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Motes of my Mother


Motes of my Mother.

By David Milligan-Croft.

As I popped open the lid of the cylinder, 

A faint cloud of ash escaped from within. 

Motes of my mother floated in the morning sun. 

Drifting off into the atmosphere to settle who knows where.

Perhaps somewhere sunny, like Tahiti, she’d like that.

Or maybe just the bookshelf.

As I spooned some of her ashes into a small ceramic jar – 

A keepsake for my daughter – 

I felt the sudden urge to sneeze.

I froze momentarily, unsure whether to deposit her remains

Back into the large urn, or continue with my task,

And risk dropping some of her in the sink.

Or, worse still, blowing her onto the window.

I twisted my face to my shoulder

In order to stifle the impending sneeze

And lessen any resulting tremors.

It was while I was looking down

Into the larger urn that I wondered just how much

Of this ash was actually my mother. If, in fact,

Any of it was. How would I know if we had someone else’s ashes?

Would the remnants of her dna still cling to these dusty particles?

And, how much of the ash is human, and how much is coffin?

Do they take the brass fittings off first? Whose job is that?

If I dig deep enough, will I find a piece of shoe, or tooth, or bone?

So many questions.

Then I thought of my mother rolling her eyes and laughing 

And saying, “Silly bugger.” Or something like that.

Then the urge to sneeze disappeared.

And I carefully continued spooning the ashes 

Into the ceramic pot and gently closed the lid.

She’ll be safer with my daughter, I thought.

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The 10th Muse


There were nine muses in ancient Greek mythology. Daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, they were the divine inspiration behind human artistic and scientific endeavour. Calliope is probably the most well known, she is the muse responsible for inspiring heroic/epic poetry. Erato is the inspiration behind love poetry.

Because I love art, a couple of years ago, I promised myself I would do some form of art every day. Whether it be a few lines of poetry or prose, a sketch, doodle or a painting – or even taking a photograph. I think I do two types of art – conscious and unconscious.

When I consciously do something, I think about what it is I want to paint, how I want to paint it, materials, medium, etc. And I have an image in my mind’s eye about what I want to achieve. Invariably, I am slightly disappointed with the finished piece because it never lives up to the ambition of my imagination. The enjoyment was in doing it in the first place.

The second type is my unconscious art. I pick up whatever is at hand and just express myself without thinking about it. Whether it be in words or brushstrokes. I tend to get more satisfaction out of this kind of work because I don’t have any preconceived standard I was hoping to meet in my mind.

And it is this work that I sometimes question whether it is actually ‘me’ who is doing it. Or, rather my unconscious connection to the rest of the energy of the universe that my own sub-atomic particles are inextricably linked with. My Divine Muses, if you like. I am merely a conduit to put the marks on paper, canvas, or pizza box lid. (My muses do like a lot of pizza.)

Yeah, I’m aware that all sounds a bit pretentious and hippy-trippy, but you can’t escape the fact that our subconscious selves have an awful lot to say if you only let them speak.

Anyhoo, here’s what the muses wanted me to say recently…

Frida Kahlo inspired by the novel “The Lacuna” by Barbara Kingsolver.
Inspired by The Gorillaz and the war in the Ukraine.
‘Noodle’, inspired by the Gorillaz and Euterpe.
‘Peppa loves jumping in bloody puddles,’ inspired by a recent court case in Russia over copyright.
Inspired by patients at Stepping Hill Hospital where I work.
Ditto for this one.
And this one.
Inspired by the Divine Proportion, or Golden Ratio.
Inspired by Ourania.
Inspired by Melpomene.
Inspired by Polymnia.

I am very passionate about the act of ‘doing’ art being the most important aspect of it, rather than the end result. I see the benefits of this in patients with mental illness all the time. Yes, it can be insightful, but it doesn’t have to be. It can just be mindful, cathartic, meditative, expressive. And most importantly, you don’t have to be good at art to do it – it’s about the process, not the result.

Because, when you open yourself up and let the muses in – be they divine, subconscious, or Earthly, that’s when you really feel the joy of doing art.

Oh, and the 10th Muse?

For me, it’s the Golden Ratio.

More on her another time.

I don’t think there is a muse of epic tidying.

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Reflections of Lockdown


There’s an exhibition going on at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery where I have a few pieces being exhibited. Nine, to be precise.

The exhibition is called ‘Stockport Together Again’ and was curated by Arc and Stockport Council to showcase the creativity of Stopfordians during lockdown.

The exhibition was opened on September 25th by Arc’s Artistic Director, Jacqui Wood and Stockport’s Lord Mayor, Adrian Nottingham. And runs until the 14th November. So, you still have a couple of weeks to get down and see it if you’re in our neck of the galaxy.

Whilst I have selfishly only included my own work in this post what really came across strongly about the work on show, was how bright, colourful and optimistic it was. Which was slightly surprising given the theme of the exhibition.

Each piece is 12″ x 12″ and done on the inside of a pizza box lid. (I ran out of canvas during lockdown.) Fortunately, I had elasticated pants for my expanding waistline. The frames are 16″ x 16″. They are done mainly in acrylic with some elements of soft pastel and collage.

The significance of the dates on this last one is they are the date my mother was born and the day that she died earlier this year. I think about her every day. The flower petals in the paint are from the arrangement on her coffin.

Anyway, these nine portraits represent some of the art I produced every day during lockdown.

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The Runes of Scars


Well, hello there.

It’s been a while.

Just thought I’d share a few haiku with the class.

Languid river flows

past weeping willows and pink

cherry blossom trees.

_________________________

Vapour trails scratch the

deep, blue sky – a pair of larks

glide without a trace.

_________________________

Was it a petal

or a butterfly, caught on

a summer zephyr?

_________________________

Then, there’s this…

I tried to flesh it out into a haiku. But the more words I added, the less powerful they became. So, I’ll leave it alone.

Suffering is written in the runes of scars.

__________________________

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Blackout poetry – as mindfulness.


What Blackout Poetry actually is, versus what I think it is, could be two completely different things. I could Google a definition of it, but I can’t be arsed.

My interpretation of Blackout Poetry is where you take an original piece of text, then ‘black out’ the majority of the text to create a new piece of text. Kind of like what Mi6 does to official government documents.

I reckon folks got a bit bored of doing this after a while, so they started adding colour and doodling around the highlighted text to add a bit of spice to it.

As you’ve probably noticed by now, the original source material for my Blackout Poetry is a Harry Potter novel by J.K. Rowling. Now, before J.K. fans become apoplectic with rage for desecrating one of her sacred tomes, in my defence, the edition I had was damaged beyond use. (I.E. Some of the pages were waterlogged and were illegible.) Plus we had another copy.

As we all know, books are only meant to be read. Unless it’s a colouring book. In which case, you can, well… colour it in. Or a sketchbook. You can’t really read that either. Or a photography book… Look, the point is, I don’t advocate destroying perfectly readable books for the sake of art. Unless, of course, it was written by Piers Morgan.

The text you leave highlighted – or legible, doesn’t have to make sense if you don’t want it to. The point of this exercise is to practise a bit of mindfulness.

Just pull out a few words that speak to you then doodle around them. You can use felt tips, pencil crayons, watercolours, pastels, collage, acrylics, whatever you like.

You can do abstract shapes, geometric patterns or something more illustrative and representative.

Bit of a cheat this one, as I haven’t really highlighted any text, just used it as a background.

Obviously, actually composing a compelling piece of blackout poetry out of existing text can be quite challenging, but that’s not really the purpose of this exercise. This is to lose yourself in the act of creating something new and different out of something that already exists. A creative springboard if you like.

The original text doesn’t have to be from a book either. You can use a newspaper or magazine. Or your granny’s will. Whatever’s handy.

I’ve done this mindulness exercise with patients at the hospital, adult art groups and children alike.

And remember, don’t worry about the end result, it’s the act of doing that’s important. Losing yourself in the process is the objective.

Now get out there and start ripping up your mam’s latest thriller.

(Top tip: start from the back.)

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Don’t think, just do.


You’d be forgiven for thinking that the headline would be better suited to a sergeant major bellowing out orders to a squad of pertrified 17-year-olds before marching into a hail of enemy machinegun fire.

Thankfully, it’s not a post about being an automaton, but unleashing your creative unconscious.

It was the theme for a little art session I did at the hospital last week.

I do go on a bit about enjoying the process of making art rather than worrying about the end result of what you produce. This is one of those activities.

First of all, we made blank A6 booklets out of photocopy paper that I liberated from the nurses’ office.

Next, we opened the book to the centre spread and drew around our non dominant hand. We wrote a word in each finger. The first word that sprang to mind when I said these five words: A colour, a shape, a place, an object and an emotion.

Then we left that there. We’d come back to it later.

I had lots of bits of paper: wallpaper, gift wrapping, tissue, text, brochures, off cuts of painted pieces, old marbling samples, etc.

I asked participants to tear pieces of paper up randomly and stick them down with a glue stick. Don’t think about trying to make it represent anything – just do it and move on to the next page. Put down as much or as little as you like.

When you’ve finished, go back to the first page and look at it. Turn it around. Look at it from different angles. See if it suggests anything to you. It might, it might not. Embellish the images with felt tips (or paint). It may represent something, or it might be something abstract or graphic.

I’m a great believer in letting your unconscious have fun. In the same way that you don’t tell your heart to beat or your lungs to breathe, don’t tell your hands what shape to tear or what marks to make. Let your unconscious do it. Let’s face it, it’s done pretty well so far. If you’re going to trust it with running your organs I reckon it’ll be okay with a bit of gluing and sticking.

It doesn’t have to be all about images. If words spring to mind, write them down. Write a poem or a piece of prose.

If nothing comes to mind, just doodle.

Pareidolia is the term used to describe when we see images in things that aren’t really there. (Such as bunnies in clouds or a face on the moon.)

Try writing a Positive Log. Like it says, a Positive Log is not a ‘To Do’ list. A ‘To do’ list is something you put pressure on yourself to accomplish in order for you to feel that you have had a productive day. A Positive Log is a list of things that you have achieved that day.

If you suffer from a mental illness even doing the most basic things, like brushing your teeth or having a shower, can take a great deal of effort. So congratulate yourself for it. And take heart that you’re on the road to recovery. Before you know it, you’ll have built up enough strength and energy to start making ‘To Do’ lists.

Right then, remember the hand that you drew around at the beginning? Well, while you were busy gluing and sticking, your unconscious was juggling those words around. So, using the words as inspiration, I asked participants to write a paragraph using all five words. They didn’t have to be in the order they wrote them down.

There you are, a fun little activity to wile away an hour or two.

So, go and liberate some paper from the shackles of bureaucratic servitude from whence it is imprisoned in the copier tray and send it forth to the elysium fields of creativity.

Nurse! He’s out of bed again.

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My triannual quarterly review…


… or something like that.

I had meant to do a quarterly review of what I’ve been up to on the art front so far this year, but being a tad lackadaisical, it’s now become triannual instead.

That said, there’s absolutely no guarantee whatsoever that I’ll do another one in four months time. So, this could be a biannual triannual quarterly review. Or, an annual biannual … you get the picture.

Speaking of pictures … here are just a few paintings, collages and drawings I’ve done thus far in 2021.

I usually post my stuff more frequently on Instagram if you’d like to keep up to date and follow me on there @milligancroft

Hope you’ve enjoyed looking at some of my work.

The joy of making art is in the process of doing it rather than the end result. You just get lost in the moment of creating.

I wholeheartedly recommend it. Particularly for those struggling with mental health issues. But obviously, you’d don’t need to be mad as a box of frogs. You can just enjoy it for its own sake.

Remember, kids, Art is Medicine.

(And can be quite addictive.)

P.S. Why is it ‘mad as a box of frogs’ and not ‘mad as a box of cats’, or something?

I can’t imagine frogs being that unhappy in a box. They’d probably quite like the darkness.

A box of cats though, put enough of them in there and all hell would break loose. There’d be claws and fur everywhere.

Does it even have to be a box?

Couldn’t it be, ‘mad as a bag of wombats’?

Food for thought.

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Nothing rhymes with orange.


“Turtle rhymes with purple,” I said to my daughter, as we drove around the winding roads of the High Peak.

“So?” my daughter replied.

“They say, ‘nothing rhymes with purple’.”

“You’re wrong,” she said flatly.

“I-am-not-wrong!” I replied indignantly.

“It’s orange.”

“What is?”

“It’s, ‘nothing rhymes with orange’,” she said, gazing wistfully out of the window.

“Oh.”

Challenge accepted.

NOTHING RHYMES WITH ORANGE

By David Milligan-Croft

I feel a twinge…

Does that rhyme with orange?

The thought makes me cringe.

That nothing rhymes with orange.

That girl’s fringe is orange.

It’s a lunatic-orange-fringe.

Her name is Georgina.

She’s drinking a bottle of Orangina.

I once used a syringe,

To extract the juice from an orange.

I saw a sunset go down over Stonehenge.

I think you know what colour it was.

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Japan tsunami – in memoriam


It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the cataclysmic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11th 2011 claiming the lives of 18,500 people.

Here are some incredible before and after shots capturing the devastation and the rebuilding that’s gone on in the past decade.

At the time, all I could do was write a poem as I, like billions around the globe, bore witness to the calamitous event unfolding before us.

I felt impotent. I tried to sell prints of my poem for $1 online to raise funds, to no avail.

I wished I was something useful like a doctor or a nurse, or a rescue worker that could do something practical to help.

Then I thought of all the creative people I had encountered during my long career as an art director in the advertising industry and I asked them for help. The response was phenomenal. I got donations of works of art from all over the world to be put into an auction to raise money for the Red Cross who were working on the ground over there.

Less than a month later, we held the Japan Art Auction at Jonathan Oakes photography studio in Manchester, hosted by The Smiths drummer Mike Joyce. It was an incredible success and, thanks to a great many people, we raised quite a few grand.

A lot has changed in 10 years. As you can see by the photos in The Guardian link above.

Things have changed for me too. I am now a Nursing Assistant at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport.

And, whilst my poem did not raise a single dollar, it did inspire Austrian composer Albors Pascal Askari to write this hauntingly beautiful piece of music. All the proceeds from which also went to the Japan relief effort.

And, unbeknownst to me, my poem was on the English curriculum at several schools in London for a couple of years.

Who says poetry can’t make a difference?

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My back garden.


These shots were taken up at Errwood Reservoir in the Goyt Valley.

It was dusk and a mist had descended over the hills. It was eerily calm, quiet and beautiful.

Followers of my Instagram account would be forgiven for thinking that I live in some sort of moorland idyll judging by the photos I post. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I live in a mediocre suburb of Stockport in north west England. However, I am extremely fortunate to have the aforementioned idyll on my doorstep within a half-hour drive. And even luckier to have a car to get me there.

Many of us yearn for foreign climes, but I have discovered so many beautiful places close to where I live.

When I say ‘I discovered’, I think someone else might’ve been there before me. Judging by the roads. And the reservoir. And signposts. And farm buildings.

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