Timo Kuilder dissects his relationship with his bipolar father through a striking black-and-white illustrated book
Acting as a “form of therapy”, Until One Sunday We Didn’t is a deeply personal story of the illustrator’s memories and emotions growing up with a father “who becomes a different person from one day to the next”.
- Jenny Brewer
- 8 December 2020
Amsterdam-based illustrator Timo Kuilder grew up with a father he describes as having “an inspiring, energetic and creative side but also a dark and depressing one”. His father has bipolar disorder, something he has long been aware of but found difficult to talk about openly. “Especially when I was younger, having a father who was ‘different’ made me feel ashamed,” he says. “I was always trying to hide the fact that there was something out of the ordinary happening in our home. When my friends came over, I directed them up to my room as soon as possible, where we would play Nintendo64. From time-to-time I would go downstairs by myself to fetch lemonade and snacks in order to avoid having my friends run into Bob who was probably already drunk.”
Over the past two years, Timo has been unpacking his memories and emotions towards his father and their relationship through a new project, now a 120-page book titled Until One Sunday We Didn’t. Featuring Timo’s trademark, effortlessly simple line-drawn illustrations and words written together with his friend Yasmin Dikkeboom, the book has been “a form of therapy” for the artist, “forcing” him to understand his father and his disorder better. “Cathartic is the right word,” he explains to It’s Nice That. “As a kid I managed my feelings in isolation and didn’t learn how to deal properly with his destructive cycles. During his depressive episodes, my dad would be locked away in his room and I would hardly see him all day. Sometimes he would only come down for dinner and disappear again straight afterwards, back into a darkened room. Sometimes I would hear him sobbing, alone, in our attic. It made me feel helpless not being able to take his pain away, that there was no way to fix him.”
Writing the book helped Timo process certain memories, and open up conversations with his parents about the subject, years on. He describes it as “basically drawing out my feelings”. It started as a zine but quickly grew, the topic feeling deserving of a full book. Timo says he chose black and white as the aesthetic seemed to characterise his father’s drastic shifts in mood and energy. “The manic highs are followed by the low spells. I think it fits well by working in only two colours to show this duality.”
This effect even applies to the book’s production, which uses Swiss brochure binding, making the book open flat so you can see the black threads of the binding on its spine. The edges of the paper are dyed black, while the cover is embossed with a bright blue foil. “It feels like an art book, but at the same time it's humble and not overly produced which I think fits with the seriousness of the topic,” Timo says. “Without making it a super depressive book, I hope people can laugh about certain anecdotes as well.”
One page depicts silhouettes of his father’s head, portraying both chaos and order through lines and geometric shapes – Timo’s vision of his father’s manic periods when he would “get really obsessive about objects” and go on major spending sprees, then become numb and apathetic. Another shows his father split in half, one side peeled away from its own silhouette as he’s running. Timo says that friends and family would sometimes ask how his father was doing, and would suggest "he should just go for a run" by way of solution. “Which felt for me it's denying so much of the experience of someone who struggles with a bipolar disorder,” Timo says.
“I discovered that almost every memory I have of him is stained with his condition, yet not any less valuable,” he concludes. “I hope this book can tackle a subject that is often avoided, or discussed in hushed tones. That it can help break stigmas around mental health issues, specifically bipolar disorder.”
Until One Sunday We Didn’t is self-published, available for pre-order now via Timo’s website, to be released in January 2021. The limited edition is signed by Timo and his father Bob, and numbered (250 copies) and comes with a hand-pulled letterpress print.
GalleryTimo Kuilder: Until One Sunday We Didn't (Copyright © Timo Kuilder, 2020)
Timo Kuilder: Until One Sunday We Didn't (Copyright © Timo Kuilder, 2020)