Joanna Spicer has been drawing her twins and posting the artwork on Instagram since their birth. In this extract from Varoom 42 Anna Steinberg talks to her about this remarkable record that captures the animation of young children without sentimentality.
Spicer’s images are an unusual combination of refreshing rawness and fragile beauty, and the series is a reminder to illustrators of the value of retaining an authentic voice either within, or alongside their commissioned work. Spicer mentions falling out of love with her commercial output from earlier in her career, and feeling trapped by popular work that she felt became empty.
Having twins meant that previous venues for observational sketches were less accessible to Spicer, and although she had never tried to depict babies or children before, she decided to draw them. She describes an awkward start which initially focussed too much on depicting a likeness, that she felt was overly fussy. She also had to overcome the challenge of depicting the proportions of a baby. “They have quite big heads and a mark in the wrong places can make them look like creepy aliens.”
At the outset, Spicer had two distinct intentions, one being to create a record to show the twins when they are older, and the other to find a means of reconnecting with a sense of normality following the birth. The experience was bound up with anxiety and six weeks in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). As Spicer explains: “I needed to draw to feel like myself.”
The drawings capture a sense of love and intimacy without the cloying that might travel with the personal record of a parent; Spicer avoids idealising or stylising baby features, using Instagram-unfriendly A3 paper, with charcoal, a putty rubber and crayon.
The nearly-deleted, and repeated lines describing limbs record movement and the passing of time, giving the viewer an impression of watching play for a few minutes, rather than glimpsing a static moment. “Taking away the marks is as important as adding them and I sometimes wipe out the entire drawing with my hands, as the babies have repositioned themselves. There is always a moment whilst making a drawing when I feel it’s all going wrong, this ‘formative force’ of drawing [described by Jean-Luc Nancy in The Pleasure in Drawing, 2013]. The struggle to make the drawing ‘work’ is something I am interested in.”