Thursday, 30 June 2016

Celf - supporting ambition in the arts

Our guest author this week is Rachel Dunlop, the Project Co-ordinator for the Arts Council of Wales funded Powys-wide Learning & Practice Project at Celf o Gwmpas in Llandrindod Wells. 

Rachel has an MA in Fine Art and is passionate about supporting ambition and realising creative aspirations. She co-ordinates residencies, workshops, gallery trips and exhibitions at the charity whilst bringing people together to learn through a creative means. 

As part of our year-long Learning and Practice project, throughout June we have been running sessional weekends for artists who have experience or knowledge of the arts and mental health.

The Learning & Practice Project is made up of multiple strands. Blue MacAskill is working with ‘at risk’ young people through film making, and Stephen Park is holding sessions at various venues throughout Powys during his residency – including The Welfare, Ystradgynlais and Oriel Davies, Newtown. Working together, they are developing knowledge, practice, experience and creative aspirations and promoting wider understanding of arts and mental health.

Stephen Park - Artist in Residence
In November 2016, Celf o Gwmpas is hosting a week of events and activities -Boxing Shadows - in a celebration of arts and mental health as part of WALLS:MURIAU Welsh Mental Health Arts Festival 2016 (details at the end of the post).

The aim of the peer-to-peer training sessions in June 2016 is to provide a platform for artists to develop and elevate their professional practice while giving them the opportunity to exhibit work as part of a Wales-wide Festival.

Our first session was on 11 June at Centre Celf, Llandrindod Wells. We were aiming for up to 6 participants for the group, and found that we were oversubscribed! We began with Stephen introducing himself, and playing ice-breaking games where we got to know each other and tried to remember everyone’s names! 

Stephen explained his ideas of finding creative ‘flow’ as an artist. He showed us images of artwork that he felt had achieved this ‘flow.’ ‘Flow’ is achieved when we are being creative but not too restrictive and not too perfect. Imagine it as a line… extensive on the left (creating freely without inhibitions, restrictions) and then intensive on the right (where we’re being too careful, too precious with our work). Stephen explained that the ‘sweet spot’ is somewhere near the intrinsic, but still creating with an element of freedom. It’s when we arrive at this spot that we are in a rhythm of creating work as an artist which is vital to developing and sustaining our practice.

We then did some ‘High Pressure, Low Expectation' exercises where we had to create something by following a brief, for example, creating a drawing by using no more than 5 lines. It didn’t matter what it looked like, it was the process that was important. This is important to apply to our own practice as artists. We’re often so caught up in what we want the end result to be – we might have an exact idea of a painting or a sculpture in our mind - but we need to accept the process itself may change the course of the result. It’s when you accept the validity of the process that the work becomes authentic.

On Sunday 12th we worked more intensively on ideas of teamwork to find ‘flow’ with each of the participants and started creating the beginning of a series of artworks. Participants had the job role of the Art Director where they took ownership of their series - deciding the colours, shapes and subject. The only rule was - they had to form a pattern. After creating three/four of their series, they then switched from 'Art Director' to 'The Artist's Apprentice' and moved around the group to each person's station, observing and attempting to follow the pattern. The aim was to have a collaborative series of artworks based on finding a creative flow and working together – and we did! It was interesting to see how each person had interpreted the Art Director’s series from their own perception. 

With the first weekend being one of such encouragement, we then organised individual mentoring sessions with each artist to apply these ideas to their own practice. From 12 - 18 June each of the participants had a one-to-one mentoring session with Stephen. This gave each artist time to chat with Stephen about their own work, what they’re interested in, and the direction they’d like to go with it in the future. It’s important as artists to have regular feedback on the work we create and to gain a wider understanding of the artwork in context. As well as this, some pieces that we may have disregarded others might see value in. As the peer-to-peer training sessions are for artists who have already established a level of professional practice, it’s been a fantastic opportunity to meet with Stephen who gives solid and constructive advice on developing their practice.

For the remaining sessions in June, the artists are putting ideas they have learned into practice by creating work for the Boxing Shadows Exhibition at Centre Celf in November. Between now and November, they will be working on a personal project developed in these sessions. We’ve set up a private online forum where the participants can share ideas, comment on each other’s work and encourage each other after the sessions end and throughout the summer as they live all over Wales. In addition to this, we will be having two gallery visits during the summer months to gain inspiration, as well as meeting up at the start of November to curate the Boxing Shadows exhibition as a group.

Boxing Shadows Programme:

Thursday 10 November 4 - 6pm - Exhibition Preview at Centre Celf, Llandrindod Wells

Providing a platform for the artists involved to exhibit and screen work. In parallel with Stephen Park's residency exhibition - showing new work created during his 6 month residency in Llandrindod Wells.

Friday 11 November 6 - 8pm - Performance at Centre Celf 

Performances/Stand-up comedy evening with:

  • Artist in residence Stephen Park.
  • Writer, performer and outsider artist Sean Burn.
  • Havin' a Laugh showcasing a Powys-based project helping to build confidence and improve mental wellbeing through comedy. 
Tuesday 15 November 10am - 4pm - Panel discussion & Artists' Talks – Centre Celf 

Artists in training presenting their practice with Stephen Park talking about his residency and:
  • Blue MacAskill (tbc) tackling issues of aspirations, isolation, rurality and immobilization through creativity and art. 
  • Sean Burn reclaiming the languages of lunacy, reflecting on his own lived experience of long-term mental distress. 
  • Jane Cooke, Senior Officer, PAVO Mental Health Team, psychotherapist and trainer exploring forms of expression that bypasses a diagnosis in the minds of both client and mental health worker, and leading an investigation of creativity as a tool for encounters at different levels of experience. 
  • Amanda Wells (tbc) former Celf o Gwmpas mentored artist and instigator of Celf-Able, a group of disabled artists in Mid-Wales, who meet to do art together, share skills and break down barriers.

Many thanks to Rachel for telling us all about this exciting project at Celf o Gwmpas. To find out more contact Celf o Gwmpas, tel: 01597 822777 or email:

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