Evelyn Basch of Bristol, UK started Human Sightings in 2017. It’s an independent art platform that stems from Evelyn’s experiences with using art to cope with mental illness and explore gender identity.
We connect with Evelyn to discuss the significance of the Human Sightings name, the organizations that have supported Evelyn personally and professionally, the ebbs and flows of the creative process and the long-lasting impact Human Sightings’ space-themed comics have had on its international audiences.
Read our full interview below for more:
- Why did you choose to create something public because of something so personal?
When I first started creating comics, it was a way of expressing to others how I felt and it was a very private thing. I only let a few select people read them. Through a course with PAPER Arts, a company in Bristol that provides creative enterprising skills and mentoring, I met some amazing artists who encouraged me to start posting my work on Instagram. I had a few people comment that they really identified with my art, and that made me realize that although my art is very personal, it’s also something that a lot of people can relate to.
- Did you experience any fears or doubts before launching?
Absolutely! I was terrified that no one would want to see my art or that it wasn’t at a high enough standard to share. I was mostly scared that it wouldn’t go anywhere, since you hear so much how art isn’t a “proper” job. Something that really helped was talking to people who had been in a similar position as me, and having a mentor who would honestly tell me what would work and what wouldn’t. It happened over a period of time though, and wasn’t all negative! I had my first stall at Trans Pride 2017 and that was so exciting, it led to me setting up my Etsy [store] properly. I still worry with each post or product I make that no one will like it, but it’s always worth it, even if it only helps one person.
- When did you start creating art? What methods are your favourite to work with?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember and have always carried a sketchbook with me. Pen and paper are probably still my favourites, but I’m learning more about digital art now and do enjoy playing around on Adobe Illustrator. I do have a bit of a weak spot for acrylic painting though – it’s my go to when I have an art block.
- If there has been a particular experience or a series of moments that you think kickstarted your passion for creating, please describe it for us!
When I first dropped out of school, I had a lot of spare time and started watching painting tutorials on YouTube. I then spent about half a year painting pretty much every day, since I didn’t have anything else to do. I think the largest influencer was a course I attended with PAPER Arts. [As mentioned], they helped me find confidence in my creative abilities and gave me the motivation to keep making art.
- Thus far on your journey, what have you learned about gender identity?
The main thing I’ve learned is that gender is unique to you, and although that sounds obvious, it ultimately means that only you can define your gender, not anyone else. I’ve learned that not everyone will accept or respect you, but surrounding yourself with people who do, can make such a huge difference. And, it’s okay to change! Your identity can change as you grow, and that’s okay.
- Describe the significance of the name Human Sightings. Why these two words?
It’s pretty much just a complete joke! I was watching a video about alien conspiracy theories and thought it would be funny to write a comic where aliens talk about rare sightings of humans. A lot of my work is around space, so it just kind of stuck.
- Your logo sports an image of an astronaut and, as noted, much of the work you create incorporates alien-like figures. Why are these two characters prominent throughout your art and brand?
It’s partly due to my unhealthy obsession with space, but the main idea was around feeling isolated and alone. I’ve found that I quite often don’t feel like I belong, or that I’m completely alone in the world (not true, of course), and I think the idea of astronauts and aliens sums it up quite well. Aliens are seen as different and unusual, which is sometimes how I’ve felt. Astronauts tend to represent the feeling of being completely alone and facing the unknown or being somewhere where no one can help you. They also just make great puns, my favourite being, “You deserve to take up space.”
- What was the initial feedback you received after Human Sightings went live? How did these reactions impact you?
I don’t think there was one particular day that I launched – it kind of happened over a period of time. Although, I do remember the first product I ordered (that wasn’t handmade or printed at home) was completely the wrong size, and I’d forgotten to put my logo on the back! It was a set of greetings cards and when I approached the shop that agreed to stock them, I was told that they wouldn’t fit in the card rack. It was disappointing and annoying but also quite funny, and I didn’t let that mistake discourage me! Once I had the correct size, I had really positive feedback from the shop, and that encouraged me to launch more products.
- How has the Human Sightings brand changed or evolved since you started the project?
I think it’s changed in the way that means it is now more accessible. It started out as very personal art and comics, and although the content is still based on my experiences with mental health, it’s become more relatable for a larger range of people. It’s now around topics that most people have experienced, and are more around poor mental health rather than mental illness. I’ve now started using the aliens to address everyday human problems and emotions, and have created zines that focus more specifically on the mental illness side of things.
- You share much of your work on Instagram and, as you’ve mentioned, you have an Etsy store. Why did you choose these two methods to share your work?
There’s quite a large art community on Instagram, so it felt like the obvious place to start out. Most people seem to have Instagram now, so it’s easy to connect with a wide range of people. I set up my Etsy for very similar reasons – you can easily reach people worldwide, and it’s a fairly simple site to use!
- What is your most popular item on Etsy right now? Why do you think this is the case?
At the moment it is, “Humans Volume 1,” an alien zine with short comics about feeling lonely to ridiculous stories mocking the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I think people like it because the comics are funny, whilst also [reflecting] emotions and situations that most people go through. This zine normalizes some of the difficult feelings everyone experiences and shows that mental health isn’t always this weird, scary topic.
- How often are you able to interact with your online audiences and discuss mental health with them, in addition to sharing your art?
I’m always open to chatting with people and it’s really lovely to see comments when someone identifies with what I have drawn or said. Sometimes, due to my own mental health, it can be difficult to reply to messages or comments, but I always try to let people know how much I appreciate it!
- What do the connections with your online audiences mean to you? What have you learned from them?
Online connections mean a lot, especially since some people find it difficult to communicate face-to-face. It’s also a way to overcome barriers. I’ve chatted to some amazing people from all over the world thanks to the Internet and they too agree that [online connections] are an amazing opportunity to meet incredible people. I’ve also had some great conversations with people about mental health in terms of culture and traditions.
- You’re based in Bristol, but with an online presence, you likely have international reach. From where are the people that consume your work?
I’ve found that a lot of my audience outside Bristol are based in America and the Netherlands.
- How would you describe your at-home audience in Bristol?
There is such a supportive art community in Bristol! There are always meetups and events to go to [and] I’ve found that I’m constantly meeting other artists and people who have seen my work. There’s quite a large audience in Bristol, since it’s known for its art scene. Exhibitions and markets usually have a great turn out!
- What do you hope your work with Human Sightings does to improve and shift the dialog that surrounds mental health and gender identity?
My main aim is to normalize these “difficult” subjects and show people that mental health and gender identity don’t have to be these huge scary topics. Everyone has mental health and everyone has experienced gender [identity] in some way. Using art to illustrate these ideas can engage an audience that might not have thought about these things before.
- Whether within your own circle or on a broader scale, have you witnessed any improvements in conversations around mental health and gender identity since you launched Human Sightings in 2017?
I volunteer for a few different youth mental health services, including Off The Record (OTR). With OTR, we run workshops in schools and [since I started,] there has been a definite change in the knowledge and attitude people have around mental health, compared to when I was in school (just three years ago!).
In terms of gender identity, I think a lot more people feel able to be open about their identity. Obviously, people exploring gender identity is not new, but there has been a lot more coverage in mainstream news and media about it.
- How do you hope the Human Sightings brand develops and grows in the months to come?
I’ve mainly worked with The Sad Ghost Club and Hattie Porter, and I’m hoping to do more collaborations with other artists, either to make zines or to come together and create something completely new!
- What advice might you have for other people experiencing mental health struggles and/or the exploration of gender identity?
I would advise to surround yourself with people who you feel comfortable with and can be open with. In terms of mental health support, there are also some amazing charities and services out there for you to use, please don’t ever feel like you aren’t ill enough to get help and support! The same can be said for exploring your gender or sexuality. There are local groups (or even online groups) where you will be accepted for who you are and [they] can give you more information.
- Do you have anything else to add?
I would really encourage people to reach out and use what’s around them. None of what I’ve done would have been possible without the help of Prince’s Trust, PAPER Arts, Sad Ghost Club and OTR.
Thank you Evelyn for sharing your story with A Quarter Young and for explaining how your work has impacted your life, and the lives of others across the globe. For us, learning about your mental health and gender identity journeys has been empowering, humbling and eye-opening – an experience we’ve also had while consuming your art and creations.
If you are in Canada and experiencing a crisis or require emergency mental health support, click here for a list of regional, 24-hour emergency lines. If you are interested in learning more about Canadian organizations that support mental health initiatives across the country, click here.
The feature photo is by PAPER Arts.