Cartoon illustration: Health & well-being projects

Over the years my illustration has often found a home in various areas of health & well-being, with clients ranging from government health services, mental health organisations, educational ‘well-being’ projects through to private practitioners and community arts projects.  My empathic nature, my sense of social conscience, along with my personal insights from lived experience (long-term depression and trauma, and a deep understanding of many body-mind based therapeutic processes) all helped me approach this work with genuine involvement.  It has been interesting for me to learn in recent years that strong altruistic & humanitarian tendencies are a common feature of the Aspergers nature, something I definitely relate to retrospectively when I look at the breadth of my creative work across education, community arts, personal transformation, mental health etc. In particular, my cartooning workshops in schools had a very specific focus on well-being, using drawing to help students explore emotional communication and develop self-confidence.

The art & skill of cartoon drawing, as I see it, is often a distillation of essential lines (symbols) in order to communicate an idea clearly & immediately.  In the examples below, I’ve selected a few different projects in which my cartoon illustration was used this way for very worthy causes.  This collection is by no means definitive, but they are a good representation in this context of health & well-being.

Path Out Of Pain / Rosemary McIndoe (mid-90s)

This project was primarily a colour poster project commissioned in the mid-1990s, with characters from the poster also being used in a series of smaller instructional posters.  It was (literally) a huge job, hand-painted on A1 size board, and as I had no suitable work area at the time, I had to work on it at my friend Elly’s Black Widow Graphics studio. Path Out Of Pain is a system of self-managing chronic pain, developed by psychologist / physiotherapist Rosemary McIndoe through her own challenging journey with chronic pain after a car accident in 1984. 

After I completed this commission, Rosemary also asked me to illustrate a small book of yoga stretches for people with chronic back pain (something I related to, having back troubles of my own).  These weren’t cartoon illustrations but more like instructional diagrams, so I had to take particular care to be as precise as possible in depicting every line & angle of the body. To enable this, Rosemary demonstrated each pose in person while I sketched, and in this way I was able to ask questions and check for accuracy as we worked. I had some experience of yoga practice myself, which also helped my understanding in the process.

You can read more about Rosemary’s remarkable work here, and view the other Path Out Of Pain posters here.

Facilitator Handbook: Peer Support The Autistic Way (2020)

In 2020 Autism Tasmania designed a pilot program for setting up Peer Support Groups for autistic adults in the Hobart area.  An initial stage of the pilot was a 2-day training for autistic adults to become peer group facilitators.  When I applied to participate in this training myself, the project co-ordinator mentioned they were putting together a handbook to accompany the training.  I described my background in health-related illustration, and so was given the job of providing the handbook images. 

These kinds of projects are almost always operating on very limited funding budgets, so my challenge was to keep the drawings simple but communicative & expressive. Also, with an autistic audience in mind, I wanted the images to be visually ‘clean’ and uncluttered. To this end I used the generic ‘everyperson’ character I first developed in the Path Out Of Pain posters, and which has been a useful device in many other settings (see also Live Scribing below).  In total there were 25 illustrations, of which 7 are included below, with excerpts of the handbook text each image is supporting (text by Geraldine Robertson / Robyn Thomas):

Live Scribing: Calvary Hospital / Relationships Australia (2015 / 2016)

While my years of teaching had given me plenty of experience creating spontaneous drawings on a whiteboard for a live audience, I had never been commissioned to act as a Live Scribe, documenting the ideas of a group process as it is occurring.  My first attempt at this was for a ‘Death Cafe’ event organised by members of the Calvary Hospital Palliative Care team in Hobart.  In the space of two hours, my role was to roam the room, eavesdropping on the various death-related conversations occurring at tables, and translate my fleeting impressions into drawings on two whiteboards. It proved to be a very useful way for the group to reflect on the many themes that emerged. The Calvary team asked me back in 2016 to scribe a six-week program they were trialing with a group of Yr 12 students, with a focus on palliative care. The program was filmed and documented as a dvd, and included several guest presenters working in different areas of care. The program was especially successful, and my visual contribution was richer for being able to attend multiple sessions.

In late 2015, I was also asked by Relationships Australia to scribe their entire 2-day national conference. The timing (and context) was particularly challenging as I was dealing with personal upheavals that would become a five year period of Family Law mess, burnout and emotional breakdown (involving many of the services represented at the conference), but the process of tracking & distilling all the information presented at the conference was a good mental focus. Below are a few examples from all three scribing projects, and you can read more about each of them here: Calvary Palliative Care, Relationships Australia and Death Cafe.

Synapse Medical / Margaret Faux (2010 – 2019)

In 2010 I was subcontracted by Stream Art Design to create some single-panel cartoons for Synapse Medical, a company set up by medical solicitor Margaret Faux to assist health professionals in navigating medical administration eg Medicare claims etc. Margaret was so pleased with the cartoons that for the next 9 years she commissioned a new topical cartoon each year to be sent out to all her clients as a christmas card.  As Margaret has a very incisive mind and mischievous streak, her briefs for the drawings were often very complex, and always having a dig at the ongoing political disruptions to the Australian Medicare system.  It was a pleasure to meet the challenge of these cartoons each year, and Margaret was a dream client, always incredibly enthusiastic about my work and accommodating of my suggestions.  Included below are the xmas cards, as well as an image she commissioned (of then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott) for a PhD presentation she gave in 2014.

Brain Injury Association of Tasmania (2005)

In 2005, the Brain Injury Association of Tasmania commissioned a series of cartoons for use in their educational programs in schools.  The drawings were to show students common high-risk scenarios, as well as safety measures to prevent the likelihood of brain injury.