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June 03, 2003
The Scar

It was a real surprise for me when Derek M. Powazek asked me if I would like to illustrate a story he wrote for fray.com. I immediately agreed. I have to admit that I knew of him and that I knew that he had this really nice site, I knew that he had a very charming style, and that's about it. (I actually did not even know of fray, can you believe it?)
What I also did not know about were his thoughts on being Jewish when he was twelve, how he and his family defined his Jewishness for him. The story he sent me was incredibly personal and revealing, a more personal and a more revealing, than I had expected, for sure. It was written by an adult writer (he is an excellent writer), but some opinions in it were just clearly the raw thoughts of a 12 year old, a boy. Gosh, so now I had agreed to illustrate a portion of somebody's life in a moment when they clash with their Jewishness. (To give you a better idea, I was born in Poland, have a German Passport and was raised Catholic, so I am about as Goy as they get.)
Great. I was bound to mess something up with this one... I was really worried, of course. Also, last time I really illustrated stories was in 1989, that is a while ago. It was all a bit of a complex situation for me. I felt as if the Universe had selected me to show me that it is very easy to find a task for me that I can not tackle.
"There, buddy, bite into this..."

I really have to thank Derek for his patience with me. He waited for over a month until my drawings were ready. (Much of the time was actually spent on me thinking that I can not do this.)
You will notice that the style of the illustrations is a tiny bit different than what you might have recently encountered on this site. (Those of you who followed the moleskine postings for the last few months will probably see more connection.) I just decided that as long as I try to illustrate the story from the point of view of the 33 year old me, it would be speaking in a voice too "stiff" for what Derek had written. So I put my fountain pen aside, pulled out my 3B pencil and just drew like I think I used to before I worried about failing too much. I basically trusted my instincts. Once I was able to do that, it became much easier to remember how being Catholic sucked when I was 12, and how being Polish sucked when I was 12 and how not being able to speak the language of the bullies when we moved to Germany sucked and how being poor in a rich school sucked and so on...
Derek married the drawings and the story to a great set of pages on fray.com, so if you want to take a look what came out of our coast to coast collaboration of sly older twelve year olds, the story will be the title story of the month. I think it will always be accessible under this perma-link. What is your scar?

Comments

Your instincts were right about the 12 year-old rawness of some parts of the story, but your illustrations were very sensitive and beautiful.

Posted by: matilda on June 3, 2003 09:20 AM

hey witold - i saw your drawings on the fray pages before i saw them here today. they're beautiful, you did a great job.

Posted by: michelle on June 3, 2003 10:28 AM

Great job Witold, and it meant a lot since I just "shot" a bar mitzvah last weekend. Nice....

Posted by: Pat on June 3, 2003 12:04 PM

Great work Witold! I don't know if it's on purpose or not, but your line strength and confidence grow through the story chronologically. As the boy grows, so do your illustrations. The last few are really fantastic. Obviously some of the others are sketchier - I think that's on purpose... maybe not. In any case, I really like the effect - it's like the memories get stronger and more confident as this boy works through his passing into manhood. The older stuff is more emotional and confused and the later stuff is crisp and important, condifident.

All of that is out the window if you drew these in reverse chronological order. If you did, that would pretty much mean that you got lazier as the night wore on...

In any case, it's beautiful work. I would love to see a partially colored, splashy (maybe water color) version of these. I think they could look really nice. They could be greeting cards for being Jewish. "Congratulations! You're Jewish!"

Posted by: chris on June 3, 2003 02:43 PM

Thank you so much for all the kind comments... What a day. There is just too much work on my plate today to give all the right answers here...

Chris, I looked at the story and yes, you are right, confidence grows indeed. I think this is partially due to Derek's design. I basically made 30 or so illustrations. Some are pretty muh off base, like that "fixed" teddy.
Derek did a fantastic job designing the story, especially when you consider that the illustrations are of the him I never met.

If you want to color the illustrations, I will not stop you. : )
I just felt that they were much more passionate when just in pencil.

What I also realized is how much can be done with relatively affordable materials. The sketchbook was under $10 (New Soho series, from Japan) , the pencil 89 (Tombow MONO, 3B, Highest Quality, with the dragonfly...)
And a sharpener. I used the eraser once. (and I have had the same one for about 15 years now... I am not kidding.)
And what I end up with here are unique "print outs."
Okay, I am being a bit silly, but I hope you understand what I mean. Most often the right results are achieved with the right tools, and in some cases the tools do not need to cost thousands of dollars...
: )

Posted by: witold on June 3, 2003 07:16 PM

derek's lay out is fantabulous.
all the elements (illustration, story, design)
seem to take strength from eachother.

Posted by: em!ly on June 4, 2003 11:31 PM

...the whole thing made for a very sweet, funny story. great :-)

have you really had the same eraser for 15 years? and it still works when you need it?

Posted by: yolande on June 5, 2003 09:32 AM

beautiful work. bravo.

Posted by: red on June 5, 2003 11:46 PM

absolutely wonderful, witold. thank you for those drawings. i hope you will one day do a children's book, i really do. or start selling a few of your works on this site...

Posted by: marrije on June 6, 2003 09:15 AM
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