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:
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!
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.
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.
In this post, we are featuring Sia Spark (she/her).
Sia is a freelance illustrator and digital artist based in Perth, Western Australia.
Combining elements from nature with vibrant colours and whimsical characters and settings, Sia crafts illustrations with a unique, accessible, and light-hearted feel.
Sia loves working with bright, evocative colours and friendly shapes to create illustrations in between fantasy and reality, layering in natural textures to give her work depth. Her work aspires to help highlight the joy and wonder of our world around us.
Sia did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:
What first drew you to art?
I’ve loved drawing since I could first hold a pencil! One of my most fond childhood memories is sitting outside in nature at my parents’ rural property with my Dad and drawing the scenery – usually landscapes and animals. Landscapes and animals are still among my favourite subjects. I went on to study art and art history in high school… Funnily enough, this kind of killed my enjoyment of art for a while. My teenage stubbornness didn’t respond well to that, and I felt like that study had taken all the pleasure out of art and instead set a lot of rules and parameters that I didn’t agree with, so I lost interest in pursuing art for a good few years. In my 20s, a former career in marketing led me into graphic design, and I matured to understand how to follow a client’s brief, whilst still making my mark on a project. That led me back to finding joy in creating art again. Now in my 30s, a little older and (hopefully) a little wiser, I consider myself quite adept at following a brief whilst still pursuing a creative approach, and that’s one of my favourite elements of illustration.
How would you describe your artistic style?
Fluid, fun, and vibrant. I love incorporating real-world textures into digital illustration, and fusing a sense of the fantastical with reality.
What are your favorite materials and mediums to work with?
I work primarily digitally, but occasionally I’ll also work in watercolours, gouache, and charcoal. I like mediums that can be fluid and expressive.
Your art is whimsical and inspiring – where do you draw inspiration from?
Mostly nature! The natural world is endlessly inspiring to me, and I think that flora and fauna are so beautiful and unique in all their variations – and far more interesting than most things man-made, in my opinion! I love illustrating the natural world for children to encourage them to find beauty in their surroundings and develop a deep respect for all creatures great and small.
You illustrate children’s books – how did you get involved in the industry?
At the start of my working life, I worked in mental health and marketing. Whilst I don’t regret my time in those industries, it absolutely led me to burnout and after becoming chronically ill, I took an extended break from work and started illustrating much more frequently for pleasure. I was mostly illustrating nature, portraits of animals and whimsical, fairy tale-esque scenes, and it was during that time that I realised that I was garnering infinitely more joy from illustrating than I ever was over the past decade of my previous jobs. I felt hesitant about pursuing illustration as a profession (my fear of change is very real!) but with plenty of encouragement from my wonderful partner, I made the jump and here we are!
Illustration is truly a great fit for me and my needs – it allows me to work on a range of different projects and be adaptable in my style, allows me to put my creative mark on a project and also allows me to manage my varying energy needs whilst working from home. Children’s books are my favourite because there are endless ways to express subtlety and nuance of a story… Adding hidden details here and there that are a joy for children to discover is one of the best bits! Children’s book characters can be so expressive and whimsical and unique, and that makes illustration super fun.
This year, I’ve had the pleasure of writing and illustrating my own children’s book, “Whose Cat Is That?” It’s a fun adventure through a whimsical town called Fishbottom, where the town is turned upside down by the curious case of a missing cat, Mr. Paws. As the characters knock door to door throughout the town, children mark off characteristics of the cats from their list and get to play detective, before finally discovering the true owner of Mr. Paws. The story also introduces children to various pronouns and encourages inclusivity, diversity, and respect.
What is/are your favorite subject(s) to illustrate?
I’ll always enjoy anything related to nature, animals and scenery. I take a lot of pleasure in drawing rich, intricate, natural-world scenes that are filled with expressive and unique characters.
Sia’s art gives a sense of child-like wonder, not just for children but also for us adults. The message of hope inspires and the colors enchant. You can see more of Sia’s work on her website!
In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art, music, and more!
Today, Clara Christensen (she/her) will be sharing several images from her “Space Lava Lamp.” Before we delve into the art, a little more about Clara in her own words:
Hi, I’m Clara, a graphic artist. I have been doing graphic/digital art for about 6 years now, and have been mostly influenced by pop art. I am usually shy, so being able to use my creativity to express myself has been beneficial.
Clara Christensen, Space Lava Lamp 1, 2, and 3. Digital Art (Illustrator). February 2022.
Clara participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on the piece:
How would you describe your artistic style?
My artistic style is mainly from pop art, and I added my own spin of using no black outlines and adding gradients to create a more clean, light look.
What is your favorite part about art?
My favorite part about art is being able to visually share my ideas and concepts that I would have otherwise struggled to explain in words. It’s like a window into my mind and creative ideas.
Where did you get your inspiration for this piece?
I was originally inspired by Roy Liechtenstein, a pop artist who used many contrasting colors to make certain parts of his pieces pop. I was also inspired by retro posters from the 50s-60s, when they were trying to promote space travel. I then added my own spin with concepts of how lava lamps appear weightless and fluid to add to the piece.
You use contrasting colors of orange and blue that catch the eye. What led you to these colors?
I was mainly inspired by how space contains a lot of cool colors, and lava lamps are usually warmer colors. I landed on blue and orange as good contrasting colors for this piece to help establish foreground and background as well.
Talk a little about the panels. How does that work for this piece?
I have always loved the idea of having multiple pieces of art that could make up one giant piece when placed together, but could also stand on their own. I also feel like with this particular piece, you could rearrange the panels out of order and it would still look nice next to each other. This began as an experiment with that idea, and I ended up loving it, and plan on having multiple panels for my art in the future.
In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more!
Today, Calvina Morgan (she/her) will be sharing her piece Med Compliant. Calvina took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion:
How would you describe yourself or want to introduce yourself to The Layered Onion community?
I start with the phrase “a lot bipolar-a little artsy” because that is how I identify myself, an artist who struggles with Bipolar 1 Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, GAD, and ADHD. I’m extremely med compliant though. I used to go on and off my medicine but I realize now, after several times of ruining my life, that medicine is key to my stability.
I’m an artist who tries to explore my fantasy world as well as my reality. Some of my art is cutesy and cartoons while other pieces are emotionally driven and speculative. I also write nonfiction and poetry as a way to cope with my feelings and complex inner life.
I currently live in East Nashville, TN, with my wife, 2 dogs, and 3 cats. It’s definitely a zoo here but my animals help keep me grounded.
Calvina Morgan, Med Compliant. Ink and paper, March 2022.
What inspired you for this piece?
This one was inspired by my struggle to be med compliant. Even though I am, it’s still a frustrating thing to have to take medication every day. Sometimes it feels like my mental illness can be a burden but I try to deal with it in a way that is healthy.
I like the use of color and the different types of pillsplit lines onthe different pills. What made you decide to put which pill where?
The pills are from my own experiences with medications. I’ve tried the gamut of different medicines and currently take 6 different medications to be stable. One of the larger pills reads “Self Doubt” because that is something that is the forefront of my mind. I’m always doubting my abilities as an artist and writer. The rest of the pills are labeled with other negative thoughts and feelings that I experience on a daily basis, even with being med compliant.
Is there symbolism to the tongue being stuck out and reaching for the “bitter” pills? How did you decide the composition of the page?
I wanted the tongue to extend out as a symbol of my willingness to be med compliant. I’m determined to stay on my medications and wanted to convey this. As far as composition, I wanted it to be stark and monotone. I wanted the emphasis to be on the content and not the elements, though I feel both are important in creating art.
What mediums of artwork do you like to use? Is there anything unique that you’ve particularly enjoyed out of different tools you’ve tried?
I enjoy using a wide variety of mediums. My favorite is acrylic paint, but I also heavily use ink for the details. I also enjoy incorporating various mediums in one piece to give it a dynamic appearance. Probably the most unique medium I’ve used is tattooing. It is very different drawing something versus tattooing something.
Do you have any favorite tattoos you’ve designed?
Probably my favorite tattoo I’ve done is my Wanderlust tattoo on my left hand. It’s a simple line design of a camper, trees, and the moon but the significance of it is heavy. I’m constantly feeling the urge to uproot and move so this one is to remind me that no matter where I’m at, I need to find happiness in that.
You also mention that you dabble in writing. What kind of things do you like to write? What do you find most rewarding about it?
I write poetry and nonfiction mainly. Sometimes I will also write lyrics, though I’m not musically inclined. The most rewarding thing about writing is the expression of my feelings and the ability of writing to help me process those feelings. My mental illness makes me very aware of emotions and feelings, and I feel these things to extremes. I’m particularly sensitive to others’ feelings, which have a way of affecting my own emotions.
Thanks, Calvina, for sharing this bold piece! You can check out more of Calvina’s work at the following sites:
In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more! Today, Julie Kitzes (she/her) will be sharing her piece Panic Cattack.
Julie 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 Julie:
Julie grew up in a remote wooded area of western Canada where she became accustomed to living in the wilderness and developed a deep respect for animals and the environment. She’s loved drawing and creating since the time she could hold a pencil, and would often take inspiration from observing the natural world around her. She originally set out to study veterinary medicine, but when a neurological condition left her too ill for the physical demands that entailed, she decided to pursue art seriously. After enduring six brain surgeries, Julie graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration in December of 2017. Currently residing in northern Colorado, she uses her personal work to examine the connections between life, death, growth, and decay, as well as the various plights faced by our natural world. Julie specializes in pet portraiture and animal art, and believes in creating impactful work that touches her audience while keeping art affordable and accessible to everyone.
Julie Kitzes, Panic Cattack.
Now on to the Q+A portion…
I love the inspiration of nature and animals in your pieces. I’m a cat person myself and love how you captured emotions and overlapped different parts of the cat body. It captures the complexity of emotion. How’d you approach painting this piece? What was your inspiration?
I approached this piece by sketching out different faces/poses on tracing paper and playing with layering them until I got a composition I liked. Once I solidified it I traced it onto bristol board and finished it with watercolors and colored pencil. I really wanted to capture the range of emotions encompassed by anxiety, and give it a frantic energy. My inspiration comes from having panic attacks myself, but also watching my cat Roger experience anxiety and restlessness when a family of barn swallows had decided to nest right outside our apartment door one spring.
Do you use live subjects for all of your work or also rely on some abstract?
I tend to blend the two in a lot of my work. I feel adding abstract or surreal elements makes the work more interesting.
What led you to the project of representing anxiety in pets?
This actually was a rejected piece of work for a pet anxiety clothing company, so I retained the rights to use it personally, and now it’s part of a bigger project I’m working on.
Are there any other series like this that drew on similar inspiration?
Yes! So the bigger project I’m working on is an illustrated book about mental health with my cat Roger as the main subject. He guides the reader through everything from emotional regulation to the importance of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with others.
Anything else you would want to say about this work?
I’m excited to keep working on this project and to keep producing more pieces like this for it. I really hope the book, once finished, is able to be of some help to even a few people.
Any websites or links you’d like us to share?
Absolutely. My work can be seen at www.juliekitzes.com, or on Instagram at @juliekitzes. My book has it’s own Instagram where you can get behind the scenes peeks and tidbits from the book, and you can follow along with that one at @butwithcats. I’m always open to commissions and do a lot of pet portraits, so people can feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] for more info or even just to say hi!
In addition to pet portraits, Julie works on a wide variety of diverse projects, including but not limited to children’s literature to custom tattoos to hand-painted needlepoint canvases!
Julie also maintains a blog, where she explores her experience with mental health and wellness and how it interacts with and influences her art. Her post on ADHD is particularly accessible, honest, and enlightening. Julie is currently working on a book project.
It’s time for another Artist Spotlight! In this series of blog posts, The Layered Onion gets to know an artist in the community and learn a little more about them and their work. Today, MJ (she/they), an illustrator and creator currently based in Australia, will be sharing a series of works that engage with mental and emotional health challenges in the form of self care art.
But first, let’s learn a little bit more about MJ in MJ’s own words:
I’m MJ and I love to make illustrations. I grew up in South Korea and currently live in Melbourne, Australia.
My illustrations are all about mental health, self-love and personal growth. I create to help sad souls who struggle with their mental health issues to feel less alone. I also create art to heal my own. Making art is helping me a lot to open up and let out. I’d like to let depressed warriors be heard through my art.
I believe that little things can lighten up our mood and bring moments of joy. My art is here to remind you to take care of your mental health. It will help you to take a tiny little step to make it through the day. My arts are a mindful gift for sad souls who want to be kind to themselves and motivated.
Various stickers from the “It’s okay” sticker pack.
I find the use of color and form very striking in these works. Many pieces of MJ’s artwork are also available for purchase in the form of art prints, stickers, even journals on MJ’s Etsy Shop, which can be found by searching for “SadHumansHope” in Etsy or by clicking on this link. This Artwork Spotlight also happens to coincide with the launch of nine new sticker packs in MJ’s Etsy shop (there’s also a price discount for the few days after the launch).
You can follow MJ on social media in the following places: Instagram and TikTok. MJ’s handle for both of these platforms is @hhumanmj. Also don’t forget to check out MJ’s website at www.hhumanmj.com, which features more illustrations, comics, etc. I’m a new follower on Instagram, and can attest to the content’s quality, especially as a fellow creative. I love the journal prompts in MJ’s Instagram stories!