Art Facilitator – Elaine Millin
Art Facilitator, Elaine Millin runs creative workshops for our Big Issue vendors. She chats to Laura Jones about her life’s work and inspiration.
Images: Elaine Millin, Artist and Bridging Polarities Facilitator/Trainer
How did you come to join The Big Issue as art facilitator?
In early 2010 The Big Issue urgently needed a teacher for the art programme, and Ray Joseph on the board contacted me as he knew I had completed a training to facilitate art with adults. I met the team and a few days later there I was, running an art session. I was a little nervous in this new territory, but the
first session went well. The vendors were kind and helped me relax. Now I could share with so many the gift of the way of working that had changed my own life: Bridging Polarities through Art, brought to South Africa by three art therapists and a music therapist from The Netherlands – a form of art facilitation where the emphasis is on the process not the product.
How did you discover your love for creative expression?
My love of creative expression was re- ignited when I studied to be a Waldorf kindergarten teacher in my early 40s, a new career after working in the commercial advertising world.
The colourful mediums, beeswax crayons and watercolours filled me with joy. Working from the heart and not the head brought freedom to explore and create. I took this even further during the Bridging Polarities training in my own creative work, learning how to offer this way of non-judgemental art to adults, no matter what their experience.
Achievements and highlights …
I love meeting new people and groups in a variety of fields, holding them in a nurturing space by helping them get in touch with themselves and their lives. When people, especially those who have done little art in their lives smile, a light shines from their eyes when they view their work. There are so many highlights at The Big Issue; watching the vendors relax and create in the quiet art space and their joy when their work appears in the magazine or is sold.
Most significant moment in your career working with the vendors?
The most touching moment for me was a vendor who had been brought into The Big
Issue offices. He had been lying destitute on the pavement. At the first session he attended, the theme was exploring an important relationship; he created a picture filled with colour. It was dedicated to his daughter. He had lost touch with her. His work was sold and used on the cover of a poet’s book – she was so moved by his work.
What advice would you give to beginners?
Art skills can be developed but should not be the primary focus. Rather allow inner experiences to find expression. Even an observational work that is ‘good’ or ‘accurate’ should be filled with the maker’s vision and connection to the subject. Explore and experiment with art mediums, discovering new things about the materials and yourself as you do it. Art should be alive with the artist’s feelings, spirit, and soul for it to be authentic and can be received by others. The purpose of art is not to satisfy others, but to meet a need for exploration in the maker.
How do those of us who feel creatively blocked, begin?
I would suggest finding ways into the artwork that bypass the critical mind: allowing colours and the images that arise while listening to music take you into a creative exploration; getting inspiration from artists you love; exploring nature through the senses, for example making marks to the sounds in nature; feeling texture of natural objects; looking at an object but not looking at the paper; then, inspired by the shapes and lines you created, you can bring in colour.
What inspires you?
Nature nourishes and inspires me, helping to bring calm and peace into my life. I begin to paint from an inner place out of feelings, qualities and memories in nature; the beauty and vibrancy of the fynbos and the mountains emerge on the canvas. The very nature of process art is a journey – having no fixed intention of the end product allows for exploration and being open to what emerges.