Soft Sweet Rain and the

Net of Connectedness

Calm bubbles of Art Therapy First Aid

Dear Reader,

will you hang in there with me while I tell you nodes of story? Even I don’t know how the nodes connect; but connect they do and some of them are sparkly.

It rains soft, sweet rain.

Not scary harsh uproot-the-tree crash-the-power-pole flood-the-town rain, but soft, sweet rain. Not scary harsh laceratingly dry fire-cooker pyrocumulus air, but soft, sweet rain. Not choking smoke to fill your lungs, eyes and heart with poison. Just soft, sweet rain.

I attend Carla van Laar’s Art Therapy First Aid training, designed to resource Arts Therapists to assist in bushfire recovery.

Art Therapy First Aid
Mandala

We make a mandala to honour losses and griefs.

We bring healing, nurturing wishes to the mandala.

Art Therapy First Aid mandala of recovery

We explore the five core elements of Psychological First Aid: 

Safety, Calm, Connectedness, Self (or Group) Efficacy, Hope

And we conduct our explorations in collaborative, creative ways.

We work in small groups as if we are offering creative expressive stations at a community recovery and support event. My group of three is assigned Connectedness.

We organically, spontaneously, swiftly find ourselves creating a net.

We use thread, twine, wool, buttons, sparkly-bobbles. Our process is experiential, in-the-moment, relational, embodied, hands-on, alive, collaborative.

Connectedness
threading together our own little version of Indra’s net (well – the outcome doesn’t look as absolutely immersively engaging as the process was)

Indra’s net comes to mind. Indra’s net weaves itself from Hindu and Buddhist tradition into a bejewelled symbol of the interconnected universe.

Participants from other creative first aid stations join us.

We welcome them.

We sit, knot, tie, crochet, plait, yarn, remember, laugh, cry, exclaim,

make new and old connections.

The net that forms amongst us, between us, threads to, from and around time and place and across the universe.

Art therapy first aid
Connectedness
(OK. the background fabric doesn’t do it justice)

We speak of the world in a grain of sand,

of micro and macro worlds.

One woman talks of braiding her young daughter’s hair being an intimate, bonding experience. Another recalls her European grandmother who taught her to crochet. Someone teaches me to finger-knit. Someone else makes a little nest of eggs to attach to the net. I hold the end of strands of wool while someone makes a multi-coloured plait. I speak of my friend in Alaska braiding pink seaweed.

Stories come forth. Help is at hand.

wool thread twine sparkle plait knot weave

It’s a simple act,

this sitting together and making, even while we are expressing complexity.

We collaborate. We say yes to suggestions. Together, we make art with no rules; no right or wrong. Simply divine play with a purpose.

I am reminded of Art Heart Action – my initiative to bring together Arts Therapists to offer a recovery event to people affected by the 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires. We too had a range of creative expressive stations for people to experience at their own pace, in their own way. Those fires were devastating for so many. We didn’t quite know how exponentially awful it would become in the Australia-wide furnace grounds of this recent summer.

More Calm Bubbles. What do you see? Maybe figures emerging?

I wish soft, sweet rain of care and love to all those fire-scourged folk all around. And animals, the poor animals. And plants. The trees that are able to regenerate and the trees that aren’t.

I think of the What is Collaboration? event coming up in April that I’m part of co-creating. It’s hosted by Anthropocene Transition Network. It is to include a Warm Data Lab and a reflective, life-affirming response from my Out of the Box Playback troupe.

All these ideas, stories, threads, people, possibilities – interwoven.

Meanwhile, at this very moment, my colleague and Leaf-by-Leaf team member Clemency Doyle, is running an Art and Wellbeing program for the fire-impacted communities of Eurobodalla shire.

Bubbles of watery calm

Meanwhile, I daily attempt to bring soft, sweet rain to the fires of distress that rage in the mind and heart of my primary care recipient.

Art Therapy First Aid
Mandala

Annie Kia writes in ‘Linkmore’, her allegory about the town of Lismore,

But all the long while, amongst the hard stuff and the good, a tissue grew between them, a warp of purpose, a weft of connection. It grew between them, invisible, threaded through the districts, woven everywhere, looped between their houses and their families……

And even now, on full moon nights, up on the hill behind the hospital, if you looked with a sidewise kind of look, you could see the silvery threads, the warp and weft, the tissue of connectedness still there threaded through Linkmore, shimmering.

….. The warp of purpose, and weft of connectivity. 

Because the tissue that prevents harm will heal us from catastrophe.

Please feel free to respond to any of this Soft, Sweet Rain post.

Write in the comments box below if you wish. Let’s stay connected.

with love, art and soul

from Sally

No smoke without feathers

Art Helps

If you can see a red-brown feather, it’s Climate Heart Art by Sally Swain. 

Climate Heart Art
Sally Swain

I buy a cushion from Vinnies.

It’s feathery, velvety, russet, very fake. Turns out that it moults – not an endearing feature. Still, I rather love it. Fragments of dyed red-brown fluff stick to the cream couch. They make themselves right at home, camouflaged, on the patterned rug, while those feathers that remain attached to the cushion riffle in the machine-made breeze of ceiling fan-plus-air-purifier in the confined indoor world of this smokey Sydney summer.

I like the riffling.

It’s a substitute

for the old-fashioned,

pre-scorched-summer activity of

going for a walk in the actual air,

enjoying leaves on trees

rustling in the breeze.

Climate Heart Art
in emergence

Beyond my little lounge room? Beyond Sydney’s inner west?

It’s been the summer of No-Return.

Fires fires, devastating fires have eaten trees, flowers, fungi, lizards, koalas, echidnas, wombats, kangaroos, birds, dogs, cats, people, paper, iron, brick, mortar, memories, homes, townships, livelihoods, lives. Once you’ve seen a photo of five burned platypus corpses on a rock, you can’t un-see it.

And that’s just me – a delicate, milksop city-slicker artist and art therapist who hasn’t had to stare a fire-nado in its deathly face.

Climate Heart Art
in emergence

Russet feathers float off the cushion. They jemmy their way into creases and crevices. For some unknown reason, I start to collect them.

I pile feathers into a miniature plastic garbage bin,

these small fluffy pieces of escaped bird, artificially coloured

in a strange new hot-house blend

of human-induced environment

and nature as we knew it.

November 12th 2019 was the first-ever declared Catastrophic fire danger day in Sydney. Hell – they only just invented a category stronger than Very High, Severe and Extreme and we got to apply it, in the Big (ahem) Smoke, even before summer properly started.

Climate Heart Art
fly, little bird

Through summer

I feel the need to soothe myself and others.

I try to paint only blues and greens; calm and watery colours.

Soothe, soothe, breathe, soothe.

For weeks, I can’t bring myself to wear any of my many red or orange clothes. My movement impro group dances for rain.

The climate cushion keeps moulting. The fires keep burning.

I am obliged to name my grief, fear, rage.

I am compelled

to dedicate my creative practice

to alleviating the suffering

of living beings

impacted by fire

and other climate crises.

I consciously begin making Climate Heart Art. Turns out I’d been doing it unconsciously for a while, with odd, hybrid survival creatures appearing. I coin the term ‘inter-elemental’ for my frogs of the air and fish of the earth.

Climate Heart Art
fragments from a magazine

 

Climate Heart Art
what will the frog become?

The feathers find their way into my art.

This is the art of emergence, of listening for respite and the possibility of new life.

The russet feathers.

Each feather, though oh-so fluffy and innocent, looks like fire. Each feather placed in a painting conjures the ever-present hot, demonically dry fire-scape that manufactures mass extinctions and catastrophic trauma.

Climate emergency? We’re in it. No matter how small the painting or the lounge room; no matter what fear you try to shut out; what peace you try to seal in, the feathers of fire are here, inside the frame.

Climate Heart Art
hybrid creature
Sally Swain

Have I pushed you away, dear reader, with the pulse of negativity; the pelt of despair? Where is that Sally joyfulness? Oh, it’s there. Lightness too, lives in the life of the feather, the watercolour, the chance to express and to support others ongoingly in their authentic expression.

And how are you going in this time?

 

I am facilitating an Art and Soul Climate Circle on 22nd February in Sydney. Kindness, respect, connection, realness.

I am delighted to offer you a safe space to be, to breathe, to gather and create from your art’s heart.

Would you like to come along?

Climate Heart Art
Sally Swain

Here are some links for your emotional/creative support, knowledge and validation:

Climate Psychology Alliance podcasts

Psychology for a Safe Climate

Mindfully Facing Climate Change

FireFeels blog

Artists and Climate Change

with love, Art and Soul

from Sally

What got you through?

FoRest

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

What helped you rest and recharge in 2019?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

What sustained you, even through difficult times?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

What elements of sustenance would you like to carry with you into 2020?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest

I created a participatory community installation.

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

Here’s the blurb that went on the wall next to the artwork.

FoRest

was conceived, created and coordinated by Sally Swain

with the Older Women’s Network and

Newtown Wellness Centre community.

Fallen branches were gradually gathered from Kangaroo Valley, Nielsen Park, Annandale and Forest Lodge.

 

They were assembled into the FoRest sculpture during the 2019 bushfire emergency, when swathes of forest – plants and animals –

were lost around Australia.

 

Participants were invited to consider what helps bring them rest or sustenance, then to express this on leaf shapes

to attach to the branches.

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

Let’s together

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

build

creative community

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

to sustain ourselves,

each other and the earth.

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

FoRest participatory community artwork
Sally Swain
with Older Women’s Network/ Newtown Wellness Centre
What got you through the year?

So….what got YOU through?

What might continue to sustain you?

with love, art and soul

from Sally

PS In the vein

of sustain

of Sally Swain
Art and Soul Space

will not race

to post

the most.
At least until June, I intend to shift posting from fortnightly to the first Friday of each month. Reluctantly, I say au revoir until Friday 7th February. I look forward to hanging out with you again then.
If you wish to stay in the Arty Soulful loop, there’s always

the Art and Soul e-newsletter (just contact me to subscribe) or

Sally Swain Art on Facebook.

How do you convert pain to gain?

How do you transform rottenness to hope?
Dispirited dillusionment to forward-looking possibility?

Why, through relational art-making.

Golden Fish Friends Find Healing and Repair
Sally Swain art

I admit. Relational art-making, or art-making all on your ownsome, is no panacea. It’s not for everyone, or for all the time. And it doesn’t always succeed in its mission of enhancing wellbeing.

But it’s a damn good tool and resource, literally at our fingertips,

that can help

with easing difficulty

and re-orienting us to a sense of OKness.

I get together with an art therapist friend/colleague to talk about possible collaborations.
But first, we need to debrief difficulties. We’ve both been in situations where we felt disrespected and we’ve both been ill as a result.

I tear up – no, not cry – though I’ve done my weepy share of that. I tear up pieces of paper. I rip a pre-painted greenish collage magazine page, a pinky-mauve sponged page and some vivid green tissue.

deliciously satisfying torn paper edges

I tear ’em up, slap ’em down. It’s a gentle kind of slap. I am aware of the torn, fragmented, broken edges butting up against each other.

Words that appear?

Continue reading

Wild Pink Flower

Houses Tiny Worlds

Can you paint grumpiness into joy?

Wild Pink Flower Houses Tiny Little Worlds

The microscopic transformations

of making one small picture

ripple through the pages of personhood,

radiating ever outwards.

Grumpy. Tired. Hyper-vigilant.

Stray shreds of tissue. Let’s make a beautiful flower with spiral centre. 

Oh no! It’s a grumpy tired spider flower.

Bright. Too bright.

Spiky. Too spiky.

Art doesn’t lie.

Can’t let the world see me like this.

Too Bright. Too Spiky.
Art Doesn’t Lie.

Paint over, paint over.

Paint pink, white, gold.

Vigorous. Begin to feel better, calmer. Practise the art of upliftment.

But it’s pretty. Too pretty. Sweet. Too sweet.

Pretty It Up

During creative community pod gathering, add pre-painted magazine page.

Viscous, white on shiny, black paper.

Define, strengthen, re-introduce the truth.

Bring substance and depth.

Friend says, ‘I can see tiny little worlds behind the petals’.

Bring in the black and white. The spine. The substance.

Later. Black fine-liner. Scribble, scrawl with restless, artful purpose.

Red oil crayon. Swirl firm spiral centre. Scrape side across the raised dry tissue texture. Feel the old skin and know what’s beneath.

Voila.

Rough and smooth.

Concealed and revealed.

Authentic layers of life.

Joy.

Wild Pink Flower Houses Tiny Little Worlds

(Here’s another Tiny Worlds post.)

with love, art and soul from Sally

Disencumbering and Strange Divinations

Does this capture creativity for you?

bird moon art therapy

Night Flying Work
Sally Swain © original art

I reckon the following quote from Salley Vickers’ ‘Mr Golightly’s Holiday’ is a great galumphing grandulous ode to the joy and depth of therapeutic creativity.

Anyone who has ever felt exquisitely transported by an act of creativity, please read. Art therapists or would-be art therapists, please read. Those who aspire to paint, write, moosh clay or sing rhythms for self-care, nourishment or release, please read. If you are up for a poetic description of the healing, transformative power of art-making, please read.

Are you ready?

bird boat art watercolour

Bird and Boat
Sally Swain © original art
teeny watercolour in journal

She,

in her nightdress, stood at her easel in the garden, painting birds in the flowing, dappling light. In her mind, they flew upward … ever onward and upward, into unimagined stratospheres, where time and space dissolved into the limitless aether beyond.

 

She had thrown down the burden and now the birds lifted her, out of the little doom of irrelevance, the awful terror, the state of huddle which had cramped and hurt her. Never had she felt so clear, so free of polluting distractions.

bird paint collage

Blue Bird O’Clock
play-in-progress3
Sally Swain © original art

As she painted, she found that whatever jarred she could at once paint out – and this too, this editing process, this disencumbering, peaceable eliding, which she did without thought but without regret either – it was remarkable how it seemed to be cutting the strings which had entangled and bound her, loosed her free to be whatever it was she was to be.

 

With no sense of where she was going, or what was proper to this enterprise, she followed her inclination, which was, mostly, to remove and excise, to take out.

Passionwing acrylic painting grief art

Passionwing
Sally Swain © original art

Yes, she was softly rubbing things out as she stood there, her needs, her desperations, her inclinations, all were disappearing – till she was left, footless and featureless, bodiless, almost, with only the strange divinations of the birds to speak for her.

 

The ancient soothsayers looked to birds for auguries – the birds upon the wing were the flexion of her soul.

From ‘Mr Golightly’s Holiday’ by Salley Vickers

bird painting Swain

Smiling Bird
Sally Swain © original art
fragment on calico

A friend brought a book along to a café, opened it up at page 219 and read the entire quote out loud. She knew it would lure and captivate me. I wasn’t even sure of the meanings of fancy words such as ‘eliding’ or ‘flexion’, but hell, it sounded good, right and true.

watercolour woman wings

Wing-ear woman
Sally Swain © original art
little watercolour painting from art journal, created while listening on the phone

And you?

{I really must figure out how to ongoingly link this blog to my Art and Soul e-newsletter. Sometimes I am stumped by the most basic tecchy stuff. Here’s an invitation to Creative Flame and Fortune on Saturday 13th July. It’d be a delight to see you there. Bookings essential.}

with love, art and soul
from Sally

bird art Swain

A Random Sally Heartbird

Tiny New Worlds

Caregiver Art

tiny world art Swain

Tiny New Worlds
Sally Swain © art

Where did we leave off? 

rock pool sand scribble

Scribble Life

At the lap lap sound of the sea. At the miniature plein air studio, making miniature self-soothing art. Where we parted two weeks ago was in the place where art, nature and self-care meet. (see Art and Emotional Labour)

plein air studio

plein air studio

Since then,

I have supported a close elderly relative

to move to a deeper level of aged care,

into a tiny new world.

 

I easily love a tiny new world, when

Continue reading

Art of Self-Care

en plein air…

I begin to unfurl.

art collage watercolour healing

Dendritia Saliosa 6
Sally Swain art

My duty-brain has been knotted with nervy caregiver logistics.

Sleep? Huh. A thing of the past.

Dementia tangles and plaques its way into my daily surrounds, both in my personal and professional life.

Are you a caregiver for an elderly relative? How does this sit in your soulscape?

‘Emotional labour’ is a term coined by Arlie Hochschild in her book ‘The Managed Heart’. I love those words. Emotional labour. Managed Heart. They speak to me.

Original definition:

Emotional labor is the process of managing feelings and expressions to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job. More specifically, workers are expected to regulate their emotions during interactions with customers, co-workers and superiors.

I feel my way into expanded meanings of emotional labour. Could it be all the invisible inner work of trying to make it OK for someone else?

There’s the smiling, soothing, smoothing over, placating, reassuring, drawing forth strength, glossing over, smiling, facilitating sticky interactions, anticipating, planning, being one step ahead at any moment, smiling, refining, suppressing your own natural needs, mopping up messes and much much more. And smiling. Do you relate to this at all?

I find respite in a sweet place by the sea.

I hear the sounds of two beaches.

Lap lap. Swoosh swoosh.

Sally Swain art

Dendritia Saliosa  beginnings
play-in-progress
Sally Swain art

An outdoor studio amongst the trees.

Birdsong. Treats for the senses.

art heart flower Swain

Dendritia Saliosa 
play-in-progress
Sally Swain art

Will it be a flower?

Swain art watercolour flower

Dendritia Saliosa 
play-in-progress
Sally Swain art

With

Continue reading

Night Trees, Sea Breeze

‘We hold you’, say the trees.

art trees cicada wing grief

Night Trees, Sea Breeze
Sally Swain © art

I return to a beachside place of the heart. It’s been a while. The cabins that I used to stay in, to the north of the village, are demolished, erased. The whole camping ground is gone. It’s as if it never existed. I weep salty tears by the salty sea.

I walk and weep; walk and weep.

Other, more current griefs surface and spill. The long, slow, gritty grief of caring for elderly folk, in both my personal and professional life, unexpectedly surges forth. The bittersaltysweet release of tears is required regularly, it seems.

rockpool texture art photo

sea creatures create squiggles

I am able

Continue reading

with a little bit of bloomin’ art

It’s Mental Health Month here in Oz.

Wednesday was Mental Health Day.

Just as well, says Sally, as I was feeling super-stressed and I had the opportunity to attend Qi Gong class while watching the rain lollop down the window pane. That helped.

Art helps.

Writing helps.

Creative expression helps to alleviate stress big-time.

And small-time. That is, even if you have only a small rainy window pane to express your pain, or simply play with colour, it helps.

collaborative art children

A collaborative three-way art-play from last school holidays

You might remember Aunty Art Café. It’s one of the occasions I’ve shared with you school holiday art-making experiences with my niece. Fun.

Aunty Art Cafe

watercolour art co-creation

Upside Down Waterscape

This school holiday, my niece, sister and I had one hour. Just a little bit of bloomin’ art-making time. (please excuse the My Fair Lady song reference. Do you know ‘With a Little Bit of Bloomin’ Luck’ from another era?)

One hour. What shall we do?

Continue reading