Some while back now I started facilitating daily drawing challenges as a way of both doing something useful in lockdown and providing people with an activity while being indoors. I had to make these sessions appropriate for doing at home with limited resources without the need to buy any special equipment. I posted these sessions on @writtleart on Facebook and wrote about them on this blog.Two years on, I want to examine what impact art and creativity has on mental health and wellbeing, particularly post pandemic when we have all had a chance to reflect on why nurturing and exercising the mind is as beneficial as watching what we eat and burning fat. After also working with the charity Blesma early in the pandemic running online drawing sessions for their members, I was keen to continue to engage those that don't usually consider themselves 'artists' with art. As a result of this I have started running art and wellbeing sessions at the University College where I work for staff and students. This is currently embedded in an undergraduate cross disciplinary module but will exist on its own from the summer. During the first workshop, we had to create an emotion wheel. This could be made in any way, but it had to show a variety of real emotions for the creator. Participants were encouraged to look up examples, however, creativity soon began resulting in some interesting outcomes with descriptive visuals and others that were more abstract. While most of us used different colours, the creator of Fig 1 took a more abstract and less personal approach using emojis to demonstrate how they were feeling which I think makes a powerful piece of work nonetheless. My own approach, which is a work in progress, a 'revolving' wheel I could call it in fact, was to begin with the main emotions that we expect to feel and around those, add in 'micro-emotions'. I had some feedback asking why the word 'sceptical' is on the 'bad' side of the wheel because surely it's good to be questioning. Maybe my word there should be 'mistrustful' then? I will revisit my wheel soon. Fig 2 is beautifully heavy in bold colours, is very clear on the use of colour association with moods and emotions. This artist also started with the most prominent emotions/feelings and then scratched into the oil pastel rays around the edge demonstrating the outpouring of emotions that radiate from those inner feelings. We will have another session on emotion wheels in April for a longer period as I think its an activity that will develop more naturally if given the time. On Wednesday this week, our session will be What can we learn about ourselves by drawing a tree? Trees feature often in contemporary art, Tacita Dean's Majesty (2006)focuses our attention to the importance of the tree in the landscape by painting out the background. With the devastating deforestation of our planet, artists will no doubt be commenting on how we need to protect trees more than ever. But that's for another day.
The first image is a print I made a few years back, it is my Nans block of flats. At the time of making this piece, my Nan still lived there, and I was starting to think that one day, I would never visit there again. Over lockdown, my nan has become unable to live there alone and has moved into a care home.
As this is all happening over 200 miles away, she has turned 90 over lockdown with only socially distanced visits from family living nearby (thankfully most of the family live nearby) and filmed efforts and cards from the rest of us. It is now very unlikely that I will visit the flat again, however-as long as I can visit her eventually, what does that matter? I look forward to that day.
The second image is my object, it is a paperweight.
When my Grandad was alive, he was the caretaker of these flats and he had a workshop downstairs which was filled with things he was repairing and other paraphernalia. I loved visiting him down in this workshop and I can still remember the smell of it. I have had this paperweight for as long as I can remember, initially it was just special as my grandad gave it to me, for a long time I didn’t even know it was a paperweight it was just a fascinating colourful object-it had been thrown away by someone and he rescued it.
Later on, when I was older, I learned that the pattern I was so fascinated with had been created using a technique called Millefiori, which I taught myself with clay when I used to create dolls house food. The way it works is that you work carefully with a short fat cylinder, making it a long thin cylinder which you finally slice and somewhere inside, there is the perfect slice of orange, kiwi or hot cross bun. Thats how it works with clay anyway, I have less of an idea of how it is created with glass as in my paperweight.
I keep this paperweight on my desk, I see it every day while I’m working from home. I think of this technique as a metaphor for how art practice develops and therefore it helps me both in my art practice and my teaching practice.
As an artist, when you are developing ideas, you have all your thoughts, sketches and ideas rolled up within your fat cylinder of clay, then you carefully and thoughtfully work your way through all these ideas and sketches, teasing out the ideas but carefully preserving the whole idea which will eventually narrow down to one you will use. When you have your long thin piece, you slice away at it with care, then eventually, after much thought, somewhere inside that cylinder, you find your perfect slice of final piece which makes all the hard work worth it.
The point is, there is going to be lots of what could be considered waste at either end of the cylinder, but the final outcome would not be possible without the discarded bits that help you get there.
But also, it’s important to remember that no art is a waste and should not be discarded!
Aspiring to Matsutake (2020 An element of the second year Developing Ideas in Art and the Environment module on the course I teach on began this semester with an extract from the book The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. As we (we, as in all of […]
Yesterday at work, in our weekly student led drawing session the task was to apply paint to the surface without using any traditional methods of doing so. In other words, paintbrushes, palette knives etc ere not allowed. I rarely paint using a brush, my paintings tend to reflect how I’m feeling rather than have an intended visual outcome and applying with a brush doesn’t often fit in with this concept. It felt appropriate yesterday to use the discarded blister pack from my painkillers to push the paint around the surface with my fingers in the moulded bits. I am pleased with the outcome, the drawing sessions are such an important part of our course as it forces us to keep creating and reflecting on our practice.
Spiraling (2018) Wax on paper
The medium of wax has recently become incredibly important to my work, the texture and varying levels of control I can have over it are more important to me than the visual outcome. I am able to rework initial mark making until I am satisfied that I have a finished piece.