Since 2011, artist and mental health advocate Amy Frank has been touching lives through her creative work, public speaking, and award-winning website. Today, she shares with us about her wellness journey, artistic expression, and hopeful message.
Please tell us a bit about yourself and your experiences with artistic expression and mental health advocacy.
I have been creating art since I was a child. By the age of 11, I could draw realistically quite well. In my pre-teens I began to experience depression. By my early teens, I was reaching for drugs and alcohol as a way to cope. In 2004, at the age of 18, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder while in the midst of a heavy struggle with self harm, suicidal tendencies, and substance abuse. I have had a long life journey in the past 35 years of living with bipolar disorder, psychosis, drug addiction, sobriety, entrepreneurship, and from time to time emotional and mental stability. My art and writing have accompanied me on that journey.
I started keeping sketchbooks when I was 3, books of poetry when I was 14 and books with daily journal entries at age 16. My journals are actually more of a scrapbook. They include art, photos and writing. I have been documenting my life with mental illness for a very long time. My books – both written and art – mean a lot to me, and one day I hope they can help others.
I turned my art into an Art and Mental Health Advocacy business in 2011. I’ve done quite well in my business but it’s taken 10 years! I am on a journey towards Wellness. Everyday I make choices that support health and sobriety. I’m by no means perfect though. I still mess up in life. That doesn’t change my aim. I know what I want and I have to work at it everyday.
My advocacy work started with wanting to help de-stigmatize mental illness and let those who struggle know they’re not alone, and since 2020 it has morphed into advocating for my rights as I had an upset with the medical system over how psych patients are treated. The goal of my advocacy is still the same: You are not alone.
Readers can find out more about my journey on my Blog.
The “Art Gallery” section of your website uses the heading “Transformation” to describe your work in progress. Can you reflect on some of the most significant changes that you have experienced within yourself and in your art? What are your senses of future change / directions that you hope to pursue?
My Art Gallery album Transformation shows my whole public portfolio to date. It starts when I was a pre-teen and drew things realistically, and then shows how my work began to change as I became sick with mental illness in my teenage years. I used to hate all my art, but in a psychosis that I began experiencing in 2019 there was a lot of light, hope and spirituality. I admire my art now, but sometimes I wish I could see it through other people’s eyes. I don’t always understand the impact of what I create.
I hope to create more large pieces again sometime, as in recent years I’ve been doing a lot of Art as Therapy — which is a term I use to describe a little sketchbook I carry with me everywhere I go. My Art as Therapy is not for sale at this time. I create it for myself.
The change I experience in all of my art is when I’m in the act of creating it. It’s very soothing and repetitive. Something I’ve learned in my art is that there are no mistakes (even when I think there are). Sure, I have a mistake process I use on larger pieces, but ultimately my work turns out exactly how it’s meant to.
I don’t know what future changes will come about to my art but I know it will continue to change and evolve just like it always has. I have over 400 images in my portfolio at this date. That’s a lot! I’m truly proud of how far my Art and Mental Health Advocacy business have come in the last 10 years and I hope I continue to capture my life journey in art and writing.
How has your artwork helped you to challenge some of the stigmas that surround mental illness?
I still experience stigma around mental illness; however, my advocacy work has let me meet a lot of people and have many impactful conversations. I meet a lot of strangers who care deeply about me and my art. Too many people either understand mental illness themselves or love someone who experiences mental illness. An important thing to remember is everyone’s experiences are unique.
Most people I meet through my advocacy are very compassionate and express a lot of gratitude towards me. Being vulnerable in my advocacy has been a positive experience. I realize there’s stigma out there and there’s always going to be people who judge me based on the sole fact that I have a mental illness. That doesn’t stop me from speaking my truth about my experiences. I meet way too many amazing people to stop, and I know there are far too many people out there who feel judged, scared, and alone. I want them to know that they’re not alone. . I for one understand the struggle all too well.
Your current sketchbook collections are entitled “Conversations with Algorithms” (2020) and “Navigating Wonderland” (2020 – 2021). Can you tell us some more about where these titles came from and the ideas behind them?
“Conversations with the Algorithms” and “Navigating Wonderland” are sketchbooks that I call Art as Therapy. Both books illustrate my life in a surreal/fantasy type way as I journey through life with bipolar disorder and psychosis. There are back stories to almost every piece I create; however, these are not being disclosed to the public at this time. I do hope to talk about them more in the far future.
In a sentence or two, what is the core message that you would like to share with our readers?
Have hope. Remember that emotions and thoughts come in waves. Every moment moves along eventually, the good moments and the bad. I also want to emphasize how powerful picking up a pen can be in moments of despair, chaos, and angst. Whether you scribble, draw, or write, it doesn’t need to be a masterpiece. You can still release some of the emotion just by putting your pen to the paper.
How can we best stay in touch with you?
You can add me as a friend or follow my public Facebook posts: https://www.facebook.com/amy.frank.585/
Email is also a great way to stay in touch with me: [email protected]
Thank you for taking the time to share with us, Amy!