People all around were losing their jobs, their incomes, and their lives. I was focused on meeting the needs of the day job and hitting our summer deadlines, and at the end of the day, I had nothing left in me to then work on my books. I came to understand that I had enough energy to manage one job and that I needed to be the one that paid my bills, the one that I was thankful to have still and to be able to accomplish from my home.

As the weeks turned into months, I came to accept that Gen Con and, eventually Illuxcon would not happen at least in the traditional sense. The two events I had been working toward for years, my two biggest conventions of the year, and the events where I would be debuting my book were not happening. To add to it all, I was to be a featured artist at Gen Con, something that I had been chosen for in February. My book was the collimation of twenty-two years of work. It was finally completed. And the events planned out for me to stand before everyone and present the fruits of my efforts were gone. I was not handling this well. I mentally came to terms with it, but emotionally, I was not.

Yes, at some later date, maybe this year, 2021, or 2022, or... we will eventually be all together again at these events, and I will have my book then to show to everyone. But my moment in 2020, like so many other people's moments, is gone. And yes, people are dead, lives ruined, jobs lost, businesses destroyed, but I have worked for over two decades to have my art and my stories combined in my first book and share it with my friends and family. I did everything I was supposed to do. Those who helped me see the book completed did everything they were supposed to do and more. And it wasn't enough.

And this all could have been avoided, or at least significantly reduced. But we lacked the leadership, the adherence to science, and the willingness to sacrifice only a little by wearing a mask, and we may have been able to get this under control by now. Instead, the virus is still rampaging through this country. Hundreds of thousands are dead in this country alone. My wife is in danger every time she goes to work. I am in danger because she is in danger, and we have nothing to show for all these months of working from home, not leaving the house, and not trusting anyone else because, frankly, Americans can't be bothered to help their fellow citizens.

So I spent months not making art, sitting at home, waiting for things to get better because I had no other options.

Making a Change
Vexed Beanmonger
The Grand Bazaar of Ethra Dalia - In the Black
11 x 14 - Pencil, ink, and acrylic paint on paper
Original - Available
© 2020 Christopher Burdett
I was aware that I was not making art. That I was losing my momentum, and that time I could be spending making art was passing me by. I want to make it clear that none of the time was wasted. I was doing the best I could and focusing on things that allowed me to get through my days. Yes, that meant, and still means, a good deal of playing Animal Crossing, but these are trying times, and we do the best we can do. I cooked more in 2020 than I think I cooked in all the years of life before 2020. I have spent a great deal of time with my wife. I have realized what I can and cannot live without. While far from perfect, this time has been very rewarding in many ways, but I was bothered by not making art.

I would sit at my drawing table, hoping that the muscle memory would kick in and I would start drawing. I would end up simply sitting and staring at the paper. When the calls for client work came in, I decided to take a single assignment, hoping that a deadline and external pressures would motivate me to work. I got the job done, but it took a great deal of effort and willpower to ensure the assignment was completed. It was not the external jump start I had hoped for, but I was able to accomplish what I had intended. That was at least movement in the right direction.

I realized that I needed to step back, start over, and approach this all anew. Earlier in the year, I worked up two small illustrations as a stepping stone to get into the large pieces I had planned out. A way to warm up since, with the book campaign, conventions, and life before 2020, it had been a while since I worked on large pieces. Those small illustrations had been untouched for months, and I decided it was time to dig one out and see where it would take me. At the time, they were not essential pieces to the books' overall stories, and if things went wrong with them, well, no one needed to know about them. I was able to sit down and start working on one of them. It was extremely slow going at the beginning. I would work only a short time before moving on to something else. But, slowly, over time, the piece began to take shape. Things were finally, maybe, starting to happen again.

The call for more client work came in, and again, I took on an assignment. This time, the client work went much smoother, and the entire time, I kept wishing to be back working on my illustration. I took this as an excellent sign. Once the client job had concluded, I was back to work on my illustration and was finally making good speed with it. In the fullness of time, I completed it. This marked the first time I had completed personal work in months, and aside from the small filler pieces I needed to finish at the beginning of the year for my book, this was the first personal work of 2020. Not that I was fully cured, but something had finally changed. I took on even more client work, and I completed more and more personal work. I was finally, thankfully, beginning to feel like myself again.

Moving Forward
Articulate Polyglot
The Grand Bazaar of Ethra Dalia - In the Black
13 x 17 - Pencil, ink, and acrylic paint on paper
Original - SOLD
All currently available originals
© 2020 Christopher Burdett
This is all not over yet. We are all still in it, and right now may very well be the worst of it all. There is much happening in the world and this country.  One only needs to check the nearest news outlet. But, if we are lucky, things will begin moving in the right direction. It is out of most of our hands, so I am concentrating on what I can control. I am making art again. I am doing what I can do. The coming months will not be easy and may not be better till more can receive the vaccine. I am likely far down the line, even though I share a house with a frontline nurse. Until I am vaccinated, I will probably not feel at ease, but that time will come. Hopefully, there will be a Gen Con, and we can attend. Hopefully, there will be an Illuxcon. These are all still months away, but we said that last year. The effects of COVID-19 will likely take up a minimum of a year and a half, so we still have much ahead of us. All I can do is be patient and make art.

I had hoped that this post would have loads of images of me at conventions with stacks of my books. I had expected to share numbers and statistics of what was selling well and if I had ordered the right amount of books. I had hoped to reflect on how the entire process of finishing a book, taking it to Kickstarter, and seeing it printed by Gen Con and what went well and what didn't. I expected to have many more completed pieces for the following books to share. None of this happened. Life is not predictable. We do not know what tomorrow holds, so we must do the most with today. Plan for tomorrow, but act today. That said, as I finish writing this, I will be heading back to my drawing table to continue working and awaiting a time when I can leave the house. 

That's all for another exciting Monday on the blog and a start to my 2021 posts. See you back here on Wednesday! Until then...

For more samples of my work or to contact me regarding my availability, head over to my website:

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