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Meet the Experts: Creating Art that Connects with Mental-Health Advocate, Haley Drew This

Want to create art that genuinely connects? We talk to talented illustrator and mental-health advocate, Haley Weaver, to learn how her work is making a difference in the world.

Posted 20 Jul 2022
Meet the Experts: Creating Art that Connects with Mental-Health Advocate Haley Weaver

Illustration and mental-health activism have become significant trends over the past few years – especially on social media. Enter Haley Weaver – a talented illustrator and writer based in Washington, DC, who is skillfully combining these two passions into one. As an online activist and mental-health advocate, Haley specializes in webcomics centered around anxiety, depression, relationships, and selfhood, perfectly intertwining the hand-crafted charm of illustration with a relatable, authentic commentary on her experience of mental health.

Accruing quite a following for her endearing, human-centric illustrations, Haley – also known as Haley Drew This – shares her heartfelt artworks with her 279K Instagram followers. Haley has been a die-hard doodler and an avid artist since childhood, and she’s always been attracted to telling stories rooted in humor and vulnerability through her art. But, ever since she made a personal resolution to post ‘a doodle a day’ on Instagram in 2017, she’s reached more hearts – and feeds – than she ever thought possible.

We spoke with Haley about how her artwork is making an impact, and her expert tips for creating content that genuinely connects.

What’s your background, and how did you develop your current style? 

I started drawing when I was little and have loved it as a hobby and a way of de-stressing ever since (I even got in trouble in fifth grade for doodling too much in the margins of my notebooks). Aside from art classes in high school, I’m self-trained! 

My style developed a lot when I began my draw-something-every-day challenge and again when I switched from using colored pencils to digital art. However, I think of myself as a constant work in progress, and my style will always continue to evolve as I do. My mental health, friendships and relationships, work, and activism inspire me.

How did @haleydrewthis come about? What motivated you to start posting your art on Instagram? 

I had recently graduated college and was working my first desk job – a lot of staring at a computer and juggling a ton of work. It was pretty draining, and I spent much less time writing and drawing. At the start of 2017, I resolved to draw a doodle daily and post it on Instagram. I did this for three years (I don’t post daily anymore), and the rest is history. 

What’s the primary mission or purpose behind your work?

My mission is to make social media a less draining place and to create art that resonates with people and makes them feel less alone. I’m aiming to help shift the conversation around mental health to be more vulnerable, honest, and accepting. 

How are you striving to make a difference in the world? How is your content making an impact? 

I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life, and I want to help relieve that burden for others. We can’t erase our mental health issues, but we can undoubtedly normalize them and find ways to accept them. I hope my platform continues amplifying that message and serves as a space for acceptance. 

Why do you think ‘content for good’ is so essential in this day and age? 

I think art has always served as an excellent vehicle for activism, and it’s cool to be able to do that in the digital age where a platform can reach so many. Creating art about the things you care about is the best way to take a stand.

How did you grow your Instagram following, and how has it benefited your art? 

I began my account when the Instagram algorithm was quite different – simply posting every day and using hashtags garnered me a following quite quickly. Having an audience is a privilege, and I feel grateful that people stick around and enjoy my work. 

For artists today, I would suggest finding ways to incorporate video into your digital strategy.

What’s the hardest thing about being a creative in the public eye? How do you find the courage to post such raw, honest, personal content on social media? 

Anytime you post something to the internet, there’s a chance someone will see it, dislike it, and choose to tell you as much. Getting mean comments has always been challenging, but I am lucky that my online community is kind and thoughtful. It makes it much easier to share even the most vulnerable work I produce.  

How are you aiming to break down stigmas around mental health?

For the first year and a half of posting, I didn’t talk about my mental health journey, instead taking a more vague approach (such as, “it’s okay not to be okay!”). When my panic attacks got terrible, I had a “who cares” moment and just posted a story about my experience. It ended up resonating with a lot of people. I realized that I had an opportunity to continue breaking down barriers in my work just by being open about my own experience. It wasn’t always my goal, but I’m so glad it transformed into that. 

What’s your creative process? Please tell us how your art gets from your imagination to our feeds! 

Sometimes an idea comes to me, while other times, I toy with a concept (usually writing it down in my Notes app) before turning it into something. Then comes the drawing part, which I do in Procreate. Finally, I set it live and then try not to monitor comments too much. 

What are the primary skills and techniques involved in creating your work? Do you have expert tips or tricks for achieving this style of art?

Line Work and drawing tutorials have been super helpful for learning how to draw certain things and use the software correctly. My top tip is that there’s always something else to learn. Be open to new techniques, processes, and concepts!

What are your go-to programs for creating your work? What are the must-have tools all successful illustrators need in their toolkit? 

As I mentioned, I love Procreate. It’s user-friendly and so fun to use! The must-have tools for all artists are good imagination, a sound support system, courage, and your favorite writing tool. 

What are your top 3 tips for creating high-quality digital art that resonates with an audience? 

  1. Share work that you love, but don’t be afraid to share stuff you’re unsure about. Experimentation is key. 
  2. Back up your work. And then do it again.
  3. Remember, everyone is living a life as complicated and strange as your own. Remember when you’re not sure something will resonate with others, it probably will.

My top words of wisdom are this: if you need a break, take it. Burnout is real.

You’ve already accomplished so much and empowered so many with your work. What are you most proud of, and what’s next for you and your art?

I just finished the first draft of my illustrated memoir about anxiety, and I’m so proud of it! I can’t wait for it to come out and share more of my mental health journey. 

We hope you enjoyed this inspiring interview with Haley Drew This! While you’re here, check out our Procreate Guide, Line Art Spotlight, and illustration Trends. Or head to our Community Stories section for more expert interviews!

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