December 5th, 2012, in bed, shivering, eyes riveted to the TV. On screen, Nathan Fillion as Rick Castle grins cheekily, eyes rolling; another scene, his eyes glitter in frustration and anger. Mine fill in sympathy, my heart swells. I’m in love.
The episode ends. In the black gap before the next episode begins, I burst into sobs of dismay and fear. What is happening to me? My career as a programmer, software developer, web designer—whatever—ebbing to a lackluster, vapid, inconsequential end. My long-ago vocation as an artist—evaporated, forgotten, lost. I’m alone. I’m old. I’m nothing.
His face illuminates the screen again, light tracing subtle planes of his cheeks, shining in his steady eyes, dancing in the graceful curves of his lips; he is a figment, an illusion; he is a projection not meant for me. I am bloated remnant of a human being, now evidently losing her mind. Is there any way out of this darkness? Out of this craziness? Is there a road to the light of sympathy, warmth, vitality, and humanity I’ve vested in his image?
The first from Castle. (Marker pen) Can I even see?
The thousandth from Castle. (Ink & wash) Nine sketchbooks filled! Starting to look like him.
If you’ve tailed me on my four-year journey, you know the route I took out of despair. As I exited my dead-end career, I fueled my return to art with my passion for that image, that actor, that man, Nathan Fillion. I committed myself to draw him every day, and I mapped my progress by posts tagged #FillionDrawingOfTheDay on Twitter. Only this year has a destination dawned on the horizon.
From Trucker (Ink wash & white) Clearer vision; stonger form.
From Castle (Ink & ink wash) More discipled; difficult expression
In the rear-view mirror, waypoints are clear. From a dead stop, having only a dim vision of his face, I set out to fill 5x9" sketchbooks using marker pens. Vision sharpened as I pushed on to brushes and ink. I made a cockpit in front of a second computer in my office and every night I drove to Fillion-land. Slowly I came up to speed, navigating the curves of his face while staying in the narrow lanes framed by the camera. My road widened as I added toned paper and white ink. I drew some of his co-stars too, but I could not manage to pilot my brush through two faces on the same page without crashing. Color ink revved my enthusiasm as I picked up speed in the second year; my work became more expressive and less confined to what I saw the screen.
Sunburned Castle (color ink) In love with color.
From Serenity (White ink on black paper) Sheen of sweat on skin
When I tweeted a link to my first anniversary post three years ago, black-and-white brush-and-ink was still the main vehicle of #FillionDrawingOfTheDay. Nathan Fillion retweeted that tweet.When I met him four months later at St. Louis Comic Con, he signed a sketchbook page. Later that year, he favorited a couple of Firefly drawings. I was on his radar!
Castle gestures defensively (Charcoal on newsprint) Difference is clear: Freedom! Now he has a body, an attitude, and movement. I was breathless over the potential at this scale.
Young Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly (Charcoal on newsprint) For the first time, background detail.
My trajectory made a hairpin turn in August 2015, when I met Nathan Fillion the second time. His assistant, Michelle Chapman, arranged for me to draw him during three autograph sessions at Chicago Comic Con. When I returned to my new studio, I struggled to channel my vivid memory of his living presence into ink; I felt the urge to shift into high gear. I stood up at the easel, took charcoal in my hand and drew him from memory, then from the screen, larger and larger and larger. Standing at the easel, engaging my whole body: the freedom, the scale, the scope—this was my cruising speed, attained at last.
Mal and Jayne in the sun (Pastel on blue paper) Light, setting, story: it’s coming together.
Progress has been rapid, and it’s accelerating. Black charcoal yielded to color pastels. Color unlocked atmosphere and background detail. Finally, other actors came on the scene, opening the throttle wider as posture, gesture, and mutual gaze drove up emotional tension. Suddenly, I was thinking about character, about story, about narrative, about time and space and distance and change. Action. Reaction. Living. Loving. Connection. Death.
Castle and Ryan in Castle (Pastel on black paper) Action! Drama!
I’m an artist! I’m alive!
Early on, hunched over my sketchbooks, compulsively touring his facial contours, lapping the same safe course, the only prize I raced for was praise online. Comic Cons changed the game and raised the stakes. Could I make comics? A three-page test-drive comic dented that ambition: too slow, too small, too tight, too tidy. Posters? Maybe, but up-front costs are daunting: photography, printing, selling, shipping. A Castle poster printed for free failed to finance another round. Park my talent and accept the drag of debt? I veered away lest it stall my momentum. Appealing to fellow fans, I realize, is no longer enough. I want to say more. I want to see more. I want to be more.
Nathan Fillion at NerdHQ 2014 (Pastel on builders paper, 80x36") A pieced-together experiment that points a way to a future. Capturing movement in a sequence will be a challenge.
As I peer through a foggy windshield at the turnoffs the future may hold, I know which direction I want to go: Big! Life-size or larger. Dynamic! A sense of movement and tension. Human! Emotions in ambiguity and conflicting perspectives. Most of all: presence, impact, heft.
Malcolm Reynolds in Serenity (Poster paint on builders paper) First painting! Begin with black and white. It’s cheap, it’s clear, and it’s good practice.
And what of Nathan Fillion? Oh yes! I still love him, though not in that helpless midnight-sobbing way. He’s still part of my power train, still an unwitting passenger in my journey, still subject and object and hero and symbol. If I could hail him, up there on the superhighway of celebrity, I’d ask, Am I exploiting you unfairly? What if I succeed and create work that people talk about, find meaning in, and are changed by? Will you stand by me proudly? Or will you wish I’d chosen a different vehicle?
The moment we met, my life became extraordinary. You taught me more about myself than I knew there was to learn. You are the joy in my heart. You’re the last person I want to see every night when I close my eyes. I love you, Katherine Beckett. And the mystery of you is the one I want to spend the rest of my life exploring. I promise to love you, to be your friend, and your partner in crime and life..
“ We’re moving on. But just because we’re leaving, and that hurts, there are some people who are so much a part of us they’ll be with us no matter what. They are our solid ground. Our north star. And the small clear voices in our hearts that will be with us. Always. “