Home StoriesPart of In My Own Words

“Life and the universe change our plans”

Because I’m disabled, I’m seen as broken. When I see things on the street that are seen as broken, I know they can still be functional, so these items find their way into my art. Artists can see how to make things where others can’t see any value.

Words by Lil Sullivanphotography by Thomas S G Farnettiaverage reading time 4 minutes

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Today, just on the way to the studio, I picked up a piece of a plant that made its way into several of the prints I made. There are some things like this, that, when you incorporate them into art, become a precious thing. Seeing the potential is about putting things together to make them work. It’s amazing, the things that just come together and you don’t know what will happen. Sometimes, before the paper even lifts to reveal the print, I know it’s going to be lovely.

I grew up in Ireland, surrounded by icons. I like icons, and I see my work as ‘secular church’. Collecting is like a prayer; you’re in a trance when you’re doing it and then you’re in a trance when you’re arranging all the paraphernalia afterwards.

Photograph of a woman sitting on a sofa in her home laughing. She is surrounded by her artworks and a crutch.
Lil Sullivan, Thomas SG Farnetti. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

"Before I left for the workshop I had to re-piece the items together after the cat disrupted what I had laid out."

Back to the studio

This morning I got up quite early to prepare for my trip to the printmaking studio. That didn’t help, because the cat tried to interfere with my art. Perhaps she thought she did better than me! I was worried that so many pieces of my work went here, there and everywhere, and I hadn’t recorded them, so I felt disjointed. As a stroke survivor, I feel disjointed anyway sometimes, so maybe it’s just more of the same. Fortunately, I’m not precious about my work. Some artists are really precious with their work, but I know there’s more to life!

The journey to the studio was a bit of an obstacle because it’s quite a distance away. I preferred to take two buses rather than go all the way on foot, especially as I planned to do lots of work. I want to conserve my energy because energy is a problem with me.

Photograph of a woman walking with a crutch down an alley, past a workman installing windows in a property.
Lil Sullivan, Thomas SG Farnetti. Source: Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).

"I pick things up because they remind me of home and what my father had around the shed. The shed was a goldmine. It wouldn’t be the same thing to buy things. I have to find them."

Once I got into the studio, the smell of the ink was beautiful. It has been so long since I did any printing – life and the universe change our plans. For instance, I was going to have a PhD in art, and then I had a stroke and I can’t read or write now. I’ve talked about printmaking for ages with Michelle, the studio owner, but today was the first time after having the stroke that I have printed.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do stuff and I would have to ask people to do this, that and the other. I don’t particularly like to ask people to help me with things but I have to be pragmatic. If I want to do something, I’ll have to roll with the punches.

The printing all came back to me, though. I managed to crank the press handle to make the prints – I’m still a farmer’s daughter at heart! It’s satisfying cranking the wheel but hard work. This is why I don’t do bigger things. I did loads of bigger things before, but now I do loads of smaller things that get bigger and bigger over time as they come together.


I’ve been an artist all my life – from the moment I became aware of myself I was doing something. My sister could do everything, but she wasn’t as good as me at art and that was what made me stand out. I did two degrees, one in sculpture and another in printmaking. I’m not able to remember some of the terminology now, but I know what I’m doing.

Before the stroke, I was an artist in residence in different places and I was paid by the Arts Council of Ireland. Some of my work is in the Áras an Uachtaráin, the presidential residence in Ireland. Mary Robinson, the president at the time, opened my show.

Since the stroke, I’ve curated two exhibitions. One was when I moved house, and it featured a coffin in the middle of all the works I’d created, reflecting the two or three times that I nearly died. The other was a show called ‘Out of the Blue’, with lots of other artists who’ve had a stroke: it was the 21st anniversary of the Stroke Association, and they wanted me to organise something for them. I’d like to have another solo exhibition, to show what I can do now.

By the end of the day I was fading a bit. I thought I was able to do more, but what I want and what I can do are two different things. By the end of the day, I just can’t help yawning, but now I know I’m able to do this again and I feel hopeful.

About the contributors

Lil Sullivan

Lil Sullivan


Lil is a professional artist and stroke survivor living in Lambeth.

Photographic black and white head and shoulders portrait of Thomas SG Farnetti.

Thomas S G Farnetti


Thomas is a London-based photographer working for Wellcome. He thrives when collaborating on projects and visual stories. He hails from Italy via the North East of England.