As some of you may already know, 10th October is World Mental Health Day, with the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival running from 10 - 29th October. Being creative is absolutely central to my mental health, so I decided to dedicate this week's blog post to this topic. There are so many benefits to participating in an artistic hobby on so many different levels. For me, I love the transformative process- through my actions, something which was not there before now exists, which is hugely satisfying. Especially as much of my life is spent on a computer, I love creating something tangible with my hands - it's amazing. Design is also a mental challenge. When I'm planning a multi coloured linocut, I have to work out how the colours are going to interact, how to simplify the subject to suit linocutting as a medium and balancing this while retaining enough detail. Similarly, designing a pop up card really stretches my mental abilities - achieving a successful combination of artwork and the maths required in designing a particular mechanism. These processes seem to use parts of a my brain which no other activity reaches.
On the other hand, when I'm cutting lino or assembling a pop up there is something mindLESS about doing these activities which is very relaxing. When you know a craft so well, the actions become habitual. Instinctively, my hands know exactly what do do to clear an area of linocut, which leaves my brain free just to think, listen to music or the radio. If I'm really tired, but would still like to do something artistic which is not too taxing, I like to make a pop up card which I'm very familiar with and have no problem assembling. Have a look at this macaw card which I put together while watching the TV through the top of my head.
Another aspect of why I find being creative good for my mental health is because it is an expression of your ideas. It is something of yourself, for yourself. If you with a stick with a craft over a period of years, you are able to track the improvements in your abilities, your change in style, and shifts in your interests and inspiration. The linocut of Daddy Bear looking at his empty porridge bowl is one of the first linocuts I created - to the much more sophisticated 4 colour gannets - and now I have a range of fabrics and wallpapers available - which has all unfolded over the course of 10 years. Of course, the fact that your artwork is an innate expression of you - this can make you feel vulnerable when you share what you create with other people....
My creative activities have also led me to meet lots of different people and to build up an artistic, supportive community around me. I have participated in Open Studios with different people over the years, and this has always left me feeling impressed by my fellow artists - John Easson (Press Here), a printing and letterpress expert; Gillian Morris (Eggshell and Chalk), who paints beautiful vintage furniture; and Deborah Gray (Perfect Weather for Spinning and Knitting), who teaches dying, spinning and knitting on an international basis. I have learnt so much for them, and been inspired to raise my game and generate new work. During winter months, I attend a Sewing Bee - photos above!. It's great fun and we have chats about the most unexpected topics; it encourages you to start and continue with a sewing project; and you gain from their knowledge and expertise in sewing. Being creative has enabled me to meet people across my local area, and I've developed such an appreciation and respect for their hidden talents!
Finally, I use art to proactively protect my mental health and wellbeing. The content of my day job, which relates to suicide prevention, can be upsetting. My creative interests allow me to lose myself in a healing, positive activity, which acts as an antidote to some of my work related distress. Similarly, when I had my daughter, it became absolutely vital to me to do something creative every single day, even if it was only for 10 minutes, in order to preserve a bit of my original self in the wake of the maelstrom of emotions that the arrival of a new baby unleashes. I would love to hear if and how anyone else uses creative experiences to enhance their mental health and wellbeing. For me, it's an integral part of my wellbeing, and I'm sure that will be the case for many others.