TOTEM : art with families affected by abuse. Drawing and Painting

Drawing is a very enjoyable and relaxing activity for parents and children; nonetheless, it can take some time to feel settled enough to get over any anxiety of “not being able to draw”.  Simple exercises in observation are an excellent way to kick-start a drawing career.   Some of my favourites are upside down drawing, and continuous line drawing. Upside down drawing was one of the first drawing exercises I tried many, many years ago when I started art.   It is an exercise from the excellent book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards.  First turn this drawing of Picasso upside down, then step by step draw the lines, without thinking whether it is a nose, collar, hand etc.   Just notice the direction and shape of the line and draw it as best you can.  Give yourself time enough to do this exercise – it will take around half an hour. Picasso drawing   When you have drawn all the lines, turn both drawings up the right way, and you will see that you have done very well!   Continuous line drawings are fun as well as great exercises in observation.   The idea is to draw without lifting your pencil from the page.   All the time you are trying to get the shapes and lines  accurately on the page – but the drawing will always look a bit odd because of the continuous line.   Regardless of this oddity, with effort, they can reveal a remarkable likeness. Continuous line Anne incomplete   Many of us find quiet concentration difficult.   Our minds are constantly active and our environment filled with noise.  For those affected by sexual abuse and other trauma, this can even be more pronounced.   The mind is a jumble of thoughts, internal commentary and negativity.   It is especially difficult to find a place of inner and outer calm.   A noisy and jumbled mind characterises many of the people who join the art programs at SECASA; it is tiring for them and interrupts their desire to function well.    In this drawing class for parents and children affected by abuse, participants are asked to sit with the exercise for ten or 15 minutes, and to try to do it quietly and without unnecessary talking.   Beautiful world music in the room helps this.  Participants are amazed and thrilled with their abilities after a short while.  But mostly, both children and parents find drawing relaxes them and although  challenging, they really love doing it. Continuous line profile   Continuous line Anne   A ten-year old boy’s drawing of me.    He was reluctant to try this exercise and his first drawing did not work; once he relaxed and settled into the exercise his second drawing was a remarkable improvement. He did really well capturing my face and the pose.   STILL LIFE After doing the continuous line portraits we set up a complex still life  that had lots of things in it – such as fruit, cups, a sweet potato and onions, jugs, coffee pot, fabric, a lotus-like candle holder. Participants  looked for the shapes, shadows and reflections in the objects and captured these in their drawings.

The following week I set up the still life again – but this time included bread, cheese, an avocado and tomatoes – a feast that we would eat at the end of our art session.  We looked at still life paintings by Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh and Paula Mendelsohn Becker – noticing the reflections, shadows, limited palettes and different styles of applying paint.

We broke the group into two, each  group painting a different perspective of the still life.  We worked onto black paper and  chose a limited range of colours – mostly the warm colours for the paintings, then added a burst of blue at the end.

We were all amazed by how quickly time passed, but more, how well both parents and children were able to capture the various elements in the still life.   All too soon, the bread, avocado, cheese and tomato were eaten and it was time to go home!

TOTEM (At my table) is a project run at the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault, Melbourne.  It was made possible through a grant from the Flora and Frank Leith Trust.