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!) 

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Felted Wall-Hanging inspired by Monet's Waterlily Paintings- a fantastic School Project

This impressive felted wall hanging was made in a day by 24  four and five year olds (120cm W,  85cm H)
It’s great that I love working with children! 
One of my fun days last summer was working with 24 Reception/Year 1 children at Beech Street Primary School in Eccles (on the outskirts of Manchester). 

Teacher and School Arts Week Co-ordinator, Gill Douglas, contacted me and asked if I could help and of course I said yes! 

We decided that the children would make a wall hanging inspired by Monet’s waterlily paintings. 

Working in schools is interesting as there is always so much going on but often the logistics of fitting in and around things (like pirate parties and PE lessons) can be a challenge. Luckily for me Gill had left me with some fantastic staff who helped me to sort the children into smaller groups and to work out timings for bite sized chunks of felting throughout the day.

Working with six children at a time I gave them a simple introduction to Claude Monet. I had taken a selection of library books and had also printed off some relevant pictures. Even though the children were aged just 4 and 5 I really wanted to give them some interesting information and images of Monet. 

Well Monet had a BIG beard and he had a BIG garden! 

and he painted big paintings too!

Although I had photos of waterlilies I would really have loved to have been able to take a real waterlily flower into the classroom!

I explained that Monet was an artist who made his pictures with paint but we were going to make our wall hanging using colourful wool fibres. 
At this point it is always better to just get started with the physical act of felting. 

I had separated the wool fibres into greens for the waterlily leaves and pinks and purples for the flowers, so with each group we either made flowers or leaves. 
Wool fibres laid in a swirl; a simple way to make felted waterlily flowers
Softly felted waterlily flowers made by the children
We made lots of these flowers and leaves and laid them out ready for the afternoon. 

At lunchtime I got the classroom ready for making the big wall hanging so that as soon as my first group came back from their pirate party they were ready to go! I definitely wanted to make sure that every single child had taken part in every stage of the process.

Once the table was covered in a layer of white wool fibres we then changed to a pallet of blues and purples. This was fun as the children really do enjoy breaking the wool into small tufts. (This part of the felting process is called ‘laying-out’) and they were pretty impressed that we were working on such a large scale.

We used a range of blue coloured fibres to lay over the white layer (these were laid at right angles to the white layer). Now we had a ‘pond’ and next we had to decide where all of the waterlily flowers and leaves had to go. I showed the children Monet's waterlily paintings again as I felt it was important to remind them of what we were doing. The felting can all get a bit exciting  and I just wanted to remind them of the ‘big picture’ ie our Arts Week project.

One of Claude Monet's waterlily paintings
Again I feel that it is very important for the children to take ownership of their own art so I let them place the felted flowers and leaves on and then together we adjusted the position of some until we were happy with the composition. At this point I was really pleased that the teaching assistants felt happy to tell me their observations and they helped with the composition too.
Next I stood up on a chair and looked down at it to give the design a final check.

Once happy with this we got onto the big job of wetting, soaping, rubbing and rolling.
The laid out design completely wet and soaped with Olivia olive oil soap
Logistically this is the hardest bit of making a large collaborative piece of felt as there just isn’t space for 24 children to roll at once. 
Miss Morris, my fantastic teaching assistant, came to the rescue; as the children took turns with the rolling she and the rest of the children launched into a cavalcade of songs. They were absolutely fantastic and the singing made the rolling all so much easier and lots of fun, especially for me!

Rolling the wet and soaped design up in a bamboo mat
We stopped and admired our felt. Wow! There was no denying it, it was pretty impressive and all made by 24 children aged just 4 and 5.
Finished felted wall hanging (120cm W, 85cm H)
It is still damp here so would look even better once dry.
Before I left Beech Street school I hand-sewed a strip of cotton fabric onto the back of the top edge of the wall hanging. Then I threaded a length of dowelling through it and left it with two hooks ready for the school's brilliantly helpful janitor to hang up once it was dry.  

And finally how lovely to get this e mail from Gill Douglas, the School Arts Week Co-ordinator. 

"The work produced is fantastic and the wall hanging has already gone up! 
Thank you for your wonderful work & enthusiasm - everyone had a great, productive time!"