We had the good fortune of connecting with Ess Crossley and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ess, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
When I first started my creative career (arguably a parallel timeline to design school), I thought it had to be my everything. My sole income source, my only hobby, my main passion. It added a lot of pressure and also made me feel that any time I was “resting”, I should be creating. Being responsible for self-branding, content-creating and also pumping out artwork for clients and for markets is life five jobs rolled into one. I was spending all of my days off from full time work holed up in my room, alone, making comics and working on books. And while I’m a good balance of introvert and extrovert, it also made me feel like any “spare” time was work time. After moving to Vancouver Island three years ago, I slowed right down. Like the leopard slugs that crawl over the sword-fern leaves on my morning dog walk, I took the move as an opportunity to be gentle with myself and pursue some of the other things that spark joy for me. The universe has a funny way of handing us things on a platter though, and I ended up taking clay classes and pursuing hand poke tattoos. It’s almost as if my trying less to create allowed me more space in my world to actually do so. I still struggle with deadlines, often leaving things until the last minute (I argue it’s when I do my best work). I’m less hard on myself now, though, and that allows me the flexibility to lean into when I’m feeling creative. Involving my community in creating has been a huge influence, as well. I run a sketchbook club through my day job at an art supply store, I do pottery workshops with friends and collaborate on artwork and tattoos with my clients. I’m working now on the Feely Cards with Non Wels, a deck of cards to help connect people with their feelings and that’s been such a fun project that I am grateful for the community on! Who knew that affirmation and validation from external sources was such a blessed thing when it comes to doing vulnerable creative work? It ends up being a key aspect for me so I’m grateful for all the support I receive.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I started making comics back in 2017 to cope with a heavy bout of depression while I was staying with my parents for a month and exploring my journals and sketchbooks from my teenage years. The comics started out as a way of my processing complicated memories and feelings and from there they grew to be a powerful form of art therapy for me that I found a lot of comfort in sharing with people who had similar experiences. It’s Kinda OK was about accepting that things aren’t okay all the time and to encourage the vulnerability for others to share things that didn’t feel okay for them either. It feels easier to be more okay when we know we’re not alone, I find. I’ve since published my own children’s book, worked on many an illustration project, had a couple years of running a podcast, all the while pursuing my love of hand poked tattoos and working with clay. I think having a foot in multiple art types helps me balance my creative energy, although it does make it hard to focus on one thing at a time! I think one of the biggest challenges for me is the balance of wanting to create and feeling the pressure to make content. Some mornings I hate everything I am drawing and other mornings it pours out of me like a dam that has burst. It used to really frustrate me when I was producing for patreon on a schedule all the time, but I’ve slowly learned to lean into when I feel creative and walking away when it’s not flowing. A lot of my gender transition stuff has been hard to reflect on throughout my journey and that’s also a tricky balance — feeling like some topics are too vulnerable when I’m still experiencing them! And at the heart of it all is the same message and intention, of sharing my truth and genuinely creating work that speaks to my inner being so that I can form empathetic and emotional connections with people who feel unseen or unheard. More okay, less alone.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Everyone who comes to stay with me ends up getting a pottery workshop and a tattoo if they so choose! I recently had my mom out to visit me for the first time in two years, and we did exactly that. I truly adore Vancouver Island and there are so many wonderful places to visit. Spending a day driving down the coast, stopping at little cafes and beaches with waterfalls and then having a big campfire in my garden after a swim at the river is pretty much what each day of our visit looked like. There’s so many amazing artists on the island, as well, so stopping in to see Wanda at Wander and Whim studio in Nanaimo or the folks down at Brass Iris in Esquimault is also on the roster.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am super grateful to be surrounded by wonderful creative people; one has been really instrumental in my recent adventures in illustration though! Rachel Smith (@artbyrachels) is a trans nonbinary queer and all around wonderful creative bean who inspires me every day with their artwork. They are truly special to my heartspace and it’s amazing what kind of an intimate friendship we managed to cultivate through instragram. Everything they make is amazing, their whimsical style is a joy to witness and I’m always inspired by their balance of work and play.