Interview: T.O. Walker

T.O. Walker is an author and illustrator of Not My Shame (Dec 2016, Singing Dragon), comic I See You (TBP in All Is Not Well anthology, 2017) and many works of art. She is an activist for mental health and will be speaking at the Drop the Disorder event in Liverpool on 7th December 2017. She has previously spoken at conferences such as the Critical Suicidology Conference 2017, WOW Chester 2017 and the Rape Crisis Conference 2016. Walker has also produced YouTube videos on topics such as sexual violence, survivors of abuse and the signs of CSE. Due to timing complications, this interview was conducted via email through a Q&A list.

Twitter: @northernthirty - Facebook: Northern Thirty - Blog: Here

Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do.

I'm a mother, a mental health worker and public speaker. I also enjoy creating illustrations and comics. My graphic novel ‘Not My Shame’ was published last year and it has been described as:

“an invitation to engage with a story of explosive power: a raw yet nuanced depiction of childhood sexual exploitation; service responses and failures; and the challenge of living with the impact of trauma. Fury is the flipside of love; and this book is furious and loving in equal measures. It will touch, challenge and change those who read it. Read it. Whatever brings you to it, you'll be struck not just by its uncompromising depiction of darkness, but by the redemptive light that it shines.” - Clare Shaw, author, Royal Literary Fellow and co-editor of 'Our Encounters with Self-Harm' (PCCS, 2013)

What does ‘being creative’ mean to you?

I think being creative is about expressing life. It is a way of reflecting and communicating internal and external experiences. It's also an experience in itself, I enjoy the process of creating and can get very absorbed by it.

When did you realize that this is a passion you wanted to pursue?

I've enjoyed drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. I remember making my own comic books when I was around 9 and over the years I have come to recognise how important it is for me to take time to draw and paint.

Do you have any rituals, routines and patterns?

I don't really have any rituals around creating, although anything I do in the morning is accompanied by coffee. Other than that each creative project has its own rhythm, usually starting with pencil or paint on paper and ending up on the screen in Photoshop.

What are you trying to communicate with your work if anything?

I use my work to communicate very different things, from joy and fascination with the absurdities of life and nature with illustrations like 'Tigeroo' and 'spot the sloth', to complicated and sensitive issues around sexual violence and victim-blaming with my book 'Not my shame' and honouring historical figures and making political points with images like 'money'.

What themes do you pursue?

I suppose broadly the main themes are sexual violence, social justice and nature, although I have just finished a comic about mental health and am in the middle of creating a comic about baking! I use my work to communicate a variety of thoughts and emotions. These can be personal or political reflections, feelings of strength, admiration, humour or fear, anger and loss, depending on the subject I'm tackling at the time.

Has your work method/style changed over time?

I used to be more painterly using mainly acrylic paints but over time I have begun to make illustrations using a combination of pen, paint and Photoshop, and I increasingly make use of text.

How do you promote your work? Do you find it difficult?

It’s emotionally difficult to promote work which is very personal like 'Not my shame' but I'm very motivated to do this as I think it is important and people will find it useful. I have mostly been doing this through social media and speaking engagements. My other work has felt more straightforward to promote.

Do you have a favourite artist/artwork?

I like so many different kinds of art and artists that it is very difficult to choose a favourite artist. I’ve always had soft spots for the work of Frida Kahlo and Paula Rego and Tracey Emin, and in terms of graphic novelists and cartoonists I really like the work of Una, Marjane Satrapi and Jacky Flemming.

What do you like/dislike about the art world?

I don’t really feel like I know much about the art world! I don’t really feel part of it. I guess if I was going to make a criticism it would be that the art world feels kind of inaccessible.

What do you like/dislike about your art?

I like the honesty, strength and vulnerability of much of my art. I like my use of colour in my work about nature. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I’m always striving for improvement and as soon as something is finished I can straight away think of ways I would do it differently if I did it again but I have to put it down to my learning process or else I would never finish anything!

Does your work involve research? If so, what?

I take quite a lot of reference photographs and where I am doing historical or political work I like to do quite a lot of reading and research before I start to draw and paint.

What is your dream project?

My idea of my dream project changes but I really like working with other people so my dream project would be working with a small group of connected individuals who have stories they would like to tell and working closely with them to create illustrations that support this. I like using images to create narratives that make people think or that people can learn from and I think there is a lot to be learned from personal narratives. I especially enjoy doing this where a clear link can be made between the personal and the political.

What couldn’t you go without?

My friends and family, coffee, paper and a pencil!

Where would you like to be in five years’ time professionally?

In five years’ time I hope to be able to look back and be proud of the way I have worked and developed my work. I also would like to have done my dream project.

What’s your opinion on indie vs mainstream?

Indie