Recently, I have been asked to run a couple of taster sessions for YMCA Cardiff Design For Life. The learners were keen to work with clay, as this is something they hadn’t tried before.
Clay is so tactile, soothing and grounding. Several learners commented that they had come reluctantly to the session, thinking it would be ‘boring’, but they had actually found it ‘relaxing and enjoyable’. The time passed very quickly, and seemed to open up a space for discussion about significant things. I asked the participants to create something that represents them, and one man sculpted miniature versions of the tools that he had used as a woodcarver. He included a mallet, two types of gauge with handle, and his unfinished sculpture.
Another learner had the use of only one hand due to a stroke, but was able to create two pieces that were meaningful to him. An ashtray, signifying his struggle to give up smoking, transformed into a clam shell into which he inserted a perfect pearl.
we pass the clay from hand to hand, raw and smooth,
shaping something unseen, something buried.
something is bypassed, something is regained:
an ashtray becomes a clam shell with a pearl,
a woodcarver recreates his tools.
the sea washes up a shoe, stones for skimming,
a rabbit’s remains
Wonderful to see learners work exhibited from our Creative Wellbeing course that ran over ten weeks at Hafan Y Coed. Accompanied by two of my cyanotype prints from the bottle series, using words from poems written on the course.
Learners’ clay models
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’.
Working Drawings for ‘Primrose Hill’ 1968. Coloured chalks and black pencil on cartridge paper.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.