Fay Ballard – Wednesday 20th September 2017 – Auchi Dialysis Unit, Hammersmith Hospital

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.

Where was Deborah? Her bed was empty for the second week running. Olive and Connor, the ward assistant, were talking and offered news. Deborah had been admitted to another London hospital but hopefully would be returning to the Auchi ward in due course. Her collage would have to wait.

Olive was sparkling and laughing as we talked to Connor about her talented family. And Michael had woken up and was ready to paint. We had discussed the perfect Cox apple a while back and I gave him an organic one picked from an orchard in Kent and bought at my local farmers’ market which fitted the bill: sharp and sweet, juicy and crunchy…tingling with taste.

I went to fetch the art trolley and greeted Akos on my way. It was good to see her awake and smiling. Had she seen her Sudoku drawing framed and hanging in the entrance hall? I disappeared to remove it briefly from the wall to show Akos, much to her pleasure as we studied this imprint of her written numbers. The print was made by coating her completed newspaper Sudoku puzzles in nail varnish remover and pressing the wet newsprint against a piece of fresh white paper. On my way back to the entrance area, I passed Irving who was reading ‘Fatherland’ as he lay back in bed. He looked up and greeted me warmly. ‘Had he read the reviews of ‘Munich’ which had just been published?’ I promised to bring him a cutting next week. We discussed the North Korean regime and Trump’s recent address to the UN.

Cheryl was awake and lying down. She welcomed me over. ‘Had she seen her still life painting framed and hanging in the entrance area?’ Yes, Cheryl was very pleased to see it on display although she wanted to finish it. This we must do. Several visitors had commented on the delicate beauty of her watercolour. She asked about my holidays and family and we spoke for some time about life in Russia before moving on to talk about her son.

Finally, Michael and I settled down to continue working on his detailed watercolour, referring to the original painting by Elizabeth Blackadder. I showed him how to remove paint with a brush and he carefully lifted away the dark sepia around the boat to create light-filled spaces in its wooden hull. We noted how Blackadder had achieved her pebbled-studded wall with washes of warm brown paint; this colour echoed in the boat’s orange-brown rudder. Yes, she had used a limited palette to achieve a unified harmony across the whole picture. Then Michael added his own distinctive voice to the original painting by using his favourite tool, a wet sponge. Holding it, he softened some of the boulders in the foreground which had been too dominant and then applied the sponge to the wall in the distance to create a lovely textured surface. He also added a dark shadow to the rudder and to the bottom of the boat, giving the painting great definition. A rich brown colour and some more sponging brought the wall in the middle ground alive. Time flashed by as Michael continued to work, and before we knew it, his machine came to an end. Betty, the senior nurse, disconnected him from the apparatus, and he was free to go home. As he left, Michael waved goodbye, ‘Let’s do more next week!’

At one o’clock, the entrance area was bustling with drivers and patients, some leaving as others arrived for the afternoon shift. Maura, the head nurse, found Irving, Olive, Akos and John waiting for their drivers to take them home. They were seated in front of the new display of patients’ art – their work. Everyone was in good spirits laughing as Maura took a photograph on her mobile phone. I surveyed the scene: ‘This is my second family,’ I said. Art had brought us together.

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