Sally Swain is an artist, writer, creativity coach and art therapist living in Sydney, Australia. You can see her art work and sources of inspiration on her Facebook page. She is also a frequent blogger, about the creative process. You can subscribe to her blog at this link:
For as long as Sally can remember, she was encouraged by her parents to experiment and play with various creative mediums. It was her father, a professional writer and cartoonist, who first switched her onto the idea that it was possible to make books which included both words and images. This, she discovered at the age 7, and she never lost her curiosity about expressing herself in this way. She later released a children’s picture book called Once Upon a Picture
Although Sally was born in Sydney, she spent her eighteenth year with her parents in London, where she had the opportunity to participate in Gestalt Therapy groups. This inspired in her the idea that creativity could be used as a healing modality. She went on to do some volunteer art therapy work in a large Psychiatric Hospital in London. Although she found this quite confronting, it somehow affirmed her desire to study Psychology and Fine Arts when she returned to Australia.
In 1988 Sally published her first book Great Housewives of Art which became an instant success and international best seller. It was a humorous collection of pastiches showing the daily routines of the wives of great artists, from Mrs Magritte tidying the hat-rack to Mrs Duchamp’s attempts to rid herself of unsightly facial hair. Although comedic in nature, it also took a provocative look at the role of women and the nature of art. The one pictured below is Mrs Seurat adjusting the TV. Limited edition prints are available for sale directly from Sally.
Sally found the success of her book both wonderful and shocking, as she wasn’t expecting it. This smashing success forced her to review her own identity as an artist / writer and to confront her fear of failing to ever produce anything that great again. Facing this fear has enabled her to develop a deep empathy for people who are struggling with the conflicting feelings of – (a) fear of failure and (b) desire to open up to their creative self. Dealing with this struggle, this duality, is a complex thing, but Sally certainly has a knack for it, as I discovered when I first sought creativity coaching from her in 2007.
Weaving the strands
Sally seems to have made a wonderful plait from the interlacing strands of visual art, creative writing, creativity coaching and art therapy. By drawing upon her credentials as a psychologist, a published writer and a successful artist, Sally has woven a life of creative expression and contribution to others.
In 1993, she established her first group workshop. This was the first step toward the huge following she now has, called Art & Soul. Some 22 years later, she still runs groups and she also offers one-to-one Creativity or Creative Purpose Coaching to people who wish to open up their creative portal. She has two core creativity guidelines –
1. Breathe – if Sally notices someone is struggling with anxiety or uncertainty, she encourages them to take time out and do some deep breathing, as this relaxes the body and mind, which in turn releases the inner critic.
2. Be kind to yourself – this is the second part of the process, and Sally encourages it as much as possible, to enable her clients to find the freedom they need to create what they need to create.
She always strives to create a space in which everyone feels safe and free to express themselves. The key challenge she finds is when she runs creativity workshops for people with dementia, living in residential aged care facilities. She feels encouraged by the fact that Australian government is placing an increasing emphasis on the emotional and spiritual needs of people living in residential aged care facilities. And she is currently working in partnership with one major service provider to establish a series of creativity workshops for the carers of people with dementia.
A passionate advocate of the value of Arts in Health, Sally presented her work at an International Arts and Health Conference in Melbourne, Australia in November 2014. Her presentation, titled ‘Leaf by leaf’ discussed a group art project she had recently facilitated on behalf of a large healthcare group in Sydney.
Managing her own creative process
Given the multiple routes Sally has into the creative process, she often finds herself being inundated with ideas for creative projects which she herself would like to work on. Sometimes she finds it exhausting to be bombarded with so many ideas, and she has to accept that she can’t possibly act on all of them. Balancing her own creative expression with supporting the creative journeys of others is an ongoing work and play-in-progress. She has found, over the years that she has to prioritise and engage in good self-care. This self-care, she believes, is the key for creative people to sustain themselves and their work over the long-term. In fact, one of her ‘playshops’ is called ‘Nourish and Flourish – the Art of Self-Care’.
The Water Goddess Says: Trust the Flow
“Thank you for being you.
Thank you for being there.
Thank you for opening to the possibility of creativity.
I wish for you to trust the flow of creativity…and of life!”
This was a poem written by Sally after she’d stayed in a bush house in rural Australia. She said –
“… the water literally stopped. Gone. No water. Most unlike me, I didn’t panic. I slowed down. I filled buckets from the river. One by one, buckets of water, up and down the hill. I became aware of water. I appreciated water. I began a collage. I found the word ‘water’ appeared in one magazine 13 times. I painted. The Water Goddess emerged spontaneously. The next day, I discovered the water was there all along, in the tank. I just needed to turn on the tap more fully.”
The Water Goddess is acrylic paint and collage including very handy chocolate silver foil!