Diabetes Art Day: What Does Your Diabetes Story Look Like?
Paint, draw, shape, glue. Art therapist Lee Ann Thill wants you to share your diabetes story with the world—and experience the difference it can make. That’s why she started Diabetes Art Day, an annual online initiative encouraging people with diabetes to express themselves creatively.
How to Participate
What does your diabetes look like? How does it make you feel? Answering those questions on canvas, on a piece of paper, or with a ball of modeling clay might help you cope with your diabetes a little better. That’s the thinking behind Diabetes Art Day, an annual online initiative that Lee Ann Thill started three years ago.
Here’s how it works: On the designated day—the next is February 3, 2014—create some art, take a photo of it, and upload it to Lee Ann’s website, diabetesartday.com. Click on “Participate” for directions and tips on how to do it. Lee Ann, an art therapist and licensed professional counselor who lives just outside of Philadelphia, then creates an online gallery of all the submissions.
Anyone Can Enter
Lee Ann, who has lived with type 1 diabetes since she was 5 years old, says anyone can join in—even people who think they can’t. “The beauty of it all is that there is no talent required,” she says. “Anyone who can drag a pencil across paper is qualified.” When Lee Ann started Diabetes Art Day on her personal blog, thebuttercompartment.com, the response was so great that she launched a separate website.
Lee Ann hopes those who participate will learn to be more forgiving of themselves. Diabetes comes with emotional baggage that needs to get unpacked. “When you make art, nobody is perfect. You make mistakes, and you need to keep working on it,” she says. “If you don’t like a high blood sugar reading, you do what you can and you move on.”
Diagnosed: Age 42, Type 1
Participating in Diabetes Art Day made cellist and writer Marie Smith of Lombard, Illinois, feel more in touch with the diabetes community. “That connection reminds me I’m not facing this alone, and that matters,” she says. For her art project, Marie painted an old glucose meter and adorned it with assorted gears and buttons. “Engaging my creativity sparks my sense of humor,” Marie says. “Just because diabetes is serious doesn’t mean I always have to be.”
“I want people to laugh when they see this. Diabetes is frustrating and stressful. Whimsy and humor help me get through. I used an old meter, paint, assorted gears, buttons, and a glue gun. The buttons on the meter are all functional, including the up and down arrows. It took me two days to create it. The paper the meter is on is from Oscar Stenmark’s ledger. Oscar was my husband’s grandfather. The ledger was written in 1922, the same year insulin was discovered.”
Diagnosed: Age 2, Type 1
“I had to make a project for the 100th day of kindergarten using 100 of something. I knew my project would be different than everyone else’s in my class. I also like flowers. They’re pretty. When I grow up I want to be an artist and a flower arranger.
"We saved my test strips for 10 days, and then I stuck them on with glue. Then I made the vase out of colored paper, and then I drew everything else with crayons, and then I decorated it with stickers. I want people to be interested to learn more about diabetes when they look at my picture. Art is fun, and it helps me feel better.”
Diagnosed: Age 12, Type 1
“I wanted to convey that diabetes is always with you, always lurking, yet there is still light and hope for a cure. These ominous creatures represent the dark and mysterious unknowns of diabetes in general and of the daily management of it. The varying directions of the CGM arrows represent the repetitive routine of living with diabetes and all the ups and downs.”
Diagnosed: Age 26, Type 1
“I had a nightmare during a nighttime low blood sugar episode in which I sat helpless watching each finger bleed; then my test strips marched toward the blood as if they were magnets being pulled toward each other. I visually re-created the dream a few days later. Photography is therapy for me.”
Diagnosed: Age 3, Type 1
“I painted a hand with a single drop of blood on one of the fingertips because it’s one of my daily reminders that I have diabetes. I want people to see a mixture of beauty and pain. Strength is beautiful, and you have to be a strong person to get through each day living with this kind of pain. I also want people to realize that it’s OK to be afraid—they can use it as motivation to work hard to get what they want and deserve.”
Diagnosed: Age 31, Type 1
Catherine Sloniger of Geneva, New York, says a creative exercise like this teaches people something about themselves. “I think all people can benefit from releasing energy into a creative project and examining what the processes and the results might mean,” she says.
“The meaning of [my] painting developed as I painted. I thought of the people not yet diagnosed, like my nephews and sister. I saw a sort of caregiver of young children, an adult person with diabetes, and I imagined her trying to protect these young ones in her care from diabetes. Connecting with others is one very positive way to overcome fears; it is a lot easier to carry a heavy load if you can share the burden.”