What keeps me awake

I promised the Big Art Heart Reveal last week.

I promised to explain the abundance of hearts leaping out of my paintbrush.

watercolour heart art

Unusually Zen Heart
and white pen

My Dad taught me to always keep a promise, so here’s the story behind the hearts…

I’ve been working on a surprise group artwork for the excellent visionary manager in the aged care place where I offer art therapy. She is leaving. After twelve years. Boo hoo. And Wow.

What better farewell gift to offer her

than an artwork

made according to the Leaf-by-Leaf model?

An artwork composed of gorgeous morsels made by residents, relatives and staff … and coordinated by me.

art heart gift

piece by piece
pen by pen
heart by heart

{Tell me if you’d like to know more about the Leaf-by-Leaf model, which I developed in my first year in this job. Essentially it’s a way to honour both individual expression and the whole community at the same time.}

So I dreamed up a group artwork to be made of many miniature hearts. I cut umpteen of them from crimson card. I made up several art kits of hearts, plus gold and bronze pens to distribute amongst the nursing units. I invited staff, elders and their families to decorate a heart for our manager.

I worked side-by-side with frail elderly folk who embellished hearts, dot-by-dot, squiggle-by-squiggle.

heart art aged care

Dotty heart morsels

Hearts drawn and gathered, I faced the next challenge.

How to bring it all together

to form a gorgeous, cohesive whole entity while honouring

each and every individual mark?

This is the Big Question that faces me every time I don my crazy-bold art-knight garb and set off on a co-creation adventure.

It keeps me awake at night.

It ignites my passion, while criss-crossing fresh worry lines around my eyes.

heart art aged care

Heart Array


to find a place for every piece, every blob, every hopeful, heartful mark

that has been made

in the direction of creative aliveness.

What to do when one piece stands out as significantly different from all the others? Do you risk upsetting the entire design? What do you do when you try assembling the whole picture and it just doesn’t sit right? Are these questions of ethical design? How to accommodate and value difference? How to celebrate uniqueness within an overarching context?

Do these questions even make sense?

art arrange gift

The moment of discovering the delight of a textured background via accidental scrumpled brown paper placement

Then there’s the question of presenting a large uncommissioned artwork to someone. What if they don’t like it? It’s not an easy gift to shrug off and disappear behind a cupboard.

I am, finally, pleased with the result.

therapeutic community art

Heartwork Mandala
Sally Swain with residents, staff and family of an aged care facility

So, it seems, is the recipient.

Farewell, fine manager. You have touched many hearts.

May you continue

to make your unique mark on the world, within a circle of support and interconnection.


11 thoughts on “What keeps me awake

  1. Gorgeous; an absolute treasure. Do tell us more about the Leaf-by-Leaf model. I am imagining that, as with the leaves on the tree, each leaf ( and they are not always perfect) has its own place and contributes to the beauty of the whole. 🙂

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