Meet Karen Myers and Elizabeth Pritchard
Sam: Thank you for being here today. I am excited to learn more about you and your art! You both are very creative artists, and I’ve enjoyed looking at your lovely artworks. Thank you Karen for the coloring book. It’s gorgeous. And Liz, I was honored to see your works up close at the ANCA World Autism Festival this year. Congratulations on your award recognition. To get started today, can you tell us a little about the art you make?
Liz: I create original comic books that illustrate feelings of individuals with autism and mental illness—and these stories I create are based on my life. Art has always been very therapeutic for me, providing a healthy outlet to communicate and express my thoughts and feelings when words were too difficult. Art has always been a personal vehicle that enabled me to get my messages across to other people. I incorporate my personal experiences into my work, and providing visuals in place of words gives ideas and concepts a more tangible quality that others can connect with. A lot of my art deals with self-doubt, learning to cope with it, and coming to terms with it.
Karen: Thanks for having us today! I primarily work in pen and ink—and fantasy and fairy tale subjects are my favorite themes. I also do a bit of photography and digital collaging, but pen and ink is where my heart lies.
Sam: Thank you. That’s very interesting and insightful. At what age were you both first drawn to art and at what age did you realize your art served as a means of self-expression and communication?
Karen: For me, it was a very early age. I began drawing complex comic strips and such at age three. As I grew older, the artwork became a means of processing difficult emotions, and conveying my feelings to others. It was easier for me to work through my difficulties through artistic expression, than any other means available. I abandoned my artwork for a couple of decades, but returned to it after my autism diagnosis. I think my diagnosis was actually a catalyst for my artwork, in a sense.
Liz: I have been drawn to art as a means of self-expression since I was about three years old. I realized that art served as a means of self-expression and communication when I was about sixteen. I was often misunderstood and bullied throughout school, and had to change schools several times because of this. I then became withdrawn and isolated, and it wasn’t until late tenth grade that I started creating comic books about my experiences of living with autism and mental illness. After finishing the comic, I decided to show my work to several peers and teachers, and this was a huge step for me. They loved my comics though, and this gave me the confidence I needed to keep making art, and I had realized that making comics was the best way I could get my point across to others.
Sam: Thank you, Karen. I had a similar experience of returning to my art after my autism diagnosis. I am glad it serves as a catalyst for you. That’s interesting how you both mention the age of 3. Liz, thank you for sharing that sensitive part of your life with us. It is wonderful that you found an outlet that has helped you, and that others are supporting you . Thank you.
Liz: Thank you.
Karen: Yes, thanks!
Sam: You’re welcome. You both create pages of your art: comic books (Liz) and ink drawings (Karen). How long does a typical page take you to create and can you tell us a little about that process?
Karen: My pen and ink pieces vary greatly—the more simple ones might take a few hours, while the detailed, complex ones take days. I prefer to do very detailed work, but I discovered that “colorists” who color in adult coloring books prefer a mix of detailed and simple illustrations. They are sometimes not up to attempting the very detailed pictures.
Liz: It takes me about five hours per page I create, including coloring my work. I originally draw each picture with graphite, scan it, and then color each image on Adobe Photoshop. I use a lot of symbolism in my work, so it’s all pretty much open to interpretation. I never plan ahead with a page, and I never redo a page. If I tried to make an image perfect, it would take away the emotion from it. I just let my subconscious flow out on to the page, and I let it guide me and see where it takes me from there.
Sam: That makes sense, Karen. I can see how as an autistic myself I would want to go into great detail, such as in my writing, but when we are considering our audience, we sometimes need to scale back. It seems you’ve found a nice balance. Liz, I am the same with most of my writing—how I usually never plan ahead and tie in the subconscious. I bet some readers can relate to that. Thank you for sharing. Is there a specific part of your work, perhaps a color, symbol, image, or character that represents an aspect of yourself? In other words, is there a part of you that is found in certain pages?
Karen: There is not a particular “being” that represents me, but the “mystical lands” that I create are a reflection of my own fantasy world—the realm that I escape to in my imagination. I consider myself to be a rather spiritual person, and I believe in a spirit realm, and I like to imagine what that might look like. In that way, my artwork reflects my innermost thoughts.
Liz: Each person, or character, that I draw in my comics represents different aspects of myself. I illustrate my conditions as people, to emphasis how real feelings of anxiety and self-doubt are. Though doubt and other emotions are intangible, that doesn’t and shouldn’t negate how real they are to myself and many others. I used to draw my doubt as a person with caution tape around their head, to represent my fear of being rejected for revealing my shortcomings to others. My doubt used to be a side of me that I wouldn’t let others see, but now I am willing to put myself out there and learning to love all of myself.
Sam: Karen, I can definitely see that in the images you create. They have a beautiful mystical and other realm quality. I particularly like the nature elements you incorporate. Liz, your work definitely sounds therapeutic. I am so glad it’s out there in the world to help others. That caution tape is intriguing. Thanks for sharing . . . You are both open about being on the autism spectrum. If you are comfortable doing so, can you share about how being autistic influences your work? Karen, you mentioned the detail aspect and spirituality; and you both touched on how your art is an extension of self and therapy of sorts. In what other ways do you think being autistic influences either the creation of your work (process) and/or final product?
Liz: I see my autism as a gift that enables me to see the world in a unique way. I think in pictures, and I feel that my autism helps me visualize my ideas through various angles and perspectives and gives me a heightened spatial awareness with my work.
Karen: Being autistic is a huge benefit; I think, in that I have the ability to hyper focus on my artwork for hours at a stretch . . . get so singularly focused that no other thoughts enter my mind while I’m drawing. I also think that autism helps me to see things from a unique perspective. When I am creating art, it is the only time that I truly experience a relief from my anxiety. And, certainly, art has been a wonderful support for me during difficult times – as we know, being on the spectrum has many advantages, but it also presents us with challenges, and my art helps me to overcome those challenges.
Sam: Wonderful. I am certain many other individuals on the autism spectrum can relate to the hyper-focus ability and seeing in images. And it’s true about the unique perspective. In a way, because we have to over come challenges (for myself dyslexia and dyspraxia), we truly learn new ways to approach situations. This adds to our seeing things in different ways. Have either one of you had to overcome any challenges related to your art itself?
Liz: Absolutely, my biggest challenge relating to my art is making sure that I get my point across to other people in a way that they can relate to. Finding the right balance in presenting various contexts in storytelling is critical to how others interpret one’s work. I always challenge myself in art, experimenting with different media and making my compositions different within each image I create.
Karen: The most challenging thing that I face with my artwork, as silly as it may seem, is finding the time to work on it! For me, the only environment that is conducive to drawing is being in a room alone—complete solitude—and with a family, a household, pets and a full time job, that can be really difficult! But I have learned to make my “alone time” a priority, and my family is very supportive of that.
Sam: I can relate to both of you. Thank you. I have a few more questions. Is there is any person or artist who has inspired your art?
Karen: There are many artists I admire, but one of my favorites is Josephine Wall. While her style and media are very different from mine, her fantasy subject matter, and incredibly detailed work is very inspiring. And as far as my favorite coloring book artist, I really think highly of Johanna Basford, who has really set the bar for the adult coloring book industry.
Liz: Dr. Temple Grandin has always been an excellent example and role model to me. Dr. Grandin’s advocacy, drive, and motivation to help others is what inspires me to continue to reach out to others through my art, but on a much larger scale. I want people to know that they are not alone. I have always been drawn to various comic book artists and the manga art style, and they have laid a foundation in developing my artistic style.
Sam: Thank you. I appreciate how both your works are a testimony of what dedicated effort and a trust in your talents and passion can bring into the world. And surely your works are letting others know they are not alone. Is there any specific advice you have for artists out there? Perhaps those struggling with confidence or motivation?
Liz: I want others to know that putting yourself out of your comfort zone is not easy and it’s scary, but it will definitely help you in the long run. By pushing yourself, you will gain more insight and awareness about yourself and others. By doing so, you may surprise yourself with how much you can accomplish!
Karen: I would tell aspiring artists to stay focused, and not become discouraged. Additionally, it is important to remember that it is never too late to pursue a new passion and develop a new or newly rediscovered talent. I did not start drawing in earnest until later in life.
Sam: Thank you, both. Yes, it’s never too late! Our hour is almost coming to a close. Before we go, can you let us know where we can learn more about your art and where we can find you on social media?
Liz: I have several websites that showcase my art, and you can find examples of my work in the following links below:
PaperBag_Comic on Twitter
Paperbagcomic on Facebook
Website: Paper Bag Comic
Karen: This hour has really gone quickly! And it’s been a lot of fun! You can find my book, “The Mystical Lands of Uchana,” on Amazon at the link below, and my Facebook book page appears below as well. I love it when people post their completed colorings to my Facebook page! I love to see how others interpret my drawings and make them come to life by adding color.
Mystical Lands Coloring Book on Facebook
Sam: Wonderful. It was a true pleasure having this chat today. I am looking forward to seeing what future works you create. Thank you for sharing your art and your keen insights with us today. I wish you the very best and hope to see you around in the autism online community soon!