Wakako and Frido shared with me the idea of “Travel Within” in mid 2020. We had been in quarantine for several months and it was becoming evident that we would continue to be at home for some time. The world was facing a difficult shift in mindset and we wanted to send energy into the world that was uplifting and encouraging. The messages chosen were based on ideas of introspection, simple reminders to invest energy into discovering, and expanding your sense of self.
The messages struck a chord with me as the concept is one that is a familiar and ever-present part of my life. My struggle with ADHD, depression, anxiety, and gender dysphoria means that self-awareness and reflection are essential for me to move through life and takes up much of my thought. This is one of the reasons I started journaling, to observe and track my inner dialogue for better understanding and growth. But still, what does “Traveling Within” look like? How do you convey travel without location or physicality? I knew the concept of the project would be a challenging one, but it was made even more so by my sensitivity to a chaotic world.
I was constantly overwhelmed by anger and fear at the news of blatant injustice and tragedy. Like much of the world, my heightened anxiety affected my productivity and my ability to maintain a calm and creative state of mind. Throughout the process I found myself paralyzed at each step, unable to follow familiar processes that had worked before so many times. Something that I’ve learned through experience is that attempting to push through mental obstacles by force did me more harm than good. So I did what I had learned to do as a designer: I redesigned my creative process.
The ideation process moved completely backwards. Rather than placing subjects within a scene, I drew out abstract compositions that I felt reflected the feeling of each quote. From these compositions we created scenes and added elements to expand the message. I’m very grateful to Frido who helped me immensely in visualizing the next step whenever I was stuck.
Despite the ideas coming together, the process of planning and executing the colored painting felt incredibly daunting. Looking at my reference photos of vintage travel posters, I was reminded of when I had once seen a large lithograph print in person. While visiting a local gallery in Nagoya, Japan I happened to stumble upon a print designed by Toulouse Lautrec. I’d never seen an Art Nouveau advertisement poster in person before, and I was struck by its size (it was over six feet tall!). But what I remembered most clearly was standing very close to the piece and seeing the very slight misalignment of the colored shapes. This is a result of the analogue lithography process of printing each color in separate layers. The halo of color spilling over the edge made it look as if the colors were vibrating, giving the entire piece life.
Inspired by these lithographs I decided that instead of creating a colored painting for each piece I would paint each layer separately in black and then digitally color and layer them. This approach of breaking the scenes into layers made the painting process less daunting. I was able to move forward in painting by concentrating on one element at a time. Each painted layer was imperfect and incomplete, but together they created a complete picture. The overall result was a series focused on portraying a sense of energy rather than a physical location. Each scene was painted to be surreal, yet welcoming and familiar, like a forgotten dream brought to life.
Ironically, I learned a lot about myself working on this project. As much as I struggled with it, I’m so grateful that I had the chance to be a part of putting these messages out into the world. Looking back at this project, there’s a lot that I would do differently. Which is good, because it means I’m learning.
Text and photos by: Emil
Where to find Emil: @everydayemil
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