Ink not Blood is a series of artworks about using creativity to overcome self-destructive urges, both self harming and suicide. This is a darker series of work, touching on topics that are very taboo in our culture. It was born out of my own struggles, and the way I have come to regard ink as a kind of substitute for blood. I have been using ink to battle these feelings for many years, as a teenager I coped with high school partly by writing poetry on my arms. But I also mean the use of ink in a much broader sense, to refer to any creative act. Being creative, not just being an artist, but to create anything helps to draw me away from destruction. For me, Ray Bradbury said it best:
Those who don’t build, must burn.
Or, to put it another way, the desire to destroy is only the thwarted desire to create. I’m most at risk of destructive impulses when I’m not using my hands to create. So, speak, express, and scream if you need to, but communicate your pain using ink, not blood.
Self harm and self destruction are complex issues, driven by different fears and needs. I’m not proposing that the issues I explore are universal, or that this is the complete list! These are just some of the ways I experience and overcome my own self destructive impulses, and I hope that something here may be useful or inspiring for others.
1. The Other Choice
Some people who self harm keep a ‘kit’ of their tools. This photo shows an example of such a kit, with the fountain pen in the centre as an alternative option. The blade and the pen mirror one another in size, shape and colour, but the choice between them as ways to express pain, leads to completely different places in your life.
2. To See My Pain
Part of what can drive the urge to self harm for me is a need to see my pain. Emotional anguish is invisible and at times I need something that shows I’m hurting. I use my art and writing to fulfil this need where I can, and I paint my arms on days when that is not enough. Someone I care deeply about tried to kill themselves recently. I painted this as a response to the torment I was feeling. It’s only ink, drawn on with pen and painted with brush. It lasted about a week then faded away. There are many ways to see your own pain that don’t harm you, I hope you can find your own ways to meet that need.
Sometimes bringing pain from the emotional to the physical world helps us to feel more in control of it. We can touch it, reassure ourselves that it’s real. We can also heal it far more easily, we can nurture and tend to the wounds. We are brutal with ourselves in ways we would never be to another hurting person. This need to touch pain is about feeling silenced and not being believed for me. Now in my life I have people who don’t dismiss my pain and who don’t sneer at the sorrows I’ve come through. I feel more that I have a voice, and less that I have to find a way to prove I’m suffering. Don’t get caught in that trap – people who don’t believe you’re hurting will be just as dismissive if you try to use self harm to prove it. If they are not listening now, they won’t be persuaded by physical scars either. Find other people who listen, and other ways to touch your own pain and nurture your wounds.
4. To Weep Ink
I use art and writing to express grief and fear. For me, part of self harming is the need to leave a mark that I can’t deny later on. To be forced to wake up the next day and face that I’m not coping. It’s a way of overcoming denial. Writing a poem or painting a picture can fulfil that need. I don’t have to play out the war of self awareness on my skin. I can weep tears in ink that last and leave me with a page where I must confront my own distress and face my own woundedness.
To use ink instead of blood frees me from the shame and self loathing that accompany self harm. In writing journals or making art there is a liberation, here represented by the written birds flying through ink tears. When I write my pain in blood I add to it. I trap myself in a spiral of shame and hatred where my pain only increases and intensifies. I stop listening to myself and take my rage out on my skin. I become an abuser to myself, seeking peace and healing through degradation and contempt. Using ink instead does the opposite for me, it eases anguish from my head and heart onto the page. I now try to write my pain with ink, not blood.
6. To Bleed Ink
Some days, I feel like I’m emotionally bleeding. Sometimes there’s a driving need to make myself look the way I’m feeling. Having an invisible disability like a mental illness can fuel this for me. I feel like I’m fighting invisible monsters in my head, and because no one can see how hard I’m working, I feel humiliated by my limitations. I feel less than other people, ashamed of how hard some things are for me. Trying to catch up and never quite making it. These feelings can drive self destructive urges. But the thing is, if I do self harm, I’m so deeply ashamed of myself I hide it. So it doesn’t actually make my struggles any more visible. I try to find somewhere to talk about how I’m feeling, and some other way to deal with my pain. These days I try to bleed black, not red.