There are some artists who use their art to show off, get attention, and polish their egos, others who use art as a tool to express feelings and thoughts, and others to whom art is life, just like Claire Wendling.
Claire is a very well-known and admired French illustrator. A few years ago she had to stop drawing because she was sick - very sick. She thought she was going to die.
For someone who grew up mostly alone, talking to plants and with a pencil as a best friend, stopping to draw was a very difficult experience. “I was trying to draw, but as I drew I began to feel like I wasn't there,” remembers Claire.
For almost five years her life was still. She was a mess. She felt constant pain and weakness. She knew she had to take care of her health and herself. She became so obsessed with getting better that all her body was concentrated in achieving this. Drawing was not important anymore. Not then.
Claire went off the radar and many people began speculating on what was going on.
“I heard all sorts of stuff being said about me and it's better to just laugh about it,” says Claire. “I've always been open to constructive criticism, what I don't like is people criticizing you for no reason. Drawing is difficult, it requires a lot of energy and is very personal. It's cruel to criticize. I'm happy to give my opinion if I can and am asked, but my word is not final. I don't have the truth, and if I did, I would copyright it,” she adds.
As she slowly began to recover, she had to start over and learn back all her abilities.
“I was pretending to be a professional who could answer the demands of clients,” confesses Claire. “It was a little traumatizing, learning to live without pain and just going back to living normally, drawing, being outside and things, without struggling to survive every day.”
Claire started drawing outdoors. She started going to cafes with a sketchpad, trying to remember things, drawing without thinking.
“I used to ask myself, what do I like to draw? Do I even like to draw?”
Everything she knew was buried inside her and the only way to bring it out was by being outside, because there was no pressure there, unlike at her desk.
After one year doodling like that, things slowly started to come back to her. Her focus was not on drawing something because it mattered, but in using the pencil and having a good time. It didn't matter if what she sketched wasn't good or interesting. Nothing mattered. She started with simple things, whatever she could remember.
The hundreds of sketches she made in this period have never been published anywhere yet. They were her therapy; she needed them to recover. As she got better, her drawings began looking nicer.
“I still go to cafes to brainstorm, but I draw at home,” says Claire. “In cafes, people talk to me, there's noise, and being outside occupies my brain somewhere else.”
It sounds like a contradiction, but Claire can only concentrate when her mind is distracted. Even when drawing at home, she listens to French radio whilst playing Italian TV at the same time. She needs her mind to be occupied somewhere else, so she doesn't feel the pressure and she can just draw.
“I don't like to choose music, because I can't be bothered to change it. So I listen to spots while I draw a lot of cute things!” laughs Claire. “I'm a complex person.”
Complex and not very sociable. She stayed hidden from the art community for a long time. Being surrounded by artists always put a lot of pressure on her, especially because of the speed at which people can produce amazing things.
“I draw because I draw,” says Claire. “I don't want to compete, but when there's so much talent around me it's like I'm swimming in an ocean of things and I can't think with my own words and images.”
At some point people began to think she wasn't working anymore.
“When you don't show your face, you stop existing,” says Claire. “I had to start being on Facebook, I had to show myself and exist for real. But I always try not to scroll too much on my feed because I feel this ocean of things coming into my mind.”
A friend once forced her to go to a convention, insisting it would be good for her, and it was.
“You often underestimate yourself because you're not in contact with people when you work from home,” Claire confesses. “Artists around me were so nice and welcoming and I realized in that moment that I had been missing out on something for so long.”
Things have changed for Claire now. She will be a guest speaker at THU 2016, which is no place for loners. However, the topics she will discuss are yet to be confirmed.
“My habits and techniques can't be adapted to someone else,” she says. “I work on different drawings at the same time. I get bored quickly and I have a hard time to focus. My mind keeps wandering. If I feel there's a problem with a drawing and I have to find a way to solve it, I start working on something else.”
Claire really enjoys learning new things and improving her skills to feel more and more comfortable with drawing.
“When I do the same thing for a long time, I feel like I'm not moving forward and am wasting my time. It happened to me in the past when I was working on commissioned books for almost 8 years in the beginning of my career. They had the same characters book after book. I felt like I was dying. I used to cry. It's like eating the same thing every day until you're nauseous.”
Today Claire lives in a small city and shows up for conventions once in a while. She isn't working on big projects at the moment, just cultivating her own interests, going to cafes to sketch or simply to enjoy the moment, and working on her own books.
“I was about to die, so now I'm happy to be alive,” Claire confides. “I don't care about anything. More people should be thinking about this: it's nice to be alive, breathing, and drawing.”