Saturday 11th May, 2019 – 11am – 3pm at The Barn, Banchory
£45, £40 concession
This workshop with myself and fellow labyrinth facilitator Janis Wemyss, combines the wellbeing aspects of labyrinth walking with writing for the self. We will introduce you to the history of this ancient symbol which has been in use for over 4,000 years and guide you on how to walk it, enabling you to slow down and rejuvenate your sense of wellbeing.
Labyrinths are effective tools because they offer the opportunity to take time to yourself, to go inward, to meditate, reflect, problem solve or simply be.
In the second part of the workshop, I will lead you in a writing exercise where you can reflect on your experience of walking the labyrinth more deeply. The workshop will conclude with a group sharing of your writing in a non-judgemental, supportive group environment.
As this is a Writing For Wellbeing workshop no previous writing experience is necessary.
Refreshments included but please bring a packed lunch and a favourite notebook and pen to write with.
My poetry therapy supervisor, Jill Teague introduced me to this term and I think it’s the most fitting description for how I spent the second part of 2018.
I had cleared my work diary of commitments for the six months after the Flourish Project knowing I would need time to myself to deal with the aftermath of my mum’s death – both practical and emotional. I also knew that engaging in therapeutic work when I was in the most intense period of my grief would not be good for me or my group members. This is an essential part of the work I do – taking care of others means taking care of myself too.
The months between Easter and summer I spent in my own garden, tidying, pruning and reworking planting schemes. It was the easiest place to be because the garden didn’t ask anything of me and I could cry whenever I wanted. Not that I mind crying in public. I believe that tears are a source of strength so I’m never ashamed to find myself crying at the theatre or the cinema when something touches me profoundly. But crying over the loss of my mum was something I didn’t need to do in public, and in those first months I stayed close to home because the tears came frequently, with force.
During the summer I was able to spend more time with my family. Gratitude for those I still had around me became more accentuated. I needed to soak up as much as I could get. Still I cried frequently. Whilst sitting in a restaurant in Turkey, having dinner with my husband and kids, a song came over the sound system that turned on a river of yearning that took my breath away. Several people at nearby tables looked on, knowingly. And even though no words passed between us, I was grateful for their acknowledgement that this is what life is like for the bereaved. Memories burst in at any time, and they knocked me over in the early days.
I took part in NEOS (North East Open Studios) in September at the Phoenix Hall, Newton Dee in Aberdeen. Although this was my third time exhibiting as a solo artist, I was nervous. As an open studio event, the whole point is that you meet the public to talk about what you do and share your work. And previously I had loved it. Although I knew I wasn’t ready to facilitate workshops yet, I thought I would find simply talking to the public do-able. But this was for six hours a day, nine days in a row. Thankfully, I was exhibiting amongst friends, some of whom are very close to me and that was the main thing that got me through. My confidence, or perhaps my interest in talking about myself and my work, had waned. I wasn’t feeling connected to it in the same way as I had before. I had also lost my ability to concentrate on anything for any prolonged period of time. Some days were ok, some days were an absolute struggle. On a couple of occasions I had to leave my table and just be outdoors on my own. This is where good friends are gold – covering my spot and coming to get me if a visitor wanted to buy something or speak to me specifically. As a conscientious person, this ‘not being there 100%’ was hard for me. But my gut instinct told me that taking a break was far better than breaking down in front of the general public.
After that I decided not to return to therapeutic work until after the New Year. Meanwhile I had a commitment to fulfil for an exhibition at The Inverarity Gallery in Banff called Wild With Words. It was perfect for my type of artwork and although the idea for a piece came easily, the execution of the work was a different matter. I had decided to incorporate a poem into a nature-inspired papercut design. Normally I find papercutting a very therapeutic practice in its own right but my reduced concentration saw me redraw the initial design several times and restart the actual cut itself twice. Determination got me through to the end, but I’ve never had to spend so long on a piece, ever.
I had times when I worried that maybe my love for what I do, wouldn’t come back. But my mum’s advice for whenever I went to her with worries about my kids rang out, “It’s just a phase, Elaine.”
Patience has never been my strong suit. I’m instinctive, sometimes impulsive and I follow my heart. But that’s what I have been learning during this sorrowing time – that I just have to be patient with my grief. That I have to attend to it in the same way I attend to everything else in my life – with as much understanding and loving kindness as possible. That even when I desperately want something not to be the way it is, if I give it enough time, I will find a way to accept it and adjust my life and my expectations around it.
The run up to Christmas was tinged with fear and anticipation of what it was going to be like without her for the first time in 47 years; sharing the day, enjoying the feast and laughing with the rest of us. The day came and it went, and we had a nice time – but it was a relief when it was over. And yes, I cried. Copious tears. Good tears that were healing.
And then the New Year came and I was able to exhale that fear and anticipation fully. And this has brought a readiness to interact with the world again. I’m paying attention to the way the low winter sun casts patterns across my grass. I’m watching the sky paint itself spectacularly at sunset. I’m smiling at the memories instead of going straight to tears.
I have taken time to let sorrow work its way into me. And I have no doubt I am the richer for it. I’m looking forward to facilitating writing workshops again after Easter and a labyrinth walking and writing workshop at The Barn in May. After I finish this blog, I’m headed out to my studio to start on ideas for a new body of work for a solo exhibition I’ve been invited to do.
I will never stop missing my mum. I will never not feel the ache of her absence on family occasions. And I’m still going to cry often – I’m an emotional person and the depth of this loss is unfathomable still. However, writing the first part of this blog yesterday reminded me how much my work on the Flourish Project actually helped me cope with the final days of my mum’s life. And now I’m ready to take what I’ve learned about myself and the ‘sorrowing time’ out into the world of my own work again.
My last blog post was just over a year ago now and I’m long
overdue an update. So what did 2018 look like for me, and what have I been
doing since my last post?
Firstly, I was collating all the work produced during the Flourish
Project in 2017 for the purposes of an exhibition. This was held in March 2018
in the Lang Byre Gallery at The Barn. It
presented work created by the various community groups involved in the project alongside
a showcase of my own work completed over the year of my residency in The Wild
It took the full three months I had between the conclusion of the final workshops and the exhibition date to do this. (Full details of the reason why I took quite this long come in the second part of this blog post.) It was intense work but highly enjoyable. How often do we take the time to look back through a year’s work and to really appreciate all we have achieved?
The Flourish project felt like a huge turning point for me
in my career as a therapeutic writing facilitator, a writer and an artist. This was the first time I had been able to
draw on all these parts of my practice in one project.
Initially I wasn’t sure how I would be able to present the work created in all the workshops. Some, such as the visual poetry workshop were straight forward, but those that involved just writing were more difficult. Writing for the self is a private matter – it is not created with an audience in mind. And yet everyone was generous with how much of their work they were willing to share and the decision to show work as it was produced in the workshops, often in its raw form, was taken as the most appropriate way to show the beauty and quality of the work in its first, instinctive out-pouring.
Aboyne Primary had already provided artwork to go along with
their poems but we initiated a new art project for Hill of Banchory pupils to
illustrate their group poems for the exhibition.
Once the groups were sorted, I was able to look at how I would exhibit my own work. Having received funding from VACMA & Creative Scotland to develop my art practice, I had been working steadily on how to create visual treatments of the poems I wrote during the year. These took the form of artists’ books, poetry sculptures, a ‘traditional’ book of poetry and a series of poetry postcards that paired my cyanotype images of plant forms found in the garden with found poems I created using the 23 words I hung in the garden as their lexicon.
At the launch event, people were proud, excited and
emotional and I had a real sense of touching people deeply with both the intent
and the outcome of the project. It was a
very special night.
Watching as people who don’t consider themselves writers
read their poetry to an audience, seeing children’s faces light up when they
show their parents their work hanging on a gallery wall, observing people with
no personal involvement in the project become moved by something they have read
– all these experiences are what make this work so special, so important to
The over-all goal of improving people’s sense of wellbeing
was, without doubt, achieved.
And of course, my own sense of wellbeing was greatly enhanced by the fact I was given the opportunity and the support of The Barn to lead this project in the first place. It evolved through my collaboration with Learning & Engagement Officer, Linzy McAvoy. Her faith in my ability to deliver on the ideas we generated together, and the joy we both experienced working with someone who shares your passion is another reason why I treasure my time working on this project so much.
Feedback received from visitors to the exhibition included:
Great to see how the children have expressed themselves.”
“I love the whole concept of Flourish, from the notion of a
community project, to wellbeing approached from the point of view of writing,
moving and connecting.”
“A beautiful exhibition with a very calming effect through all the visual works of art and writing, inspirational!”
And so, once the exhibition was finished, and packed away, I was able to turn my attention to the other monumental event in my life in 2018 – the death of my mum. She had been diagnosed with cancer in September 2017, and alongside my almost full-time commitment to the Flourish Project I became her primary carer. Her decline was swift. I was able to keep her looked after in her own home until December 2017 at which point she moved into a nursing home. She died in early February 2018.
It’s hard to remember how I was able to juggle my determination to deliver the project Linzy and I had envisaged and my need to look after my mum. A few of the workshops I had planned were cancelled when work clashed with care-giving, but the disruption was mostly minimal. I think it was the very nature of the work that fed me enough to keep me going. In some ways I thought it was the worst timing, but having had time to reflect, I wonder if it wasn’t also a blessing that the best and the worst experiences of my life were happening at the same time.
And so, while the beginning of 2018 was filled with frenzied activity, the remainder of the year slipped into something aboriginal people call ‘the sorrowing time’.
The second part of this blog will be continued in Where Did 2018 Go? Part Two.
The third term of workshops at the Barn involved a diversity of settings and two collaborations with other artists. I also spent time during October developing my own work through masterclasses with artist, Brigid Collins in Edinburgh and a week-long residency at Cove Park near Helensburgh, where I enjoyed peace, solitude and inspiration in abundance to develop my own ideas further.
Brigid Collins Master Classes
I travelled to Edinburgh for another three classes with Brigid Collins at the beginning of October to explore the theme of book objects and artist’s books focused on poetry. The link to my previous blog about this can be found here: 2nd Set of Brigid Collins Masterclasses
Cove Park Residency
I spent a week during the October holidays at Cove Park – an artist’s residency centre nestled on a hillside overlooking Loch Long. Both this and the sessions I spent with Brigid Collins were funded by the VACMA Awards (Aberdeenshire Council and Creative Scotland) for which I am very grateful. You can read more about this in an upcoming blog article to be published soon.
Aboyne Primary School (continued)
I travelled to Aboyne Primary School for the last two workshops with two P7 classes in November. These were planned for September, but personal circumstances meant they had to be re-scheduled. We used the garden at the Primary School as our resource and found the effects on creativity the same as those I had witnessed in the Wild Garden itself. Giving the children the space and time to be outdoors does encourage deeper work and has the added bonus of relaxing them too. Writing flows more readily when they’re surrounded by what they’re writing about. I used writing exercises with them to encourage their use of the five senses when observing nature and also introduced them to mesostic or branch poetry. They then chose either a found poem they had written during their visit to the Wild Garden in September or their branch poem to write out again and illustrate for the exhibition.
This workshop involved walking my 24-foot indoor canvas labyrinth in The Barn and then writing about the experience using ‘The Five Ways To Wellbeing’ as inspiration. (Connect. Learn. Give. Be Active. Take Notice.) I began with an introduction to the labyrinth – an ancient tool over 4,000 years old which enables us to focus more profoundly on our own wellbeing. The group then walked and wrote about their experience in silence. I gave them the structure of the pantoum poem as a container for that experience and invited them to condense their writing into it as a way of sharing it with the group. The sharing this produced was found to be nourishing for all. This is a format I would like to work with more in the future, providing day long workshops where the metaphor that walking the labyrinth provides for our lives can be explored more deeply.
Visual Poetry Workshop – Collaboration with Fenneke Wolters-Sinke
This workshop was split into two parts. In the morning I led the group in how to write found poetry using old texts as source material. In the afternoon Fenneke demonstrated how to add artistic treatments on top, leaving the words of the poems exposed to create erasure poems. We both facilitated throughout, encouraging the group to trust their instincts and to play and experiment with ideas as much as possible. Although this workshop was very much about going with the flow of their ideas and letting go of the need to make something ‘good enough’ for exhibiting, their work will be included in the final exhibition. It demonstrates perfectly how letting your creativity unfold moment by moment without expectation can result in some of the most effective and satisfying work you’ll create.
Breathe: Found Words and Found Movement – Collaboration with Choreographer Mhairi Allan
This collaboration which evolved into a set of three workshops came about thanks to Linzy McAvoy, Learning and Engagement Manager at The Barn. Knowing both Mhairi and myself well, she suggested that we meet believing that our individual ways of working would compliment each other. And she was so right! Developing this final set of workshops with Mhairi has opened my eyes to a whole new field of possibility and given me the opportunity to work with someone who I find hugely inspirational. Working with Mhairi has enabled me to think more widely about how writing can be mixed with other art forms to enhance wellbeing further. And I have been deeply nourished both personally and professionally as a result.
These workshops used the 23 words I hung in the garden as source material. We spoke the words, considered where the movement of each word began in our bodies, and created a sequence of movements inspired by linking four of the words together into a movement ‘score’. Writing activities were introduced at various points in each workshop to create found poems and to explore the experience further. This combining of two different creative formats encouraged some people who enjoyed one but weren’t too sure about the other to have a go in a safe and trusted environment. The work that evolved touched both facilitators and participants deeply. The way the group were able to explore their own thoughts and feelings and interact with each other was a joy and a privilege to witness. We have recorded one of the sessions in a film for the exhibition and I look forward to being able to show a portion of the work we did together then.
The second term of the Flourish project at The Barn, Banchory involved a summer-time drop-in session, a second series of Wild Words workshops, a Renga workshop, and more visits from local primary schools.
Wild Words 2
This second set of workshops involved another group of adults learning about the technique of free writing with the added bonus of writing out-doors. I used poems by Mary Oliver and Sheenagh Pugh as well as the words hung in the Wild Garden as inspiration. Alongside free writing, I also encouraged play and experimentation using Haiku and Pantoum poetic forms. A greater sense of connection, a willingness to try new things, increased sharing and learning to slow down and enjoy time in nature were the main characteristics of these workshops. Much laughter, peace and an increased sense of wellbeing were the result. Another group poem was produced and recorded for the final exhibition.
The Renga Workshop
This was the first time I had facilitated a Renga workshop and it was an invigorating learning curve! The plan was to write a group poem outdoors over the course of four hours with an emphasis of being in the moment and observing nature. We began the day in the garden but were soon rained indoors although we all felt we had more than enough inspiration from Mother Nature to write from. Various haikus and couplets from all those present grew into a group poem in accordance with the structure laid out in this ancient form. This was a most enjoyable first experience to lead and it’s something I will do more of in the future. The poem produced will also be included in the final exhibition.
Aboyne Primary School
The first workshop with two P7 classes from Aboyne Primary School saw them visiting the Wild Garden in September. They explored the space through the medium of the word search and created found poems from the words they were able to locate. This method of poetry writing combined with the immediacy of outdoor exploration produced poems of a mature and profound nature alongside those that were fun and whimsical.
I travelled down to Edinburgh for my second set of Brigid Collins Masterclasses at the beginning of October. I had another three workshops spread over three days courtesy of the VACMA Awards – funding from Aberdeenshire Council and Creative Scotland. These built on the previous three masterclasses I had with Brigid in May (see previous blog post of May 31st, 2017).
This set of classes combined studio time with two field trips: one to the library at the Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and another to visit artist and publisher Julie Johnstone who creates artists’ books and installations. You can find out more about Julie and her own imprint, Essence Press at: www.essencepress.co.uk
During the first day Brigid introduced me to another two book forms – the tunnel book and the star book – providing a wealth of examples and practical instructions on how to construct these forms.
mock up of a tunnel book
Our second day began with a visit to the Library at the ECA where I saw more examples of these alongside a further selection of artist’s books with a particular emphasis on poetry. Getting to spend time with such a wide body of work was invaluable as it expanded my perception of just what an artist’s book is and what it potentially could be. This hands-on interaction also led to a fuller consideration of the weight, texture and colour of paper and card to use than I might otherwise have had.
We then visited Julie Johnstone who gave us a highly detailed insight into how she creates her artists’ books and installations from the equipment used to the paper she prefers. She talked us through a large body of her work and generously answered all our questions. I was particularly struck by the less-is-more approach Julie employs in her work. Wisdom whispers from her pages providing an invitation towards reflection which I deeply appreciate. I was enchanted and awe-inspired by her creations and her openness towards sharing her years of experience with us.
The final day was spent back in the studio developing my ideas further. In particular, solving the problem of how to create rigidity in my ‘blue print book’ made from tracing paper. Brigid’s suggestions led to a very effective solution and I was able to complete my first artist’s book for the Flourish project within our final session. That felt like a very fitting finale for our time together.
Spending this time one-to-one with Brigid has been everything I had hoped it would be, and more. I always anticipated getting something valuable from the experience, but I didn’t understand the myriad ways it would expand my practice and enrich my growth as a creative. Alongside Brigid’s wealth of experience and knowledge, she also shared the joy of those ‘a-ha’ moments when you find something vital to the successful outcome of a piece. Essentially, I also found something vital to my own practice too – a generous teacher and a place of acceptance and nurture. This whole adventure has expanded my field of vision as to what is possible for me and I am excited to continue on with what I’ve learnt to produce more visual poems and artist’s books inspired by the Flourish project.
In addition to this experience something else wonder-full came out of my time with Brigid – a collaborative piece of work between the two of us. During the first set of sessions, Brigid read some of the found poems I had written in the Wild Garden which I had brought with me as inspiration. She was particularly struck by one of them and asked my permission to create some work of her own in response to it. I was humbled and delighted to oblige.
And this is what she created – a series of porcelain furls in response to my lines:
unfurl your knowing
Furls by Brigid Collins
Furls by Brigid Collins
Furls by Brigid Collins
Furl by Brigid Collins
porcelain furls – by Brigid Collins
These formed part of her exhibition, “Such frail enclaves” held in September in Dr. Neil’s Garden in Duddingston, Edinburgh – yet another wonderful garden space. Details of this exhibition and Brigid’s work can be found at: http://www.brigidcollins.co.uk/articles_350314.html
The first term of Flourish began when two classes from Hill Of Banchory primary school visited me in May. I worked with them once a week for four weeks using the garden as inspiration. They had time to explore (charging around a wild garden does wonders for the imagination!) and wrote about what they found, paying particular attention to what they could see, hear, smell and touch. They also used the words I have hung around the garden to create found poems and completed seed sentences about the elements, and the plants growing in the garden. This writing culminated in the creation of two group poems – one from each class which they read out in the garden and I recorded for the project’s archive.
Introduction to Words For Wellbeing at Number One, 10th May
During the first week I also facilitated an introductory Words For Wellbeing workshop at Number One in Scott Skinner’s Square – a new community hub for Banchory and the surrounding area. This was held as part of the Aberdeenshire Wellbeing Festival.
Feedback from one of the participants:
“Enjoyed it very much as someone ‘new’ to creative writing. Manageable and supportive.”
Garden Party, 13th May
Over a hundred people came to the garden party held at the end of the first week. All were invited to go on a word search to find over eighty words hidden around. These took the form of acrylic words hung in trees, scrabble words attached to or hidden in other objects, multi-coloured words cut from foam and words hand-painted onto stones. Words were hidden on the ground, mid-height and just above head height – I wanted people to have to look up, down, and all around them to find the words and to take in the full wonder of the garden itself.
Everyone was invited to then write a poem with their found words and contribute it to the Flourish book. A wonderful variety of poems were written in, including some art work – a very fitting launch for the project as a whole.
PechaKucha Health and Wellbeing Event at The Belmont Cinema, 18th May
Linzy McAvoy, Learning and Education Officer at The Barn, and I were invited to present at this event run by the Arts and Health Network, Scotland. The evening was a celebration of the role of creativity in health and wellbeing emphasising the positive impact of the arts on humanity.
A PechaKucha presentation requires you to talk about 20 slides for 20 seconds each. This results in a fast-paced, visually driven presentation lasting a total of 6 minutes 40 seconds. It turned out to be a little nerve-wracking, 20 seconds was shorter than I thought, but ultimately a satisfying experience of detailing the conception of the Flourish project, its launch and our plans for its year-long run.
Wild Words, Throughout June
The Wild Words group ran for four weeks during June. We spent roughly half our time writing and sharing words in the garden with the other half in the Lang Byre when the weather became inhospitable. The group camaraderie grew quickly and this enabled a safe, trusting environment for people to express their writing voice and have it heard. The main focus was free writing and how this enables us to look at and understand our thoughts and feelings better. However, we also used the twenty-three words as inspiration for found poems and played with Haiku and Pantoum forms. We wrote a group poem together which has been recorded and will be shared on Sound Cloud in the near future.
Labyrinth Walk at Banchory River Festival, 10th June
Janis Wemyss, my fellow labyrinth facilitator, and I took the morning to lay a 42-foot classical labyrinth out of 200 feet of rope in Bellfield Park as part of this local festival. It was then open for walking, running, skipping and dancing for the afternoon. There were more opportunities to try out found poetry techniques and a further invitation to contribute poems to the Flourish book.
The garden continues to bloom and I am now on holiday during the kid’s school break. The twenty-three words remain in the garden and the found poetry writing prompt can be picked up from The Barn’s office or downloaded from the website to be used at anytime using this link: