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Jeska's Epilepsy Story

Jeska is an award-winning portraiture artist from the Gold Coast.

Award-winning Gold Coast portraiture artist, Jeska Valk, is passionate about sharing other people’s inspiring stories. Jeska was inspired in the lead up to Purple Day 2020 to share her own story of living with epilepsy and how painting has helped her to cope with epilepsy.

Jeska was diagnosed with generalised onset absence seizures as a young child. In these early days, the absence seizures were few and far between. It wasn’t until Jeska was an adolescent that they became more frequent.

Jeska explains this difficult time: “I spent a lot of my early life trying to understand the effects it had on my emotional development. I would feel so self-conscious and nervous in social situations which was very frustrating to me because I was a social person.”

“I would be calm and then when my absence seizures were triggered I would be extremely anxious at the drop of a hat. I would try to piece together what someone had said or try to hide my absence seizures, which was interpreted by others as being rude or misunderstanding me. I was unable to articulate my intentions.”


Coping with epilepsy

From a young age, Jeska was encouraged by her mother to pursue art and this became a way to help her cope with her epilepsy.

“I’ve always loved to draw and over the years it became my comfort zone, I would always carry a sketch pad with me. Focusing solely on drawing would help deal with the anxiety when I could feel my absence seizures approaching, I could shut out the noise around me and just zone in.

Now because of that habit, I’m able to pursue the career of my dreams.” Jeska said

Her mother’s inspiration has been a key driving force for Jeska’s recent success painting strong women.

“My mother is my main support and hero. She has always been there for me, it’s because of her that I’m inspired to paint strong, amazing women. She drew with me, encouraged me as an artist and always helped where she could.”


Finding success

Jeska was a finalist in the 2018 Portia Geach Memorial Award – Australia’s most prestigious art prize for portraiture by female artists. In 2019, Valk entered the Archibald Prize, creating a portrait of Gold Coast-based Grace Loves Lace founder, Megan Ziems. Prints from this collection were recently featured on the 2020 season of House Rules.

Jeska explains why Megan is one of the favourite people she has painted: “Megan Ziems is a fashion designer and the entrepreneurial founder of ‘Grace Loves Lace’, a company which specialises in creating beautifully elegant, unique and sophisticated designs in fine European lace and silk – designs that are redefining the bridal wear industry. Her influential and inspiring designs are empowering a new generation of women, by augmenting their natural beauty and celebrating their curves and femininity.”

“She is courageous, inspiring, fearless and a game-changer.”



Challenges with COVID-19

Like many of us, 2020 has brought highs and lows for Jeska and she has not been immune to the impacts of COVID-19.

“I have a new series about to be launched which is very exciting. I had planned to travel next year (which might be postponed) for a developing series exploring different cultures.” Jeska said.

“Financially it has been difficult, like for so many. I do usually work from home so my daily life is self-isolation but I miss being with the people I love.”

Support from family and friends has been vital for Jeska and she looks forwards to reconnecting with them once the restrictions of COVID-19 are eased.

“I am truly thankful for the people in my life. My friends and family are kind and inspiring people. What they have taught me about love and respect for others and for myself has echoed through my work and my life. As a person living with epilepsy you can feel incredibly lonely, filled with shame and self-doubt and without them, I would be a very different person today.”


Epilepsy Queensland's vital role

Jeska also believes that Epilepsy Queensland plays a vital role in educating the community and providing support and connection for people living with epilepsy and their support networks.

She shares: “I can only speak from my perspective but my advice would be to reach out, if you feel lonely and you’re hiding away, find someone you can talk to. It’s the first step to making you feel safe and confident. To those who know someone with epilepsy, it varies so much from person to person, try to be patient and listen.”

You can follow Jeska on Instagram @jeska_valk

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Epilepsy Queensland