What Grief Feels Like

I didn’t set off knowing what I was going to create last week, but it ended up as something of a visual expression of what grief feels like.

I started off with the words “I’m okay” in my head, evolving this into the all-caps I’M OK.

I set this in 120 point Akzidenz Grotesk, using a comma for an apostrophe:

I'M OK, showing use of a comma for an apostrophe.

I sliced up some letter-sized Staples house-brand 67 lb. card stock into cards 5½ by 4¼ inches in size to print on, just large enough, give or take, to qualify as a postcard for mailing.

Since seeing a printer mix inks with a palette knife the other day, I’d been eager to try this out for myself, and so I started with white and added just the faintest touch of yellow

I'M OK in very light yellow.

Seeing that I’M OK hovering on the card, barely visible in some lights, I was struck suddenly with the feeling that a very tentative sense of “I’m okay” was something I’ve felt frequently over recent months. But it’s not always tentative: sometimes it’s very strong. And sometimes it’s halfway in the middle.

So I added a little more yellow, and printed some more obviously-yellow cards. And then added some red to get some orange cards. And then even more red to get what amounts to a bold declaration, more an “I’m okay!” than an “I’m okay.”

I'M OK, printed in declarative red.

Put together in a montage, these various shades of being okay ended up becoming something even more familiar, the ebb and flow of being okay, and not being okay, and being very okay, and then shudderingly not being okay at all. That is what grief feels like. And I accidentally found a way to express it typographically.

A set of "I'm OK" cards from a side view, in different colours, laid out on a table.


A set of "I'm OK" cards laid out, in different colours, on a table.


Frank Meeuwsen's picture
Frank Meeuwsen on August 24, 2020 - 15:38 Permalink

What a strong and clear way to express those feelings. Keep exploring these possibilities.

Chuck McKinnon's picture
Chuck McKinnon on August 24, 2020 - 16:26 Permalink

I know this range of feeling well. Thanks for giving it a tangible representation, Peter.

Andrea's picture
Andrea on August 24, 2020 - 18:22 Permalink

This is such a succinct expression of something we so often grapple to express. Bravo.

vbj's picture
vbj on August 24, 2020 - 23:03 Permalink

Color allows for such nuance (as Catherine clearly showed so effectively and beautifully). I think she'd love this, as do I. Thank you for sharing it.

Ton Zijlstra's picture
Ton Zijlstra on August 25, 2020 - 01:55 Permalink

Beautiful Peter, big hug.

elmine's picture
elmine on August 25, 2020 - 05:22 Permalink

When framed I can see it hanging on a wall in a museum. Beautiful!

Luisa's picture
Luisa on August 25, 2020 - 09:43 Permalink

Thank you for the reminder that creating is always a journey. The whole thing is beautiful.

Maryanne Fitzpatrick's picture
Maryanne Fitzpatrick on August 25, 2020 - 10:25 Permalink

im sitting in the parking lot at qeh unable to see my frail mother who is in the covid unit until they can find her a bed. My "I'm ok" is in invisible ink right now. This post is so moving and I totally get it

Catherine Boeckmann's picture
Catherine Boeckmann on August 25, 2020 - 11:24 Permalink

Thank you for sharing such a creative process, Peter. While it saddens me to know you grieve, it's also needed and such a beautiful and healthy way to express yourself. And you've given me a glimpse into how to view art in general when we don't always understand it as a viewer. It's the artist's mind, not mine.

Susan White's picture
Susan White on August 25, 2020 - 12:08 Permalink

Thank you for sharing these feelings with us.

Saunders Sarah's picture
Saunders Sarah on August 25, 2020 - 17:01 Permalink

This is lovely peter!