As mental health awareness week draws to a close, it has got me reflecting how my business affects mental wellbeing.
There have been several studies recently highlighting what many of us always knew, that being creative helps us to feel better. Mindfulness without the Ohming or Warrior 3-ing. It is a walk in the countryside without having to leave the house and a chance to work the right side of the brain, which as adults, we don’t get the chance to do all that much. I hold regular workshops for both adults and children, and it has occurred to me something happens in the teenage years, where we stop just creating and start caring about how good we are. Art is by its very nature, subjective so worrying about what others think shouldn’t be a reason not to do in the first place. I find that even the most ardent ‘I can’t painters’, find themselves getting lost in their work and being rather pleased with what they have achieved.
Whilst indulging in creativity is good for us, studies also show that looking at art is also good for us. A few years ago, I attended a workshop held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York who had, for many years, been exploring the effects of looking at art on those with dementia. It was fascinating, and their long study had shown that regular exposure to works of art helped patients feel better and have better relationships with their families. Talking about a piece of art does not rely on memory, but rather just observing and expressing what is there. Talking through what they see enabled them to have an opinion, hold conversations and when there is no right or wrong answer, no one can correct them, it is their opinion. I do lots of work in care homes, it is one of my favourite places to paint. Talking with residents about large scale artwork is a revelation. Memories come back, opinions are voiced, and homes become happy, rewarding places to live, work and visit. I have been told on many occasions that just looking at a mural has made people feel calm and happy, in times of stress.
Murals are just for the elderly, there has been a lot of talk recently about having nature in the workplace. Biopic design is shown to have a very positive effect on our mental wellbeing as well as our productivity. Introducing paintings of nature, whether that be wild jungles, shaded woodland, cool coastal scenes or neat gardens is a great way of bringing nature into the workplace. I do this most often with trompe l’oeil, where a faux window or aperture is painted and the view visible within. This works well in many situations, but particularly in offices where there are few or no windows.
Art work doesn’t’ just make us feel better at work, having something that is just for you has enormous benefits on our mental health. I recently painted a very personal piece in the garden of a lady who works from home. The courtyard where I painted was her space and with a very stressful job, she wanted something that would help her to destress when she needed it. ‘Just looking at it makes me smile.’ She told me.
This week, I have been painting the hoarding surrounding a building site where the developer has just started a block of high-end flats. The site is in a residential area, with lots of houses and flats overlooking the site, and the build will last at least a year, it is also on the main thoroughfare to the Tube Station, so gets lots of footfall. My client wanted to make the site more interesting for people to be looking at every day, as well as advertise what they were doing. The site was also a brown field site and a nod to it’s previous incarnation of a Victorian boiler room was also desired. I have never been stopped so many times, residents and passers-by consistently told me how much they loved the work. People were even stopping their cars, to tell me how much they loved what I was doing. One driver was very concerned, ‘Ahh, your art work has made my day, but what are they going to do when the hoarding comes down?’ he asked. ‘I expect the art will go with it.’ I replied. He was horrified. ‘No! They can’t take down your lovely art work!’ ‘It is the nature of what I do,’ I told him, ‘it is a transitory art form, here today and replaced tomorrow by something new. I don’t mind.’ The driver smiled, ‘if you are all right with it darlin’, then I am alright with it.’ And I am.
I spend lots of time and energy getting everything I paint just right, lots of research and I try to get lots of detail and personalisation in there, so that it has meaning on lots of levels. The result is people do get very attached to their murals and find comfort and joy in then. So, on reflection, my work has a lot to do with mental health and if my murals help just one person to feel better, happier, calmer or less stressed, then my work is done.