1. Can you tell us about your journey as a nature photographer and digital artist?
I discovered nature photography through my passion for country walks in the UK when I became a stay-at-home mum (when my special needs child was excluded from school a second time). I took time off from my teaching career to help my child find a specialist school that nurtures his inner emotions and adapts his learning experience to his unique gifts. As I walked through the countryside, the energies from the trees, lakes and sunshine helped to heal my lost soul and mixed-up emotions. I began to take pictures of trees, lakes, birds that show the strong feelings of a woman rediscovering herself as a mum of a special needs child and a courageous warrior fighting for a more inclusive system. I began to experiment with colour, hues, use of shadows and various filters to evoke powerful human emotions. The nature in my digital art /photography symbolised the hidden feelings and pain experienced in ones’ challenging and energising spiritual life journey.
2. What inspired you to combine your love for nature with your passion for digital art?
I actually discovered my passion for digital art through my nature walks! The digital art allowed me to truly express my inner feelings in a creative and innovative way. Through my nature photography (where I allow the beautiful forest to feel human emotions), I could now use leaking light or contrasting colours to focus on a specific part of the nature image. This allowed me to share various feelings experienced by a special needs mum (anxiety, sadness, overwhelmed, courage). The more I learned about creating digital art, I could see the amazing effects created in art images that change the meaning of the photo. I began to use digital art to create different emotions with the same nature image.
3. How do you use your art to promote the importance of respecting and loving nature?
I love to include both natural photography and digital art to show the beauty of the world around us. include landscapes of forests, lakes and country walks to motivate people to discover the great outdoors with friends and family. I also include spiritual and healing titles for each art image to show the powerful and healing energies one can receive in a simple nature walk. I love to add calming and serene music to show how visual images of trees, rustling leaves, bird sounds and sunlight shining on the lake can heal the wounded or sensitive soul. Too many people only see the futuristic world full of buildings and man-made objects.
4. How has being a mother to a child with Autism influenced your artistic process and the emotions you express in your work?
As a mother of a child with Autism, I am overwhelmed with various emotions. I have learnt to focus these emotions into my nature art. On a particularly emotional day, my country walks lead to beautiful and powerful photographs of forestscapes that represent hidden pain, the anxiety of a special needs mum or searching for a thread of HOPE. I love simple nature photography, but I will often add different hues of colours or leaking light to create a more powerful emotion. I love to change the perspective of the image, make the flower looking down and then add a tear drop to show the pain and sadness behind the beautiful flower. My process always starts with my emotional experience.
5. Can you explain how each piece of your photography/digital art represents the emotions you experience as a mom raising a special needs child?
One of my favourite pieces is a forestscape of a group of trees (some are standing tall, some are leaning over, some have curved trunks and are falling over). I took this image at Milton Country Park in Cambridge, UK, my family loves this park, especially our dog! I added golden light to show the uniqueness of specific trees. When I first saw this group of close-knit trees, it reminded me of the Autism Spectrum. Each tree represents the different life journeys and challenging emotions experienced by an Autism parent and their child, every special needs child is unique and special. The way the light shines on various trees and how the trees are positioned in the photography tell a story. This image is a story about many mum’s life journeys and the uniqueness of every ASD child.
I took an up-close photograph of a dandelion in the grass, changed the colours (blue and purple), added focus to some sections and blurriness to other parts of the flower. I chose a dandelion because people often call it a weed, but it is actually a beautiful soul struggling with mixed emotions. This flower symbolises the hidden pain behind the smile of every courageous special needs parent.
If you have more questions about my emotional photography and digital art, please reach out to me on my Instagram (@joellewilcock).
6. In what ways do you believe society can become more accepting of every child's unique needs, both in school and in society?
The world is very slowly becoming more accepting of every child’s unique needs. In school, we need use the children as our experts. We need to learn how they want to learn, do they want to learn in a classroom or in another setting. We have always taught our kids in classrooms, why do we need to be in as classroom? Why can’ t our children choose a forest school as their main setting or learn to read while learning history by visiting museums?
One time, my was experiencing a huge meltdown in a mall, he was exhibiting 2 to 3 year old behaviours but he was actually 8 years old. Many people were staring at me, as I was sitting in the middle of the walking corridor, holding onto my screaming child. He was trying to escape and run away due to his overwhelming emotions. Not to mention, he was biting, kicking me and more because that was his way to communicate his feelings. It didn’t help that people were staring at us as they were walking to the shops! You could see in their eyes the look of disapproval. I was just trying to stay calm and help my child stay safe. I wanted to cry and scream at the same time. Thankfully, a lady stopped and asked if I was okay, I nodded no, very close to tears at this stage. I think she asked a lady form Tesco to come out and help me. This amazing, one in a million lady, came over and asked if I needed anything. I asked for some water to calm my child. She brought two over to us and even sat with us as my child was regaining his composure. I let her know that my child was Autistic, she completely understood what I was going through. She was my Guardian Angel that day. My advice is choose to be the one who offers help to struggling parents, you not know the whole story, don’t judge what you don’t understand. I will never forget how the many people staring at my son in the mall, they made me feel so small and helpless. However, I will ALWAYS remember my son’s guardian angel helped us survive that moment. Sadly, this is only one of many experiences where my child was judged in his TIME OF NEED.
7. How do you hope to educate people about Autism through your art?
I love to create musical reels using my children in nature, we are a family who loves the outdoors! I enjoy capturing my children enjoying nature from different perspectives. I add beautiful and thoughtful words to each image (Overwhelmed with Anxiety…) to help people understand the feelings that are misunderstood. I carefully choose music (soft, dramatic, spiritual) to bring my photography to life and allow my followers to experience the emotions behind the images of a child with Autism. I also use my digital nature art to make the world more aware of the struggles experienced by Inclusive families (siblings feeling ignored, child having no school, parents feeling isolated from other families). I would love to exhibit my art as a collection in galleries, so that I can share the meaning behind the art and how it has changed my life. I believe that my story will help others feel less alone and dare I say, NORMAL. I also believe that everything happens for a reason. Without my amazing child with Autism, I would have never discovered my creative side as a nature photographer!
8. Could you share with us how you help your child with Autism and Attachment Disorder make friends and feel confident and well-adjusted in today's society?
I honestly wish I have an answer for this. Making friends has always been a struggle for my boy and our family. Even me as parent, I often feel like the odd one out in a playground waiting for my child at the end of the school day. Some parents would purposefully avoid me or on the other side, they would see my boy’s disability as an illness. There were thew few that really tried to get to know our family, this was in mainstream. In the past, we utilised play groups, lots of outdoor play in a park (we modelled how to be a good friend) and play therapy at times. Honestly, with the attachment disorder, it is tricky. My child can suddenly dislike anyone because of the colour they are wearing, the child won’t play their game, they speak a different language, and the list goes on. He is now 10 and finally has a school that really is nurturing his ability to make friends and feel confident. He finally is making real friendships! We have been really lucky to join an Inclusive Football group! The coach has a special needs child too, he has helped Logan become more confident and capable of creating friendships with other children like him. The whole family feels included and loved at football, this is our favourite part of the week! It is on on-going journey helping him make friendships and maintain them, we just keep trying new things!
9. What role do you believe the great outdoors and nature play in supporting the emotional health of children and adults?
I believe that the great outdoors allows us to breathe, relax and just feel free. All of our senses are invited to wake up and re-energise through the sounds of rustling leaves or the wind blowing through the trees, the smells of natural wood or simple plants (lavender) and the beautiful and eye capturing features (trees, lakes, birds, pathways). If you really focus and stay quiet in nature, you can feel the positive and powerful energies emitting from a willow tree, quiet waterfall or even a brave winter robin. A walk in the forest, canoeing on a quiet lake or gazing at the bright stars on a cold night quiet the mind in this fast-paced world, therefore we can release our anxieties and transform into our true self. Emotional health needs to be practised daily, it needs to be taught to both children and adults. As a special needs teacher, I utilise the elements in nature to help my children re-balance their huge overwhelming thoughts and anxieties through engaging activities (fort building, 3D nature art, trust building activities and more). This is why I love to create emotional health reels through my photography and digital art to help heal our soul, foster our empowerment and inspire us to grow into a better and true version of ourselves. My art is created through my emotions as a special needs mum, a mum reinventing her true self and an individual reawakening her inner goddess. My journey is a healing journey and a spiritual journey, one that will lead me on various courageous and inspiring adventures.
10. Can you describe how your musical art reels on Instagram help others feel a sense of hope and love within themselves?
Refer to last question.
11. What advice would you give to other parents raising children with hidden disabilities who may feel overwhelmed at times?
This is definitely a hard question as everyone handles stress differently and uses different coping strategies. For me, I always loved nature walks and talks with my real friends (through the good and awful times). I have always felt like the real and genuine me when I was surrounded by nature, ever since I grew up in Lake Muskoka in Canada. Anything could be fixed with a lake swim, splashing my bare feet in the water, or discovering new trails. I spent many moments gazing out at the lake as I release my overwhelming thoughts into the universe. This year I also discovered that sketching and painting gave me a focus on my new creativity, where I left behind my unneeded negative emotions. As a parent of a special needs child, you need to make time for you!! Make time for a cup of tea or coffee, go visit a friend for a much needed chat or invite them over to your place or find that hidden passion or hobby that makes you feel like you. When I was really struggling, reaching out to Facebook groups, online groups or other inclusive parents to just VENT has always helped. Get to know your Inclusive Community, they will become your family, in your time of greatest need. Unfortunately, not all families really understand what your life is really like. You can always reach out to me on my Instagram, I am a great listener. Last piece of advice, tell yourself that you are doing your best over and over again BECAUSE you are an amazing parent (who would fight the world for their child).
12. What is your ultimate goal or mission as an artist, both in promoting the importance of respect for nature and raising awareness about Autism?
Through my art, I hope others will see the beauty of nature, whether you are gazing at a really large tree trunk, listening to the soothing sounds of crashing waterfalls or simply hugging a tree to feel the magical energies within the living object. Humans need to appreciate the beauty within our natural world, so that they are willing to view it as important enough to respect it. The more people that I reach by sharing my emotional nature art and photography will create a larger group of conservationists and nature lovers, who will challenge the non – believers. As a mum with a child with Autism and Additional Disorder, I am very open about my feelings on my Autism Journey as an Inclusive Family, I believe that this will encourage other families with children with hidden disabilities to reach out and share their experiences with the world. Sharing our courageous journeys will raise awareness about Autism and other disabilities.