Let’s Talk About Mental Health and Art – with Sam Spicer March 21, 2018

Sam Spicer is an illustrator on Pop My Mind who creates bold, expressive paintings using ink.

In Autumn 2017 Sam won the call-out Let’s Talk on Pop My Mind with her submission From a Stone. The opportunity was curated by Roseanne Ganley, another member of the PMM community, in order to open up conversations about mental health through creativity and self-expression, with the prize of a Healthy Minds Counselling session.

Several months on, we talked to Sam about her experience and how creativity links with mental health in her work and beyond.

Sam Spicer at work on her award winning piece The Phoenix

What inspired you to create the piece based on the open theme Let’s Talk by Roseanne?

Sam: When the theme was posted I was struggling a lot with wrist pain and RSI symptoms, and it
was generating a lot of anger and frustration since I’d recently made the move to work on art
full-time. The pain restricted how much I could work some days, so I was struggling with
feeling like I wasn’t making the most of my time, and with an overflow of inspiration and
artistic energy that I couldn’t get out. So my initial inspiration was from that overwhelming
frustration at myself.

Sam’s piece From a Stone which won the Let’s Talk opportunity

Creating work is obviously very important to you. How do you think being
able to be artistic helps you in your life?

It’s the biggest outlet for my busy mind. My brain seems to generate a lot of ideas (not all of
them good!) and being able to create something from them is kind of like letting off a
pressure valve. It’s something I really notice when I can’t make art – not having the outlet
has me feeling very restless and directionless.

Do you think it’s important for people to create spaces to talk about mental health,
such as in the Let’s Talk opportunity?

Having the space to talk about mental health is vital. Talking about things that feel wrong or
off in your head is a very vulnerable thing to do, so having a space deliberately made to
explore those feelings can be so helpful. Particularly in artistic spaces, which lend
themselves, I feel, to more expressiveness and openness. I think a lot of people end up
neglecting mental health because it’s kind of a taboo thing to discuss. The more we talk
about and express ideas about mental health, the better off I think we’ll all be.

Why did you decide to continue with Healthy Minds Counselling after your first free session?

I felt that I connected well with the counsellor, and after the hour was up, I realised I wanted
to keep talking about and working on the things we discussed. Talking with her helped me
realise that it would be good to have someone to talk about things that I didn’t feel able to
talk to other people in my life about.

“The more we talk about and express ideas about mental health, the better off I think we’ll all be.”

Your work often relates to human emotions, such as in Human Confusion and The
Fragile Tower. Why do you like to explore this subject in your pieces?

Because my work tends towards the abstract, I like trying to express other abstract concepts
that can’t necessarily be portrayed in a more realistic manner. I enjoy the challenge of
painting the ‘un-paintable’. There are so many facets to explore with emotions and mental
states and things of that nature – humans are fascinating creatures, and it’s always
interesting to explore various aspects of that.

The Fragile Tower aims to represent a person’s towering and delicate ego and pride

Where do you draw inspiration from in the symbolism of your work?

All over the place! Sometimes from books and movies or TV; The Fragile Tower drew on
elements from The Dark Tower and Full Metal Alchemist, for example. Sometimes I get inspiration from
other artists and artworks; in Journey Into Mind and We Can’t Be Alone Out Here I pulled
from things I liked from the Surrealist movement, in particular some of Ernst’s sculptural
work, and Dali’s paintings.

In the process of making, I think a lot about what I’m trying to express, and what symbols in the world already relate to that. Then through research and my own experiences, I pull together my own versions and translate that into the work.

My hope is that when people look at my work, they bring their own conceptions to the table,
and that they mesh with the symbolism I’m using in interesting ways. There’s always a story
in my work, and if a hundred different people read that story in a hundred different ways
based on their own experiences and ideas, then I’m happy!

In your pieces, you often link the mind to the body. How are the two related in your opinion?

I don’t know that it’s something I consciously think about doing, but the two are inextricably
linked. The mind rides around in the body, the state of the body can impact the state of the
mind. It’s a very interesting connection.

Do you think creativity helps towards people’s mental health?

I think having a creative outlet is incredibly beneficial to mental health from a ‘making’
perspective. It doesn’t matter if you identify yourself as an artist in whatever form, the act of
making lets you express emotions, or forget about your worry, or even work as a form of
meditation. Humans have always made things, and it’s a very vital part of life.

In terms of the audience, I think that when someone connects with a piece of art, it’s an
experience you can’t get any other way. Hearing a song that makes you cry, or seeing an
artwork that somehow expresses a feeling you had, or watching a movie where you see
people like you doing incredible things – I think all those things are powerful.

Are there any techniques or platforms of support that you use in order to improve
your mental health that you’d recommend to others?

Counselling for one! Having someone to talk to is so important, even if it’s just a trusted
friend. Nine times out of ten when I’ve had a problem, the biggest part of the solution is
talking it out. The other thing I’d recommend is some form of meditation or mindfulness
practice. Particularly if you’re someone (like me) with a lot of thoughts in their head and an
obsessive planning tendency, practicing how to just be present in the moment of your day to
day life is really valuable.

Human Confusion is a piece about the flawed and confusing ways people communicate to each other whilst striving to be understood

See more of Sam’s work on her website and her Pop My Mind profile. You can find Sam on Twitter, InstagramFacebookDeviantArtTumblr and she runs a weekly blog here