On the Cusp

On the Cusp

cusp (n.)
    1.)    a point of transition between two different states
    2.)    a pointed end where two curves meet:
        a.) (architecture) a moulded projection at the point of a small arch in Gothic tracery
        b.) a cone-shaped prominence on the surface of a tooth
        c.) (anatomy) a pocket or fold in the wall of the heart or a major blood vessel that fills and distends if the blood flows backwards, so forming part of a valve
        d.) (mathematics) a point at which the direction of a curve is abruptly reversed
        e.) the two pointed ends of the crescent moon
        f.) (botany) the sharp rigid point of a leaf
    (3)    (astrology) the initial point of an astrological sign or house

(Featured Image: "On the Cusp")

    It’s a new year and many of you are new friends, so this seems like a good time to re-introduce myself along with this new piece. My name is Julian (he/him); I am an artist/illustrator, writer, lover of words, and general nerd, and Fox Spirit Design is the business I run to sell my work in order to pay my bills and continue to make more art, etc. I recently had the privilege of contributing an 8-piece series to be part of an exhibit at the Holter Museum of Art (on display from Jan 20-Mar 30, 2023), for a show featuring transgender, nonbinary, & two-spirit artists from around the state of Montana. The opening saw more than 300 people come through in a couple of hours and was an incredible experience; you can read more about it here.

Photo of Julian Keller-King's Water Works exhibit in the Holter Museum of Art: eight large narrative illustrations hang along an angled ramp with a rail down the center.
(Image: Julian's Water Works exhibit @ the Holter Museum of Art in Helena, MT)

    I live in the northwestern corner of the state, tucked away in the forest in a little family-built cottage with my wife and our assortment of animal companions and with several of my family as neighbours nearby. I love winter and snow, and I wilt like an overwatered plant in the summer, so Montana’s sometimes-temperamental weather is a good fit for me, and the wilderness on our doorstep is a constant inspiration and influence for my work. When I need a break from the studio or my current project or the news, I explore the woods with my dogs, and it never fails to clear some of the cobwebs from my mind and the foreboding from my heart.

A gold-and-white Icelandic sheepdog grins in a shaft of sunlight while standing among lush grass and trees beside a riverbank

(Image: Runi grinning in spring sunshine at the river)

    It may be because it falls so soon after the Western calendar year turns over and often coincides with some part of the Lunar New Year celebrations, but my birthday in mid-February always feels like a good time for personal reflection and goal-setting for my next trip around the flaming ball of gas that keeps us all alive as we spin through space together. It’s a big, complicated world, and it’s taken me a long time to get my feet on a path that felt like my own, but I finally feel like I have a clearer grasp on what I want my work to be for the next however-many years. 2023 feels important, the culmination of so much of what I’ve learned and produced to get to this point, but not simply a continuation of what came before; this year feels like an inflection point, my whole life poised on the cusp of… whatever comes next.
    This piece is a celebration of transitions, of aspirations, of the way new horizons can be both exciting and scary at the same time. It’s far from the only factor, but self-confidence can go a long way toward helping us stick the landing after we gather the courage to make the leap - or find ourselves taking the plunge before we think we’re ready.

2 tall fir trees in the foreground and a lower line of farther trees are black silhouettes against a twilight-blue sky with rippled clouds catching the golden-orange light of sunset.

(Image: Silhouette of fir forest against the sky at sunset)

    Many of my pieces feature forest landscapes because of my deep love for the land I call home, but there is beauty to be found wherever we go, and the immense spectrum of it is part of what makes every part so spectacular. People are like that, too. It’s one of the reasons I love travelling so much - the things that stay the same, the things that change. For this illustration I chose a southwestern desert setting, a place where mesas and great stone arches of sunset-coloured rock are sculpted into fantastical spires and columns by wind and weather, and an amazing quantity and variety of living things manage to tuck themselves into the crevices and sheltered spaces of a place that can seem barren at first glance. The hours of twilight and dawn, suspended in a liminal state between the extremes of night and day, reveal a whole hidden world. A single rainfall can transform it overnight, calling forth plants and animals that may have waited months or even years for the right conditions for their emergence. Our lives can be like that, too; a single opportunity offered at the right time, a patron putting a little extra lift under our wings to get us aloft, a favourable recommendation that adds momentum or support for the long journey we all undertake in the course of a lifetime, building the body of work that becomes our individual legacy.

On the Cusp illustration featuring a dappled grey pegasus standing on a spire of golden rock against sunset-coloured clouds and a starry twilight sky
    Any winged horse is commonly referred to as “a pegasus” in reference to the original Greek myth of Pegasus and his warrior-companion Bellerophon, but many cultures have their own stories of similar creatures (I’ll talk about those some other time). I didn’t base this illustration in any specific existing mythology; I was thinking instead of landscapes and the creatures that inhabit them, the ways our context influences what we become and how we survive. Winged horses are a fusion of elemental forces in symbolic terms, a terrestrial creature unfettered by the bonds of gravity, able to enter other realms and even attempt to reach the home of the gods, a symbol of ultimate possibility. Horses are already universal representations of speed, grace, and power in every culture in which they appear; granting them access to the skies makes them nearly-divine - but they are also traditionally partners of humanity, quintessential to the growth and continued existence of many societies.

    The things we control in our lives are such a small fraction of what’s actually going on - in our relationships, our communities, our world. We navigate an unpredictable and ever-changing environment that demands constant adaptation in real-time, and it isn’t easy. Some mistakes leave us bruised and shaken. Not every landing sticks, and we all learn some of our lessons “the hard way”. To me, the pegasus in its general sense represents that irrepressible force of movement in all our lives; the kind of relationship we cultivate with that force determines a great deal about the experience of the resulting “ride”. I’ve spent a long time feeling decidedly not in control of my own trajectory, like I was doing all I could to just stay onboard and not lose the course altogether. Now… I’ve put a lot of work into changing my relationship with myself and the context of my life. I feel a personal resonance with this piece: on the edge of something new, of so much unknown that promises to be beautiful and exciting and occasionally dangerous and frightening as well, suspended between where I’ve been and where I’m going. On the Cusp, as it were.

Sending you all love for the journey,
🦊 ~Julian

P.S. - Like this piece? Prints & cards are available on my website starting today!

P.P.S. - Don’t forget you can join my Patreon community for fun bonus content like the colouring page for this piece! 🎨

On the Cusp illustration as coloured by an 8-year-old

(Image: An alternate colour palette as rendered by my niece, Marley)


🦊 Hi, my name is Julian; my pronouns are he/him/they. I am the genderqueer/trans Montana Artrepreneur Program (MAP) certified artist behind Fox Spirit Design (@foxspiritdesign), working in both digital and mixed media to create narrative works and mythological animal portraits inspired by the beauty of nature and the inherent power of stories to affect reality. My hobbies include hiking with dogs, devouring books, getting geeky about the ways we use words, and trying to leave the world a little bit cleaner & kinder for everyone.
🎁 If you like what I do, you can find more of my work on my website, join my email list, follow me on IG and FB, or support me on Patreon.

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