Working with Cheryl
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From mid-2011 Peter started working regularly with a new art teacher, Cheryl Nonmus, who runs the Paintbox Art School in Buderim and is also a professional photographer.
While helping to expand Peter’s existing painting skills and collection of artworks, Cheryl has also introduced him to various new media – pottery, constructional sculpture and soft pastel drawing – and is helping him work with different materials and understand the various techniques and processes involved.
Peter: “I love being able to work with any new idea and being able to try something else. Cheryl has taught me to do things with brushes and sponges and all these different implements. It has been an eye-opener to see what can be done and I love the results she gets with me. I could not do it before because I did not know how. But now I am learning how and it makes a big difference to my love of painting.”
Clay is a very forgiving medium to work with, explains Cheryl. It has provided Peter with activities using fine motor skills (eyes, ears, tails) and gross motor skills (carving, scraping and smoothing large surfaces).
With Cheryl, Peter has been able to explore the possibilities and limitations of clay using the three main hand-building techniques (coil, pinch and slab). He has created bowls, platters, garden lights, and pot plant holders. But by studying basic geometric shapes he has also been able to construct figurines of Josh and the other characters from his books.
Cheryl: “We understand that circles, squares, triangles and rectangles, with the right proportion, will join together to make all the shapes of these characters, so we now have Josh, Robo-Cool, Gremlin, and his crocodile, duck and bear. You can see the progression in the pictures on Peter’s Facebook page.”
Peter has also been learning about the different processes to finish the clay surface using modeling tools, branches, sponges and items which can be pressed into the soft clay before it dries. He has learnt the two stages of firing – bisque and glaze, and he must apply glaze in three layers for a full result.
One favourite sculpture for Peter has been a tree trunk with cute animals like possums, frogs, birds and sneaky snakes poking out. He enjoys the playful qualities and expressions in these habitants. As a novelty he has also learnt how to make whimsical gumnut babies to add to the trees.
Peter: “I have learned how to shape the clay into tree trunks and make them look very real with various implements to form the bark. It is amazing how they take on a different shape when the bark goes on and it is simply done with maybe a stick or a trowel or just a pencil to make marks on the tree trunk.
The best part is making the branches and the little animals to go with them. My favourite is the snake, followed by the frog – which I make for mum because she loves them so much.”
Motor skills improving through construction
Cheryl has also been using various construction projects to help Peter practice and improve both of his motor skills.
“While doing construction we practice our gross motor skills with the large boxes,” says Cheryl. “Peter needs to be spatially aware when using a variety of boxes and cartons, taping them together to create robots or fantasy creatures. We’ve made a great crocodile out of egg cartons, with jaws that snap open.
Things like using the masking tape, ripping small strips of tissue paper and sprinkling glitter also help to stimulate his fine motor skills.”
Peter is encouraged to make his own choices of colours when painting these artworks, and also when selecting cardboards from the newsagents.
Peter: “The construction processes have been fantastic for my fingers. I am able to move them more freely and can hold things more securely and also tape things more accurately.”
New Painting Techniques
With a new art exhibition launched in September 2012, Peter has been working hard to add to and update his existing collection of artworks.
He’s been learning different paintbrush techniques to complete a series of abstract styles, landscapes and seascapes with a stylised approach – using a number of different paintbrushes, sponges, stencils and masking tape to block out areas, and build up textural surfaces with impasto gel.
Peter: “Landscapes and seascapes have been challenging and I have found it hard to always keep to the subject at hand, but it has been very good for me to do this because it has taken me into another realm of painting and that has been good for my overall art experience.”
Peter has also discovered colour theories, including the use of harmonious (warm and cool), contrasting colours, which are opposite on the colour wheel, like blue and orange, yellow and purple.
Peter: “I know what Cheryl is talking about now with colours and I love using the colour wheel with her. I think I have always had a good sense of colours and what to put together but the wheel makes a big difference. I love matching colours with other colours and getting something different altogether. I have learnt a lot about mixing colours. I remember before when I mixed colours they became muddy and it was an awful result but I think I have conquered that now.”
Cheryl: “Many abstract paintings are completed now, which are bright and energetic to look at, using oranges, turquoise, and pink. Some small works on paper are in progress with the beach and a lovely blue sea, then we will collage some umbrellas and sailing boats to give a 3D effect.”
Moving on from the faces
Before Cheryl arrived, most of Peter’s paintings featured faces, which were symbolic of his abusers from the past. But that has now changed.
Peter: “Cheryl is great to work with because she stays with me all the time and doesn’t go off and do her own thing. When she is there I am unable to go back to the faces I used to draw so much before, because she won’t let me do that. Occasionally she allows it but mostly she intervenes and encourages me to do something else.
It is what I have needed for a long time but I sometimes still want to do the faces so she lets me do a few and so my panting is changing and that is a good thing. I was getting very tired of those faces and the others just let me do them ad-infinitum.”
(Yes, those were Peter’s words, and he explained that it means ‘without end’.)
“I always painted the faces because I thought that I was good at painting faces. In the beginning they represented those bad men and other bad people, but in the end it seemed to be all that I could actually paint. I was getting so sick and tired of them but I didn’t know how to change them or do anything else until Cheryl came. I was so pleased that she took over and directed me constantly to do something else. She saved me from faces … which were getting so boring.”
Many items around the family property have inspired Peter to begin still life drawings using professional artist chalk pastels. His mum’s lemons were used in his first drawing (lemons in a metal bowl with nasturtiums), once again using the basic geometric shapes to create the picture.
After a visit to the chook pen Peter did a series of ‘chookscapes’ using the basic egg shape and three triangles for each bird. Peter learnt to smudge inside the shapes with light and dark to create shading, and add lines and marks for the feathers and details.
“Pastels are great for blending to create tones and shades, plus they can give solid outlines as well,” says Cheryl.
“We also use craft paper which has a slightly rough texture – excellent for pastels and a gorgeous wheat colour instead of the white cartridge papers.”
Peter loves the versatility of this new media.
Along the way Peter is learning patience to go step-by-step when doing clay or cardboard construction, as the joining skills must be completed with a degree of competence, says Cheryl. When painting details he must look more carefully at the detail and use a smaller brush and stroke slowly and deliberately, compared to big sweeping strokes, which he is more familiar with.
He’s learning to use more observation – to see the detail in painting eyes and faces with the glazes, and exploring the limitations of clay. He knows if it’s too dry it will crack, if it’s too wet it can collapse; and nine clay can not be built too tall. The coarser the clay the higher it can be made without the fear of it caving in.
But it’s not just Peter who has been learning.
“I’m learning too,” says Cheryl, who has never worked with a person with a disability before.
“I am learning to teach Peter with only small steps at a time, then have a break to another artwork. With small details like eyes and tiny teeth, Peter needs support with holding his arm or elbow so he can work carefully.
“Peter likes some support with projects, and to balance this he has time to ‘play’ with the materials on his own, to complete his own self-directed artwork, or just explore.”
Peter enjoys having music playing as he works and will often sing along to the songs,” says Cheryl, “and I often hear soft murmuring from him when he is really happy, like doing his clay work.”
Working with Cheryl
“I love every moment of it, working with Cheryl. We get on so well and she is so interested and keen for me to do well. She is a good teacher and a great person to work with and has taught me a whole lot more than I have ever learnt before. I am so grateful. I look forward to learning so much more from Cheryl. I love my Mondays and Tuesdays very much!”