The thing about Tourette syndrome that many people don’t know is that it hardly ever presents itself as uncontrollable loud swearing. I wish I knew this because I was especially well-read, and not as a result of nearly three decades of first-hand experience, but that’s my reality. My Tourette’s mostly presents itself as facial and finger tics, throat clearing, and sniffing. While I’ve experimented with different prescribed medications, nothing has helped control my tics as much as sketching. Drawing in my sketchbook is the most therapeutic, or remedial, thing that I do in my studio practice.
My tics are cyclical, and can get really severe and debilitating, especially when I feel anxious. It feels like there’s all kinds of pressure built up inside of me, and the tics are my body’s natural way of releasing the pressure. I’ve discovered that while I’m drawing, it’s as if the pressure is being released through my pen instead of my face, and it’s such a relief. My tics are embarrassing, and make me feel very self-conscious. During periods of severe cycles I don’t even like leaving the house because I know it’s only a matter of time before I see a small child in a store copying my tics, until their parent catches them and tells them to knock it off. Kids don’t know that pointing or mimicking is rude, but the fact that they notice my tics assures me that everyone else is noticing too.
I am so thankful that through my sketchbook practice I have managed to train my body to release pressure in a much less embarrassing manner, and even though as soon as I stop sketching my tics come right back, I am grateful for the short relief that drawing gives me each day. For this reason I am constantly sketching, and have filled over 1,000 sketchbook pages in the last 12 months alone.
Last month I released a book called “Remedial Sketches” that is filled with some of my favorite pages from the past year. This book is very personal because of how important sketching has become to me. It’s also like revealing a part of myself that I’ve never had a comfortable way of revealing before. The work within the book is actually a pretty accurate artistic representation of Tourette syndrome. It explores the boundaries between creative expression and an uncured neurological condition. The jagged lines and sporadic marks embody my twitches, tics and vocalizations perfectly. To me, these sketches seem as awkward and self-conscious as I feel when my tics act up in public. If you were seeing my work for the first time at an exhibit and the curator walked up to you and said “this artist has Tourette syndrome,” you would think, “that makes total sense.” In fact, I think the next time I have to write an artist statement to accompany my exhibited work I may just simply quote this hypothetical curator and leave it at that.
I know that if they come out with a cure for Tourette’s tomorrow I’ll still draw, but I do wonder if it will affect my work. Will my lines tighten? Will my marks become more constrained? Without the relief, will I enjoy drawing as much? Will I even be the same artist, and if not should I even bother with the cure?