#ArtTransforms September 20, 2021

Diabetes Advocate uses art to show the beautiful side of chronic illness

By Jonsaba Jabbi

Diabetes is a common disease that we often talk about in society. Type 2 Diabetes that is. Conversations around Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) tend to be missing in the larger conversation. Even less when you talk about artmaking as a Diabetic person.

Well, your perception will change when you meet Mary Foty, illustrator, artist and advocate for people living with Type 1 Diabetes. She uses her art practice of line art illustrations to document her own experience living with the illness while raising public awareness. She is also the newest member of the SKETCH team joining us as our Communications Assistant! We spoke to her about her art practice and how artmaking as a Diabetic has been healing for her health journey.


My Life is full of pricks, don’t be one too

SKETCH: Describe your art practice? 

Mary: I do line art drawing which is known as line art illustrations. When I was young, I always loved doing art but I kind of lost track of it and didn’t think of artmaking as a profession but rather a hobby that I did for fun. I never really thought to use it for my diabetes and a way of healing. For a long time, I viewed diabetes as a negative thing, but when I started doing these art illustrations in January 2020, I started to change my mindset and looked at my diabetes as a positive aspect of my life.

Living with a chronic illness makes you forget the positive things of life, however I view diabetes as a positive, beautiful aspect of my life rather than negative. By creating these line art illustrations

It’s a delicate illness but it can be a beautiful thing if you look at it as a way of self-care. Although I’ve lived with it for most of my life, I only recently started taking my diabetes seriously three years ago. Having diabetes allows you to take the time to care more for yourself and your well-being. It’s a reminder of looking at your self-worth,  watching how your body interprets glucose levels relating to food, exercise, hormones, moods, even as significant as when you are catching on a cold can show why a glucose reading is high or low.

21 years of Type 1 Diabetes and every day is still a learning game for me when it comes to insulin doses and balancing out any life source or challenges. But it is a blessing in a way, to know and catch on to any reaction of life, to treat it if necessary the best way that I can.

SKETCH: Tell us more about why you wanted to use art to raise awareness for Type 1 Diabetes?

Mary: I wanted to show women like myself that we can sometimes be ashamed or afraid of what others might think if we can carry a CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitoring System) or a Insulin pump in public. Sometimes, women are told by doctors that they can’t exercise too much or are unable to have children. But you can do anything that someone has told you  that is impossible with diabetes. The impossible is possible!


My body did not fail me

I want to show women and also men, living with Type 1 Diabetes, to be their own advocates for their diabetes and bring more awareness about being comfortable in their own skin. Body confidence is also a big deal among women because with T1D comes bruises or scars from the injections we have to do on a daily basis.

But the marks and bruises are just a reminder that you are still living and that you’ve battled through life. If you didn’t have these scars, you wouldn’t be here. You’re much more than your low blood sugar or high blood sugar levels.

SKETCH: Describe your creative process?

Mary: I go back to the memories of my childhood and remember how I was hiding my diabetes because of fear and embarrassment.

“My mother and I, when she used to prepare the insulin for me as a child. I used to be so annoyed with needles, while I waited for her to inject it for me.”

I take those feelings and envision it as an art piece. Other diabetics have asked me for a commissioned piece, so I go to their profile page and envision what they may have been going through and relate it to my experience and envisioning those feelings, the battles and the experiences.

Sometimes, when I am having a bad diabetic day, I would just take my time and create art, or write a piece of anything diabetes related. I started posting it on my Instagram page and started receiving requests for commissioned pieces from my followers.

SKETCH: Tell us about a piece of art you’ve created that you’re proud of?

Mary: I did a commission piece for one of my followers and best friend who is also diabetic. It was my second commissioned piece. I liked it because I took more time with it and it was the beginning of my art commissions journey. It was a piece that I hand drew and then I transferred it to my iPad. Everyone seems to like that piece. I even had Omnipod, an insulin pump company ask if they could re-share this piece onto their Instagram page.


SKETCH: How have you enjoyed your experience as SKETCH so far?

Mary: It has given me an open mind that other people are in a similar boat as me. There’s a lot of healing in art. Art can be a profession and a hobby. It can be an expression and send a message to a person’s character. Everybody that does art has their own message as to why they created that art as a way of healing.

SKETCH: How has art transformed your life?

Mary: That’s a good question. With artmaking, it makes me look at the imperfections and create them in every detail. Artmaking in itself is healing and peaceful. The moments and memories I’ve had with diabetes, even if it’s moments of sadness or embarrassment – looking at the negative memories I’ve had with diabetes and creating that into illustrations, makes it beautiful. It makes me look at life and celebrate those imperfections, experiences and struggles. And looking at it as a way of being who I am. Without those imperfections, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

SKETCH: Who or what are your inspirations?

Mary: Other line artists that I’ve discovered through Pinterest. Also Rupi Kaur,  I like reading her poetry and her illustrations. One day, I would like to do a book based on diabetes. I would also say my diabetic followers on Instagram are the ones who keep me motivated as well.

SKETCH: Is there anything else you would want people to know about you, your art and Type 1 Diabetes Awareness?

Mary: Sometimes diabetes or anything in life can be heavy and sometimes you may not want to open up to others about your struggle but it’s okay to share and accept it because it’s who you are because of it and why you’re living. It’s not embarrassing to have diabetes or any other chronic illness, invisible disease or mental health issue. It can be inspiring to others if you let it show.

Being an artist has made me embrace my T1D, reminding me every day that I didn’t cause it to happen, creating awareness by teaching others and showing the beautiful side of Type 1 Diabetes especially when it’s viewed as ugly.

To learn more about Mary’s work, follow her on Instagram at @m_a_r_y_g_o_l_d. To visit her merch shop with her art, visit www.maryg0ld.com.