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This Artist Uses an Unexpected Medium to Make Empowering Mental Health Art


It’s been a long journey to get to where I am now. Over a year ago, I began to attend therapy and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Since then, I’ve become very active in speaking my truth on mental health topics and breaking the stigma on the shame that surrounds anxiety, depression and mental health.

Just because I’m in therapy and self-aware doesn’t mean I don’t have low days when I feel I’m not good enough. It can be a constant battle to remind myself of my worth, which is why the mental health community is such a blessing. With amazing artwork and visuals that can serve as a daily reminder of our worth, courage, strength, I view it as not only an expression of creativity, but a new avenue to shed light on taboo topics.

With the mental health artwork blowing up all over Instagram in the form of pins, prints, clothing and so much more, you have to set yourself apart to make a mark. That’s exactly what independent artist T. Jay Santa Ana has done – with Shrinky Dinks.

Yes, you heard me right. Through this nostalgic, 80s toy, Santa Ana has created a brand new form of art that doesn’t just express self-love, it builds people up. With his “Make A Mark” pin series, he creates visuals that inspire, motivate and empower.

Q: What was the origin of using Shrinky Dinks for your art?

A: Though I am a graphic designer by trade, anything experiential and hands on is preferable when it comes to making art. With this in mind, I started researching alternative canvasses and surfaces on which to put my illustrations. After hours of “research” (mainly double-tapping photos of other makers on Instagram), I decided Shrinky Dinks was the best contender. It eliminates handing off artwork to a vendor and crossing my fingers that they do a good job. I also love baking. Plus I’m an 80s baby and the 80s were awesome.

Q: What does this series mean to you?

A: It’s very personal to me, only because I’m a strong believer in the power of intention and the power of thought. Positive affirmation seemed to be the next logical step for inclusion into my existing artwork and even more importantly, into my practice for life. For me, this series means the way I encourage myself to pursue my purpose (through simple yet powerful phrases and affirmations) is intrinsically tied to my work as an illustrator, a doodler and a mark-maker.

Q: How do you come up with the motivational phrases on the pins?

A: In all honesty, what you’re reading — both textually and visually — is a peek into how I resolve my anxiety, a bulk of which consists of an overactive and chatty mind. It’s the last few breaths of the internal dialogue I try to meet with patience and observation. It’s about non-identification with the voices that say, “You aren’t good enough.” So I doodle and repeat patterns and create forms and shapes. Eventually I arrive with a phrase, “You are good enough.” Other times I’m just overwhelmed with inspiration, inspired by people or places, so words like “Inspiration” or “Bloom” or “Follow your path” or “Well, I feel better already” pop up.

Q: What would you like someone with mental health issues to take away from seeing one of your pins?

A: I would want them to be inspired to take action yet to be gentle and patient with their process for coping and healing. I understand everyone’s path is different and not everyone will resonate with these types of messages (though my ultimate hope is they will), but using these pins as anchors for present-moment awareness would make me feel that I helped in some way.

Q: What is your mantra?

A: My mantra(s) these days have been the following: “Thank you for my healing, thank you for my health. Thank you for my living, thank you for my life. I offer myself to Godhead, to Source, to the Universe, to be distilled into health, love, light and forgiveness.”

Q: Where can people buy the pins?

A: People can request pins on my website, artbyanto.com or by shooting me a message through my Instagram profile, @artbyanto. I’m in the process of setting up an online store, but if you shoot me a message with interest in buying and I’ll definitely respond.

Q: Do you have any new projects coming down the pipeline?

A: Yes! This summer I will begin work on an illustrative project called “Make a Mark,” exploring both the figurative and literal act of mark-making. It will still include a wide range of Shrinky Dinks pins but will expand into a suite of other pieces such as journals, prints and a digital 111 day series on Instagram called “Marks and Meditation.”

Who knew a children’s toy could bring so much empowerment for the mental health community? Whenever I find myself battling a negative thought or warding off an impending anxiety attack,  I just look down and read my pin to remind myself. I am enough.

Shrinky Dink Mental health pins

Shrinky Dink Mental health pins
You can follow TJ Santana on Instagram and on his website

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Photo via @artbyanto Instagram.