Please introduce yourself, your role and your creative journey/background…
Hey, I’m Meg, a session leader at Your Way in The Studio. I’m a graduate in Fine Art from Plymouth College of Art. I work in painting and installation. I use a lot of colour in my artwork, as well as sensory based materials. I try to bring my experience as an artist into my job role. I am here to help people express themselves and to help them explore their abilities.
What led you to work at this organisation?
I really wanted a job in the creative industry after graduating from university. I found this job through a friend who has autism. I met his support worker one day and we got chatting where she mentioned that they were looking for a new session leader in The Studio. I grew up with a brother who has autism as well, so I’ve developed some experience in support. I’m not a carer or support worker, but I obviously do some training as part of the job to help people with people’s needs. They’re a really lovely bunch. Everyone has completely different personalities which is lovely. A lot of people have been coming here for years. They come here to create and pursue any ideas that they have. There’s a real family network. Everyone’s really close and we have good groups each day.
What does your organisation offer to members of the community and how do they benefit from it?
At Your Way, we have been supporting adults with learning disabilities and autism since 2009. In the studio, we run workshops, and work on different projects in arts and crafts to allow our attendees to express their abilities creatively, in a safe and friendly environment. We go on trips, for example to exhibitions or out to places where they can get inspiration in the outdoors. We help people to express their ideas and make sure there is always enough materials for future projects. In the past, our attendees have been given the opportunity to exhibit their work at HOST Gallery where their paintings were sold. They have also made work to sell on a stall at Plymouth Christmas Market.
People who come to The Studio at Your Way really benefit from the social aspect of the experience. Even if they just come for a natter and a coffee, everyone who comes to The Studio always has a really great day. Our attendees can come to The Studio as often as they like, some people come in once a week, others two or three days a week. Around 13 people attend at the moment. Before Covid, there were a lot more attendees and some are rejoining slowly. We also run other activities including Cook Clubs.
“The Studio at Your Way is a community hub that encourages a community within it. It is an inclusive experience where everyone muddles together to create and learn together.”
How do you generally plan your workshops and what do you hope to achieve from them?
Firstly I’ll develop an idea, then write a materials list and check to see what materials are available, or what we have already. When I first started there were so many materials here already so I wanted to work with what we already had. We’re still working our way through these now!
I’ve spent a lot of time learning how people work and exploring how they would work on a set project. For the first project that I set everyone, they decorated giant lettering of their first name initials. I provided them with lots of materials and they decorated the lettering however they wanted to. This included using paint, glitter, stickers, buttons and more. Workshops and projects are usually flexible and I allow our attendees to take the lead quite a bit. For example, someone wanted to try out making dream catchers. Neither of us had made one before so we were both learning together which was really nice.
Would you say that you tend to gravitate towards running workshops using certain types of art processes more than others, or do you try to keep it varied?
When I was at University, I was in a completely different mindset with making. As part of my job role, I allow myself to be led by others and their interests. If I find something new to try, I’ll suggest it and see what they think. Someone who attends on a Friday bought a shoe box in one day, and he didn’t really know what to do with it. We had loads of cardboard tubes from toilet rolls that had been collected over time, so we put these together and turned them into a car. He made some wheels, painted in the box and painted his own little number plates on it. Who knows what you can make with little things you can find. I love giving people the freedom to express themselves and experiment!
You recently had a local artist in The Studio running a series of workshops, which is where the most recent mural has come from. How do you decide what sort of artists to bring in for workshops? Do you hope to have any more artists come in over the next few months?
I would love to get more artists to come in. I think it’s really important for our attendees to meet different artists working in various mediums so that they can try things that they may have never done before. Our most recent visiting artist, Phil Tatton, has now finished his sessions, but we’re still continuing the project over the next few weeks. We have limited funding for this so are only able to bring artists in for a limited number of sessions. We’ll probably have to wait a while until we get someone in next.
“Organisations like Brixton Art Prize that offer pockets of funding to arts community projects are brilliant, as it expands the possibilities for people to learn from a more diverse mixture of artists.”
What creative mediums have you explored with people? Has this led them to discover a new skill they didn’t know they had before?
We’ve recently started our second mural. I think it has been really nice for everyone to paint on a wall. Painting on something other than a canvas, a piece of paper, or in a book has been a good way of helping our attendees to branch out a little bit more. We’ve also spent time learning how to mix colours, because often someone will pick a colour and they’ll just use that one colour. Our most recent visiting artist, Phil Tatton, did a great job of teaching everyone about colour theory and colour mixing. I’ve been focusing on helping them to branch out more from what they’re used to. This involves looking at what they’re comfortable with, and then slowly introducing them to something new. It’s important not to overwhelm people with too many new processes at once.
There have been a range of different session leaders since The Studio opened in 2013 who have brought a range of skills to the table. Until around 5 years ago, The Studio offered craft-based and card making workshops. Since then, the organisation has focused on bringing in artists with a broader range of skills to teach attendees new techniques. This has transformed the programme and has really helped people to learn and expand their artistic skills.
Bryn and Matthew have attended The Studio since it opened. Matthew really enjoys painting and drawing with bright colours and paper mache. He has used the paper mache process to create a large dragonfly sculpture and has also experimented with animation. Bryn loves to draw, paint and work with mosaic. He also does a lot of hand embroidery and has worked with paper mache, including creating a giant paper mache mermaid sculpture that was donated to the Barbican Boathouse. Both Matthew and Bryn make all of their artwork freehand and without prompts.
During the interview, Bryn explained how coming to The Studio at Your Way has really helped to boost his artistic skills since he started almost 10 years ago.
What do you think are the most important aspects of community based art projects?
The social aspect is invaluable. It provides an opportunity and space for people to go somewhere else, meet new people (or people they already know), try new things and just generally have fun. It provides people with a space to roam free and test out ideas by offering them support and materials. Here at The Studio, I have made sure that everyone has their own space to keep their work and have given them each a sketchbook. Little things like that help them to track their progress and reflect on the work that they’ve made. The Studio at Your Way is a community hub that encourages a community within it. It is an inclusive experience where everyone muddles together to create and learn together.