As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke to anonymous Instagram artist, Worry Lines who’s amassed hundreds of thousands of followers through daily drawings. Focussing a lot of the work on anxiety and mental health, Worry Lines uses drawings to make sense of the world, with the result acting as both a personal coping mechanism and a universal language of reassurance to followers.
We got to know a bit more about the talented artist below:
TH: Tell us about yourself:
WL: I’m a drawer who does a drawing every day and posts that drawing on my Instagram account, @worry__lines. My illustrations are very simple line drawings of friendly characters with big feelings. I often draw about mental health stuff and the experience of being a nervous person in an anxiety-inducing world.
TH: How do you describe your art in three words?
WL: Wobbly, worried, pro-tayto
TH: What is most of your work focused on?
WL: I think a lot about thinking and have a lot of feelings about feelings - I think that’s what my work is mostly about. I like trying to find ways to visualize and make sense of psychological or emotional experiences. I really love the challenge of trying to distil big, nebulous ideas into a single image. There’s a real joy in expressing something visually in a really efficient, accessible and (hopefully) entertaining way.
TH: Do you think art can help with mental health issues?
WL: For me, yes, without a doubt. Drawing is such a vital part of my own self-care practice (along with cake, therapy, houseplants, kitchen dancing, chip sandwiches, lying face down on the floor for a bit, etc). Also, I find looking at art really good for my emotional wellbeing too. Something about seeing how other people see the world is a really healthy counterpoint to introspection. Art is a very good invention.
TH: Why do you think people connect so much with your work?
WL: Instagram is full of content telling you what you should do, how you should look, what you should value, how you should feel. My drawings are descriptive rather than prescriptive, and I think that makes them slightly different from a lot of the other ‘mental health’ art on that platform. Because of that, I think there is an element of relief involved when people look at my drawings - the wry relatability is kind of soothing. I think it is also comforting for people to see their struggles observed and reflected in a gentle way that doesn’t pathologize or judge and that isn’t too pointed or serious or heavy. Humour is an important aspect of what I do - making funny art about anxiety is empowering - it feels a bit like teasing a bully.
TH: How does it make you feel to illustrate how you feel in a piece of work?
WL: Oh, you’re speaking my meta-language with that meta-question!
I don’t always manage to express my feelings cleanly in the drawings, but when I do, it feels very clarifying. Sometimes I manage to draw something without really thinking about it, and when I look down at the image, I think ‘oh yeah, it IS like that’. And then I high five my subconscious and go eat a muffin. That’s on a good day. On a less good day, drawing makes me feel like I’m trying to stuff a cloud into a pillowcase.
TH: What is the main message you want your work to say?
WL: I want people to feel united by their anxieties rather than alienated by them.
TH: What’s the first piece of your work that people should check out and why?
WL: You can just go to my instagram page @worry__lines (two underscores) and you’ll see every one of my daily drawings there. There’s a couple of years’ worth. And if you prefer paper to pixels, I have a book coming out in September called This Book Is For You which collects a lot of the most popular drawings and frames them in a narrative about the anxiety-inducing process of writing the book itself.
TH: The biggest inspiration for your work?
WL: Everything is inspiration if you squint at it for long enough. I find it fun to try to pin down big, sweeping concepts with reductive, ridiculous metaphors. I enjoy turns of phrase, idioms and catchphrases, and playing with how to visualize them. I enjoy scrolling social media for memes and messages that I think will benefit from a satirical twist or a gentle poke. I love looking at data visualisation projects and listening to people talk about design. I’m a huge fan of outsider and folk art - anything by untrained artists fills me with pure happiness. I’ve read two books about making comics, and both of them really changed the way I think about the form, which I honestly knew nothing about when I started drawing. The first is Scott McCloud’s Making Comics and the second is Lynda Barry’s Making Comics. Yes - I only read books called Making Comics. These two are really different from each other, but they both investigate and explore how people express ideas visually, and are both philosophical and clever and fun and make me feel less ridiculous about basically being a full time doodler.
TH: What is the best and worst thing about your job?
WL: I feel so privileged to be able to draw every day, and am keenly aware of how lucky I am to have the time, space and resources to make art, as well as a platform to share it on and an audience who are keen to see it. I feel like the work I make would not make sense in any other moment of history, so I’m glad to be alive, drawing anatomically questionable, mildly uplifting digital drawings right now, in 2021. That is an absolute privilege. And also, it’s a dance.
I think the real challenge of doing what I do is not the drawing, but having ideas while also having anxiety. I’m quite at peace with the drawings being bad if the ideas are good - that’s been a good survival strategy for this project. With Worry Lines, I have set myself the challenge of having a new idea every day, and then translating that idea into a form that can be understood by as many people as possible. Having the idea often requires a willingness to look inward, and to try to understand in an objective way, what it is exactly that I’m feeling, experiencing or observing. That’s something that takes a fair bit of practice and a considerable amount of painful self-awareness. Now that my drawings have an audience of wonderful, worried people around the world, I also spend a lot of time thinking about how to share my own personal feelings in a way that is funny and/or poignant and that prioritizes accessibility, universality and comprehensibility. And while I’m trying to make images that authentically reflect my own observations in broadly legible ways, I’m also having to wrangle all these wildly uncooperative parts of myself that are usually more interested in either self-sabotage or wild procrastination. So yeah, it’s a dance, and I’m still stepping on my own toes all the time.