live fast, die young, avoid a humiliating back spasm flow chart
Enjoy one or two of these, and the stories that go with them. (Illustration: Brendan Leonard)

The 10 Best Semi-Rad Illustrations From 2022

From easy cheese to mountain metaphors

live fast, die young, avoid a humiliating back spasm flow chart
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I finally bought myself a new iPad this past week. I’ve been using the same one for six years—which I bought in December 2016 so I could make digital illustrations and share them on social media. When I paid $1,200 for it at the Apple Store in Denver, I remember thinking, “This better be worth the investment.” Back then, Instagram was still in its halcyon days, and I was having a blast thinking up goofy charts and graphs and sharing them with a growing audience.

Since then, I’ve created probably something like a thousand illustrations, and some of them have ended up on calendars, coffee mugs, t-shirts, greeting cards, and the social media accounts of legitimate outdoor gear companies. Although my stuff might not be what you’d think of when you talk about “real artists,” it’s been fun for me—even just for the personal value of getting me into a flow state I’d imagine people experience while using adult coloring books.

I’m on Instagram less and less these days, as it seems to be in a perpetual identity crisis, pushing creators to make Stories, and then Reels, and apparently soon content to make it more like BeReal, and it becomes more and more confusing to navigate, and my drawings become less visible and probably less relevant. I used to put up three new drawings every week, and now it’s hard to get motivated to do one a week. So when my old iPad started crapping out, I definitely had a hard time justifying buying a slick, expensive new one. Sort of like how you splurge on a new bike or pair of skis when you’re riding or skiing 30 days a year, and time goes on, and you find yourself doing other things, and maybe aren’t biking or skiing as much, and you still love it, but your old gear works fine for just a handful of days per year, right?

But drawing has become part of the way I want to tell stories. Instagram or no, I still like coming up with visual interpretations of experiences and ideas. So I bought a new iPad, and it’s supposed to arrive in a couple days. I’m going to use it. And this old one, which can’t back itself up any more, and has become more and more glitchy over the past six months, is going to get plugged into a speaker and relegated to being a sort of digital jukebox by our dinner table.

This is a roundabout way of saying: Normally, at the end of each year, I put together a post of my best illustrations of the past 12 months, and in the past, they’ve been mostly single-panel drawings I put on the aforementioned social media app that people used to use to share photos. But this year, most of them are parts of larger stories, or one in a series of illustrations. Which I think will probably be a trend going forward. I hope you enjoy one or two of these, and the stories that go with them. Thanks for reading my stuff in 2022.

live fast, die young, avoid a humiliating back spasm flow chart
(All illustrations: Brendan Leonard)

From “There’s No Way I Could Have Seen This Totally Predictable Injury Coming


My dog stuffed animal vs wolf dial, closer to stuffed animal

From “Losing a Dog Is the Hardest Thing


Brendan Leonard running up a hill photo illustration. Headline: "Man Dies For Metaphor"

From “A Love Letter to My Favorite Trail


Cool J/Bean venn diagram ("LL" in center)
Easy cheese nutrition facts illustration

From “A List of Semi-Liquid Energy Gel Alternatives, for Some Reason


Running: a story of transformation illustration. Text: When I was growing up I didn't have that gazelle-like body and effortless stride that made people say: "now that's what a runner looks like." But now after years and years and thousands of miles of running, I still don't.
Runner with 5 gallon bucket illustration

From “How Are We Carrying Water When We Run?


The race you wanted vs the race you got illustration, both glasses half full/empty of water

From “We Interrupt Your Expectations to Bring You Your Actual Marathon


Finishing the thing vs starting the thing chart
Zoom in on mountain showing more mountains illustration

From “Adventures in Radical Incrementalism

Lead Illustration: Brendan Leonard

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