How do illustrators use autobiography as the inspiration for their work?

Illustrators often use their personal stories, life experience, memories and family history as a starting point for a new idea, style or series. We’ve brought together shortlisted projects from across the categories that use illustration to explore themes such as mental health, disability, and identity.

Illustration is an incredible medium for illuminating personal experience, bringing together individual stories and styles to create images that both challenge and inspire.

Jiawen Chen: ME INSIDE

Jiawen Chen’s series of self-reflected pieces describe the artist’s struggles with anxiety, self- inferiority, self-doubt and depression. The images use visual metaphors, scale and perspective to visualise the artist’s experiences and emotions, with the aim that these will resonate with other people. The pieces are made digitally, with a coherent colour palette to ensure a visual harmony when brought together as a picture book.

Jiawen Chen is a New York based illustrator, originally from Guangzhou, China. She is pursuing her illustration MFA degree in School of Visual Art.

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Aysha Tengiz: A Spot of Loneliness

Aysha’s illustrations are from a self initiated picture book project exploring her feelings of being lonely and overwhelmed in London. Taking the form of a comic book, the cartoon-like characters inhabit the busy, vibrant, colourful south London streets, inspired by the artist’s local area. Although digital, the work is printed onto rough textured paper to give a sense of the handmade.

Aysha Tengiz is a British artist based in South London. She graduated from Camberwell College of Art in 2016 and since then has been working freelance in illustration. Her clients include the New York Times, Nuraphone, Intercom and many more.

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Bessa: Freedom

These illustrations by Bessa offer a perspective on the theme of freedom in the context of a society full of social pressure and consumerism. The illustrations are packed with shapes and characters intricately entwined together, showing the negative and sometimes positive aspects of modern life. These works were made digitally following initial pencil sketches.

Bessa is a Slovakian illustrator currently based in Prague. She graduated at the Academy of Fine Arts in Slovakia at the Visual Communication department. Since then she has been working with many different clients, mostly from the local scene such as Centrum Paraple, Villa Pellé Gallery, Novy Prostor Magazine, and music label Genot Centre.

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Cdka: Aaji swiping oldage

This animated gif shows the artist’s grandma (Aaji in India) taking joy in being online. The illustration is a fond portrait of family, as well as commenting on the digital divide between older and younger generations. The illustration was made and animated in Procreate following initial pencil sketches.

Siddhika works under the name CDKA which is just a phonetic spelling of her name. She graduated in 2019 and is currently working as a graphic designer in Bangalore, India.

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Olivia Duchess: My dream

This work is inspired by Olivia’s of 19th century painting. However, as a black woman, she doesn’t see anyone who resembles her in these work. In response, she made this piece in homage, featuring the detail and style that she so loves. This work is a portfolio piece, made as a love letter to historical art, diversity and her cat, Peony. This work was made digitally using Procreate.

Olivia is an illustrator both from and based in London. She studied Graphic Communication and Design at the University of Leeds and upon graduating decided to pursue a career in illustration. She has worked on illustrative projects with HarperCollins and The Walt Disney Company including book illustration, game art and a Disney Channel YouTube art reaction series. Diversity in the art sector is something that is dear to Olivia’s heart and she hopes to implement it where there is room to do so in projects she is fortunate enough to work on.

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Ciara Chapman: My Chronic Pain Diary

Ciara created this work to help her cope better with the effect that chronic pain was having on her life. This illustrated diary became a form of therapy to stop the darkness that was creeping into her world.

The work shows the impact of living with chronic pain, and intends to connect with people who are suffering similarly. The patterns contained within the images each symbolise different feelings and emotions, designed to show in a more abstract way what the experience of living with chronic pain is like. Each illustration begins as a hand drawn image, then scanned and digitally edited and coloured in Photoshop.

Ciara lives and works in the city of Cork, Ireland. She originally trained as an artist, later moving into working as a freelance, professional illustrator.

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Jane Liu: Exploring the Self

Jane Liu’s work is inspired by her personal experiences. Finding herself free from routine, her perception of the world changed, seeing and experiencing things in different ways, allowing a more open minded approach to self-discovery. This project is a book, and the illustrations were created using Procreate.

Jane is a freelance illustrator based in Shanghai and New York. She graduated from Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and has spent one year at Syracuse University for the MFA program of Illustration.

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Joshua Donkor: Generational Memories

Joshua’s project explores his family’s memories of Ghana, where his father is from. There are multiple themes that this work explores such as cultural identity, family, nostalgia and diaspora, aiming to introduce people to Ghanaian culture. The pieces use mixed media to communicate the passing of time, and fading of memory. Joshua’s portraits are developed characters with depth of personality and a strong cultural identity. His choice of colour palette is influenced by stills from the film “Moonlight”, which drew great acclaim for its revolutionary use of lighting to capture dark skin tones.

Joshua is a third year Illustration student studying at Cardiff Metropolitan University. His work explores themes of cultural and racial identity based on his mixed background

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Jessica Meyrick: Body Dysmorphia

Jessica Meyrick’s work is based on her personal experience of her battles with anorexia and body dysmorphia, This personal project was created to raise awareness around well-being and eating disorders during Mental Health Awareness Month in 2019. The work is made using pencil, and then layers of colour applied with Winsor & Newton watercolours, gradually building up detail. The final painting is then scanned and corrected digitally.

Originally from the city of Bristol, Jessica Meyrick graduated from Falmouth University with a first class degree in Illustration BA (Hons) in 2016.  Jessica currently works and lives in Sydney, Australia and is represented by The Jacky Winter Group.

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