Kay and I met to speak about her ‘Drawing for Wellbeing’ projects within Sheffield; I found her in the Botanical Gardens coffee shop where we were meeting. Kay had her sketchbook open and was drawing what she saw in front of her. Kay tells me that she keeps her sketch book with her at all times, for those quiet moments in which she can pause and observe her surroundings. She tells me that:

“By closely observing the things around us we can become more appreciative of them.”

coffee bar

(Coffee Bar – by Kay Aitch)

Kay’s ‘Drawing for Wellbeing’ workshops have been running for over three years in Sheffield. Kay explained to me that many people are put off drawing at school and view themselves as not being ‘creative enough’ to produce drawings and paintings of ‘worth’. However, Kay stresses to me that her ‘Drawing for Wellbeing’ workshops are about helping individuals find their own channel into creativity. Drawing for many people is the starting point that encourages someone down their own creative route. Kay believes that we are all creative – it is our rational brains that tell us that we are not.

I ask Kay why she values drawing as a creative outlet for wellbeing:

She says that the key is observation. The act of being observant helps people to find a level of mindfulness that is difficult to achieve in many of our fast-paced day to day lives. Kay also emphasises that observation helps her students in her workshops to inhabit the present. The very act of sitting quietly and focusing on their surroundings helps free up the right side of the brain, but also helps balance the logic driven part of our brains which in turn quiets the critical side of the brain:

“Finding interest in everyday things – in shape, pattern, colour and texture – seeing the world around as full of things to draw – we are less likely to be dwelling on other troublesome thoughts.”

Kay emphasises that this is particularly useful for people living with all degrees of mental illness. Kay has run several workshops on a recovery program for service users that are currently being cared for at the Michael Carlisle Centre. Kay tells me that at first many of the patients’ concentration was limited, so she started off with encouraging the service users to create patterns. This methodical pattern-making helps focus attention on something other than an individual’s thoughts, which opens the door to observation and reflective ‘in the present’ drawing. Kay then goes on to explain that she rejects the idea that some art is more valuable than other art, rather she places value on the concentration that it took to create the art. The physical time spent creating something, and concentrating on drawing is what is valuable:

“Even if the drawing doesn’t turn out as we had hoped, the observation involved makes it time well spent”

Kay wishes with her workshops to promote a non-judgemental way of viewing art, rather, art should be seen more in the sense of a diary, that can be looked back upon so the individual can view themselves but also their situation at the time of the drawing more clearly. In schools, when we are assessed on our creative input with numbers and marks, many people are convinced that they do not have ‘a creative bone in their body’. Kay, however, wishes to promote drawing and art as a soothing practice, rather than the stress inducing task.

(Hen – by Kay Aitch)

Kay not only works with hospitals, but also works in conjunction with groups such as Reflections Arts in Health who promote and run exhibitions all around Sheffield to help promote the link between drawing and wellbeing. Kay works with a wide range of people from the general public who want to learn more about drawing to Hallam University students who are training in Occupational Therapy. Kay also mentions that she is working towards Storying Workshops for medical students that encourage students to look at their own Storying identities alongside those of patients and service users. The emphasis of these workshops is to help promote an understanding that for many patients and mental health service users it can feel like they are always having to repeat the negative aspects of their story. Kay would like to see individuals repeat the positive aspects of their stories and feel that service users are people, not simply their illness. Having a creative outlet is a way of expressing these feelings in a completely unconfined way.

Kay goes on to describe to me some of the struggles that she has faced in her projects. Having been diagnosed with Autism five years ago, Kay explains to me that when she is working on the workshops she feels she needs to learn how to pace herself and personally finds it challenging sometimes to lead the workshops. Kay has been working with an American publisher on a book called Drawing Autism and will hopefully have an article coming out in April 2015 in relation to her work and Autism.

jazz player
(Jazz Player – by Kay Aitch)

When I ask Kay why ‘Drawing for Wellbeing’ is important to her?

Kay tells that its importance lies in what the workshops are able to pass onto other people and aid finding their own way though to creativity and to help develop their own interest. Kay also feels that the workshops are vitally important in helping make art and drawing more accessible. Kay views her workshops as a way in which people can be helped to develop their own ideas and ideas of how to reproduce those ideas. Kay also values the way in which workshops can develop an appreciation for art work and see often vulnerable individuals grow in confidence in their own specific artistic interest.

salt and pepper
(Salt and Pepper – by Kay Aitch)

If you would like to find out more about Kay and her workshops ‘Drawing for Wellbeing’ the links below may be of some use to you.

Kay’s Facebook page:    https://www.facebook.com/artistkayaitch

AMA Journal of Ethics (Illuminating the Art of Medicine) including art work by Kay:  http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2015/04/imhl2-1504.html#.VR62857nLYg.facebook

Interesting Article about Drawing Autism:  http://50watts.com/Drawing-Autism

Reflections Art in Health website: http://breakthroughmhart.com/