“I can feel the pounding in my temples, or in my eyes.”
“The sensation is like a helmet on your head that just keeps getting tighter.”
“It’s as if there’s a glass shattered in front of me and I can’t see.”
These are some of the quotes shared by people experiencing migraines. The pain and other symptoms that come with the condition are unique for each person and can vary from one episode to another. Art provides a platform beyond words for expressing pain-related experiences. One of the most well-known artists who have turned their pain into artworks is Frida Kahlo, whose pieces depict the chronic pain she was going through after an accident she had as a teenager.
We have spoken to eight artists who have used art as an outlet for their migraine-related pain and other symptoms. In this article, you can see their pieces and commentaries.
Paula van den Bosch
This countryside-living, Dutch artist specialises in painting animal portraits and nature. We found her sketch depicting the radiating migraine pain she experiences through an Instagram art account Migraine Inspired Art.
“After yet another heavy migraine attack I sat down and this drawing came flowing out. I tried to translate migraine into an image – the brightness of the light, my sight, my despair, the tears, the pain. 30 years of migraine captured in one drawing.”
Facebook: Patched and Painted – Art by Paula
Rachel is a painter and a sculptor based in West Virginia. Her pieces intersect reality with surrealism and often include the elements of fauna and flora taken to mythical proportions.
“This piece represents the duality living within my head. On one hand, I have creative ideas and wonderful memories, vital parts of who I am as a person. On the other, my mind is constantly assaulted with the crippling pain and loss of vision that comes with migraines. On my worst days, I can’t get out of bed to paint. Eventually, the migraine does pass and the flowers in my mind get to grow again.”
Website: Rachel Dennison
Facebook: Rachel Dennison Paintings
Abi is an artist from Suffolk whose bold and colourful digital illustrations inspire, educate and prompt conversation. Her art often focuses on social, political and environmental subjects.
“This piece was part of a personal series I created about my experiences with chronic migraine. I was coming out of a period of months where my chronic migraine had made me too sick to do much of anything but sleep and I was experimenting with creating illustrations about my personal experiences to help me process what I’d been going through. The series changed the way I approach illustration and also connected me to other spoonies online and helped me realise that I could use my experiences and my art to help other people.”
“This illustration is a personal piece expressing the loneliness that comes with chronic illness (in this case migraine in particular). I wanted to show how isolating it feels to be suffering from a migraine attack in the middle of the night when everybody you know is asleep but you can’t sleep through the pain, move around, or do anything to pass the time.”
The artworks of Amanda connect nature with her spiritual practices and celebrate healing while acknowledging the reality of pain. Amanda’s art channels her migraine experiences into a meaningful form and provides a therapeutic effect to the artist.
“This mask is my visual representation of a migraine. The mask covers one side of the face similar to how a migraine will affect one side of the head. I used shapes of fungus to show different sensations of pain. Feelings of pressure, tearing, and bulging are depicted through the mask’s form. The form of fungus also shares similarities with the form of the grey matter of the human brain.
I named this piece symbiotic relationship because living with chronic migraines often feels as if there is a fungus living on its host.”
Website: Amanda Dreise Art
The Germany-based painter, Andy Mandery, shares snapshots of his inner world with the viewers. His artworks are surreal and rich in symbols and cryptic messages.
E-mail: [email protected]
Lillie is a digital artist who creates pieces often touching on the subjects of body positivity and raising awareness of invisible illnesses. She has created a dedicated piece for the article which channels her experience of a migraine attack.
“My experience with migraines has changed over the years. This piece represents a mixture of symptoms that I suffer with. The blurred and patchy background represents my newest symptom, ocular migraines. Before a migraine attack, I have distorted vision in one eye, often flashing lights, blurring, blind spots, and kaleidoscope vision. The rings around the head represent the intense crushing pain as if a band is wrapped around my head. The red lines represent the pressure, almost like my head is going to explode. This is my experience with migraines.”
Etsy: Lillustrations Art
Jasmine, who creates under the name of Mirzamani Art, is a Californian digital artist and an oil painter. Her pieces often use rich, bright colours which contrast with dark, mysterious backgrounds.
“I started getting migraines as a child and I would wake up screaming in the middle of the night at times. Throughout my teenage years, I would always carry around headache medicine with me in my purse at all times. I also started my art as a child and I continue to express my emotions through my art. Art has been so healing for my pain mentally and physically.”
Website: Mirzamani Art
Villainous Varnishes is a multifaceted artist exploring unconventional beauty. She creates powerful looks using make-up techniques, which blur the line between fiction and reality.
“Throbbing. Pounding. Stabbing.
I think I’m going to hurl
Lights and sounds hurt
Smelling is hell
I’ve lost the words…
This is a visual representation of what migraines feel like for me. It starts behind my eye and increases to white hot intensity; radiating like electricity throughout my head and down my neck. The agony persists for hours and sometimes days, which makes me long to remove myself from my body.”
Website: Villainous Varnishes
Support the artists
These powerful artworks have been created by independent artists. Migraine is often referred to as an invisible illness and projects and initiatives like theirs raise awareness of the impact on the lives of those who experience the condition. You can support the work that they are doing by following and engaging with their channels which are linked above.