Inside the Creative Mind: A palette of red

27 June 2013

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Artist Elaine Duigenan is working with young women at New Horizons Youth Centre. She has devised and is running a series of six workshops that explore connections with works in the current Wellcome Collection exhibition, Souzou: Outsider Art from Japan. She’s writing a series of blog posts to relay some of the ideas and outcomes in words and pictures; here’s the fourth.

For this workshop I wanted to do two tasks extending from the work of Masao Obata.  He makes the most beautiful pencil drawings on brown box cardboard.  The work is very particular in that he always uses a warm colour palette of red and orange hues and uses colour pencils.  He also rounds the edges of the work.

To introduce the topic I showed my own effort to emulate his style.  I wanted to encourage participants to think about their relationships, be they with family or friends, and then draw something that would describe them.  For some it was timely as, for example, J was very concerned about a close friend moving on from the hostel (where the workshops are based) – she was keen to talk and clearly felt that the group was a safe place in which to do so.

The technique of pencil on cardboard lacks the vibrancy of felt pens and brought some reminiscence of early school days.  We observed how Obata not only drew ‘characters’ but also decorated his cardboard canvas with motifs and tendrils – his compositions display a considered and flowing order.

It was interesting what emerged about the relationships in every drawing. I had suggested that if anyone was stuck they could draw, like Obata, a simple boat shape and place their figures within, but V had all her family assembled in a flowerpot and described it as ‘pot bound’.  J expressed her concerns about her friend leaving with coiled hearts taking flight. H surprised herself by drawing an isolated figure, cross-legged at the top of some broad steps, head down and “lonely looking”…

The second part of the workshop introduced a fun technique for printing using sellotape.  We tried photocopying the work we had just made but the tonal range didn’t have enough contrast.  However, by using some collages from an earlier workshop we were able to get good results.  The technique requires photocopies from a machine that uses toner or from a laser copier. One of the participants, S, is five months pregnant and clearly very excited about this new chapter in her life.  She happened to have her recent scan images with her and was delighted to be able to use them as the basis for her printmaking.  It was wonderful to hear her chatting as she made her prints and was excited about being able to turn her scans into lasting mini artworks.  I could not have anticipated that this would be an outcome of the workshop, but it really made my day to see her so engaged and delighting in the process of making art.

Souzou runs until Sunday 30 June. Find out more about Elaine’s work at