When Chika Ando creates illustrations, she finds that people connect with what her piece is saying, in a way that speaks to their own personal experiences. The illustrations are almost an extension of her diary. ILLUSTRATION: CHIKA ANDO

When Chika Ando moved from Japan to Canada at age 17, her first memory was the sweet smell of cinnamon. The scent was thick in the airport, unlike anything she has ever smelled before. But the smell of comforting cinnamon buns quickly dissipated into the cold atmosphere of the new country she would call home.

It was not just a cold air that froze her nostrils, though. It was also cold in the way that she felt – alone. Her family was in Japan, and she was here — this foreign country where she could not communicate all that well. So, she turned to her art to express her feelings, frustrations and mental struggles.

Ando has been creating art since she was a child. In her younger years, that meant comics and characters. As she grew older and moved to a different country, her art began to visually represent her mental health in the form of a diary — but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she realized there needed to be more positivity in the world. So she began creating art with the goal of spreading hope.

Ando recently discovered her mom kept a baby journal of her accomplishments. That journal showed she had been drawing since she was 4 years old. It is one of the things she took with her when she moved from Japan to Calgary to attend the Alberta College of Art and Design. 

However, as her art transitioned from a hobby to a communication device in a new country, she found that it also changed what she was creating. 

“I think personally I have this like mental struggles no matter where I am. But living in a foreign country must have a lot to do with my mental struggles, and I can come up with better, richer content because of that,” she says.

Because of her move, she was required to work a full-time job in her chosen field: visual communications design. She chose this field because it seemed a safe option to continue enjoying art. 

“I had to have a full-time job, and that really sucked my soul out, like it killed me,” says Ando. 

As a result, she decided to focus on creating more instead of selling art/working as a freelance illustrator. Today, Ando continues to pursue art as her chosen career while maintaining a part-time job at a dog daycare.

She has an interest in listening to problems and understanding mental health issues instead of offering advice. And that is in the art she creates.

“Even when I was selling my art in markets, a lot of feedback was, ‘Are you into a psychological background, like do you have the background?’ Or some people who really struggle with mental health talk to me a lot about my art, like it’s really integrated,” says Ando. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Chika Ando struggled to find any positive message, but when she finally did, she felt it was important to pass on her message to spread positivity. ILLUSTRATION: CHIKA ANDO

Ando sells and shares her art online through many platforms, including her website. She explains her illustrations speak to her emotions in a very pure and naked way. 

“I often say my artwork is like my diary, so that’s where the nakedness comes from. I don’t hide it. I don’t hide my feelings often. I like to show my frustrations and really put it out there, and because it’s all feelings, it does speak a lot of mental health,” says Ando.

She believes that she has a dark side. And, by sharing her own emotions through illustrations and showing them online, she has found an audience.

“The thankful part is, people are usually connected to my frustration which is kinda like really neat,” she says. “It’s actually helping other people too by realizing, ‘Oh my god this is speaking to me!’ or ‘I’m not alone feeling this way or that way.’”

“I don’t hide my feelings often. I like to show my frustrations and really put it out there, and because it’s all feelings, it does speak a lot of mental health.”

CHIKA ANDO

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it did not affect her career-wise or disrupt her life, but it took a different toll on her mental health.

She says the pandemic is “teaching us how humans are, and it’s very discouraging to see. It’s sad, it’s really sad to see.”

As a result, Ando began to struggle.

“I really wanted to make a positive message throughout the COVID pandemic time, and I seriously couldn’t, because of humanity and disappointment and frustration. So I just kind of shut down and couldn’t find any positive voice.” 

But, she adds, “whenever I could come up with that positive message, I was kind of glad for myself, I felt mentally healthy enough to get the quote, and I felt this shouldn’t be kept just to myself.”

Ando created two illustrations based on the COVID-19 pandemic, one of which was about mental health during these crazy times.

She says it was created out of a feeling of duty. Because of how much people are suffering through this pandemic, she felt the need to share her positivity.

“So just put it out there and share the positive vibe and, it is okay, right. A lot of shit is happening but is okay, and it’s going to be okay and just relax, and you know just move on,” she says.

As a result, Ando says, “I do want to spread more positive messages because of what’s going on with COVID and how people are struggling with that, and yeah, that’s my near-future goal, I guess.”