I am extremely pleased to tell you all that, yes, the hebel carving workshop did happen this past Saturday. Even better, my unfinished piece from two years ago was found, supporting one of Fee’s plants in the back garden. I have to admit, there was dancing and I had a lot of trouble sleeping Friday night. And not very much sleeping the night before, the anticipation was on a level equivalent to Christmas Eve for a child. I was not disappointed.
Saturday was a beautiful day to be outside, carving sculptures.
Not too hot, but also not cold and wet like my last hebel carving workshop. We were a small group. Four participants, Geno as my support worker and of course Andrew to show us what needed to be done. There was a lot of laughter as well as a lot of creating. And nobody went home clean. We were all covered in hebel dust and in some cases wet from being hosed down instead of the sculptures.
I remembered how much fun I’d had last time. How could it be anything but fun. I got to play with a drill, with saws and hammers and chisels. There was also a tool to shape and smooth that does have a technical name, but will forever be know as a cheese grater to myself and my fellow creaters.
Out of the various sized blocks, emerged a couple of lizards, a Heart and yin yang symbols and a wombat. Yes that’s right, I know have a wombat living just outside my back door. He happily holds a daisy plant on his back. Rupert (what else would you call a wombat), isn’t quite finished yet, he needs his head shaped a bit more and eyes etc. And his legs need defining, but I can do all of that from home.
We all went home, happy and dirty and tired.
If you ever get the chance to take one of Andrew’s workshops, you would be crazy to turn it down.
Enjoy the photos taken on the day. As soon as Rupert is completed, I’ll make sure to share more pictures. Happy creating everyone.
MEET OUR ART MANIA FAMILY: ASHLEE
We decided it was past time to introduce our staff to you all. Many you may know, but there are several others, quietly working behind the scenes that are crucial to keeping Art Mania on track and able to run all the fantastic classes, workshops and taster days. So here is our first staff spotlight profile!
I’d like to introduce you all to Ashlee. Ashlee wears several hats here at Art Mania. Originally, around a year or so ago, she was hired as a new teacher to our team. She began by teaching our kids and teens classes. Soon after her joining our family, she became our very own Art as therapy teacher, something we all could do with, with all the crazy changes our world has gone through in the last year or so.
How did you come to be at Art Mania Studios?
Ashlee: “I was at a point in my life where change needed to be made, so I made the break and followed my intuition to where my passion lies.”
Another role that Ashlee fills, is support worker to our NDIA students. A mentor to those of us in Art Mania’s business development support program. It’s thanks to Ashlee’s hard work and contacts, that last month’s exhibition at the wetlands came about. She’s also been working hard to find us new venues and opportunities for more exhibitions.
How do you see yourself fitting in to Art Mania’s vision?
Ashlee: “I think the whole philosophy behind AMS is a beautiful thing! It is very much needed in the community.
I’m able to observe firsthand how important this safe creative space is, in the lives of many people from all walks of life.
I see the studio as an authentic space for creative flow. I also like the eclecticism in every aspect.”
As if this isn’t enough, Ash is also an artist in her own right with a large body of work and a diploma in fine arts. She is responsible for several murals around Newcastle, including at the Hunter Wetlands Centre.
Ashlee: “I love encouraging and helping people connect to their creative instincts.”
Look out for more staff spotlights to come!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ask any of my family or friends, and they will tell you that I have been petrified of snakes all my life. I’ve suffered with nightmares about snakes since I was around four.
A few months ago, Art Mania started a regular group art session at the Hunter Wetlands. I am a regular member of this group, and on learning that among the other wild-life, they have snakes, made me start to consider the possibility that I could overcome my fear, if I just touched a snake. A snake who is used to being man handled, and woman and child handled. The more I thought of the idea, the more I came to believe that it could help. All of these thoughts were just that, thoughts. An exercise in positive thought and creative possibilities. I don’t believe I actually intended to touch a snake. Rather, I did not at any stage believe that I would go through with the event if it ever occurred.
So given all of the above, imagine my own surprise when, around ten days before Christmas, I found myself touching a snake. I had to get pictures, because I knew nobody would believe me without them. This is what happened and how that encounter changed my life.
I’d arrived at the wetlands one morning and found a woman standing out the front of the entrance holding a snake. As I approached where she was standing, she asked if I would like to touch him. I’d always believed that if and when this moment arrived I would run screaming in the opposite direction. What I actually found myself doing was walking up to them and saying yes. His name is Kenny and he is a Children’s python. This does not mean he prefers to dine on children, but that the scientist who discovered his breed, was named Children. Kenny is eighteen months old and is a metre and a half long and around the circumference of a twenty cent coin.
I knew the belief that snakes are slimy is a myth, but I didn’t expect him to feel so soft. I stroked him with a couple of fingers at first and he allowed me to touch his head. My fear was gone, I was completely in the moment, totally focused on Kenny. His tongue on my skin was like butterfly wings. His skin like satin. Even to the point that on first contact, he felt cold like satin, but soon warmed to the heat of my skin. He moved across my hand and wrapped himself around my wrist a couple of times, just like a bracelet. At one point he was about my wrist with around thirty centimetres hanging upside-down and checking out Aimee. Aimee who stood calmly while Kenny investigated.
I could have stayed there with him forever. The touch of him was like falling into a deep pool of clear and calm water. My heart actually slowed, rather than increasing from fear. Even after he’d been taken away to impress other visitors, I could still feel him around my wrist, feel him gliding along my arm. The most amazing thing was that he broke something open in me. Some blockage I wasn’t even aware of, to my creativity. I knew I had to sculpt him and put that piece into my exhibition at the wetlands in March.
I’ve met him once since that first day. He was brought down to the room where we all create our art, so I could remind myself of what he looked and felt like. This time he slid across my arms, across my shoulders. At one point, his head and upper body was snuggled along my arm, where it formed a hollow against my ribs. He was snuggling, enjoying the warmth of my body.
Kenny the Childrens python lives behind the first viewing window, when you first walk into the entrance of the Wetlands. He’s not easy to find however, because he is nocturnal, but if you’re lucky, he’ll poke his little head out to check out who you are and to make sure he doesn’t miss anything.
Meeting Kenny has been one of the most magical experiences of my life.
I still wouldn’t want to encounter a snake out in the wild, but he has most definitely changed my attitude. Even more incredible, I’ve been told that any time I want to work on my sculpture, one of the snake handlers can bring him down for me. He apparently loves to pose for photos, so will be quite happy being immortalised in art.
I want to say thank you to everyone at the Wetlands Centre for their support. For making it possible for myself and other students to get to know and be up and close with the wildlife.
Being able to create in such a beautiful, positive environment is nourishing my soul and my creativity.
Having the chance to exhibit the resulting work, is something special and I feel honoured to be given this chance.
JUMPING INTO 2021
Welcome to 2021 and a brand new exciting year at Art Mania. Now that the year has started, it’s time to work out where each of us want to be by the end of the year. I know the tradition is to make new years resolutions, the majority of which are abandoned by mid February.
I am not a new years resolution girl. Instead, for all of my adult life, I’ve spent a portion of the last day of each year, writing goals for the coming year. I don’t always finish everything on the list, and I do make alterations and edits throughout the year. I have usually managed to complete at least half of the goals on my list by the end of the year.
This New Year’s, I did things slightly differently to my old ritual. Before I sat down to write my goals for 2021, I sat down and made a list of achievements for 2020 and things that meant a lot to me. The things I’m grateful for.
I thought I’d kick off this year’s series of posts by sharing a few things from each list with you and hope they inspire you all. So let’s get started.
What I’ve achieved and am grateful for:
1. My job at Art Mania and getting to share my journey with you all.
I don’t think any of us will remember 2020 as a great year. Covid has been a major blow from left field, but I think we should be proud that we have survived. I think we should all, as I do, be so incredibly grateful to Fee and the Art Mania team for keeping the studio open and offering a safe haven to create in and catch up with friends. I know that this had a huge impact on me and kept my mental health on the positive side.
2. Art Mania’s teaming up with the Wetlands Centre.
This year Art Mania started running sessions for our NDIS clients and those who identify as having a disability. We had a room for two days a week for our little group and it was magical. Firstly seeing how some of our newer clients slowly come out of themselves and try different things.
We even got to meet some of the reptiles, a children’s python named Kenny, blue-tongue lizards named Russel and Nudge and a pygmy bearded water dragon. That’s right a baby version of our own Jimmy. And for me, personally, Kenny had the biggest impact upon me. I would never have believed you if you told me I would touch a snake, but I have and it’s been so empowering to overcome a fear.
3. Participating in my first ever exhibition.
Thanks to Castle Personnel’s social media person, Zoe, Art Mania had the chance to showcase the work of our students with disabilities for International Day of Disability. There were five of us and again it was an empowering moment. I knew I could create, but it still gave me that huge boost knowing that people were coming to see my work. I also sold my first piece of art. I don’t know who it was who brought my painting, but if you’re reading this, thank you so very much.
These are my top three and I promise to expand on at least one of these in the next weeks (but you’ll have to keep reading posts to find out which it will be.). So on to the goals for this year.
My Top Three Goals for 2021
1. To become a mentor to other students with a disability who join the Art Mania team.
We have been working on setting up a program for NDIS clients that enables them to come and join the Art Mania family and create art. On top of this, for those who are interested, we are offering a business support program, so we can learn how to set ourselves up and sell our art. And part of all of this, is giving the more established students the chance to support the new ones. I’m so excited and could rave about this program for pages, but I will save that for a future post.
2. To participate in my second exhibition.
In two months, well probably more like six/seven weeks, I am having my work exhibited at the wetlands. This has been one of the great things about the sessions at the wetlands. I love nature and this is the perfect excuse to submerge myself in the natural world and be inspired by it and all the incredible creatures that live there.
3. My third goal is to get out into the world, particularly the natural world with my beautiful girl Aimee.
I know this will give me back the confidence I lost when I lost my boy Roscoe. I also know it will be more inspiration for my art. And I really hope you will all follow my journey and keep reading my posts.
This brings me to one last item I’m grateful for, and that’s all of you who read my posts. It really means a lot to me that you do, and I’m so grateful for all of your support. Please keep reading.
I am naturally an introvert and have a tendency to be shy. At high school I was bullied by the other students and made to feel that it was dangerous to excel at anything or to speak up, especially not to speak up for myself. I was an easy target. We all know that teenagers will focus their intimidation and humiliation on those they perceive as different and/or weak.
As a teenager with a vision impairment, I was a perfect target.
At school, I developed ways to be small and silent and unnoticed. When it came to choosing electives, I made sure to stay out of the classes my primary tormenter took. The one class I took that didn’t follow these rules was art. Several of the girls who liked to make my life hell were in my art class.
In year eight, my art teacher didn’t even want me in her class. She believed that someone who was blind could not do art.
I spent most of the first half of the school year turning up for class and sitting, being ignored by the teacher, being made to feel invisible.
That teacher left and I stayed in the class with a new teacher. Mrs Kaminsky made sure I could participate in the class. She introduced me to oil pastels and showed me how to shade and blend and create pictures where others painted. She helped me hone and build on the sculpting skills I’d started developing in primary school. She gave me a way to have a voice. It was this class that kept me sane throughout school.
Mrs Kaminsky encouraged and nurtured my artistic voice by believing in me and encouraging me.
Years later, coming back to art has given me back the voice I thought I’d lost forever.
When I can’t untangle my thoughts, I paint out the knots and snarls.
It is a physical thing, the movement of my hand, arm and body loosens the threads. The threads then have room and space to weave themselves into order.
When I paint out these tangles I feel my breath changes, my thoughts, that started the session as a pile of scattered and like leaves before a storm. These thoughts start to slow, to shift and eventually make sense again. I can paint out the problem and give me back my voice.
My paintings and sketches tell the stories I can’t get out in words. The stories that frighten me. That are too full of emotion that I’m afraid if I start speaking, they will explode and drown me.
I can be brave in my art, when I can’t be in the rest of my life. When I create, I am centred and present. Most importantly, I’ve got the strength and confidence to give voice to my experiences. The knowledge that my work is never going to be perfect, but will be uniquely mine, has quietened the perfectionist inside me. By taking away that fear of not being perfect, I can speak and share what’s inside me.
Art is my meditation and my voice.
A big welcome to our drawing teacher, Gail!
Gail has lived in Wallsend for 30 years with her husband & 5 children.
Gail completed her Fine Arts Diploma at Hunter Street TAFE, graduating from Newcastle University in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, then with an Honours degree in 2011.
Her work is inspired by an interest and love for people & community.
Gail works in painting, drawing & textiles. These disciplines often cross over producing interesting hybrid art works of colour, image & stitch.
The essence of Gail’s art practice is acknowledging people’s lives, validating & empathising with their experiences. She finds teaching & exhibiting rewarding as she is able to connect with the community.
Gail has exhibited widely, she has shown her art within:
- John Hunter Arts & Health programs
- Wallsend Library
- Watt Space Newcastle
- Newcastle Art Space
- Art Systems Wickham
- Maitland Regional Gallery
Gail believes the world is the richer for the contribution of the creative soul.
She is looking forward to cheering others on to discover their unique voice & mark so that they can confidently express who they are & what they have to say.
One of the major themes in my art is the natural world. I’ve used leaves and trees in lino carving that I then printed onto different hand-made papers. Some still feel like the stringy fibres of the trees that they originated from. In my glass work I’ve been using the natural elements of earth, fire, water and air to create pictures using powdered glass. I’m building up quite a collection of clay animals as well.
When I found out I would be having an exhibition of my own, I was of course, very excited. Learning that it would happen at the wetlands was even better. I’d never been there, but I did know about it and everything I heard was positive.
A couple of days ago, I finally got a chance to visit the wetlands for myself. It was the perfect day, sunny but not too hot.
My first impression was one of peace and of the world slowing and taking time to breathe. I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin. The various birds sang, intermingling and creating a symphony of joy and life.
As we slowly walked along the paths, the gravel crunched beneath our feet and I could feel the texture through my shoes.
I stopped to feel one of the totem poles scattered around the wetlands. It felt worn smooth over time. Criss-crossed by carvings that read like road signs in a tactile language akin to the braille I read. I could feel my thoughts slowing and images and words drifted through me. They slipped in and out in a meditative manner, not necessary to be held onto or analysed.
I learnt of a bird known as a magpie goose and arrived in time to witness their daily meal. They gathered in a group on the bank where their food had been left. They ate and a couple in particular kept up a gentle honking conversation. As each bird took to the water again, their entry sounded like a gentle wave washing over the shore of a harbour.
Their black and white colouring made them a good contrast with the earth they fed on and so I was able to make them out. They were bouncing balls of contrast to my eyes.
We ended up sitting by another pond along the sensory trail. The seat we sat upon was in the sun, while in front of us, the ground was dappled with sun and shade. As we sat quietly sketching and writing, magpies strutted back and forward in the space before us. The only thing making it possible to make their existence out, was their movement. The shifting of something before me.
I found myself sketching the trunk of an old tree. It had pieces of bark, some as large as my sketch pad peeling away from the trunk. Peeling away like old skin, making room for the new, clean and green regrowth to come through.
Those couple of hours were exactly the nourishment I needed. To be able to touch nature with my hands, my feet. To be serenaded by bird song, snapping twigs and gently shifting water. The sound of the light breeze in the trees. I found myself writing poetry as well as sketching.
I’ve come away feeling revived and my creative flow running smooth and thick with ideas. It was definitely an experience I will make sure I have again.
If you are feeling smothered, stale, just over the world, especially now with Covid- take a walk in nature. Nothing will revive you as well as the natural world. And you don’t have to worry about social distancing from trees.