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It’s More About Nurturing

I worked as an artist mentor on Our Place. You rarely work in one to ones. There were other ideas and exchanges going on between the artists and the other member artists, but being able to work one to one really is a huge benefit.

It was new territory for my mentee. I wanted to be sure that I didn’t push too hard, but at the same time you're there to help them and to hopefully push their ideas creatively, and I think that is quite difficult, especially for people who don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves. You're not pushing someone to reach a grade, you're pushing them to self-express. It’s a more open environment, whereas this isn't about critique – it’s more about nurture.

My mentee became interested in the marks and the left behind and the overlooked and the unnoticed and - not the ‘dirty’ - but the things that you often treat as rubbish. She’d had these weeds growing near the back of her mum’s house, in the yard, and that she kept being drawn back to the growth and plants and new life at the beginning.

She then chose to collect the rags from the Art Room that had been used to wipe up the paint – I think the reality of then having them in a bag was almost a bit overwhelming, because it was pushing her in her self-confidence and belief. If you haven't got that experience it’s quite difficult when you see a pile of fabric to imagine it evolving into some sort of installation art piece. I wanted to try and understand what she wanted to express about herself in her work - why she'd chosen the rags, what they meant to her.

I really encouraged my mentee to be more open. She could do some of the techniques quite easily, so I brought in some wire and just some different coloured thread and showed her ways that she could manipulate the wire and really simply create three-dimensional form. I didn’t want her to feel overwhelmed by technical difficulties to prevent her from producing what she wanted to say, and so we just did really simple techniques. Then we just talked about all sorts of different themes, whether it was a plant, not a plant, a spiral. We then talked a lot about using the stitching as a diary and as a metaphor - if you ask her now to look at the leaves she can remember you know ‘that was a bad day’ or ‘that was the day when I really struggled’.

These weeds that she’d seen at home were still surviving, coming through a wall. In the end she came back to one of the sort of things she had right at the beginning about growth, and not being so self-critical, and overcoming and realising that you can do things. So throughout the journey we came back in a nice circle.

The professional artists were asked about half way through the process if we wanted to create a response. I wanted to do something in the background - that receded, I suppose, because to me the important thing was that everybody saw the members’ work. My mentee talked about homeless people and how it's not always obvious because you're sofa surfing or staying with friends. There are lots of them and you don’t really see them, and I really wanted to pick up on that. I’m quite interested in challenging myself. It might encourage me to use a really awkward space again.

I’ve got teenagers myself and to think that, you know, people not much older than them or the same age as them are facing these difficulties, and how complicated their lives are. Mine are fortunate they're not in so many difficulties, but it could be any of them. It made me think about how complex it is for them navigating trying to find somewhere to live. I found it hard, because you're a bit helpless, aren't you?

But seeing in action the benefits of creative endeavour for people’s wellbeing, it's always really good to see it in a more direct situation. I think it's important for all of us. I always say to my boys, ‘be kind’. I think it's really important that we are all more empathetic in our world and to remind ourselves how fortunate we are and that we should help others. I was a bit nervous at the beginning because I was a bit sort of worried whether I’d be good enough to fulfil that role, and I think it gave me more confidence to feel that actually I’ve got something to give as well.

I think that was a great thing to do to tie up the exhibition with the Light Festival. I was so pleased so many people came, and to see some of the images on the outside of the building. I thought that was really effective. I think they’ve done an amazing job, they’ve all come up with some fantastic ideas, it looks great. The team here has been fantastic at supporting the members and the mentors to produce a really good quality exhibition. It was really nice to see the benefits of creative art for the members’ own development and their own wellbeing.


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