With her cast of characters, Sabrina Gardiner explores her Canadian dream.
Who is Sabrina?
Sabrina Gardiner is an upcoming writer and illustrator with a Master’s degree in Digital Media, and high-functioning autism. Like some people with autism, she has a ‘special interest’- something she loves to do and repeats over and over again. She counts drawing and Canada among her interests. Drawing has been her passion from when she was 2 years old, and her created characters are named after cities and areas, both in Canada and around the world, with place-based names such as Vancouver, Antigonish, or Jollimore.
Sabrina’s artwork exhibited
One of Sabrina’s recent projects is a winter themed ‘Double the Fun on Ice’ post, featuring the characters from her longest-running series Canadian Boys.
How does Sabrina’s artwork change attitudes to disability?
In some cases, Sabrina’s characters themselves have problems or issues, which reflect the whole spectrum of human experience, such as main character Pictou in her ebook Once Upon A Time In Canada. Sabrina’s character Pictou has incontinence, which some at his school bully him for.
In showing how her characters navigate through issues such as bullying or self-harm, Sabrina both shows a possible route for others, and sometimes for herself. In one of her magazine articles  at youth magazine Exposure, Sabrina writes: “Whenever I am thinking about self-harm, I try to turn myself away from that idea and instead look at my drawings – the feeling of artistic pride dampens the negative feelings inside. I may also write a short story or draw a picture showing one of my characters hurting themselves, which eases the burden on me a little in that it is not me who is self-harming.”
Sabrina has also sold some of her artwork in the creative charity Artbox , a not-for-profit organisation which splits its profits between the artist and itself, and which particularly supports artists with autism and learning difficulties.
With her interest in all things geography, Sabrina created a Scottish-themed comic strip and poster in light of the 2014 Scottish Referendum, persuading people of the importance of voting, and raising both money and awareness for Artbox. View her comic strip at this link to Exposure.
In her written work, Sabrina also challenges misconceptions about autism – such as the misconception that autism is a ‘disease’ that can be ‘cured’; or the misconception that an autistic person’s special interest is their only interest ever -for example, even though she has an interest in Canada, she has other interests too, such as politics.
Her articles also provide useful and practical information for people with autism and their families, based on her own experiences. For example, she has written about her experiences with autism on Autism Awareness Day showing how it doesn’t make her different from anyone else. She likes to look at the positives of autism rather than the negatives, and says on her blog post: ‘having a strong passion for something – in this case, art and Canada – helps me focus on my long-term dreams of living in Canada and establishing my own animation studio, Surfing the Sea’.
Anything else interesting?
Sabrina runs a blog, Surfing The Sea , where she exhibits more of her artwork and stories, including Once Upon a Time in Canada and Life is A Beach, involving two teachers with completely opposite personalities.
One of her largest series, Canadian Boys, has its own wiki created by Sabrina, giving detailed bios of each of her Canadian characters, deling into what makes each character different and links them to thier place name – for example, Montreal is half French, and speaks it with his other Francophone friends.
Her blog also includes artwork drawn by her through different stages in her life, allowing the viewer to see how her journey as an artist has developed, while finding that her interest in personification appears to be a constant through her vast body of work. Most recently she has drawn ‘Vancouver in the Rain with an Umbrella’, a change from her ‘usual sun-kissed art’ and a pun on how the state of Vancouver is seen as one of the rainest states in Canada, with his reflection in the puddle being a fun artistic challenge for her.
She also posts about milestones in her life, such a travel series of her first visit to Canada, as well as her travels to Colombia and Germany.
Her latest project is a computer game featuring her characters Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, called Freddy For Action.
 – Artbox
 – Gardiner, Sabrina, ‘Autism and identity: is it a language issue?’, Exposure Organisation