A few weeks ago I became a godfather. Not any old godfather though, a Buddhist godfather. Maybe that's a ZenFather? No matter, it was a huge honour to be asked. My good friends Tom and Zoe had a naming ceremony for their daughter Esmé, and as part of the day the assembled guardians are asked to offer advice to the child. In my 42 years on this planet I would hope to have accumulated some wisdom along the way that might be worth passing on; but what to say?
I think being a programmer makes you a pragmatist. It seemed to me that no matter what I said on the day, would be of any use to her when she actually needs it - she's less than a year old. I wanted to offer something with permanence. But let's not make this easy. After all, the best advice is hard won. It was then I remembered Masquerade, a children's book published back in 1979 by the mercurial Kit Williams. I had spent months lost in it's pages, searching for clues to the whereabouts of the buried Masquerade Hare.
So there was the plan: wisdom, in a puzzle, in an image. And off I went to the London Graphics Centre to pick up materials. I would need: good quality paper, pencils, drawing pens and a suitable frame. Luckily I knew what I was getting into. Previous to my web developer guise I had produced quite a bit of pen and ink illustration work; mainly for RPG fanzines. The last time I'd done one though was over 10 years ago. Undaunted I started sketching out designs and mulled over what I could say, and how to represent it visually. This was so much fun!
It seemed appropriate to adopt the overall structure of the Buddhist mandala. Within that I could make references to important ideas, useful concepts, and add a dash of humour, because frankly that's a life skill.
At the centre of everything is happiness. Defining that is your own journey but I like Dan Pink’s building blocks of autonomy, mastery and purpose. Underneath (and therefore supporting) happiness is an umbrella baring the names of Esmé’s parents, Tom and Zoe. This image also provides an amusingly obtuse reference to my all-time favourite Bill Hicks quote. I’ll leave you to spot this one for yourself.
Around the edge (represented in four separate ways) is the source of all life, the sun. At the compass points of the mandala are four icons for growth, thought, luck and time. You're going to need them all. Chaos is represented by a single bee sitting asymmetrically on the page. Below all of this, adrift in [white] space, is a pale blue dot. The only splash of colour in the whole design. And at the bottom of the page Esmé's name is inscribed within the sacred geometry of the Vesica Piscis.
So what do you think... did I overdo it?
When it came to inking, what shocked me was just how bad my eyesight is these days. It's been over ten years since I did any close up ink work and just can't see the details anymore. Too much time staring at monitors instead. Muscle memory got me through though and finished in time for the ceremony.
I know all the detail is subjective and indulgent but I just had so much fun working on this that I couldn’t stop. In the end I just hope she gets as much fun poring over the details as I did with my copy of Masquerade back in 1979!