For Humble Magic, Just Add Water

A tale of art therapy in residential aged care

Swain felt marker art

Just Add Water 1
A Humble Magic
felt marker on paper towel
Sally Swain © original art

I am delighted.

I’ve just run an art therapy group in a psychogeriatric unit.

I’ve had an unusual level of support, with two whole entire art therapist helpers.

It feels like a dance. We three weave in and out of being with different aged care residents at different times, each with our own energy, skill and strength. It is an elegant Jane Austen era dance; maybe a minuet or a quadrille.

One art therapist sits

alongside a resident,

holding a eucalypt branch,

while

the resident slowly wraps wool around it.

art therapy aged care

Woolly Eucalypt Branch
art therapy in aged care

One art therapist takes turns

with a gentleman

to add crayon dots to an ocean wave,

while he tells and retells

a story of escape from a shark.

 

One art therapist encourages

an ex-seamstress

to arrange and rearrange fabric fragments.

We shift in and out of sound and silence. We pause. We listen. We swiftly seize whichever materials or processes might best help this person to find his or her unique expression in this moment. We perceive gaps and stumbles, ability and potential. We continually move into the physical and psychological spaces, to bring out the artist in everyone, wherever and however we can.

Afterwards, we return to the peaceful pink and green studio to debrief.

pink green art studio

Pink and Green Studio Corner

We explore our successes, our challenges, the qualities we brought to the art table and what we are learning. We make response art as we speak.

Ahhh.

I breathe out.

Today, the work has flowed.

We somehow found instinctive, collaborative ways to encourage people with advanced dementia to connect with art making or art materials.
We facilitated people we haven’t previously met, some who are way beyond words.
We supported their sensory, spiritual and creative health.
We helped them connect with a sense of agency or control over one small segment of the overwhelming world that clatters and beeps in and around them.

Response art. My hand reaches out for a paper towel. Paper towels are an integral part of residential aged care. Dispensers are everywhere.

Today, I go really really simple. I don’t even use watercolour. I go for texta markers on one folded strip of paper towel. What will happen if I add water? Oh my goddess! Magic blooms from the mere paper towel.

Swain art therapy aged care

Just Add Water 2
A Humble Magic
felt pen on paper towel
Sally Swain © original art

Can I go simpler still? I make marks in grey – a few colourless rain streaks. I add water to this one too and an even bigger magic occurs.

Let me say, ‘Truly officer, I only used grey’. But I add water and other colours reveal themselves – pinks and greens (just like the studio). Did you know that adding water to grey texta unleashes colours? I didn’t.

Inside the plain grey texta

lives a world of colour

just waiting to be released.

Just add water.

Swain response art

Just Add Water 3
A Humble Magic
felt pen marker on paper towel
Sally Swain © original art

The humble metaphor touches me deeply. The residents are stuck downstairs in the most ultra-locked of the locked units, trapped in their non-verbal or repetitive-memory zones, with little control over bodily functions or over anything at all. These residents, to the ordinary eye, look incapable of doing anything. They might seem to be not thinking or feeling. They might look like minimal grey streaks on the paper towel. But they contain surprise colours.

Just add water. Their colours emerge.

Swain response art

Just Add Water 4
A Humble Magic
felt pen marker on paper towel
Sally Swain © original art

Just add water?

Well… there’s a massive amount of preparation, angst, empathy, processing, bracketing, inner work, outer work, practicality, forethought, post-thought, supervision, training, experience, trial-and-error, improvisation, courage and trust that pulses behind the scenes, contributing to the seemingly effortless ‘just add water’ magic. Yet, if you bring a whole-person-centred approach, hope, respect, belief in relational creative process, plus artistic and art therapeutic expertise …. Voila!

Swain felt marker art

Just Add Water 1
A Humble Magic
felt marker on paper towel
Sally Swain © original art

It is indeed a humble magic.

with love, art and soul from Sally
PS Here’s a link to other musings on Creative Ageing

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12 thoughts on “For Humble Magic, Just Add Water

  1. Hello dear Sally so lovely to read your art page today. I am just running the art of grieving workshop at Burwood and 10 participants are activity doing their art work- their grief work. I have told them about you and your name is written all over the whiteboard. You are an inspiration to me.. love Beate

    On Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 10:44 AM, Art and Soul Space wrote:

    > Art and Soul Space posted: “A tale of art therapy in residential aged care > I am delighted. I’ve just run an art therapy group in a psychogeriatric > unit. I’ve had an unusual level of support, with two whole entire art > therapist helpers. It feels like a dance. We three w” >

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, dear Beate. We must be in sync then with the Art of Grieving and the deep, gentle work of connecting with feelings and creative expression. YOU are an inspiration to ME!!! much love to you on your kind journey

      Like

  2. what a beautiful, touching and profound story this is, Sally. freeing the souls of the most locked-in humans is a tender and essential process…..your list of the ingredients necessary–the water added–to release the magic within us all exemplifies your painstaking work….the pulsing behind the scenes, as you say, humble, yes, but vital and beautiful as well

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for sharing this incredible experience Sally. Wowsers. You added water to my eyes too because I teared up reading it, and then a rainbow streamed from my heart. What very very beautiful and important work you do. And the paper towel texta/water art is a revelation. I’m going to have to have a go! Xoxox

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How lovely this is, Sally. I am so glad that the art therapy group went so well. One day, when I am old, I hope someone will care enough to sit with me and help me wind wool, or make dots on paper. And it really is remarkable that no matter how grey the outside may be, the inner being can still release colour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Gallivanta. It IS remarkable that the inner being can still release colour, in spite of a grey exterior. It’s a lesson I learn over and over and over again. Do not assume. A person might appear to have very little going on inside. But they do. They contain riches. An extreme version is continuing to speak with someone who’s in a coma, hoping and trusting that their personhood is still responding.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ah yes. Patience. I think Trust is important too. Trust/Faith/Belief in the vibrancy within each person, even when you cannot see it. Trust/Faith/Belief in the power of engaging with creativity. Trust/Faith/Belief that you might even have something to offer, even when you feel powerless or helplessly swallowed up by difficulty.
    Does that resonate with you, Gallivanta?

    Like

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