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.
PLAN & SKETCH
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.
BUILD THE FORM
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
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.
ADD “ME” FROM REFERENCE PHOTO
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.