Can you tell me about your artistic background and mental health?
I'm a queer, neurodivergent and emotionally driven illustrator, working with watercolour on paper or cardboard mostly. I have a personal awareness of the social impacts of disability & mental illness, therefore I try to address discrimination, stigmatisation and ignorance through my artwork, in a way that is light and tolerable.
I've personally suffered from a lifetime of mental illness & ADHD, which is translated directly into my art. I didn’t finish high school, as I struggled with learning. At 17 I took GNVQ Art instead, which is equivalent to two GCSEs. From there I found a real love for art, as I was able to engage in something without losing interest. I then did a fine art degree, which helped me learn in a way I had never been able to do previously.
Over the last year I have gained confidence in art making as well as in socialising, and I’m determined to use my artistic motivation as a means of helping myself and others with mental illness and/or disability. Years ago I absolutely never imagined or believed I would one day be able to do this, so this has shown me that change, growth and recovery can happen. I plan to finish the final year of my art therapy masters next year.
How is your work influenced by mental health?
My art has always been connected to mental health & disability, and is informed by four main strands that are all linked:
My own personal lived experience, recovery and therapy, particularly group art therapy.
Growing up with my family’s experiences of mental health and disability.
My professional experience of working with clients within the mental health
Relevant training to learn more about mental health, disability and creativity.
Do your creative practices help with your mental health and wellbeing?
For me the process of making art is a therapeutic experience, it is calming and helps me stay grounded. Art is one of the few subjects, along with mental health, that I can focus on and enjoy doing or researching, and is not a struggle for me. Art definitely helps with my wellbeing. However, I can’t make art when I’m really unwell as I’m not in the right headspace. Before the pandemic, I hit rock bottom emotionally and was hospitalised twice; when survival is your priority, I’m not sure art-making ranks too high. However, as I began to recover, art became an important tool for processing difficult experiences. I depict the associated feelings with a combination of watercolour and pens. I’m later able to work through these in a cognitive way by contextualising the images with words.
With Covid-19, and everyday feeling like groundhog day, I threw myself back into art. I have been drawing everyday now for a year. This has been a mix of having time by myself, feeling isolated and turning to art; such as creating characters to feel less alone. I feel lucky that my recovery coincided with the start of the pandemic; permission to take time and focus on me, learning how to handle my life and realising my boundaries.
Work spotlight: ‘Entitlement’
This is one of paintings from my most recent series. It is an A3 watercolour and pen illustration, expressing my feelings during the last year. Creating this image helped me process what was happening at the time. The illustration contains various subtle references to my mental health at the time of painting, but the overarching theme was the mental health of women.
In London, March 2021, Sarah Everard was murdered by a police officer. I can’t really tell if I was shocked by this and the police response. I think, like so many others, I kinda expected nothing less from a person/organisation in a position of power and the entitlement to abuse it.
This time we refused to stay quiet, passive and shameful. We collectively expressed our anger, through the remarkably civil means of vigils and protests. Except even that level of assertiveness was too bold, considering what then ensued.
During the Pandemic, there were a few occasions on which I felt it was important and ethical for me to break the lockdown rules, the first being the BLM protests, emerging from the murder of George Floyd. The second was this one; it disgusts me, for the reason that so many women could relate to the feeling of powerlessness at the hands of men.
Can you tell me about a commission you have recently completed?
In December 2020 I was commissioned by the Wellcome Collection to create a series of five A3 watercolour illustrations to go alongside stories from disabled writers. This was a really big opportunity for me and at this time I was working with disabled children in an inclusion playground, so I felt a lot of empathy with the stories being told. They were also relatable to my personal experiences growing up with disability within my family and this felt very poignant to me.
After reading each story I had to create an illustration to feature alongside it, drawing themes and ideas from the stories. I was given free rein to make the works, which was liberating and fitted with how I normally work without a plan and just seeing what happens. This style of working had the perfect balance of structure with permission for self-expression and self-direction.
Any lessons you have learned from your artistic journey and ongoing practice?
Here are a list of lessons I feel I have learnt since my art practice started again when Covid-19 hit:
Tolerating rejection, dealing with rejection and expecting rejection.
Planning for the future and what i’d like to happen next.
Seeking out opportunities I can apply to.
Talking about my art with others in safe spaces.
Reaching out to friends and family for support.
Learning to accept the support from others.
Knowing that doing even just ten minutes of art each day is good for my wellbeing and mental health - and I will continue this.