Guest Post

Ginny S. Gillikin’s Freedom from Anxiety through Music

Today The Layered Onion has a guest blog essay post from writer Ginny S. Gillikin. This piece, Freedom from Anxiety through Music, is featured in the upcoming Shallot publication, Volume I, Number 2, that focuses on activities and hobbies as we navigate the darkest period of the year (not too long before the days start getting longer and lighter again!). The focus was to create a piece about something that makes you happy.

Ginny’s piece offers perspective on anxiety and offers a way to break free from that anxiety, which can feel like it binds us.

A photo of Ginny S. Gillikin, the author.

Freedom from Anxiety Through Music

Music brings me solace. As a loner, I intentionally submerse myself in a wall of sound. Feelings of calmness and contentment surround me when I put on headphones and listen to a favorite vinyl record on the turntable.

I sometimes feel the necessity for a distraction from the outside world, since it can be harsh. Stressors like job stability, finances, and relationships can crush even the most confident and successful person. And people can be cruel–sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. As someone with a sensitive soul who battles anxiety and depression, I feel stress, loss, and angst more deeply than most.

Listening to music helps me break free from the agony and fear that I sometimes experience. I lose myself in the beats, melody, and lyrics. The stories told in songs transport me to a world far away, where my demons no longer torture me. Escape to an unfamiliar existence offers relief.

Music can also transcend time. Memories come flooding back when I listen to specific songs and albums. I reminisce about spending time with family and attending concerts with friends. Other songs revive feelings of nostalgia, with a sad twist, as they remind me of people who are no longer in my life.

But primarily, listening to words and sounds helps me concentrate on something other than my worries. My anxieties and sorrows disappear as I get out of my head and pay attention to the thoughts of others–some tortured by overthinking and analyzing like me, some not.

Upbeat music like hip-hop, electronica, and disco/house styles help improve my mood. Elation and euphoria course throughout my body. Rhythm and cadence force me out of my chair and onto a private dance floor.

Sad country and Goth songs actually comfort me as well. Hearing others sing about loss and longing for love proves that I am not alone with my conflicted feelings. Anxiety and yearning are universal sentiments.

I must remind myself often that obsessing over emotions and unpleasant circumstances is not healthy. Getting lost in music allows me to escape from the confines of my mind and revel in an activity that brings pleasure.

Ginny S. Gillikin (she/her) is a writer in Raleigh, NC. She has composed poems and stories since childhood. She considers her style of writing to be stream-of-consciousness and writes about dreams, friends and family, and life experiences. Ginny has authored profiles of musicians for and Raleigh Magazine.

Want to hear more from Ginny? Check out her Instagram @ginnygillikin to engage with her! Ginny is also on LinkedIn and works professionally as a writer, editor, and proofreader.

To see more work from the upcoming volume of The Shallot, consider signing up for a perk in The Layered Onion’s ongoing crowdfunding campaign. The campaign is focused on supporting The Shallot publication in 2023 so we can continue to publish wonderful artists and writers like Ginny.

Guest Post

Social Media and Mental Health with Maggie Bowyer

In today’s world, social media seems to dominate every area of our lives. The Layered Onion asked Maggie Bowyer how they balance social media and mental health. Maggie has penned a Guest Blog below with some tips and tricks!

Photo of the artist. Maggie, a writer, talks social media and mental health. 

Maggie Bowyer writes poetry collections.

“I don’t understand!” I cursed into my phone.

Once again, the social media aspect of marketing has gotten the better of me. After a week of well-performing Reels on Instagram, I had another video completely flop. While this seems innocuous, research has found that social media can have true adverse outcomes on mental health, as if marketing a book wasn’t stressful enough on its own. Let’s take a closer look at how likes and view counts can have severe effects on our mental state and how we can take this into account when marketing our work.

Social Media Screen Time and Mental Health

Social media is relatively new in the grand scheme of things and is growing by the day. It seems that every year now, there is a new social media platform rising to the forefront of our screens. Most recently, TikTok has begun to overtake apps like Instagram and Youtube in popularity. With constantly shifting apps and algorithms, constant news updates, and sensationalization, not to mention filters and Facetune, are we protecting our mental health by constantly “doom-scrolling?”

One large study found that increased social media use leads to worse mental health outcomes; in fact, teens who spend more than 3 hours per day on social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, especially internalizing. Another study found a link between social media screen time and depression and suicide rates.

I see this as a young adult in the real world. The longer I spend on social media, the more I find myself comparing my work with my contemporaries. The comparison, and occasional jealousy, are not limited to my book sales or skills; I find myself comparing my looks, my relationships, my like counts, my brand deals, my apartment, and so much more. I find myself wanting to create more content, that is better than my previous work, and at a furious pace, which only leads to burnout.

I also have found that social media marketing has changed my poetry, which snapped me back to reality. I have always written very lengthy, narrative poetry, having gotten my real start in spoken word poetry. As I spent time marketing on social media apps, I found that quick clips performed much better. I started writing a lot of micro-poetry. While there is nothing wrong with micro-poetry or its rise in popularity, it did not feel authentic or complete; I began to feel like I was selling out my work in favor of social media clout.

The big question is how do we prioritize our mental health and our unique voice when social media has become such a large part of marketing our work and making a living?

I have several ways of keeping my head in check when creating content.

1. Set Time Limits

The first tip I have is to set time limits on apps. I find myself opening Instagram absentmindedly all the time; it is completely normal as these apps are designed to be addictive and to grab your attention from your home screen. By setting time limits, I can curb the amount of accidental time on the app.

2. Intentional Use

This leads to my second tip, which is intentional use. I use social media for three explicit things and knowing my purpose on the app helps me navigate the ever-shifting landscape of view counts and engagement ratios. I use social media to market my books, draw inspiration, and keep in touch with my friends. Determining that my goal on social media was to sell myself, and my books, and fulfill my brand contracts helped with how overwhelming social media was. How would I know what to post? Instead of panicking at the endless content ideas, I was able to focus on what I was selling that day.

In line with both intentional use and finding inspiration, I began to weed out whom I was following. Not a marketing coach finding trending audio I enjoy? Unfollow. I disagree with your opinions far more than I agree? Unfollow. A poet I haven’t found inspiring for a while, or aren’t pushing me to be better at my craft? Sorry, but that’s also an unfollow.

I am unfollowing people unjudiciously, and it feels nice. I am also blocking people more often than I ever thought possible and for far smaller infractions than before, and it is more freeing than I could have imagined. I am trying to keep my little corner of the internet as safe as possible for me and my followers.

3. Don’t Let Metrics and View Counts Rule You

I am trying to focus less on like counts or being frustrated by low view counts. This one is a lot harder than the other tips, and one I am still navigating. As a business major who loves marketing, I want all the data. I want to know what is and isn’t working for my audience. I want to know who my audience is. But I was beginning to get obsessed with numbers, checking my insights daily, sometimes even multiple times in one day.

Number obsession - it is easy to obsess over KPIs and metrics.

Now, I try to only check it weekly, though sometimes I check certain metrics every few days. I would often get frustrated by low view counts but high engagement rates, wondering why the post wasn’t performing better, and more often than not, I would begin to berate my looks, my apartment, and more. Now, I am trying to reframe my thoughts about those posts. Those posts connect me to my current audience and foster a deeper relationship with people who already follow me, maybe starting a new conversation or retaining more followers. Not every post we create is going to go viral, and that is okay, maybe even better than constant viral content. Try reframing your previously low days and find the positives in your community, content, and self. No one is perfect at this, especially not me, so be gentle with yourself as you begin to reframe thoughts.

4. Be Your You, Without Filters

This next tip might seem silly and simple, but I am surprised by how much it has helped my mental health. I have completely stopped using filters. I want to like my face, or at least be neutral enough about it to feel like I can post it. I don’t want to show the world a fake version of myself. I want to show younger kids on the app what real skin looks like, or at least skin with makeup on it. I want to show that we all have some asymmetry in our faces, and that is okay! I have found that I don’t typically miss filters and only use them in my friends’ group chat on occasion.

No filters, don't be afraid to share who you are. #nofilters

The last tip has quite possibly been the best thing I have done for myself and my mental health. I have created a smaller, private Instagram to keep up with my friends and message with them, which helps with the feeling of constantly performing for an audience or slipping into my “digital self.” I can share an unfiltered opinion, not beat myself up over typos, I can share pictures of my family without fear, and above all else, I don’t have any Insights. Even without the post numbers, I find I don’t even care about the like or view counts on that page. I can be myself, and people can take it or leave it. No brand deals are pending on my perfectly polished presentation. I don’t need to retain my followers to ensure my next book launch goes better than the last. I don’t feel pressured to let creepy people follow me because they could be another client. I don’t feel like I have to create content there; I can just be.

Boundaries are good! Don't be afraid to set them to protect yourself and your mental health.

I can still market my book when doing all of these things. In fact, I have found that I market myself even better with boundaries in place. I feel I can connect more enthusiastically and genuinely with my audience when I have taken the weekend off. I am more confident online and feel like I have true direction. There are endless ways we can take care of our mental health in the digital age. These are just a few tips that have helped me in combination. We are seeing the first generation raised on social media begin to come of age. We are also seeing a mental health crisis of epic proportions, some of which can be attributed to social media (though far from exclusively). Teaching each other how to care for our mental health is going to be vitally important. I hope this begins a conversation rather than feels like the end of a lecture and that you go into your digital spaces with intention today.

Want to hear more from Maggie? Check out their Instagram @maggie.writes or website to engage with Maggie!

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Michael Highway – Blanched

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, and more! Today, Michael Highway (he/him) shares his digital art.

Michael took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about our artist:

Photo of the artist, Michael Highway. His digital art is inspired by his experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts. Art for mental health.

Michael Highway is a Toronto-based illustrator. Most of his works are digital, composed of various colour blocks and few lines, and often inspired by verse fragmentation thoughts from dreams.

Michael participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, further expanding on his work. Michael gives us some creative replies that make us think!

Michael Highway's Blanced. Art for mental health.
Michael Highway, Blanched. Digital. March 3, 2022.

What first led you to art?

Can’t remember exactly. I would say boring and nightmare.

How would you describe your artistic style?

The style is like something you’d see in a black room after a shower in the fall.

What are your favorite materials and mediums to work with?

It used to be acrylic, but now I think digital is fine too.

How do you approach digital art?

I found it convenient to draw on the Ipad without having to do a lot of prep.

Any advice for novices who want to dive into creating digital art?

Experimenting with different textures and brushes in digital painting is a lot of fun!

Where do you draw inspiration from?

From time to time, experimental ideas, dream fragments, and some unexpected and interesting things in life.

What inspired this piece?

I initially wanted to draw a cowboy with a line dress, with a smoky beard, balancing in a weird pose. But ultimately, it was all because I wanted to draw striped clothes.

The character has a spoon and a glass in their hands as they balance on one leg. Does this symbolize balance?

I tend to think that the atmosphere of the whole composition has balance.

Can you elaborate on that title/concept of balance?

We dance in the dark

The lines melt on us, the brilliance is fading

but it is ok

We are still in balance

Even with glass spoons and cups in hand

won’t break easily

Any questions I missed that I should have asked?

Did you have sweets today?

 Em’s response: I am currently very fond of York mints – they stop you before you eat too many.

Readers – how about you? Whet the tastebuds with anything deliciously sweet? After all, it was Halloween this week.

Anything else on your mind?

A blue balloon turns into a purple sun at sunset.

Thanks for sharing, Michael! A lovely and thought-provoking conversation. Michael’s work is also included in the first version of The Shallot and you can see more of it on his website and Instagram.

Michael Highway's morning shower. Visual art display of living with mental health challenges. Art for mental health/ art and mental health.
Michael Highway, morning shower. Digital. 2022.
Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Éloïse Armary’s Pink Goo

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, and more! This is art that explores mental health. Today, Éloïse (Loulou) Armary (she/they) will share her upcoming poetry collection, Pink Goo.

Éloïse took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about our artist:

An image of the artist, who uses art to explore mental health. Mental health through the arts.

Art and mental health work.

Éloïse “Loulou” Armary is a French poet who writes about mental health, neurodiversity, social and climate issues, memories, queerness, and the strangeness of daily life. She is the co-host of the podcast Poetry to your Ears. Loulou is based in Brighton, UK. Pink Goo is their first poetry collection.

Éloïse participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on her work:

LouLou's book uses poetry to interact with her anxiety and depression. The book shows the power of Art and mental health. Describes mental health challenges and their toll.

Pink Goo is a collection of poems that explore what mental health is to Éloïse and the reality of living life in today’s world. 

It is about a spiral down to anxiety and depression and the following journey to find peace. After trying to shed light on social injustice, sexual harassment, and the climate collapse, the poet finds herself in the darkness and explores many corners within herself, rough and soft. In the deep furrows of her mind, Éloïse finds a white canvas on which she paints with colours to lift her spirit while allowing nuances of grey to tell the depth of reality.

These poems aid the reader who wants to scream but doesn’t find the words. They are a balm to spread on trauma wounds. They care for the soul after a storm.

You are releasing a poetry collection, Pink Goo. Congratulations! My first question – how did you come up with the name?

Thank you! The title poem is a metaphor for my anxiety. I wrote it during a challenge I set for myself to write 21 poems in 21 days in December 2021. I got stuck mid-way through the challenge and started exploring unusual images. I loved that poem, people I read it to loved that poem. The name stuck with me. I knew my poetry collection would be named Pink Goo before I knew what else would be in it.

Title poem of Pink Goo - art that explores mental health, anxiety, and depression. Poetry. Describes mental health challenges and their toll. Art and mental health/ art for mental health.

What topics do you explore in Pink Goo?

Pink Goo is everything mental health. It starts as anger against social injustice, eco-anxiety, and sexual trauma, then delves into chronic anxiety and depression. It’s a quest about my neurodivergent identity, an expression of moments of sensory overload, meltdowns, and anxiety attacks. It has a pamphlet about bipolar disorder, which is close to me. Mostly, it’s about how to find acceptance and where I dig up peace. 

What first led you to poetry?

I started writing poetry as an extended form of journalling in high school. Sometimes, my emotions were so strong writing them in prosaic words didn’t feel right. I started skipping words to express myself faster and playing with images to articulate my feelings in a way that sounded true. 

Where do you gather your inspiration from?

I am inspired by the intensity of my emotions, which is what I mainly write about. I draw into images of nature, colors, and senses to express how I feel. I recently started rooting myself in a community of poets and find endless inspiration from poets I know who I find so talented.

What are your favorite topics to write about?

I write about mental health, neurodiversity, and social and climate issues. I don’t really choose to write about these topics; I feel more like I have to in order to expel the intensity of my emotions. Lately, I am enjoying delving into topics of memories and queerness, exploring alternative realities, and writing based on senses rather than thoughts.

You also have a podcast, “Poetry to Your Ears” – what kind of topics do you cover? Where can folks go if they are interested in checking it out?

My co-host Tom and I interview contemporary poets and read out poems we find that tell of something new and meaningful. Our byline is ‘We celebrate poetry the way it is done today,’ because our podcast is not a poetry course that studies the theoretical structures of poetry. We don’t read the famous dead poets studied in school.

We found out that most poets we talked with didn’t like poetry before they [started] writing poetry. We want to know who writes poetry, what they write about, and what it can tell us about more significant subjects. When I say write, I also mean perform, since we feature many spoken word artists! We platform a diversity of poets from different backgrounds, especially marginalised ones. All the links to listen are here:

You are French, but you write in English. Why is that? 

The first poems I wrote were in French, but when I met with my partner, who is British, I started writing poems in English. I loved the distance between the words and my thoughts and the easy wordplay that wasn’t constrained by the rules and rigidity in French that I inherited from school.

English being my second language, I make some mistakes that turn out to be poetic, which I can use as the base of a poem. I write a little bit of bilingual poetry, but since I moved to Brighton, UK, I found it hard to share it with an English-speaking audience. I want to explore bilingual poetry more, though.

Mental health, social topics, and the climate crisis are deep concepts that take a lot out of all of us living in 2022. “Goo” is the perfect word to describe that feeling of being stuck, of fighting your way forward.

Éloïse is selling Pink Goo on The Layered Onion shop – be sure to check it out! You can catch up with Éloïse and their work on Instagram @eloisearmary.

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Encaustic Journals with Andi Dees

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, and more! This is art that explores mental health. Today, Andi Dees (she/her) will share her encaustic journals and process.

Andi took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about our artist:

Andi is a visual artist working in the realms of encaustic painting and pottery (sometimes together). With 23 years of clay experience and 15 years of encaustic experience, she has a lot going on. Currently, Andi is working on encaustic-covered journals, which are hand-bound with tea-stained paper.

Before talking with Andi, I wasn’t familiar with encaustic work – man, is it remarkable! The word encaustic refers to a painting technique using hot wax mixed with pigments. In a painting, the result is similar to oil paint – the work is bright and enhances expressive brushwork. Using hot wax can be challenging, as monitoring temperature needs to become part of your process.

Andi participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on her work:

Encaustic journal or encaustic journals by Andi Dees. Andi's are available on Etsy. Mental health through the arts. Shows the power of art for mental health/ art and mental health.

What first led you to art?

My family is full of artists. It was something that came naturally to me as a child, and I just built on those natural abilities as I got grew up. I still take classes all the time. I am a perpetual learner.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I think it depends on the medium I’m using. When it comes to painting, whether it is watercolor, encaustic, acrylic, oils, etc., I tend to be more abstract and loose (something that took me years to accept after doing realistic drawing and painting for a long time). The tediousness and OCD of perfection went away, thankfully. In clay/pottery, I am very “tight;” everything must be smooth and perfect. Abstract in clay is very hard for me. I like clean lines and designs.

What are your favorite materials and mediums to work with?

I think my favorite materials are clay and encaustics. As a potter, clay is a given. In encaustics, I use a multitude of mixed media – the hot wax, of course, but also paper clay, colored shellac, alcohol inks, oil paint, and paper.

Encaustic journal or encaustic journals by Andi Dees. Andi's are available on Etsy. Mental health through the arts. Shows the power of art for mental health/ art and mental health.

What is an encaustic journal?

An encaustic journal is a handmade journal with an encaustic cover. I make my own encaustic medium, so the wax mixture is harder when it dries and resists dents and dings better than the manufactured encaustic medium. I use fancy papers for the back cover and inside cover and bind the watercolor paper signatures by hand with a Coptic stitch.

How did you first get started making these?

I started encaustic painting about ten years ago and found that I really enjoyed the creative process. Another encaustic artist, a friend of mine, did encaustic journals a little differently, and she showed me some examples of hers. She used purchased journals and did the encaustic on the covers. Of course, I had to be a little more technical and do the binding myself. LOL.

What is your favorite part of the textile process?

It’s more of a mixed-media process. I think my favorite part is the design process. Coming up with the wax backgrounds and building from that.

What unique elements do you add to your journals? People seem to get very creative!

I have a lot of found objects, animal bones, teeth, and paper-clay-molded objects to choose from. So coming up with different themes for covers always excites me. I tend to make them more on the creepy side of things. Anything that is a little off or makes people think, “hmmm.” I’ve used cigarette package images from England with rotten teeth to owl pellet bones to 3-D paper clay forms painted with watercolors.

How long does it take to make a journal on average?

It’s a long process that involves a lot of different steps. Generally, with the design, the wax background steps, additions, painting, signature making (paper cutting, folding, and hole punching), and then papering the covers. It takes about 2-3 hours a day for about four days to complete.

Inside pages. Encaustic journal or encaustic journals by Andi Dees. Andi's are available on Etsy. Mental health through the arts. Shows the power of art for mental health/ art and mental health.

Anything else on your mind?

I think if you’re an artist of any kind, having a dedicated space is crucial to it being your happy place. I also feel that if I am having a really bad day, I don’t force myself to be creative. I just walk away with the understanding that with my mental and physical health diagnoses, it’s just not the day for it. So instead of making art, I watch Youtube videos on bookbinding, watercolor tutorials, or even just Ask a Mortician. Anything that is interesting to me and non-taxing mentally or physically. Taking care of your whole being is most important, and knowing that there are days that will not be easy. It is just a matter of taking a step back to take care of yourself first. Tomorrow may be better. Maintaining an attitude of acceptance is what keeps me grounded in my art. It’s important, so I don’t force it. 

Anyone else want their own encaustic journal? You can see more of Andi’s work on her website, Cloudbusting Worx. Thanks for sharing your work and designs, Andi!

Artwork Spotlight Home Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Yas Martinez – “Untitled”/ “I’m sorry I am trying”

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, and more! This is art that explores mental health. Today, Yas Martinez (she/her) will be sharing her piece “Untitled” or “I’m sorry I am trying.” 

Yas took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about Yas:

Photo of the artist, Yas Martinez. Her art is inspired by her experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts.

Yas is a self-taught artist based in southeast London who also splits time in Spain. Yas is proud of her Spanish heritage. She works with ink, clay, and charcoal, using her lived experience as a key theme within the art.

Yas participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on her work:

A square pot - pottery that is stamped with words. Shades of blue.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health.
Yas Martinez, I’m sorry I am trying or Untitled. Air-drying clay and acrylic paint. January 2021.

What first drew you to art?

I’ve always been a big fan of art. I was really lucky as a child; my grandparents worked at the national gallery and took me to work with them, and I’d sit with all the amazing paintings. I fell in love with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Following that, I’ve always been drawing and doodling. I’m never without a sketchbook in my handbag – it’s the only thing that I feel like really allows me to “talk” about how I’m feeling.

What is the name of this piece?

It doesn’t actually have a name. It was an experiment that I love! I think if I were to name it now, I’d call it ‘I’m sorry I am trying.’

A square pot - pottery that is stamped with words. Shades of blue.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health.

How did you create the wording and lettering on the pot? I like the remnant of squares around the letters.

I use a little box of hand stamps to make the lettering. It’s possibly one of the best impulsive buys I’ve made! 

Thank you, I like that, too! When I started making the lettered pieces of work, I was getting so frustrated trying to get rid of the remnant squares and make the wording straight. When I got rid of the remnants of squares, I didn’t like the work as it was too precise and time-consuming. I like to get the words down quite quickly; otherwise, I sort of separate from what I’m trying to say, and then I pick it apart. 

The ombre of blue is gorgeous. How did you select your colors and bring this piece to life?

I don’t actually know how I got to using blue. There are around 60 pieces in this series now, all made using cobalt blue and cerulean blue, and I still don’t think I’ve worked out why! 

I dilute the colours down with water and just wash the colour on. It is a pretty messy affair! I usually make these pieces when I’m not feeling at my best. I think the layering of the watery colours helps me get rid of some of the nervousness or upset that I’m feeling. 

The colours just calm me. It kind of makes my head feel less claustrophobic. I’ve been told it’s like looking at the sky when people look at my work, and I like that.

Blue panel art. What it feels like to have depression.

Mental health through the arts.

Can you describe the process you used to create a piece like this?

I spend a lot of time walking and thinking (possibly stomping). I like to let my mind wander and try to think about how I can summarise these feelings. I sort of take myself away from people and get right down into the dark place so I’m honest with myself. Then when I get the right words in my head, I rush to write them down so as not to forget them. When I’m ready, I wash my canvases with blue watercolour and stamp away. I’m not precious about it – it’s kinda like spitting out a tasteless bit of gum.

What mediums do you work with?

I mainly work in charcoal and ink. I like the foggy quality they have. Charcoal is also super great to blend with if you feel like you’re making mistakes. They sort of have a mind of their own, and I like that.

I also really enjoy working with clay and printing.

Blue panel art. What it feels like to have depression.

Mental health through the arts.

How would you describe your art?

Oh, wow. I’ve been spending a long time thinking about this, and I keep coming back to morbid! 

A lot of it is heavy, but it’s a reflection of how I feel when I’m feeling depressed, anxious, or just full of self-hate. It’s quite sad, really, but I feel so much clearer and lighter once I’ve made a piece. 

I think by spending time making, I’m processing and really thinking about how I’m feeling, which actually makes me feel more confident. It’s my therapy – I am such a firm believer in making to better your mental health!

Although, if you look at my collage work, they’re really fun, I think, and I love that I have an area of work that helps me daily – one that just brings me pure fun!

Collage art. 

Mental health through the arts to release anxiety.
Yas Martinez, Take me to a place I’ll love. Collage on A3 heavyweight paper.

How do you approach starting a piece?

I’m not really sure. I know when an idea or feeling barges into my head, I splurge it onto a canvas or piece of paper. I don’t typically plan what I’m doing; I just go for it and I won’t start another piece until one is finished. 

That’s too much chaos for me!

I love the blue collection and the backdrop it provides to thoughts. Yas tells us that it is okay to have thoughts and we are the better for processing together. Thank you for sharing, Yas! You can see more of Yas’ work on her website!

Layer Reveal

Mental Health Awareness Week – Fighting Stigma

The first week of October is Mental Health Awareness Week and a chance to join the international movement to raise awareness about mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Week, Raising awareness for those with mental health challenges - eliminate stigma. At The Layered Onion we support mental health through the arts.

This year the week is centered around the theme “What I Wish I Had Known” and is focused on the power of lived experience. 

October is also National Depression and Mental Health Screening Month and so much more. World Mental Health Day is October 10.

In 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in every eight people in the world lives with a mental disorder. As Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus notes, “Mental health is a lot more than the absence of illness: it is an intrinsic part of our individual and collective health and well-being… Ultimately, there is no health without mental health.” At The Layered Onion, this is central to our mission and this is an important month.

In a recent Modern Health and Forrester Consulting survey, they highlighted an astounding gap between employers and employees expectations surrounding mental health support. Executives surveyed believe their employees expect too much mental health support (73%); offering mental health benefits is too costly (71%); and mental health benefits should not be a priority current day because they weren’t offered in this capacity in the past (69%). The full report is available for download here.

This is the perfect week to challenge those notions and work together to promote awareness and well-being – both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

Each day, NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness – will elevate the voices of people with lived experience on the following topics:

  • Monday Oct. 3: Stigma
  • Tuesday Oct. 4: Medication [National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding]
  • Wednesday Oct. 5: Therapy
  • Thursday Oct. 6: Disclosing [National Depression Screening Day]
  • Friday Oct. 7: Caregiving

They have a compelling series of videos we recommend checking out – delivered by people with lived experience and talking about what they wish people knew. For example, Krishna Louis speaks on what they wish people knew about anxiety. To truly support, we need to listen and absorb.

Stigma is out there – we all know this to be true. This is why we speak out – to advocate for each other and others. To give courage to those who have a moment where they need it. To educate the public about mental illness.

Though we have come a long way, we still have far to go. There is hope here, though – in the work that we and so many others are doing. In employees raising their voices and advocating for mental health support. There is a lot to be inspired by.

We are proud to be on this journey with you all.

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Luna Hao – “Moon Phase” Photography Series

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, photography, and more! This is art that explores mental health. Today, Lingxue (Luna) Hao (she/her) will be sharing several images from her project “Moon Phase: The Moments Between Wax and Wane.”

Before we delve into the art, a little more about Luna:

Photo of the artist, Luna Hao. Her art is inspired by her experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts. Lingxue (Luna) Hao

After working as a food photographer for two years, Luna turned her focus to telling stories through the camera. She prefers photographic books to display her work; she is very experienced in making handmade books. She is particularly interested in finding beauty from the ordinary and mundane and creating a virtual diary based on everyday love, loss, and reflection.

Luna’s work Moon Phase is split into chapters consisting of photographs.

Photography. A photo of the side of a house with vibrant primary colors - blue, red, yellow. 

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Luna Hao, It Seems Flat. Photograph.

She describes it as:

Moon Phase: The Moments Between Wax and Wane is an interpretation of depression through the art of photography. My photographs explore my own experiences with this invisible disease. They represent the torment and pain that I navigate with major depression. They also record my constant struggle with mental health. This body of work is a visual diary about a depressive patient I created as a photographer. The process of photographing and editing this project is also the process by which I find a productive way to communicate with the outside world. My work aims to help those who may be indirectly impacted by depression to understand mental illness more comprehensively and establish an accurate portrayal of this very real concern. We live in a society where people still hold prejudices against those with mental health issues and misunderstand them. My photos invite viewers to raise awareness and support for the people around them who struggle with this widespread issue.”

Luna participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on the project:

What first drew you to art?

My answer may be disappointing…I never had a moment like: oh, I really want to be an artist. In college, my major was commercial photography, and I worked as a food photographer for almost two years. The two years’ experience made me HATE the commercial industry because I was just a copy machine…As a result, I decided to get an MFA degree to see if there is another possibility to take photos in a less painful way. So, I would describe my engagement with art as gradual. At the same time, to be honest, I never thought I would get to where I am today.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I think I would be thinking more about my artistic style as “old-fashioned,” but all my friends and classmates said that my work is contemporary. As a photographer, I almost only use film and other darkroom materials as my creative base. I’m pretty much adamant about just “taking pictures” without heavy-handed postproduction if there are no special needs so that our creative space itself is more narrow than other art media (In theory).

Photography. A photo strip roll of film of driving. Inspired by action to address mental health challenges and feelings.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Luna Hao, Run Away. Photograph.

This strip photo is actually part of one image. You may see a four-part on my website under the series “Run Away,” I use one roll of film as one image. One roll of film documents one driving experience. It’s 5 am in this one. When I feel really insecure and upset, I have a (dangerous) habit where I go out and drive randomly.

What is your favorite part about working with photography? What’s the most challenging part?

I guess it’s the part of freezing a moment and making it permanent, pausing. I always really like the idea of “When you take the next photo, you are recording the moment of death, but this action of yours makes that moment eternity.” As for the most challenging part, I think it’s the limitations inherent in the format of photography. Most photographers’ creations rely on cameras or other devices or materials that can respond to light. 

Can you tell us more about the Moon Phase project? What do the different chapters signify?

Moon Phase is documenting my struggle with major depression. It originated when I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2017. My parents refused to accept that, even though they were well educated. They refused to believe that mental illness has a real need for medical treatment to help. I’ve always been tongue-tied, so I wanted to build a channel of communication using the methods and mediums I’m good at, to try and make them understand my pain. Later, through my own experience, I felt that I must not be in this predicament, so I began to think about developing it into a series to tell the public a complete story of a depressed patient from my perspective.

Later, it became a visual diary. During the shooting process, I found that my mental state had obvious staged changes, which is why I divided them into three chapters. The first chapter was created without any doctor or medication and was more simply showing my chaotic and disordered state of mind and life. The second chapter was shot while I was just officially receiving regular medical help, and its content shows my unstable and confused mental state that has been up and down during this time. The third chapter was shot in a relatively stable state of mind, more about a state in which I coexisted with depression and was relatively balanced.

When did you create this series?

It started in the fall of 2018, and I ended it in the spring of 2021.

Photography. A photo of tree branches with beautiful vivid red and white. Edited.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Luna Hao, Red Leaves. Photograph.

Your use of color is spectacular. How do you get the colors to stand out so boldly?

In fact, I really did not deliberately do systematic research and arrangement on color and color theory. However, I did deliberately look for some objects in my mind that better reflect my mental and psychological state during the shooting process. And one of the main things I use to judge whether it’s the subject I want is by its color. In my creations, I always feel that color is the main element, an element that I need to be very careful of and pay extra attention to. In addition, I think it has something to do with my former identity as a food photographer, which may have been tempered in my previous work.

The above photo is a special one. I used photoshop to change all the green leaves to red to recreate the view I saw when I was heavily sick. I found out that sometimes the color and view change for some depression patients. For me, it sometimes looks like this, so I created it to let others know about this symptom. 

Photography. An image of Luna's installation.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.

There was also an installation – what was it like to set that up? Was it interesting to see how people interacted with the work?

Honestly, when I set up my solo exhibition, it was a painful and tangled process, but I liked how it turned out. I didn’t want it to be presented in a traditional, framed, row-by-row format from the start, which I felt would kill the intimacy that this project has always had. I always want to leave some room for reflection and doubt for the audience, so rather than telling a story with a clear image, I wanted to create an atmosphere. While viewers understand the basic logic and premise, they can fill in their own experiences and thinking. 

As for whether it’s fun to watch people interact with the work, I’d say it’s more of a feeling of movement and satisfaction. Because this set of works was created during my entire MFA study, I went through countless critiques and questioning processes, including a lot about what this set of works really means and why people should care about someone getting sick unpleasant experience. So this project ended up in an exhibition format. When people tell me they find the set meaningful or they find it resonant; I feel like it’s not a waste of time and effort. 

Anything I missed asking that you would like to share?

I’m not sure if I’ve managed to do that, but in my creative process, I’ve been hoping and trying not to make the series feel like a pain to “stay away” from the audience. I understand that depression itself is painful and messy. Still, I was actually afraid that images like this would scare the audience away, so on balance, I chose to use another, milder style to show the disease. At the same time, I feel that this work itself has a self-healing effect for me that I did not expect. I felt that throughout the process of creating it, it seemed to separate out the pain in my head and give me an opportunity to look at my own situation objectively.

For those that read this blog regularly, you know I’m a fan of color. Luna’s colors stand out and draw me in. Thank you for sharing this series, Luna! You can see more of Luna’s work on her website.

Artist Spotlight Home Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Savannah Calhoun

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. Their works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, photography, and more! This is art that explores mental health. In this post, we are featuring Savannah Calhoun (she/they).

Savannah uses different mediums and structures to play with photographs and infuse them with new context.

Photo of the artist, Savannah Calhoun. Her art is inspired by his experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts. Art for mental health.

Savannah Calhoun is an image-based artist residing in Cedar Rapids, IA, and from Indianapolis, IN. Her work playfully addresses image culture given the circumstances of the internet from a queer and feminist perspective. She received a BFA in Photography from Herron School of Art and Design in 2019 and an MFA from the University of Missouri in 2022. She currently teaches photography at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Savannah did a Q&A with The Layered Onion (TLO), talking about her art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

I would say my style could be described as colorful and eccentric, but heavily borrows from cyber-based aesthetics as well as still life.

With what mediums do you work?

I work with photography, installation, new media, and digital collage.

You recently had a show called “cyber fantasy.” How did you get the idea for the show?

A photo of Savannah's gallery show - cyber fantasy. Plays with digital and electronics. Explores art and the internet.

Art for mental health/art and mental health.

Before this work, I was making still lifes and self portraits. I found ways to kind of cross those concepts over within this work by including objects, arms, and hands. It started mostly because I was visiting the University’s surplus warehouse where they place everything that they don’t use anymore/have replaced, etc. I found tons of old tech there and started photographing it, thinking about how the obsolescence of technology resembles Vanitas still life.

Photo from the installation in Iowa. Iowa artist. Overlapped images. Video and multimedia art. AI voice and AI vocals.

The show features some interesting layered works – super neat. What inspired you to use more of the walls in that way?

I got the opportunity to see Everywhere there is splendor” by Farah al-Qasimi at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis and see her artist talk. I was really stuck by something she said about the connections of the color pink between the mural photos and the framed photos that were superimposed on them, and how it was bodily, thus inherently, tied to identity. This then made me consider the connections of materiality and source material to photography, which led to those layered works.  

I also saw your video, Glitch, on Instagram – do you often work with videos? What led you to video? How did you generate the AI voice? 

I work with video and new media pretty frequently! I started making video art when I was an undergraduate because I enrolled in a video course. From there, I just really grew to love it as a second medium to work with. I generated the AI voice using an online text to speech generator, with the text from Glitch Feminism pasted in, and recorded the speaking with a microphone.

I’m drawn to this piece (below) where you mention “thinking about cameras as they relate to the body” and your inspiration for the future. What an interesting concept! What direction are you thinking about going in?

I think in Cyber Fantasy and the work I’ve made since, I have wanted to address photography itself. That includes all of the working parts of a photograph – the camera, the digital tools used in post production, etc. The working title of my current project is Portals & Hauntologies. I consider this piece a part of it, and in that work I’m thinking about transmission to the internet as well as nostalgia.

Photography. A camera and digital tools. Mental health through the arts. Work with Photoshop.
Savannah Calhoun, Camera Eye. Digital Collage, 2022.

You also teach – what kind of topics do you cover? Is it inspiring to work with students?

I teach Design and Photography courses. I really love teaching and working with students, it’s a pleasure to share what I love with others.

Any advice for fellow artists looking to get started with this type of art?

Allow yourself to spend some time in photoshop really just playing and being curious. 

The blend of future with past aesthetics and the play on size draws you into Savannah’s work – I’m excited to see where she goes from here.  Savannah’s work is also on display in TLO’s shows! You can see more of Savannah’s work on her website or her Instagram @sav.calhoun. Thanks, Savannah!

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Lauren E. Allen’s “Multitudo”

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, and more! Today, Lauren E. Allen (she/her) will share her work “Multitudo,” a unique piece of layered photography.

Before we delve into the art, a little more about Lauren:

A photo of the artist, Lauren E. Allen, behind string. The artist works with photography and vintage cameras. 

She uses art to heal and process. Neurodivergent. Neurodivergence. Art to address mental health - art for mental health.

Currently residing in Denton, Texas, Lauren E. Allen graduated Cum Laude from Texas Woman’s University in 2014 with a concentration in photography before enrolling in the University of North Texas to pursue a master’s degree in 2021. 

Lauren’s work focuses on translating and reconstructing memories of their experiences as a neurodivergent person. She utilizes abstracted photographic imagery and fiber structures, and viewers are forced to confront ideas of weakness, fragility, and disposability while experiencing familiarity.

Lauren participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on the work:

Layered photograph. Holga camera. Arrow camera.

Art for mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Lauren E. Allen, “Multitudo.” Photograph(s). Summer 2022.

What medium did you use? 

This piece is two photographs that were digitally manipulated and turned into one. I shot the original images on Cinestill 120 film. 

When you are photographing, what do you find most inspiring? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I have two main streams of consciousness when shooting. The first one is a purely intuitive one, where I walk around with my camera and just fire. The other is specific imagery that my brain suggests to me when studying neurodivergence or recalling my experiences that I then recreate to be able to capture. 

How would you describe your artistic style (today)?

I always hesitate to assign words to my artistic style because I want the freedom to move between aesthetic choices. However, there are words I consistently chase when making art that I hope will come to people’s minds when they see my work. The words ethereal, dreamy, and surreal always float around during my process. 

How did you set up the overlay?

I use a third-party service that develops and scans all of my film. I then sort through the shots and pair up pieces that I think complement each other or would like to be together. They are then manipulated in photoshop to create a singular digital image. The digital manipulation of the film images lets me control what parts of the image are more apparent. Still, I am very dedicated to keeping what I like to call film surprises. 

I love that phrase “film surprises” – do you have an example of this, or can you elaborate on the concept?

Because I use vintage and toy cameras, there is a lot of variety of what can happen during the shooting process. Using double and sometimes triple exposures also heavily alters what the film can maintain, which can create a lot of really surreal imagery. I also love to use expired film when available, which physically alters the chemistry to be a bit unpredictable. 

Can you describe the camera you used and what period it is from? I don’t think I understood the full impact of vintage/toy cameras, and it sounds very cool!

The world of film photography is really diverse and rich, with a lot of people fighting to keep the processes alive. I use a variety of cameras, but my heavy hitters are below with a brief description: 

  • Holga camera: These are the cream of the crop toy cameras. They are inexpensive plastic cameras known for the inherent defects that become a part of them, like light leaks, etc. Mine is quite old and dying, so it gives me a lot of washy blurred imagery.  
  • Arrow camera: This is another plastic toy camera. I purchased mine from an estate sale. It’s probably from the 60s. 
  • I use a lot of Kodak Brownie six-20 cameras which were discontinued in 1956. I was able to score a large batch of these in an estate sale. 
  • My favorite camera is a 1947 Kodak Duaflex camera. It’s in amazing condition and takes just the most dreamy shots. 

“Multitudo” has one shot from the Holga and the other from the Arrow. 

I think the placement of the tree leaves over the eyes is quite powerful. Is there a message you were looking to convey?

Ideas of displacement within my life inspired this particular piece and its original two parts. Sometimes I feel like I’m experiencing two different realities that have been compacted together. The figure exists between that place of literal ground and sky and that mental grey area. 

Lauren’s work “Spiritus” was featured in The Shallot and The Layered Onion’s exhibition at Hodge Podge. You can see more of Lauren’s photography on her Instagram – @leallen_art!