In this week’s Creative Wellbeing session, I asked participants to look though piles of old magazines, choosing and cutting out images that appealed to them, while trying not to think too much about why. The collection of images and/or words, could then be arranged and stuck down in a way that is pleasing to each individual.
One participant kindly brought in a pile of wallpaper samplers she got free from a home store. Being of light plywood, these were ideal for creating the collages on, and provided a bold background that may or may not have influenced the choice of images.
Samples of participants’ collages
The cutting and gluing and arranging of images was conducive to relaxation and general discussion, whereas going straight into a writing exercise can be inhibiting. Time seemed to pass remarkably fast, or rather, was forgotten about; a good sign of absorption and enjoyment.
Towards the end of the session, participants reflected on how they felt about the images chosen when they were assembled, and how themes had emerged, sometimes quite surprising, and sometimes providing fresh ways of looking at the self. It was suggested that the collages could be added to, and reformatted over time, and agreed that they would make a great stimulus for free writing if there had been time.
In the creative wellbeing sessions this week, I asked participants to create collages and sculptures to represent aspects of themselves. Searching through old magazines for words that resonated seemed to be conducive to both reflection and supportive conversations about elements of participants’ lives. I don’t initiate these conversations, as I am not an art therapist; they arise naturally, just as elements of participant’s journeys towards wellness often manifest in the artworks. I work with individuals who may be coping with conditions such as OCD, paraplegia, anorexia, anxiety and depression, but the emphasis in these sessions is always on the creative process. The classes are a safe, confidential space to share, join in with creative activities, or just take time out from other concerns.
When the sculptures were placed together, there was great potential for narratives about the characters and objects that had emerged from the clay. Participants wrote wonderful short pieces, linking sculptures together in often stream-of-consciousness poetry and prose which was afterwards shared.
The Other Side
The bat told them of a flower
beginning to unfurl
so the tree walked along the ridge
with a basket to collect the petals and the tears.
When it came to the river’s edge, the tree
stood there for ten years.
One day a terrapin cracked the water’s mirror,
bearing a golden seed in its beak.
This is you, it said.
I will take you to the other side.
I have been revisiting Max Ernst’s work, specifically his frottage, grattage and coulage techniques that prioritised automatism. Using his grattage (scraping) technique, Ernst covered his canvases completely with pattern and then interpreted the images that emerged, thus allowing texture to suggest composition in a spontaneous fashion. In The Forest the artist probably placed the canvas over a rough surface (perhaps wood), scraped oil paint over the canvas, and then rubbed, scraped, and overpainted the area of the trees.
The subject of a dense forest appears often in Ernst’s work of the late twenties and early thirties. These canvases, of which The Quiet Forest, 1927, is another example, generally contain a wall of trees, a solar disk, and an apparition of a bird hovering amid the foliage.
Silence through the Ages 1968
Moon in a Bottle
Working on the back of a tile, building up texture, using scraffitio technique to scrape layers of paint about. I never know what the composition is going to be. It goes through many transformations and sometimes will not reach a resting point and I must begin again after hours of work.
Landscape with Sun
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