Lauren Pizzi: AWD (Artist with Diabetes)

In late 2010, I began thinking about how I could allow my 15 years living with type-one diabetes to speak in a non-abstract, relatable, and original way.

“Balance” (oil on canvas, 2010) 9 x 12”

This was my first attempt to paint anything from a pure, conceptual approach. After photographing dozens of pictures of my daily companions, (low blood sugar treatments: skittles and smarties as well as my insulin bottle/syringes, which I use to fight high glucose levels) I realized that this still life literally was my life. Even with tight management of my disease, low and high levels are frequent.

“Balancing Act” (charcoal on paper, 2012) 22×30″

In one perspective, diabetes can be compared to as a job I didn’t apply for, a job I received, and a job I can never take a day off from, but it has also given me strength, patience, and optimism. That’s what I hope the painting displays; a juxtaposition of brightly colored candies and the sudden sharp, alarming glisten of an exposed syringe. I used to be afraid of labeling myself, but now I proudly say, “I am a diabetic.” With the completion of this work, (Balance) I believe I found my voice.

Bittersweet (charcoal, pastel, gel medium, oil paint and graphite on paper, 2012) 3×4 ft.

This mixed media drawing was a self-portrait. For years I’ve thought of my optimism with diabetes, but what about the dark sides? I feel physical pain, neglect and misunderstandings not only from the disease but people surrounding me as well, and it truly can feel suffocating as if there’s no one or nothing that will ever understand. This particular piece included a lot of layering techniques and like my process with this work, there are countless layers of living with diabetes.

From the start of the day with a low blood sugar, having to sneak an injection in a classroom while discretely knowing the many dirty exchanges of facial expressions among peers, and finally ending the day on a good note of a target blood sugar, it all depends on the outlook. When I conjured this image in my head, I realized it’s okay to feel down about it sometimes and its even more okay to show it. In explanation, my hands are bound by the tubing of an insulin pump. There is a definite dark atmosphere with slight lighting on the face, revealing a bittersweet expression. Because that’s what diabetes can be: a constant, bittersweet companion.

“Our Reality” (colored pencil on paper, 2010) 16×20″

This was a fun drawing… I took the picture this drawing was based off of at Clara Barton Camp. My fellow cabin-mates and I bonded not by exchanging cell phone numbers or talking about Joslin boys, but we simply whipped out our “plastic pancreai” and formed a tight, symbolic circle. One of my favorite parts was showing the different types of pumps and the times between them which were just a few minutes apart. It was just something so “NORMAL” for us. 🙂

“Tie-Diabetics” (oil on canvas, 2010) 16×20″

Wow. This painting was the one that started it all. I rendered it from a photograph taken from my LIT (Leader-in-Training) summer at Clara Barton Camp. It was truly the BEST time at camp I’d ever had. Every time I look at the painting and even the picture, it takes me right back to that day. It’s a simple story: the Joslin LITs and us Barton LITs joined together and tie-dyed t-shirts. Extremely campy, extremely memorable, extremely fun. Then we snapped the picture. I fell in love with the colors, the naturally formed circle shape and the fact that we were all joined by an unusual occasion of living with diabetes. The following summer in July I decided to paint it, adding my own touches such as painting my hand in the shape of a peace sign from direct observation.

And after five months, in November 2010, I submitted my finished painting for a scholarship opportunity for the Savannah College of Art and Design, hoping for the best. Then there I was: stunned in December. I made 3rd place out of over 3,000 participants! All in all, I realized that adding diabetes as a theme in my art made me feel the most honest I’ve ever been with my painting and without this first painting, I never would have continued. Tie-Diabetics is simply presenting a memory and the unity there is even when we battle something every day.

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Lauren was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes on March 18th, 1997 and is currently attending the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) as a sophomore. And she was a camper at Clara Barton Camp for five years, staff for four, acting as the art director this past summer. If you want to connect with Lauren, she can be reached at