Monday, 17 April 2017

Regaining Your Innate Creativity At The WI

I was recently invited to the Kingsclere Women's Institute to speak on 'Regaining Your Innate Creativity' and lead a creative art workshop. 

To start off I asked the question: What is creativity?

“The ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.”

“The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.”

“Creativity is the innate ability to synthesize ideas into something new.”

From these definitions we can see that creativity is not applied to just art, craft or design but any type of problem solving - and we may engage with a range of everyday tasks creatively without recognising this.

The next question to ask was; is everyone creative?

It is a common notion that creativity is a mysterious trait that you either have or you don’t. There has been a lot of speculation and research on whether some people are naturally more creative and how much environmental factors play on developing creativity. The answer is probably a bit of both.  Some people may be more disposed to original thinking or visual learning than others but I believe that we all have the potential to be creative.

So why do we lose this creativity?

If you spend any time with young children you will know that they are very creative and imaginative, completely unhindered by notions of the correct way to draw something or even that trees must be green.  It is only as we get older that we begin to lose this creativity.  It may be that we are told trees can’t be purple or that our drawing doesn’t look right. Many lose confidence in their artistic abilities and in creativity in general.

Also we are told that creativity is an artistic characteristic.  The initial influencers in our lives, have told us that if we can draw or paint or sculpt or write etc. we are creativeTherefore, we’ve deduced that if we can’t draw or paint or sculpt or write, we aren’t creative. This reasoning becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Drawing and painting are in fact technical skills that can be learnt in the same way that music can, but creativity is where a particular problem is solved.  Such as how do you show that part of the tree you are painting is in shadow?  Perhaps a creative solution would be to add some purple in those areas!

When we were children, most of us perceived of ourselves as creative because we were not held back by rules and instead engaged with art activities not hindered by the concept of being judged on our creations – we just had fun!

As we get older we begin to feel more pressure to conform, we worry about results, being accepted and are less likely to take risks in trying new things. 

One of the most innovative artists Pablo Picasso summed this up in two quotes.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

“It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

So is it too late to learn? Can you be more creative?

Yes! One of the great myths about creativity and especially art is that it can’t be learnt. Neuroscience has shown that our brains are incredibly adaptable and that they physically change as we learn new things.  While the best time to learn may be while we are young and the neural synapses in our brains are most adaptable to making new connections we can still train our brains to make different connections later on, even if we are going against or bypassing established connections.

As an example the famous painter Wassily Kandinsky originally practised law. He was thirty, when he decided to pursue a career in the arts and went on to create the first pieces of non-objective, abstract art.  One of the most momentous developments in the history of art.

You may be asking why are art and performing creative activities important?

Imagination, creative problem solving and lateral thinking are essential to all developments across any discipline. Whether or not we are aware of it, art design and creativity affects our lives all the time.  As an example look at the chair you are sitting on and imagine the creative work that went into it's design and construction. 

Art and creative activities also encourage exploration of the world and different subjects.  Art and craft can be an effective way of exploring different cultures and act as a record of historical events.

Art can be used for; entertainment, cultural appreciation, aesthetics, personal improvement, and even social change.

It has been shown that art and creative activities can have a positive impact on our well-being.  Art or craft groups can create space to socialise, for those who are lonely. Craft is a good way to bring together communities, generations and cultures. It can also be the perfect medium to discuss a variety of issues. Difficult subjects are often easier to talk about whilst in the process of making an object.

Art can also impact our emotional and mental health.  Jennifer Drake is an assistant professor of psychology,  researching psychology and the arts, who has looked into how drawing can improve mood. Her studies show that when used as a distraction drawing can significantly improve mood. The studies found that drawing an emotionally neutral subject and focusing on observation and the process of drawing worked best, rather than using drawing to vent or express emotions.

Recent fads like adult colouring books and zen doodles are now making use of this mood altering effect. Commenting on adult colouring Drake said:

“I think adult colouring is absolutely therapeutic. It distracts us from something that is stressing us and allows us to focus on something positive.”

How can we be more creative day to day?

Creativity often feels as though it blossoms out of nowhere.  Awesome ideas can pop into your head when you're in the shower or on the bus, but only occasionally when you're at your desk or easel.  Creativity emerges when there is the correct balance between knowledge, experience and your focus on the challenge at hand is a relaxed, coupled with a positive emotional state.  In other words you’re unlikely to solve a problem creatively, when stressed.  

To encourage creative thinking:

·         Feed your imagination, increase your knowledge of a range of subjects.

·         Be open and inquisitive.

·         Set yourself problems that require creative solutions.

·         Be confident to try new things. Take some risks. Move out of your comfort zone

·         Don’t go with your first idea.

·         Look at the problem from a different angle.

·         Cultivate a resilience to failure.

 After my talk I introduced some practical activities using wet on wet watercolour washes, Clingfilm and salt, then encouraged the ladies to explore a range of dry media while the watercolour was dying. The colourful paintings could then be cut out into shapes and stuck onto larger paper in a new design. 

Throughout the activity I encouraged the ladies to play and explore, experiment, try new things and take risks. I asked them not to worry about the end product but to approach the activity with a sense of freedom and not worry about being judged. 

Lots of fun was had by all and hopefully I have inspired the ladies to be more creative.

Example of work made.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

School Mural Commission

Back in July I was contacted by Merton Infant School about working with the children to create a collaborative artwork for their new entrance lobby.  The brief was to create something that embodied the six core school values and was themed around owls; the school logo. A very open brief to begin with which gave me a lot of scope.  I put together a rough design proposal with two options; one design with a 3D element and two days of art workshops and one solely 2D design with one day of Art workshops.  The Art coordinator was very enthusiastic and took these options to the Head Teacher and the 2D option was then decided on, in September.  

The artwork was to consist of six owls arranged around a central tree.  I choose the tree motif for its connotations with growing, reaching upwards, and shelter. The tree has six main branches; on which the six school values will be written. The owls are to be arranged so that their backgrounds go from night to day leading towards the tree.

The ambitious project was to be collaborative and involve every pupil in the school (ages 4 – 7), through a day of nine, thirty minute workshops, not a lot of time! So the activities had to be kept simple. It was important that all the children were able to engage with the activity including those with SEN. 

All the classes are named after an owl and fortuitously only six of these were real species of owls (apparently there is no such thing as a speckled owl!) and so the species depicted in the mural were chosen to depict the class names. My plan for the workshops was to get the children to use a range of mark making techniques, in oil pastel and paint, using resist, s’grafitto, rubbings and oil pastel Monoprints. Each class would create textures and mark making based on observation from photos of the owl species their class was named after. The other three classes would create textures for the tree and backgrounds. I would then take the children’s work and collage it together into the final design. This way all the children in the school would contribute some artwork for the mural.

Here is a rough scale plan of the Mural.

Part of the aim for this project was that the children would get to meet and work with a real artist, rather than just looking at those from the past and thereby see ‘artist’ and other arts careers as something tangible and achievable.

Everything ready for the day of workshops!

The tree outlined

The children really enjoyed making tree rubbings, exploring mark-making and learning a new word; S’grafitto! The children loved the project and will have a colourful new artwork as a reminder of their day.  

Here are some of the children’s drawings for the Oil pastel Monoprints exploring mark-making and texture on the theme of owls, feathers and trees.

 The coloured Oil pastel prints.

The Oil pastel prints with a background wash. 

 Putting the collages together…

The Tree

The Owls 

The Finished Owls

The artwork is now sited in the school lobby, providing interest and stimulation for staff, visitors and pupils. The mural serves as a testament to the creativity of the children and their ability to learn new skills, work as a team, gain self-esteem, and ultimately to produce a piece of artwork which they can be proud of.

The final mural in place.

If you have any questions or would like to know more about how I could work with your school or community group, please contact me via my website:  I can offer workshops as well as larger commissions and projects made in collaboration with pupils or members of the community. I can work in a range of media and across disciplines, with an imaginative and fun approach. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Codes of Faith Exhibition - A closer look at More Than Sparrows

Codes of Faith

My Reflections on ‘More Than Sparrows’

Brown Hair (The Artist’s), Black Hair, Apple Wood, Oak Wood, Wire and Acrylic
38 x 18 x 18 cm

My Sculpture ‘More than Sparrows: Matthew 10: 29-31’ was recently selected for ‘Codes of Faith’ an exhibition at the Laura I Gallery in Barking. A group exhibition displaying artwork on the theme of faith from over 30 artists in order to celebrate diversity and promote world peace. Artists from myriad backgrounds and cultures show works representing their personal beliefs, varying from those who follow traditional religions to ideas about atheism and pagan spirituality. The aim of this multi-discipline exhibition is to inspire people to live in harmony, embrace differences and promote friendship and peace through our common values and wishes for personal peace and autonomy.

As part of this I was invited to take part in a filmed Artists discussion, where the exhibiting artists would have an opportunity to talk about their art and discuss the theme of the exhibition.

As a member of the Salvation Army my faith inevitably has an impact on my work as an artist, leading me to certain subjects and shaping my observations of everyday life. My graphite ‘volunteer’ drawings are one example of this. 

In my opinion art should touch the hearts and minds of people in some way. Whether it makes them laugh, cry, feel, think, question, connect with or be otherwise effected. My works often contain many layers of meaning and a narrative element. It is important to me that my artworks are left a little ambiguous so that viewers are able to construct their own meanings. Therefore I don’t often give too much background behind the artwork but in this case have decided to expound on the story behind my sparrow sculpture in this post.  I hope that this will give insight but still allow for others to make their own interpretations.

The idea for the sculpture was fed from several sources; as a child I had a poster on my wall with a poetic version of this verse on it, which I learnt by heart.   But the idea was really sparked by a sermon from a visiting Salvation Army officer who was talking about two aspects of God; his omnipotence, vastness and supreme power against the fact that he is also a personal God who knows and cares for us as individuals. The officer used Matthew 10: 29-31 as an illustration, where it talks about the hairs on your head being counted.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10: 29-31 (NIV)

Now, from what I can remember he was a balding, older gentleman and made the joke that his hairs wouldn’t take as much counting as other people’s! He took his illustration further, surmising that if God knew how many hairs are on your head he would know how many you left in your hairbrush that morning and how many lay on the hairdresser’s floor.  This image caught my attention and intrigued me. 

I had previously made an installation that used delicate tissue papier-mâché sculptures and had the idea of using hair in a similar fashion. I began trying out using hair from my hairbrush as a modelling material mixing it with glue and forming shapes. I decided that cut hair might be more pleasing than hair with a root. So on my next trip to the hairdressers I explained that I wanted to keep my cut hair for an artwork. I made a test sparrow first to find the best method and discover how thin I could make it while still being strong enough to stay in one piece. Unfortunately I ran out of hair once I began the second of the final sparrows, so had to take another trip to the hairdresser, who was keen to learn about the progress of my sculpture.

The artwork I hope encapsulates the different aspects of the verse.  Like the Vanitas paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries, you can read the sculpture in a symbolic way, the delicate sparrows with their fleeting existence symbolise the transience of life.  Which reminds us of his all-knowing presence that not even a sparrow can fall without his knowledge. The use of my own hair emphasises the personal nature of a God who knows and cares for us even down to counting the hairs on our heads. Unlike a Vanitas painting however I see the sculpture as pointing to last line of the verse, a reminder to not worry or be afraid but to live positively, to have faith.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Happy New Year!

2016 is looking quite busy.  I will be continuing to run courses at Kingsclere Village Hall, The Hurst School and for Basingstoke College of Technology. I have also been asked back by the Home Education Group I have previously ran classes for to teach. Starting with six weeks of drawing and sketching lessons for 10 to 13 year olds.  

Follow the link below for more on the courses I am running this term. 

Art Courses for the New Year

I had two commissions to complete for Christmas this year the first was a portrait that was very well received.  While the second was more challenging; a specific Sunbeam Talbot car in British Racing Green. Which is quite a difficult colour to pin down. It did not help that the main reference photo I was asked to work from was in black and white!  However I am happy to say the Client was very pleased with the final result. 

Sunbeam Talbot, Acrylic, 2015

So now I am looking forward to making some new work 'for me' now as well as having an eye on a few upcoming open exhibitions and Art Fairs.

Unfortunately my new Daylight Easel Lamp that I received for Christmas is missing a piece so I am still having to make do with my current studio lighting.  I hope it can be sorted out soon as the January cloud cover and lack of light is not exactly conductive to painting!

Wishing you all a Creative and Successful New Year!


Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Society of Women Artists Exhibition 2015

The Society of Women Artists
154th Annual Exhibition

5th – 13th June
10am – 5pm daily (final day 3pm)
Late Opening Thursday 11th June to 7.30. Bar Available

I am delighted to be exhibiting with the SWA for the third year running.

Founded in 1855, the society has had a unique history dedicated to promoting art by women. The Annual Exhibition at the prestigious Mall Galleries, showcases a stunning and eclectic mix of artwork in all media. The Society encourages variety and versatility and features some of the finest contemporary women artists from all over the world, thus sustaining a reputation for excellence.

The exhibition will be opened by the society’s patron HRH Princess Michael of Kent. If you would like to attend the private view on Thursday 4th June 10am – 8pm please contact me for an invitation (needed for gallery entrance on this day only).

This year I have two works in the exhibition one of which is my latest Graphite drawing, depicting a family friend in Salvation Army uniform selling the War Cry. It is entitled 'Heart and Soul'. I tried something a bit different with the background in this one, which I think gives the drawing more life.

© Bethany Y Milam
Heart and Soul
Graphite on Fabriano Paper

Artwork featured on Street Pastors website

In 2014 I had the opportunity to walk with the Basingstoke Street Pastors as an observer; it was an enlightening evening and I am full of respect for everyone who feels able to serve in this way.  The experience gave me inspiration for my art practice and the resulting artwork depicts two Basingstoke street pastors in action.  While working on this drawing I had the story of the Good Samaritan running through my mind especially the passage: “Then Jesus said ‘which one of these three men do you think was a neighbour to the man who was attacked by the robbers?’ The expert on the law answered, ‘The one who showed him Mercy’ Jesus said to him then go and do what he did.”  Luke 10:36-37.

Street Pastors is an inter-denominational Church response to urban problems, engaging with people on the streets to care and listen.  It was pioneered in London in January 2003 by Rev Les Isaac, Director of the Ascension Trust, and has seen some remarkable results, including drops in crime in areas where teams have been working. There are now some 9000 trained volunteers in around 250 teams around the United Kingdom.

A Street Pastor is a Church member with a concern for society - in particular young people who feel themselves to be excluded and marginalised - and who is willing to engage people where they are.  The role is about listening, caring and helping - working in an unconditional way.  BBC inside out video link

I was asked if my Drawing ‘Reaching Out – Street Pastors In Action’ might be used for the Basingstoke Street Pastors 6 year commissioning order of service. Where it was very well received.

The artwork is now featured on the Street Pastors website 

If you would like a photographic print taken from the original drawing, they are available for sale.  

A3 prints; unframed £10 and framed £30. (The overall frame size is approx. 44cm x 54cm).

Greetings Cards are also available, please enquire using the contact form on 

© Bethany Y Milam
Reaching Out – Street Pastors In Action
Graphite and Compressed Charcoal on Fabriano Paper
102.4 x 83.3 (Frame Size)

Previously I have drawn a portrait of my mother in her Street Pastor uniform. Both these drawings have been exhibited in The Society of Women Artists annual exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London.  More details of this years exhibition to follow. 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Highly commended at Patchings Exhibition 2014

The Artist and Leisure Painter Patchings Exhibition 2014

My Graphite portrait of my mother (a Basingstoke Street Pastor) has been selected for The Artist highly commended category at  The 2014 Artist and Leisure Painter Patchings Exhibition.  Click below to view on-line and vote for the People's Choice Award.