September 11th/Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago I was working as a full time freelance illustrator from my home studio here in San Francisco. I had moved here the previous year with my ex husband, Mike. I had been working happily as a background painter at Calabash Animation in Chicago and Mike was a lead animator and Director. In addition to working in animation, I was also painting and selling work in a gallery but the money I earned was not enough to make it a full time venture. As traditional animation turned toward cg animation, we were forced to look elsewhere for jobs. Mike and I both applied for jobs all over, and ended up in San Francisco when Mike landed a great position directing at Mondo Media.

San Francisco was not as giving to me, however. As it turned out, the first year and a half we lived here, 100% of my clients were from New York, Chicago, and Denver. The client I was working with the weeks before the attacks was the Art Director I worked with at Enesco in Illinois, with whom I had a professional relationship for about seven years. When she moved to another giftware company, she contacted me. My first assignment was to paint some beautiful angels, which would first be made into greeting cards and figurines if the paintings were well received. The project held the promise of royalties and long term expansion of my career into a field I always enjoyed - collectible sculpted figurines.


Although I am not the kind of artist that typically paints angels or spiritual themes, I was excited about this job because it was figurative. Much of the work I painted in commercial animation was background environments, color design of characters and props, and color scripts of story boards. I fell in love with animation during my time at Calabash and was eager to continue working in the field, but found I did not have enough experience when I moved to San Francisco, and also had no digital skills whatsoever. Although I applied to animation studios around town, the answer was always the same. They wanted digital work, not traditional.

So this particular job held much promise for me as a new direction. I threw myself into the project. I spent long hours thumbnailing various poses, made studies of decorative elements from Art Nouveau designs, and researched costuming that I felt would work for this theme. All of my research sketches are lost, unfortunately. In addition to the pencils below, I had also rendered close up details of the edging along the bottom of the gowns, sketched out wings, and had designed specific flowers for the hair.


 The pencils above are the first versions I sent. She requested that I change the faces to look at the viewer, and have a slightly happy expression. I felt angels would look more heroic, as they are intended to be, if they were not looking at the viewer, instead looking toward the heavens. I tried to convince her but she insisted on a friendly appearance and felt my pencils were too serious.


I have two versions of this pencil (below). One is flipped. I can't remember which was the final version of the painting. Also, the reason there is tape all over the pencil is because this was the pencil rendering I used to transfer the design to illustration board. I painted all of the paintings in watercolor and gouache, my preferred medium that I had a lot of experience using as a background painter.


On Monday, September 10th, I had gotten final approval for all of the pencils and the go ahead to start painting. I spent all of Monday transferring the pencils to illustration board. I was set to begin painting the first angel on Tuesday, September 11th.

The morning of Tuesday September 11th unfolded - and like the rest of the nation, I was horrified and consumed. 

My deadline came and went. I found myself unable to paint. Every time I put my brush to the illustration board, a flood of images and thoughts raced into my head - the artists who lived in studios in the towers, the pastry chef from San Francisco, the firemen who rushed in, the people in the Pentagon, the people on the planes. Painting angels felt so terribly ridiculous. I could not - would not - feel a sense of peace and hope while so many were lost in such a horribly violent attack. I explained to my Art Director that I would not be able to deliver the assignment on time. She was very upset with me and told me, "life must go on."


I eventually finished the assignment. However, I lost the client. The original paintings were never returned to me. I never received samples of the finished product. I did get paid, thankfully. I never heard from my client again. I rolled up these drawings and put them away.  

Across the country, work completely dried up for freelance artists, causing great financial hardship for so many artists. The only silver lining for me during this time was that my father bought me a copy of Photoshop and a Wacom tablet for my computer. I spent all of my time learning how to paint digitally and rebuilding my portfolio, which led to a background painting contract at the Learning Company, a contract I was so grateful for.

Although it is natural to look for meaning in events, I still cannot make any sense or connection with these images of angels I was assigned to paint at this particular time. My art director was right in saying that life must go on. However, I feel strongly that we must pause to grieve for the loss the victim's families suffered that day and remember the soldiers who were called to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.