Satoru Nihei | Essays

On Darkness, Doubt, and Design

this beautiful darkness (04.13.2017)

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. —T. S. Eliot

Two years ago, I wanted to quit being a graphic designer. I couldn’t see myself reaching anywhere close to where I wanted to be with my design practice. I was losing my faith, my sense of hope, my belief in myself. And I was exhausted.

I had been fighting depression, which felt inescapable and endless. Whenever I tried to get rid of it, it clung close. When I fought back, it hit back even harder. If—and when—I finally managed to get my head above water, it pushed me right back under. This has been an ongoing losing battle for me, and I was beginning to despair.

And then, about a year ago, I decided to try to shift course by immersing myself deeply in making work. One night, I spent about an hour designing a poster without any rules or preconceived notions. The result was such a disaster that I laughed after I finished it, which made me curious: what would happen, I wondered, if I set out to make really bad posters—ugly ones like some of us did back in the ’80s and the early ’90s? I sent that first horrible poster to my friend and mentor, Rick Vallicenti, proposing that I spend an hour or so three or four days a week to make a poster, posting the outcome every Sunday.

Rick liked the idea, but suggested instead that I do it every day for a year. “It will change your life,” he said. And he was right.

momentum (04.09.2017)
note: momentum is beautiful

Initially, this daily undertaking seemed to be going well enough, but my depression came creeping back. Last summer, it crushed me once again, to the point where I had to stop my daily poster practice. I was barely functioning or sleeping. (Instead, I checked myself into the emergency room at a nearby hospital.)

That same summer, with help from some friends in New York, I gave up my beloved cats, consolidated my personal possessions, and left the city I loved so much. Over the next six months, a friend's family in Arkansas provided a safe place for me to heal and recover.

The week after I left New York, I picked up my daily poster project again. The commitment to challenge myself—to face my fears and defeat my self-doubts through the very act of creation—was perhaps the only reason I was able to come back. I simply owed it to myself to follow through and complete what I had originally set out to do.

I could have easily been defeated by my depression. Instead—with more than 300 posters to show for this effort—I can say that while depression still persists, I have not surrendered to it. This experience has taught me that there is another way—a more meaningful and deeply rewarding way—that comes not from quitting design, but from embracing it.

being (10.09.2016)
note: The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are. —Joseph Campbell

doing doing (03.27.2017)
note: If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

healing (03.24.2017)
note: this poster was for Jennifer Sterling

i am legal (02.03.2017)
note: I am legal, ain’t I?

i kid you not (03.17.2017)
note: Seriously I am not kidding you.

leap (03.26.2017)
note: hop, step and…

magic (09.25.2016)
note: trust that magic exists in life

no time for that (02.08.2017)
note: ain’t nobody got time and money for that

onward (03.21.2017)
note: keep it movin’

this is your life (12.25.2016)
note: This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. A quote from Fight Club (novel) Let’s do what matters.

this was freedom (12.16.2016)
note: this was freedom. losing all hope was freedom. This is also from Fight Club (novel)

today (03.06.2017)
note: Unlike any other…

unstoppable (03.10.2017)
note: no one can stop me now…

well played (03.31.2017)
note: This poster came out better than I expected when I finished it. One of my favorite.

Posted in: Graphic Design

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