I don’t often get to collaborate in my line of work, partly by circumstance and partly by design. But I had an amazing opportunity to work with the talented Chris Rhodes recently and wanted to share.
When I was working on Make Something Meaningful, I knew it needed illustrations. (What, an art book with no pictures? What’s that??) But it also became increasingly clear that I was not the right person to draw them. In fact, I found myself avoiding the whole project because I dreaded the thought.
Which led me to Chris.
Now, Chris is not an illustrator. Or perhaps he is, but not in the traditional sense. He’s a tattoo artist. His medium is ink on skin. He specializes in custom designs.
Custom tattoos start with a drawing – a quick black and white sketch that captures the feeling of the finished work. And I fell in love with them. I’d scroll through his Instagram feed and swoon, “if he could do that on paper…”
And then the shutdown hit.
As our businesses were shuttered, I reached out and a pandemic partnership began. We started a socially distant collaboration by passing words and images back and forth in a box, me leaving it on his porch with a wave and him stuffing it back into my mailbox.
It was strange to work in this way for a number of reasons. We couldn’t talk in person – how do you describe something visual without using your hands? How do you get to the nuance of what you’re after? There were a few homonyms that got lost in translation. And there the periods of awkward silence – the moment when one person was furiously working while the other waited.
And then the text would come:
I’m on my way.
I was like a kid on Christmas every time I opened that box. Inside was a small black moleskine filled with doodles and drawings, magical little scribbles of creativity in motion. Whenever I opened it I’d break out into a lopsided grin.
Then, just as quickly as it began, it was over.
Our paths uncrossed and Chris went back to his work and I to mine. I was happy for him, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a twinge of emptiness. I spent my days working with the drawings he created, formatting and and placing and tweaking. But not with him.
Last week my proof copy came in the mail. It was the first sunny day of spring and Chris stopped by to say hi. It was the first time I’d seen him in person since last year. I ran to grab it and as I handed it to him, I got to see the same giddiness I felt. I watched him slowly nod and break into a wide grin as he saw his work on the printed page for the first time.