Big Mouth: A graphic essay on self-expression

Published by Nela Dunato on in ADHD, Art, Personal, Sketchbook, Thoughts

In this navel-gazing graphic essay / sketchbook story / illustrated essay / visual journal entry / whatchamacallit I explore my desire to integrate written and visual communication, why I love the Internet, and highlight one beautiful irony of my life. For more context, read my previous article: Integrating words and images (my creative journey).

(Typed transcript is available at the end. There are some spelling and grammar errors in the original.)

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View and read my second graphic essay “I broke up with Instagram”

Tools I used

Because people often ask me what I use for my sketches, here’s my list of tools:

(Amazon affiliate links. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.)


Mom told me that when I was little, and the two of us would drive somewhere, I would be constantly talking in the back seat. “You know, mommy…” I wouldn’t shut up until we arrived at our destination. Sorry mom, I know you’d have enjoyed listening to the radio more!

Teachers and kids in school were not as patient with me. I regularly got kicked out of class for talking. Other girls were telling me I talk too much and that I’m boring.

I didn’t want to be called boring anymore, so I tried my best to shut up. It didn’t always work. But I got more quiet.

I was sad and confused that other people didn’t care about my ideas. So I become more cautious around others, and I still am to this day.

Quietly observing and judging new people when I meet them… Keeping a polite and pleasant conversation with those I like… And going full chatty Cathy with those I feel comfortable and safe with.

What didn’t come out through my mouth came out through my hands. I started writing a journal and doodling (sometimes violent) cartoons, and then I discovered the Internet which was life-changing, no exaggeration.

Chat, message boards, forums, newsgroups… Different ways of communicating directly with people, but also – websites! I published my first one in 2003. I liked that I could publish anything… and anyone who was interested could take a look at it, and others could simply ignore it.

Then a friend told me about blogs. At first I thought:

“A public journal? That’s dumb. Who’d want to read that?”

Turns out, a lot of people did. So I made one, and another, and another…

…and people liked what I wrote! Even if they didn’t know who “I” was. They thought I was smart. And funny. I had an audience. A willing audience, for the first time in my life. It felt amazing.

I was using my voice, and people were actually willing to listen to it. In a triumph of irony by the time I was 30, they started paying me to talk to groups of people. Me, the boring girl!

I express my ideas in several ways:

  • Design – What should the world around me look and be like? Also, money $$
  • Art – My emotional world and innermost thoughts
  • Writing – Processing and expressing what I’m learning about myself and the world
  • Speaking – Teaching, supporting my community, and sometimes also money $$

Most of the time these 4 are completely separate processes, done in different contexts, competing for my time. When I write, I don’t draw or paint art. When I design, I don’t speak.

Occasionally it bothers me that my creative expression is so fragmented. Compartmentalized. Separated from itself. I feel like more is possible.


The longer I’ve been working for myself, the more I’m able to weave different aspects of my personality and creativity together. But it’s still far from what I’d want it to be. I think I could communicate my ideas in a clearer, more interesting, and more engaging way, if I could only figure out how to make it fit. That’s kind of what this experiment is about…

When I was little, my older cousin Barbara used to write to me (in PRINTED letters because I could read those easier), and she’d fill the pages with adorable cartoon characters and doodles and I wanted to be able to draw like her one day. She was an inspiration to me.

This feels like a letter in a way, I don’t know to whom but I might just throw it into the river (or the internet), so those who are interested may look at it, and everyone else can ignore it.

December 20th 2020


Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

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