The Road Goes on Forever

This morning I am working on a print commission for a dear friend of mine. Andrew (a printer who makes really nice books) is publishing a book about his friend Gray (also a printer) and has asked me to create two hand-printed illustrations of Gray that will be bound in the centre of the book. It’s an honour to be asked to be part of this very printerly project, but it’s a weighty thing to capture a character like Gray in a way that is befitting his personality and also suits a fine publication. 

A few days ago, with much relief, I successfully laid down the first layer of ink, but the project itself has been in the works for almost 18 months. We started talking about the project in May 2021. After hours of reading and dialoguing with Andrew, I sketched a few rough ideas. I redrew the scenes about a dozen times until we were both happy. From there, I imported the line drawings into ProCreate (a drawing app for iPad) and played with colours and layers as I tried to imagine what a linocut print would look like on paper. 

Once the digital mock-up was feeling good, it was time to order the paper. The paper industry is still in supply chain chaos from the pandemic, so it took more than 200 days for the carton to arrive from London—a new record, I think. It arrived right in the middle of the busiest August I’ve had in years, and to tackle an important project like this I need a block of time. Suddenly it is mid-October and I’m finally getting ink on paper. With five of eight colours down, I’m starting to get excited about the finished result. If all goes well, both of the prints will be finished by the time this issue hits the stands. The moment of completion is lovely but fleeting, so if I don’t enjoy the journey on a project like this it means I live in a world of frustration. 

In the current climate of Amazon Prime and Netflix streaming—short turnarounds, speedy delivery, and instant gratification are king—but I can still remember when it took eight years to watch all the seasons of Friends. We have devalued that feeling of anticipation to the point that we don’t know what to do with the thought of just waiting. You rarely see anyone standing in a line anymore without playing Candy Crush. I’m also guilty (although I can’t stand that particular game) but I’m trying to catch myself more and just sit. 

As I look at my life, I realise I’ve structured it around things that take time: letterpress printing, oil painting, driving a VW van, vintage mountain bikes—all of those things are more about the journey than they are about the destination. I believe it’s that anticipation—the suspended feeling of potential gratification—that is a big part of what makes these arcane things appealing to me. There’s no sense getting frustrated by the pace of a holiday in a Volkswagen… it goes as fast as it goes and in the meantime you have a big screen view out the front window to enjoy. I’ve always preferred the buildup leading up to Christmas to the crash after all the wrapping is torn off. The crash doesn’t minimize the joy of the gift, but it helps acknowledge that it’s a very human thing to want something to look forward to. Our ability to anticipate the next week or month or year, and carry the hope of excitement down the road, is one of the things that keeps us moving. 

For many in Fernie the first snow is filled with this kind of anticipation. It’s a bit late this year so there’s been lots of time to get ready: wax the skis, pull out the box of mitts and sort them into pairs, and put on the winter tires. As those things happen, take a minute to stop and breathe in that excitement—that’s the money right there. As I plan a few more projects to keep me peering forward into the winter with eagerness, I too am trying to take some quiet moments to enjoy the journey so that when I reach each destination I can carry that anticipation right into the next project so the journey never ends.