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mental health

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 …

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF JOURNALING

By | Art, Lifestyle

Earlier this year, Art Mania ran some workshops on journaling. They were: journaling for creativity, journaling for organisation and journaling for welbeing. They were held at the Hunter Wetlands Centre and were a huge amount of fun. They also left us all with some incredibly useful skills and tools.

These workshops were also so popular, that we started a journaling club. We meet every second Saturday at the Wallsend studio and have continued to grow in numbers.

One of Sam’s journal spreads.

Why am I telling you about this now? Firstly because we have a creative journaling workshop running soon in August.

Secondly, because journaling offers a huge benefit to our mental health.

You don’t have to be super creative. It’s a journal just for you. A place, that if you chose, you can just dump all those silly, negative thoughts that are cluttering up your head and stopping you from getting anything done. It can be a place where you just play. This is one of my favourite things to do. I have a journal that is dedicated to play and nothing else. For me, it’s about just enjoying the process and not caring about the results. It’s a great way for me to be present. To stop worrying about what’s happened that day, or what might happen tomorrow.

Thinking about ourselves in a positive way.

You can also use it as a way to keep track of things. Money, dreams, steps walked or run, hours spent doing something nice for yourself. It can be anything. This is great if you feel calmer by feeling in control. This isn’t a way of controlling as such, but it is a way of tricking your mind to think it’s in control.

A collage of things that uplift you.

Journaling is a wonderful way to keep sane. Especially important in these times. So why not give it a try? All you need is a notebook. Or if you want a nice little starter pack, Art Mania has journal packs for sale. They are a brilliant way of getting started and can give you ideas too.

So if you’re feeling off balance by the world, or you aren’t getting that creative fix you need. Try journaling. Once you start, you won’t want to stop!

-Sam Olgilvie

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!

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

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.

How journaling made me organised

By | Art, Disability
When I was a child and couldn’t find my shoes or some other possession, mum would tell me that she would not always be around to find things for me. That as a person who is blind, it was even more important that I was organised and put my things away where they belong.

Every time I can’t find my shoes, my keys (the list could go on for several pages), I hear mum’s voice in my head reminding me of the importance of being organised. My brother, who lives with me will also tell you that I am constantly buying tools, storage etc to help me be more organised. I still lose track of my keys, my purse, my damn shoes. And then, my saviour arrived at Art Mania.

Well, Bek has in fact been with us for the last twelve months, or close to it. If you haven’t met her, Bek is responsible for all of the social media Art Mania puts out to keep you all informed. She also makes it possible for you to read these posts that I write. I write a blog post, email it to Bek and she does the proofing and uploading for me.

Last year, Bek came up with the brilliant idea to run a series of workshops on journaling. The first of these workshops was held on Saturday at the Hunter Wetlands. This first one, was called Journaling for Organisation.

I just knew, if there was going to be a workshop I had to do this year, it would be this one. And I was right. By following the simple structure and methods that Bek taught us, I have been able to put everything on paper and break things down. I came up with step by step strategies that leave me feeling less out of control. I felt like I could breathe again.

What’s even better is that this Saturday, the next journaling workshop takes place at the Wetlands. And a week later is the last of the three. This second workshop is journaling for creativity. I love the idea that I will be able to get all my ideas out of my head and on paper.

I don’t know about other creative people, but personally, sometimes my brain feels so full of ideas I don’t know how to untangle them.

And hey, you get to play with stationary of all kinds. So all you stationary lovers will be in heaven.

The third workshop is Journaling for well being. One of the downsides of being a creative, is that you can so wrapped up in your creations, the simple, day to day things can slip the mind and get buried in the other incidental tasks of day to day life. I know when I am creating, I don’t look after myself as well as I could, or should. I can forget to eat, miss medication. It should be such a natural, instinctual thing to do, to take care of yourself, but this isn’t always the case.

Does any of this resonate for you? If so you really should come join us for the next two Saturdays. You will have so much fun and learn some really handy stuff for dealing with life. That way you can stop worrying about the little things and have more time for the fun stuff, like creating.

 

-Sam Ogilvie

Fear and Empowerment

By | Art, Disability, Lifestyle

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.

 

-Sam Ogilvie

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

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