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.
Cats. Today’s project with Olive began by looking at the cat drawings and paintings of Gwen John, Elizabeth Blackadder and Mary Fedden. We chose a pastel by Elizabeth Blackadder to copy, and I made an outline drawing for Olive to colour. Pens or crayons? Realistic colours or the favourite ones of Deyanah, Olive’s beloved eight-year-old granddaughter and recipient of this gift? How about a purple or pink cat? Settling for realism and coloured pencils, we began, Olive choosing the colours carefully and us sharing the task together. The feline quality of the cats began to emerge as Olive patiently assessed the success of each one as we corrected a paw, a nose and an ear here and there. Did we need to add some raw umber and yellow ochre to the blacks, should we add a touch of purple to the greys, and a hint of blue to the oranges? Whiskers and pink noses completed the composition. Olive signed the drawing and placed it inside a piece of folded card and an envelope I’d brought along. She would be seeing Deyanah on Sunday. Did Olive have a cat? Yes, a smoky grey friend reminding me of Coco and Chilli, my own two from earlier times.
Michael was keen to paint and we searched for Edward Lear’s 19th-century watercolours on my IPad and found wide expanses of panoramic beauty, ‘Butrinto, Albania’, ‘View of Gwalior, India’ and ‘The Bingemma Valley, Malta’. We noted his fine pencil work and sound drawing skills which gave each watercolour its structure. Soon our eyes strayed to his illustrated nonsense poems and we laughed at the flock of birds caught in a giant beard of an anxious man:
There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, ‘’It is just as I feared! –
Two Owls and a Hen, four larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard.’’
And then we recited with joy the first lines of his poem,
‘The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note….’
So what would Michael like to paint? He chose a photograph of a landscape dominated by a dramatic sky, offering scope for artistic licence and became absorbed as I returned to Olive.
By the time Olive had completed her cats, Michael decided to call it a day, feeling that the watercolour wasn’t one of his finest. We’d work on it together next time; it had lots of potential and I could see a solution. He asked if he might see Olive’s cats and liked her drawing very much, curious to know how it had been constructed. Bringing over my book on Elizabeth Blackadder, we sat together turning the pages and his eye was caught by a watercolour, ‘Black Boats, Pors Even, Brittany’. Could we have a go at painting this scene together so that he could learn more about technique? Yes, a great idea for my next visit. I remarked that Michael had a lovely loose approach to watercolour similar to Blackadder’s style, as we gazed at the watery washes of colour, underpinned by a command of drawing in both her landscapes and still life studies.
By now, it was nearly one o’clock and I needed to find Chantelle and Mike on Peter’s Ward upstairs. Chantelle had asked to learn watercolour last week but now felt the remaining 47 minutes left on her dialysis machine wasn’t long enough to do justice to a lesson. We agreed that I would see her next time at 11am. Mike was sleeping, saving his portrait lesson for another occasion.
Tidying up, I thought about my time management with each patient. It was so important to allow the creative act to flow: art couldn’t be rushed, but this had meant that Chantelle had missed art today. Next time, my sole focus would be watercolour technique with Michael and Chantelle.