Adventures and heads are intrinsically linked. A lot of the time exploring and pushing boundaries outside the city gives you a feeling of headspace, even if that’s not the goal. Illustrator, designer and ex-professional freestyle skier Naomi Edmondson has created a beautiful, happy, fun project called ‘Survival Techniques’. Her colourful project aims to shake up the way we talk about the practice of feeling upbeat, starting with East London. She found the top three ways to stay happy are to get outside, talk to someone and move your body. I talked to her about how her project aims to shake up the way we talk about the practice of feeling upbeat, starting with East London.
Hey Naomi, tell me about your project.
My project is called Survival Techniques. It just started as list of things that I wrote for myself that I needed to remember to do when I was feeling really rubbish, that would help me to feel better. I guess because so many times I’ve felt really rubbish and something completely basic has made me feel okay. So I started making a list for myself. I happened to mention it to a few people and they said ‘I need some of those!’ For me, number one is leave the house. Number two is talk to someone, anyone, about anything. It’s about those super simple things that I can do at any stage in any state and they will always make me feel better. I had this list for a year or so, and mentioned it to a few people who were quite like “I’d quite my own list of survival techniques” (or something like that). I was thinking about illustrating some for my portfolio, to have some illustration work, and it grew into this idea of being painted in public spaces of actual Survival Techniques that people could actually use.
So are they all your own Survival Techniques or is it a big compendium?
Yep, it’s a big compendium. Some of mine are in there still. Mostly they’re just Survival Techniques that I’ve collected from other people. At the moment it’s all people that I know but I want to get as many as possible from as many kinds of people as possible. On the website there’s a bit where I ask people to send me their Survival Techniques. They all seem to orientate around similar techniques which are: connecting with people, getting outside, and moving your body in some way of another. Those seem to be three key themes that make people feel better in almost every circumstance.
When did you start?
I started the list a year or two ago ago – a year and a half ago. I took my time off work a month ago to focus on the project more.
So once you’d started illustrating them, putting them on your website – how did you make the leap to physical spaces?
I’ve always loved signs painted on to walls. There are these things called ‘ghost signs’ in London which are old advertisements of like Bovril and things, and are all faded. I’ve been taking photos of those for years just because I like them.
I vaguely thought about doing sign painting for a while when I was still at university, as a way that I could do physical painting rather than digital, and be outside working with colour and type. But it never quite felt right.
I saw Camille Walala painting that building in Old Street and it was the catalyst that brought together all these ideas I’d had in my head for a while: that I could actually paint these Survival Techniques on to wall spaces. It would combine all of those things that I was interested in.
Tell me about the first wall that you’ve just painted.
The first wall says “Hide less, chat more.”
”It’s strange to see it being a real thing. I was actually really nervous before I put the primer on this morning.”
Is this your favourite one?
I like this one. This isn’t my one, but I like it because I think it sums up a lot of the what the core things behind a lot of Survival Techniques are. The personal ones for me were about just getting out of the house, speaking to people and not hiding away, so I do like this a lot. I think my personal number one is always leave the house. Because then I’m inevitably going to have to engage with someone, see the world, get some air – you all know how much I love the air.
That was from a friend of mine. She’d sort of written this long description about what she does and when I was trying to summarise it in my sketch book I thought: ‘she’s saying she just needs to hide less and chat more’ and it felt perfect – that was the essence of what she’d just realised she needed to do.
What wall did you paint?
It’s just off Regent’s Canal. Just by Victoria Park and Grove Road, on the canal, facing the canal.
It doesn’t seem like anyone’s done pithy statements about mental health too much. This seems pretty different to the way that mental health is normally broached and talked about. What are your thoughts on language and depression/cheering people up?
I think the problem I have with some mental health language is that it’s a little bit too nicey-nice. It doesn’t quite chime and feels a bit medical, I guess. It’s almost a bit patronising. That’s not to say that I don’t agree with sentiment or anything that people are doing in mental health – I just don’t particularly feel a connection to what they’re saying quite often.
I want it to be everyday phrases and things that people say or can connect with. I want it to be lighthearted but about serious things. So, inspiring and easy to read and understand, and then consider a bit more and realise that they would be good things to do. Because these are all simple things – they don’t need to have big statements attached to them. That’s the whole point: they’re just things that anybody can do whether you’ve got money or not.
What I want with these survival techniques is for them to be real everyday things that anyone can do. It doesn’t have to be about ‘reaching out’ to people, it can just be about chatting to people – you don’t even need to chat about the big stuff. Well, that’s what I’ve found anyway. And I’m not talking about very serious depression, I’m just talking about everyday feeling a bit shit (which seems to lead to them feeling worse and worse). For me, my survival techniques list was about dealing about that everyday stuff so it didn’t spiral into something more – like when I just didn’t want to – couldn’t – speak to anyone. So I want it to be in the vernacular where possible. If it’s a turn of phrase that people say already, that’d be good.
What’s the next wall?
I’m always on the look out for walls. I’ve got one potential wall where a friend is communicating with the freeholder of the building and the other people who might have a say over the wall. it’s on Pitfield Street which would be cool. I’d like to paint lots more walls. Initially in East London, just so that it’s an area and connected. If that was successful I’d like to expand it to other areas of London (for a while). I need to get some funding for it to cover the costs. The RSA has some funding called Small Catalyst programme (or something) or otherwise I might be able to get some funding from mental health charities. I’m going to get more clued up on that.