As we head into a new year, many of us are setting lofty creative goals and daily drawing intentions for ourselves (have you joined our Doodle A Day January challenge yet?). But have you ever stopped to wonder why we doodle, sew, and make things? Creativity isn’t only a way to feed the soul, but can be a valuable tool to increase well-being, stay connected to others, and appreciate the small joys of life. For Octavia Bromell (also known as Tink), a graphic designer, illustrator and new Spoonflower artist based in the UK, finding joy through drawing has been vital in managing her experiences with anxiety and depression. In this inspiring conversation, we sat down with Octavia to chat about her creative journey, why developing a simple drawing practice can be so helpful to manage stress, and how we can all carve out the time for a more creative life, even on the busy days.
What brought you to your drawing practice? How did you get started?
I was studying for a master’s degree in London when my lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression became too much for me to handle on my own. I moved back to my childhood home in the Dorset countryside, and gradually began the process of healing. One of the biggest tools I came to learn along the way was drawing, initially just for myself. It was incredibly therapeutic and to be honest, it still is! As I started to recover and became able to work again, I was fortunate that my illustration career picked up, to the point where I’ve been working as a full-time illustrator for two years now.
How is it possible to amplify feelings of happiness through drawing?
For me, just the act of sitting down to paint or draw is an instant little mood booster. One of my favourite things to do is sketch out a little gratitude list of things I’m thankful for. A lovely friend and I used to send each other ‘joy lists’ each month where we’d draw, paint, or just write a few simple things that had brought us joy recently. It’s an incredibly effective way of reminding yourself of all the lovely things that are happening in your life, however small.
What are the everyday moments and things that make you the happiest?
There are so many! At the moment when the weather’s not so great, I love having a fire and spending a lazy Sunday afternoon playing board games in front of it. My cat, Betty, sleeps on my bed, and I have a tiny mini Dachshund puppy called Truffle – they both make me smile constantly! On a more basic level, there’s not much better than a good cup of tea and an old film. I also love fossil hunting on my local beaches, but when it’s a bit warmer!
You’ve mentioned elsewhere that you have participated in 100 day drawing challenges. How do you feel participating in these challenges improves or changes the way you draw?
I really love 100 day drawing challenges. When I started my first one (when I was an Adobe Creative Resident) I did it because I thought it would be a bit of fun, but honestly, it was probably the shortest period of growth I’ve seen in my work. I would have said I was fairly secure in my style beforehand, but even in the first 30 days I developed so much. I recommend drawing challenges to anyone that asks me for advice on building their drawing skills, or finding an illustration style. It’s like a condensed way of figuring out what you’re interested in, what you’re good at, and what needs work!
Tink’s 100 Days of Joy Project
What kinds of things do you get the most excited about drawing?
At the moment I love to paint landscapes. Prior to June 2020 I had little to no experience in them and set myself the challenge of improving. Since then I feel like I’ve really found my groove, and I love making up little scenes in my head, and translating them onto paper! I’ve always loved drawing plants too. I have a lot of house plants, both at home and in my studio, which are a constant source of inspiration.
You’ve described drawing as an essential part of your own personal self-care toolkit for emotional health. What do you think it is about drawing that makes this activity so therapeutic?
I can completely zone out when I’m drawing. If I get really into a piece 4-5 hours can pass by and then I kind of wake up and realise I haven’t done anything else all day! My favourite thing to do is to stick an old Disney film on and paint. I can literally spend days like this, it’s wonderful! I think it’s because it’s this absorbing that it really works as a therapeutic tool for me. The flipside is of course I also get a lot of fulfillment from selling my work through my online shop. Wrapping up prints or gifts from my shop and sending them out to their new homes is incredibly rewarding.
How can our drawings help connect us to others?
I often use my drawings to process things I’m feeling or emotions I’m experiencing at the time, and I think this is how a lot of people find my work online. It’s been an unexpectedly good way of connecting with people from all over! I think that the essence of art, whether it deals with mental health or not, is that some people will connect with it and feel something, and some people won’t. But that process of forming an opinion can link you to other people that feel the same way. On a basic level, it’s a way of me expressing things that sometimes I can’t quite put into words. And being able to share that with people, and for them to understand it too, is wonderful.
What advice do you have for artists who might find it challenging to carve out time for their creative practice on especially busy days?
This is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The cold hard truth is that life can be incredibly busy, and often creativity is the first victim of a busy schedule. I had to learn the hard way the importance of prioritising the things that matter to you. There will always be paperwork, emails, admin, chores, etc, there’s always so much to do. My advice would be to start with just 5 minutes of drawing. Draw while you’re having your breakfast if you have to! But the more you work in that tiny amount of time, the easier it becomes. Above all else though, times are tough for all of us at the moment. And the important thing is to look after yourself. For me, that includes drawing, but if it doesn’t for you right now that’s ok! Give yourself a break. It’ll come back when it feels right, and I’m sure you’ll be ready with those 5 minutes when it does.
Octavia Bromell, better known as Tink, is an illustrator and mental health advocate based in rural England. After years of struggling with depression and anxiety, Tink now gives talks all over the world on the positive impact creativity can have on all our lives. This overflows into her work, which is bright, and fun, often examining the oddities of being a human.