Manic Depression and my Alice in Wonderland Designs

Thank you very much to everyone who read my feature in Bipolar UK’s 80/20 Art Collection. As was probably very noticeable to anyone familiar with Alice in Wonderland, the piece I wrote to begin talking about mental illness read a lot like Wonderland itself.

For anyone who didn’t see it, I have copied a section of the short piece below:

“Depression is relentless in stripping your self-worth. I had my first severe hallucinations and delusions in bipolar depression at eleven, and since then recurring episodes have lasted from six months to over a year. Feeling such emptiness, hopelessness and shame has made me isolate myself, and when overcome with delirium, I can’t claw my way out of the rabbit hole.

“Periods of disassociation have nearly defeated me and although delirium is sometimes a wonderland of colours and curiosity, violence has dominated my experience of hallucination. When your consciousness and senses are tricking you, it can be impossible to call out the pack of cards for what they are.

“Drawing has been invaluable in finding self-worth and a sense of safety. Art began as a means of reconciling the space between reality and terror, and I would draw the aftermath of violation, recreating it with a sense of wonder.”

Because of struggling with hallucination and dissociative symptoms from such a young age, Alice in Wonderland had a very significant impact on the way I tried to understand what was happening to my mind. I found myself relating to Alice so much anyway, because she was bossy and curious and stubborn. But the experience of Wonderland, the effect it has on her understanding of her identity, the sometimes extremely violent physical manipulation she experiences, the chaos and disorientation of language and the absence of sense – even in her own sensory activity – were all things that I was beginning to experience myself. I began to shape my own understanding of what was happening to me alongside Alice, and I still find myself going back to her all of the time.

I hope to go into more detail about this connection when I am a bit more used to talking about my experiences. I am also using Alice in Wonderland as one of the literary texts in my research, which is proving to be fascinating in concurrent examination with other literary texts as well as medical case notes. However, I wanted to start explaining the reason Wonderland is so dear to me alongside my interpretations of Tenniel’s illustrations.

I created these illustrations with the intention of capturing the wonder of Tenniel’s designs, but each with just a subtle difference to create my own small twist to them.

20. White Rabbit Blackwork

With my first white rabbit, I added to the linework for some more pen and ink detail, and I softened the expression so that the white rabbit is a little less worried, with a hint of a smile.18. White Rabbit

I added a similar expression to my second white rabbit, also adding some bright colours that I thought would be suitable for him.

15. Alice and the Pig and Hatter

I similarly added colour to my first Alice and the Mad Hatter, again adding to the pen and ink texture with more linework and crosshatch detail, whilst darkening Alice’s eyes to bring that slight edge to her expression.

19. Alice in BlackworkWith my second Alice, I decided to experiment a little bit more with pen and ink techniques. I used a lot of pointillism and line detail to bring something a bit different to the textures, and changed Alice’s expression a little bit to how I’ve often imagined her looking. I think this one and the first White Rabbit are my two favourites of my Alice illustrations 🙂

16. Unicorn dpi

Finally – for the time being 🙂 – I tried something different again: completely stripping the pen and ink detail back. With this wonderfully angry unicorn, I used just very clean lines to give a different blackwork texture, and to hopefully really attract attention to that look in his eye.

Thank you very much for reading.

The first four of these illustrations are available as prints in my Etsy art shop, but as I’ve connected so much of my opening up about mental illness to Wonderland, I thought I would make prints of the last two as well 🙂 Prints of my Unicorn will be available this evening, and I will be making prints of the pen and ink Alice with her crown over the weekend.

Here’s the link to the shop in case anyone is interested 🙂

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