BY CHANEL DUBOFSKY
What's "How I Feel Today?"
How I Feel Today is an online series of daily illustrations that reflect my emotional state at the end of each day. I started it in August of 2015, and since New Year’s Day of 2016 have been committed to drawing every single day. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve made over 120 drawings.
How did you start "How I Feel Today," and how does it relate to your previous work?
About 6 years ago there was a blowup in my family that left me with deep emotional and financial damage. In the midst of it, I completely cut off contact with my father and almost his entire side of the family. I was reeling. It was at that point that painting became a vital healing practice, more than just an exploration of mark, color, and line. My work has gone through many stages in the lengthy fallout of these events.
My immediate reaction was to live-paint an atom bomb being dropped in the middle of a mountainous landscape onto a picket fence in a gallery window. At the conclusion of the painting, I dismantled the fence and gave the individuals pickets to friends and other members of my community. The performance was a manifestation of the harmful secrets that my family contained for years that festered below the surface and suddenly exploded. It was an active rejection of the notion I had been raised with that difficult feelings are private and best left unspoken. I realized later how fitting the metaphor was- my paternal grandfather had worked on the Manhattan Project and subsequently had a mental breakdown, an event which was vaguely mentioned from time to time but whose details were never discussed.
After that performance, I was exhausted. Having been accustomed to keeping my emotions to a minimum, this act of defiance took a lot of out of me. For the next few years, I kept trying to return to the metaphor of landscape with varying results. I became reluctant to confront the pain that was bubbling beneath the surface. This reluctance showed in my work.
When I moved to New York in 2013, the intensity of the city forced my hand: I had to deal with my immediate anxieties and continue to sort through my trauma and grief. I developed an isolated, meditative practice, in which I laid out huge pieces of canvas on my bedroom floor and marked them to oblivion with charcoal and pastels. The calm that I achieved from such physical, repetitive work was absolutely necessary to my survival in the city.
With How I Feel Today, I am finally turning outward again. I have done a lot of work on the trauma I experienced and feel ready to really put myself into my work. This series is a declaration of my promise to myself to be emotionally open and honest.
Talk about the process of making a drawing a day--deciding what to do and committing to it--how do you do it and why do you think it's important?
Nightly rituals are very important to me - I take a bath, read, maybe pull a tarot card or two, do some breathing exercises to relax. These drawings have added the piece I didn’t know I was missing by requiring me to visualize my emotional state. Before the series I had a lot of trouble sleeping, because my anxieties from the day would just run into the night. Now most times, instead of a sleepless night, I’ve got a drawing.
Artistically, drawing daily is a wonderful form of practice. In the past year, I’ve shifted from "fine art" to illustration, because I want my work to be accessible to a wider audience.
The project is situated online--you can find it on your Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter. Talk about creating an online persona and living in that.
With this project I want to challenge the hierarchy of what’s okay to post on social media. What does it mean to just be myself online? In this way, I feel like I’m creating a kind of "anti-persona"--instead of basing my online presence on milestones and capitalist achievements, I’m just presenting my honest emotional self.
Engagements, babies and degrees should not be what we’re all forced to measure up against. I have a very different value system than that. I want people to feel like they can relate to me when they see my work, even if our political or social values don’t necessarily line up. I don’t want them to feel jealousy or resentment. I hate that the internet has become a one-upping contest based on mainstream societal values. If we’re online for eleven hours a day, it’s important to bring our full selves into it. Otherwise we disappear.
Talk about the role of vulnerability in your work.
On February 1st I posted the following drawing and caption:
Hey y'all. I want to say some things about money. I want to say that I, too, am buried under a mountain of debt. I want to say that I want to travel again but have no idea how to save for it. I want to talk about how painful and isolating it can feel when people post on social media about reaching socioeconomic landmarks and get 200 trillion likes. I want people to know that promising to buy a piece and not following through can be devastating for an artist. And I want it to be okay to just talk about these things in person and online.
I want to try to be better at directing my money at the things that are really important to me this year. I would like some tips and solidarity.
That is all.
Boy did that one send me into a spiral. As for so many of us, money was a huge, huge issue for me growing up. My father was always pretending he had more of it than he did, and my mom was usually very worried we were going to lose everything. As result I am both insanely anal retentive about paying my bills and a compulsive spender.
I posted this because I was feeling fed up with silencing my struggles around money. Everyone experiences them, but it’s only acceptable to post about economic accomplishments. I think if we were more comfortable talking about money, we’d realize what a wealth of resources we had available to us just through the people we know who’ve gone through similar things.
I didn’t prepare myself for what it would mean to really put that out there. The post generated more likes than almost any drawings previously. I got amazing messages of support privately from friends and acquaintances who had struggled with the same things. I was both touched and overwhelmed. I’d developed such a thick wall about my own financial habits, and felt so ashamed of my struggles. Those responses gave me such an intense feeling of relief. That wall had started to wash away. Since that post, I’ve felt more open about money in my "real" life as well. I’ve even started a savings jar for the first time since I was about 12.
Not all of my drawings leave me as vulnerable as that one, but each one takes a certain amount of courage. Every day, I am relearning the value of what it means to let people really see me. The result is invariably a greater feeling of connection to my community. I’m immensely grateful to those who see my vulnerability and react in kind.
What role does body play in your work? How do you make decisions about how to portray your physical self in the project?
In high school and college, I obsessed about my weight and how much I exercised. That all changed when I injured myself during my senior year of college and couldn’t perform the same way physically. When I wasn’t able to exercise, I was forced to examine the reasons I was doing it--who was it for, and what impossible standards was I putting myself up against? That same year, I had my first queer experiences, which completely changed the way I saw my body. I felt for the first time that my "imperfections" were actually wonderful, unique, sexy, special things about me.
The seven years since then have been about learning new ways to inhabit and present my physical body, and the drawings are an extension of that. I love the way my thick thighs and arms look in my drawings, and I take joy in making patterns out of my dark body hair - those things make the drawings look more like me. The drawings allow me to present my body without shame.
Perry Baron Huntoon is a queer artist/illustrator from New England based in Brooklyn, NY.
Chanel Dubofsky writes and lives in New York City. Her work has been published at the Sisterhood Blog, Tablet, The Pursuit of Harpyness, Monkey Bicycle, and Pure Slush. You can read about her adventures in feminism and art, at her blog, Diverge.