When I mention drawing, the first thing that lots of people say is “I can’t draw!” or “I’m terrible at drawing!”. The other thing people say is that you can’t learn to draw, you have to be born with talent. I don’t think that any of those things are true.
People with aphasia can often lose confidence and feel isolated. They can also find it difficult to concentrate, and to describe what they see. Drawing is a way of thinking without language. I felt that learning to draw would help build their confidence and improve their thinking and observation skills which in turn might help in being able to describe things with language. While I was studying to be a speech and language therapist I went to see one of my lecturers, Madeline Cruice, who loved the idea and suggested that I apply for some funding. She supported me in setting up the project.
I managed to get a grant from the British Aphasiology Society in 2013 http://www.britishaphasiologysociety.org.uk/initiativesinaphasiaseedfundiasfprojects to teach an 8 week course in observational drawing. Observational drawing is drawing what you see rather than from your imagination. The course took place at City University and I found people to take part at Stroke groups, Connect Aphasia drop-in, and some people who were taking part at other projects at City.
The course was very successful and people said that it improved their confidence, mood and concentration. One thing that I noticed was that people who found concentration difficult were able to draw solidly for three hours without a break!
People who have had a stroke often have visual difficulties such as neglect, where only one half of the visual field is visible, and many were learning to use their non-dominant hand. These were things I was able to help with through my training as a speech and language therapist and my experience of working with people post-stroke. Some people found drawing from observation really difficult and would copy the drawings on my handouts. However, by the end of the course, everyone was able to draw from observation and people produced some wonderful detailed drawings.
Because the course was such a success I decided to carry on offering monthly workshops. I contacted a number of venues, and one got back to me immediately with great enthusiasm – the Freespace Gallery in Kentish Town Health Centre run by Melissa Hardwick: http://freespacegallery.org/ . They have two rooms with glass walls and a lovely garden where we go sometimes in the summer. Moving to this venue brought some new people to the project, including people with other difficulties such as dementia and mental health difficulties.
I felt that it would be useful to have some proper evidence of the benefits of learning to draw, so for my speech and language therapy masters project I taught the 8 week course again at City University and tested people before and afterwards. I was lucky enough to have both Madeline Cruice and Lucy Dipper supervising. Although it was a small study it did show some promising results for improving people’s ability to describe what they see, as well as for mood, confidence, communication and quality of life.
As a result of running the project I have been involved in other projects such as teaching bird drawing workshops for the film company who made ‘The Possibilities are Endless’, a film about musician Edwyn Collins who has aphasia, and teaching a workshop at an event for the Luna project http://www.storieswithaphasia.moonfruit.com/news/4585499855 , another project run by Madeline Cruice and Lucy Dipper.
Most of the original participants are still coming to the workshops and have become accomplished artists.
By Cat Andrew
You can keep up to date with the project here: www.facebook.com/aphasiadrawing