There's something I've been coming to terms with during the last year: I have OCD. I've had it as long as I can remember, but I didn't know that I had it until recently. Living with OCD can be intense, and wrapping my head around what it means has (obsessively) occupied me. Now that I know why my brain does what it does, I'm wondering how OCD informs my work and my relationships. 

A rough sketch about OCD for one of my comics.

One thing I'm learning about my condition is that it's not necessarily like you see in the movies. Physically my life is structured. Mentally that order is taken to huge extremes with dire consequences if something isn't done just right. My brain's rigid, unbreakable rule is that I can only live my life in black and white, when, in actuality, there's a whole range of values to see.

Grayscale value study: James Dean, black, white, & 50% gray. Graphite on paper, 10" x 8". 2003

Teachers often make art students create their own grayscale. You have ten blocks. On the far end, one is black, and on the other end one is white. In between you shade the different grays that get you from white to black. The students use the  grayscale to create drawings focusing on contrast and value. Picking out only blacks and whites puts a drawing into sharp relief and intensely focuses only on a certain area. Making a drawing with the full range of values creates a more complete picture and a better feel for the overall subject (How can that possibly relate to OCD? If only there were a metaphor here...).

Grayscale value study: James Dean, medium tone. Graphite on paper, 10" x 8". 2003

Labeling my thought patterns and repetitive, compulsive behavior isn't boxing me in. It's like the illustrator and cartoonist Jess Fink said about her queerness: "I've always felt like queer labels are a personal thing, they are to help you understand and talk about yourself, not for others to define for you." Naming the cause for the way my thoughts are helps me to understand myself and to see when I need to tone down that high-contrast view in order to see the fuller, complex, and more complete picture.

Grayscale value study: James Dean, full value. Graphite on paper, 10" x 8". 2003


Popular Posts