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Illustration by Lauren Drinkwater

In conversation with Lauren Drinkwater

shado sat down with London-based illustrator and artist, Lauren Drinkwater to talk more about her work and the topics that influence her. In this interview Lauren talks openly about her own experiences with mental illness and the role of art not only as therapy but in raising awareness and providing a space of solidarity with those also dealing with mental illness.

Lauren Drinkwater

You say you are a mental health and body image artist – can you explain a bit more about what this means to you?

It really comes down to representing my true self. Being an artist is like a constant game of charades – similar to living. We wake up everyday and make the decision of who we are going to be, what we are going to wear, how we are going to communicate and what we are going to represent. For me, being a Mental Health & Body Image Artist means being as raw as possible. Being true to the thoughts in my mind and replicating them through my art forms of illustration and spoken word.

There are so many pressures as an artist to do things a certain way to fit the standards, which I know sounds strange because Art is a free form of expression. But, that doesn’t mean people will agree with your message. I believe as long as you stay true to who you are and only produce pieces that you’re comfortable with, whilst not being swayed in demeaning your style to become ‘The Artist’ that others want.

Illustration by Lauren Drinkwater

What are some of the biggest topics/ issues you are currently trying to address in your work and why?

Suicidal thoughts. For me it’s something I experience on a daily basis – it’s the biggest relationship in my life where there seems to be a blurred line with compromise. Mental Health seems to be ‘trending’ at the moment which is of course great in so many ways as there should always be awareness around Mental Health, but my worries are that not everyone is doing it for the right reasons and instead are using it as a tick box exercise.

In my work I want to show that this is a real illness. It isn’t just a title of an article, or the 3 minute clip you see on the news. This is every day. This is living. This is survival.

Again, it comes down to being completely honest about mental illness, it ain’t’ always pretty colour palettes and words. But, of course if my work makes others feel at home and like they can survive another day then that really is the most poignant thing to be part of.

Illustration by Lauren Drinkwater

What do you see your role as an artist being in terms of awareness raising and advocacy?

I hope that my role as a Mental Health & Body Image Artist inspires others to share their experiences, create art, and try spoken word! I am all about women empowerment, and a huge part of my role is to support other women and encourage them to not be afraid or embarrassed to be who they were born to be – a little ‘messed up’, but 100% authentic and real.

How have your own personal experiences shaped your practice?

Everything I do is really a huge education piece – you know, I started therapy when I was in school after taking an overdose at 14. I was a child! So, I feel I am responsible for raising awareness and educating all generations to ensure we feel safe and free to be who we are without feeling like we have to end our lives.

I hold a lot of guilt and shame in my soul, which is something I try to work on daily. A huge part of that is feeling like my experience, emotional trauma and demons aren’t worthy. This is where Mental Illness & Body Image tie in really naturally together – they both come in all shapes, sizes, colours, quantities, forms, textures, tones (and other arty describing words, sorry!), which is why it’s important for people to say or show their piece. These are the topics that will never be fully discovered which I guess is why they’re so hard to deal with – we are humans and we want answers… in fact, instant answers due to the way life is now. But, of course, the most beautiful things in life take time.

Illustration by Lauren Drinkwater

What are some of the biggest influences in your work – whether that be other artists, styles etc ?

If I think about artists that have a serious impact on my day to day life of survival it will always be Amy Winehouse and Mac Miller. I know it seems weird as they weren’t artists in the same way, but, music plays the biggest role within my art, and lyrically they make me feel like I’m understood and that I’ve found my home. Like they’re in my brain and everything makes sense again. I cry with them, smile with them, dance or want to die with them. It’s a weird feeling and kind of hard to explain.

In terms of art styles, I am really drawn to beautiful colours – I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to colour. At the moment I’m really feeling Maggie Stephenson, her work is so delicate and feminine with a real undertone of purity.

I’m also big on Miki Kim, a tattoo artist who I feel is the essence of merging tattoos and mental health together. The details of her work is insane, but also her pieces are so relatable to me.

One more (sorry), but Pierre Rutz. His work is so beautiful. It’s like his illustrations have so much movement whilst also being very technical and intricate. It’s actually really refreshing to see a man’s view on the female body form in this way too.

Illustration by Lauren Drinkwater

A lot of your work is centred around the female form and body positivity – what are the biggest problems for you at the moment in terms of representation of the female body and what do you hope to achieve with your illustrations?

I’m a size 10 – a ‘boyish’ figure if we were putting ourselves against those weird quizzes you used to get in sugar magazine when you were a tween! On paper I shouldn’t have any insecurities and I should always feel proud of my body. But, actually Body Image & Body Positivity affects every single person. I always wondered why my boobs didn’t grow, why my vagina looked a certain way, or why acne seems to set up camp on my face even though I’m a 26 year old adult!

I remember when I was 13 and someone at school said I had gorilla legs – what does that mean? I have no idea, but it affected me. I was told I’m gross because I have body hair on my stomach and on my arse – my question is, so? But, it still affected me.

My point is, no matter your shape or size, smaller or bigger. We are all victims of this twisted monopoly of Body Image where we spend hours prodding and poking and looking for perfection within ourselves as if it isn’t already there. My work is to show people that we are all here, we are all real and we are all beautiful. Body Image & Body Positivity is for all women and we shouldn’t be ashamed of representing a cause that has caused us all so much pain.

Illustration by Lauren Drinkwater

What do you think art can add to the conversation on consent? Do you see your work as educational?

My work has taught me a lot, especially about acceptance, feeling worthy, understanding my mental illness and being part of a wider community. I hope that by sharing my brain and all it’s intricate details that people find a way to grow in the right direction and learn about themselves, how to approach certain situations and understanding the importance of self love.

Where can we see your work – what exhibitions do you have coming up?

I have my 3rd solo show: High From The Greenhouse on the 2nd July at Upstairs at The Ritzy, the launch is going to bring so many sweet vibes and I’ll be performing my spoken word at one of my shows for the first time (eeek!). High From The Greenhouse will be up until Aug 4th so plenty of time to catch my work.

Some of my pieces are going to be shown at Shado mag X The Vavengers Womxnhood event for their issue 2 launch so make sure you head down there too, it’s going to be magical.

I’ve just started my T-shirt collection ‘TEEZ’ which you can buy on my website – a real nice way to represent Mental Health & Body Image on the streets!

I’ve also got a really exciting project coming up which I can’t actually say anything about right now, but just as a heads up…some really beautiful things are on their way!

Find out more about Lauren’s upcoming exhibitions and see more of her work on her website and instagram

Illustration by Lauren Drinkwater

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