Tag Archives: mental illness

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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And another thing…


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.)

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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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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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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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ME4

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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burst

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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This is not an update, update.


I said in my last Facebook post about my recent travails at Stepping Hill Hospital that that would be the last medical update, as I am now safely home.

However, I doubt that most of the readers of my blog are friends with me on Facebook, (some are), so they won’t know what the hell I’m on about.

Suffice it to say, I’ve just spent a week in hospital and let’s leave it at that. Because, what took me there isn’t the point of this post. What I did there, is.

Whilst wiling away the hours in my hospital bed I got a bit bored and asked Nurse Emma if I could borrow a pencil and a few sheets of paper.

I did a bit of sketching of patients and nurses who I was fortunate enough to meet in the HDU and ward B6.

So, like I said, it’s not an update per se. More of a ‘backdate’.

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Nurse Emma at her computer.

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Steve, fellow patient.

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Nurse Eta at the medicine dispenser trolley.

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Craig, fellow patient, (with black eye).

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River and countryside.

Bit of a random one, this. No, it’s not the view from my hospital window, it’s from a photo that a friend, Edel Gallagher, posted on Facebook while I was in hospital. I really liked the composition, so thought I’d copy it. Now, if you compared my sketch to the original photograph, you’d think it’s complete bobbins. Luckily, you can’t, so here it is.

Not as spooky as the stuff I normally paint, but from where I was lying, things were pretty spooky enough.

 

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