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.
I arrived with a drawing made on piece of hot pressed smooth Arches watercolour paper stretched and held in place by parcel tape on a small card board. I’d glanced at this light sketch on the train and looked forward to sitting with Michael while we painted a beach scene taken from a watercolour by Elizabeth Blackadder. Michael had asked specially for a painting lesson using the Blackadder image for inspiration and I wanted to come prepared. But no Michael. Where could he be, was he okay? Maura, the head nurse, restored calm by explaining that his shift had changed owing to a clash of appointments at another hospital. He would be arriving this afternoon. Phew.
Chantelle was sitting up talking to Betty when I wheeled my art trolley into Peters Ward. Time for her first watercolour lesson. We studied samples of hot pressed and cold pressed papers of differing weights and colour and stroked the Kolinsky sable brushes which I’d brought from home. The hair is obtained from the tail of the kolinsky, a species of weasel rather than sable and is prized for its ability to hold and control paint. We compared synthetic brushes which can be useful for certain effects and broad washes, and held my small sponges which are ideal for absorbing paint and softening colour marks. Next, we studied the half pans of colour in the paint box and noted the transparent and opaque ones. Then we considered ‘wet-on-wet’ painting. Chantelle was keen to start and agreed that some simple exercises would be best to enable her to get a feel for the medium and its capabilities.
After a while, I went down to find Olive and asked how her granddaughter had responded to the cats drawing. Full of marvellous news of the arrival of her daughter’s baby, there hadn’t been a moment to see Deyanah but they would be meeting this Sunday. Perhaps the timing for the gift would be good given that Deyannah’s attention had been focused on her new baby brother.
Returning to Chantelle, I found her totally absorbed in colour but she thought the work was flat and dull. Let’s use a sponge and ‘attack’ the work, let’s make a bit of a mess. Let’s look at a small detail of a painting by Turner in this book and see the variety of mark making and colour. See how alive the painting can be? Minutes later, Chantelle was busy with the sponge taking away paint and smudging marks, loving the transformation before her eyes and the gorgeous new found colours.
‘She’s a natural artist!’ The attentive nurses and Betty were delighted watching Chantelle. Chantelle looked up from her painting, ‘Why don’t you have a go, Betty?’ And indeed Betty was having a go but in a different way; she had found her own creativity painting her face with makeup whilst on dialysis. This she always performed during the hospital treatment. Betty opened her makeup bag full of delicious creams and colours and we discussed in detail the merits of face powder and the problems with foundation.
One of the nurses wished she’d taken art seriously at school. ‘I can only draw stick people!’ she laughed. Another asked if there was anywhere she could learn to paint. How about classes for the nurses, I wondered?
And where was Mike today? Sadly, he’d been posted to another hospital and my wish to see him draw and paint a portrait of Betty vanished.
Nearing lunchtime, I checked downstairs to see if Michael had arrived on the Auchi dialysis ward, said good bye to Olive who was waiting to go home, and then returned to Chantelle.
‘The lady next door would like to make some art’ she said. I introduced myself to Theriesa who was keen to paint on ceramics and glass but hadn’t done so for a while due to ill health. Yes, great idea and let’s take it slowly with some simple exercises next week.
Chantelle had been absorbed in painting for over three hours and showed no signs of fatigue when I began to clear up. Time had flown by. Would she like to borrow the paint box and brushes and take home some paper? Leaving her painting into the afternoon, I left full of joy that Chantelle had found such pleasure in art.