Following on from my post about Extreme Doodling a few weeks ago, Contour Doodling is a similar mindfulness exercise you can do pretty much anywhere.
I call it ‘contour’ doodling because it reminds me of the contour maps I learnt about in geography class at school.
Simply start in the middle of your page with a small, irregular shape. Then draw around that shape following its contours. And keep building it up, getting further and further out. The irregularities will be emphasised the further out you get. Just go with it. Let it become the shape it wants to be.
There is no right or wrong.
You can do it for 10 minutes, or 10 hours. (Okay, maybe an hour.)
Remember, it’s all about the process, not the result.
At least, that’s what Google translate tells me. It could say ‘f*ck you’ for all I know. Which would work just as well.
Saying farewell to the year in a foreign tongue has become a bit of a custom for reasons I shan’t go into right now.
Greek mythology and the divine muses have been pretty prominent for me in 2022, so it seems quite appropriate.
This year, I’ve managed to paint lots of pictures, visit lots of the Peak District and write lots of poetry. So much so, I’m hoping to publish my second collection of poetry, “Go tell the bees” some time in 2023. (I’ve even been dabbling with a book cover design for it.)
To see out the year, I thought I’d leave you with a few samples of abstract doodling which I’ve been doing quite a bit of lately. It’s a very cathartic and mindful exercise if you want to give it a go. I’ve even tried it with patients on the ward and it went down really well. (Remember, it’s about the process of doing art rather than the end result.)
It just remains for me to say, thank you for visiting my blog, your support is very much appreciated. I hope you have a very happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2023.
Keep being creative and tell those closest to you that you love them.
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.
Looks like I’m back on track for my quarterly review. Which is a bit tardy really, as I used to try to do a couple of blog posts a month. That’s the price of working in a hospital for a living, eh.
I still do art every day mind. (It’s a promise I made to myself a couple of years ago.) Now, when I say ‘art’, it can be doodling for 15 minutes, writing a piece of poetry or prose, taking photographs, or starting a painting.
And the reason I made myself that promise is because art is the thing I enjoy doing most. The key word there being ‘doing’. So I just concentrate on the process of doing art rather than the end result. Obviously, it’s nice when the end result turns out to be something you’re pleased with, but that isn’t the objective. The only point to it is to be lost in the process of doing something I love. I think they call it mindfulness nowadays.
Some people might achieve the same pleasure from meditating or gardening. For others, it might be walking in nature or reading. Whatever it is you love doing, try to make time for it – even for ten minutes, you’ll feel better for it.
Right then, what’s all that rambling got to do with these scribbles then? Well, I was getting ready for work one morning and I had about 15 minutes to spare, so I did a quick sketch with a felt tip pen. I then went over the lines with a paintbrush dipped in water so that the ink bled. And this is what came out. So I did a few more over the next few days and I was quite pleased with the process and the result. I appreciate they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But I don’t like tea anyway, so there. I prefer fresh coffee.
A common theme in these pictures (and a lot of my other work) is that the person who is the point of focus is reacting to something unseen that is out of the image and it is up to you the viewer to wonder what that might be.
The last one I did, (which is the one at the top on brown paper), took a little bit longer because I thought about it a bit more and used soft pastel as well as ink and water.
Top tip: the coarser the paper, the more the ink will bleed. If you’re doing it on fine paper it probably won’t bleed much and you’ll just have a soggy drawing.
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.
My last post was meant to be my last post of 2020.
But I saw something that I wanted to share with you.
I took someone to St. James’ hospital in Leeds the other day. Specifically, the Bexley Wing. Which is actually more like a hospital within a hospital rather than a ‘wing’.
What struck me initially is that they have an art gallery space in the atrium. Obviously, I took the opportunity to peruse the stunning work on display.
What was a little bit awkward was the fact that someone deemed it a good idea to place chairs all along the gallery wall. So, I often found myself standing directly in front of a healthcare worker, (who was taking a well earned break), gawping over their head.
I decided to take a few photos for posterity. And soon realised that the juxtaposition of the art on display and the resting workers/visitors oblivious to it, was art in itself. (Well, it was in my head, anyway.)
I think the fact that the majority of people are on their smart phones adds a certain amount of 21st century irony to the pictures. With the art behind them screaming “Look at me!”
Some people may know how passionate I am about the arts and their ability to help in the healing process. Whether that be mental, physical or general wellbeing.
Anyway, the atrium gallery is amazing. The work is amazing. The staff are amazing. And the NHS is amazing. So, all-in-all, well done, and thank you to everyone at St James’ Hospital, Bexley wing. (You are amazing.)
I’ve been experimenting with collage recently. Not a medium I have much experience in. For some reason, the numbers 2121 have been popping into my consciousness quite frequently.
Those of you who believe it’s some sort of divine message might be able to enlighten me. Those of you who just think I have some form of apophenia may want to call me an ambulance.
Anyway, I decided to express these occurrences via the medium of collage. There are four in total, but the last one isn’t finished.
Next up is a series of abstract pieces which I have titled: From order comes chaos / from chaos comes order.
I won’t show them all, because I’ve done loads. The premise is – the universe can seem a bit of a chaotic place, what with stars exploding and imploding, nebulae forming solar systems, black holes Hoovering up everything in their vicinity, etc. And that’s before we get into meteors crashing into planets causing all sorts of tidying up to be done afterwards.
Yet, out of all of this seeming ‘chaos’ there is so much order, structure and geometry to the universe. Not to mention the structures that we humans impose on the world around us, whether for good, or ill. Ultimately, everything returns to the ‘disorder’ to be recycled again into something new.
Anywhoo, that’s what I think.
I like to sketch quite a bit. Portraits and still life mainly. Just for practice. (And for my own insecurity to prove to people I can actually draw.) Kind of.
So, there you have it. (My) 2020 in colour.
All of my artwork is for sale should you wish to terrify anyone this Christmas. Just message me for details.
It just remains for me to wish you a very happy Christmas, if you celebrate that sort of thing. And/or very happy holidays if you don’t.
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