“I used to think I was weird and abnormal”: Artist Tina Crawford with ADHD and fibromyalgia

Pic: Tina Crawford-Tina using sewing machine

Tina Crawford’s art career has been diverse – from working on television for CBBC, to having work acquired by the Science Museum.

Despite suffering from fibromyalgia and mental health issues, the 50-year-old artist found a way to make the best out of it all.

She told ELL that she now sees the conditions she lives with as a gift.

Tina, who lives with her husband, son and their cat Poppet, is an accomplished artist with her own brand, Tobyboo.

The brand has had products featured featured at landmarks such as Shakespeare’s Globe and St Paul’s Cathedral, while her artwork has also featured in a range of museums and exhibitions around the world.

“Growing up, both maths and English were never my strong suit,” she says. She explains that it was this, alongside her strong passion for creating, that drove her into an art career.  

She capitalised on her artistic talent by attending the renowned arts and design university, St Central Martins. It was only in the third and final year of her degree there that she realised there was something different about her.

“There was a big essay at the end that was going to be integral to my mark, which worried me,” she says. “I had always thought I was just lazy, since then I have been diagnosed with ADHD.”

“I believe both my dyslexia and ADHD influence how I work – I sort of do backwards drawing, I move the paper to the pen for instance instead of the pen to the paper.”

“I don’t think of it at all as a weakness, I used to think I was weird and abnormal, but now I realise it’s actually really good and helps me to think outside the box. Also, since being diagnosed I’m now aware of the areas where I need help.”

Tina explains some of the pieces she has created reflect her state of mind – a piece named Jibberish, for example, portrays how her brain works.

“Having some connections here and some connections there and some random threads coming out of the frame, it is basically thinking outside the box.”

Pic: Tina Crawford- embroidery artwork

After university, Tina began working in the television industry.

Her first job was working for a CBBC art programme called Smart, where she created models for the show’s presenter, Zoe Ball.

In 2000, Tina was diagnosed with fibromyalgia – a condition that causes widespread pain and extreme tiredness.

She quickly became housebound, she says, and was no longer able to continue her career in TV.

In order to keep herself “sane” while stuck at home, she took up free courses in machine embroidery – an experience she felt was deeply therapeutic.

“It felt like an extension of my hands,” she says of the sewing machine.

Tina went on to create many embroidered pieces, some of which have been featured in exhibitions and museums around England.

One of Tina’s most popular pieces, which was acquired by Science Museum, is called Connected by a Thread.

The piece was inspired by peoples’ lockdown experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Over 100 stories were stitched, the fabric was off cuts from NHS scrubs. The experiences started positive and slowly got more negative as time went on and people became tired of being homebound”.

“Being homebound myself years earlier with fibromyalgia, I knew how the lockdown experience would go. When it’s going on you just get on with it, its not until after you realise how awful it is and knowing this gave me the inspiration to create this piece.”

Pic: Tina Crawford- Connected by a thread artwork

Tina was born in Croydon, a borough she believes has “a lot of promise”, but she also expressed her disappointment with the area.

“It hasn’t reached its potential”, she says. “It is such an artistic and cultural place to live.”

“We have such a good community, we have such a bad reputation, but out of any London borough I feel we are the least divided, we will never be gentrified and I am proud of being from here but at the minute I’m disappointed. Our potential is phenomenal,” she says.

Tina is now working on more local based projects, including an art project with the theatre company “Zoo Co Theatre”.

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