So far, Gwen & I have delivered one staff session and six sessions with young people at the Priory Hospital School, primarily over the Easter holidays in April. In this blog we take the opportunity to look back and reflect on the partnership.
We have seen lots of different approaches to art making, with individuals bringing their own interpretations to the techniques and materials we introduced, but also noticed which were the most popular activities with the broadest appeal. We worked with two different wards, running three sessions total with each group, and although the needs and interests of the young people were of course very varied, there were certain processes and materials that they seemed to embrace universally.
All of our sessions have been nature-themed, in keeping with the Art & Soul exhibition theme for this year, ‘Cycles of Nature’. Each young person was invited to submit work to the exhibition if they wanted, but besides this the theme helped to keep focus on topics that were already of great interest to them. Many of the young people told us how they’d been painting a mural together of a woodland scene, or spoke with enthusiasm about the animals they loved, some of which were in the form of personal mascots and emblems. It was an immediate icebreaker to ask them about nature, and clearly a rich source of inspiration.
As with the staff session I covered in my previous blog post, we began each time with a quick introductory activity. In the first session, everyone chose a nature-themed postcard and spoke about why they were drawn to it. In the second session, we did the same activity but with block colour postcards. In the final session the introductory activity was to play a game where each person drew a part of an animal and passed it round the group with their drawing covered up – the end result being a funny hybrid creature, for example with the head of a dog, the body of a snake and the legs of a chicken. All of these activities were simple and light-hearted, but an important part of establishing the relaxed nature of the sessions and bringing out everyone’s existing interests.
In each session we would explore a different art-making technique, with the option to work towards making a nature-themed cardboard wall hanging. First, we all made our own stamps using the funky foam technique covered in the previous blog post. The most popular kind of stamp to make was an animal, but the young people also branched out into other motifs that were of interest to them. They could stamp these either onto a postcard or onto their wall hanging. At the end of this session we gave out cardboard boxes that the young people could decorate with their stamps and use to store their artworks. There was an option to use pre-made stamps too, but the great thing about making their own was that it gave the young people the opportunity to mark something with a personalised touch.
The following session we moved onto marbling. This was an instant hit with both groups. Marbling is a fantastic activity even for those with low confidence in their art skills because it can be treated like a science experiment. The results will be different each time, even if you use the same colour combinations and ink to water ratio. The ink sits on top of the water, swirling and bubbling around, so that when you dip paper in it will be dyed in fascinating patterns. It is a very calming, process-driven activity and we found the participants could not get enough of it. They wanted to try as many colours as possible, but there was also not so much choice as to be overwhelming. One participant commented that they could do the activity for hours, and the volume of marbled paper we had put out to dry by the end of the session seemed to be testament to that.
The final activity we ran was a similarly process-driven one and equally popular: creating pom-poms. For these you can use either a prefabricated pom-pom maker (as we did) or a simple ring of cardboard. You wrap wool around it as many times as you can, then cut along the middle and tie a tight knot through it before removing it from the ring. It is a repetitive process that takes a certain level of concentration without being overly complex, and therefore great to keep the mind focused and calm. It is also a great way to keep the hands occupied if you feel you have a lot of energy bottled up. As with the marbling, we offered a good range of colours to choose from but not so many that the young people would not know where to begin. They enjoyed combining different colours of wool and creating pom-poms of different sizes. A few chose to attach their pom-poms to their wall decorations as an extra decorative element, but some others saw theirs as a small creature and wanted to keep it with them like a stuffed animal or squishy toy.
The best thing about these sessions has been seeing the young people’s responses to the activities, which would often be that of pleasant surprise at what they had made. The techniques we used were such that there would always be a ‘reveal’ moment, whether it was lifting up a stamp, removing the marbled paper from the water or pulling the pom-pom from its plastic casing. It has been all about experimenting with a process and not knowing what the result will be until the very end. The real key to that is taking time. We have seen how that combined with the nature theme has resonated with this group, but it’s surely something any of us can benefit from.