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.
Cheryl was sitting on her bed. She looked in discomfort and I knew she was very ill. Would she like to make some art? ‘Yes, I’ll give it a go’, she smiled. I pulled up a chair and we began by looking at lots of images of art throughout the centuries. Which ones did she like and why? Were there colours, patterns or subjects that appealed? Soon we became absorbed in conversation about these and about her dress-making days. Perhaps pattern, design and colour could be important? Cheryl was drawn to a couple of quiet Morandi still life paintings: the muted palette and the arrangement of simple vessels on a surface. Would she like to try and copy one?
Setting up watercolours on her table, I sketched in the composition quickly and we discussed, chose and mixed the colours together. I handed her the paint brush and she made a tentative start, laying down colour on the middle section of the background. Gaining confidence, she continued with the remaining two background areas, working carefully around the objects and showing a high degree of dexterity and precision. I wondered if her fine motor skills used in dress making were coming alive again. Cheryl’s illness had caused her right hand to tremble but she overcame any impediment with excellent eye-hand coordination. ‘I had no idea I would be able to do this, I haven’t done any art for 20 years! In fact, she had never used watercolour before.
Cheryl painted the vessels and then needed to rest. We looked at her dialysis machine and saw 30 minutes remaining. It was nearly lunchtime. Our conversation turned to home life: our cats, her jerk chicken and Bolognese recipes. Then I cleared up. ‘I really can’t believe I did that! she beamed from the pillow. We’ll finish the painting next week and she’ll take it home to show her family.
Michael was smiling and we exchanged news. How was his cataract operation? Had I ever met Harry Hallowes who’d been sleeping rough on Hampstead Heath since 1986 and had left his £3.5 million patch of land to the homeless? And did he know about the man who’d created a home on a raft made of detritus on the river near Richmond? We decided to let his repaired eye rest and resume art next week. Olive was awake. She’d been out in her garden, even attempting some light pruning and her pots of geraniums were looking gorgeous. We caught up with news and she offered advice on how to cook saltfish. Irving was awake and on good form. Out poured a stream of dry humour to make us laugh.