In 2013, when I began making progress with pain management, I had the idea to make a marionette of myself.

Theo and I had just travelled to Italy (masks and Pinocchios everywhere!), and returning on the plane I watched the film, Marilyn. It dawned on me how seriously invisible many illnesses are.

As much as I would have loved to make the marionette myself, at the time, any self-portraits I was drawing or painting were horrifying. They were brutal, disturbing, and sad to the point where I had to ask Theo to wrap them up one day – I couldn’t look at them anymore.

I was defeated by all attempts to make them ‘happier’ that only led to them becoming more gruesome and sad.

I’ve still not looked at them. I don’t know where they are… I may have thrown them out. Good!

So, instead of risking a marionette that looked sick and eternalising my painful experience, I thought to commission someone else who would be able to focus on my persona instead of the underlying and all-consuming illness.

Colleen Burke did a fabulous job (see below).

To this day, when I look at Ms. Soula, it’s like the first time I’ve laid eyes on her.

She is the supreme owner of my story of invisible pain and relieves me of carrying all the burden. I love her for it.

‘Ain’t catharsis grand?

There are great examples of self-portrait dolls like Einstein’s and Cate Blanchett’s (pictured), but a recent scene I saw from the 2024 season of Fargo is one of the best I’ve seen.


The marionette of the lead character in Fargo, (Dorothy Lyon… I mean, hello, Wizard of Oz inspired or what?) is one brilliant creation, but the way the writers and producers chose to convey the horrifying issue of domestic violence and the ongoing trauma associated with these terrible experiences makes this production the most powerful example of puppetry I’ve seen.

Please, don’t watch this video if you feel it may be triggering.

Ms Soula is 10 years old

And in that decade, I’ve made significant progress in life management.

It’s now 17 years since the fitball I was sitting on burst and I dropped into the world of pain – or rather, was thrown into a horrific medical odyssey which is the reason for the ongoing nightmare. But I have a grip on life again.

I can now look at and handle some previous collage works I made – I’m even considering framing them! And I have begun incorporating my doll-like figures and Ms Soula into new artworks that reflect my daily life (subscribe to my news to preview works).

My beloved subject of street facades and the more personal experience of invisible illness are no longer separated in the work I make.

That I can identify this, is very significant for me.

Art has been my greatest guide out of sadness, distress, grief, trauma and pain, and it continues to soothe me during the ongoing moments with these feelings.

I am inspired to get tactile, make hands, make feet, and deal with these feelings in another way after seeing the Fargo scene. But I’m not ready to handle the head, which is a clear sign to wait (for fear of making a horrendous head – then what would I do with it?!).

For now, I’ll keep head-making as another target of this 17-year-long endurance race with pain management.

With art as my armour, I know I will get there.