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.
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.
I came across this story of a girl the same age my daughter is now. She was born on the 15th August 1928 in Poland. And died at the tender age of 14 on 12th March 1943. When I say ‘died’, she was murdered in Auschwitz by the Nazis. Because she lived in an area of Poland earmarked for resettlement.
I was so taken by her image and her story – her absolute innocence, that I felt compelled to write a poem about her. To honour her tragically short life in some way. I know it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference if I write a few pathetic lines of poetry 77 years later. But it matters to me. It could’ve been my daughter, but for circumstance. Or yours. It still could be, the way the world is going.
For Czeslawa Kwoka.
There’s this girl.
Her nose and cheeks are pink,
like she’s just come in from the cold.
She’s looking up at the camera
with fear in her blue-grey eyes.
Her fair hair is roughly shorn,
and she wears an over-sized
blue and white striped tunic,
held together with safety pins.
She doesn’t understand what they are saying,
she doesn’t speak the language.
So the Kapo beats her about the head with a stick.
Her lips are thin and cut
like they’re trying to still a tremble.
There’s a badge sewn over her heart
with the serial number 26947 printed on it.
She has a name though. It’s Czeslawa.
She is 14 years old.
The same age as my daughter.
But she looks much younger.
Like a terrified little girl.
She hasn’t done anything wrong.
Except, be Polish.
Probably typhus or T.B.
The cause is irrelevant.
She’s too ill to work.
So she’s surplus to requirements.
The doctor will see you now.
He’s going to inject a final solution
of phenol directly into her heart.
It will kill her in 15 seconds.
It’s not an exact science.
If he misses the ventricle it could take up to an hour.
This is a new poem I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. It’s not about Black Lives Matter, but it was inspired by it. Or rather, the silence of the white majority to the unfair and unjust treatment of black people and people of colour. The implicit violence that silence can bring.
That is the only connection – silence. And how crushing it can be.
Please be advised that the following poem contains harrowing themes.
The Violence of Silence.
By David Milligan-Croft.
The restacking the dishwasher,
The recapping the toothpaste.
The elbow grease on the bath,
The busying of the dishcloth.
The fingertrail in the dust,
The song unplayed on the turntable,
The needle stuck in the groove.
The portrait on the wall,
Staring into an unseeable space.
The spent match.
The sheet music on the stand.
The dried paintbrush.
The gagged canvas.
The unwritten manuscript,
Of characters without a story,
The spoon in the can.
The creeping mould.
The hungry bottle,
The greedy glass.
The torn betting stub.
The baby shoes in their box.
The unworn party dress.
The deflated balloon.
The candle wax on the cake.
The forlorn swing.
The jury’s gaze.
The unwound watch,
Ticking in your head.
The heaving chest,
The eyes cast down,
Searching the floor for an escape route.
The unanswered call.
The empty wardrobe.
The rosary beads on the dresser.
The bulging suitcase.
The silent doorbell.
The ‘closed’ sign on the shop.
Fallen petals on a florist’s floor.
The midnight car lot.
The despondent moon.
The fallen tree in the forest.
The charred embers.
The ripple without a stone.
The starling without a murmuration.
The stalking wolf.
The disused canal.
The stagnant water.
The ghost of a railway line.
The forbidden tunnel.
Fragments of a life unlived;
The drop of the body,
From the bridge.
Into the darkness.
The stoic rocks.
The relevance of the cello piece? I adore the cello and I thought the subject matter of the poem suited the haunting and melancholy sound. If you are familiar with the lyrics of Chandelier by Sia, you’ll see why I chose it as an accompaniment.