Well a 6am start and a convoluted journey (which way is it now??) were worth the bother to get to the YVAM conference, aimed at early career artists: “the artist’s journey – which way is it now?”. Lots of advice and information from art professionals and some inspiring speakers. Socially engaged art was high on the agenda, with artist talks from Smizz and Emilie Taylor.

Smizz “draws peoples ideas (and her own obvs!)” and has a passion for drawing as a means of communication. Her practice explores issues of power (whether that is social housing, injustice, elitism in art establishments, or enabling better information sharing, listening and communication within NHS structures). Her current work uses drawing as a critical-reflective tool to address communication barriers and conflict issues in healthcare settings. As she says, issues can be raised through drawing that are sometimes too difficult to say or write.

Smizz is an excellent communicator, inspirational speaker and passionate artist (also a healthcare professional & patient!) with a vision to make a difference in the world…

Advice (from Smizz):

  1. We don’t get forever
  2. You already know! (but how are you going to do what you know?)

Check out her website www.sarahsmizz.com

Emilie Taylor is a ceramic artist with a gallery-based and socially engaged practice and lots of tips for planning, planning, planning – what are your aims? What scale will you work on? what steps do you need to put into action now to make the aims a reality? On leaving art-school she struggled to find a way to connect ‘thinking’ with ‘making’. She now works as an art psychotherapist, has exhibited ceramics nationally and had some interesting ideas for funding self-initiated projects in the socially engaged art sector.

Grayson Perry, The Existential Void – 2012

Taylor’s ceramic  work reminds me a bit of Grayson Perry’s pots – primarily because she paints images onto her pots from stories in the news or people that she encounters in her drug and alcohol support work, creating a cultural mis-match between the images depicted and the highly worked surface of the ceramic.

YVAM have a number of different course, mentorships and opportunities advertised on their website– well worth checking out…

They are also inviting suggestions to feed into the strategic arts mentoring planning – contact them at http://www.yvan.org.uk

Many thanks to Jo and Anna for organising the hull contingent! (which way is it now??)


The next two workshops facilitated by the underlined project team will look at process-based mark-making through a series of ‘drawing conversations’. Aimed at those who feel they can’t or don’t normally draw, or those who have an interest in process-based drawing, these will be held at ArtLink community Arts Centre, Princes Avenue, Hull, HU5 3QP. The workshops, led by Adam Wilson, are open-access and free – so spread the word!

Click here to book a place


In a world saturated with photography I was intrigued by the reaction of underlined project participants to seeing themselves in beautifully crafted documentation drawings made by Adam Wilson at our previous workshops. There was something that connected people to each other as they saw distinctive parts of themselves and their group depicted in a non-photorealistic way. The drawings were evidence of a  human interaction. Someone, through a simple line drawing, had valued them enough to take the time to draw them and their group.

This experience has set me thinking about how much image – how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others – impacts on ‘othering’ and social exclusion. Images (positive or negative) influence our perceptions, judgements and pre-conceived ‘ideals’, they impact on our prejudices, expectations and openness to each other; They influence how we see ourselves and how we treat others.

So, here’s some thoughts about the ‘power of portraiture’..

Jason Wilsher-Mills works with marginalised groups to create characters and portraits that communicate their world in a wider socio-political context

Lionel Smit, Anatomical Fragment Series #1, 2011

Lionel Smit creates large-scale portraits and sculptures that incorporate both classical ideals of beauty and painterly marks that disrupt the classical image. His work references the ethnic mix of Cape town, South Africa, where he lives and works.

Tanya Raabe-Webber uses the power of portraiture to open debate and provoke conversation about disability, art and culture.  In her work, she invites a high-profile disabled person to sit for a portrait in a public venue like the National Portrait Gallery with an invited audience. Alongside Tanya creating her portrait (from a mixture of observation and projected public domain images) a discussion takes place with the sitter and the audience, who are encouraged to draw the person themselves. Tanya’s final piece incorporates some of the group’s drawings. Here, the process of engagement raises issues of inclusion and exclusion, social value and perceptions. Tanya was one of the first artists to participate in ArtLink’s Square Peg project

The power of personal depiction and the potential to use group participation to contribute to documenting a shared experience could form an intriguing basis for future underlined project workshops.

for more information about the artists mentioned here click the links below:

Lionel Smit

Jason Wilsher Mills

Tanya Rabe-Webber


Jason Wilsher-Mills’ exhibition Unexpected Engagement marks the end of his year-long Square Peg residency at ArtLink Community Arts Centre.  Having met Jason at Hull’s Disability Arts Network (DAN) meetings last year, and hearing his passionate advocacy for the inclusion of people with disabilities at the Engage Conference 2017, I decided to challenge my avoidance of exhibition openings and find out what he had been up to over the course of the residency…

Originally trained as a painter, Jason moved to digital media using an ipad and drawing tablet to work around his disability. During the Square Peg residency he has taken his own working process into sessions with several community groups such as Active Day Care Hull and Case Training. Using ipads, humour and digital pens, people have been enabled to tell their stories and “contribute to the disability debate” (Jason Wilsher Mills, 2018).

On entering the Artlink gallery space, a large 3D print called Bad Boy Billy (2017) makes an immediate impact. Billy is a fun figure with a serious message – highlighting the number of people in the world without suitable wheelchairs. The character is depicted sat on a space hopper, which makes a vital point in an ironic way. Digital Paintings, 3D prints, light-boxes and two short film installations show characters Jason created in collaboration with workshop participants. Two sections of  vibrant and visually engaging digitally painted wall paper are (like his other artworks)  packed with pointed social/political details embedded amongst illustrative depictions of people with disability and individuality. Extended reality stickers are placed throughout the exhibits, which when scanned with the available iPads, give a comment or fragment of information connected with the people whom Jason worked with to create the characters.

The opening of Unexpected Engagement was one of those rare occasions where those of us with disabilities probably outnumbered those without – a testament to Jason’s ability and commitment to build collaborative art through empowerment and relationships.

Jason Wilsher-Mills Square Peg residency has enabled others to tell their stories and share their aspirations. However, he does not stop at giving a visual voice to personal stories – his artwork also engages directly (through metaphor, character and text) in the wider political debate around disability and social exclusion.

Unexpected Engagement will be at ArtLink until 6 April 2018

for more information about the exhibition click here

View more of Jason Wilsher-Mills’ work at his website 

For information and directions to Artlink please visit: https://www.artlink.uk.net/contact_us2.php


Delivering this week’s underlined project workshop at a Hull-based Memory Café was great fun, with some fantastic work produced and wide-ranging conversations. As a group, we shared experiences of time in Scotland, the efficacy of midge-repellents, what type of paper could represent water, and how to make a weir! We started the session by looking at the work people had produced in September’s workshop and discussing the visual qualities of my responsive piece based on their collage. This led into a discussion of collage techniques in general, during which we looked at the work of Kurt Schwitters and Henri Matisse, paying particular attention to the quality of edges, use of scale and the various types of material used. People then chose a place that meant something to them, and discussed what it was about the place that made it important to them. We then reflected on how we could communicate these places in an imaginative or abstract way,  perhaps thinking about making important things bigger than expected or connecting unexpected objects from the same place. Everyone then set about making their collages, in an atmosphere of concentration and conversation. Some fantastic work was produced, from colour coordinated shopping bags in a shopping centre scene, to an individually styled bluebell wood cut delicately to produce a relief effect on the background, and walking boots approaching Ben Nevis, not to mention a quirky bridge with people looking over it!

Thanks to everyone who took part and contributed to making this such an enjoyable experience.

See below for some of the collage work produced by workshop participants. All the work produced from the memory café workshops will form part of the underlined project exhibition to be held in Hull Central Library, later this year. Watch this space for more information!

Useful Links:

Click here for more information about booking a workshop

For more about Memory Cafe, and support for those affected by Dementias visit www.alzheimers.org.uk