The Daily Zoo
Stem cell transplant at UCLA, Chris Ayers
Chris Ayers drawing the Daily Zoo at the Boston airport
Daily Zoo sketchbooks, Chris Ayers

THE STORY

 

It all happened so suddenly. One minute I was busy working as a character designer in the Hollywood film industry and the next minute I was being admitted to the UCLA Medical Center, carrying the immense weight of a leukemia diagnosis on my back. And, believe it or not, this happened on April Fool's Day.

This was the spring of 2005. I spent most of the next several months in the hospital undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy, total body radiation, and ultimately a stem cell transplant. Accompanying this were such fun things as mouth sores, extreme fatigue, fevers, chills, hair loss, bone pain, and lots and lots of vomiting. I also quickly learned to get used to needles.

 

Fortunately, my care was overseen by a competent and diligent medical staff and a vast army of friends and family surrounded me with love and support. Over the next eight months my strength and energy slowly returned and I felt like I was getting back on my feet. When the one-year anniversary of my leukemia diagnosis arrived on April 1, 2006, I decided to "commemorate" it by starting a sketchbook called The Daily Zoo. My goal was to draw one animal each day for a year. I hoped this would challenge my imagination and self-discipline but most importantly, after enduring a terrifying and arduous battle with cancer, I hoped it would provide me the focused opportunity to celebrate the gift of each healthy day by doing something I've always found to be rewarding: making art and nurturing my creativity.

Though difficult at times - mainly due to time and energy constraints - I succeeded in my goal. I drew an animal each day for a year...and beyond! It has proved to be a very therapeutic endeavor and I encourage everyone to find ways to exercise and explore their own creativity, ideally on a daily basis.


Though the project was begun purely as an intimate, personal exercise, I jumped at the chance to share it with a greater audience when the opportunity presented itself. In November, 2008 The Daily Zoo Vol. 1: Keeping the Doctor at Bay with a Drawing a Day, a collection of the first year of sketches, was published by Design Studio Press. The pages are chock full of 365 distinct critters, ranging from curious pandas to sinister hyenas, athletic aardvarks to zealous zebras, with the choice of artistic styles as diverse as the subject matter. Alongside the images, I have included commentary about my cancer experience, the sources of my artistic inspiration, and some of my creative methods. Regardless of your artistic experience, I hope this book will inspire you to get creative and feed your soul! 

 

As mentioned above, I have found it difficult to stop drawing the daily animal. I'm currently making my way day by day, animal by animal, through Year Fourteen. To that end a total of five books have been published in the Daily Zoo series, most recently with The Daily Zoo Vol. 3: Healing Together in June 2015. More info and sample pages of all the books can be found here

 

My journey with cancer and discovering the powerful healing nature of art has been an interesting one to say the least. I'm very curious to see where it leads me next...