Drawn to Life

‘Drawn to Life’, The Big Draw theme for 2019 inspired us to deliver two family events which could demonstrate the therapeutic value of drawing as a means to positive well-being. ‘Postcards from a Happy Place‘ at Rich Mix and ‘Finding A Place‘ at Dalston Library received overwhelmingly positive responses from participating families. We’re now able to look back and refelect on what was achieved…

Our partnership with Rich Mix is a joy to behold with a team of staff who are 100% committed to the visitor experience and in engaging diverse, local communities in their family programme. Visitors illustrated their own postcards using fine liners and watercolours. Designed their own stamps with collage and stickers and wrote endearing messages of a varied nature. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time meeting Tower Hamlets residents who willingly shared their personal stories of near or distant adventures. A participant attending Postcards from a Happy Place wrote:

“I absolutely loved getting involved and being encouraged to be as creative as the kids!”

For us though, what stood out, was the sense of connection which filled the room when families considered the time or place of a happy memory together. Drawing their stories provoked conversation and laughter whilst also creating a space for natural and tender moments – Bodies leaning in toward eachother, helping hands sharing the tasks, wide eyed contact and expressive faces… a contagion of good vibes spread across the day and into the next – One family taking the time to send a beautiful photo of their young daughter, reaching up on tip-toes to a red letterbox, delivering her hand drawn postcard to granddad.

“Posting the card we made to our family was a lovely addition to the day.”

Over in Hackney, our event ‘Finding A Place’ was the result of a journey with a new partner; City and Hackney CAMHS Alliance (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). The goal of this relationship was to develop publicity to promote CAMHS in partnership with local families, creating imagery less clinical in appearance than previously used.

An initial painting workshop led by Claire (Art Hoppers) and Jo, psychologist (CAMHS) invited families to explore the transparent qualities of primary colour when applied as washes of paint, whilst considering a place that inspired positive memories and feelings. Looking closer at the paintings through a small viewing window, it was exciting to find hidden landscapes which evoked an immediate or dreamlike sense of place amoungst the textural brushstrokes. From these creative discoveries, 11 landscapes became the image of a new marketing campaign to reduce stigma and promote information about mental health and well-being support for children, young people and families in Hackney.

‘Finding A Place’ saw the return of families who had previously attended our painting workshop, plus others who were keen to try out drawing in new and experimental ways, with the option again of looking closer using small, neon framing windows. The 11 landscape paintings were enlarged, printed and mounted on display for visitors to see and enjoy. The authors could happily spot their craft. An area was set up for families to chat informally with psychologists from CAMHS and large rolls of paper covered the floor ready for children and adults to smudge tempura paint sticks over the surface. The two hours that followed resulted in a positive disturbance of the usual order and quiet in the library.

“Another fun and interactive session, allowing free drawing and expression with an emphasis on just giving it a go. Great for mindfulness. Was a great way of looking at things in a different non-obvious way and appreciating all parts of the art. Thank you so much.”

While grown-ups engaged in valuable conversation, red routes spilled off the papers’ edge, sprawling elaborate road systems into grey carpet tiles. The positive vibes proved infectious again, as thankfully our friends at the library accepted the lasting legacy of our event without complaint. Thank you to the staff at Dalston Library for accommodating us so generously!

Planned legacies were also a goal of the project. Using the original collection of family paintings from our first workshop, we composed an artwork with a layer of small openings placed over the surface. Cut away holes play with the idea of looking out – Tiny viewing windows reveal miniature scenes onto the colours below. The framed artwork is up on display in the children’s library, on the first floor of Dalston CLR James Library in Hackney.

And that’s not all. CAMHS are now planning a school road-show using the new publicity landscapes as a tool for meaningful conversation with children and families about mental health and well-being!

The 11 landscapes, composed of watery colour stains, hint at natural scenes; ‘Coast’, ‘Glade’ ‘Wood’… Being abstract in appearance, the images are open to interpretation. Much like the surrealists might have seen an inkblot as an opportunity to explore the subconscious, the suggested landscapes offer spaces in which we might explore our imagination, individual emotions or personal experiences.

Jo Temple of CAMHS noted in an email to us:

“A psychologist colleague of mine saw the [landscape images] and asked if she could take a set to use as a therapy resource in her family therapy sessions. Another brilliant outcome!”

We’re completely thrilled with all that’s been drawn from our two collaborative events. For us, they’ve reinforced the positive impact of creativity emotionally, socially and artistically. Drawing is a powerful tool for communication, providing a space for us to project ideas and find respite from the daily grind. We’d like to offer a HUGE THANK YOU to our partners, visitors and friends who make our work and our personal experiences in the community so enjoyable and rewarding! And of course big thanks to The Big Draw for the inspiration re: 2019’s festival theme.

Curious to see the artworks families created? Find out more about our BIG DRAW projects at the links below:

Postcards From A Happy Place
(inc. a lovely video by students from City University documenting the event).
Blog post by Tracy Barbe, Outreach officer at Rich Mix here.
Finding A Place

We’d love to hear about your thoughts on art and well-being. Is creativity important in your life? Does art connect you with people or places? Please contact us with your feedback, or join our mailing list here for details of future events.

Photo credit: Bettina Adela (Header photo plus first image in post)