If anyone was feeling under-confident about their creativity, then this month’s talk by Paula Watkins had the power to change that. Paula inspired us with the way she has shared her art in order to help people feel happier and more confident. Like many people, Paula was put off from following art as a career, being told that there would always be people better than her. The reason she shared this part of her story with us was to show how creativity can be fostered and nurtured at any stage of life, despite a lack of initial confidence or direction. Paula’s breakthrough moment was when she went to see a City and Guilds exhibition. Initially she was discouraged and thought she could never achieve anything like it, but she was encouraged by an elderly woman who had completed the course and who told her that if she wanted to do it then she could. This simple encouragement changed her life, and she signed up for City and Guilds and has never looked back. Her approach has been to ‘say yes to everything’ and then work out how to do it once the commitment was made. This led her into teaching art groups in various different community settings, and training as a teacher. Paula has worked in education for many years, and has particularly enjoyed working with people with learning disabilities and people with mental health issues. She is passionate about the way that community learning can transform peoples’ lives. There were several key moments that stay in the mind. One was going to the European Parliament with a group of young people, when a girl who was an elective mute was able to find the confidence to speak up about the importance of funding for creative projects. Another was hearing about the kind of emotional safety net that Paula’s art-groups have provided for people at a vulnerable time of their lives.
Paula de-mystifies art, making it accessible and fun. She uses spontaneous, non-intimidating techniques, with affordable materials. She helps people create work that can ‘evolve’so there is no intimidation over creating designs.
Paula brought with her a lovely collection of art-journals and altered-books, which she kindly agreed I could photograph and share here. She has found that making ‘play-books’ are a very non-intimidating way for children to learn to enjoy a book. Art journals have been very positive for people experiencing mental health difficulties. Paula spoke about the way that making things and enjoying images can help well-being. Many members of the audience had examples of their own where art and stitch have helped at a time of crisis or depression.
Paula is clear that she is not an art-therapist and doesn’t try to ‘interpret’ people’s art. However, just hearing her talk about her work made people feel positive and happy, so it is easy to see why her art and stitch groups would help people to feel happy and relaxed.