You know what would be great? If we all had some way to remind ourselves to do the basic self care things like go outside or drink water. Who or what could be up for that important of a position? The mental health fairy, of course! We had the chance to talk to Holly Chisholm about her artwork, mental health, and her idea behind this character. Click read more to check out the full interview.
Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your first memories of creating art.
My name is Holly Chisholm. I’m 26 and currently living with my boyfriend, our cockatiel Larry and two dwarf hamsters (Cous Cous and Quinoa) in Mesa, AZ. I grew up in Austin, Texas originally and have always been interested in art. In second grade I begged my mom to let me take art lessons because all the girls at my school could draw cuter ladybugs than I could. I guess I just wanted to be good at drawing. Anyways, I’ve been drawing ever since, and went to Savannah College of Art and Design, graduating with a BFA in Industrial Design.
I noticed a post on your Instagram that said you were diagnosed with depression about a year ago. When did you decide to start illustrating your mental health and did that diagnosis have an impact on your decision to do so?
After leaving college in 2015 I began struggling with depression and finding friends. When I moved out to California in late 2016 I went through a bad breakup and started seeing a therapist who diagnosed me with depression and ADHD. Around that time I was miserable, and was inspired by the comic artist Josh Engel who seemed to capture how I was feeling in his beautiful and simple comics. It was January at the time and for a new year’s resolution I decided that I would draw comics as a form of journaling to document how I was feeling.
Since you began concentrating on this particular theme, how has it affected your own mental health and recovery? Has it been easier to deal with certain things post-getting used to externalizing and putting faces to depression and anxiety?
For me one of the most difficult things about depression is feeling as if I am lazy and not getting anything done. I started doing daily comics as a kind of “proof” to myself that if I could do at least one 15 minute drawing a day, that I was still making progress. Drawing has always been a strong part of my identity and at the time I hadn’t been drawing very often and felt as if I was losing a key part of myself. Doing these comics, even though they were small, helped me get back in touch with a core part of my identity and really helped me express what I was feeling at the time. I often go back and re-read through my comics and realize how far I have come, and notice how distorted my thoughts can be when I am feeling low. At first I was scared that people would think that I was being too much of a downer, but I’ve actually found that a lot of people get comfort from my comics because they are going through the same things I am. I get lots of touching messages from readers that make me feel less alone in my journey.
What do you think drew you (no pun intended) to this style of expression vs. abstract or watercolor, etc? How does the process of creating a dialogue or direct representation of how you feel feel like the right choice?
I used to be really into poetry as a way to express my feelings. I view my comics as a kind of “illustrated” poetry that gives me the ability to use visual metaphors for how I’m feeling. My characters also give me a way to separate out my thoughts more clearly and give them a voice. Whenever I have been thinking a depressive or anxious thought, now I can draw them and recognize that some of my thoughts are not coming from me, but rather my mental illness. I actually do paintings sometimes but those are more for my own enjoyment. My comics are more of a way of working through my feelings with words rather than pure abstractions.
Let’s talk about the mental health fairy. First of all, this thing is genius, and I want one. Can you tell people a little bit about that creature and what inspired it?
Mental health fairy came about because I feel like sometimes people think that there are “magical” ways to cure depression. In his first appearance he tells the reader “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GO OUTSIDE!” as a way to help combat anxiety. Obviously this is good advice, but often even the “simplest” of tasks can be difficult for people with mental illness. Mental health fairy is the (somewhat nagging) voice that tells me to do the obvious things I know I should be doing to get better but often struggle to do. As a result I often feel guilt for not having the energy to live up to mental health fairy’s standards.
Is there anything you hope people will take away from viewing your art?
I hope that people might recognize that they might be depressed as well, and feel like they can get help from a therapist or psychiatrist. It was really scary for me to accept that I might need medication at first, because I thought it would change who I was. I just want people to know that that’s not the case, and not to give up if one medication doesn’t work.
What art materials do you use?
I used to use micron pens to do my line art and a pink copic marker for color. Now I use an iPad pro with the app Procreate to draw and color my comics.