Funky-Looking People

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“If all 10 of us could talk, we would be saying what have you done to us why have some of us got eyes, nose, eyebrows, and a mouth and legs, while the rest of us have to speak with our eyes.” – D.

These ‘funky-looking people’ were created by participants on the ‘Express Yourself’ art and writing course I am running at Hafan Y Coed Mental Health unit. We worked with air-drying clay to create small sculptures inspired by Anthony Gormley’s Field, 1991 (35,000 individual terracotta figures sculpted in Mexico by members of a Texca family of brickmakers, under the supervision of the artist). Our seven families of ten figurines are to be exhibited in the HeARTh Gallery as part of the celebrations to mark 70 years of the NHS.

The clay, sensitised by touch and made conscious by being given eyes, everyone agreed  developed individual personalities when shaped into the little people. Participants wrote a piece to accompany the sculptures, imagining what they might say if they could speak:

“I’m tall and slender, seeming alone, yet not for me, solitude. My frog-like eyes look up to the skies” – K

“No two of us are the same. All individuals.” – C

“One big family.” – G

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Whatever the Weather

The sessions that I am running at the lovely new mental health unit Hafan Y Coed have evolved into a combination of writing and art. As this is a new venture for me, it has been interesting to see how the planning of the course translates into practice.

We have taken a generic theme for each session, and this week was ‘weather’. As mindfulness is really useful in cultivating creativity, I’ve tried to incorporate it into the sessions. Learners initially used pictorial prompts as a focus, imagining themselves into  various natural scenes, engaging all the senses through a short guided visualization. From this, they did some free-writing – jotting down anything that came to mind without worrying about punctuation or spelling or whether it seemed relevant – anything at all. This free-writing often leads to some unexpected story seeds and associations that can be developed later into a poem or short prose piece.

We read poems by some well known poets relating to the weather, and discussed how we felt about each piece. Then I presented a few examples of expressive art such as Frank Auerbach’s  series of drawings he made after walking on Primrose Hill, and Georgia O’Keeffe’s watercolour, ‘Sunrise’.

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Working Drawings for ‘Primrose Hill’ 1968. Coloured chalks and black pencil on cartridge paper.

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Sunrise, 1916 – Georgia O’Keeffe

 

As we had access to the resources in the art therapy room, there was a good variety of mediums for learners to choose from to create their own weather-inspired art works. Within the work, they could incorporate their favourite words or phrases from those they had written earlier.

Two wonderful landscapes with text, using acrylic paint and coloured pencils.

 

 

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave

For the last week of this five week cycle of storytelling and art from around the world, we travelled to Russia to hear about the enigmatic Baba Yaga.  She is a many-faceted figure, variously seen as a Moon, Death, Winter, Earth Goddess, totemic matriarchal ancestress, female initiator, or archetypal image.[4]

After discussing some of Baba Yaga’s traits: iron teeth, lives in a house that walks around on chicken legs, sails through the sky in a mortar yielding a pestle,  the children listened to one of the many tales involving Baba Yaga: Vasilisa the Brave. It exhibits Baba Yaga’s ambiguous nature – scary, yet wise, and the choices of a girl who triumphs through courage and perseverance.

Below is a selection of the wonderful illustrations of Baba Yaga by children on the course. I’m always amazed at the detail, personality and energy of these drawings that the children do without hesitating as they listen to the stories.

 

Vasilisa’s magic doll by Lily.

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Folktales from India

Children’s Storytelling and Art Course, Week four. The children were interested in the concept of having two heads after hearing the Indian folktale about a bird with two heads that can’t agree. They drew pictures of themselves with the head of something or someone they would or would not like to be attached to and we discussed story ideas around what it would be like to sleep/go to school/get dressed etc.

 

 

Some responses to the story of the birth of Ganesha, and how he got his elephant head.

 

 

Some other Gods, Goddesses, and a demon created using an inverted stencil as a starting point.

Stories from the Dreamtime

For Week 3 of the Children’s Art and Writing course, the children listened to three stories from the Dreamtime creation myths of Aboriginal culture: How the kangeroo got her pouch, Barramundi, (how the fish came to be in the waters), and a Kunwinjku Dreamtime Story of the long-necked turtle and the echidna, telling why they live in separate places. The children learnt about animals from Australia they had never heard of such as the wombat and the spiny anteater (echidna). They painted and drew their own images from the stories after looking at examples of aboriginal art for inspiration.

The children learned how every hill, water hole and tree, living creature and natural phenomenon was believed to have come into existence in the Dreamtime. They learned how everything about aboriginal society is inextricably woven with, and connected to, land.

 

In Esme’s story, the great god Byamee, who had been in disguise as a wombat, goes into a bar to celebrate his discovery of the creature with the kindest heart. The sky spirits speak to each other in secret symbols.

 

The Mark of Medusa

Week Two of the Children’s Illustration and Writing course at Llanover Hall, produced some varied and interesting interpretations of Medusa, including one rock star version! After listening to the story, the seven children (aged between 6 and 11), got to work with pens and pencils to produce these wonderful works.

I asked them to think about writing their own version of the tale, perhaps from the perspective of Medusa, or imagining a different outcome. One little girl imagined that Medusa fell in love with a statue – one of the ill-fated heroes she had turned to stone. The three witches with their one detachable eye was also a source of fascination.

 

This week, we tried some mono printing. Here is one plate and the resulting print, equally beautiful. It depicts Perseus’ mother, sad because her son has gone away and she has to marry the evil king, with Medusa creeping up behind her.

 

Some more mono prints of Medusa, and Perseus’ shield that saves him from being turned to stone:

We also talked about the story of Theseus and the Minotaur and other Greek myths. One boy wrote his story combining elements of the two tales, and Flo did a monoprint of the cyclops.