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Can you design a world of gratitude? Justyna Green shows the way

It’s the strangest of times, and perhaps the best time to count our blessings, illustrates the British designer, Justyna Green, with her 100 Days of Gratitude project.

by Soumya MukerjiPublished on : Sep 07, 2021

Creativity has the power to overturn all rational dynamics of cause and effect. And often, ironically, for good reason. A case in point is this: a woman gets diagnosed with one of the most painful physical conditions that may be suffered by the female form - endometriosis, and even as she is in the midst of treatment for its excruciating pain, she offers to the world a most joyous and healing gift of real stories on everyday gratitude. The lady is Justyna Green, and her project, 100 Days of Gratitude, makes the creative community count their small-big blessings as she adapts these into exquisitely delicate and simple illustrations that warm the heart and make you smile at life contentedly. Pictures that remind you that you have enough and more, that abundance and fulfilment flows generously for those who appreciate it.

Green, a London-based illustrator best known for her On Design podcast, felt vulnerable and scared when her diagnosis came through after many an incorrect speculation about the condition. “I would attend meetings and try to focus and be professional, whilst my abdomen was tangled up in pain,” she recounts. Today, after sustained treatment and a significant surgery, she is recovering steadily a little, each day. Along the way, she knew it was time for her to pause, recalibrate, and meditate on the positive. It was around this time that she took to this exuberant exercise that features a medley of thoughts from 100 creative practitioners all over the world.

Green’s visual interpretation of musician Beatie Wolfe’s gratitude for “the beautiful world of tangible communication and the joy it brings” Image: Courtesy of Justyna Green

The subjects of gratitude are gloriously diverse reminders of life’s obvious yet special offerings. Musician Beatie Wolfe muses the pleasures of “sending and receiving mail, physically writing something or making something, the presence that it ushers in, the timeframe and feedback loop that it disrupts (in a world of instant feedback and gratification).” Anna Winston of Design Academy Eindhoven shares the wonder of her secret garden, which Green brings alive as a fantastical retelling. While designer Adam Nathaniel Furman offers grace for his grandmother who finds herself in a warm embrace in Green’s rendition, architect Hanif Kara is grateful for his loft home office painted gleefully yellow. Illustrator Charlotte Glebocki relates her time with her whippet as the most precious gift her way. Then, there’s cheese, choices, the 1920s style of romance, riding a bicycle and even gratitude for the strange times we live in!

The illustrator creates Anna Winston’s Secret Garden where she was thankful to sit with her son in the shade of “old apple and pear trees and lots of nesting thrushes and blackbirds, surrounded by 16th-century brick houses” Image: Courtesy of Justyna Green

As childlike as the works appear to be – in many ways a welcome return to innocence, Green clarifies that it wasn’t an easy initiative to undertake. “Interestingly, the project has been very challenging, as I had to draw one illustration a day, for 100 days. So although the images are simple, it's been quite a journey!” she sighs. We go over it.

Soumya Mukerji (SM): When did you know it was time for gratitude?

Justyna Green (JG): I think there’s always time for gratitude, to appreciate everything we have in life, on a daily basis. It’s also a helpful and uplifting practice especially when the times are hard – and that’s been the case for many of us in the past two years. I hope that the 100 Days of Gratitude project brings the creative community together, and creates a positive moment both online and in real life, as the project will be exhibited in London between September 18-26 at the London Design Festival.

SM: Endometriosis can be excruciating. What was the biggest lesson from it?

JG: To let go. To not get attached to the pain or to the outcomes. And to slow down, when the body asks for it.

One of Green’s subjects, Martyna is thankful for the body and all that it has endured. “Injury, chronic illness, abusive relationships and trauma, and I am still here, enjoying this earthly experience…” Image: Courtesy of Justyna Green

SM: Do you think pain often helps us evolve more than joy?

JG: I don’t think pain itself helps us evolve more, it’s more what we do when we encounter it. It can make us stop and think, it can put things into perspective. Joy can also help us build strength and appreciation of ourselves, others and our surroundings.

SM: When did you know that drawing is healing – and helping?

JG: From a young age – drawing has always been my way of self-expression, putting on paper emotions for which at the time maybe I couldn’t find words. So when I was quite confused and in pain in the process of getting diagnosed with endometriosis, I naturally took to drawing.

Two slides that depict how the process of French artist Malika Favre’s gratitude for family came alive Image: Courtesy of Justyna Green

SM: You have worn many creative hats and dabbled in diverse design projects earlier. What have been some significant turning points for you?

JG: For many years, I have known that I wanted to work in visual arts and create images. I think the turning point has been when I made a decision that it's time to give it a shot, and stop ignoring my intuition. That's how my journey started. Next, I was over the moon when Suzanne Tromp at WePresent commissioned me to tell my endometriosis story - that project resonated with many people. And now I feel like the 100 Days of Gratitude project is another big leap for me.

Dr. Suzanne Livingston's gratitude for freedom of choice reflects Green's own journey in following her intuition Image: Courtesy of Justyna Green

SM: Can you give me a peep into how these illustrations occur to you?

JG: If I am working on a self-directed project, like the 100 Days of Gratitude project or my comic Living With Endometriosis, my illustrations are a reflection of what I am going through, my experiences and situations I have encountered. When working on a brief, the process is very different – I come up with the ideas that answer the brief, create an interesting story or a viewpoint and will be relevant to clients’ audiences. What doesn’t change, is a vibrant colour palette, focus on patterns and bold fluid lines.

SM: How did you choose your people for the project?

JG: I have chosen friends from the creative community whom I missed, not being able to see them throughout various lockdowns. I have also chosen people whom I admire and wanted to create something for them, and I have also reached out to lots of amazing, generous people who have been part of my community for many years now.

SM: What are the strangest things that you discovered people are thankful for?

JG: Oh it must be a gratitude from Bryan Mayes, thankful for his mullet!

SM: What is the one thing you wish you had been grateful for?

JG: My life, exactly how it has been unfolding.

SM: What are you most thankful for, today?

JG: Overcoming my health challenges.

SM: Your favourite form of expression.

JG: I am currently loving digital illustration , working on patterns and expressing ideas with bold colours.

SM: The feminine form, in many cultures, is upheld and deeply regarded. However, the female body and its challenges are often the least understood. Was it difficult to sensitise people around you about your condition?

JG: Luckily, I am surrounded by progressive and open-minded people, who were very open to learning about endometriosis, and there to support me throughout the process of getting diagnosed and having a surgery.

Green adds her own appreciation for the Vagina Museum to Olivia Ahmad’s gratitude for museum collections, especially online archives Image: Courtesy of Justyna Green

SM: What has been more satisfying - the intent of this project or the sheer act of creating these illustrations - or both, equally?

JG: Actually, the most rewarding has been collaborating with the 100 people who submitted their gratitude. People have been very generous and open about what they are grateful for, often sharing personal stories.

SM: Is gratitude an important part of the design community today, or is there a longer way to go?

JG: The 100 Days of Gratitude project has shown that the design community is full of gratitude and brilliantly appreciative of both the little and big things in life.

The illustrator says it’s a joyful experience to count blessings collaboratively | Justyna Green 100 Days of Gratitude | STIRworld
The illustrator says it’s a joyful experience to count blessings collaboratively Image: Courtesy of Justyna Green

SM: Do you agree that taking time for oneself is taking time for the world?

JG: I think it really depends on what we do in our ‘me time’ and if we use this time to grow (and help the world in some ways).

SM: How can one break the cycle of thanklessness in simple ways?

JG: By volunteering for a cause close to your heart.

SM: What is your next project of hope?

JG: Next I’ll be working on expanding on my recent comic for WePresent on endometriosis. It’s a chronic condition that affects one in 10 women, yet there’s little awareness of it. I am hoping to change that.

A rendition of British designer Nicolas Roope’s gratitude for witnessing a critical moment in history, “even if we’re on the wrong side of it” Image: Courtesy of Justyna Green

As for thoughts on her own growing self-awareness, Green reflects, “I believe being aware is being able to detach ourselves from thoughts, emotions, patterns, past and the future. I am yet to get there!”

(100 Days of Gratitude will be exhibited at Residency in Islington Square between September 18-26 as part of the London Design Festival and the newly formed Islington Design District.)

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