Behind the Scenes

How I Overcame My Depression and Started Drawing Again

These last 2 weeks, although I’m working full time, I produced more drawings than the whole year of 2019. Being busy was not pushing back my art career, it was my emotional state.

Working in Canada has been intense

Being an immigrant is no vacation. Since I moved to Canada in 2014 I’ve been always working very hard and rarely take some time to evaluate my life and goals. In my first year as an immigrant I just survived, and it was tough. I had 2 jobs and lived in 4 different addresses. It was exhausting.

In June 2015 I quit my job and went to Brazil for 5 weeks. I didn’t want to do anything, I just wanted to rest. That was when I had my first insight, I wanted to change my career, I wanted to become an artist.

I was travelling in Buenos Aires and I wondered… how artists make a living?

I got back to Canada and enrolled in a visual arts and illustration program. I applied for a new day job and got 5 job offers for management positions in retail. Salary was reasonable but all jobs were full time and seemed like a lot of responsibility. At the same time I also applied for a part time job as a barista at Starbucks because I felt that just making coffee would leave my creative energy free for my art production. Starbucks called me. That was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I remember long conversations with my family and friends about how I could make my art career possible, how to balance day job and dreams. My mom was the one who reminded me that I could get a management job in retail anytime, but “if you want to be an artist, you need to try it now”.

Making coffee and drawing boards

So I got the job at Starbucks and started studying at a local university. In the extra time I worked on my own drawing projects and yes, it was tough. Awesome, but tough. I did that for 2 years and one day after a stressful shift I just quit. I was already doing exhibitions, got a few small commissions and a local newspaper even wrote an article about my work. I thought, ok, I can survive as an independent artist. I counted my savings and boosted my work for 6 months. It was great but I made some mistakes on the way. I got in debt when I did my first solo exhibition, I invested money on equipment for taking pictures of my art work, custom frames and art supplies. These things were necessary but my inventory didn’t move as fast as my expenses.

Living the dream as independent artist

At a certain point, I had to get another day job. That’s when I started teaching at an art school for kids. In the beginning it was part time and I was still producing a lot of illustrations and funding my independent career. I paid my debt, I got my work at an art gallery, pieces started to sell here and there, I was happy. I got married, moved to a cute house, things were moving well and I was moving towards my dream. But personal challenges came on the way. Last year, in April, I faced something devastating emotionally. I didn’t notice at the time, I didn’t see how it would affect me, but it did and it was very deep. I pretend nothing happened. When the art school offered me a position to become a manager full time, I accepted and I started working very intensely. I abandoned my drawings and illustrations. I lost all my hope. I firmly believe I would never be happy again. When people asked me what happened and why I was not drawing anymore I would blame it on the job. “I’m too busy”.

For one year and a half I didn’t touch a pencil

Then the pandemic came, I was temporarily laid off. Suddenly there was so much free time! But in my first month at home I just watched the news and got upset about everything. I didn’t touch one art supply. On my birthday, in April, it had passed one year after the tragic event from 2019. It was like someone was slowly turning on the lights of a very huge building, switch after switch. I started to eat healthy again, exercise daily, I lost 3 quilos. I did fun things like playing online games, watching cute movies. Suddenly, boom! Something turned on all the lights at the same time in my head! All the pain stopped. My drawings ideas were back. My art goals hit me like a thunderstorm. I realized I’ve been mourning for a full year and that was what stopped me. It was not my job, not my new routines, nothing. It was my emotional state.

Fênix out of the ashes!

Since things got clear, I see inspiration everywhere. I’m inspired by the stories that are happening now, the game I was playing, the movie I was watching, the advertisement I saw in a magazine. Ideas are flourishing everywhere. In the last 2 weeks I produced more than the whole last year. I am working full time now, exercising 5 times a week, eating home made food practically everyday and I’m on a spree of energy and creativity.

One of the works I did in this new spree of energy

People don’t see when depression takes over. It happens so slowly, we think things just changed for good. We changed. We gave up. That’s not true. Now that it’s over, I see clearly how I was affected by my emotional state. I’m finally happy again. I feel powerful and motivated, I feel I can do anything again. It’s just beautiful!

Healing takes time, don’t give up!

It’s hard to believe I’m drawing again. Now that it’s over, it just feels I had a bad dream. Emotions are important. I usually pretend things doesn’t affect me and then they stay in my subconscious poisoning everything. Some things we can face and deal with it, but others, we need to give time to heal and there is no way around. If I didn’t ignore what was going on, I wouldn’t feel so guilty about not making art, or feel so pressured about my routine and goals. I would have been more patient to myself and accept I was healing. I wouldn’t try to blame other people or other things for my lack of initiative. I didn’t produce because it’s was not possible due to my motional state and I needed the time to heal. I’m happy I understand that.

From now on I’ll start posting these new illustrations here on the blog and speak more about my process and what I’m doing. I’m so happy about this new spree of creativity I can’t wait to start sharing everything. Keep posted and again, thanks for reading!

By Jonara Oliveira

Visual Artist and Illustrator, working with embroidery

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