Drea Vail got into digital art just six years ago when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
“Before my diagnosis, my thing was sports and being really active,” says the artist, still passionate about Colorado sports teams. “A lot of the activities you do mess with your blood sugar levels, and it got to the point where I was like, ‘I don’t know why I push myself to do these things that make me feel bad all the time. weather. ”
Needing a way to express herself and stay busy during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic – which required her to be “extremely careful” – Vail downloaded Photoshop and started playing around in the app.
“I really enjoyed it. It was very freeing, and it was the first thing I could do while I was lying in bed feeling really bad after a long day and learning , explored and improved,” she recalls. “It didn’t take that level of energy away from me; it kind of gave me energy.
Weeks of playing in the app turned into months, and Vail focused on developing her skills and defining her craft, eventually creating graphics for the National Harm Reduction Coalition.
Later came a project for an organization called Diabaddies, which focuses on supporting women of color battling diabetes. She drew a woman wearing an insulin pump for a t-shirt design, prompting her to create more art featuring diabetic subjects.
“Before I had a pump, it was really easy to hide [my diabetes], and I would deal with some really intense things on my own,” she recalled. “Having my pump now and showing it off – people with pumps show you it’s not some invisible disease or something you can hide. It’s part of your life, and it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just a part of you.
After meeting others who have spoken openly about their struggle with diabetes, Vail wears her own pump with pride and creates artwork that details subjects wearing pumps or otherwise coming to terms with their diagnosis.
Among her pieces, all created under her Dre Groovy Designs banner, is her Divine Collection, which includes apparel, tote bags and stickers emblazoned with the phrase “Diabetic & Divine” and, more broadly, “Disabled & Divine.” .
“Representation isn’t always everything, but if you’re someone who does something about a specific thing, you should probably understand it inherently,” she says of mixing art. and activism. “I feel like my diagnosis has completely influenced my outlook on life, and I feel like your perspective is reflected in the art.”
Vail has also found a kinship in Twitter’s diabetic community, many of whom have purchased her art, proudly displaying their “Diabetic & Divine” apparel and supporting Vail’s other artistic endeavors.
Going forward, she plans to do another harm reduction fundraiser – an annual tradition in memory of a deceased friend – as well as continuing to promote diabetes visibility.
“At the end of the day, I just want to help people who feel the same way I do,” she concludes.
Learn more about Vail and its merchandise on its website.