I'm honoured to be the current Artist in Residence at Art Matters, an art studio in Surrey working with people who have experience of mental illness. It's like returning home for me as I attended Art Matters for three years after being diagnosed with bipolar; it showed me that I could use my creativity to manage my condition. Every time I walk into the studio people are working on new paintings, sculptures and textile work - the colour never fails to inspire me.
When drafting my proposal I wanted to create a project that was celebrated the unique community at Art Matters. I decided to draw a series of portraits of the artists there. I was amazed at how many people signed up; I gave a talk about my work. I was nervous beforehand but the experience of discussing my work with so many interested people was really affirming.
Its been a privilege to work with so many Outsider artists - everyone has been really open about showing me their own work. They're working on everything from painting and sculpture to printmaking. It feels like a collaboration, rather than a one way process. Outsider art has a raw untrained honesty, unencumbered by the pretension of much modern conceptual art. I've been grateful that people have taken time out from the studio to sit for me. I've learned that the more people chat away whilst I'm drawing the more likely I am to catch their personality. Equally, sitters assume a kind of dignity when still, looking out of the window watching the trees or planes in the sky.
At this half way point in the project I feel I've come up against the limits of pen as a medium for portrait drawing. It tempts you to stick to outline and is difficult to portray form. Working on white paper on a larger scale seems to have a diluting effect - I have decided to return to a intimate sketchbook size on brown paper. For the remaining five portraits I will use more diverse mediums such as charcoal, chalk and ink washes, as I find pen on its own is too clinical.
In the same way that other minorities have their own culture, I view people with mental illness as my 'clan' - there is an inherent understanding and respect, even if we don't discuss mental health. I hope this will come through in the portraits.