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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 …

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.

STAFF SPOTLIGHT: JHARNA

By | Art, Lifestyle

Jharna started at Art Mania in the mosaics class last year. She wanted to volunteer at the studio and from this, gain a job. Her role is floor manager and as of last week, teacher’s assistant for the Wednesday morning mosaics class.

You may not realise it, but you have probably met Jharna as she quietly goes about her work. Jharna is the kind of person that everyone needs to know.

She is always happy, always ready to offer a helping hand, and has a fantastic sense of humour.

Jharna is also one of the NDIS participants enrolled in our Business Development Support program. She is busy getting a body of work together for her first solo exhibition. Jharna mainly works with mosaics and drawing. This exhibition will be at the Hunter Wetlands Centre in September.

In her own words: “I am so happy to be working here with such amazing staff”.

She describes the studio as “a beautiful environment” and she loves all of the areas of art available at Art Mania. She “wants to try them all.”

Jharna with some of her mosaic works at an exhibition.

Jharna embodies the ethos of Art Mania. With her openness and generosity, she both wants to learn and offer support and guidance to others. We are incredibly lucky to have her as part of the Art Mania family.

Motivation tips for Winter

By | Art, Lifestyle

As we enter winter, it has to be acknowledged that with the cold seeping in, our motivation seeps out.

I am the first to admit that I would much rather spend the winter months in my bed, with the heating on and several really good books.

I thought I’d investigate whether there is any advice about staying motivated in winter. Interestingly, all of the articles that came up were about fitness and staying true to your fitness routine. I have managed to come up with a few though that I think we can relate back to Art Mania and the practice of our art. So here they are and I hope they help.

Make it a goal to just make it to the studio.

I think, a lot of the time, when we aren’t feeling motivated, it’s more to do with the getting out of bed and getting ready. The effort it takes to get ourselves to the studio or wherever else we need to be. Once you’re there however, you are generally glad you made the effort. So why not make that the goal rather than the doing of the class.

Reward yourself.

If you need a little bit more of a push, try rewarding yourself in some way. Try a series of small rewards that can build up to a big reward. For example, if I go to 3 classes in a row, I can have that dress I really liked. And let’s face it, a chance to justify going shopping … well of course that’s going to motivate most of us to accept the challenge.

Make an agreement with a friend.

Agree to take it in turns to car pool to the studio. That way you have someone to share the hard part and someone else you have made a commitment to. I think we are far more likely to turn up to something, if we are going with another person. And it might just be a perfect way to take a friendly acquaintance into a friendship.

Go for a walk.

The last thing most of us want to do in winter, is have to be out in the cold longer than we have too. But it can’t be denied, the benefits of walking and producing those happy hormones. Why not try parking a little distance away from the studio and getting in a brisk walk before class. It clears out the cobwebs and could even give you some inspiration for your creations. You just never know what you might see.

Give these tips a try and I hope to see you all at the studio. If you get a chance, let me know how useful this has been!

STAFF SPOTLIGHT: CHERYL

By | Lifestyle

To say that Cheryl’s role at Art Mania is simply admin, is a huge understatement. She is one of the rarely seen, but crucial members of the Art Mania team. It’s Cheryl who does all the fiddly stuff!

In her own words, Cheryl describes her role as: “in administration- training admin staff; back-up if front desk needs manning; creating the flyer; and overseeing the rolls and organising paperwork.”

Cheryl believes in Art Mania’s motto “this is your happy place” and believes that it is possible to see this in action for both our students and staff.

To Cheryl, Art Mania is a warm, caring and supportive place for all. Cheryl is a great example of this. She is always smiling and offering happy and genuine words to both staff and students.

Cheryl has a background in admin and enjoys making organised and efficient admin systems to help with the day to day running of organisations. We were lucky enough to gain her services when her daughter Jen first joined the Art Mania team. Cheryl had retired and was looking for some volunteer work. She decided to come work at Art Mania with her daughter. And even though Jen has moved on, Cheryl has chosen to stay on.

Until recently, Cheryl’s grand-daughter Ellie was also a regular part of the Art Mania family. She took part in our weekly kids class. Cheryl also works with her grand-daughter, helping her collect cans for cash. They have a box set up at the studio, where you can put your cans knowing that they are helping a resourceful girl to make a bit of money.

When asked how she felt about Art Mania’s ethos, she replied: “These are also my values, so I enjoy ‘walking my talk’.”

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.

STAFF SPOTLIGHT: KIM

By | Art, Lifestyle

Kim joined the Art Mania staff last year. She teachs our kids classes, including pottery for kids and teens.

How did you come to be at Art Mania Studios?

Kim “I first joined by taking a pottery class on a Saturday afternoon, and it all started from there.”

Kim is one of the bright flames that light up the weekend group. Always happy, always ready to offer a fellow student a helping hand when needed. And often laughing, as much at herself as at anything going on in the group. Kim has worked as a primary school teacher and in the foster care system. She was often working with and supporting children with special needs and this is one of her passions.

How do you see yourself fitting into Art Mania’s vision?

Kim “I consider Art Mania as a family- supporting everyone who joins the various classes. And I’m a part of that. I also bring an Indigenous perspective to our programs.”

Kim is also an indigenous woman. She brings that uniqueness into our team. This enables her to teach the children many things about her culture, making our team even more skilled and diverse.

She describes her family as one that have always supported her to do whatever she’s wanted to achieve in her life.

She is a huge fan of squirrels, despite having been chased out of a London park by a vengeful pack of them.

Kim is also into all things Disneyland.

Next time you see Kim, feel free to say hi and ask her what her favourite Disneyland character is!

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

STAFF SPOTLIGHT: SAM

By | Lifestyle

MEET OUR ART MANIA FAMILY: SAM

Welcome to our second staff spotlight! I’ve decided to get the hardest one out of the way. You may think it’s easy to write about yourself, but I find any kind of bio really hard. Part of me also finds this a little self indulgent- after all, I’m writing about myself every time I sit down to write a new post.
How did you come to be at Art Mania Studios?
Sam: “I chose to take my first class here because Art Mania had the word ‘inclusive’ on their website. I came looking for a pottery class to get me out of the house and found a family. An incredible group of people who support and encourage me.”
Samantha Ogilvie has only come to take her art seriously in the last two years. The main reason for this change, is Art Mania. Sam’s background is in writing and her role at Art Mania is to write the weekly blog posts. She has had both poems and a few short stories published in various literary journals. She has also worked in community education for Guide Dogs NSW and ACT, giving talks to schools, clubs and training bus and taxi drivers and other community services.
How do you see yourself fitting in to Art Mania’s vision?
Sam: “I see Art Mania as a place for anyone, no matter their level of ability. Students of all ages and abilities can come together and support and inspire one another.”
When not writing or creating art, Sam likes to read, go to the movies and work in the garden.
Sam: “Art Mania is one of those places that have that little bit of magic about it. A place to call home.”

Staff Spotlight: Ashlee

By | Art, Lifestyle

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.”

One of Ashlee’s artworks.

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!