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Anxiety Goblin

Aug 12, 2020 | 0 comments

Mental health is an aspect of our lives we shouldn’t have to keep hidden, and I wanted to take one of my long-time issues and give it a face. Inspired by the work of Stephen Gammell in the Scary Stories series, this is a portrait of the thing that lurks in my mind every day. Continue reading below for an inside look into my process for creating this intense image.

Sketch outlines

create atmosphere



For this project, I wanted to put my anxiety on paper using more than just words in a journal. Growing up with the Scary Stories books and LOVING the creepy, stringy,  black and white illustrations by Stephen Gammell, I knew I wanted to evoke the same feelings in a portrait of my anxiety.

I began by creating a smoky atmosphere with dark and light grays. The anxiety goblin would be swallowing me whole, so I sketched out a wide-mouthed face, complete with teeth and a glowing face inside.




Sticking to shades of gray, I focused on heavier, darker shades on the lower left and lighter shades on the upper right to start building the form.  I wanted the face to have disproportionate features, such as an overly large mouth and nose with smaller eyes and ears. I intentionally left the sockets bony and without flesh, as if the looming figure was blind and indiscriminating when consuming “me” throughout its existence. 

add in strings + smoke

add more



Gammell’s original illustrations for Scary Stories include these gangly lines that create an other-worldly atmosphere. To emulate this, I blended the “roots” of certain lines, made others pop forward with lighter shades, and even added hanging bits. I used darker lines with shades of gray similar to the background to push those farther back. The various shades and opacities create depth and add to the overall three-dimensional quality.




Though I played with several stylized iterations of “me” inside the Anxiety Goblin’s mouth, I ended up deciding that a more realistic rendering would create the right contrast — the ethereal goblin juxtaposed with the life-like face being gobbled up. I used a copyright-free reference photo to get the form and shadows just right. 



The resulting image turned out exactly as I had imagined: ominous, looming, overwhelming — and a perfect portrayal of how my anxiety makes me feel. Doing more than just writing the words proved to be quite cathartic, and I plan to continue this ritual to better deal with my mental health as needed.

Created using an iPad Pro 12″ and Apple Pencil 2 in Procreate. 



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