My short course experience: balm for the soul

By Debby Benjamin, Short Course Student

“I treated myself to Jo Dixon’s Mixed Media Class during February half term.

I work with children with special educational needs and had finally persuaded my boss to let me run some sort of art therapy class for students who were struggling socially or emotionally. I had started it up in September and it took off like a rocket. It actually became so popular it was a bit overwhelming! My classes were very mixed media. In the middle of the table would be glass beads, nail varnishes, necklaces to chop up or reinvent, the gold jumper that I loved but needed to stop wearing because it was ragged, a chipped brightly coloured platter from Mexico, little bags of miscellaneous items for them to rifle through, and they had an absolute fetish for boxes of all sizes and the sort of netting they put around tangerines. They were incredible. Every child creating different art. Their creativity knew no bounds. They would work on those projects sometimes for 8 weeks at a time. 

Jo's course was balm for my soul. Her gentle reassuring manner. She received my primitive strange efforts, equally well as the truly gorgeous work most people were developing into stunning little logbooks that supported their work. I couldn't listen and think and produce things all in one go - my brain was so overloaded. Sometimes I just had to pop out for a quick walk before I could lift a paintbrush but it was so exciting.

I knew the other people were likely to be very talented - and boy were they! Such a fabulous crowd. I felt privileged just walking around watching how they were developing their work. It got more beautiful (or a logical progression) by the hour. I just went for it, and accepted the crazy, basic stuff that popped out of my paint brush onto my page.  My desk was untidy, chaotic, it quickly expanded to use the window sill, the desk next to me - and a bit more! I tried to contain it all but I couldn't work out how. Jo does art therapy for people and I suspect that she could see to just let me fizz away and find my [self?] direction in my own way. She seemed to know when to offer a bit of guidance!

I felt a little exposed but liberated all at the same time. Other people had many stunning creations well underway within 2 days – but I just seemed to be producing ‘more bits!’. By Saturday night, I could hardly bear to stop but I knew I needed to find my focus or I’d come away with nothing. Everyone had gone and I just put the pieces of art that I really liked some element of onto another desk (and half of another one!) and put the rest away. I then did that process a few times more. I could finally see the light... I would be able to find one take home piece that worked.  I wittled it down to just one desk of stuff, and left my own desk empty. My potential was finally starting to evolve. On the last day, there were some lovely demos on collographs and my head and brain were able to just relax because I just felt calm, my desk was clear and I knew something right would just come together from all that I'd learned. It did. It isn't Picasso, but I love it! It's a daft bit of cardboard that I built up, scalpelled, rollered paint onto then finely painted. I was utterly absorbed. It brought me such peace and joy. It is a progression of my theme. Scaffolding. I sat at the back of studio one by the window. I loved the light and the view of the roof and scaffolding in all weathers. The colours I used were mainly reds, yellows, blues - usually I'm much more pink, gold and glitter! My art is often drawing shoes and boots because I can do that, with lots of curves. But my art was more like graphic design inspired by the scaffolding.

In the end... I asked a few people if I could photograph their work, we all did. A couple photographed mine. "Because it was so different” .I'd thought in ways their brain just wouldn't. And that made it interesting.

That was such a gift for me. 

I'm not an artist, but I love it all.  I'd never quite made the time to play at it long enough so the ideas in my head could distill into something much. My 24 year old son who is very arty had just left home and I have always found it cathartic to use art to express my feelings. I could do Jo's course again (my dream). I wonder what I might have achieved if I'd have stayed for 5 days! My arty son sent me artists to explore that he felt he recognised in my work!! Jo had also done that for each person before they left.”