Selective Mutism Project
For a part of my Specialist Project, I briefed myself to produce illustration about Selective Mutism, a severe social anxiety disorder I care about bringing awareness to as a mostly recovered Selective Mute myself. Growing up, there was little to no awareness of it which left me feeling isolated, that I didn’t fit in and like I wasn’t normal. I know from my research that others feel this way, so I want to use illustration to bring comfort to some of them; knowing that you aren’t suffering alone in suffering. This would have made a massive difference to my life if it existed at the time. But as covered here, much of the illustration that exists about SM lacks. It’s not inspiring. Digging out my old therapy files, I found some shocking illustration attempts for organisations like the NHS. It could be a project to work on in future-to re-illustrate these NHS documents. This project could grow for not only medical paths but in exquisitely made books for parents of SM sufferers and the SM sufferers themselves. I could also see it comforting adult SM sufferers who don’t get much attention; there is a misconception that only children suffer it.
It was interesting to go back (images above) and find things I wrote when my Selective Mutism was at its worse. It really got me thinking about the journey to getting better, the narrative in that, and reaffirmed how even then I was wanting to raise awareness and now I have a way that I can.
I created Pinterest boards here which included a range of starting points–quotes on mutes or quiet people, illustration inspiration, ideas on composition, colour, etc.
Limited colour palette – contemporary
For one of my principles, I wanted to limit my colour palette and use a lot of blue and grey tones to nod to the non-existence of the Mute whose voice isn’t heard, whilst using a popping pink that complimented the more muted tones. I wanted the colour to be contemporary and a fit for publications like Nobrow Press; gorgeous when exquisitely printed. I also experimented with and built on my texture bank to bring a hand touch to work that could otherwise come across too digital. I discussed the importance of texture giving illustration more value and making it more cherishable and collectible here.
Textures from my texture bank.
I use texture to give my illustrations the characteristics of Patina– fading, toning and other signs of age which are felt to be natural. Not only does this add depth to the illustration, but it gives it that desirable hand touch quality; we prefer when we go and see a piece of art in person than have a reproduction printed on a postcard, or when you get little personal touches like a finger print on the back of a print. The artist’s touch. We seem to prefer things like this which are cherishable and collectible. Prints we want to display on our walls and keep forever. It’s like when people sand blast brand new guitars to give it the effect of being aged and well-loved. Or when Apple uses Skeumorphism to design its apps, drawing on the retro and familiar which helped its products become prominent. I built on my texture bank and experimented with brushes in Photoshop to try to find these qualities to add to my illustrations, using the most successful ones to draw my characters and add in little details.
Experimenting with brushes in Photoshop to find tactile marks that bring a personal touch.
In history, people who suffered mental illnesses were thought to be possessed by demons and spirits.
While I went deep into the history of mental illness, I also looked at how contemporary illustrators have approached mental illnesses. Gemma Correll illustrates anxiety in a way that is humorous and sensitive which I found inspiring as this is the tone I’m aspiring for in my own studio practice. With mental illness still facing a lot of stigma today, it’s important to represent it in an understanding and relatable light. I like how she portrays these things through image, avoids the obvious clichés and how they’re playfully illustrated. Looking at existing mental illness illustration also helped me avoid visual clichés.
I focused on illustrators who are relevant today like Blexbolex, who use texture in their work and how they do it. I think it’s successful and adds a level of sophistication. I also liked how Blexbolex uses text and image together in an interesting way. It lead me to decide to detract all words from my illustration, such as on the school posters, signs, and so on to reflect the world of the mute. If I was to illustrate the recovery of the mute, I would gradually add word to the image. It’s something to build on. Edward Hopper is someone else I looked to inspiration for because he paints isolation so effectively. I was inspired to try to incorporate this kind of composition in my work with the mute whose back faces the audience, so we don’t see the face, trying to make the fingers and posture echo this, but using space in the composition as well to add to the illusion.
Edward Hopper paints isolation
I also took inspiration from immersing myself in concertinas and chronological narratives, the most famous the Bayeux Tapestry. This helped me figure out ways to transition between narrative points and be more creative about it as I found it easy to fall into the rut of doing the same thing over and over. I had to go away and come back with a fresh approach, switch project or look at some inspiring work when I hit a creative wall.
My aim initially was to illustrate the perspective of the mute on one side of the concertina and the perspective of the non-mute on the other side, but as my Lisbon project grew far bigger than I expected, I decided it would be more realistic given the timescale to combine the two.
I began by drawing my ideas digitally, adding printed texture (playing around with the contrast and opacity made for different results) to their clothes to suggest fabric and wear, and then improving on them before bringing them into the main composition. I looked at existing concertinas, how to transition from narrative point to narrative point inventively. I added smaller details digitally with graphics tablet to bring the piece together, consulting reference material and asking peers’ and Nicholas’s advice when I got stuck. I took on board his suggestions and we both felt that ending the recovery of a mute too quickly would be insensitive so the illustration evolved to be about the misunderstanding of the mute instead. I went away at points of hitting a wall of despair, but with time and feedback from peers and tutors came back with refresh ideas.
Experimenting with texture.
My first attempts, trial and error to get the expression, is this making sense, are they showing what they feel, does it read, does the mute look mute and how do we know it’s the mute. I consulted friends to ask their opinion and the popular consensus was that they could understand the narrative, but because they have insight into it through me we guinea-pigged it on a non-art student and took on feedback to add more clarity. I’ve thought of using text to do this.
I picked a neutral and calm colour palette to suggest the inner-calm of the mute. I used my graphic novel project as a practice run to show mutes visually through image. As I went, I adjusted colours to compliment better, arranged, rearranged, added distortion, textured layered in, details drawn in with graphics tablet.
I consulted my sketchbook for ideas, as well as reference material on how to differentiate other characters from the mute. I decided it could end with the Mute meeting other mutes, realising other mutes are out there – a hint of hope. I didn’t want to rush through to show the recovery of the mute as not everyone recovers at the same pace and it might make the journey look too easy which could offend and dishearten my audience. I could see myself finding work with organisations like the NHS, illustrating information packs and documents, awareness promotional material, books for parents and their children affected by Selective Mutism. In fact, my sister works for the NHS at one hospital creating media and graphics designs and she wants a pack of business cards that she can share around with her department and is going to suggest that they use me the next time they need illustration; they usually ask her and she’s not an illustrator.
There is more I’d like to do to this illustration as I was perhaps too ambitious with my Lisbon project which grew, evolved and took on a new life. It kind of took me away from this one despite trying to juggle both. I’d like to go in before the show and add more narrative points and details to make it less sparse and more impactful. I think this can be achieved by improving on the ending. I’m going to ask Nicholas advice to achieve this.
To make it more sophisticated, I plan to spend more time with it. I enjoyed illustrating something I care about and I enjoyed the way I drew them–playful and appealing. I found that the personal experience helped and motivated me to want to do the very best job I could and I could bring a personal touch. I also feel that it went some way to helping me improve on defining what my style is. There are a few teething problems I’d like to work out before I’m totally happy with it such as narrative points and I’d like to expand the narrative to be more substantial. I challenged myself as narrative isn’t always my strong point but I feel I’ve learned and grown a lot and am more confident about tackling it. My Lisbon project fed into it and this fed into my Lisbon project, informing and improving each other. There’s room to grow into more exciting and ambitious projects that will hopefully bring my work some attention and doing something I care and am passionate about. I bring my personal touch and insight which is sometimes lacking sometimes when people make mute illustrations who aren’t direct sufferers.
After being inspired by a recent trip to Lisbon, I started out by wanting to make a zine and a visual itinerary as a tiny aspect of the module, but after liking the results of my initial playing, I decided to push it further and through experimentation created a Cityscape. I showed the results to peers and tutors and was pleasantly surprised by how much they liked the them and thought it had legs to become a much bigger project centred on Lisbon’s famous route 28 tram journey.
My limited Lisbon inspired colour palette – a hint of retromania combined with texture to add an aged feel; Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in the world.
Lisbon’s famous Tram 28 tour inspires this illustration. Tram 28 is a tram journey where vintage yellow trams cross through the city past many of Lisbon’s best attractions. There is antiquity in every corner as one of the world’s oldest cities. The street art, the azuelos that decorate the buildings, the fado, the warmth of the people—it’s unsurprising that Lisbon is an up and coming centre for creatives. Inspired by a recent trip to the country, this illustration is a celebration of that route and the rich culture of Lisbon.
My write-up of the project
Experimenting with character design, colours without using black line, layering texture in to add a depth to them, using interesting Photoshop brushes for things such as hair to break up the flat colour and add visual interest.
Some close-ups – people in windows, people queuing for the tram trip, squabbles arguing over a traffic jam, kissing in windows, cat in the window, leg in the window, a woman trying to pry her child on (made the mothers I know laugh), dogs, tourts with maps, seabirds, couple laughing a selfie, people on roofs, sunbathers, people reading, people glued to their smartphones indoors when they could be out enjoying Lisbon, swimmers, and so on. I tried to make it multicultural and inclusive – different races, sexualities (we saw couples holding hands regardless of gender when we were in Lisbon, and we were there on Woman’s Day; I was surprised by the warmth we received. I got lots of random hugs from Lisbon women in the street), and so on, to show that Lisbon is the place to be.
I’m pleased with this illustration and the impact it’s had on people. When you look too long at something, you can become disillusioned with it. But seeing it through peers’, tutors and friends’ eyes who I’ve guinea-pigged it on has inspired me to continue with it. If I keep adding more narrative points, more characters, improve on existing ones (such as having the child in the queue wandering as Neil suggested), and so on, then it can only add to the wow factor. I hope to do this before the final show. I’d like to add people I know and more little easter eggs like the random leg in the window to increase the fun. Hopefully it will be a hit at the degree show.
It’s definitely best appreciated scaled up, when you can zoom in on the detail. I’ve included some close-ups to get a better sense of it and there is a close up in my physical portfolio as well as on my website (tinapearce.net).
As mentioned in the previous Lisbon post, I’ve also thought about turning this into a series (I’m not going to run out of cities). The Keeping London moving – Transport for London prize came to mind. There was the #LondonIsOpen campaign launched by the Mayor, Sadiq Khan to show London is united and open to the world following the EU referendum. I could do cityscapes of London, Hereford…the possibilities are endless. Similarly there might be campaigns happening for other cities. My illustration could also appeal to art directors looking to commission tourist promotional material such as posters, travel guides, flyers and the exquisite books you find in museum shops. I used this illustration for notebooks for my own introductory media and this worked quite well. I could also see myself crossing over into illustrated maps as they’re quite similar and I feel my illustration style would lend itself to them.