Room with a View

This is one panel of my entry for the 2016 NeuroCentricArts competition at the University of Toronto, titled “Room with a View”. Technique-wise, the work probably moves more towards mixed-media. Elements of the panels make use of fabric appliqué, iron-on transfers, and – this was really fun – block prints made  of stamps carved from soft rubber blocks.

NCA was an art exhibit on 29 April 2016 and artwork featured themes related to the neuron, the brain and the mind. It was a

chance for me to explore the idea that our brains construct our reality, an idea I find endlessly fascinating. The work had four panels, each of which featured ostensibly the same room but viewed by a different person. While here I explore perspectives based on mental illness, this idea invites many more possibilities (e.g. new motherhood, first love, PTSD, etc.,). In this case, I chose to make the work more educational and to encourage the separation of the condition itself from the voice of the human separating it.

First, the project. Here is the finished work and the associated description.

Panel 1: Introduction: The room

The brain does more than passively relay sensory information; rather, it integrates and interprets this using past experiences and its internal state. This artwork is a comment on the human brain’s ability to shape perceived reality. While this work artistically depicts the large effects of mental illness or of “neurodivergent” conditions such as Asperger’s syndrome, the same is true for common human experiences such as grief and love, or traumatic experiences. The “room” doubles as part of the environment and as a symbol of the mind from which each person experiences the world. On each panel, a noticeboard shows personal reflections on the corresponding condition. The poem represents introspection, and separates the condition from the person experiencing it. All poems are excerpted under terms of Fair Use.

Panel 2: Psychosis in schizophrenia

This panel depicts psychosis, a mental condition in which people have difficulty telling the difference between what is real and what is not. A psychotic episode may occur as a symptom of a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia or depression, or due to substance abuse. An episode is characterized by hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations may affect any of the senses, including auditory (hearing voices), olfactory (smelling oranges), or tactile (feeling insects). The noticeboard captures the intrusive thoughts of schizophrenia, an illness that is debilitating without early medical intervention. The poem is written by Jackie Crawl, a woman coping with advanced schizophrenia, and the lucidity of whose poem is in stark contrast with the disorganized thoughts that interrupt interactions with her.

Crawl, Jackie. “And when I tried to find the.” Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. Solomon, Andrew. New York: Scribner, 2012. 324. Print.

Panel 3: Autism spectrum disorders

ASD is a developmental condition that affects 1% of people worldwide and boys four times more often than girls. The hallmarks of autism include impaired social communication, language, and repetitive behaviour, but symptoms vary widely. Individuals may be low-functioning or high-functioning, as in Asperger’s syndrome, and some individuals do not identify their condition as an illness. This panel depicts the perceived social isolation and heightened sensitivity to sensory input in some individuals, and extremely specialized interests (tractors) of others. The poem is by Elizabeth Greene, who is non-verbal but can express herself in writing.

Bonker, Elizabeth M. “I Am Happy”. I Am in Here. Elizabeth M Bonker and Virginia G Breen. Baker. 2014. Print.

Panel 4: Depression

Beneath the veil lies a cozy home and a bright, beautiful day filled with potential, but which is beyond the person’s reach. Clinical depression is marked by a persisting sad and despairing mood which pervades much of a person’s day and impairs their quality of life at work, home or in relationships. While it can go suddenly into remission, it usually requires intervention to overcome stably. Remission from depression has been described as a “lifting of the veil”. The quote in this panel is from Sylvia Plath, a poet who suffered from depression and who committed suicide.

Plath Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Print.


Overall design

The project is my first attempt at a scene with several distinct objects, each its own fabric. The raccoon flag and Drink.Up.Your.Soup! were simpler in composition. As the same room is essentially replicated in each panel, each piece had to be made as many times. Even if a veil was to be draped over it, the room had to be made for the depression panel. There were also 4 iPod docks, 4 armchairs, 4 windows, etc., A bit tedious but all part of the deal. This time I used Heat-n-Bond Ultra (“no-sew”) to stick on the pieces. This is a stronger adhesive which eliminates the need to sew (thank Goodness!).

Here is a breakdown of the techniques used:

Far and away, the most painful, unpredictable element was the iron-on transfers. I decided this merited its own mini post because I got these wrong several times and even after following good instructions, had to be extra vigilant to avoid corner tears.

Astronaut’s helmet in ASD panel

The autism panel was a great challenge to execute so I want to talk a bit about it here. To show the social isolation of some people with ASD, I wanted to show the room as viewed from within an astronaut’s helmet. The challenge was creating something that looked like a helmet and that had the fishbowl-like concavity of the helmet.

Creating just the flat circle didn’t get the idea across – not to my extremely savvy focus group consisting of my husband and kids, anyway. The helmet also needed earphones, extra buttons, and needed the concentric silver and black circles to give the picture of the helmet. This took a lot of revisions to get right, all prototyping done in Inkscape. The centre is made of vinyl, to give the impression of glass. There is also a little NASA-like rocket on the side, just for good measure.

Finally, the central ring needed to lift up to show the concavity of the helmet. This required a mix of blanket stitching and hot glue, depending on what was being joined.

  1. A ring of copper wire was hot glued around the circumference of the vinyl circle.
  2. Then the border of black felt was also hot glued, to encase the wire.
  3. The broad border of silver fabric was appliqué stitched directly to the vinyl.
  4. Finally, the helmet was affixed to the underlying panel with a couple stitches on either side.


Hard-carved rubber stamps

These were such fun; I’m looking forward to expanding the idea of stamp-based art more in the future. Especially now that I have Gold Speedball ink! The technique was similar to that mentioned in the posts on linoblock carving from last year and rubber stamp-carving from earlier this year. Here I will just share pictures of the actual carved stamps. We have the tree, the Leuty lifeguard house, a right hand and a left hand for the tree in the psychosis panel, and the fleas. There was also a “jogging man” element that I decided to exclude.

Well, certainly not the simplest choice for a deadline-based project. But it opens to the door to similar fabric paintings.