Kicking off some blog dust today for Haidee Soule Merritt, an artist whose work I have admired for years. (I especially love this print.) She lives with diabetes, her sense of humor is dark and delightfully twisted, and she has a new book out called The Sweet Taste of Misery: Illustrations for the Discerning Diabetic. Want more? Scroll, yo.
Kerri: Haidee! I’ve been a huge fan of your diabetes insights and artwork for years. For readers who haven’t had a chance to get to know your or your work yet, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Haidee: Kerri, you’re EXTREMELY kind to do this interview. Thank you, thank you. It’s inconceivable—preposterous, in fact—to think I’ve been around long enough to have a reintroduction necessary. Yet here we are. Here we are, indeed.
I make my home in the small city of Portsmouth, NH. I’ve been in this very house for 18 years, a number that I’m sure rivals the age of your new readers. My studio is a ten-minute walk from here in a historic building called the Button Factory, a self-explanatory title that’s just as magical as the name sounds. I consider myself a mixed media artist because it allows for me to experiment with all sorts of mediums and techniques; I currently work with watercolor and pen + ink but things can change at a drop of the hat.
I got into the diabetes cartooning after the eye surgeries I had in my 20s. Black and white was something I could see easier than color—black ink and white paper was perfect.
Kerri: And you also have diabetes, adding lived experience to your insights on diabetes. Can you share when you were diagnosed with diabetes and how diabetes has influenced your art?
Haidee: I was diagnosed at the age of 3 in 1974. I’m rapidly approaching my 50th anniversary with diabetes. I was misdiagnosed with all sorts of things including epilepsy: the grand mal seizures I had were actually a result of extreme low blood sugars. The doctors were throwing spaghetti against the wall (I love a good carb reference) because Type 1 was nowhere near as widespread as it has become.
For novelists the catchphrase is to write what you know. That’s the easiest and most accurate way to describe why the diabetes theme started. It’s something I feel so confident in knowing—well, experiencing—that I’m bold and even a little fearless. I’m free, also an appropriate word, to express myself in a way I can’t on almost any other subject.
Kerri: Your book, One Lump or Two?, has been a staple in my diabetes library and I recommend it often. And you have just released a new book!! What’s this one about?
Haidee: I’m so glad to hear that, Kerri—that first book seems like a long time ago.
Someone new to my work asked me yesterday which book they should buy. They’re all so different. I’m crazy about the new one because I think each one is an improvement: they’re all self-published so (I like to think) I’ve improved with the experience I’ve gained.
A few things I like about The Sweet Taste of Misery: (1) the illustrations are the highlight here, some have text but there’s no real narrative (contrast this with book two, FingerPricks™, which was lacking in the ‘artistic talent” arena but has messages and information inside that make that sacrifice worthwhile); (2) the cover is amazing—I love the color scheme and the pill-bottle design; (3) book 3 pulls from a significant length of time in my cartooning career so there’s some diversity in style, topic emotion; and, (4) to finally answer your question, it’s not really about anything specific this time but it has the diabetes theme throughout.
Kerri: What I love most about your work is the mix of levity and dark humor. Your cartoons make me chuckle because they tap into the gallows humor part of my brain, and being able to laugh at the things that scare me helps me work through the fear. Can you tell me about your emotional approach to creating artwork?
Haidee: I try to keep the work lighter these days, I think. Or do I? I don’t know.
It reminds me to mention I have another new, sexy item out to the public: it’s a zine (self-printed booklet) called Insulin Surplus, basically a collection of crafty things to do with insulin if a cure for diabetes is ever found. It’s a direct reaction to people (no one specific just a general vibe) saying I was negative. My retort is always that I’m just a realist. And a little susceptible to pessimism? Sure. You can get the zine on my etsy site or DM me on Instagram @haideemerritt.
Kerri: Your cartoons also hit hot topics like the insulin crisis squarely on the head. How does art help you spread a message of advocacy or activism?
Haidee: I’m outraged about all healthcare related to diabetes. Insulin, yes, keeps us alive but it’s the tip of the iceberg. I’m actually having to choose between my insulin pump and my CGM—not a difficult choice, ultimately: I’m going off the pump. And as you get older complications arise—it’s a progressive disease. It’s just unfair and unjust and it upsets me to no end.
The GOOD news is younger generations of diabetic people—those less worn down by this issue and more competent with social media—are also angry. I’m so incredibly impressed.
Kerri: Aside from diabetes-related art, I have seen a lot of bugs — dragonflies and their friends — on your social feeds. What’s the deal with the bug love?
Haidee: Ahhhh, yes, the insects. That started because I had the visual of wings in stained-glass and, since that’s not a medium I’m familiar with I chose one that I am. I love the intricacies of the wings and bodies and the limitless combinations of color and shape. Dragonflies specifically are very meaningful to people—from diverse cultures to fairytales and the like. There’s always been a good response to them which inspires me to continue.
Kerri: How can readers find your work? Where can they order a copy of The Sweet Taste of Misery: Illustrations for the Discerning Diabetic?
Haidee: I’m not going to lie, I’m very disorganized at the moment. The new book —along with the first two— is available on Amazon. (Editor’s addition: The new book, as I’ve mentioned previously is called The Sweet Taste of Misery: Illustrations for the Discerning Diabetic. Click the link to get your copy!)
I also sell prints of my cartoons and illustrations on Etsy at Birdwing Press. My zine will be there to purchase as well. It’s worth it: it’s funny.
My website is www.haideemerritt.com ultimately everything will be available there.