Mia McNary, an alumna of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design & School of Art (BFA ’88), recently published “Picture Recovery: A Visual Roadmap Through the Journey of Recovery.” The book is a unique visual roadmap designed to help those going through the journey of alcohol recovery.
“There’s no visuals in the 12-steps material that helps to explain the complicated yet easy process of finding long term recovery,” said McNary, who currently works as an artist and creative consultant in Glenview, Illinois. “Approximately 65% of the population are visual learners, also known as ‘spatial learners.’ It’s not surprising to know that spatial/visual learners remember best through visual communication. Currently there are millions people who are struggling with binge drinking and abusing drugs, yet there are a lack of visuals to help retain important details on the road to recovery.
“This is why I created ‘Picture Recovery Book,’ to help those people who are struggling with addiction to have visual tools to help them retain these new suggestions and to be able to recall later when needed,” continued McNary. “Especially in a crisis moment, it’s much easier to remember a picture than words, so open to any page right now with the hope that you are later able to recall an image that helps you stay in recovery.”
The visuals and inspiration contained within the book are from McNary’s own 27 years of taking visual notes of her journey through her own path of recovery.
“After years of people encouraging me to share my work with the world, I finally agreed to share my work after realizing that I could be helping one visual learner like me who might not be able to retain the current concepts of 12-step recovery program,” said McNary. “So the work began organizing and editing 1000’s of images over 3 years with my editor Robin Simkins to get this project into printed form as it is today.”
After graduating from CMU, McNary worked in the creative departments at the top agencies around the country, including Leo Burnett in Chicago, Foote Cone and Belding in San Francisco and J. Walter Thompson and Frankel & CO promotions. She also worked as a “Visual Note Taker” for TED, where she was featured for her work reframing spoken content in real time into visual sound bites.
In 2008, McNary started her own practice, Masters In Art Studio Ltd., which started with teaching just a few students, but then grew into hundreds of kids and adults over the years.
“My students kept coming back because the way I taught them was unique to other programs because I was teaching them how to use design thinking into their creative work,” said McNary. “My students learn the importance of finding your own creative intent/style. They love this type of whole brain thinking for the creative process of how they saw the world.”
Throughout her fascinating career, McNary, who plans to work on a new visual book focusing on dealing with life stress in the aftermath of the pandemic, found her education at the School of Design as an invaluable tool to her work and practice.
“The School of Design taught me important tools in creative problem solving which I use daily,” said McNary. “My visual process I created was from the CMU design thinking process of how to frame concepts into a new way.”
For now, McNary’s focus is on the good “Picture Recovery Book” can do for people attending meetings, reading the literature, and connecting with people doing well in the program.
“It can be read front to back or someone can flip to any random page to see what jumps off the page for them,” said McNary. “I have heard people using the book in group therapy, as well as within a family unit, to understand the new language of recovery.
“My goal is to help one person with this book and to show the world that visual process is key to the majority of the population especially in the area of mental health.”