Case Studies

Stroke Visual Arts Pilot Project Evaluation

Spinning Yarns
It’s a misty afternoon in Egremont and members of an art group are settling down in a warm church hall for a two-hour session with pencils, pastels, acrylics and watercolours.

They talk to each other about their work and about life in general and the prevailing mood is one of relaxed contentment. “When you’re sitting doing this, you haven’t a care in the world,” says Janet White, who is copying a particularly exotic tulip from an illustration in the Daily Telegraph. “I love it. You forget everything, no matter what your problems are.”

The workshop has been set up to give people over 55 a chance to meet and learn new skills together. It’s one of several now well established across the county under the collective title of Spinning Yarns, a name that sprang originally from a reminiscence project.

At workshops past and present, members have, among other projects, made cards, gift boxes and stained glass, and tried their hand at a wide range of skills including marbling, weaving, spinning, crocheting and Chinese calligraphy, plus sculpture, music, dance and theatre.

Many older people do not have a great deal of direct experience of the arts because they have been denied access to them for much of their lives. The social side is one of the most important aspects. There is a real need for this kind of thing for people living in the more isolated parts of the county.
Members of the Egremont group enjoy both the social contact and the chance to develop their skills.

Joyce Ashurst, painting a picture of a vibrant sunset, prepares a watercolour base of brilliant yellow and rose and then nips off to dry her work carefully with a hairdryer. “I’ve been coming for three years. A friend dragged me screaming and shouting. I’d not painted at all before. I said ‘I can’t draw or do anything like that. I have no imagination.’ But the artist said I should come along and try. So I came along – and I’m still trying. It’s me time.

“The pleasure is in seeing the end product. Sometimes I’m amazed and gobsmacked that I can do that: I was someone who couldn’t do anything.”
Prism Arts supply all the materials so we get people coming who wouldn’t try art otherwise. People paint what they want to paint, using the colours they want to use because people see colours differently.

Rosie Davidson, pausing for a tea break, says she has enjoyed learning to use different media. “I like watercolours best; I can’t get on with pastels. Today I’m looking at these pansies, their colour, texture and shading. I always find the shading quite difficult. Has doing this made me see things differently? Well, I didn’t know there were so many greens. I’m now more observant as I drive round the countryside.”

Her companion Barbara Moulton adds that watercolours are tricky because it’s difficult to put it right if something goes wrong. So today she is using pastels. “I’ve been using pastels only for the last 18 months or so. I’m doing a woodland scene – it’s got such a lot of colour in it and I’m now mapping out the trees to get them in the right place. It’s easy to do with pastels because you can put colour on top of colour. With watercolours, you have to be careful what colour you put on top of another or it can end up looking like mud.”

“I didn’t do anything like this at school. But I’ve always wanted to do it but never had time; I always said I’d do it when I retired. There’s real satisfaction in learning something completely different and getting to grips with something you didn’t think you could do.”

On the other side of the room, butterfly lover Veronica Gormley is sketching out a new pair of wings. “I’ve been coming here since the year dot. I’ve learned to look at things in a different way. It’s wonderful. My whole life is full of pleasure. I paint a lot at home; if I’m in, I’ll paint all day, trying different things.”

Mary Johnson is lost in concentration as she uses a tiny brush to add delicate shading to a flower she is copying in acrylic shades of silver, black and grey for a picture that will complement the wallpaper in her niece’s new home. “I’ve drawn all my life. I remember that when I was five or six my idea of play was sitting with a sketch pad and drawing. I really enjoy doing my drawings and paintings. It’s my time and I can forget about everything when I’m doing this. I’m engrossed.”

David Ward

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