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Work / Publication

Kaye Blegvad on the making of Dog Years, her book about surviving depression

Kaye Blegvad is an illustrator, designer and maker, and as of this year, a bona fide publisher. Her book, Dog Years, began life as a presentation, before being published as a visual essay on Buzzfeed, and now in print, via her own hard work and a Kickstarter project, which raised fives times its initial goal, (NBD).

The book, “a story about owning a dog”, is a visual essay about experiencing depression, told via the metaphor of owning a bad dog and learning how to live with it. Of the multiple iterations, and drive to eventually publish a physical edition of the story, Kaye says: “So many people don’t really understand mental health issues, and are so fast to judge someone who’s suffering as being lazy, or weak, or self-destructive. It’s hard to communicate what you’re experiencing when you’re in that dark place, having something solid, and from a third party, can make a big difference. That’s what motivated me to do the book – hearing that this story has helped other people feel less alone has, in turn, made me feel less alone, too.”

When preparing the presentation for a Society of Illustrators night on the theme of survival, Kaye pinned the story to the dog metaphor to give her a bit of distance, “I could relax more”, she says, “I was a bit terrified of being so exposed, telling this personal story on stage, this way I was just up there talking about my dog, no big deal”. As an illustrator, Kaye was used to working with other people’s words and ideas, but in this instance she could just hit the ground running: “It just flowed – most of the images were already in my head, I knew what I wanted to accompany the text, and how I wanted it to look.”

When it came to translating the project from a talk to an online visual essay, to print, Kaye adapted the pacing and style according to context: “It was different having to think about the story in terms of spreads, rather than a long scrolling piece. I first laid it out exactly as it had been in its digital form, but it meant that pages were juxtaposed next to each other in ways that didn’t necessarily work, and the story didn’t have enough room to breathe.” Identifying the value of automatic pauses and “reveals” in the book form, Kaye embraced the format: “I wanted it to be almost like a children’s book, with just a sentence or two per page, and an illustration accompanying it. I made a lot of new artwork, and had less solid blocks of text – I hoped this would slow the reader down slightly and give them a little more time to take it in.”

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Kaye Blegvad: Dog Years

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Kaye Blegvad: Dog Years

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Kaye Blegvad: Dog Years

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Kaye Blegvad: Dog Years

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Kaye Blegvad: Dog Years

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Kaye Blegvad: Dog Years

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Kaye Blegvad: Dog Years

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Kaye Blegvad: Dog Years