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ART AS VOICE

By | Art, Disability, Lifestyle

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.

-Sam Ogilvie

MEET OUR NEW DRAWING TEACHER

By | Art, Lifestyle

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.

NATURE’S SERENADE

By | Art, Disability, Lifestyle

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.

– Sam Ogilvie

UPDATE: SAM AND HER GUIDE DOG AIMEE

By | Art, Lifestyle

This past week has been all about Aimee and I getting to know each other. It’s been both emotional and exhausting. It’s been all about highs and lows. I’d forgotten the details of how it is to train with a new guide dog, but I love it.

We did our first proper walk together on Wednesday afternoon. It was a couple of laps of Lambton Park. She was fantastic, I lost count of the number of dogs in the vicinity, but Aimee just dismissed them all as unimportant.

The highlight came when we were coming to the end of our first lap and we came on a guide dog puppy preschool session in progress. Aimee’s response can be described best as one of a rockstar accepting the adoration of her fans.

I’ve been telling her ever since that all those guide dog puppies will be dreaming of growing up to be her.

One of the most important things to develop with a new guide dog, is trust. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always tried to have a gap between my dogs, it makes it easier to bond with the new dog and results, for me at least, less comparison between the old and new. It’s this bonding process that makes it so important for others to keep their distance and not interact with her while we are getting to know one another.

This week is the first time we’ve been in to Art Mania for regular classes. It was mosaics and pottery today and Aimee lay comfortably on her bed under my table in the pottery area. Out of the way, but able to observe what was going on. She wouldn’t have been able to fit last term, but the renovations out the back have created more space and a more practical layout. If you haven’t been out to see it, you really should.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone, students and staff for your understanding and support for myself and Aimee.

I know many of you read my last post and took the message on board. There have also been others, particularly new people who have asked me what’s right and wrong in regards to a guide dog. You all have no idea just how much I appreciate all of you. One of the hardest things to deal with when you have a guide dog and are out in the public, is when people reach out and pat the dog without asking. Worse are the ones who say “oh I know I’m not supposed to ….” So thank you all so very much.

Not being able to talk to Aimee, doesn’t mean you can’t talk to me. So, please, feel free to say hi and ask any questions you might have about the journey Aimee and I are on, or anything else you have been curious about, but didn’t feel comfortable asking me.

-Sam Ogilvie

LIFE DRAWING WITH NO EYES

By | Art, Lifestyle

One of my favourite things about being part of Art Mania, is that it’s given me the chance to try different things. The opportunity to explore ideas and mediums I haven’t had access to before.

One of the things I’d never considered before, was the idea of life drawing.

It always got categorized in my head as one of those purely visual styles of art. It wasn’t something I’d even contemplated as something I could do. I do remember, years ago, living in Melbourne, my flat mate worked as a life model. One day, I went along with her to one of her sessions, but didn’t stay in the room. I sat in the garden and worked on my poetry.

A picture of a hand using charcoal to draw the outline and shading of a side-on body.

It was only after her session was over and we were heading off to the tram, that I learnt about some of the artists who she regularly posed for. One of these artists always left her without eyes. I found this intriguing and an interesting spin on a purely visual art form. The idea that the artist sees the world, but the model isn’t allowed the same ability. Or was it about the blinding of the naked female because of her nakedness?

Still, it never occurred to me to attempt this form. It continued to remain in that folder of impossibilities due to a lack of vision.

Recently, however, there came a shift in my attitude. I was talking to a fellow artist who had wanted her partner to pose naked for her and the partner refused. This friend and I got talking and agreed that we were happy to pose for one another.

This is an incredible gift that my friend was offering. For life drawing is possible for me, it just means I have to touch the model. Something that then brings up its own challenges. Such an intimate act, made even more so by the need for physical contact. It is a beautiful gift just having the offer made to me. And then the playing field changed again.

I was approached not long after, by a guy who had worked as a life model before and was interested in picking up more work in the area. I explained the situation, the need to touch. He told me that he had no problem with that.

Sam sitting at a canvas painting. There is pink paint on the canvas.

I realised however, that maybe I did. Being female, and a small one at that, I couldn’t help feeling that even though I would be clothed, I was the vulnerable one.

It is always interesting when I meet people and witness how they take my lack of vision.

Some simply take it in their stride. To them I’m just a person who happens to be blind. For others, I bring out that fear within them, the fear of how they would or wouldn’t cope, in my shoes. Another group have trouble getting part the question of how I see them and the world without sight. This often involves them thinking and/or ask me if I need to feel their face to know what they look like.

This is one of the concepts that drives my art. The desire to show people that I do see the world, just not with my eyes and that the images in my head are often very different to theirs’.

I find the act of touching someone’s face, incredibly intimate and not something I feel comfortable with at first meeting, in some cases if ever. The exploration of another’s face is something I’ve only done with lovers, family and those I feel particularly comfortable. This comfort is a two way street. The person in question needs to be comfortable enough in their own skin for me to feel comfortable touching them.

Sam holding Jimmy the lizard.

All of these thoughts and others have been racing around my brain. There was also an implied sexual element on the part of the guy offering to model for me. Obviously some body functions occur in particular situations and I could see where he was coming from. The problem for me was the idea that this would mean a further intimacy was expected on his part.

I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to sort it all out in my head. My final decision, that I only reached last night, was that I couldn’t do it. I’m still perfectly comfortable stripping off for my friend and having her sit for me. I think the difference is that I know that there are no hidden agendas with my friend. That I won’t be walking on unsteady ground. At risk of plunging over a cliff at any time.

So, I’ve surprised myself. Without consciously doing it, I’ve discovered that something I thought was impossible for me, isn’t.

As my mother has always told me, “just because I’m blind, doesn’t mean I can’t do anything I want. It just means I might need to find a different way of going about it.”

Perhaps this will help you look at life differently. Look at something you’ve always seen one way and found there is another way to go about it. Enjoy what you discover.

-Sam Ogilvie

A GUIDE TO GUIDE DOGS

By | Lifestyle

When I first joined the Art Mania family, I had a guide dog, Roscoe. Unfortunately, last November, I discovered that Roscoe had cancer.  

I’m happy to be able to write that a new guide dog called Amy has been matched with me.

She and I will be training from 24 August and part of that will include coming into the studio.  

I wanted to take this opportunity to outline the rules around guide dogs and why they exist.

And a little about the training process, with the intention of reducing any confusion people may have around guide dogs. 

Once a guide dog passes their training and get the tick of approval to go out to work, they then get matched with a person on the waiting list. When matching me with my new dog Amy, the staff at Guide Dogs looked at my lifestyle, my personality, my height and weight and traits I prefer in my dogs. Once the match is made, the dog and person or handler, embark on a 4 week training program together.

This training is about the team getting to know each other, and to bond.

If it’s a first dog, you will receive training on how to take care of the dog, bathing, grooming, health checks etc.

For me as an experienced handler, it is about my dog and I getting to know each other and her learning my lifestyle and the places I go to regularly. This includes public transport, shopping, work and all other places I go to. This initial training of dog and handler is still part of the overall training of the dog. 

This is why my guide dog won’t be fully trained and get her guide dog medallion until the end of this training. So you may see my dog with me, but she may not be wearing a harness. It is important that people know, even though she won’t be wearing a harness, that she is in training and can’t be interacted with.  

Guide dogs are like children, they need clear boundaries. This is why the following rules are so important.

These rules also apply to a new dog training with their handler, even when they are out of harness. If you do see us around the studio and have any questions, I’m happy to answer them, just come up and say hi.  

GUIDE DOG ETIQUETTE  

Do not pat a guide dog in harness.

This includes a guide dog in harness lying at the feet of their handler. They may look completely relaxed and even be sleeping, but will in fact be alert to any changes or signals from their handler. That dog needs to be able to jump up and go into work mode immediately, so patting will distract them. If you pat a guide dog in harness regularly, the dog will start seeking that attention, when they are supposed to be working and could injure their handler and themselves. 

Never feed a guide dog. 

Even if you go to the home of the handler and the dog is off harness and leash, you should never feed the dog. Labradors are ravenous eaters and they do not have the ability to know when they’ve had enough. So they will look at you with pleading eyes, especially if you are eating. The tendency to sit and tell the dog you are sorry that you can’t feed them, isn’t helpful. I and all other handlers beg you please, please don’t look at the dog when you are eating. It will only encourage them.

Once a dog has developed the bad habit of food distraction, it is the one habit that can’t be corrected and can result in the dog putting themselves and the handler in danger. 

Never speak to a guide dog.

This is another way that will distract the dog and put themselves and handler at risk. If you need to direct a guide dog handler, you do not direct your instructions to the dog, rather speak to the handler and they will give the dog any necessary commands.  

Never touch a dog’s harness.

If you need to guide a handler and their dog, you still offer the person your arm, and under no circumstances do you grab the harness. This will confuse and upset both dog and handler. This also includes grabbing the dog’s lead. 

I am very aware how hard it can be to follow these rules when confronted with a cute and cuddly dog. I know that my boy Roscoe was well aware of his beauty and would play on this, making eyes at people.

These rules are there for a reason and I for one will be eternally grateful if you all could follow them. 

-Sam Ogilvie

 

THE COVID BLUES

By | Art, Lifestyle

Lately, it feels like we were just getting a toehold and were starting to dig ourselves out of this deep dark hole known as COVID19, only to have the earth shift and crumble beneath us. Nobody can say for sure where we go from here and it seems that the one thing we can be sure of, is that this pandemic is far from over.

In stressful times, not everyone has a place or an activity or even a safe mental balance to help them through the darkness. And when under stress, how do we keep ourselves together and moving forward?

For me, I think the last few weeks have been harder than the isolation of lockdown. Even though I’ve had somewhere to go, things to do to occupy my hands and mind, I’ve been wandering around in a fog. Creating, but not feeling especially present in my work.

I’d come to the conclusion that it was and is my art that would get me through. That by creating I was expressing and letting go of all the unnecessary stuff. It’s only been in the last few days that I’ve realised I’ve been moving around like a zombie. There is nothing wrong with the material I’ve been producing and don’t get me wrong, it has helped. But I’ve still been walking dangerously close to the cliff edge.

It was only when I sat down to try and write this piece that I realised, I’d forgotten about my writing.

I realised that my painting or sculpting feed one part of me, but it’s through words that I can truly unscramble and reshuffle. That I can untangle the myriad of thoughts, feelings and ideas and make sense of them. And it’s only once all this is done, that I can give myself fully to my art.

If you can relate to any of this, I strongly suggest that you try sitting down and writing out how you feel. Don’t worry about it being grammatically correct. Don’t worry if at first it doesn’t make sense. Just write, down allow your hand to stop moving. Just set a certain amount of time, say ten minutes, and simply write. You’ll be surprised what you learn about yourself. You might even come up with some new creative project you hadn’t thought of before. Or even work out a solution to an artistic block.

Don’t forget your friends. It’s so important that we be there for one another. I really hope that this post has helped in some way to get you back on track after being lost for too long. I know it’s brought me home to myself, more than anything else I’ve done in a while.

Stay safe. Stay happy and keep creating in what ever form you choose.

– Sam Ogilvie

Sneak Peak into Resin Sculpture

By | Art, Lifestyle

A FEW WORDS ABOUT RESIN SCULPTURE

 

Last Sunday saw the start of a new kind of workshop at Art Mania. Last Sunday and for the coming two Sundays, we are running a resin sculpture workshop. Given my love of resin and sculpture, I thought it was the workshop for me and thus far I’ve been correct. On the first day we designed on the design, or picture. The other key word in the title of the workshop was foreshore. I’ve not put this in my title, because we weren’t limited to Newcastle’s foreshore.

My scene is rockpools and beach surrounded on three sides by water. I think of it as either a headland or part of an island.

 

LET ME WALK YOU THROUGH THE PROCESS

 

To create this first section, we were all given a small bucket of putty. This was used to make rocks, reefs and other objects wanted by each individual in their scene. I of course ran out of putty before I’d finished creating all my rockpools. Lucky for me, a fellow creator and friend didn’t need all of her putty and was happy to give it to me.

Once the rocks and reefs were established, it was time to add the sand. This was where it got messy. Although for me I’d already made a mess by choosing to dig my putty out with my hands and digging in my fingers to give texture to my rocks.

For the whole group, the sand was the messiest part. We needed to mix the sand with glue. The idea was to make it wet enough to be able to manipulate, but not so wet that it couldn’t be sculpted.

The whole process was finished in around an hour, giving everyone an early mark from the first day. We were unable to move on from this step, as the sand and putty needed at least twenty four hours to dry.

A BEAUTIFUL THING CALLED UNIQUENESS

Walking around the room after everyone had gone, looking at each piece, there wasn’t a single piece the same as someone else’s. We had all put down totally unique foundations for our pieces. This is one of the things I love about creating. Even with the same instructions and same materials, you can still be completely unique because it’s also about what you personally bring to the creating table.

We were all sent home with the instructions to gather together any little bits and pieces we want to add next Sunday. Things like shells, fish etc. I’ve been hunting out little sea creatures I can add and gathering twigs for driftwood.

We all meet again this coming Sunday and I can’t wait to see what everyone does next.

 

– Sam Ogilvie

LIFE IN LOCKDOWN: SAM’S STORY

By | Art, Lifestyle

Hi, my name is Sam. I am an artist with a visual impairment.

I have been in lockdown for what feels like forever. Unable to complete many daily activities myself, because they require setting foot out in the world. A world that I don’t recognise, other than a place of science fiction and dystopian literature.

Sam before lockdown, taking part in one of Art Mania Studio’s resin workshops.

My art is keeping me positive and sane. Thanks to Fee and Art Mania Studio, I have already received care packs full of art supplies. One of the things in my first care pack was a mannequin, the torso of a woman. For the last few Tuesdays I’ve been connecting with Ashlee, one of our fantastic new teachers, via facetime. In these sessions I’ve been working on my mannequin.

This is a torso similar to Sam’s. This one has been painted by our teacher Ashlee.

The aim of the process is to use a multitude of textures such as fabric, paper, feathers, shells, to convey what this shattered, surreal world is making me feel.

At first, what drew my focus was the simple act of getting to work with my hands. Letting my hands tell me what to place where. After all, my hands are my eyes. And trusting my hands, especially in my art, makes me very present in the moment. It doesn’t allow my brain time to question the process.

For someone prone to anxiety and panic attacks, along with a tendency toward depression, my art grounds me. Grounds me, like nothing else can in this new world of unfamiliarity.

It’s also great for me to unpack my feelings, fears, expectations through the artistic process. It makes it possible to confront and deal with any negativity before it has a chance to manifest into a bigger, more unmanageable problem.

So this has become my world. Each morning I get up, have my very necessary and important morning coffee. Once this is done and emails are checked. I turn to my art. Often listening to an audio book while I work.

I don’t know what I would do without this process to keep me on a positive path. Nor do I know what I’d do without Fee and Dana and my weekly catchup with Ashlee. I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

ART AND MUSIC WITH SAM

By | Art, Lifestyle

Let me introduce you to Sam, part of our team and also a member of Art Mania Studio’s Business Development Program.
Before we went into lockdown, we were supporting Sam at our studio in her art and personal development studies.  

Sam participated in an art session in February that combined the creative powers of paint and music.
Sam worked with art teacher Ashlee, who chose the music for the session and provides support for Sam’s visual impairment.

“It’s about being in the zone,” Ashlee explained. “Painting the movement of the music and what emotions might come up in connection to the music.”

“Painting to the music reminds me of meditation,” Sam says.
“When I’m painting, I’m not thinking about things. I’m connected to the music and I just paint what feels right.”


“Yes, it’s not about technique, or thinking about what colours to use,” Ashlee added. “It’s very freeing.”


As I watch Sam paint, I can see how she likens the process to meditation. There is mindfulness in the way she paints.
Dipping her brush in colours without hesitation, the instrumental music connects to her paintbrush to create lines and shapes.
There is an instinctive feel to this process, an emotional experience that flows from sound and the stillness of being. 


Painting is only one of the mediums Sam creates with at Art Mania Studio. She also works in clay, resin and mosaic mediums.

One of the challenges Sam faces now is how to continue her art now that she is in lockdown at home.
She is currently participating in online art sessions via Zoom, and we have invited Sam to share her thoughts with you through blog updates.

Stay tuned for some personal posts from Sam!