HOW TO DRAW AN EATING DISORDER

I finally, formally decided to start working on my (then untitled) book in 2009 as a college project. I wanted to find a way to commit myself to getting past the false starts, and aimed to produce something representative of my big idea that I could show to potential publishers.

Every time I’d started the project, I started differently. I used a different medium, represented the illness in a different way. I’d made ‘finished’ artwork in coloured pencil, gouache, ink, acrylic, pencil – each time certain that this was what the book would look like. When I started working on the project for real, I needed to commit to a consistent approach. Wisely, my tutors at college counselled me to let my choice of medium be guided by the content of the story.

I returned to the idea that the eating disorder was a monster, as I’d painted to try to explain it to my family when I was unwell. The original painting – now lost – showed a big green scaly dragon-thing exploding out of my head. I knew I wanted something a little bit more subtle…

LTMS sketches 1

Very quickly, the ‘monster’ became some kind of shadow, much more abstract in form, capturing more of what living with an eating disorder had felt like.

LTMS sketches 2

I also tried interpreting the feeling in colour using paint and mixed-media collage and, though I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome it really helped process my ideas. By trying this out, I knew I wanted something that was more visually simple and muted in colour. I went back to sketching, and the next thing that appeared on my paper was this:

LTMS sketch 3

After I’d drawn this image, I couldn’t stop looking at it. I knew it was right.

I scanned the image and manipulated it in photoshop, trying various approaches to colour and texture. In the end I grabbed a random scrap of grey collage paper lying about on my desk and dropped that in as a background. I really liked the effect, especially when I added a little semi-opaque white to define the figure. The only problem was the pesky piece of grey paper had a big crease down the middle …

…and so happened a very happy accident:

LTMS first image

The crease became a horizon line, and later on my panel borders, and this image became the first in the book.

One response

  1. Wow – all the times I’ve seen your artwork I’d never considered the thousands of other ways you could have depicted your illness differently – this one just seems so right! x

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