Inspired by Nerves

It took somewhere between 4 – 8 years for me to receive my diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. After numerous doctors appointments, hospital visits, a variety of tests, different types of counselling, they finally came to this conclusion. The reason this took so long is because there is no test for Fibromyalgia. It isn’t visible. Nothing appears in blood tests, there’s no inflammation, just my description of how I was feeling. I quite often felt like I wasn’t believed by some medical professionals and constantly had to second guess myself. Was this in my head or am I genuinely in pain? I felt like that’s what the doctor’s were really asking me during appointments.

This has made me fascinated by the human body and it’s anatomy. How can an illness that manifests itself physically not be visible? I always struggled with this idea in general. I never understood physics at school. If I couldn’t see sound waves I couldn’t believe they were there. Biology was a subject I had a better relationship with because so much of it was there in front of you. I think this is why I find it even harder to understand my condition. This is biology. Chemical reactions in my body occurred during a trauma, which has led to me having Fibromyalgia, with no cure, just a list of things to try to make it more manageable. And again, no physical proof of my condition other than my description.

I have particuarly taken to looking at nerve cells. After reading Steve Haine’s books “Pain is Really Strange” and “Trauma is Really Strange”, I have a better understanding of how pain works. Pain happens when the brain thinks the body is in danger. During and after a trauma, those pain levels are always on high alert. That’s why, for me, a poke feels like a punch. My nerves are constantly cranked up to 11.

Sketchbook 10/10/17 – 13/10/17 ©Hollie Woodward 2017

After looking through DK’s “Human Anatomy: The Definitive Visual Guide”, I started to draw nerve cells in my sketchbook, as well as their structure. I started to find faces in the frameworks and went on to do some sketches of potential characters I could create using this framework. I did these in black biro, no sketches in pencil, as I am trying to work on the confidence behind my mark making. I found that the structure of the neuron would make a really interesting character to do a full piece on.

Sketchbook 14/10/17 ©Hollie Woodward 2017

I started to structure a piece I could work in on Photoshop, using the character sketches as a starting point. Wanting an equally graphic and relevant background, I drew a cluster of nerve fibres, using a Pentel Brush pen and a Tombow bullet marker for the smaller lines. I was attracted to the abstract and graphic nature of this and thought it would be a great background for the piece, in keeping with the theme.

Nerves ©Hollie Woodward 2017

This is my final outcome. Using a colour scheme from my trusty “100 Years of Colour” book, I used some brushes I created myself (mainly for the eyes) as well as some made by Kyle T Webster. I wanted to primarily work with shape for the bulk of the image as I felt it would help merge with the background better and look less separate. I enjoy playing with layers, shadows and creating textures using brushes, almost like a faux collage.

Giving the nerves a face gives it an identity and maybe in my head giving my condition an identity too. Fibromyalgia has affected my life massively but I do not see it as part of my identity. It has infiltrated me, but it is not part of me. My fibro and I are separate in the same body. I want to go out for a long walk but fibro is more concerned with freezing muscles. I want to take that day trip to London but fibro wants to stay in bed. We are different things and I think putting a face to it helps. Whether it helps to reflect that message to others I am not yet sure.

I would like to look further into personification. A great example of this is Disney. It happens in pretty much every work Disney have created but when I think of how they personify objects I am drawn to fims like Fantasia. This could be something to look further into.



Greenwood, K., 2015. 100 Years of Colour. 1st ed. London. ILEX

Roberts, A., 2016. Human Anatomy: The Definitive Visual Guide 2nd ed. London. Dorling Kindersley

Webster, K.T., (2017) Kyle T Webster. Available at: (Accessed 19th October 2017)


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