For the past two months, a pair of California-based artists have been helping people — and each other — with cathartic illustrations and poetry on their site, Problem Glyphs.
It started almost as a joke between friends, a play on the Tumblr tradition of "ask memes," but quickly morphed into a way to help the the anonymous lost of Tumblr. The concept is simple: anyone can send their issues to Eliza Gauger, the illustrator behind the site. Gauger then draws a glyph addressing the issue, accompanied by poetry from her friend and collaborator on the project Elias IKB.
The problems tackled by Eliza and Elias range from ephemeral moments of doubt to mental health problems and more serious issues, and their responses are similarly varied. Some are light and humorous, others dark and meaningful. We spoke with the artists to discover more about the reasoning and methodology behind the project.
- I'm afraid of dying too young and missing out on everything Gauger isn't sure why she formally started Problem Glyphs. "I felt like I wanted to help," she says, "mythology and symbolism are the only thing I'm fluent in ... I felt like maybe we could help each other, the askers and I, by their prompting my drawings and my drawings prompting some kind of comfort."
- Constantly telling myself I could have done better. A futile struggle towards perfection IKB's involvement came later; "I began to appreciate more and more what she was trying to accomplish ... I wanted to help. The idea of offering absolution or benisons to complete strangers made a lot of sense to me."
- I'm afraid that I'm not a good writer and no matter what I do nothing I make will ever be inherently original or unique in any way, shape or form To date, only three problems have been rejected, all publicly. Gauger's approach is that every problem submission should be systematically and chronologically addressed, however big or small.
- I'm ashamed of my complete lack of trust in my abilities, my friends, and new people In contrast, IKB's contribution to the site is far more deliberate. "I try to work by reflex, not deliberation ... I flick through the completed glyphs several times a day until I find one that I have an immediate response to."
- I have no skills, drug abuse fucked up my memory, and I think I may have developed an E.D. cause i haven't eaten in like days even though i have bought food that i like The glyphs, all created using Alchemy, an open-source drawing program, can take anything from ten seconds to five hours to create. So far, Gauger has created around one per day, nearly all of them accompanied by an original poem from IKB.
- Fear of forever going unnoticed "Most of these problems resonate with me, and if I don't find them personally identifiable, I can always sympathize," says Gauger. The 'askers' are almost universally around the same age or younger than the illustrator, and all have similar crises.
- I don't know if what he did was rape or not but it haunts me There are a few glyphs that aren't accompanied by a poem. "My privilege and dumb luck is such that any commentary I could offer would be hollow, insincere," says IKB. To attempt to relate to some problems, specifically those involving sexual abuse, “it would be presumptuous. It would be wrong."
- I'm afraid I'll freeze myself in place Gauger says she's "immensely grateful" for the positive feedback she's had from question askers and readers alike. "I often get followup messages from the people who asked for the glyph in the first place, which is wonderful. They seem to be therapeutic, which is all I hoped for."
- I still hear my abuser's voice in my head telling me how everyone else on earth is contemptibly, grotesquely subhuman (including me.) I don't know how to get it to stop and it makes me want to scream Some 70 glyphs in, it's clear that Gauger gets as much from Problem Glyphs as she puts in. ''The symbols I use are all personal, and there are references in every glyph to my own lived experience, so as I draw out each one, it’s like opening and cleaning an old wound, so it can finally knit."
All images copyright and published with the permission of Eliza Gauger. More examples of Gauger and IKB's work can be found on their Tumblr.