Recently our Marketing Coordinator, Jordan conducted an interview with artist, Ifer Lawrence. Enjoy!
Ifer is a 26 year old Canadian multimedia artist. She loves dragons, books, games and art, and her favourite Copic color is B28 Royal Blue.
Jordan: When do you think you realized art was a way to help you cope with the world?
Ifer: In school I always found it hard to focus and pay attention. This is true for many people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Classrooms are very busy places, with a lot of potential to be over - or under - stimulating. The harsh lighting, hard seats, people talking, uncontrolled temperature, itchy clothes, and the need to stay still and behave are some possible triggers, and can be anywhere from uncomfortable to acutely painful, with stresses accumulating to make things worse and worse over time. For myself, if I'm not occupying my hands or mouth with doing something, my attention wanders or my brain blanks and I have difficulty understanding the teacher and filtering out what they're saying. When things are bad, everything's just waves of noise with no meaning to the words. When things are worse, I can't think of anything other than the noise, and even the smallest sound is overwhelmingly loud and painful.
I found that doodling helped me filter and understand what was being taught in class, and to better retain that information for later. It was especially helpful if the classroom was really loud; it allowed me to tune out the noise that would otherwise be upsetting and make it difficult to think, let alone learn. Spirals, mazes, trees, and squiggles covered every available surface - paper, notes, pencil cases, textbooks (if I owned them), even my arms and legs. The only thing that escaped my attentions was my desk, because that was against the rules.
Unfortunately, doodling in class is often seen by teachers as a sign of inattention. Even when I went out of my way to inform them of this ahead of time, and was able to prove that I was listening by answering questions, I had several teachers that flat out forbade me from drawing. A couple of them gave the reason that it would be seen as a sign of disrespect to other students and encourage their disobedience. Others did not give a reason at all, and some agreed at first when I told them about my coping mechanism, but still reprimanded and punished me if they saw me making use of it in class. I did not do well in those classes, and often found that I had to resort to discrete, illicit doodling despite their wishes. This made me feel... ashamed? And stressed. Not only because I had such trouble coping when my hands and mind were unoccupied, but because I had to go behind so many teachers' backs in order to deal with it. I always had trouble going against the rules.
J: Tell us a bit about how art helps you get through your day.
I: Now that I'm out of school, I still take my art supplies with me everywhere I go. Whether I'm going to a doctor's appointment, helping with errands, or gaming with my friends, being able to pull my stuff out and draw means that I can stay in an overstimulating situation longer with less stress, and I know that if I have to retreat to recoup for a while, I have something to focus on to help me calm down. I absolutely love art, and while a lot of that is how much I enjoy doing it, it is just as important in the ways it helps me deal with the world around me.
J: Do you think it's important for art to have a place in schools?
I: I think it's really important for the arts to have a solid presence in schools. I've already mentioned how doodling helps to pay attention and retain information, (this tends to be true across the board, not only in Autistic people) but learning to do art also helps to develop creative thinking, spacial reasoning, color discernment, and a bunch of other things. Expanding from visual art to include music and such only increases the benefits. That said, in my opinion the art curriculum I went through could do with less memorization of names and dates and requiring students to make their art to the teacher's specifications and writing artist statements. There needs to be more instilling of a sense of creativity, free expression, and a love of exploration and experimentation.
J: If they could find a cure or a way to control your medical problems, what would be your dream job?
I: I do not know. I like doing art, but if I do it as a job it might be less fun? Creature and character concept art would be fun, but it could be a lot of pressure. If we're going for ideal-fantasy, it'd be neat to have like the ultimate authority and resources to anonymously spot-fix problems. A lot of the problems in this day and age are so deeply buried in bureaucracy, tradition, and money that they are never going to be solved at this rate. I've got a different point of view from most people, which can sometimes provide what to me is an obvious solution that everyone else has missed. And if I still have no clue what the solution is, I can still go "here is the crux of the problem!" and delegate a bunch of more qualified people to the task of fixing the issue.
J: What obstacles have you run into because of your medical issues and how did you overcome them?
I: Well, at the moment my biggest issue is the seizures. They make me sleep a lot, and have an irregular day/night cycle besides. This makes it difficult to plan things, and means that there's always a good chance of me missing any given scheduled activity (be it for work, health, or pleasure), with that chance growing still larger if I'm stressed or trying to keep any sort of regular schedule. This obviously presents a problem to having a traditional job or trying for higher education, and the fact that they're seizures means that I can't drive, either.
Handling the seizures has mostly come down to reducing stress, trying not to do much that requires me to be awake and about at a certain time, no longer trying to control my sleep patterns, and lots and lots of doctors' appointments. This means that I'm awake at all sorts of weird and inconsistent hours. I spend most of my time by myself (thankfully I was already an introvert and have plenty to occupy myself with), and I don't get out much. When I do, I need to arrange for a ride with family since I can't drive myself and I live in a small town with little public transportation.
I am blessed with a close-knit family who are understanding and accommodating; I don't know how I would be able to deal without them. Being able to live at home with my parents and sisters takes so much weight off my shoulders. I don't have to waste what little spoons I have making enough money for rent, enduring public transportation, and shopping for necessities. Instead I have enough left over from my daily needs to splurge on creative pursuits, socializing with my friends once a week, learning a new language over the internet, or making a complicated meal, without putting my mental and emotional stability on the line as collateral. It's something that I am forever grateful for.
J: What mediums do you work in and why do you like them?
I: I enjoy using Copic markers because there are so many colors, the trade-off between control and spontaneity is great, and they blend beautifully. Using the brush tip feels wonderful, and the fact that they're portable and refillable to boot is icing on the cake.
I've also liked working up close in small-scale pixel art, and with colourful wire and rings to make wire-wrap and chain mail jewellery. Both of those types of art have a soothing repetition that results in half the day flying by without my notice. Any kind of digital art has the major advantage of being able to undo, and pixel art even more so since you don't need to worry about having perfect, smooth strokes. Everything is endlessly and easily editable, and using a small number of colors means it's incredibly simple to change even huge areas to get the look you want. Wire, on the other hand, is hard to work with and not nearly so forgiving of mistakes. But you can take it with you to work on and it gives you something to productive to do with your hands even if you're paying attention to something else, similar to knitting but with more force and precision needed.