Doodles Help Animator Find Joy
UK illustrator and animator, Gary Andrews, began drawing a doodle each day after his 55th birthday in 2016, wanting to feel the “scratch of pen on paper” again, since most of his paid work was done on a computer using a stylus.
When his 41-year-old wife Joy died unexpectedly less than two years later, he kept drawing and sharing, gaining a large following of people on social media who could relate to his experience of grief. Andrews now has 55,000 followers on Twitter.
Andrews told Solace Cremation, “It just seemed natural to keep drawing … it comes naturally to me anyway, and I found very quickly that what I was drawing was my feelings … because of the way my mind works, I see pictures. I was able to put that down on paper. The very act of putting it down on paper was also an exorcizing of dark feelings. The fact that you are putting it out there meant you’d released it, like steam out of a pressure cooker. It wasn’t playing on my mind … a little weight got lifted and I could sleep.”
Andrews, instantly a single parent, found support in friends who kept a large WhatsApp group he could tap to find people for babysitting or picking up his kids, who were just seven and ten when their mother died five years ago. He also found support in the social media world where he sometimes would just talk in live broadcasts about what he was going through.
“The most important thing is talking,” Andrews says for people going through grief, whether it is with friends and family or professional counseling. He says he was able to communicate through his drawings – “my pen was my counselor,” he says, though he is a proponent of counseling and is involved in several charities. And he says he also “never anything held back” in talking with his kids, which encouraged them to talk with him. “We helped each other through it,” he says.
Drawing can be therapeutic for anyone who is grieving, Andrews explained, “You don’t have to be able to draw to use art to help you. I’m lucky. It’s what I do … But you can do drawings for yourself that nobody else has to see. They can be stickmen, they can be weird doodles that only you know what they are, they can be blobs of color, it can be anything as long as it puts the feeling out of your chest and your mind and onto a bit of paper.” Andrews says this allows the feelings to pass through “like a portal” and you can decide whether to keep the drawings or to burn or shred them.
He says that he believes the power of art is primal, “I do believe that it is so deeply ingrained in us as a species. You just have to look back at the walls on the caves to realize we were making art as soon as we could. And there’s a reason for that. It is just in us in a primal way. And the way you make your art can be as primal as you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be funny, or cute, or slick, or finished … but it is coming from inside you.”
“We live in a world now where everyone tweets their dinner,” Andrews says, but all that communication has also brought more openness around death and grief in the form of podcasts, social media and books. The changing attitudes are growing, he says, “out there in our collective consciousness” and it is especially helpful for men who fight the societal message of, “stiff upper lip, hold it in, man up, all that crap.”
Andrews considers his work a tribute to his late wife. “She was the most kind person you could ever meet. She was kind, she was loving. Everyone misses her laugh and her smile. I think one of the things I’d like people to take away is the fact that the laughter, the smiles, go on. And although you have lost the person, and you are really hurting, if you can look back at the great stuff you shared and had when that person was with you, that’s the legacy they’ve left you. If you can hold those memories inside you, they’re not totally gone, are they?”
His new book, “Finding Joy,” gathers more than 100 of his illustrations and weaves together the story of his grief journey.
Andrews says though you can feel “very dark, very lost and like everything is finished” when someone dies, you can come through it you can find “what death hasn’t taken away” like the love and memories.
“I had 19 years with her. I wish I’d had another 19. But it wasn’t to be. Therefore, I look back at the 19 years I had and say, ‘My goodness, how lucky was I? I had that.’”
Andrews has found love again, having met his fiance after a message from her on Instagram and a pandemic lockdown courtship. He is engaged to marry next year. “This whole new wellspring of love came for her and hasn’t taken anything away from what I had for Joy.”