Tag Archives: Arc

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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Reflections on Lockdown Summary


The purpose of this, and my previous five posts, was to see if the type of art I have been producing during lockdown is markedly different from the work I was doing last year when I was suffering from poor mental health.

The first point to consider is the reason for my improved mental health in the first place. This was primarily, (but not exclusively), due to me giving up alcohol. I am 413 days abstinent at the time of writing. And I have never felt better. Both physically and mentally.

Don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly become an anti-alcohol evangelist. Alcohol, like lots of things, is great if you use it properly. I didn’t. I misused it. I used it to self-medicate. To anaesthetise my perceived problems. The worse things got, the more I drank. The more I drank, the worse things got. In hindsight, it’s not difficult to see the trajectory of this coping strategy.

Now that I have given up drinking alcohol my mental health has soared. The first thing I noticed was my motivation to do things. (Which was sadly missing for the previous eight years or so.)

As a result of improved motivation, the second thing I noticed was just how prolific I was being!

But just because someone is producing a great quantity of work doesn’t mean that any of it is of great quality.

This goes back to the original question about the correlation of the type of art I am producing now versus last year. Yes, it has changed quite significantly. Has it improved? Well that is debatable and extremely subjective.

There is a lot of energy, emotion and raw power in some of the work I produced last year. You can see it here on Adieu 2019. But I am far happier producing the work I am today.

One of the questions I have wrestled with is not ‘is the art better?’, but ‘why am I doing it in the first place?’ The simple answer is – because I love it!

Since volunteering at Arc, I have learnt that the emphasis is on the act of doing rather than the end result. For me, creating art is about losing one’s self (or finding it) in the experience of manifesting something that didn’t previously exist. Being present. It is meditative, it’s cathartic, it’s therapeutic. Sure, it’s great if what you are producing turns out to be a masterpiece, but that isn’t the point of it. Also, I’d like to emphasise the ‘for me’ part. As I’m sure professional artists have a very different point of view to this. I am not trying to make a statement, merely channeling what I perceive to be my unconscious.

So, to summarise the summary:

Has my art changed since last year? Absolutely.

Has my productivity improved since last year? Ditto.

Has my mental health improved since last year? Immeasurably.

But, as previously mentioned, that is down to several factors: giving up alcohol, CBT, medication, art therapy and an amazing support network of health professionals, friends and family. Unlike the name of this blog, there has been lots of cavalry to the rescue.

And the most important question on your lips, I’m sure – what’s the significance of the illustrated symbols?

Well, they’re prophetic messages from an ancient alien civilisation dictated to me through my dreams.

Only kidding, I was just doodling.

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental health issues, call your GP or self refer to your local mental health team, (usually based at your local hospital).

If things are a bit more urgent than that you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Or call the NHS on 111, they will treat your illness as seriously as they do any other.

If you want to see more of my photos and artwork follow me on Instagram: @milligancroft

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Reflections on Lockdown #5!


I’m going to finish off this series with a look at some abstract paintings I’ve produced during lockdown. Remember, the point of this series is to show if art has had a positive or negative effect on both my mental health and the type of art I’ve been producing this year.

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that last year was quite a tumultuous one for me (and my loved ones) on the mental health front. And this was most definitely reflected in the type of art I was producing at the time. You can see it here: Adieu 2019.

In previous ‘reflections on lockdown‘ we’ve looked at portraits, landscapes and photography. Today, I’m going to look at abstract art. Lucky you.

I used to struggle with abstract art. I didn’t ‘get’ it.

It was only when I began volunteering at Arc that I saw how expressive a medium it is. Not to be bound by the constraints of realism or representation. To be able to express form through colour, shape and texture. The marks you leave behind can convey emotions and energy that are often difficult in representative art.

One of the reasons I love making abstract art is because I don’t feel like it’s ‘me’ that’s doing it. When I am doing a sketch of a face or a landscape, I have to concentrate very hard to capture a likeness of what I am trying to represent. When I do abstract art, I let go… I stop being so uptight. I let the colours merge and intermingle to become the painting they wanted to be. Sometimes, when I look at how the colours interfuse and coalesce, they remind me of distant nebula.

I am neither conscious nor concentrating. It is as though that ‘thing‘ we are all connected to – Mother Earth, the Universe, the unconscious, the Cosmos, God(dess), call it what you will, is flowing through me onto the page or canvas.

I don’t know what you’ll make of that last paragraph. I’m not sure I know what to make of it!

Except that, I can thoroughly recommend giving abstract expressionism a go. It’s very liberating. It’s also extremely calming and meditative.

Have a look at the works of Kandinsky, Miro, Mondrian, Rothko, Pollock and Krasner to see the vastly differing styles of abstract art. There might be something there to inspire you.

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If you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental health issues, call your GP or self refer to your local mental health team, (usually based at your local hospital).

If things are a bit more urgent than that you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Or call the NHS on 111, they will treat your illness as seriously as they do any other.

If you want to see more of my photos and artwork follow me on Instagram: @milligancroft

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Reflections on Lockdown #4


When will it end!? I hear you crow.

I did warn you that I’ve had a very busy lockdown on the art front.

Today’s offering is landscapes, which segues nicely from Reflections on Lockdown #3.

I like drawing landscapes. There’s something very relaxing about it. Painting them, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish.

Sketching is more about observation and trying to depict a representation of the landscape. Whereas, painting is more about trying to capture the energy of nature. (With varying degrees of success.)

Here’s a selection for you to ponder.

Yorkshire Dales
Yorkshire Dales
A village in Italy. (From a photo.)
Jenkin Chapel, Saltersford, Cheshire.
Top Withins, Haworth/Stanbury, West Yorkshire.
Yorkshire Dales.
Yorkshire Dales.
Yorkshire Dales.
Yorkshire Dales.
Yorkshire Dales.

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental health issues, call your GP or self refer to your local mental health team, (usually based at your local hospital).

If things are a bit more urgent than that you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Or call the NHS on 111, they will treat your illness as seriously as they do any other.

If you want to see more of my photos and artwork follow me on Instagram: @milligancroft

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Reflections on Lockdown #2


At the end of last year, I wrote a post featuring some of the work I had produced during 2019.

I was trying to map my mental health and how that might correlate with the type of art I was producing. (You can see it here – Adieu 2019.)

I was hoping to follow that on this year to see if the art I am producing now is any different due to my much improved mental health.

To be honest, it’s a bit difficult to tell just from this post alone as it only represents a fraction of a whole series of artworks I have produced since the beginning of the year, primarily during lockdown. (See also previous post, ‘Reflections on Lockdown’ here.)

I am planning three further ‘Reflections on Lockdown’ posts, which will then give a clearer picture as to the correlation between art and my mental health.

I guess the reason for all this preamble is that if we just looked at this post in isolation, you would be forgiven for thinking that my mental health has not improved at all! As a lot of this work has its roots in a style I developed over the past couple of years when I wasn’t very well mentally.

I have stuck with it, and developed it, not because I am unhappy, but because I like it! I find it very expressive.

Like I say, we can have a look at the bigger picture once I’ve posted everything I’ve been working on this year.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this instalment of ‘Reflections of Lockdown’.

Follow me on Instagram: @milligancroft

Odysseus SOLD
Hector
Darius I
Corona – tion
After The Son of Man SOLD
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Tethys SOLD

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental health issues, call your GP or self refer to your local mental health team, (usually based at your local hospital).

If things are a bit more urgent than that you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. Or call the NHS on 111, they will treat your illness as seriously as they do any other.

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Reflections on Lockdown #1


Howdy doody folks,

How’ve you all been doing under lockdown?

I’ve been doing lots of art.

Mainly sketching, painting with acrylics and photography.

Today, I thought I’d focus on portrait sketching. Most of it is in pencil, some chalk pastel and a little bit of charcoal.

You might even spot the odd bit of Amazon packaging for canvas when I ran out of paper.

Reference wise, some of them are life drawings, a lot from photographs and a few from other people’s paintings.

Apart from it being good practice, it’s also very good for your mental health. And, let’s face it, we all need to look after our noodles. Especially when Barack Obama stares at you like that all day.

I’ll post a few of my acrylic portraits at some stage. They’re a bit more experimental. With the emphasis on ‘mental’.

Follow me on Instagram: @milligancroft

Remember folks: Art is Medicine!

Toodle-pip.

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Making art out of art


I love marbling with the kids.

If you’ve ever done it before you’ll know that you can get some really cosmic patterns. You’ll also know that you’ve probably got more leftover samples of the stuff than you can shake a big shaky thing at.

So … what to do with all those cosmic castoffs … I know, let’s make a collage.

Start by cutting out shapes from your marbling masterpiece that you want to use in your composition and glue them onto a piece of paper.

Next, sketch in the rest of the composition. Add a bit of a felt tip outline.

I filled in the background with chalk pastel, but you could easily use felt tip, watercolour paint, pencil crayon or coloured paper.

And there you have it – you’ve made art out of art.

There is one other thing…

And, it’s probably the best bit. But I didn’t realise that until it was too late. Instead of cutting the shapes out of your marbling sample willy-nilly like I did, cut them out in the same position that you’re going to stick them on your paper. That way, when you position them next to each other you get a sort of positive/negative effect.

Hindsight? Serendipity? Whatever.

If you haven’t done marbling before you can use off-cuts of old patterned wallpaper, pictures from magazines or gift wrap paper. Or even paint an abstract background and use that.

It’s one more thing to do until the schools reopen in September!

If you want loads more of art activities to do you can sign up to Arc’s free ‘Keeping us together‘ programme. They email you a different art activity every week. (Arc is a brilliant Arts charity based in Stockport.)

And remember, folks – Art is Medicine*!

*Do not swallow art like medicine. It might kill you.

**I am not a trained physician.

***’Art is medicine’ is only my opinion and not a scientific fact.

****Or, is it?

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Adieu 2019.


Well, it’s been an eventful year, to say the least.

I’ve been doing a lot more visual arts this year, so I thought I’d do a month-by-month, blow-by-blow, pictorial representation of my year. (Lucky you.)

Actually, the reason behind it is to see if/how the images/moods have changed over the course of the year. And how that might correlate to my mental health.

As some of you know, I volunteer for an arts charity called Arc, (Arts for Recovery in the Community), which works with people with mental health issues. I am an ardent advocate of the arts as a medium to treat mental health, and wellbeing in general.

Many years ago, I visted the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and you could see the gradual decline in his mental health through his work.

Whilst I’m no Van Gogh, I am trying to see if there are any similar patterns to my own work.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

And before I forget; Have a Happy New Year and an absolutely spectacular 2020.

JANUARY

Oh dear… that’s not a good start.

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FEBRUARY

That’s a bit more positive. Birthday trip to Haworth, West Yorkshire, (home of the Brontes’), with my daughters.

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MARCH

Pros: Part of an Arc exhibition. Cons: Became homeless.

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APRIL

Ee, it’s grim up north. Charcoal sketch of an L.S. Lowry.

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MAY

“Are you sure you’re all right?”

Rehomed.

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JUNE

Think I can see a pattern emerging.

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JULY

Rehab.

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AUGUST

I guess a lot of things are obvious in hindsight.

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SEPTEMBER

The road to recovery.

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OCTOBER

Signs of improvement.

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NOVEMBER

Apart from my volunteer work at Arc, I started facilitating a Creative Writing Workshop at The Wellspring homeless charity in Stockport.

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There are always reminders.

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DECEMBER

A change of outlook.

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As you can see, it’s been a tumultuous year.

I feel very fortunate to be able to experience the last day of it. That would not have been possible were it not for the actions of my dear friend, Siobhan Costigan, over in Australia. Her, and my friends, family, NHS, Stepping Hill Hospital, Pathfinder, AA, The Wellspring and Arc have all played their part in saving my life and helping me to recover. And I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

As of 31/12/2019, I am 140 days abstinent. I feel completely blessed that I have been able to experience 140 days on Earth with my daughters, family and friends that I might not have been able to. I am truly a lucky man.

I wish you all a magnificent 2020; may the forthcoming decade bring you everything that you hope and dream for.

 

Addendum.

If you, or a loved one, are going through a difficult time, there are organisations out there who can help. Reaching out isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength that you have managed to hold on this far. And remember, if things get so bad, go to your nearest A&E dept., they will take care of you just like any other patient.

The Samaritans call 116 123

NHS call 111 or 999

Alcoholics Anonymous call 0800 917 7650

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Body of Work


I was going to title this post: Portraits of the Damned.

Then I started to include landscapes and still-lives to it. So, the title wouldn’t really make sense. But it will in a minute! Be afraid, be very afraid.

Some of you may, or may not, know that I volunteer for an Arts charity called Arc, (Arts for Recovery in the Community), in Reddish, Stockport.

I’ve done a lot of this work there, and some at home. But all the techniques I’ve picked up are from either attending or volunteering on their programmes.

Whether it be block-printing, collage, charcoal, watercolour, acrylics, inks, fabric, embroidery, clay or pastel. Not to mention the numerous techniques, yes brushes, but also charcoal tied to the end of a three feet long piece of bamboo! Bits of old Paymobil and Lego, edges of long out-of-date credit cards.

At Arc, it’s never about the technique and what end result you achieve, it’s about enjoying the process of doing it. Losing yourself, immersing yourself in art for a few hours – now that is medicine!

I appreciate that my work is more the stuff of nightmares rather than living room walls. But I like it!

Collage

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Pencil sketches

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Watercolour

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Self-portraits

Processed with Snapseed.

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Charcoal

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Pen and ink sketches

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Portraits of the Damned!

Mostly acrylic and chalk pastel on canvas or paper.

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And finally, the installation I made for the centenary commemoration of the end of the First World War at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery. R.I.P. Herbert Jackson of Didsbury Road, Heaton Mersey, Stockport. Railway man, musician, fiance – and soldier.

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We Are Dreamers 2018


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As some of you may know, I’ve been working on an art installation with Arc to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

There will be hundreds of ‘dream’ boxes from local children, adults and artists depicting their dreams and aspirations.

Ten of the boxes, (of which mine is one), will honour the life of a Stockport soldier who lost his (or her), life.

The point of these ten boxes is to honour these people as human beings who had lives outside of being a soldier. In fact, this is what made up the vast majority of their lives. And they had dreams and aspirations too. What would have become of them?

 

The soldier I picked lived locally to me in Heaton Mersey. His name was Herbert Jackson. He worked for Cheshire Lines Railway in Cheadle Heath and played several instruments in the Heaton Mersey Prize Band.

He was due home on leave in the Spring of 1918 to marry his fiance. Unfortunately, his leave was cancelled due to the massive German Spring Offensive of March and April. He was wounded by artillery fire on the 26th April and was moved to a Casualty Clearing Station where he died the following day aged 25. He is buried in Haringhe (Bandaghem ) Military Cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium.

The letter, (which rests on top of the box), is not real. It is something I thought Herbert might have written to his fiance whilst in hospital. Tonally, however, it is based on actual letters from a friend of mine’s grandfather who fought on the Somme.

The ‘Princess Mary’ tin, which was given to all soldiers I imagined would contain mementos of his fiance, such as a lock of her hair.

For me, Herbert’s dream for the future was to come back to the two things he loved most – his fiance, and music.

The sheet music, which lines the interior of the box, is by J.S. Bach and the lyrics are in German. Whilst I doubt that Herbert would have spoken German, they would share the common language of music.

This tribute is to honour the life of Herbert Jackson and all the other men, women and children from every nation, who died in the First World War, and to what futures there might have been.

The We Are Dreamers 2018 exhibition opens on the 11th November, 2018 at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery.

Private Herbert Jackson’s biography details were provided courtesy of http://www.stockport1914-1918.co.uk/

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