How This Author and Illustrator From Hull is Helping Children Understand Mental Health
Illustrator, and now author, Jodie Smith is hoping to spread awareness about bipolar with her new children's book
Jodie is a neurodiverse illustrator and author based in Hull. She has a BA (hons) in Printed Textiles and Surface Pattern Design from Leeds Arts University where she graduated in 2017, and since then she has specialised in illustration, mainly for greeting cards, gift wrap and stationery. Jodie started her own business in 2020, Dolly Pepper Studio, where she designed and sold cards, stationery and planners online, at markets and in shops. ‘I pivoted from this into being a freelance illustrator and author after the birth of my daughter in 2021,’ she says. ‘This was also when I was finally diagnosed with bipolar, during my three-week stay in a mother and baby mental health unit, which wasn’t long after my daughter was discharged from NICU after being born prematurely. It was a very difficult few months to say the least!’
Last year Jodie won a scholarship for The Goodship Illustration picture book course, an eight-week, online, self-paced course that she says has been ‘invaluable’. ’It’s a course I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone wanting to get into children’s books but who is not quite sure how to,’ she says. Jodie has also designed for Clintons, International Cards and Gifts, and The Paintbox Agency, as well as prints for independent childrenswear brands.
In Jodie’s new book, Bipolar Blob, she navigates feeling up, down and everything in-between. It’s a true story of one person's experience of dealing with bipolar every day. ‘I wanted my daughter to have something that would help her to understand her mummy’s emotions a bit more, but in more simple, relatable terms using simple shapes,’ she says. ‘In the book, which is narrated by a mini Jodie who you follow throughout it, you meet various emotions including Bipolar Blob who is calm, content and hopeful. You meet Neutral who is there when things are feeling okay, as well as Mania who is a bit paranoid, confused and scared at times. Not forgetting Sunshine who really is that happy, joyful ray of light that pops up every now and then!
‘You follow them all on a journey of the emotions that are in my brain. But as it’s a first-hand experience of what living with bipolar is like for me, no two people are the same and others may experience it differently too. However I think that the emotions shown in my book are quite relatable to some extent to everyone as we are only human, we all experience various emotions all the time.’
Jodie hopes her book will show that despite struggles, which she says in the book are her superpower, we can cope with difficult emotions. ‘It’s okay to have ups and downs and everything else in between,’ she explains. ‘There’s no shame in our struggles, and the more we talk about these to our children, the less stigma there will be which in turn creates more open conversations. There’s lots of awareness for general mental health topics, however when it comes to what medical professionals call “serious mental illnesses” such as bipolar, borderline personality disorder, psychosis and schizophrenia, these topics seem to be shied away from or misunderstood. I think the more honest, educational conversations about various mental illnesses the better.’
When creating this book, Jodie had no plans to be its author. ‘I have only ever thought of myself as an illustrator, and so when I was approached by Sweet Cherry Publishing, I was aware very quickly on the first Zoom meeting that they wanted me to write it too, as this would keep it as authentic to my voice as possible,’ she says. ‘That definitely makes sense now, looking back, as I couldn’t imagine someone else trying to write about my own emotions. I think sometimes it was difficult to sit and analyse my own emotions and experiences with them, but I found it quite a therapeutic thing to do too.
‘I hope that it will be used and looked at as a valuable resource to teach kids about bipolar, through my own lived experience with it, in case they know anyone with it or even if they may be diagnosed with it too. I’m not scared of it and I know that you can live a good life with it through things like therapy and/or medication.’
Jodie is currently working on Bipolar Blob 2. ‘I do struggle with imposter syndrome in that I don’t feel good enough to be working on another,’ she admits. ‘I sometimes feel like it was a fluke and I won’t be able to make one as good as the first. But that’s a part and parcel with mental illnesses too I guess. I can be my biggest critic, which can hold me back sometimes!
‘I have quite a few more Bipolar Blobs to work on with my wonderful publishers. I also have lots of ideas for more children’s books in the future. I would like to design more prints for kids’ clothes, alongside book illustrations too, as well as running creative mental well-being workshops – that’s something I would love to get into! I think that being creative and making art, in whatever medium you enjoy, really can be an outlet and a type of therapy sometimes!’
Bipolar Blob by Jodie Smith publishes on 26th October.