Embodied Research

Posted on by Marnie Galloway

With the first pacing mock-up of Chapter 2 of In the Sounds and Seas almost completed and a long quiet fall and winter ahead of me to draw, I thought now might be a good time to write about process and progress.

I faced a different set of challenges in composing the pages for Chapter 2 than I did in Chapter 1. For starters, I had already illustrated some of the more challenging sequences in Ch1 in previous projects, so the visual language was familiar and many of the "how the hell do I draw this?" problems had already been worked through. Ch2 is brand new in that regard. I benefit from knowing how I best work on these drawing projects (in quiet, with hours set aside and a cup of tea), and from knowing the overall aesthetic of the book, but the rest is just new.

Not only that, but the action in the book is foreign to me. The primary event in Ch2-3 is the building of a large sail boat, and the bulk of the rest of the story after that occurs on the ship. I knew that fudging the details in this chapter would be a huge disaster if I realized down the line that, say, a ship of X model couldn't hold the 3 crew I need it to house. Even worse was the realization that if I illustrated the construction of a boat incorrectly, anyone who had actually built (or, for that matter, sailed) a boat would laugh at the sequence with disdain. The story would hold up, but distractingly incorrect details could ruin the experience for some readers.

The first thing I did was read...a LOT. I've spent the summer reading sailing narratives in historical nonfiction and online, pouring over "How to Sail" guides at breakfast, practicing knots, and delighting in Sailing Alone Around the World, Joshua Slocum's autobiography.

Late summer I took a sailing lesson and learned a lot, having only before ever been on large tour-boat cruises on Lake Michigan. I learned how hard it was to pull up the main sail; I learned how severely a boat can (and should) keel; I learned that I get really, really sea sick.

Taking the lesson that doing something once is just as if not more helpful to me than reading how-to guides, I kept my eyes open and searched actively for any news about folks building or restoring sail boats or ships in the Chicago area, that I might be able to help out and learn some tricks. No such luck. Instead, I'm building a model ship!

This will be a model of Mr Slocum's gaff-rigged sloop, The Spray. I couldn't be more excited about it! In the end, I will have hands-on experience with at least some of the problems one would face when building a ship (and I will have my other resources to fill in the gaps), and I'll have a pretty great model from which to draw.

For now, back to steaming the wood and planking the ship!