In the first of a new series of blog posts for Making Minds, Cardiff artist Sammie Roberts talks to us about her art, experience of mental ill health and her sources of inspiration. Sammie is about to graduate from the Cardiff School of Art & Design, where she studied illustration.
Sammie, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work, including any recent pieces you’ve produced?
Well… I don’t know where to begin! These past few years have been a bit of a blur. I’m 22 years old, I’m Welsh and I’ve always been interested in art and creativity. Mental health related issues have been a particular interest only within the last few years. Having been suffering with mental health problems myself, I have used my art as a release in a therapeutic way. Having grown up in a chaotic but loving foster house, I have been able to experience and understand difficult situations from an early age. My recent works have not only been an attempt to find my own identity as a person and as an artist, but to also constantly work through difficulties I face. I have learnt to see my work as a process rather than a final piece.
I tend to go through periods of high energy, where I am much more visual and I tend to work a lot quicker. Here is when I tend to experiment with different media within collage, and question everything everybody does, it’s like I cannot stop.
After this, it often feels like my world slows down. I get so caught up in the minute details I tend to write about everything, and make connections between the strangest objects and experiences. When I write it tends to come out lyrically and poetic. Most of the time they don’t make sense, but I never go back and change it as it certainly made sense at the time. Here’s my recent piece called ‘self image':
So this is what it feels like to be a
Lamppost.Tall and thin
I observe pointlessly.
I am needed to an extent, but it seems
My insides don’t
Match up with my outsides.
I don’t trust my shadow
But I prefer it.How it looks so thin –
It took a while toPile all those intricate thoughts –
I was in denial.
I ought to be an expert by now
But all I do is hurt.
Trust is only one letter away from the truest of things.
It brings all aspects of our world together –
One language we all know how to express in various ways.
The wind blows against my harsh
Grey face and
With my imagery it’s different. I have made so many pieces which I think have not worked, in which I have then either (unfortunately looking back now) destroyed the image or, completely opposite, made something better. Having confidence issues has not helped either, and I am constantly learning as an artist how to be objective. Although seeing my work as a process is key, knowing when to stop is vital to create a piece that tells the story, and this is what is most important for me as an illustrator.
Can you tell us a bit more about your interest in the arts and your interest in mental health? What do you think about the relationship between creativity and mental illness?
I’ve always been interested in the way people communicate, and if we all see in the same way. I am also interested in different mood disorders and again, not only how people perceive life but the idea of reality and what people account as ‘real’. I have always pushed art as a form of communication; this is why illustration was the perfect degree for me.
Art is one language which everybody can understand to some extent, but we all read it differently. I remember a quote that particularly stuck out for me during my research for my dissertation. Freud stated, when analysing work by Edgar Allan Poe, that “The obsessions, compulsions, fantasies and nightmares in Poe’s work might not indicate a mental illness. They might instead represent his audience’s buried feelings”. What people see in art work can depend totally on not only their mood at the time, but their past life experiences.
The question of whether using art as a form of therapy to either control ones’ moods, or to help communicate diagnostically has too always interested me. Again, always seeing art as a process rather than a final piece is also important with this. I believe finding the right balance is key to a healthy lifestyle mentally.
How do you think art and creativity can help people gain a better understanding of mental health / illness?
I think a lot of people are put off by both subjects, particularly mental health issues in general. There is a great stigma that’s definitely not going to clear overnight. However, I strongly believe that if both subjects work alongside each other then only good can come from it.
I also think it depends what people want out of their own art work, as well as other peoples’. If they want to better their mental health then I definitely think creativity can be used in a positive way. Like I mentioned earlier, art is a language everyone can take something from and understand. If people look at art work and feel some sort of empathy, hope or any reaction towards it then I think it’s doing its job. If these art works portray any mental health related issues or experiences then maybe they could show people that they are not alone.
Another way creativity could help people gain a better understanding would be, like I mentioned earlier, using creativity in a therapeutic way, to understand what they themselves are going through emotionally. If someone cannot communicate through words as past experiences may be too difficult to explain, then communicating through art work is definite way forward.
Who or what do you get your inspiration from?
Literally everything. It depends what mood I am in. Sometimes I feel this world goes too quick for me, everything builds up and I just can’t cope with the littlest situation. Sounds daft, but this is when the small things inspire me; bumps and cracks in pavements, or the way the sun light beams gently through my blind in the morning. I become fascinated with how words are stitched together, or how the clock constantly ticks and I begin to question peoples’ behaviours and thoughts. On the other hand, I go through phases where I love to read books, listen to music and look at a wide range of other various types of artists.
My favourite writers include Marya Hornbacher, Kay Redfield-Jamison, Charles Bukowski and Karin Slaughter. I try to read as much as I can, the same with music. I try to constantly reflect upon the lyrics and sounds of many musicians. My all-time favourite is still definitely Eminem, especially his old stuff, he is a lyrical genius. Poetry also amazes me, I’m no expert, but play on words and lyrical rhymes have always impressed and inspired me within my work.
I also look at other visual contemporary artists, not just illustrators, musicians or writers, but film makers, dancers, photographers and much more. I try and dabble in a bit of everything. If you can tell from my work, I do tend to get bored easily, I like taking inspiration from everything. I also run a lot for charity, so particularly when I’m training for a run I’m constantly inspired throughout my journey. Exercising benefits both my mind and my creative drive and I think I would be lost without it.
Finally, what hopes do you have for your art for the future?
I don’t know where to start! I have so many great ideas for future projects that relate creativity and mental health. I strongly believe that creativity has the power to save lives, step by step; beginning with baby steps of attempting to remove the stigma around mental health issues. I was always told to take it day by day, and this totally works. At the moment I am beginning to develop some new work to take me over the summer, continuing to combine mixed media collage and my poetry. I have applied for the Art Psychotherapy course in Newport, which I hope to be a part of in a few years. Until then, I wish to gain as much experience as possible, attempting to bring art therapy more into the community, helping people with mental health difficulties to express themselves and understand that they are not alone.
You can keep updated with Sammie and her work on www.nauticlstar.tumblr.com