by Javier Melian
A poem about depression and hope
I got put in contact with Kathryn Hockey a few months back through a mutual friend, and we arranged to meet up in London to discuss our projects. She is an artist-illustrator from Maldon in Essex who has been based in the southern Spanish town of Vejer de la Frontera for ten years. She has the warmest of smiles, bright eyes and a very pleasant conversation. Over a couple of glasses of wine, we bounced our ideas and the afternoon flew, ending in the high note brought by the elation that comes when one shares hopes and dreams. We said we would keep in touch, as she was returning back to Andalusia.
A few months later, she wrote back to tell me about her latest illustration project with friend Louis McIntosh who had written a poem about depression and hope. She was in the process of illustrating it, and both of them were drawing on their first hand experience of the dreaded Black Dog (or Black Dawg, as Louis McIntosh refers to it) to depict the downside and the upswing in an upbeat, colourful way.
Their plan was to publish the finished project as a picture book with funds raised on Kickstarter and were in the early stages of market research regarding potential publishers and printing costs, mental health charities and other contacts in the mental health sector and people with an interest in art and / or depression.
Kathryn then sent me, by good old fashioned snail mail, a promo pack containing excerpts of the text and artwork along with information about motives and inspirations.
As I read the poem, and contemplated Kathryn's beautiful illustrations, it brought back memories of me about fifteen years ago. The day i didn't want, or couldn't find the will to get out of bed after breaking up a long relationship. I called an anonymous support help line at work, and they told me it was perfectly normal to feel 'mild' depression, some sort of bereavement when couples split up. One in six people experience depression at some stage in their lives.
I suppose the stigma that mental health carries sometimes, and the 'bottle up' culture when you are a man, didn't help as much as my willingness to dispel that unwelcome guest that was overstaying his visit on my otherwise usually cheerful state of mind. A few sessions of counselling were enough to see the dark cloud pass by, but along came the realisation that depression is such a corrosive disease, as I believe a positive healthy mind is the mightiest of healers.
The Black Dawg is a beautiful project, not only for the powerful verses of the poem and fitting illustrations that materialise the ghosts and feelings in your mind. But because it offers understanding and hope. I wish Kathryn and Louis every success with this book and I thank them for having the vision and the willingness to see it through.
What is The Black Dawg?
The Black Dawg is an illustrated poem about depression and hope
How did project come about?
My writer friend Louis McIntosh was trying to explain to his partner how it feels to be depressed; as part of that process he wrote a stream of consciousness poem called The Black Dawg over two nights in the autumn of 2014.
He sent the poem to several people, including a blogs editor who offered him a forum on the Huff Post from which to share his thoughts.
Louis and I have known each other for about ten years and we’ve always discussed our bouts of depression openly but when he first sent me The Black Dawg poem I really wasn’t keen to read it; I was scared that if it was good it would bring up unpleasant memories and emotions and that if it was bad I’d have the embarrassment of having to tell him I didn’t like it.
When I did read it, after a significant period of procrastination, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed; by its honesty, its directness, its drive and rhythm, its accuracy and its humour.
When did it begin to take shape?
Louis is continually impressed by the strength of the illustrations in the picture books he reads with his five year old daughter so he asked me if I’d illustrate The Black Dawg poem with the idea of turning it into a picture book for adults. I immediately agreed.
We had a brain storming session at the beginning of 2015 so that I knew what images and symbols he visualised accompanying the words and then I started to work through the poem line by line, making rough sketches and collecting reference material. That part of the process actually felt a bit stilted but it did throw up some images which made it through the entire development process to appear in the final illustrations.
In the spring of 2015 I had to go away for several weeks to work intensively on another project and during that period several almost complete ideas came to me unbidden. I sketched them roughly so that I could develop them in earnest when I got home.
For the next few months I worked almost constantly to turn those ideas into finished illustrations. They all started as pencil drawings as I like the texture and fluidity of pencil lines. I scanned the drawings into my computer along with other handmade elements such as watercolour paintings, marbling and paper collage as well as bought papers with interesting textures and photographs, and then I made digital collages by working in layers. Finally I added light effects with the computer to give the images more life.
Why are you doing it?
We both started this process as a way of explaining to ourselves and those close to us what it is we go through when we’re depressed.
Louis’ medium is words and as an illustrator I enjoy the challenge of turning ideas into pictures; although the words in the poem didn’t come from me they do feel very personal indeed.
I have often found particular comfort in the first person descriptions of other people’s depressive episodes and how they rode them out. Because it is such a confusing, frightening and isolated state there’s something incredibly reassuring in finding out that ‘it’s not just me’.
I found that naming, visualising and depicting the repetitive and vicious thoughts which can, if I ‘m not vigilant, assail me during low periods has taken some of their power away.
What do you hope to achieve?
We hope to share that ‘it’s not just me’ feeling with fellow sufferers, so that they might feel less of a burden and less alone. We also hope that, by reading The Black Dawg, the friends and family of sufferers may gain some insight into the dark journey that their loved ones take unwillingly.
We also believe that by being open about our mental health issues we can remove some of the stigma around them. The timing of our project seems to fit with a more general movement in this direction.
The feedback we’ve had so far has been overwhelmingly positive so we are confident that we are on the right track.
What is the ideal outcome for the project?
We want to share The Black Dawg with as wide an audience as possible so we have decided to self-publish it as a printed book and an ebook this year.
In order to be able to donate a significant number of books to prisons, schools, libraries, mental health charities and other mental health service providers we have chosen the most economical way to produce the maximum number of high quality books possible within our budget.
How can people help you achieve your goals?
We are raising the funds necessary to self-publish The Black Dawg on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. You can help by:
1. Please visit The Black Dawg Kickstarter page to make a donation and then share the page with your friends and family.
2. Sharing The Black Dawg webpage and signing up for email updates
3. Sharing The Black Dawg posts via my facebook art page https://www.facebook.com/Kathryn-Hockey-Art-206908836064814/
and twitter @kathrynhockey1
The more money we can raise, the more books we can produce and the more help we can offer fellow sufferers.
The Black Dawg book will be available to buy as a paper book and ebook in July 2016