I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned to use art an as emotional release when I was a teenager. It took me a while to realize this because I was drawing long before anything “bad” happened to me. I went through a macabre-style phase following my sexual assault in high school, drawing cartoon-like pools of blood around pretty faces like a halo. I hacked together a mixed-media collage piece based around the term “fuckpuppet” the first time I was ghosted after intimacy. I literally threw paint at a canvas when I was cheated on. Creating artwork can channel anger, helping to digest and heal real life trauma. I am okay today for this reason.
I’ve simplified my style as I’ve matured. My work used to be cluttered with over-the-top details, fine lines, patterns and absolutely zero negative space, which accurately reflected my jumbled mind. I’d completely absorb myself into each piece. I’d draw for hours without stopping, pushing through hand cramps and lower back pain, to prevent myself from thinking about anything “real”. That disconnect was exactly what I needed at the time.
I also used to work solely in black ink, and now I purposely try to incorporate colour as much as possible to reflect my change in mental health. Instead of choosing sombre tones and shadows to express turmoil, I now use colourful and cute typography to open up about my most vulnerable feelings and intimate thoughts. I’ve switched to clean lines for a clean mind, but the overarching sentiment stays the same.
Nowadays most of the illustrations I create are for commercial purposes — and business is really good lately, so I’m in no position to complain. It just means that I have to find time to create personal pieces in order to not lose sight of why I started drawing in the first place.
I now create illustrations with my audience in mind as the priority. I view sharing my therapeutic illustrations online as a sort of visual advice column, if that makes sense. It’s why I created an illustration for Tumblr’s mental health campaign last year. Just because I have a negative thought, doesn’t mean it has to stay negative. I can channel negativity into creativity.
At the end of the day, reading a comment such as “Thank you, I had no idea how much I needed this today” or “I set this as the wallpaper on my phone as a daily reminder for self-care” makes everything worth it. It’s the best kind of therapy I’ve ever had, and if others can benefit from it as well?
You can view the rest of my illustration portfolio over at cargocollective.com/meganstulberg.