Artist Toby Allen Brings Attention to Mental Illness with ‘Real Monsters’ Project


Real MonstersArtist Toby Allen’s “Real Monsters” is a series depicting various kinds of mental illnesses as cartoonish monsters. By doing so, he addresses the power of stigma and brings the “monsters” to light, providing humor and understanding for those with mental illness and others who love them.

Mental illness is kind of a monster for people living with it. As a person who has dealt with anxiety and depression all of my life, I particularly liked your “Anxiety” monster. What inspired you to do this and how did you decide on the particular look and description for each monster?

The Anxiety monster was the first one that I designed and it came quite naturally, as I have dealt with general Anxiety and Social anxiety for most of my life and they are both something that I am very familiar with. For a long time, I imagined my anxieties or fears as little monsters that could be overcome and drawing them as physical entities became a really cathartic process. I begin each monster design by researching the condition or disorder extensively, sketching ideas as they come. I try to incorporate many different elements of the disorder into the monster’s character or look which are then reflected in the descriptions.

Looking at the Anxiety monster in particular, the dark colours reflect the heavy and oppressive feelings that I associate with being anxious and the shock of bright pink represents the intense rush of fear or anxiety that occurs when I have an anxiety related panic attack.
With all of the monsters, I try to incorporate other people’s experiences with their own disorder or condition to help develop a character that people can relate to.

What kinds of techniques do you use to create these little monsters? How have people responded to them?

To begin with I will sketch out my initial ideas over and over again till I have an idea that I’d like to go forward with. When drawing, I will look up reference material of animals that share similar traits to the monster I want to create and use those influences to enhance the design. I then work digitally to create the final artwork. I being with simple line work and flat colouring before using a combination of my own custom brushes and watercolour textures to create vibrant and detailed designs that express my love for colour and texture.

So far, the work has gained a huge response from the Tumblr community and the project has found itself all over the internet, in such a small space of time. I have received so many wonderful messages from people who have one or many of the disorders I have drawn, each telling me how much the work means to them and how It has helped them to think about their condition in a different or more positive way. It is such a joy to hear from people who really appreciate all the hard work that has gone into the project and I also received many requests from people that what me to draw their own ‘monster’.

Will we be seeing more of these? Any thought on a book, maybe?

I have plans to continue with the project and create new sets of monsters in my free time. I have a large list of suggestions for new monsters to create and I would like to work on them all at some point in the near future.
A book is something that I would really love to make. The project isn’t as finished now as I would like but I have had a lot of interest in making a book so it is something that would be great to wrap up the project when It comes to a close.

I see that you’re available for commission. What kind of projects have you been involved with?

At the moment I am working as a 2D game artist for HealthPack Games, creating the artwork for some mobile games that will be released soon. Due to the exposure of the Real Monsters project I have received commissions for bespoke tattoos, album cover artwork and customized monster designs. It is an exciting but busy time and I am looking forward to seeing where my creative future takes me.