Sometimes you’ve just gotta

go to your Happy Place.

Pink and Green
Ode to a Tree
Sally Swain art

Do not pass Go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.
Get out of the house, your worrybrain, your care duties and connect with nature.

Once there, you don’t know what you might do.

Turns out, Late Middle-Aged to Early-Old Crazy Art Lady lurks in a small soft corner of your soul. Out she comes! No shame, that one. No self-consciousness. She will direct you.

So you

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Exquisite Level of Care

How are you

at balancing

other-care with self-care?

Is it a bit of a challenge?

A lot of a challenge?

A Dementia Australia counsellor told me that I offer an ‘exquisite level of care’.

I breathed in the fine compliment. I breathed out a delicately complex response, including a watercolour-plus-collage artwork – a paintage.

I’m showing you the pretty bits and leaving out the grisly ones. Ah yes well. Sometimes it’s a grisly process, this caring palaver.

Exquisite Level of Care
art fragment
Sally Swain

Here’s the question of the day (or year or lifetime):

How might we apply

an Exquisite Level of Care

to ourselves!?

Last weekend I led ‘Nourish and Flourish – the Art of Self-Care’. It was my first Art and Soul playshop in a while. Why? Because I’ve been caught up in eldercare.

Nourish and Flourish was delicious.

Nourish and Flourish
the Art of Self-Care
playshop participants
making heartfelt, gorgeous, authentic art

Nourish and Flourish
the Art of Self-Care
playshop participants
making heartfelt, gorgeous, authentic art

What sorts of things happened in the playshop?

I invited participants to consider…if their care for OTHERS had a colour, shape, texture, sound, title … for this moment … what might it be?

If their SELF care for this moment had a colour, shape, texture, sound, title, how would that look and feel?

Participants wrote or made art in response to this contemplation.

What else?

They each chose a miniature from the sandplay collection to represent their ally or companion on the journey.

We heard different individual self-care strategies. We pooled them. They range from dancing to reading with a cat on your lap; surfing to spending time with friends; saying No to having a massage.

Nourish and Flourish
the Art of Self-Care
a playshop participant
making heartfelt, gorgeous, authentic art

Nourish and Flourish
the Art of Self-Care
a playshop participant
making heartfelt, gorgeous, authentic art

We did a walking sensory awareness meditation. We sipped tea. We ate chocolate. Or healthy stuff, as the case may be.

The dear participants

each made art, art and more art.

They found ways to nourish themselves

in the process of making art about self-care. 

It was a treat for me to host these splendid Art and Soulies; exploring, playing, being authentic, expressing joys and difficulties, beautifully showing kindness and insight as they offered positive feedback to one another.

Nourish and Flourish
the Art of Self-Care
a playshop participant
making heartfelt, gorgeous, authentic art

Nourish and Flourish
the Art of Self-Care
a playshop participant
making heartfelt, gorgeous, authentic art

Gratitude. I feel gratitude.


I do believe the next Art and Soul offering

is probably Saturday 13th July.

Most likely it’ll be

the annual ‘Creative Flame’ playshop.

Maybe see you there.

with love, art and soul

from Sally

Exquisite Level of Care
art fragment
Sally Swain

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

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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

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Gnome Sweet Gnome?

or Gnome Bittersweet Gnome?

Confession One:

I do like a fairy garden.

There. I came out and said it. Does that make me twee? Not just any fairy garden. It has to be tongue-in-cheek, ideally with social meanings, a political message, or just a plain crazy-offbeat combination of miniatures.

Gnomes are OK, as long as you’re aware of their inborn kitschness.

gnome fairy art

Unlikely friends

Confession Two:

I easily tune into brokenness these days.

Loss, dying and dementia wrap around my personal and professional spheres. I notice and respond to the sorrows of those around me. I guess I have a negativity bias. Do you?

They say it’s commonly human to focus in on the one negative thing in an armful, a roomful, a lifestyle-full of health, love and glitter. Yeah, well, didn’t the Buddha say, ‘Life is suffering’? And that it helps to be with it, look at it, breathe it in; not always run away, or always crave something better.

hope optimism broken gnome

Even if I’ve lost my hat, I welcome you

But hey – the purpose of this blog is to cultivate creativity, and creativity isn’t just made of neat, fully-formed fairy wings. Creativity acknowledges the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ (thank you, Billy Shakespeare). It fashions the mottled, the battered, the forgotten into something new and possibly sparkly.

Gnome Home in the ‘Hood

I chance upon a Gnome Home in my neighbourhood. I don’t care what anyone says….

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Sustenance

Trees and people. And art.

I see

a small painting right there on the last wall of the Modern Masters from the Hermitage exhibition. It’s Odilon Redon’s Woman Asleep Beneath a Tree. The colours are vivid-heart-blue and blood-song-red. The texture is knobbly, gritty.

Odilon Redon art

Woman Asleep Beneath a Tree    Odilon Redon

The blurb says Redon believed trees

‘encapsulated the essence of eternal nature and formed an axis

linking the terrestrial and celestial realms’.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Trees. Ahhh. Large trees. Ahhh.

Bridging earth and sky,

pouring out oxygen,

providing home,

quietly dancing their interconnected lives

for all to see.

I am ignited to consider images of humans in relation to trees. Sure, I’ve spontaneously painted Sally-style trees quite often. Yet, there’s something evocative, memory-sparking, dream-lifting, fairytale-diving, about a picture of a human adult or child making contact with a tree in some way.

Oh, of course. There was my recent-ish post – 
Lost and Found in the Forest.

Sally Swain art painting collatge

Lost and Found in the Forest
Sally Swain © art

Trees and people. And art.

Then I recall my Resting in Abundance Tree. This bejewelled painting on calico was inspired – would you believe – by a Psychodrama Conference session on ancestors. During an ancestor meditation my imagination oddly leapt straight back to a big old tree, bypassing centuries of great and great-great relatives.

Since creating that work, when I remember, I attempt to conjure the bliss of leaning back into the voluminous, solid trunk of a large mother tree.

Swain art tree

Resting in Abundance Tree
Sally Swain © art

Trees and people. And art.

Some months ago, I stayed in an aesthetically displeasing cabin in the mountains. The one charming element was the broad beech tree overhanging the balcony. I gazed up into its intimate branches and swept into floods of tears at the cascading cognitive loss of a family member.

I painted a wee picture: Deep Grief Beech Tree. The cushion she sits on becomes the Blue Mountains. The sheltering branches become an eye.

What do you see?

grief tree art Swain

Deep Grief Beech Tree
Sally Swain © art

Trees and people. And art.

My niece is twelve.

She has just made the transition from primary to high school. That transition so many of us made in unguided horror in the old days, is well supported by her new school. On holiday from Melbourne, she climbed a massive fig tree – the type of tree some Sydneysiders take for granted. I love this photo. I might just have to do a painting of it.

tree climb photo

Poised
Niece in Tree

Trees and people. And art.

Marion Alexandre is a beautiful artist I found on Facebook. She does a lot of people-and-tree pictures. Let’s see – here’s a link: Marion Alexandre images.

Trees and people. And art.

Recently I chanced upon a library book:

In Their Branches – Stories from ABC RN’s Trees Project.

Gretchen Miller, editor, says, ‘In 2013, ABC RN asked its audience for stories of the trees they loved and the trees they had lost – and as director and curator of the project I was astonished by the volume of correspondence, and deeply moved by the unique nature of the very personal stories told.’ The book is a selection of the written snapshots sent in by the radio audience.

Trees and people. And art.

More people-and-tree artworks are clearly required.

Do you have a favourite piece

of art or writing that celebrates

a human-tree relationship?

Or, even more personally:

do you have a story of a tree

that matters to you?

Or, even more artfully:

have you created an artwork

including trees and people?

Odilon Redon art

Woman Asleep Beneath a Tree

with love, art and soul from Sally

Not One Leaf is Perfect

Polka-dot gum leaves?

I’ve never before noticed them. I haven’t been paying attention. 

leaves photo dots

Perfect Imperfection 1

I walk up the hill to the enchanted forest on my friend’s property. The knotted rope of my bodymind begins to untangle after a hectic time.

leaf art breathing

Perfect Imperfection 2

A personalised mantra for the day emerges: My main job is to relax.

I am momentarily freed from responsibilities of elder-care, both in my personal world and in my art therapy professional world.

leaf nature's art

Perfect Imperfection 3

I relearn how to breathe.

That is, I remind myself, it is safe to slow down and sigh. The world will not collapse because I’ve given myself permission to fully inhale and exhale. Geez. I must have been stressed.

I walk up the hill. One bright yellow leaf stands out from the dark soil. It’s spotted. Kind of splotched, like a painting. Polka-dot gum leaves? I’ve never before noticed them. Could the dots be caused by disease? Are they a natural part of the ageing process? I am so ignorant about biology – about most ologies, really.

heart leaf art

Perfect Imperfection 4
this one is even heart-shaped. divine.

The spots are unevenly, imperfectly placed. I find this beautiful. Don’t wise people talk about the perfection of imperfection? Well, here it is.

More polka-dot leaves appear.

I gather them.

I have a creative impulse. I will arrange these leaves somehow. Squiggly patterned and bi-coloured leaves join the flock.

art leaf shape

Perfect Imperfection 5

Not one of the leaves is perfect.

They are scarred, torn, lop-sided. They are breaking down, beginning their ground-based decomposition after living the high life.

I place them. I experiment. Leaf by leaf, dot by dot, they come together in new formations.

art rock leaf pattern

Perfect Imperfection 6

I celebrate each leaf,

severally and collectively.

Even old leaves can form new patterns. Even dying leaves, separated from their prime source of vitality and community, can express life.

art leaf Swain photo

Perfect Imperfection 7

This is the nature of nature, of living-and-dying cycles, of art therapy in residential aged care.

leaf art rock nature Swain

Perfect Imperfection 8

Is it any wonder the book I am working on is called ‘Leaf by Leaf’?

Tell me your stories

about the perfection of imperfection.

with love, art and soul from Sally

Lost and Found in the Forest

Sally Swain art painting collatge

Lost and Found in the Forest
Sally Swain © art

Welcome to 2019

I wish you a sense of foundness

at this moment of early January,

when some folk can feel lost in the wilds

of New Year, loneliness

or out-of-routineness.

Let me tell you a story straight from the Creative Love Exchange.

(Creative Love Exchange description here)

Some years ago I went to a Playback Theatre retreat in the Blue Mountains. I stayed in a little ex-train carriage in the bush. I couldn’t sleep. This is not unusual for me and my restless, anxious night-mind. I rose up, out of bed and walked away across the earth. It was a very not-city scene. There were trees and trees and crackly gum leaves underfoot. Careful, Sally, careful to not get lost wandering off the beaten track in the middle of the night.

The thing is, I felt completely safe. The moon was full. I didn’t walk far into the thicket of things, yet was wrapped in beauty; surrounded by a cathedral of moon and tree. I returned to bed and slept.

The next morning I saw a sign.

Caution: Do Not Walk in the Bush at Night. Do Not Stray from the Track.

Timid, urban, physically unadventurous me had done both those things, yet I felt safe.

I created a picture: Lost and Found in the Forest.

And…lo. Thirteen years later, an art therapy friend asks to purchase this painting for her sister who is turning sixty. At first I am unsure whether this work is for sale. Then I say Yes. I embrace the loop of giving and receiving.

You experience something. You receive the benefits of making art from the experience. Astoundingly, someone else would like to give you something in order to receive the medicines of the art you’ve created. There is an exchange of heart, of art, of goods, of services. It’s win win win.

In this case, several sisters club together to buy Lost and Found in the Forest. Apparently the girl in the picture resembles the twelve year old version of the birthday woman. I wait. The gift is presented. She loves it.

Lost and Found in the Forest.

Sally Swain art painting collatge

Lost and Found in the Forest
Sally Swain © art

Do you have any stories of the Creative Love Exchange?

Of being in the flow of giving and receiving via creative expression?

with love, art and soul from Sally

Easin’ the Season

red gold fabric flower art

Sumptuous             Sally Swain © art

How to name this time of year?

The season is Festive or a Holiday for some, but not for others. Do you say Happy Christmas to those in deep grief? Do you falalala about prickly green and red plants and ruddy-nosed caribou?

(Indeed I do. I find myself hosting Arty Hearty Parties in an aged care facility, singing and strumming ukulele. Anything to bring a smile to a sorrowful face.)

How to communicate swift positive wishes to all, sundry, those who are traumatised; those who give no hoots?

Swain painting

Using up the Leftover Paint
acrylic on calico
Sally Swain

It can be a

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What grows in the garden of you?

What would you like to cultivate?

What would you like to prune or weed?

(Let’s have a jacaranda-coloured post, in keeping with the season)

small art trees Swain

The Seven Trees of Us
Sally Swain © art
very mixed media on a small strip of paper

I ting a Tibetan bowl and lead a guided contemplation for the six women participating in the Art Garden playshop.

We sit with four elements that potentially nourish the self-garden.

Soil

What’s your ground? What helps

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