“I think art means creativity and having a way to express yourself and find yourself. It’s just fresh air in my life. It’s a way to switch off and let go. It’s a break from the pressure to be perfect.”
How did you two meet?
Kate: We met back in 2013 when I was involved in RAG for the University. Naomi was one of our star volunteers… I have memories of an elf costume!! Between 2013-14 our paths regularly crossed through different volunteering committees, events, and projects. We had lots of causes and interests in common as well as personal struggles that we were both facing. Naomi was a real support when I was in the hospital and we began the snail-mail portion of our friendship!!
Naomi: We kept snail-mailing but drifted a little once Kate finished uni and I took a leave of absence, and life kept happening and made it a little hard to stay in touch. But then in September, we ended up going to the same support group. We got back in touch when we decided that crochet was essential for survival, and I taught Kate how to do it. Kate was amazing at staying in touch, and coming over, when my mental health took a nosedive and began to show me the journals and art activities she’d done while inpatient. That was the start of the journaling era of our friendship and now we meet up most weekends to make some form of a creative mess.
Journals are usually thought to be a private space, but you two have created an Instagram account that is full of beautiful art pieces inside journals. Is there any hesitation about being vulnerable in that kind of “sacred space” when you know you’ll be posting it online? And how did you come up with the idea/format in the first place?
Naomi: Thank you so much! I think initially I was really nervous, especially the first one I posted… but the response has been incredible. The whole journal community is so kind and supportive. It’s shown me that even when I think I’m the only person to have ever felt a certain way – I’m absolutely not. There are others who have felt that way, too. My favorite thing is when people tell me that I’ve inspired them to start journaling, too.
Kate: I totally agree, it’s such a great feeling to have positive feedback from really talented journalers! I think I’ve found I’ve gradually felt braver and able to post more personal pieces. There are definitely parts of my journals that stay personal to me, but I’m finding that sharing the pages is a really freeing and therapeutic process.
Naomi: Using journals was originally an idea from the mental health team. But I really like it because it allows me to be progressive, and to see that progress. Also, it’s really contained – if each piece was on a canvas I’d have run out of space in my flat very quickly! I can take it with me to appointments, or to the GP. It’s cheap too! I just bought one journal a couple of months ago, and only now is it running out. Finally, I suppose I’m less ‘precious’ about it. It allows me to break through the fear of not being perfect because if it’s a naff page, I can either work on it a bit more or just move one (or try to!). Finally, I force myself to sit down and do it daily, because I think it’s good for my creativity and good for my mental health.
Kate: I still feel like I’m still developing in terms of my ability and confidence with my artwork. I think the thing about journals is they’re a small canvas and they are really adaptable. You can easily paint over, rip out a page or transform it into something new and different. Some days I struggle to know exactly what to paint, so it’s really helpful to be able to begin a number of pages and go back to them when it feels like the right time to fill them in. I’m glad I picked journaling, otherwise, my house could be full of canvasses by now!
What is your creative process like?
Kate: I like to take inspiration from Pinterest, Instagram, snippets of quotes, song lyrics, conversations, and my own writing. I think my creative process is a bit of a jumble. I try to give myself the freedom to use it for whatever it needs to be on the day. I find that if I am too structured or try to force myself to be creative, I get stuck or blocked; whereas if I just begin with splodging whatever color feels right all over the page, I will get to something that feels right in the end. I’m still a perfectionist at heart, so it can be hard to allow myself to make something imperfect and not feel the need to keep editing and altering the page as I go along. I am really learning to love the imperfect and find ways to accept myself through the pages I create. It really has felt like a weight has lifted off my shoulders at times and I’ve definitely found it beneficial for my mental health.
Naomi: I have a word document on my laptop where I save quotes and a folder on my phone for things I find on Tumblr and Pinterest. I flick through either one on days when I don’t really know how I feel or when I’m struggling for information. I force myself to sit down daily, even if I don’t know how I feel, or I’m tired because I think it’s important for both my creativity and mental health. I tend to spread my tablecloth on the floor, pop something on Netflix/catch up TV, put my phone on silent and go into journal-land. I don’t tend to really plan it – I did when I first started but not really anymore – sometimes I have a bit of a plan in my head or an idea comes to me during the day, but normally I just go with the flow. The time it takes can vary anywhere from an hour to a couple of hours depending on how I’m feeling and how much time I have.
How does creating this type of art make you feel?
Naomi: I think initially it made me feel anxious. I was anxious about it being right or perfect. I was anxious about people seeing it. I was anxious about expressing stuff in the ‘right’ way. As I’ve done it more, I’ve begun to relax into it, and now it can really help me to chill out and unwind. I suppose I reflect on it in some ways because I do look through it. It’s interesting to see how I’ve progressed since I started, and I almost feel a little proud of it now which is huge for me! I guess I sort of informally think about what’s worked, what hasn’t, what I might use again in future and what I won’t bother with. I also go through it with my GP every week, and sometimes go through it with other people who support me, so I suppose in that way I reflect on it, too.
Kate: As I’ve said, I can feel a real sense of freedom when I create art. There can be a sense of getting something out of my head that has been stuck there or been whirring round. I regularly try and do lots of different things at once, so it really makes me focus on asking myself, ‘what is it that I’m thinking right now?’. I can get quite lost in what I’m doing and be absorbed by it. It’s an almost meditative process. I think using Instagram to document our pages has given me a reason to look back over them to select the next page I will share. Often I like to create a page, let it dry and then put it away. I don’t think looking at what I’ve done right away feels right, I think once I’ve finished I need a bit of a full stop before I can go back. Part of this is from a perfectionist point of view to try and prevent me over analyzing it, but there’s definitely a more cathartic reason too. I think I need to walk away to feel like I’ve finished and like it’s ok to leave whatever I’ve just created in my journal. Of course, not all of my pages are deeply personal and full of feeling. There are definitely some I want to share right away because they are particularly pretty or contain a quote I love or a new technique. Perhaps, in this way, it really depends on the day and the page.
Is there anything you hope people will take away from viewing your art?
Naomi: My biggest hope is that it inspires others to try using arts as a means of expressing & communicating how they feel. Since starting journaling, I realized that I haven’t been communicating well with those around me very well. I often get very frustrated and sad and stuck because I feel like I can’t put words to my feelings, but art has unlocked that a little. I’m slowly being able to communicate a little bit more and I hope that through sharing my work others maybe try it too. Maybe it can help to ease the frustration a little and somewhat soften the horrible, lonely, rocky road that is living with mental illness.
Kate: I spent a long time feeling quite alone with my struggles, so I really hope it’s a positive and resilient message as well as a really honest one. I agree totally with Naomi, in that I hope people can look at our page and my artwork, and find the courage and inspiration to share their own story or use art journaling to improve their mental wellbeing too. I hope people can identify their own struggles and not feel as alone or isolated.
Art materials used:
Acrylic, gesso, tissue paper, textured papers/card, distress spray, polyfiller, paint pens/gel pens, sharpies, newspapers, magazines, photos/photo negatives, printed words/letters, brusho, inks, stolen wallpaper samples, modpodge, decopatch, random things from around the house (e.g. tissue, toilet roll, string, old CDs, cocktail sticks, baby wipes, plaster tape).