‘Art Life’ asks what it means to be an artist


Art Life

Catherine Ocelot, 208 pgs, Conundrum Press, conundrumpress.com, $20

Art Life, a work of “autofiction with a lot of candor,” is an endearing graphic novel about the artist’s journey of self-discovery through visual art, the product of which the reader holds before them. Told through a series of conversational vignettes, Art Life invites us to eavesdrop on the impactful moments Ocelot had while writing the very book we are read- ing and the result is a clever meta-narrative about making art.

The pace is gentle and meandering, the stuff of life. Ocelot lovingly parents her daughter, Billie, navigates romance, and processes family tensions. She also discusses the challenges of being an artist with other creatives in her friend circle. They express shared insecurities about facing rejection, finding one’s voice, handling the success of others, and actually creating the work rather than talking about it. Taken individually, the interactions in each vignette might seem mundane, but the patient will be rewarded. As the book unfolds, these moments collectively impart wisdom and that support and uplift Ocelot throughout her creative process.

In the absence of panels, Ocelot’s vibrant watercolour and ink illustrations contract and expand to fill each page, shrinking to depict intimate scenes of dialogue and broadening across the fold to let us linger and reflect in natural landscapes or serene interiors. Characters are whimsically portrayed as faceless bird and fishlike creatures with human legs and scaly, jewel-toned wings. Even without facial features, they are immensely expressive.

“Are you an artist?” a girl asks Ocelot while she sketches. “I don’t know Kiki, I can’t say,” the author replies, a response that will surely resonate with many. For anyone on their own creative path who has ever struggled with imposter syndrome or writer’s block, Art Life is a heart-warming and feel-good story that will bolster your spirits.