This blog from our resident HWBI Ninja, Matt Worden, reflects on how he has used his artistic skill with groups to boost health and wellbeing. We’ve been working with Matt for over 2 years and he has the amazing ability to bring our ideas and concepts to life. He has constantly given us inspiration and works tirelessly to help people to tap into their potential.
Perhaps the next time that you feel under pressure or stressed it might be worth reaching for the pen, pencil, paintbrush or any materials that can help you to express your thoughts and feelings in a different way. The process can:
- Release anxiety or stress
- Expand your creative abilities and work through blocks
- Foster clarity and insight
- Releases creative potential
- Encourage mindfulness
- Help you to find perspective on difficult issues
- Provide an opportunity for storytelling for self-exploration
- Develop social bonds with others
Quietly supporting wellbeing:
Six months into running my Zoom art class and with the collected sounds of drawing materials scraping across paper floating across the airways in some unfathomable way I know I’m doing a good thing. One of my group members tells me “it’s the best thing on zoom!”
Moving from resistance, to experimentation and a new reality:
When the pandemic closed Drink & Draw, my in-life art class that I’d been running for nearly five years I railed against the idea of taking them into a digital space; it felt like an anathema to me; art from a screen? But then I’d been painting from photos for years – what’s the difference? So inspired by my Yoga teacher partner, who’d had successfully begun to deliver her sessions virtually, I embarked on a Zoom cruise of discovery.
I asked four of my longest and loyal ‘Drink & Drawers’ if they’d fancy being part of my learning journey. All of them jumped at the chance. Session one; heart pumping, hands clammy, throat dry I opened the Zoom room.
Now, how I run my Drink & Draw classes is how I was taught to draw. You start by looking. Looking trumps everything. Doesn’t matter what you are trying to draw – if you are trying to create figurative art you have to start by looking at the subject matter. So, I took that into my Zoom art class. Basically, I decided my Zoom classes were going to be about looking at the domestic, the everyday, objects both natural and made collected together. Still Life – the humblest of art genres in the western tradition. It’s Not heroic. What better way to practice drawing when our world has been focused around our homes?
Having a go:
I realised if I was going to ask people to draw from a screen, I’d need to have a go myself so I could talk about the process from a position of understanding. And while I drew, I filmed myself using stop-frame. One-hour drawing equalling about a 1 minute of film. This became the structure around which I devised my sessions. So, staring in April every week I would do at least 1 hour of drawing per week. Tick – that’s really good for my wellbeing.
Session 1: Dead Tulips – it all goes wrong. The tech doesn’t work. My Guinea pig’s are forgiving and we do some great drawing after faffing about. And it’s really nice to see everyone. Wellbeing enhanced.
Session 2: I knock over the stand holding my second camera. My Guinea pig’s are forgiving and we agree this is a good thing and I should carry on.
Session 3: Surprisingly nothing goes wrong and I decide that this is a goer.
Roll forward to about session 27 and there are now 24 people who meet evert Tuesday evening for about an hour and half to engage in some really serious looking and art making. I produce a demo film and a presentation of ‘what artist or technique I’ve thinking about this week’ and then off we go. Most of the group haven’t met each other in ‘real life’ but the sense of group and community is palpable. We have a lively and supportive WhatsApp group where people post their work and cheer on each-others endeavours with a positive regard.
What a joy:
Feedback from the participants highlights the need for people to commune around a common activity; ‘I like the company provided by the group, a sense of community and common activity – even the sounds of other people’s mark-making’. It provides punctuations in time which has at times felt like drifting during the pandemic: ‘Matt’s weekly art group on Zoom has been a wonderful addition to my week. I joined because I wanted to push myself; to discover what I’m capable of. It’s a fabulous, warm and supportive group. It’s been an entirely positive experience’.
Drawing and art making, once one gets over the general left brained anxiety about ‘doing it wrong’ is intrinsically a mindful activity; ‘I find the Zoom art classes are a quiet, kind and peaceful retreat where I can focus on just one thing for 90 minutes. I need the discipline of dedicated time, gentle and encouraging guidance and interesting topics that I wouldn’t have thought of’.
And it really appears to be supporting wellbeing as demonstrated by one of my regular attendees who followed me from my ‘in life sessions ‘moving to Zoom has been a Godsend during Covid. I so look forward to Tuesday night classes! Seeing everyone, producing and sharing artwork to be proud of has really helped my mental well-being during this tough time.
Back to the future?
Will I ever go back to? I definitely look forward to meeting in real life again and was due to run a wellbeing morning of yoga (my partner) and life drawing (me) at a local venue before the second lockdown and know there is an appetite as we were fully booked. But my virtual sessions have meant that I can offer my classes to people all over the UK and beyond; I have been running a 1:1 with someone in Australia and that would not have happened if CV19. So, I hope I’ll be maintaining some form of virtual offering because I hold a deep conviction that slowing down, looking and art making is a good for our sense of wellbeing. Drawing is a teachable skill so pick up a pencil and get curious.