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HOW ART IS MAKING ME BRAVE

By | Art, Disability, Lifestyle

I am not a particularly practical person. If something breaks or stops working around my house, I contact the real estate  so they can send someone to fix it for me. If my computer plays up, I call one of the IT techs at Guide Dogs so they can talk me through the process of fixing it.

In the last two or so years I’ve been a part of Art Mania however, there has been a shift. As part of the creative process, I’ve used drills, hammers, saws and more. Inside I was quivering as I tried each of these things for the first time.

I was elated when I successfully threw off that fear and achieved my goal.

This has made me a braver person. It does on occasion worry others, but I’m taking control and completing tasks around my home now that I never thought I could do.

Why am I writing about this today? Because for the first time ever, I fixed a blocked sink without any help. Well I did get help to know what to do and to purchase the product I needed. After that though, I was on my own, and I know I wouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t for all of the firsts and goals I’d achieved as part of the Art Mania family.

Perhaps I could try cleaning out the gutters next … only joking! … maybe …

STAFF SPOTLIGHT: ANDREW

By | Art, Disability, Lifestyle

Andrew is one of our glass fusing and lead light teachers. He is also responsible for kiln maintenance firing schedule development. If anything goes wrong with the kilns, both glass and clay, it is Andrew who is comes in to save the day and keep everything running and stopping general panic amongst students wanting to know where their work is. He also works on expanding our capabilities in glass.

Andrew looks so weird without his curly hair!

Andrew sees the studio as a great place to destress and develop your creativity.

He is also an artist and manages to find time to work on his own glass work. He’s also had his work in several exibitions.

Andrew showing a young student how to cut glass.

Andrew’s background is in process engineering in heavy industry. He has “always had a fascination with the beauty of glass”. He started out as a student at Art Mania “just to give it a try”, and the rest is history!

Andrew demonstrating his glass expertise at our open night event this year.

When asked how he connects with the ethos of Art Mania and the inclusivity, he wrote:

“The highlight of my time teaching has been teaching Sam, who is blind, to cut glass and use the flat bed glass grinder by feel. I love that we encourage anyone to have a go.”

SKILLS I’VE LEARNED AT ART MANIA STUDIO

By | Art, Disability

In the last few weeks, I’ve been struggling with my inner critic,. Every time I’ve sat down here at my laptop and tried to put a post together, my inner critic has woken and started nagging at me, making me question everything I’ve tried to write. So this post is going to be a little different. Today I want to acknowledge the things I’ve learnt in the last eighteen months at Art Mania.

1. I have learnt that as a blind woman, I can paint.

I don’t need to see what’s going on upon the canvas. I don’t need to be able to see what I’m painting with my eyes. I can paint in my own unique way. By responding to music, painting the movement and sound. The emotions that the music brings up. I can also paint what my eyes, in my case my hands, observe. I learnt all of this by taking a chance on a suggestion from the woman who has been mentoring me this year, Ashlee. By trusting her and trying out the suggestions she gave me, I’ve discovered a skill I always thought was beyond me.

Sam standing in front of one of her paintings at an exhibition.

2. I’ve learnt to cut glass enabling me to create pieces for fusing.

I would never have thought I would be able to create pieces of art in glass. The first time I got to play with glass was in a one day workshop making wind chimes. I’ll be honest, I had no idea that part of the process would include me cutting and grinding all of the glass pieces I would need. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have booked my spot. By the time I realised what would be involved, it was two nights before the workshop and Fee was offering to provide the glass pre-cut. She never said I couldn’t do it, in fact, she encouraged me, wanted me to at least try to cut the pieces for myself. She was simply offering me an alternative if it proved too much for me.

Sam doing some glass work.

That’s when I had to prove to myself that I could do it. Even so, I didn’t expect to be regularly working with glass as I am now. That workshop was a turning point for me. I discovered skills I never thought I had, not just because of my blindness. It was more about the fragility of the glass and the viciousness of its bite if handled wrong. That day opened new ideas and possibilities in me. I started taking the weekly classes and felt like a clumsy idiot for most of my first six months. But Fee and Andrew and the other students around me encouraged me. Working with glass is now one of my favourite mediums to work with.

3. I’ve learnt how to paint with glass.

Again it was a wonderous day when Fee came back from a course in Melbourne and showed us all what could be done with glass powders. It’s like painting with butter icing and is as much about texture as colour. I love making textures of different types and thicknesses. Again, at first, I felt clumsy and like I had no chance of ever getting it right. And again, it was Fee who gently, but firmly pushed me to keep going and find the skills needed to create the pieces I am so proud of now.

4. I’ve learnt to how to use a grinder.

A couple of different grinders. And that was and is something I still get excited about, knowing I can do it.

5. I’ve learnt I can use a drill.

While doing a hebel carving workshop last year, I had to drill holes into the stone to be able to remove the excess. I still have the video a friend took of me drilling into my slab of stone. A very large piece of stone, because of course, I had to have the biggest piece. Again, as in all the other situations, Fee and Andrew never questioned my ability to achieve these goals. Rather, they gave me the support and assistance I need to complete the job.

Sam at a hebel carving workshop.

6. I’ve learnt that my hands can see as well as other people’s eyes.

It wasn’t until I made a sculpture of my last guide dog, that I learnt this. When people saw the sculpture, they knew it was Roscoe. I had expected them to be able to see it was a dog and even that it was a Labrador, but they saw Roscoe in the clay.

Jimmy with his Jimmy sculpture- made by Sam.

7. I’ve learnt to let go of the perfectionist who has stalked me all my life.

I’m not sure when or how, but I think it began when my mother told me, after I asked her about how I could possibly get it all right with my art. She told me that I should “embrace the imperfections”. This didn’t mean my work would be less. It just meant to I needed to work with what I have and embrace the uniqueness that I have and which is imprinted in all my work.

There are many other things I could write here, but I think I’ve proved my point. I would like to take this chance to say thank you to everyone wo makes up the Art Mania family. Thank you for all your support and help and encouragement and love. You have helped me find my creativity and myself.

Ashlee and Sam at one of Sam’s exhibitions.

I wanted to finish here by saying, if you have been following Art Mania on social media, but haven’t yet managed to make it as far as signing up and attending one of our classes. I hope this will help push you to take that chance. You won’t regret it and will discover a whole family you never knew you could be part of.

The Two Jimmys

By | Art, Disability, Lifestyle

When I started taking classes in pottery last year, I began to hand build creatures out of clay. They were initially creatures from my head. Mythical creatures that live in dreams and fantasy stories. One day, I was beginning what I expected to be another mythical creature. This piece of clay had other ideas, I sculpted my last guide dog Roscoe.

That sculpture showed me just how well my hands can see. It doesn’t just look like a dog, it looks like him.

After this, Fee suggested I could make other animals and give them disabilities. Show through sculpture the abilities of people with various disabilities. The idea was to create the animal and then write a story of their journey. This story could continue when they found new homes. Incorporating the journey of the person, or people they found homes with.

One of the first animals I made was a water dragon. I had a willing model to use as my guide. Jimmy, Fee’s water dragon who lives at the studio.

I’d never touched a lizard like him. I’d stroked the backs of a couple of blue-tongues and gone out of my way to avoid any opportunity to pat a snake. I knew that Jimmy was at the studio and was curious, but didn’t actually meet him until I decided to sculpt him.

The first time I held him was magical. He sat on my hand and I could feel him breathing. I was afraid to move. Not because I was scared of Jimmy, rather, I was afraid of disturbing him. His skin felt like rows of little bumps, His spine is smooth, as long as you stroke him down from head to tail. The most surprising and beautiful thing that day was that he let me touch his face. I moved my hand very slowly and gently from the back of his head over his face, prepared to stop at any sign he didn’t like it. He didn’t react at all.

I’ve always been told I have a very gentle and smoothing touch, but that day, I felt like I’d been given one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Slowly I started to get to know Jimmy and he began to know me. He liked to lie across my chest and tuck his little head under my chin. And for me, I loved the feel of his skin under my fingers. Slowly I realised that I was far calmer and in the present when I held Jimmy. I also got to know what he looked like with each session. All of this memory and feeling I put into my sculpture.

It’s been a long process. What with lockdown and other projects getting in the way, but Jimmy the sculpture finally came home with me. I can see little errors in the work. I haven’t gotten the texture of his skin quite right. The body isn’t narrow enough at the hips. What’s surprised me is that, I can see these errors, but I’m not beating myself up over them. I’ve been taking notes for next time. Learning more about the craft so I can improve with each piece.

Just before I brought Jimmy the sculpture home, with some help, I got a photo of the two Jimmys. Jimmy the Lizzard was quite happy to sit beside his likeness.

I finished the actual sculpting more than six months ago, but Jimmy still comes out of his tank for cuddles. Now he likes to sit on my shoulder while I work. He’ll sit on my back with his head and front feet over my shoulder. Wandering around on my back and shoulders when he wants to find a more comfortable spot.

I’ve come to care very deeply for this magical Water Dragon. Partly because I like spending time with him, but more importantly, because he’s happy to trust me.

He’s been generous enough to let me use him as a muse. So I hope you all like Jimmy the sculpture as much as I do.

 

-Sam Ogilvie

Digital Accessibility Day

By | Disability, Lifestyle

This week on the 20th May, we celebrated Global Accessibility Day. A day to focus on the digital access world for people with disabilities.

It would be easy to assume that the digital world has made it easier to access resources, information etc for those with a disability. And in many ways it has been a big improvement. When Apple started building accessibility features into their products, it revolutionised the way various disability groups communicated with one another and the world. As a person with a vision impairment, for the first time I didn’t have to pay an extra $500 to make my phone talk and read the various screens and information.

Abstract digital image- a picture of a face with hands held together to make the shape of the face. Light is coming out from the face and a rainbow of colours striped across the image.

Similarly, until recently, to be able to use a pc, I had to pay several thousand dollars for a “text to speech” screen reader. In the last couple of years, a couple of guys who are blind themselves created a screen reading program and made it available to everyone. They only ask for a donation of however much you can afford. NVDA is the program and I love it.

Between my phone and my laptop, I have pretty good access to the digital world. The only major ongoing issue, is when material is put in electronic format as an image. Screen reading software reads text, hence the name text to speech.

If material has been uploaded as an image, my screen reader will see the page as blank.

Sam looking at the camera, wearing a black beret and dark coloured cardigan.

We have definitely come a long way. And all of this technology has made it possible for me to get work. It is because of the technology I have, that I can write these posts and other content for Art Mania. I even have software on my phone that will describe photos, scan and read hard copy printed material and help me identify products by reading the qr codes.

I still get frustrated at times. It can be exhausting having to convert materials. I do however, realise that I’m very lucky.

The digital world is making life easier and allowing me to participate even more in the everyday world.

International Guide Dog Day

By | Disability, Lifestyle

The last Wednesday in April is International Guide Dog day. A day to celebrate the work that our incredible four legged friends do for us every day. It’s also a day when the Guide Dog association focuses on a particular issue specific to guide dog teams. This year, it’s responsible pet ownership.

One of the biggest issues for a guide dog team is having to deal with pet dogs off-leash.

From just not leaving the guide dog alone while they are trying to work, to attacking and potentially injuring a guide dog. Sometimes these injuries are enough to mean the guide dog has to retire due to a complete loss of confidence. Most guide dogs in Australia have been attacked by a pet dog at some stage of their working life. Of my five dogs, Aimee is the only one who hasn’t been attacked, fingers crossed it stays this way. My two previous male dogs were seriously affected from their attacks.

Isis, who was never a particularly confident dog, would drop to the ground and refuse to pass another dog, even on leash. Roscoe became combative. Whenever he was in harness and saw another dog, he would bark and try to dominate the other dog. It became dangerous for both of us. Me because he would pull me nearly off my feet. Himself because he tried to attack other dogs, by running across roads.

All we guide dog handlers ask is that you keep your dogs on leash. Don’t allow them to stray across in front of a guide dog team.

This can very easily lead to the handler tripping or smashing into an obstacle that the guide dog wasn’t able to warn them of due to the pet dog. Please remember that when a guide dog is in harness, they are working and can’t play or be played with.

I’d like to finish this post by acknowledging just what my guide dogs have given me and enabled me to do.

Thank you to Vishta. Who was stubbon and bossy and constantly wanted to be the one in charge. Thank you for giving me the ability to take full control of my life and to be truly independent. I would not have even thought to move to Melbourne if you had not been my partner.

To Isis. For showing me the meaning of true loyalty. You were always trying to live up to your role. Even though you really didn’t like being a guide dog. And you became one of the best pets as therapy dogs ever (yes I’m biased).

To Geralee. My gentle, placid girl. You kept me calm when anxiety would start to set in. You were the best friend I needed.

To Roscoe. For arriving in my life just when I needed you. For enabling me to recognise my depression and to speak up and ask for help. For always knowing when I was down and making me laugh. And for giving me the confidence to change my life for the best, twice.

And to my beautiful girl Aimee. You are giving me the confidence to get back out into the world. Just knowing I’m not alone, that I have you beside me, makes me brave enough to go after what I truly want.

If it wasn’t for these five friends. I don’t know if I would have found Art Mania. I wouldn’t have become such a strong and independent woman. Happy international guide dog day. Or in this house, happy Aimee day.

-SAM OGILVIE

HEBEL SCULPTURE

By | Art, Disability

Wow! Can you believe it? We’re almost at the end of term one. It feels like we only started the year a week or so ago. The good thing about end of term though, is we all get to check out next term’s classes and workshops and decide which ones we’d like to attend.

Before the start of term two, however, is the school holidays. And I’m really excited because a workshop I’m been waiting over a year to attend is finally happening on 10 April. What is it? It’s hebel carving. For those who don’t know know what hebel is, it’s a type of soft stone.

I’ve always wanted the chance to try carving a sculpture out of stone. When we think of stone however, you imagine something very hard and durable. And Hebel carving isn’t like carving a lump of clay. It involves chisels, power drills and other big girl tools. I won’t lie, the idea of getting to play with saws and drills and things, just adds to my wish to try it out.

I have this dream. I’d love to carve out a sculpture and then enter it into some competition or event somewhere.

It doesn’t matter how well I do in this longed for competition. It’s just the idea that I was able to make something so substantial and have it seen by the world.

I was lucky enough to do a hebel carving workshop almost two years ago. Since then, Art Mania hasn’t been able to run another one because of numbers. And this one on April 10 may not run if we don’t get the numbers.

So if you have thought about it, give it a go. It’s fun, not scary. You’ll walk away from the day feeling empowered with a huge sense of achievement. It’s all the adrenalin and getting to wield power tools that does it.

Sign up and come along! Trust me, you will love it. And I will be grateful to you, because your being there too, will make it possible for me to work on my dream. I’m looking forward to seeing you there.

-Sam Olgilvie

Sea, Space and Beyond

By | Art, Disability

If you find yourself with time on your hands this month, go check out an art exhibition at Newcastle museum. I’m not suggesting this because I have work in this exhibition. I suggest it because it’s not your typical art exhibition. This show is the collaboration of The Newcastle City Council and Vision Australia.

The theme of the exhibition is “Sea, Space and Beyond” and has inspired some incredible art pieces. At the door of the room containing the main body of work, you will find a ocean reef and all kinds of sea creatures.

What makes this, and the other works in the show so interesting is that all of the works are tactile and can be touched.

This reef, for example, has been created by a group in Dungog and is made from knitting. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt such an amazing work in wool.

At the far end of the display,you will find another fantastic piece. The artist has created sea creatures and a whole underwater scene. All made out of plastic bottles that she has meticulously cut and suspended inside a wooden crate. What I love about this piece by Natasha Wilson, is her intend for using the plastic bottles. She seeks to remind and teach us what the consequences on our environment are. How we are killing other sea creatures that we can’t necessarily see, thus being easy to forget. Another piece was made by applying paint with the tip of a white cane.

It was so incredible being able to interact and actually see the art works for myself. Being able to read the description of each piece myself, because they are all in braille.

The most unique piece in the exhibition is a huge sheep, with a iced doughnut sitting on its back. The whole thing made of recycled metal that has been welded together. If you go to see anything, it has to be this sheep. It would have to be one of the strangest and most interesting sculptures I’ve ever seen.

The show is open until 21 March. There’s no cost, you just need to sign in and head on in. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy it. Oh and I hope you like my pieces too.

-Sam Olgilvie

International Women’s Day

By | Art, Disability, Lifestyle

Today is International Women’s day. The day to celebrate all women and our successes, achievements, our lives.

It seems very timely to me, that the opening of my first major art exhibition has fallen just before International women’s day. I know I wouldn’t have got where I am if it weren’t for the women in my life. My mother for teaching me that I can do anything I want, that my blindness is not an excuse to prevent me from achieving my goals. My best and oldest friend, Lauren, always there to lean on and to be given a good shove when I’m being negative.

Ashlee and Sam.

In the last couple of years, there has been Art Mania and the incredibly strong and talented women that have become my friends and support network. There is Bek, who makes it possible for you to read these posts, by doing the uploading and editing for me. Dana, who is always positive and a fellow dog lover. She was my first support worker at Art Mania and still helps me with many little things that I don’t know how to do. Or which I need a little help to achieve.

There is Ashlee, my friend, my support worker and my mentor.

Ash, you have given me so much confidence in myself as an artist. You have taught me so much about the artistic process as well as different kinds of art. And I know I still have more to learn from you.

Ashlee and Sam creating with resin.

There are so many incredible women working at, and taking classes at Art Mania. I won’t list you all, but you all, in different ways, have helped and supported and encouraged me. From advice on how to tackle a project. Telling me where I’ve got lost with work. And just giving me a safe place to blossom and create. I love you all and acknowledge you all as women to be proud of, lucky to know and spend time with.

Fee and Sam.

I can’t finish however, without first acknowledging one other incredible woman. And that is Fee. Mother and creater of Art Mania. My big sister and mentor. The one who praises when it’s deserved and needed. And who gives me a good push and talking to when I’m being negative and self destructive. I am a better, stronger woman thanks to you Fee. I’m in a better place mentally and I’ve found what my heart has always longed for.

Thank you too all of you at Art Mania. And here’s to all the strong, beautiful, intelligent women around the world. Happy International Women’s day.

Love Your Pet Day

By | Disability, Lifestyle

Today is Love Your Pet day. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you about the animals in my life. 

I’ve been lucky in my life. I’ve had the opportunity to touch several different species of animal. The first time I remember, I was around eight. It was a Koala and I remember being amazed how woolly it was and the sharpness of its claws. 

 

In my first year of high school, I went, with a group of blind school kids, to Melbourne for an athletics competition. While in Melbourne we paid a visit to the zoo. We sat on the floor in a circle and got to touch and stroke various animals. A possum, a snake that I refused to touch and a wombat. I love wombats and that first encounter has helped me so much over the years to create art pieces that are wombat based. I could get a clear picture in my head of what they looked like.  

Over the years I’ve met kangaroos, blue-tongue lizards, a bandicoot, a turtle, an enormous stick insect, both fresh water and salty crocodiles. The list goes on. And of course, most recently a water dragon who lives at Art Mania and answers to the name Jimmy. 

As some of you may know, I sculpted Jimmy out of clay about a year ago, and he and I became friends.

Now he likes to sit on my shoulder while I work. He likes to watch what’s happening in the studio and often watches what I’m creating. In August last year, I was working on a painting and a large canvas. Jimmy had spent most of the day on my shoulder. As I began to work on the top of the canvas, Jimmy decided he wanted a better look and proceeded to walk out onto my raised arm. He sat there watching what I was doing. 

Only this week, he decided to get a closer look ant a few pieces I was working on. I’d been painting a board with a sand coloured paint, when again, Jimmy came down off my should to investigate. This time however he lay across my arm and began scraping the board with his nails. He was fascinated. By the end of the day, he had paint on his feet and splashed on his back. He’s loved every minute.  

Yesterday, he decided to sit on my work. Luckily I wasn’t working with paint, but was stitching the backing on to a wall hanging I’ve made. He settled in, with no intention of moving. It was only the prospect of dinner that changed his mind.  

The one thing all of these interactions with animals have in common is that I now have a clear picture of what they all look like. What they feel like, giving me a good understanding of how to create them.  

I still have several animals on my “must see” list. Including elephant, dolphin, seal, I could go on, but I won’t.  

Although none of these animals have been pets of mine, they have all had a significant impact on my life and understanding. So I’d like to say, I think we should love our pets and all the other animals out there every day. But especially on February 20. Give your pets a hug from me. 

-Sam Olgilvie