Illustrator Nate Creekmore on Overcoming Self-Doubt

Nate Creekmore is a gu.eber.

One of my favorite memories from the year that we lived together at Royal Arms Apartments in Nashville happened while we were at Wild Oats buying some groceries.

A soccer mom beamed up at Nate, who is 6’6” tall, and asked, “Do you play basketball?”

Nate played in high school, and though he would not hesitate to dunk on you now, he has grown weary of the question over the ten years since he graduated. Yes, he’s bi-racial. Yes, he’s tall. Yes, he’s broad-shouldered and athletic-looking. No, that doesn’t mean he plays basketball.

Nate turned to the lady with a big smile and proceeded to tell her how he was playing in an Italian league and was home for a holiday to visit family.

She thought that was just great. He and I laughed the rest of the day.

Some people are casual drawers. They doodle in class. If they go to a restaurant with a paper tablecloth, they might sketch a caricature of the waiter.

Nate is no more a casual illustrator than Kobe Bryant is a casual basketball player. His comic strip Maintaining won the Scripps Howard Award For Excellence in College Cartooning two consecutive years in 2003 and 2004 and the National Collegiate Press award for Best College Comic in 2005. Maintaining was later syndicated nationally and internationally. Nate even made the Scripps Howard Foundation Wikipedia page under the name Nathaniel R. Creekmore.

I’ll probably have to create my own Wikipedia page, but Nate is what all the women at Lipscomb University where we met would call “beautiful.”

Nate is beautiful. By the time I would be awake enough to notice the gray hairs that were beginning to appear on my head, compliments of my high school English students, Nate had been up for three hours reading, working out, and, of course, drawing. Each morning at 4am, he’d start practicing his craft. I’ve never met anyone who worked harder at what he loved.

If it weren’t for Nate, I may never have had the pleasure of watching a Thai martial artist named Tony Jaa jump over cars in Ong Bak or strap shards of elephant bones to his forearms to punish four evil giants in Tom Yum Goong. Nate fanned into flame my love of kung fu movies.

What was most strange and wonderful about living with Nate was knowing that he’d be famous one day. I imagined his biographer coming and asking me what it was like to live with him.

“He loves shrimp,” I would say. “He is diligent in keeping his skin moisturized. He chooses his words with care, and they always carry a full cargo of feeling and wit. Nate is respectable in every sense of the word, and his car is the cleanest that you will ever see.”

Nate is a true original, and being counted among his friends has been my great honor. I’ve enjoyed singing his praises because the man himself would never dare. When is the last time you saw an illustration of Barack Obama wearing traditional Japanese battle armor, wielding a katana, and leading Colin Powell and Condi Rice into the fray? That’s what I thought. Have you ever seen the members of Sigur Ros play croquet? You can. If you haven’t already fallen in love with Ziyi Zhang, you will. Be sure to check out Nate’s work.

Find a way to support Nate. Buy his work at Commission him. Support and encourage his art however you can because you will have made a contribution to greatness.

Now some words from the man.

Nate’s thoughts on the Creative Process

The genesis of an idea is simple or grand, and typically it disappears before it has fully emerged; or rather it stops quickly after having barely begun. My attempts to capture an idea at the start amount to odd, truncated marks made with a pencil, brush, or broken bit of charcoal. What appears on paper never matches what appeared in the back of my mind.

As I stare at that blank expanse of paper—and it does seem like an expanse—I hesitate.

I doubt myself.

An uncomfortable but persistent thought enters my mind: what if I actually am a hack? Or, if I’m not quite a hack, am I less capable than I ought to be?

The blank(ish) page is a coy smile suggesting the similarity between its lack of content and my own. After all, millions upon millions of artists are better than I am. These multitudes are probably engaged even now in doing what I’m attempting to do, and they’re doing it with ease and confidence that, for me, are unknown.

Even if I am somehow able to breathe life into the idea and transfer it from my mind to paper, there’s a good chance no one will ever see it. If someone does stumble across my work, why should I expect her to care? If the depiction of the idea matters only to me, why not leave the image inside where it is and forget the struggle altogether?

That’s what creating art is—a struggle; fits of self-doubt accompanied by morbid questions of purpose, significance, and the creeping notion that the whole endeavor will be a colossal waste of effort, resources, and, worst of all, time.

What an absurd occupation it is to be an artist. How absurd to want to create what I want to create and by this very act demand that other people find my art worthwhile!

But none of that matters when I finally put pencil, brush, or a bit of broken charcoal to paper and begin to make something from nothing. Let there be light.


I would also add: Let there be Nate.

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