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Ana Morales was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 3 1/2 years old and says she doesn’t remember what it’s like not to have diabetes. Ana is an art major at James Madison University and the younger sister of Sysy Morales, founder of The Girl’s Guide to Diabetes. Ana’s contemporary, gutsy art first caught my attention on Diabetes Art Day.

Ana was kind enough to take time out of studying for finals to answer some questions for me about creativity and chronic illness.

1. You write on your blog that you have loved making art since you were a little girl and that you continue to paint every day. Can you describe your creative process?

My creative process is pretty spontaneous. With art, sometimes you get inspired at the most random time, so when that happens, I’ll start painting or drawing as long as I’m not busy with something important. At school, my creative process is a lot more structured because of my classes. For example, this past semester I took a printmaking class, a painting class, and a ceramics class. Basically, I was always working on something. In the process, I also learned lots of new skills and techniques that I can apply to my own work outside of class.

Sometimes I have a definite goal in mind, like if I’m painting from a photo, but other times I just play around and end up with a surprise. I like to experiment with different color schemes, shapes, and textures. I also prefer working while listening to music. Sometimes the song I’m listening to will somehow find its way into my painting.

2.  You also say that painting and drawing helps you relieve stress. Can you tell me more about balancing college, diabetes and your art work?

Conveniently, it’s pretty easy to balance college, diabetes, and my artwork right now. Since I’m a studio art major, I have lots of opportunities to make things. My studio professors obviously have to assign certain assignments and projects, but aside from the basic structure, we ultimately decide what we’re going to do. In my painting class for example, the only requirement was that we needed to have six completed pieces by the end of the semester.

When it comes to diabetes, its nice that I take art classes because they’re not lecture classes. This means that I can step out of the class for a moment if I need to get food or give insulin without worrying about missing something important that the teacher said. Most days are individual workdays so I move at my own pace and do what I need to do.

Even though I talk about how convenient being an art major is as a diabetic, I am in college, so stress is no stranger. My constant art projects along with my other homework can be exhausting sometimes, and my blood sugar levels suffer as well. I admit that I’ve also sacrificed a fulfilling meal in order to finish up something. The key thing is definitely time management for me. As a first-year RA this semester, I worked especially hard on managing my time effectively. I make very detailed to do lists every single day and I try to finish projects and assignments early if I can. This reduces stress and allows me to focus more on my diabetes.

3. As a young woman with diabetes, does your art help you relieve stress and express your feelings about living with diabetes? Do you see making art as a healing process with diabetes?

Surprisingly, I hardly ever thought about diabetes while painting or drawing. It was almost like I wanted something in my life that diabetes didn’t affect. It was only very recently that I realized that art was a perfect way to cope with diabetes. Creating things has always relaxed me and brought me up when I felt down, but I never looked at it as a healing process. It was just something I always loved to do.

Now however, I think about my diabetes a whole lot when it comes to my work. In my painting class this semester, my goal was to illustrate my diabetes-related fears in a subtle way through my paintings. I did a painting of my eyes to show both my frustration and my fear of becoming blind, for instance. I discovered that it was really hard to paint my fears in this way, but it was no doubt easier than talking about it. I’ve always found it hard to put my deep thoughts into verbal words; I think that’s why I fell in love with art. I’m still working on figuring out the best way to communicate my thoughts through my paintings, but you can definitely expect more pieces about my life with diabetes in the future.

4. You paint still lifes, portraits, landscapes and some abstract pieces as well, where does your inspiration come from? Also, can you tell me about this painting of the woman with her head back? It is gorgeous!

My inspiration comes from so many things—everyday life, the people I love, other artwork, music, nature, TV, movies, my classmates, my professors, literature, food, shapes, even trash. I like to make paintings that send a message, but sometimes I just want to make something beautiful to look at.

The painting of the woman with her head back is part of a series that I did this past summer. The series focuses on depicting emotions through your body and how it relates to your insides as well, like your heart rate, your breathing rate, and the things running through your mind. This particular piece is about feeling relieved and the way that nothing else matters, at least for a few moments. Even if you’re going through a lot of difficult situations, you feel a renewed sense of hope because something went right this time. While it wasn’t my original intention, the painting definitely relates to diabetes, like when you have high blood sugars for two days straight and then you check again and you’re finally down to 115.

5. Can you tell me about the paintings you submitted to Diabetes Art Day? You included text in these images, why did you want to literally spell out the message on this image? Do you feel like viewers need to be better informed about living with diabetes?

I mentioned earlier that it wasn’t until recently that I realized art is a perfect way to help me cope with diabetes. The moment I realized this is when I created my piece for the first Diabetes Art Day. That first one is about how it’s really easy to feel afraid and alone because of diabetes, but you have to remember that you’re not alone and that things can and will get better if you work at it.

There’s one main reason why I wanted to literally spell out the message in these pieces. I like when people create their own interpretations of art, but for this particular situation, I want people to understand right away what I’m talking about because it’s something that I want them to reflect on. I want non-diabetics to understand that diabetes isn’t easy to deal with, without having all the positivity sucked out of the message. I want to show the reality of diabetes, but also the silver lining that is always there.