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The Artist's Take on Mental Health - Mable Tan

In August last year, Facebook threw up a suggestion for a group - Art Licensing with Mable Tan . I decided to join the group, and since then there's been no looking back. I've connected with a wonderful group of designers and illustrators. Mable herself has been so open with sharing all her knowledge with all of us. As I got to know more about Mable, I realized that she's also passionate about mental health, and so I had to reach out to her for this interview series. Read on to learn more about her views on mental health.

Please introduce yourself.

Hi, I'm Mable and I'm a surface designer based in Melbourne, Australia.

Tell us a little about your journey as a designer.

I'm a self-taught surface designer and have been working on my craft for the past three years (but feels longer). I started out without knowing a thing about surface design or what a collection was until I enrolled into Bonnie Christine's Immersion Course, and then I dived deep into the world pattern making and licensing and never turned back. I feel it's my calling and it's something I'm truly passionate about. I enjoy giving back to new, aspiring surface designers because I know how long and lonely this journey can be.

How do you add a dash of your personality into your work?

I love all colours but especially yellows and pinks because it makes me happy. When I create, I try to come from a space of joy so when people see my art, they feel that joy too. I think now more than ever, we need to bring joy and laughter to the world, in any shape or form, whether it is through music, words or art. I want to make people smile even if it's for a minute or two.

Of all the wonderful art you've created, do you have a favourite? What's the story behind this art piece? Why is it your favourite?

I don't think so... I see all of my art as work-in-progress, and while I'm happy with what I achieved in that moment, I also feel that I still have so much to learn and improve. All the art I make matters to me, and at the same time, it doesn't, because I need move on to create the next piece of art that inspires me.

Why are you passionate about mental health?

Although I came from a loving family, I had a difficult childhood because there was also a lot of verbal abuse and manipulation within my family. I don't think my parents knew any better because it was something they'd experienced in their childhood. But as a kid, I didn't know how to deal with it and there was a time I was bulimic and suicidal. As I grew older, I discovered Buddhism and meditation and it helped me heal and cope with tough situations. When my mother died, I fell into a deep depression which lasted for months and that was probably one of hardest journey I've experienced.

Having experienced depression and anxiety firsthand, my mental health has become my utmost priority.

How do you think an artist can raise awareness for mental health?

Anyone can raise awareness by talking about depression and anxiety. By normalising the conversation and leaving judgment at the door, it makes room for healing. Everyone is going through some sort of battle and I know how easy it is to hide all that behind a smile and a strong face. I also think it's important to open the conversation by asking, "Are you okay?" and then, allowing someone to say, "No. I'm not.". We don't have to be okay, and that's okay. No one needs to be happy all the time. Happiness can only flow naturally if we allow ourselves to grieve, feel sadness, cry, and, yes, even be depressed. There's no such thing as negative or positive emotions. It's not bad to feel angry or depress. It's part of who we are, and we need to be okay with it.

How does a typical day look like for you, as an artist clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety?

Well, I've never been formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety and there is no such thing as a typical day. I let my heart decide what I want to do for the day. If there's an inclination to go for a walk, and my body is willing, I'd do that. I'm not someone who does the same thing, day in or out. I always consult my inner GPS to make the most out of my day.

How do you keep yourself constantly motivated and inspired as a designer?

I don't. I understand now there is always an ebb and flow with inspiration and motivation. Right now, because of the lockdown in Melbourne, my son isn't able to go to school, and I need to help him with his lessons and process his emotions. Being only six, it's challenging for him to understand what's happening in the world. And I have to be okay not to wear my designer hat all the time. We can't switch on all the time. Eventually that just leads to burn out. I give myself grace to stop, to rest, to heal, to re-generate and go with the flow. I know in time, I will be able to pick up my art again and create work that deeply resonates with my audience and clients.

How do you deal with anxiety and self-doubt?

I sit with my feelings for a little while and ask myself if those thoughts have any truth in it. For example, every now and then, like most people, I have the imposter syndrome. I ask myself many, many questions ... like fact checking with myself. If the response is 'no, that's not true', I don't give any more energy to the thought. For example, I may have a thought that says, "I'm not a good speaker.", and I would ask myself, "Have there been any time that I was a good speaker?" And the answer is, 'yes', then I know that that thought that's causing self-doubt is not true. Our thoughts does not make us. That's something I've learned from meditation. They are merely bubbles of ideas floating around. I let them float for a bit, and let them move on after facts-checking with myself.

Any tips for tackling creative block that stems from anxiety?

Rest. Relax. And most importantly, allow yourself to PLAY. Most of the time, I experience anxiety when I've put too much pressure on myself. We can be our own worst critics and the only way to overcome that is to have unadulterated fun. We often underestimate the power of play. Kids learn the best and are most inspired after they've had a chance to play, explore and have fun and as adults, we forget that process because we were told to 'grow up'.

Is there a book/blog/podcast you would recommend for fellow artists/designers?

I don't but I highly recommend walking into a library or book store and buying the first book that jumps at you.

If you could give one piece of advice to artists and designers living with mental health conditions, what would it be?

Be kind to yourself. You are special, and unique and incredible. It's okay to feel all the emotions and there's no such thing as a 'good day' or a 'bad day' according to how you feel. Part of self-care is to allow yourself to be yourself and if you need help, always know that there are professionals around to help.

Where can we find you?


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