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"Illustration Brings Hope For Recovery"

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

Mathew Klickstein | Scott Hull Associates | August 15, 2022

Oftentimes our business isn’t just about business. This seems especially true these days, when creative design studios and agencies like mine are continuing to discover new ways of having a real impact on our larger community.

That’s why, when our friends at CVR – Caldwell VanRiper – came to me a few months back to help them with a statewide initiative that would bolster education and assistance for those struggling with opioid addiction, I was delighted to lend a managerial hand.

It’s no big secret that opioid addiction has had devastating effects throughout the country and particularly in the Midwest region, home to where we’re based in Dayton, Ohio and CVR’s own Indianapolis office. As such, there was a definite drive for both CVR’s team and mine to produce something that would take a special hold on those viewing it – survivors of and those dealing with opioid addiction.

The end result of this particular collaborative project would be a short, well-crafted and compelling video focusing on the interviews and story of one Indiana family rocked by the horrendous consequences addiction can lead to. CVR thought it best on a visual, emotional, and psychological level to incorporate into the video a helpful handful of animated illustrations that would “dramatize” certain aspects of the interviewees’ stories and mental headspace.

It was CVR associate creative director Meg McLane who first came to me toward the end of last year looking to see if I had any illustrators whose work could then be easily and appropriately added into the final video.

Initially coming from a writing background, Meg now runs the creative on several accounts at CVR.

“Since there are a lot of creative directors who come from an art and design background,” Meg tells me, “my approach to projects may be a little different from other folks. But at the end of the day, it’s all about translating a client’s intended message to their core audience. What can we at CVR do to make it stand out?”

Choosing to be so hands-on with her projects, Meg really has a profound amount of independent agency over the projects she’s on. When the State of Indiana reached out to CVR to aid them in the “Know The Facts” video that would end up being produced, Meg wanted something that would uniquely resonate with viewers watching the onscreen family’s at times heartbreaking but ultimately revelational recounting of their experiences.

“The point of all of this is ultimately to reduce stigma around the idea and conversations about addiction, substance use disorder, treatment, and recovery itself,” Meg says.

Meg had her mission set and then came to my team at Scott Hull Associates to find someone from my agency to help her enhance the uniqueness and emotional resonance of the “Know The Facts” video. Meg’s idea was to work with the right illustrator – preferably a Hoosier to bring that real “hometown hero” oomph to it – on drawings that would have a childlike style to them.

This stylistic decision would soften some of the more difficult parts of the family’s interviews in order to allow the viewer a modicum of breathing room during those scenes. This would hopefully help them to not feel so intensely uncomfortable by it that they’d disengage from the video.

It would also in some ways reconnect the viewer with their universal inner child’s innocence and wide-eyed interest to learn and grow.

Indianapolis-based illustrator Candice Hartsough was a perfect fit. Candice is a consummate, lifelong artist who finds her greatest joy creating children’s illustrations. She’s an inveterate sketcher and scribbler who is also a busy mother of three young children of her own. (Not to mention her “crazy dog,” as she likes to point out.)

Candice also lives with her own unfortunate connection to the challenges addiction can lead to for families suffering through it.

“Having been part of a family experiencing addiction that didn’t have such a happy ending, something that still affects me today,” Candice says, “it was wonderful to see the family being interviewed talking about working together to heal and move forward in a positive way. I knew I wanted to be a part of this important project and was thankful I was brought on to help.”

Candice has worked as a freelance illustrator for the last two decades, and we were introduced through some of her artist friends who were also clients of mine. These friends of Candice’s thought we’d make for a good partnership. Turned out they were right: Candice and I have now been working together since last fall.

So that Meg and her team back at CVR could make sure the commissioned drawings (eighteen in toto) could be seamlessly animated, Candice produced her work digitally, making various layers for each individual illustration. This way, the animator who was brought on a little later could move around and manipulate the different elements (faces, hands, feet, background objects, etc.) of each full picture.

“At first, I was a little worried that my art style would seem a little too juvenile for such a heavy topic,” confesses Candice.

“But I quickly realized that interspersing real video footage of the family members with hand-drawn images that would seem reminiscent of children’s books really pulled the story together. Meg was right.”

“By using animation that a lot of people will connect to their childhoods, it hopefully reminds them that addiction can affect anyone, and that it’s not just an individual’s problem, but a problem for our community as a whole.”

“We wanted to show in the video that even with a lot of the darker stories discussed,” Meg adds, “there is still that hope for recovery. Candice’s artwork helps bring that in where it may not have otherwise been so clear. And the aspect of bringing hope to the story is such an important part of it and why we do what we’re doing.”

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