Sunday 24 August 2014

Children's art and craft workshops using all sorts of materials and techniques

3 colour lino cut print. Design was inspired by a slapstick circus routine
I’m an artist who enjoys working with a wide range of materials. 
Back at Lichfield College when I had finished my Foundation Course in Art and Design the external examiner commented that because of my abilities in such a wide range of techniques and materials I actually had a choice of artistic directions that I could follow.

As it turns out since graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 I have mainly been making mixed-media sculptures (using textiles, found objects and industrial scrap) but more recently I have also made collages and now two short films too. 

In my outreach work I have mainly specialised in wet felt-making. 

This has been for two reasons. Firstly I discovered the therapeutic properties of the wet felt-making process and have found that it is an amazing medium for relaxing participants and I have devised a range of techniques which have made it accessible to people with a wide range of abilities. I am very proud that I have been able to work with people of all ages and abilities and that I have helped to empower them and to raise their self esteem.

The second reason is simply the practical issue of storage space for workshop equipment and materials.

But it is good to remind myself of all the other creative activities that I have led over the years and which I am sure I will continue to do as and when opportunities arise.

Some of these have been workshops led on a voluntary basis and others have been me working as a professional freelance artist.

At Lichfield College I did several years of life drawing which I was quite accomplished at however my heart was always in non figurative work and especially in mixed media. 

Collage of images from magazines on a handprinted base. 
I had a very strong art education a school and we did a lot of drawing. I found that I especially enjoyed dramatic pencil work and also using indian ink for drawing.

Study of butterfly wing- watercolour and indian ink
I was delighted when I was able to include a drawing session in the felted firebird project for Wirksworth Festival  
The children’s bird drawings were so wonderful that I digitally scanned each of them and resized them and then made a digital file which could be printed and assembled into a beautiful little zig-zag book. 

Drawing with non-conventional materials is also great fun. In some of my sessions children  and young people have used pipe-cleaners to ‘draw’ 

Pipe-cleaner 'drawings' made by a young person in Ocean Ward Birmingham Children's Hospital
or in my sessions with Foundation 3D design students we have used wire, springs and straws amongst other things.
3D Drawing made by a Foundation Level student at MMU
Of course these mixed-media materials lead onto sculpture so making vegetable creatures is an obvious creative session. It is especially good as it is enjoyed by children of all ages from the very young upwards.

Vegetable Creatures made by children at John's Lee Wood Family Camp 

Since 2004 I have run several creative workshops for children and families at an annual  family camp John’s Lee Wood in Leicestershire.

We have done glass painting sessions several times. Painting on jam jars which we later used as tea-light holders and also using offcuts of glass supplied by a local glazier. 

A beautiful angel painted by a 10 year old at John's Lee Wood Family Camp
We have made our own paper by making paper pulp from shredded, old maps, paper bags etc.

I enjoy working with recycled materials so I developed a workshop where we made badges by embossing designs on recycled aluminium drinks cans. This was an idea that I developed which was inspired by metal artist, Val Hunt’s, work. 

Making Peg Dollies was a lovely session. Once made, the children used the dollies as puppets and we even had a session where we interviewed the children and asked them all about their dolly; his or her favourite food, hobbies and favourite TV programme etc.

Peg Dollies are always a favourite with all ages of children. I made this one!

On occasions at John’s Lee Wood Family camp I have also assisted in workshops which have been led by other artists - willow weaving workshops and mini hooked rug making sessions are two which I assisted with. 

Chris and Jack doing some willow weaving at John's Lee Wood Family Camp

small patches of hooked rug are really effective addition to this teenage boy's bag

In the last couple of years I have broadened my skills even more and have experimented with Fimo polymer clay. Using a pasta maker to make millefiori patterned beads which are then assembled to make a butterfly brooch is simple when you know how! 

And finally, Card-making is a relaxing activity and even more fun when you do it with a friend for company. 

And I have even had a hand-made card sent to me by a young lady to say thank you for the craft birthday party that I ran for her. 

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Kirsty’s Craft Birthday Parties: Happy kids and parents from Birmingham to Sheffield and further!

A fab collection of hand-felted cushions made at Aimee's 11th birthday party. Brilliantly creative kids!
I know it sounds like blowing my own trumpet but I just can’t help having a warm glow inside myself when I have just finished one of my AllSensesArt felting parties; it is such a rewarding feeling to know that not only is the birthday girl or boy happy and satisfied but their friends and mum, and dad and even their grandma is excited and happy too. 

My felting parties seem to be even better than expected!

“Couldn’t think of any negatives as everything went even better than planned!”
Sarah Brindley, Cannock, West Midlands May 2014

When people book me to do a felting party for their child they will usually have Googled something like ‘Craft Parties’. They might also have Googled ‘Craft Parties Midlands’, ‘Craft Parties Staffordshire’, ‘Craft Parties Derbyshire’ and more but actually I have travelled all over the UK to deliver AllSensesArt felting parties. Fife in Scotland, way over in the East of the East Midlands and up to Sheffield in South Yorkshire too. 

Parents who like my parties like something a bit different.  They know their child and know what they and their friends like. They know that their child likes making things and loves to create and usually has friends who are into making and crafts too and a felting party is usually a completely new experience for everyone. 

When I describe an AllSensesArt kids felting birthday party I always say that they are lively and full-on. Not mayhem but simply buzzing with creative energy. And what we achieve in two hours of craft activity always amazes people. 

Me, Kirsty E Smith, having fun with Sienna's friends at her felted bag party 
“Just wanted to say a huge Thank you for  the fabulous workshop you carried out for Laura’s party yesterday.

All the girls had a wonderful time and I  had some lovely texts last night from their moms thanking me and saying how the girls were still buzzing and hadn’t  stop talking about it all evening!!!!

They are all so proud  of their cushions and the parents were amazed to see what they had produced when they collected them.” 
Jaki Hingley, Stourbridge, West Midlands 

Happy and proud children at various AllSensesArt craft birthday parties
It is such a nice surprise to start with just fluffy sheep’s wool fibres and use just soap and water to make, not only make a piece of hand-made felt, but to actually make an item such as 
-a cushion
-a bag
-a piece of jewellery
-a picture
-a mini-beast creature.
there are so many many gorgeous colours to choose from 
The children have an exciting time working with materials that they usually haven’t handled before. 
And everyone always loves the soapy water rubbing part of the process of making hand made-felt. Felting is a very sensory process. 

The various stages during an AllSensesArt kids craft party are:

-First choosing colours

-Then learning how to break the wool fibres into short tufts and lay-out a bed of fluffy fibres.

-Designing a picture or pattern is a favourite part of the process for children who enjoy designing,and planning.
In an AllSensesArt party you learn how to ‘draw’ with wool.

-Next wetting the wool, adding some lovely mild soap and rubbing to felt the fibres together. This is such a relaxing process and totally different from other craft processes. 

At yesterday’s cushion making party Aimee and her friends burst into song while they were felting; this is not the first time that I have had a merry band of felters who enjoy it so much that they start to sing!

-And then before their very eyes the fluffy wool fibres have transformed into a piece of hand made felt.

When making a felted bag we wrap up a rock to begin with. 
Well that’s an unusual craft party idea! 
And we make a felted bag with no sewing at all.... okay we do sew on the button at the end.

a rock wrapped up in sheep's wool fibres. All ready to be transformed into a cute and colourful bag 
Detail of Sienna's felted bag. It was her 8th birthday party. 
"It was lovely to meet you and be introduced to a new skill. The flow of the party worked really well, the only downside it went far to quickly! You engage well with the children and adults making us all at ease and encouraging us to just enjoy it which we all did. There were some proud girls (and one Grandma) at the end of the party. They make a wonderful substitute for the standard party bag and could be used to put a few goodies in!  Oooh and my hands felt so smooth with the use of Olive oil soap!
Sarah Brindley, Cannock, West Midlands May 2014

Sienna's craft party for her 8th birthday
At a felted cushion making birthday party the children first make their piece of hand-made felt, then they cut a matching shaped piece from some shop-bought felt. Next they sew the front and back together using running stitch and then they stuff their cushion and sew up the gap.

Build-a-Bear is nothing compared to an AllSensesArt Felted Cushion Making party!

Stuffing the cushion with some super soft filling
Sewing up the last gap to complete the cushion
For more craft party options and more feedback from previous parties visit

and you can also watch a short video of one an AllSensesArt Felted Flower Jewellery Craft Parties. 

Prices start at £105 for 7 children with £15 per additional child.

I travel all over the country to lead kids creative craft parties - most are in The Midlands, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire but don’t hesitate to contact me even if you live further afield as travel costs can be discussed. 

e mail Kirsty Smith
phone 0773 995 9951

If you want an extra-special, very unusual and memorable Craft Party for your child then an AllSensesArt felting party is the perfect choice!

Thursday 6 February 2014

Mental Health improved by Wonderful Scenery and Creative Activities

A sneak preview of one of the countryside inspired felted pictures made during our day in the Peak District.
Borderland Voices, the Leek-based Community Arts for Health and Mental Wellbeing charity is an amazing organisation! 

When I first read about it and the work that it has done over the past 16 years I knew that I wanted to work with them if at all possible.  Based in Leek in Staffordshire their lovely bright art room is haven for anyone who is suffering from any form of mental distress as it is a place where they can regularly spend time on creative activities. 
The art room (previously a vegetable shop) has a deep bay window which they use for an ever changing exhibition of creativity. 
"The projects on offer provide a safe, supportive and friendly environment for those taking part – which gives people the ability to express their emotions in artistic terms, something that is especially useful during times of emotional distress, such as bereavement. The fact that there’s no referral process, as well as the knowledge that those involved can drop in or out at any time, means that everyone can be included as much as they feel necessary." Excerpt from their listing on the ArtsHealthandWellbeing website. 

Andy Collins is the coordinator at Borderland Voices and working with her was a real pleasure. Andy devised a way that we could make the felting activity, that I had proposed, a full day and also a very special offsite activity in the heart of the Peak District National Park. Firstly she linked with Rethink Mental Illness in Leek so that some of their service users could also take part and next she devised a plan where our felting day could be part of 'A Breath of Fresh Air' (a project part funded by Ecominds and the Peak Park’s Sustainable Development Fund)

Fresh air, exercise, being in the countryside and creativity often go together but it is certain that they each contribute to a better sense of wellbeing and can definitely contribute to improved mental health.

Andy booked a minibus and planned the creative trip to The Dove Valley Centre in Sheen. 
I drove up from Lichfield and wow what wonderful scenery! We had an enthusiastic group of fourteen, including Andy, Elspbeth from Dove Valley Centre and also our minibus driver. 

The fresh air and scenery was inspirational 
A poem was written on the day too

No one had made hand-made felt at all before so after soaking up the scenery and a cup of tea we got started by making some pre-felt. 
The rubbing motion is rhythmical and always relaxes people
Then I showed the group various ways of ‘painting’ with wool fibres. There are so many options, blending small tufts of coloured wool fibres to get subtle shades, cutting shapes from the pre-felt that we had made in the morning and also using some interesting textured knitting yarns to add surface texture and lines. 

Some hand-spun jacob wool yarn used here. (photo by Andy Collins)
A good use of shapes cut from pre-felt for this design

As we were part funded by the Peak Park’s Sustainable Development Fund we were aiming to take our inspiration from the countryside around us. Even though we were working indoors this was still easy as the barn studio is upstairs and so we had a clear view from the windows. 
You can almost feel you are out in the wide open countryside here 
Really colourful and with a couple of sheep on the horizon too
At the end of the day we had more tea and cake and it was great to look at everyone’s felted pictures and have that wonderful sense, not only of personal achievement, but also of shared creative experience. 
This man is a keen amateur photographer and decided to play with inverting colours. 
This creative lady took inspiration from some geraniums in pots in Dove Valley Centre courtyard. She is a keen card maker and applied her design skills to felting.
Me (Kirsty E Smith) admiring everyone's felted pictures. (photo by Andy Collins)
It was a lovely day and I was really pleased that images of the felted pictures featured on the Borderland Voices calendar. And I also had the pleasure of another creative session with the group a few months later up in their art room in Leek. In that session we made some multi-coloured felted balls which we made into hanging decorations and also a few multi-coloured felted bead bracelets too.


Wednesday 29 January 2014

Fun and rewarding creative sessions for young people in hospital

'Magic' Ball mini-beasts are one of my most popular felting activities and are especially good for drop-in sessions
Since 2008 I have been one of the artists who have had the privilege of working with young people while they have been in Birmingham Children’s Hospital; these creative sessions have been some of my most rewarding experiences. 

I am sensitive to people’s needs and can pick up on feelings or anxieties quickly and have an ability to put them at ease. 

I also see everyone simply as people and ideally I prefer not to say ‘young’ people or ‘older’ people. I feel that we are all people just at different stages of life. 

I work with all sorts of materials when making my own mixed media sculptures but over the years I seem to have done most of my outreach projects using the unusual medium of felt-making. I have found that felting is an amazingly versatile medium and I have developed my own methods to speed up the process - this has been especially useful when working with people with limited attention spans. I have also developed techniques which make it easier for people with limited physical abilities

Felting is a process which starts by participants first being intrigued by the wonderful range of colours of soft sheep’s wool fibres. 

When we get onto the wet part of the felting process everyone seems to get very relaxed and absorbed; the rhythmical rubbing with lovely Olive oil soapy water never fails to relax.

Making sure that we get results quickly is important too as sometimes I am working with a group of people who have very short attention spans or who have anxiety disorders. This sea themed felted wall hanging was made very speedily by a group of young people in Heathlands Ward at Parkview CAMHS clinic in Moseley, Birmingham (one of the largest Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in the country).
Before and after pictures of the fishy sea themed wall-hanging
I have also worked on other wards. In one afternoon I worked with three young people on Irwin Ward and we made this wonderful space inspired sparkly wall hanging. 
Detail of space themed felted wall-hanging
I had gone all prepared to make something 'Doctor Who' inspired but when I arrived Callum (not his real name) had gone on a home visit. Being flexible and having ideas up your sleeve is pretty important when you are working in hospitals. The three young people who made this space picture came and went from the session as their energy allowed (they were all suffering from anorexia). But no matter how low in energy they were they all made a felted bangle at the end of the session too! It is always especially nice to make something that you can take home with you at the end of your time in hospital.

Getting the staff involved too is an additional reward when running creative activities in hospitals. Again at Parkview I worked with young people in Ashfield ward; there was only three in this group but they all had very different interests and needs. I was so proud of Alex who, on my second visit, made this Aston Villa felted picture. 
I made yellow pre-felt in advance of the session. This meant that Alex could trace the shape of the Aston Villa lion and then cut the shape from the pre-felt using his paper template. 
His confidence was extremely low but with the encouragement of one of the support team he managed to move from a simple felted ball to a felted picture. Raising his confidence and leaving him with something that was a concrete reminder of his abilities was exceedingly important. 

Sophie had big ambitions and worked away very quietly and made her own 3D felted cat in the same session- again one of the staff encouraged her by making his own felted cat alongside her. This was a great example of working alongside someone; just by sharing the experience you are helping them to gain confidence, you are both doing something new for the very first time. 

Two of my most admired felted wall hangings have been made by children on Ward 7, a clinical ward, in the main, Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham Children’s Hospital site. For this Summer Arts Project my brief was to engage as many patients as I could; to go to the hospital with no preconceived ideas of the theme of the wall-hangings but at the end of the day the expectation was that I would have facilitated the making of two wall-hangings which would be on permanent display in the ward and be seen by children of all ages. 

I took a selection of images along with me- Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Mario and Spongebob amongst others.

Very quickly I had a group of three girls aged about 10 and they were very keen to make a Hello Kitty themed wallhanging, I also had a student nurse in the group and she was very enthusiastic too. We worked around children going off for treatments but that can be tricky as I wanted to make sure that everyone was involved will every stage of the process.
Hello Kitty wall-hanging.
Top- dry wool fibres laid out. Bottom- after the wet felting process

With the first wall-hanging completed we were able to show more patients what we had made and in the afternoon a couple more joined my little ‘felting posse’. Believe it or not we worked from a tiny image on someone’s smart phone. I had admired her new Muppets tee-shirt (it just had Animal on it) and that was where the idea of making a muppets wall-hanging came from. It is amazing what you can do with just an image on a smart phone to work from! 

I was especially pleased that we made Miss Piggy’s necklace using circles cut from sparkly fabric. I have found that you have to go to hospital art sessions with a wide range of materials... just incase you never know what you might need!
Ward 3 - now called Ocean Ward - is  one which I have worked in on several projects in 2008, 2009 and 2012.

I am still so very proud of the felted glove puppets that were made in the All About Me project. After my first session with the young people in this ward I discovered that football was a what most of them were especially interested in. I took a note of favourite teams and players and went along to the next session armed with images printed onto cotton fabric. The young people were wowed that I even knew the players numbers (I did need to research this!) When finished, the glove puppets were able to play table-top football with the big stuffed felted ball that Amir had made in the first felting session. 
Some of the young people had dexterity problems but that didn't stop their enthusiasm and everyone was really proud of their achievements 
On Ocean ward we have made quite a range of creations, Mini-beasts, cushions, felted flowers purses and another large felted wall-hanging. 
This was based on a fantasy digital game and everyone in the group added to the design. 

Even boys like making their own special purse
Cushions and flowers made by children in Ocean Ward. Part of the 'AllAbout Me' creative sessions at Birmingham Children's Hospital
Completed wallhanging designed and made by children in Ocean Ward
Here you can see how everyone's ideas were included in the fantasy PC game wall-hanging design 
And finally, even at Christmas a stay in hospital can be made more fun; we even made our own small felted Christmas Stockings. 

It is my philosophy that everyone, whatever their abilities and personal circumstances, has the right to learn a new skill and to have the opportunity to make unique artwork of their own. My mission is, “To nurture and encourage people’s imagination and creativity in a fun and enthusiastic way”. 

I feel privileged to have been part of these young people’s lives especially during a hospital stay which will have been a challenging time in their lives and I look forward to leading more exciting creative sessions with children (and indeed people of all ages!)