Feel Good Art

I have always thought of my art as “feel good art”. It is easy to see why with the butterflies, the happy colours, the nature scenes and what my work stand for. Indeed I frequently tell my clients that I have one key objective: to make them smile. Don’t underestimate how beneficial it is to take a moment every so often and just smile. Makes you feel good right?

My collage Portraits are also popular because people enjoy discovering all the hidden detail and personalisation as well as the aesthetics of some seriously cute children and pets (the usual subjects in my portrait career to date).

But I have recently taken my “feel good” approach to a new level. I am now offering mini-masterclasses to children as part of my commission work. What this means is, when I am commissioned to make a piece of art, I include the child/children in as much of the piece or pieces as possible and learn about the creative process by seeing it evolve from inception to completion. This makes the piece a truly valued work of art. Sometimes clients decide on two or three separate pieces – one for each child. The process is much the same regardless.

Now, just to put a few things straight: I control the process! Nobody is let loose unless I am monitoring every flick of paint. After all, I am being tasked with producing a beautiful piece of art, not overseeing a unilateral creation of an oversized piece of artwork like the many that I find in my childrens’ book bags day after day after day. I’d like to think that my experience counts for something. It’s a serious business. Seriously fun.

There is also increasing evidence to suggest that having a creative outlet is good for our health. It alleviates stress and rebalances us. The end result is important but the process of creation is really worth investing in and developing – and so much better to start young.

It turns out that I am not the only one to see the value in combining a mini-masterclass for children with commissioned work. It really is something the whole family can buy into and so much more meaningful than buying art off the shelf. Theo is a great example of how great the experience can be …

Last week …

Over the next couple of weeks I will be with Theo to create a work of art and hold a series of mini masterclasses. We are planning to get the piece done in 4 sessions together. In reality this means I will be working between times to make sure each stage is where it needs to be before moving on. Oh and this is all happening in Theo’s garage, not my studio. I have a very, very large dust sheet to protect the environment we will be working in. We will not be inhibited from throwing paint!

Theo is eight. He is keen to have the classes but I don’t yet know how well he can focus or listen in a 1-2 hour session. This will affect how much we can do together. It is about finding the balance between giving him a breadth and depth of experience now so that he keeps on enjoying various aspects of art over the long term. The last thing I want is for him to see this as hard work. I want Theo to be a part of creating something amazing and feel an honest sense of achievement.

Theo in action …

Today …

I have just completed the mini-masterclass commission piece with Theo. Theo is actually 8 and three quarters … nearly (not simply 8 as previously stated) and is enthusiastic, happy, bright and creative … and he can listen well. Very well. He was a joy to work with from start to finish. In fact I’d go so far as to say it was an amazing experience for me (and hopefully him!).

There is something about a shared experience and imparting knowledge that is especially enriching for both parties. I particularly enjoyed watching Theo throwing paint onto the canvas. He was unconstrained. He went at it with a level of confidence that defied his age and experience. He didn’t see any of the barriers that we erect as we get older – often erroneously – and which only serve to inhibit us. At one point Theo turned to me and said “I don’t know if you made that mark or me.” It didn’t matter to either of us and somehow we were better off not knowing. This was our piece of art. Full stop.

Theo was involved at every stage of the piece. We built the layers up over time and sometimes that meant doing the grunt work of drying the piece with a hair dryer. Theo cracked on with it without hesitation. To say I was impressed is an understatement.

As the piece developed Theo’s input was more and more considered. His views mattered and I incorporated almost all of them without amendment. Where I felt improvements could be made he listened (that essential skill!) and agreed. The mutual respect was palpable – indeed he earned it throughout.

The finished piece is called “Flying High”. The number and placement of flowers, as well as the type and colours chosen, represent things that mean something to Theo and his family. The piece is highly personalised reflecting key dates, special numbers and meaningful moments. Yet on the face of it, it is simply a beautiful sky and a summer meadow … which looks fab in their living room!

So there it is. These collaborations are so worthwhile. They really do make everybody feel good. I left Theo a few hours ago and already he has planned and named a series of work to get started on. Maybe some time soon I can be his apprentice.

Tracey Thornton is an international mixed-media artist
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