The Art Play Group – What? Why? How?

In late April 2019 I started a group called the Art Play Group, based here in Valencia. I’ve now hosted 12 events for the group with over 80 people attending. So it feels like a write-up on my blog is due!

What is it?

– A group for adults and open to ALL

– I host art activities with an experimental and playful approach

– I prioritise process over output

Why does it matter?

– I strongly believe everyone is creative. (In fact I think this is the very thing that makes us human)

– Most adults have little time to play. Life becomes output focused. They become self-conscious and inhibited. And they think they ‘can’t draw’ .. or paint, or sculpt and many other things.

– Making art becomes an activity that most adults no longer participate in.  Art becomes a thing that is looked at in big white galleries on a Sunday afternoon and that  other people make.

So how did it all start?

Armed with these strong convictions and encouraged by a good friend, I posted my first free event online. The activity was contour drawing. It was a Saturday morning in a sunny Valencia plaza, surrounded by palm trees and crumbling villas.

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To my surprise 13 people arrived, including people I didn’t know – real people from the internet! And even better sharing my practice of contour drawing from the Valencia skyline worked well.

 

Contour-drawing involves letting your eye slowly move along a contour line, in this case, the line made by the buildings and palm trees touching the sky. As your eye follows the line, with a pencil in your hand, you record that line on paper, WITHOUT looking at the paper.  It’s a really freeing exercise as it allows adults to draw without worrying about what it ‘looks like’. It is also a great way to engage the right-side of the brain, which is responsible for perceiving space. It normally doesn’t get a look in, as our wordy, logical, left-side of the brain tends to dominate.

 

I was nervous to say the least. But a funny thing happened, after I’d done all the welcoming and making people feel at ease, I started to explain the activity and all of a sudden everyone was doing it. Quietly and completely absorbed, intently focused on the skyline, with hands making marks on the paper. I couldn’t have been more happy!

 

It turns out that people really loved the quiet, almost meditative nature of the activity. Several people hadn’t drawn since being at school yet felt comfortable and supported and enjoyed the activity. The group experiemented with different colours, different speeds of making marks, layering up multiple lines and drawing with their non-dominant hand. I went around checking 1-to-1 how people were finding the activity and giving support and encouragement. At the end we looked at our collective work and shared our thoughts on the experience.

 

I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting to happen, but by the end of the session it felt like I had hit upon something good! Given my previous background in eCommerce, I naturally dished out anonymous feedback forms and I was thrilled with the response. All respondents rated the session as  ‘good’ (44%) or ‘amazing’ (56%) and 100% said they would come again and recommend to a friend. I also had some really great written comments, such as these:

 

 –  “I loved the laid-back, inclusive vibe. I haven’t drawn in years and I was worried about ‘not being good enough to go to an art class’ – but I went beyond that, let go and had fun”

 

 – “I had a blast!”           “Thank you. Really nice way to spend time”

 

 – “Glorious weather – wonderful spot, awesome activity

 

 – “Awesome session – so much fun! Thanks!”      – “Perfect. Thank you”

 

Since then I have continued to run the group on a free basis, with donations welcomed. I’ve experimented with lots of fun activities, including: giant collaborative drawing; experimental sculpture with wire, wool and plasticine; mark making to music – and not just any music – a professional classical guitarist who played for the group; playing with leaves in the Royal Gardens and visits to the modern art gallery.

 

I’m thrilled that I’ve engaged and met so many wonderful people through the group. And that my feedback ratings have stayed high, across all 12 sessions, 78% of attendees rated their session as “Amazing” and 22% as “Good” – for context the other options on the form are “okay”, or “poor” or “terrible” and 100% of attendees would recommend, and attend again. So all round, pretty good!