I’m an animal lover, but I have to admit that I am a bit of a speciesist – I adore seals, and am just about getting over a phobia of sharks.
I know that its unfair to the sharks to be more drawn to their fluffy mammal equivalents with the big sad eyes. Sharks are having a horribly hard time and their numbers are dropping, and I really hope that conservation efforts come together to keep them in our oceans. But I can’t help but be anthropomorphic, seeing something so familiar in the faces of seals and their mannerisms; I am another mammal after all…
Seals and sharks both appear in Dive Down, and as I share the images from this autobiographical fairy tale, I’m reflecting on my personal growth in the last year and why water is a recurring theme in my illustrations. I think it’s partly about me facing my fears.
I used to be really scared of swimming. My irrational fear of sharks spread to certain shades of blue, swimming in the sea (anywhere), ponds and even some swimming pools. The Jaws films certainly have a lot to answer for – when I was little and these fears first came up, it was directed towards any big fish-y type creature, including whales. As I grew up, whales and sharks were represented so differently that the fear became very focussed on sharks.
Last July, I took a big leap. My lovely childhood friend had a gorgeous country wedding near a big pond. The night before, a group of friends went wild swimming there. I was quite scared and sat on the edge, watching…
And then I felt so silly, letting my fear hold me back and not joining in with everyone having an awesome time, that I grabbed a friend’s hand and we jumped in together. The water was warm and delicious. I could feel the squishy mud under my toes. The sky was deep and dark above us and it was beautiful… I felt really connected with everyone else who was in the water too sharing the experience. Having overcome a barrier in order to be there with them added an extra thrill.
That inspired this little series of drawings, which is about taking the plunge. This could be literally, like me jumping into that pond, but could also a metaphor for relationships, friendships, work, learning or travelling… I’ve learned that going deeper is pretty much always a good thing to try.
The whole theme of Dive Down is going deeper, and not being afraid of what you find down there. I created the illustrations during a time of meditating on my fears and problems, trying to get to the bottom of them and understand why I was doing and feeling certain things.
The seals in the story appear at the point that I started to find some really useful, positive and helpful resources to guide my exploration, and they act as mentors or guides in the story – encouraging the illustrated version of me to keep going deeper and deeper, and see the beauty that is hidden there.
A couple of sharks swim through, but as I become more comfortable with the darker depths, I recognise that they are beautiful too, in their own way…