Raining at Sea; A day out with Wander Women Scotland

 

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After a amazing day out with Anna Neubert-Wood who runs Wander Women ,  I was invited to write a guest blog. Is at down and was struck by how the experience has made me feel and I was inspired to carte a series of illustrations which I have named ‘Raining at Sea‘. It was a wonderful experience a chance to reconnect with nature and myself. I tiled the blog, “Not Just a Wander” ,it is a reflection on the healing powers of nature.

 

Not just a wander

I look at the window then at all the kit laid out in front of me, its summer and I am heading to North Berwick to go on a afternoon with Wander Women.  We are going to walk on the beach, take time to reflect, do some guided visualisations and hopefully finish with a sea swim.  In true Scottish style the sky is heavy and the rain is teeming against the window, but this doesn’t dampen my sprits I have been yearning for this time to come round. Amongst the hustle and bustle of daily life, routine, responsibilities I often feel like I am on a merry go round with no way to step off, but this is my chance. My chance to step of, to press pause, take time, listen to my soul and reconnect with my true self.

With swimming costume on, under a base layer, a windproof jacket, a waterproof, big walking socks and leggings I set of with excitement coursing through my body and my soul conducting its own merry dance. As I arrive in North Berwick, the sun is out, I almost run down through the lodge gardens giddy with excitement, feeling like a wee girl skipping along on cloud nine. The sun is shining, the warmth on my skin is a delight and the layers start to shed as well as did all thoughts that weren’t connected to that moment.

I see my friend, Anna and a group of women all stood around. Everyone is smiling, connections are made and stories shared, and then we are on our way. North Berwick is bustling, but I am oblivious, I am struck that beach is so empty and yet filled full of delight as it feels like the beach is ours for the afternoon.

 

Removing our shoes, grounding our feet on the cool damp sand, Anna invites us to take a card, I am drawn to choose right from the bottom of the pack, one I cannot see, but one I appear to want. As I turn over the card, I have a wee chuckle to myself at the words laid out in front of me. The last words on the card were

 

your goal: by the end of the day, commit to that new step, or identify why you’re choosing to sabotage your healing

 

Even as I type this now I am smiling and tears are rising through me, this card spoke the words my soul has been screaming at me.

The word sabotage lays heavily on me, feeling like an invisible weight, as I ponder, “ Am I really sabotaging my healing?”

 

My healing journey started on May 1st 2017, marking the date that my body decided that it was time to stop.  The months prior to this I had been feeling unwell and a new array of symptoms presented themselves on a daily basis, but I had forged on, regardless of the message my body was screaming at me to stop, slow down.  On May 1st I got up and like any other day I took Bess my gorgeous old girl out for a walk, my feet felt heavier, I felt like I was wading through treacle, and my head was full of a thick fog, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other, trying to piece together what I needed to do at work that day.  As I stumbled through the back door, took Bess’s lead off I knew I needed to sit down. As I sat on the sofa, I didn’t realise that my body was saying no more, defying me the ability to stand, to think to walk and to function on any level. In that moment I went from being a very tired, exhausted functioning woman, to a fatigued, lost shell like form of myself.  All I know is I managed to ring my manager and say I would not make it in, and then the next few months are a blur. I had to leave my job, I loved to draw and write, but my fatigue denied me this pleasure. Pain seared hot through my joints, my head pounded, my temperature was fierce, light and sound were overwhelming and my memory was shot.  I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome also known as ME, told there is a 5% chance of recovery and there is nothing that can be done apart from manage the pain and symptoms with medication.  Lost in a fog and bewildered by the words being presented to me I could not believe it, I didn’t want too. I am a runner, a mountain biker, I am fit healthy, how is this happening? But it was happening.

Months passed I changed to a plant based diet, I sat outside as much as could, the sun warm on my skin, the air refreshing me and making me feel connected to something again. Nature was my nectar, my medicine, and food for my soul reconnecting me to the lost parts of self.

 

So as I stood on the beach barefoot once again, I could hear my body sigh that one again I was tuning back in, I had heard the screams and was making time for me and time to heal.

 

As we wandered along the beach barefoot in silence I watched my feet as they pressed against the sand, the change in colour, the water being dispersed and the imprint that is my unique identifier, laid there for a moment before the sand came back and it was like I was never there.  Thoughts went through my mind, Am I invisible, who sees me, who do I want to see me, what do I want people to see.  My mind wandered to projects I have been dreaming up, that are sat on the side lines, I have negated through fear, not feeing good enough and the fear of failing. Looking over I could see the other women in the group, it felt like we were all moving forward with energy and purpose, bringing parts of self to untie as women in nature.

Something stirred within and a energy rose though me, I looked down and felt a strength and a purpose in my stride, I noticed myself, I heard myself and saw myself as I wanted to be seen, and was struck that she had been here all along.

 

The sky shifted from sun to a glorious light grey, the light dimmed and the rain started to fall as we stood in a circle and each shared why we had chosen to be there.  As everyone spoke the energy rose in the circle and the women who I had met just 15 minutes prior, through the gift of silence, connecting to the earth and nature had become focused on themselves and shared their narrative of what had brought them to stand barefoot on the sand.

As I spoke my words came easily and freely, my body was relaxed and brimming with emotion as I shared my experience of being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, my journey back to health and my wanderings about what it is to be feminine.

 

With the rain falling and the sky darkening with every word spoken, little did I know I was about to share an experience with women with connections to where I am from, to my past and to this very present day.

The sky was alive bustling with rain, powerful clouds, deep shades of greys and blues, reflected in the expanse of the sea. The light glistened of the wet rocks; the beach was empty and ours as we wandered along deep in our own thoughts collecting found objects that our gaze fell upon.

 

United back in a circle with our found objects at our feet, we were invited to create a joint mandala, witnessing and noticing each other’s findings, sharing stories and dreams of creative processes we each placed our findings down alongside each other’s. Feathers, shells, sea glass, old fragments of pottery stones of various colour’s, sat side by side in the sand, forming a circle, our own unique mandala, 7 women’s findings, dreams and wishes held in this sacred art form, only to be added to by the glorious nature of the rain teeming down upon us.

 

The rain echoed of my hood, Anna brought out a large shelter and we all huddled underneath it. I was instantly transported to my childhood, having picnics under the kitchen table when the skies darkened and the rain came. Laughter filled the shelter, as we sat around our mandala. Anna shared a guided visualisation with us, the rain offered a steady beat as I thought about myself as a body of water, what would I look like, where would I be, being taken on a journey from source to open expanses of water, through hills, mountains, rivers, brooks, and valleys.

Eyes opening slowly, looking around everyone seemed content, happy to be present with themselves in our own shelter, somehow protected not just by the canvas but also by our joint energies, containing and keeping us safe.

Our souls had been fed, with thoughts and dreams and through the process of creativity; we now fed and nourished ourselves with handcrafted food created by Anna. Hot potato and leek soup warmed my body and again I felt like a little girl, playing outside having the adventure of a lifetime, everything felt possible.

 

Eager to move on I pulled on my waterproof trousers, pulled my hood back up and set off following Anna’s footsteps.  Climbing up and over grassy hills, walking through mud, jumping in puddles, it felt glorious, permission to play and enjoy the delight of the little girl in me that had come out to play. We came to a little bay, the sky was full and energised and I felt much the same, wanting to run a about dive into the water and stay in the wonderful feeling of playfulness.

The sky cracked, light shot through the sky and the clouds above us were thick and dark with intensity.  I was conscious that the energy in the group shifted, as we needed to head back as sadly it was no longer safe to swim with lightening brightening the sky. As I climbed back towards where we had come from, I was laughing and giggling, I felt alive and thrilled to be in this moment where mother nature was showing up, being her true self and not being scared to let her strength be witnessed by all.

 

As we stopped to put our shoes back on and walk back down along the road, rivers of water washed down around us, laughter again started to fill the air, what a adventure we had all just shared, all captured in one beaming selfie of us all. Women who were near strangers brought together by their love for nature, the need to reconnect and mother nature provided a wonderful gift to further untie us and remained us of the power and the force that it is to be a woman.

 

Its now several days later and that smile I had on my face is just as present the thrill of being out in a thunderstorm, how it awakened my soul and reunited me with the little girl inside me who has been lost in the darkness and engulfed by the CFS.

 

The women who wandered barefoot alongside me, connected to many stages of my life. My birthplace of Somerset, to my days as art student, my work as an Art Therapist, a painful time in my career where I experienced and witnessed many losses to connections that are new but there is a purpose to our paths coming together.  It felt as though I was being handed a mirror to take the time to reflect on where my life has taken me, held in nature, grounded by the coolness of the sand on my feet, and echoed in the power of the storm.

As the storm passed and the rain started to ease, a gentle silence fell around us, the sea continued its steady beat, the wind rustled though the trees and the air was still. In this moment I felt at peace with self and understood that I was sabotaging my healing by letting fear win, by negating what I truly felt I am meant to do. My soul is saying you have weathered the storm it’s now time to dance, embrace your ideas and passion and join your tribe.  You are feminine and the feminine is sacred, powerful and rooted in Mother Nature. Breath her in, feel her as you are part of her.

 

I have come away with a great sense of passion to continue to work on a project that has been in the making for several years, to try new things in the studio and to take the leap into the unknown, trusting that by connecting to nature, reuniting with my soul and allowing myself to play, that feeling that everything is possible is alive and burning brightly inside me.

 

 

Illustrations

To draw and to create is to play, and as the inner child rose up inside me there felt no better way to capture this, then step into the studio and give myself permission to play.  Taking the time to stop and tap back in the feeling of the joy and playfulness from that day, the feeling and the energy of the storm was really strong. The illustrations are a reflection of the energy of the storm, the power of Mother Nature and the sense I have that within darkness there is real beauty.

 

 

 

Artlink commission: part three

As the commission comes to a close I am looking back at the artworks that have been created and the relationships formed during the process.

During vists to the Glasshouses based at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital I met many lovely and talented artists.

Works of one partcilaur artists drew me, I got lost in looking at their work, the endless lines, the prescion and the way they were executed. A collaboration between them and myself occurred oragaincally during one studio session. A easel sat upon the desk with a large piece of paper tentively stuck on. The paper looked vast but invited marks to be made. The artist is mainly nonverbal, the whole piece was created through a silent communication, where I took the lead from the artist. Taking a pen they started to make small drawings in different areas of the paper, they all appeared to sit alone, floating with no correlation to each other, rich in overlapping lines, delicate forms were created. Looking to me and nodding towards the paint, together we made cardboard tools to make marks with. As the paint went onto the paper it started to unite the piece together, dabbing and dragging the paint across the page brought a sense of flow to the image. The artist sat back and nodded to indicate they were done and it was now time for them to leave.

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Contuning the collaborative process and with the artists permission I took a form created in the large piece and made a illustration to respond to the process of creating the large work together.

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Togther it was named Pylons. By repeating the form in paper cut outs I wished to echo the feeling of repetition in the marks and lines made in the larger piece.

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9E0EB04E-24C4-4642-AF89-A4D96BCE63E0The works are exhibited in the Western General in Edinburgh until the close of March.

 

 

ArtLink commission part two.

The ArtLink commission involved working on individual collaborations with staff and patients. This was a really interesting way of working, sharing ideas, creative concepts and getting to know one another so the finished product reflected all involved in the process.

One collaboration with local photographer SJ, was a visual exploration of escapism through art and music.  The collaboartion resulted in a temporary  exhibition  in a centre which offers mental health services in Edinburgh.

In conversation SJ stated why she chose the locations and what photography means to her. , “I chose these locations as they have strong leading lines. I find a certain peace and calm in these types of places and photography give me a sense of escapism. It allows me to focus on the moment and be creative. Photography has been a good outlet for me allowing me to express thoughts and feeling that I find hard to explain.”

On display are illustrations that I created in response to SJ’s story, particularly how she creates her own work, through a process where music plays an integral role. After SJ shared her playlist with me, I  created abstract ink drawings in response to certain pieces of music and the visual narratives they inspired.

Playlist:

Linkin Park – In the End

The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work

Linkin Park – Numb

Panic! At the Disco – Nicotine

Stereophonics – Local Boy In the Photograph

U2 – Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own

The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony

Oasis – Champagne Supernova

Radiohead – Creep

The Waterboys – The Whole of the Moon

U2 – With or Without You

Radiohead – High and Dry

Radiohead – No Surprises

Manic Street Preachers – If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next

Puddle of Mudd – Blurry

Muse – Dead Inside

This collaboration is a development of work created for the Staff and Patient Open Show 2018, which is currently on display in the gallery at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. Newly commissioned by Artlink, I invited individuals to explore the theme of escapism through mark-making, line and pattern in composing works of art, bringing a linking thread through the overall exhibition.

 

Artlink commission part one

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For the past four months I have had the pleasure of being commissioned by Artlink to work with staff and patients from the Royal Edinburgh hospital, Western General, St Johns and the Royal Infirmary. Part of this commission was to set a theme and create a exhibition of staff and patients work with my own working sitting alongside it.

As a part of the process I got to enter into the NHS archives at Edinburgh University. I read so many fascinating stories of patients and staff, their relationships and how the NHS looked over 100 years ago.

Combining historical narratives and modern narratives there appeared to be a common thread. The process of creating art appeared to be a form of escapism, whether it was to relax after a long shift or a way to come together in open studio sessions to socialise and share ideas.

Combining my research and experience of  meeting people, I created a narrative that depicts a blackbird finding a thread. The blackbird was chosen based on research where in the 1800’s several patients took to birdwatching or collecting images of birds to pass their time whilst in hospital. I kept a record of the birds I saw as I travelled to the hospitals, and the blackbird made the most appearances. The blackbird takes the thread and passes it to another blackbird. The idea reflects the coming together of people to share ideas over coffee and tea, ideas being formed and coming into being.

I feel very lucky to have met so many different people from so many different walks of life. Hearing their stories, ideas being shared, watching art works come to life and the how the process brings people together, the artwork becoming the common thread.

The exhibition is now open to the public in The Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, in the link corridor, from the Anne Ferguson building to the Andrew Duncan building.

More images to come after official opening in a few weeks time.

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