In 2015, Isabella Jaime began doodling on scrap pieces of paper with ballpoint pens. During this time, the 27-year-old social worker was also taking care of her ninang, who fell ill. The piece she created while doodling on her ninang’s couch with a Sharpie was Neptuna, one of her first drawings. Its underwater theme hides a figure, and its title is inspired by the Pixies song, “Mr. Grieves.”
Jaime, who is Filipino-American and currently learning Tagalog, has always drawn in black and white. “I think my drawings in black and white tend to have a sort of dark, surreal feeling,” Jaime says. “The colour versions seem more ‘fun,’ as I like to use bright colors.” The self-taught artist says that it’s a learning process when it comes to making colour versions of her drawings.
When visiting her friend in Moab, Utah, Jaime began to draw Marsh. “I was inspired by the surreal landscape and how prehistoric it was, almost,” says Jaime, who loves dystopian novels. Taking after her observations, the prehistoric themed drawing features a drowning skeleton that has flowers growing out of it, as well as a dinosaur.
The artist, who used to live in New York City working as a child welfare social worker in the Bronx, doesn’t plan her drawings. Rather, Jaime adds things based on where she feels they should be on the page, and tries to fill the space as much as possible. “Sometimes I get burned out from all the small details, but I try to push through!” Jaime, who currently resides in Detroit with her fiancé Owen and is in a polyamorous relationship, says.
“I’m going to need him to bulk up. He’s so thin and frail.”
Recounting the words of her partner’s doctor after a major surgery, Jaime says that Jeff was in the hospital for almost a week before he came home. “This really stuck with me. For months before the surgery he had been so sick and in agonizing pain, and he hadn’t been able to eat much,” Jaime says. “I stayed with him a lot of the time at the hospital. One night, I even slept on a chair next to his bed.” When he finally came home, Jaime started drawing Frail. “I wanted to convey some of his pain, uncertainty, and bravery. He’s the strongest person I know,” Jaime says.
While drawing Frail, Jaime experienced burnout. Due to fatigue, she has an alternate version of the piece with a white background. Jaime eventually completed the piece, adding more details and the black background. Despite occasionally feeling burned out by drawing, the benefits of the activity outweigh the detriments.
Jaime uses drawing as a way of coping with anxiety. “For me, drawing is meditative and semi-unconscious. I see it as a way to help calm my anxiety, and to see how my mental state can be reflected in a visual,” Jaime says, noting that it’s interesting to see how her brain is represented on paper, and that she’s fascinated by altered perceptions of reality. However, sometimes Jaime’s anxiety won’t let her stop working on a drawing; she feels like she can’t take a break and that she has to add more details. Also, as a result of her anxiety, the artist worries and second-guesses herself frequently; she often worries about “capturing the moment,” and takes pictures and writes in journals to remember things. Jaime says, “I think drawing is also a way of capturing certain moments in my thoughts and feelings.”