Words and illustrations by Madeleine Sava
‘Aren’t you embarrassed?’ is a question I get asked a lot. In the early days of posting my drawings on Instagram, my friends would screenshot my posts and send them to me asking if I was OK or, simply, ‘wtf’. I am not embarrassed, and I am OK. Even better, because of my drawings. I draw clearly and unashamedly about things that hurt, and I feel vulnerable while doing it. I draw about the anxieties and awkwardness of navigating daily life and dating in your 20s. Through humour and simple black and white illustrations, I harness the heavy emotions that my female friends and I navigate daily. Everyone thinks about it; I just draw about it.
I started scribbling stick women on scrap pieces of paper in 2016. I am Brighton born but was working in London, and I was feeling a bit directionless. I would take pictures of the sketches and post them sporadically on Instagram. My feed was a mess of selfies and stick women masturbating, and the only likes I would get were from my mum and housemates. I get it; it was niche. My first drawing post was a colourful List of Initial Questions to Make Sure I’m Not Wasting My Time’, a not so subtle dig at my ex (who I was still in a relationship with at the time. Needless to say, my drawing saw the beginning of the end for us). The second, an illustration of a heart with someone throwing stones at it. My art is sad, and it is funny, and it has bought me a lot of healing. My drawings have continued in the same vein since; using childlike black and white simple and whimsical illustrations to juxtapose against often very sad topics like heartbreak, cheating, regrets, and shame.
ILLUSTRATIONS BY MADELEINE SAVA
Now, four years on, it’s more than just my mum who likes my posts, and I have displayed my art in exhibitions globally and sold prints, clothing, and greeting cards internationally. God bless social media. Selling the art that I posted on Instagram was never an end goal, I hadn’t even thought of the idea. I enjoyed being open and honest, and sometimes funny to my 200 followers. And that was enough. This was until someone I didn’t know commented that they wanted to buy a print of one of my pictures. Feeling a bit of a fraud, I said sure and marched down to a printing shop in Soho, where I paid more to get the illustration printed than the person paid for it. Still, I was chuffed. Someone wanted to buy my art! It was soon after that that an art agent got in contact. We had a few phone calls, and she couldn’t wait to represent me. This was until she asked what art school I went to, I said I didn’t go to art school, and she was silent. She is silent, still. Agent or not, I have still shown my art in exhibitions and sell it to many satisfied buyers.
I am proud of the community of misfits I have brought together through the relatability of my work. I get DMs from followers telling me how I’ve helped them get over their boyfriends/girlfriends one delicately hilarious drawing at a time. Others say they feel seen, or understood. I like the idea of the commonality of heartbreak and sadness and uncertainty. I like that my experiences of shitty dates or persistent disappointment are felt by so many. And I like that I see the funny side of these experiences. It feels like I bring a lot of joy to a lot of people, so I get inspired by the thought of ‘if I don’t post pictures of badly drawn women talking about common realities of women, then who will?’ My drawings offer a reality check of saggy boobs and being ghosted to an Instagram that is drowning in the illusion of perfection and ‘having my life togetherness’.
In 2017 I got a one-way flight to Vancouver. I knew no one in the city, I didn’t have a job, and I didn’t have a house lined up. What I did was big, and it took a lot of courage. It definitely wasn’t necessary, but it definitely did inspire a lot of my illustrations. I feel like this courage seeps through my illustrations, the wobbly, simple lines of my illustrations look fragile and harmless, but the women, what they have to say and are going through are strong. They are me, and they are you.