“Social anxiety pizza for one!”

Illustrator Grace Miceli likes to draw it out

All images courtesy of the artist

Humour and play are great ways to access difficult emotions – Brooklyn-based artist and author @artbabygirl explores anxiety by creating comics as art therapy

Over the last few years, Grace Miceli has been working on trying to figure out how not to “freak out about everything all of the time”. Thanks to therapy, reading and friendships, she has realised that it doesn’t have to be this hard – and uses art to help others.

This interview is part of a TOPIA series in partnership with Face This. The Dutch charity brings together street artists with Indonesian school kids to turn children’s drawings into merch to support their education. Read all the interviews.

Oh, and she’s funny. Not everyone can say they are one of the “9 Funniest Cartoonists and Illustrators on Instagram” (thanks to Vulture). She might describe herself as looking “like an extra on Buffy The Vampire Slayer“, but underneath the former party-lover’s playful colours and sarcastic commentary exists a serious message about looking after your mental wellbeing.

Her hilarious first book, How to Deal: With Fear, Failure, and Other Daily Dreads, was inspired by the first self-help book she ever read, Susan Jeffer’s classic, Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, and Mandy Moore’s 2003 movie, How to Deal. Like the actress, Grace has also been vocal about her struggle with her mental health in an effort to encourage others to get therapy and to help end stigma against mental illness.

In the collection of comic strips, modern-day motivational posters and illustrated lists and diary entries, the artist explores how our comfort zones may be a trap, how to stay when you want to run away, and where to find light when everything feels dark – beyond the glow of your phone.

Her self-reflective illustrations have now been published by the likes of The New Yorker and The New York Times, featured in more than 50 galleries and museums worldwide and just some of her clients include Nike, Warner Bros, Urban Outfitters, Marc Jacobs, Adidas, MTV and Adobe. 

The artist is currently going through a personal metamorphosis by training to become a mental health counsellor and creative arts therapist. We spoke to the self help-loving artist about laughing at unpleasant feelings.

Q&A: Grace Miceli

Why do you do what you do – art?

Art has always felt like the most authentic way for me to communicate. When I was younger, I struggled to communicate with words. Creating art felt easier and more precise. It’s a language I learned to use and I’ve never stopped since.

Let’s go back to the beginning. Did you always like to draw? 

I was raised in a creative family; my mom is an artist and dad is a musician, so creativity was always encouraged. I grew up in the suburbs without much art or culture around. That inspired me to move to NYC where I could visit museums and spend time with other artists. For years, my main medium was photography. I didn’t start drawing regularly until I graduated college. I’ve always been an artist but a lot of luck, connections and dedication helped me turn it into a career.

Can you pinpoint one of your artworks that means the most to you?

My book How to Deal is something I’m really proud of. It came out in 2021 and was a culmination of my work from the 10 previous years. It represents what I wish I knew when I was younger, it provided a lot of closure for me. I hope that when someone reads this book, they feel less alone in any scary or overwhelming feelings.

I’ve always thought of my floating illustrations with text as versions of “motivational” posters, a way to acknowledge and mark a specific thought or feeling in order to let it go without forcefully pushing it away.

Do you have any dreams you’re building up for?

I’m currently going to grad school to become an art therapist and mental health counsellor. I have a dream of stability and of creating art as expression and not as a way to pay my rent. I plan to continue my art practice but I’m really excited to start helping people in a different way and renegotiate my relationship to creating.

What has been the most unexpected outcome from your work?

Finding my way to art therapy has been a surprising but exciting. I’ve loved connecting with people through my art over the years and I’m looking forward to continuing that but with a totally new framework. It’s been so wonderful to be able to create a career as a freelance artist. It hasn’t been easy, but I feel so lucky to have been able to focus solely on art for the last eight years.

And the biggest challenge?

The financial challenge is real. Art is not valued as a form of labour in lots of cases and clients often take advantage of artists knowing that. 

What are you most inspired by?

Conversations I have with my girlfriend late at night and walks around my neighbourhood with my dog. 

What is one thing you do regularly, a simple ritual or hack that brings you joy or elicits a sense of self care? 

Stretches and yoga. I spend a lot of time hunched over my desk drawing with a tense hand, so it’s important to get up and move.

Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” How do you remain an artist? And do you have tips for non-artists to cultivate their inner child?

I try to not get caught up with how things ‘should’ look or if a drawing is good or bad. I think it’s being insecure about our art that stops a lot of people from creating.

You recently designed an artwork by using some of the Indonesian kids’ drawings by Face This. The proceeds will provide the kids with a playground. How important is playfulness for you? 

It’s really important. Humour and play are great ways to feel comfortable enough to access more difficult emotions or to balance out the everyday struggles we face. I always want a portion of my work to be in service of others and I love art made by children. The drawings made me smile and become curious about what the kid’s were thinking about and expressing. I want to thank them for trusting me with their work. It was so fun to collaborate

Lila Moss rocking the Grace Miceli x Face This tee

Season 02 of TOPIA is The Egg. What do they symbolise in your art?

I’ve drawn a cracked egg a few times and utilise the egg as a symbol for mistakes, dropping an egg on the floor accidentally and maybe it’s the last one in the fridge.

We all mistakes but the challenge to remember we won’t always make them.

MessItUp Grace Miceli

Lastly, we are creating a playlist for TOPIA. What is the last song you’d want to hear during your time here on Earth?

I’d want to hear something funky like the Talking Heads song ‘Sax and Violins’.

What’s so good about this?

Creativity has a transformative power for children of all cultures. The Face This Foundation works to empower Indonesian schoolchildren to “design their own future”. Grace Miceli’s artwork is available on tees, sweaters and tote bags. All pieces are available to buy online. Check out more of her work at gracemiceli.com, Skillshare and on her Instagram.

Meet the writer

Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”

Follow @lisagoldapple on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. (Open to freelance collaborations.)

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