Art itself is therapeutic, and when you are passionate about it, you make the process of teaching one of joyous learning and pleasant discovery. Since retiring twelve months ago and moving with his wife to Elliot Gardens, Ross has brought his passion for art to the village, along with his technical skills.
“Of all the mental health nursing I’ve done through the years in all different settings— hospitals, jails, and drugs and alcohol services— art therapy is the one area where all the divisions between people come down,” he says. “You’re not a nurse, and they’re not a patient or a client; everybody is just there together to enjoy being part of the class and it becomes very freeing. A lot of people said it was the only place where they felt accepted, where they felt at ease and were able to do what they enjoyed.”
Ross believed it’s important to set up a space that encourages laughter. “I make sure there’s good music playing in the background, and there’s a lot of joking, so people find it very relaxing. It makes a difference.”
Of all the mental health nursing I’ve done through the years in all different settings— hospitals, jails, and drug and alcohol services— art therapy is the one area where all the divisions between people come down.
His popular art classes are changing lives there too, as curious residents are discovering they have unexpected abilities. “I love it that 99% of the people I’ve taught here have come to me and said, “Look, I am a bit interested, but I have no skill— I’ve never painted, never drawn. I don’t know anything about it.” And their follow up comment is, “I don’t think I am going to be any good at it.” And I say to them, “By the time you’ve finished learning, you will be. You’ll be doing lovely paintings, because it’s just about learning the process, and anyone can do it.”
He begins with an introduction to acrylic paints and brush techniques. ”I start off teaching simple scenes— sunset over water, with a few clouds and a bit of land, something very simple in washes. By following the process, anyone can do washes. Then, once people become familiar with the materials, I invite them to try something they are really interested in. They start to bring their own projects along and I support them. I might teach them to do flowers, or animals, whatever it is they like. They can do their own work and I help them to develop it to whatever level that they want. I enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun.”
I invite them to try something they are really interested in. They start to bring their own projects along and I support them.
Ross grew up in Millicent, South Australia, and started sketching at age twelve. He explored watercolour and oil painting and did a few portraits.
After school, he moved to Adelaide to explore a career in painting, but digital and graphic art was on the rise.
”I met with the owner of a small graphic design business for advice. I showed him my portfolio, we discussed graphic design, and he told me that it’s primarily done on computer. He said, “You could transfer into graphics, but I really like the style of your work and I’d encourage you to continue with that.” At the same time, he commissioned me to do a portrait of his daughter!
Portraits have always been Ross’ special passion. Working in acrylics, pastels and graphite, he enjoys the challenge of capturing a good likeness, whether it’s of a person or an animal. His winning Art Trail piece, Toby and Benny, is a lively rendering of his beloved Burmese cats transfixed on a bird outside the window.
Retirement living has been a wonderful new chapter in Ross’ life. He is as busy as ever but having much more fun.
‘My wife and I have a lovely relationship. We’ve always been best friends, we are just enjoying spending that time with each other and not having to rush off to work all the time. Now I am playing a sport in the village and doing a lot of other activities, music and so forth.
I am absolutely loving it and building some meaningful friendships.
Once again, he is witnessing the powerful positive effects art classes can have on a community. It’s the same principal as my work in mental health, ‘he says.
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