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Art for anxiety – Mental Health Awareness Week 2023

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This week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, and the focus this year is anxiety.

There is a hope that by creating a space for people to speak openly about anxiety this week, it will encourage people to share their experiences and any helpful ideas on managing anxiety. For this reason, we are chatting with Peter, a keen volunteer on two of Innovate Trust’s current Conservation projects in Cardiff that are run through our Skills and Wellbeing Team.  

Although Peter’s love of the outdoors and nature led him to our projects, he has a background in Art and Photography.

Peter agreed to talk to us this week about how his artwork has helped him deal with anxiety and depression over the years. He hopes that others suffering may be inspired by his words and try creating something themselves. 

EL is Emma Lewis, our Digital Resources Officer
PC is Peter Colley

EL: Hi Peter, how are you? Thank you so much for talking to us today. Seeing some of your work after so many chats about it in the past year has been so great. Thank you for bringing some pieces along with you today, they’re so good!

PC: That’s ok, I am good, thank you. It has been really nice looking through it all. It’s made me quite nostalgic about my time in College. I had a really good time at Cardiff & Vale College and had some really supportive and inspiring Tutors.

EL: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in Art?

PC: Art has always been a passion of mine, and of many people in my family when they were younger, but they left it behind when they left school and followed other careers. I was pleased when I got accepted into Cardiff & Vale College. I did Art & Design Level 3 and stayed there for 5 years. When I started, I wasn’t the greatest, but as time passed, I learned techniques and got better. I did sketching and life drawing, Printmaking, Photography, Ceramics and Painting with oil and acrylics. We learned about the history of Art and how important it is to embrace your emotional side.

EL: You’ve mentioned that Art helped you a lot during more challenging times. Please tell us a little more about what you mean.

PC: Some things are hard to talk about. I grew up finding it hard to speak of emotions and would get overwhelmed sometimes. Mental Health can be tough to deal with sometimes, but I’ve learnt it can be good to embrace emotions, even the bad ones, as they help to create more meaningful work and making art can actually help. It helps me to express myself when the words don’t come out.

PC: Having a subject to focus on helps me focus on other areas of my life too. I think lots of people will understand when I say that during and after 2020 with all the lockdowns and restrictions, I became isolated and got anxious about being out and about again. Thinking about something I wanted to draw gave me a reason to get out so I could walk around and observe what was around me.

EL: That’s a really interesting way of looking at things. It gave you a purpose for being out of the house.

PC: Yes, exactly, it did, and it was fun aswell. 

EL: What are some of your favourite things to focus on?

PC: I really like drawing people, but I mainly work from photos because I don’t want to stare at people. I like nice buildings and landscapes, being out in nature and finding interesting trees and flowers.

EL: Thank you so much for being part of our conversations around Mental Health Awareness Week, Peter. You really have given us something to think about. It fits so well with the theme of sharing ideas to help us all with anxiety. Anxiety really can take hold of us at times; you’re sending a great message about creativity and coping.

PC: I want to bring a positive message that creating a picture or a photo that you’re proud of can help in times when people’s mental health isn’t very good. Learning new things like drawing or painting techniques can give you confidence and make you feel better about yourself. Being able to tell people how you feel through your pictures can be a very good thing to do.

My confidence has improved a lot in the last year since I joined Innovate Trust, and met my really good group of friends I work outdoors with every week. We have a really supportive group, and if you had asked me to do this interview a year ago, I would have said no. Making good friends and doing work we are proud of has made a big difference to me. I want to share my work with my friends and maybe inspire one of them too!

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