I’ve been using an iPad to draw with for just over a year. It’s changed my relationship with drawing and made the process much more enjoyable and less stressful for me – mainly because there’s an ‘undo’ button for when my arm tics cause chaos.
Looking through my iPad earlier, I was reflecting on how these drawings tell the story of the last year. I was also struck by all the different ways I’ve tried to visualise and make sense of the chronic pain I experience. While I’m almost always in pain its quality and my relationship with it varies.
I was interested to see how this is reflected in the images I’ve made, and in many ways, I found them more interesting as a collection than on their own. In this post I’ll share some that particularly caught my attention and try to describe what I was feeling at the time.
The earliest pain drawing I could find was pretty crude. I don’t remember creating it or exactly what I was feeling, but despite that I instantly recognised it as being about pain.
Body of Pain
The next drawing is one I wrote about at the time. While I was trying to draw the pain, I was also visualising its impact on my body, and what it looks like from the outside. As time’s gone on, my pain drawings tend to focus more on making sense of the internal sensations.
The drawings I called Pain Puzzle develop the idea of pain as interlocking shapes. Embarrassingly though, in these drawings my pain looks a lot like a cock and balls!
I drew this quickly, late at night, and I’m fairly sure the different types of line represent different qualities of pain, but I’ve forgotten the detail of what they mean. I started a key but didn’t finish it – which made me laugh when I looked at it just now.
Bodily Objects Sketch
This is the first image where I imagined my pain as a series of everyday objects hanging out in my body. I annotated it, saying a little about its associated sensations or why I chose each object.
This is a series of images that developed from the Bodily Objects Sketch. While these are obviously drawings, I think of them as sculptures because creating them feels weirdly like I’m actually balancing objects on top of each other. When I’m struggling with pain there’s something funny and distracting about imagining it as a microwave or a tennis ball.
Through My Eyes
This offers a very different perspective on pain – I wasn’t attempting to describe where in my body the pain was or what the sensations were. Instead, this drawing was about exploring how being in pain impacts on the way I experience my surroundings and how much detail I can take in.
This drawing is back on familiar ground, imagining my pain as its own universe, and I’ve included words to describe how the pain feels as it connects and moves. I use words like ‘sliver’, ‘twist’, ‘burn’ and ‘crunch’.
Pain Vs Sickness
One of the recurring issues I have alongside pain is nausea and sometimes this is exacerbated by the medication I take. When I made this drawing, I had quite a lot of both, and this was an attempt to map the experience.
My Pain – A Logo
I have no memory of drawing this, but when I looked through the collection it stood out – if my pain was looking for a logo, this would be a good option!
Pain Personality Profile
I made this drawing while imagining what my pain’s CV might look like. The writing’s messy and not that easy to read, but it says:
‘Committed, persistent, hustler
Reliable, self-directed, punctual
Not easily distracted, good at networking
Good at asserting control
A breeze-block and a breeze’
This drawing, predominantly of my torso, legs, and bedroom, might at first glance not look pain-related, but I was really sore when I did it and I remember trying to keep my body still to limit the pain – this isn’t easy given how wiggly my tics are. Visible in the drawing are lots of things related to pain management, like the app I use to track pain, my bed remote control, and my emergency buzzer. It was a sunny day and I felt sad to be sore and indoors (you can see the rest of the spaceship crew sitting in the garden).
I made this colourful drawing quickly and it’s very different from lots of the more detailed images I’ve made that relate to pain. Thinking about it as colour that adds to my body, rather than just as a negative presence, has sometimes helped me feel less frustrated when I’ve been struggling or feeling overwhelmed. I often give myself rules when I’m drawing but this image is a free for all.
I’ve revisited the idea that my pain has different levels many times before. Sometimes these numbers are a score out of ten (as with this drawing), with ten being the most pain and zero being no pain. Sometimes levels relate to the connections between my pain, body and surroundings, like the drawing I did pre-iPad called From Spine To Sky – Via The Lamp-post
These drawings are part of a series that started life as constructions made out of Duplo. For over a week I used Duplo to turn my pain into physical objects. These images are drawings of those creations with a background that allows them to go somewhere beyond my body – whether that’s rocketing into space, hanging out by the sea, or floating through the sky with the clouds.
Drawing’s always been something I’ve done to help me understand the world and my position in it, so it’s not surprising that I’ve drawn my pain a lot. I’ve found it interesting looking back at these and reflecting on my changing relationship with my body and my pain. I’m sure this will continue to evolve, and so will the way I express it.