Behind the Art Blog: Spectra the Unbound

I've been told that my art has new meaning when it's viewed through the lens of my personal story. I've been encouraged to talk more about myself and get my story out alongside my artwork. I'm trying to let that take shape along side the Monster Heart Mission, an initiative I've begun developing to help people express and accept their differences using the language of monsters. I identify a lot with monsters, and I feel like when I draw or sculpt a new monster, it gives life to some part of the universe that's been hidden away in the darkness waiting to be seen. I give it a body. A voice.

Having a voice is important to me, and I feel like I'm ready to speak more about myself through my work. With this in mind, I decided to give shape to a new creature woven from a part of myself that's often very difficult to express. This new being represents my Autism. 

Spectra the Boundless

Spectra the Boundless

I have level 2 Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). I grew up as a pretty agoraphobic kid. I could not go places with certain lights. I generally wasn't able to go to a movie unless my parents strapped balled-up socks and hearing protectors to my head with a headband (which was a really great fashion statement, I'm sure.) I couldn't handle change. Everything overwhelmed me. Textures were nightmares. I couldn't eat many foods. Needless to say, my parents ended up homeschooling me, so when I went into a public school at age 14, my lack of social skills were chalked up to a lack of experience. I was still too overwhelmed to do homework without my mom's help, and all of my social skills I learned algorithmically rather than organically. I remember in college sharing one of my "friendship mechanic models" with a group of a few girls. The way they reacted added a new rule to my algorithm: do not tell anyone about the algorithm!

I do much better now after 26 years of figuring out ways to cope, and though I still socialize non-traditionally and still struggle with certain sensory input. If I get overwhelmed I often meltdown completely. I think and act differently than most people. But I feel I have a great gift. No matter how well I learn to cope, it does not change the fact that my brain is fundamentally different than a neurotypical brain. I get to see the world differently, and because of my verbal skills, I am able to share that view with others. I can't share perfectly, since I do still struggle with my words sometimes, and I have trouble verbalizing a lot of things I experience, but I can share, and hopefully I can be a part of the breaking down of the stigma against ASD. This is what led me to create Spectra the Boundless.

The Initial Sketch

The Initial Sketch

I started with a basic design for Spectra to try to encompass the feelings and experiences of my Autism. It isn't what everyone with Autism feels, but I can only speak from my own life. I gave Spectra faceted eyes, eyes that would see the world through a kaleidoscope of colorful refraction. Spectra sees the world differently. Lights are brighter, colors have feelings, textures are exaggerated. Spectra has another gem on their heart. This is the refraction and exaggeration of emotion. Veins carry light from this glowing heart all over their body, particularly in the places where I can physically feel emotional vibrations pulsing through me. When I am sad or angry, I feel ripples and zaps cascading through my chest and arms. Instead of a mouth, Spectra has a formation of these veins that communicate their emotions in raw pulses of light. I may have learned how to verbalize fairly well, but I speak from my heart to a fault. My feelings pour out of my mouth. Lightning fueled with light shoots from Spectra's hands. Spectra interacts with the world with this lightning instead of with fingers. It can be too harsh or impulsive for some, but it is a beautiful chaos like nothing else.   

The next part of the piece came from notes I collected from my notebooks, sketchbooks, and scraps of paper. These were scribblings I had made trying to explain my experience. Some were done trying to explain how I saw social interactions, most were actually things I wrote down trying to communicate during times I melted down and couldn't get any words to come out. One of the most difficult parts of my experience with autism are these episodes. I have to be careful about keeping myself from getting to overwhelmed or my senses are quickly flooded with higher contrast textures and strange sensations. 

Spectra in progress

Spectra in progress

Spectra has a spindly waist, because even with all the beautiful power coursing through them, it is that singular energy holding them up. Spectra must maintain their energy carefully in order to stand. Spectra is also shown breaking free of a human mask. Spectra may have been pressured to conform to a norm, but here Spectra is choosing to reject that and embrace their full power. It's something I've been learning to do myself. 

In the spirit of using my monsters to reach the community, 50% of the proceeds from any product you buy with the Spectra the Unbound design will go the Autism Self Advocacy Network, a group that helps empower individuals with Autism. The other 50% helps me, an artist with ASD continue to create more monsters! Thank you for reading my first blog post like this and supporting me. Those of you who follow my art really help me to keep going. I can't begin to tell you how much I appreciate it. Thanks for being you!

Blood and Kisses XO+XO-

-Ra Butler