Epiphanies, for the most part, are pretty wonderful things. It was just over a year ago, eating a bowl of Moules Et Frites (Mussels with Fries), on holiday in Paris with my girlfriend Liz, that I realised I could quite easily spend the rest of my life with her. Whether it was the haze of the beer buzz, or simply the wind-down from exploring one of the most beautiful cities I've ever been in, one thing was for certain – I was feeling pretty set. I just needed the right way of asking the question, and a bit of time to work it all out. One definite intention was proposing through illustration. I'd like to think of it as two of my favourite things in life in coming together for the one goal.
The worst part of lending so much of my life to my own imagination is the constant loss of sleep, thinking. There's a clinical term (that I can't seem to remember) for the big ideas you get before you fall asleep at the end of the day, and this particular night was a classic example of it. Whenever this occurs, I get restless and end up trying to convince myself that if the idea is good enough, I'll remember it in the morning. If I don't remember it, it probably wasn't worth it. So naturally the first opportunity to have pen and paper in front of me, lead to this 'bridge'.
The plan was to create a series of images that I could work on at home, without giving away too much about the end (folded) result. The images would act both individually and as a series of captured moments of the irrelevant and mundane, utilising street-signs, strange signage and various forms of odd-ball graffiti to spell out the proposal. And naturally, when she'd ask me what I was working on, I could easily say "oh, I'm practising my hand created type because it needs A LOT of practice" and I'd be out of trouble. The hardest trick was working out how I could form the word 'MARRY' because just putting it into an individual image would blow my unique cover.
The idea originally started as over 50 panels in a linear comic book style of story. I realised this was going to be biting off more than I could chew. The blue panels are the ones that would fold together, with the red ones that hide behind, creating the foundations for the 'bridge'.
I convinced myself to stick to a much more plausible 7 panels, and with two weeks until we flew out to Bali for Liz's birthday (the day I was set on popping the question), I got to work. During the evening commutes home, I'd crank out the sketchbook and draw whatever came to my mind that day. These would start as thumbnails and eventually take a larger and slightly less rough form, taking samples from buildings I'd seen or people doing random things, and with my usual drawing bank of inspiration in the back of my mind.
Once I'd get home, I'd pick out the sketches I liked the most and light-box them onto firmer paper. From here I'd work up a few finals before I'd break out the brush and and pens, carefully inking them and making them look as simple but as natural as possible. I probably could've saved the time by doing this digitally, but frankly I needed the practice and I think my brush work brings across a bit more of my personality than a wacom ever could.
With about 3 days left, I managed to use the after-hours and some late nights running a consistent colour palette across the board, and carefully laid it all together in InDesign, so it would print and fold perfectly.
The final print (with cover and back cover) came to just over 2 and a half metres (approx 8ft), and had to be scored accurately on both sides so it could fold up, fold outwards, and fold into shape quickly and easily. My intention was to lay it out on the hotel bed while she was out of the room, and get her to fold it together into the 'bridge', with the message becoming more and more obvious as it came together.
The hardest part was keeping my excitement at a low simmer and maintaining the secret for the first half of the holiday. I'd picked up the ring 2 weeks before we flew out, and kept it hidden out of sight (and mind, almost) until we packed. When the day came around, I was a nervous wreck. At around 2pm in our hotel room, after necking a beer at a nearby bar, I'd laid the extended piece, unfolded across the hotel bed. I hid the ring underneath the envelope behind me and I asked Liz to fold it together to match the structure in the diagram on the cover.
Naturally, with my luck, this didn't quite work and she quizzically held one end in hand and said she didn't get it, so I awkwardly fumbled around with the piece, slowly assembling it together, like my grandfather with an IKEA bookshelf. As I pulled the two ends together to keep it stable, she read the final message and put her hands across her face in shock, which I didn't quite know how to read. It looked like it could've been either "of course" or "dude, what the fuck?!"
From behind me, I smoothly took the ring from underneath it's hiding spot and got down on one knee and told her I want to spend the rest of my life with her.
The following 5 seconds felt like an hour of free-falling, fumbling for the parachute chord, my heart was in my throat as I waited for a response. Then, and only after telling me off for being so cheesy and proposing to her in Bali of all places, she said "of course".
While it has to be said that just asking the question and putting some bling on show can be enough to get the 'yes' answer, it was never the way I wanted to remember doing it, and the loss of sleep and midnight epiphanies were well worth doing it in a way to that had my name all over it. Now I have the tricky job of wedding invitations. Should've realised getting engaged also means getting married. Ha!
I'd like to thank everyone who has made this possible, in particularly those of my friends who did know (and more importantly kept it a secret!) and the always amazing Jeremy Wortsman and Matthew Shannon at the Jacky Winter Group who made it possible for me to afford such a beautiful engagement ring doing something I love – drawing. Most of all, I'd like to thank my beautiful Fiancèe Lizzy, for saying 'of course'.