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  • Annette Dawm

Finding Joy with Gary Andrews

Gary Andrews has been an animator and illustrator for 40 years. As technology advanced, the father of two realized he “needed drawing practice” and he began doing a doodle a day on paper.

The doodles have now taken on a life of their own online and in book form. Gary’s book, Finding Joy is a compilation of doodles. Most of them were created after his wife, Joy unexpectedly passed away from Sepsis:

“In 2017, my wife died and I became a widower. The doodles that I was doing became a self-counselling process.” According to Gary, through the drawings, he has been able to reach a “wider audience”. He has also been able to start a dialogue about things like Sepsis and what it means to be a part of the widowed community.

“After Joy died… the doodles became a whole different process for me. I kept doing the doodles, because by that point... it was something that was part of my routine…. Because the drawings were things that happened to me throughout the day, I found that they helped me exorcise the demons that were in me when she died. Any bad thing that happened, I could put it down on paper and I wouldn’t have a sleepless night. I got it out of me, so I was putting them down for me.”

“Then I noticed that people who were part of the widowed community were clicking on it and it was growing and growing. It grew at a steady pace and that was really nice. I was having dialogue with other people who were sort of in my position…. Then I was invited onto a TV show over here on The BBC called The One Show to talk about my work and the whole thing that happened. The program is a half an hour long. I went up to the studio and I went on the program. I finished the program and I got on the bus. On the way home, I switched my phone back on. In the hour since I had last looked at my phone, I had 10000 new followers or something like that! So it was kind of crazy! It was at that point that it went from, ‘Oh, that’s quite a nice number of people’ to just going a bit silly…. I found my tribe!” He smiled.

“….It’s been beautifully accepted as a book. The reviews have been astonishing. It was on a couple ‘Books of the Year’ lists…. It hasn’t made tons of money. I haven’t sold hundreds of thousands… but again, it has found its audience and they are a very appreciative, loyal audience. It’s not a gigantic book. It’s very specific, I think…. It was meant to get out there and help people….The readers who appreciate the book are 100% beautiful, lovely people.”

“As I say at the front of the book, ‘In an ideal world, I never would’ve had to make that book.’ ….It seemed to be a natural, helpful response to what happened. It’s a legacy for Joy and her story can help others, you know?” He explained.

The back of the book is also important to him, as it lists a number of resources for people dealing with grief, illness and depression.

“When we started the book, I said to the editor, ‘I definitely want to put this stuff in. There’s got to be a set of – not links, because it’s a book! When you press on those pages nothing happens!” He laughed.

“That was very important to me. I’ve been very fortunate that during this whole process. I’ve become an ambassador and patron for charities that deal with [loss].” He added that, “after seeing the work that they do,” he knew they needed to be recognized in the book.

“To be honest, the publishing process was really straightforward because I didn’t look for it. They came to me. I was just doing my drawings every day and I got a message from the publisher just saying, ‘Have you thought of doing a book?’

I said, ‘I thought it would be quite nice.’

They said, ‘We’d like to do the book with you.’

I went, ‘Okay.’”

Gary and his editor, Abigail worked together to choose the pictures that were used. They edited the original captions and created new text that would help tell the story.

“….It was one of those things that just sort of serendipitously happened. The downside, unfortunately, was it came out in lockdown. The day it came out was apparently the busiest day ever in publishing. There were about 500 books published the same day as mine. I couldn’t get out and do the marketing that one would do like signing books…. So it came out at the worst time in terms of publicity and marketing, but at a very good time in terms of life, I suppose.” He continued.

Gary’s wife, Joy is depicted in the book as a spirit or guiding force. He often felt her presence after she passed, especially during big moments, like teaching their children how to ride bikes.

“….I remember that feeling, that she would say, ‘You’re okay’. She was an incredible person. She was a very, very brilliant mother and ran things so efficiently. I had a very easy life and then suddenly I had to be mum and dad. It was a hell of a shock to the system. To feel like I had gotten on top of it felt like a very big personal achievement that she would have acknowledged.”

As previously mentioned, Andrews’ doodles started as a fun challenge that he created for himself.

“….I draw for a living, obviously, but as time has passed, most of that has moved onto the computer. I used to draw everything by hand. I used to use a brush and paper and watercolours and pens and inks. As technology grew and changed, it became more usable. There started to be some very good, hand-drawn apps, where I could use a pen on a screen, but the drawings still looked like proper drawings. So it’s like drawing on paper. It’s great because you’ve got an undo button and layers….” He explained.

“Professionally, it’s wonderful, but I felt I was losing touch with what got me started, which was the scratch of pen on paper and the smell of the book. You haven’t got an undo button. So I thought, ‘The best thing to do is to do something every day—do a drawing every day, just to keep my hand in it.’ I thought, ‘I’m going to forget to do that. So if I make it a diary, and I make it the last thing I do at night before I go to bed, then I’ll remember to do it.’”

“I made choices. I used brown paper to give me a mid-tone, so I could do highlights and dark tones. No sketching first! Straight in with the pen! If I made a mistake, I had to incorporate it into the picture. No drawing should take longer than 15 minutes. It was all a series of self-imposed rules… and it should always be something that actually happened. Never make anything up! It had to be a genuine diary….”

He admitted that he “doesn’t really have favourites, because once they’re drawn, they’re drawn.” Or sometimes he won’t remember his previous work. However, he did find “The Grief Demon” in his book to be interesting. At times, it can be seen on Andrews’ shoulder, whereas later on, it can be found further away in the house. Like grief in real life, it is always there.

Instead of using actual sketchbooks, he has filled numerous scrapbooks because of the quality of the paper. (Similar books can be found on Amazon.)

“It’s lovely! They’re very cheap scrapbooks…. Basically, they’re supposed to be used for sticking things in. It’s quite thick, heavy-weight, brown paper. I just really like it as a paper. It doesn’t bleed. It’s solid. It doesn’t crease and they’re cheap. It gives you that mid-ground so you can do your line work and shading. You can just pop that little bit of white in! ….I use a white pencil for the softer shading, for things like smoke. Then I use a white gel pen for my beard and the highlights in the eyes and things like that…. I use a black roller-ball pen for the line work and a 2B pencil for a bit of shading.”

Looking back, Gary said he always wanted to an artist, ever since he was a “tiny child”.

“I never really questioned it…. That’s all I ever thought I would probably be. To be honest, I’ve just always drawn ever since I was tiny. I was always encouraged by my parents, which was very good of them. I was always the kid whose drawings were put in the school magazine or up on the wall…. It was never difficult. I always found drawing easy—in the same way that some musicians have a natural ability to understand music or create music. I can’t do that. I can sing or hold a tune, but I can’t play an instrument. I’m in awe of people who can do that! I was lucky that I was born with an ability to transfer what’s in my head out through my hand and onto the paper…. I didn’t know what kind of an artist I wanted to be. That was the part of the journey that felt difficult for me, but I knew it would involve drawing in some way.”

“I went to art college and studied illustration and graphic design. I loved that and I still do that, but I also loved making movies, like, live-action and stuff. I started to make films on weekends with my mates, and I said to the teachers,

‘Can I make some films for my degree?’

They went, ‘Well, you’re in an illustration course. You can’t really do live-action films.’”

After giving it some thought, Gary recalled that the photography department had a Rostrum camera that was meant for animation:

“….It was an amazing 16 mm Rostrum camera. So I said, ‘Oh! I’ll do some animation then! It’s drawing and filmmaking at the same time, so I’ll do a bit of that!’ I thought that would work fine. I just did it for something to do at college. I was not really thinking that animation would be my career. I always thought it would be illustration.”

“When I left college, I went around to the animation studios and was offering my services as a designer or illustrator. Then one of the studios just said to me, ‘Oh, we’ve got a vacant desk for three weeks. Do you want to come in and maybe do a bit of animation?’”

“I’d done a week of animation somewhere else at this point and I went, ‘Yeah! Great!’”

“Those three weeks turned into three and a half years in that studio. I discovered very quickly that I had a natural aptitude for animation. Again, I’d never studied it, but it was one of those things I understood…. It combined all of the things I loved: drawing, filmmaking, acting, and storytelling. I don’t know why I hadn’t realized it before! To be honest, when I look back at it, it’s obvious! But at the time, it never really dawned on me. I sort of fell into it and I’ve never really fallen back out. I’m still there!”

For roughly a year and a half, Gary also worked at Disney MovieToons, which no longer exists.

“I worked on DuckTales The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp and we worked on a few of the various TV shows like Winnie the Pooh, Darkwing Duck, and TaleSpin.”

More recently, he has been involved with the reboots of the beloved children’s series, Fireman Sam:

“I worked on the new one after it went from puppets to the computer. I started in 2007 when it made the switch to CG. I did that for a few years and then I stopped for a bit because they stopped doing the show. Then they re-started doing the show, but out of Canada. Now it’s got a Canadian director, but I still work on the show as the voice director and I’m one of the voices on it. I play Gareth who runs the train up in the mountains. I’m a Welsh grandfather!” He laughed.

Outside of his many projects, Gary said he is mostly looking forward to next year. “….I am re-marrying! I fell in love again with an amazing woman called Lisa who totally, totally gets it. She acknowledges Joy as part of the dynamic of our relationship and our lives. I have to admit, the idea of our little blended family becoming one unit is a highlight that I’m really looking forward to.”

Finally, when asked about his advice for others, Gary Andrews replied:

“Draw every day! There’s no such thing as a bad drawing or a wrong drawing. It’s just a part of the learning curve. Don’t throw them away or rub stuff out, just draw every day. Draw stuff you see. Draw stuff you think. Copy stuff! That’s good too! You can learn a lot by copying people you admire, but don’t copy it to sell to other people! Just copy to learn their techniques….”

If you want to be an artist for a career, do that because you have to, not because you want to. If you want to, it’s not an easy way to make money and you won’t necessarily make money doing it. It’s a bit like being an actor. If you want to be an actor, well, don’t. If you have to be an actor and there’s nothing else for you, then go for it! ….I could probably do other jobs but then when I wasn’t doing them, I would be drawing all the time! That’s it. Just draw all the time…. Play with it! Enjoy it! …. I never envisioned a time in my life where there would be anything else because that is who I am inside….”

“Everyone has a different path as well. Compared to when I began, the world is a very different place, with so many different ways you can share work. I’m lucky that I got into it when I did. It was a very good timeframe for me and I established myself…. I have steady work…. I’ve been doing this now as a job for 40 years and every day I sit here thinking, ‘This is my job? I’m so lucky!’”

“Sometimes, if I have a day where I go, ‘Ugh! It’s a tough one today. Do I really want to do this today?’ I then think, ‘Well, hang on. I could be diffusing bombs somewhere for a job or doing open heart surgery! Those are proper, stressful jobs and I’m drawing for goodness’ sake! Every time I feel myself being at all whingey, I give myself a slap and say, ‘Now come on! Stop and think for a minute. How lucky are you?’”

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Photo courtesy of Gary Andrews.

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