Artist Fay Ballard is leading a weekly creative workshop with dialysis patients at Hammersmith Hospital. She is writing a weekly blog in response to her experiences.
Irving looked up from his paper and smiled, full of mirth and philosophical insight. We discussed the general election, and the British virtues of tolerance, freedom of religious expression and humour.
Michael was awake too and we enjoyed a lively conversation on the general election and the political power of the press whilst transforming his bed table into a painting space to resume a watercolour of a cottage in the countryside. He was ambivalent about the merits of this unfinished study: was it any good? We agreed it had potential and he should continue. ‘Please wake me if I’m asleep’; he’d missed our painting session last week because I had not wanted to stir him.
Olive was now awake and smiling as we exchanged Easter holiday and family news. She and her dear granddaughter were missing each other very much. Deyanah loved cats so perhaps we could draw some and give the study to her? Great idea, we enthused, and agreed to work together next week.
I walked upstairs to Peters Ward, another dialysis unit, to find Chantelle. ‘Please wake me if I’m asleep’, she’d said last week, so today I gave her a soft nudge on the left shoulder. Adjusting to the waking world, she was keen to start an exercise in elliptical perspective by drawing a glass beaker and a cereal bowl which I’d brought in my rucksack. We worked steadily through the exercise, noting our eye level in the room and key sight lines. She was keen to shade the glass in a range of light to dark shades, capturing the complexity of reflected light on the transparent surface. Chantelle took up art three weeks ago and this was her first attempt to draw a glass. I was bowled over by her curiosity, courage and perseverance to seize the challenge and complete the daunting task.
Checking on Michael at regular intervals, I found him absorbed and making great progress with his watercolour, only stopping to answer questions from a dietician and other specialists.
Back upstairs in Peters Ward, Chantelle introduced me to Mike, her bedside neighbour who was lying down and keen to make art. He’d drawn pineapples from his Nigerian garden as a child, using different grades of pencil: HB, B and so on. A complicated object with diagonal lines criss-crossing down the fruit in perspective. Growing too were okra and yams. Would he like to draw a pineapple or something else? Portraits, he replied, then Betty arrived and posed for him laughing, before she climbed into bed opposite. Yes, he’d always wanted to draw people and here were Betty and Chantelle, perfect sitters, sharing their hours on dialysis together. The small ward was animated with talk about portraits and Chantelle’s fine drawing which we’d held up for all to view. Betty, Mike, the nurse and two other patients were very impressed, ‘It’s definitely a glass!’ they exclaimed, ‘We have an artist on our ward!