A look inside

September 11, 2010

A look inside

Here is a spread from my book. And below is another.

From the 100 Activities Handbook section

The book is really taking shape now.  Should be done in three weeks!

Here is a sneak peek at the front cover for my book Chocolate Rain, which will be published by Hawker Publishers this fall.
I’ve mentioned in a previous post that it is an idea book for caregivers and families for activity design for dementia care. It contains chapters on how to develop activities suited to your particular situation as well as a fully illustrated 100 activities handbook.

The Pitch
I also give quite a bit of attention to developing your own creative capacities so that you can keep coming up with your own ideas on the spot. Most caregivers’ training develops the intellect which is obviously needed,  but dealing with dementia also asks for the ability to imagine, improvise, intuit, and play. These are all skills developed by anyone regularly engaged in creative processes, such as visual artists, inventors, writers, and innovators in any field.  I haven’t seen many books on creativity addressed specifically to caregivers, so this is a fairly new area.

I know from meeting many nurses and doctors through my experience as an artist in health facilities, that they are incredibly creative people who generally haven’t found an outlet for their creativity in their work. Or they feel attracted to the creative fields but don’t know how to start. Usually, doing the simplest craft project together, taking less than 5 miinutes, can open up a whole area of discovery for these individuals. My book contains at least 150 of these projects which are simultaneously activities for people with dementia, and artistically satisfying creative projects for caregivers, family or anyone interested.

The Process
I will remember this summer primarily as being spent in front of the computer or in my attic studio with the fan on, with quick forays out into the garden (but with my thoughts still in front of the computer).  It is a joy to be given the task of illustrating and designing the book myself.  But in the time given (it all goes to the printer at the end of September), it would be less nerve wracking to be working with a team.

As it is, I am the team, and that entails generating all the artwork and scanning it, reworking in Photoshop; checking the text and editing where necessary; doing the interior book design and cover; the typography throughout, preparing it all so it is printer-ready, checking what needs copyright permission and getting it, etc etc.

Coincidentally, I also have a life, so it is quite a juggling act. This week, I’ve written all the task areas out and for the first time prioritized, because I was getting lost in details.

Right now I am working on getting to a definitive page count as well as a consistent design for the chapter and section headings, which often involve illustrations.

Luckily for me, Rende is going to deal with a lot of the technical details which go beyond my Photoshop knowledge. He’s a real wizard with that.

I feel like I am just starting to get to know the book, getting into it at a level where working on it is a sort of listening and it reveals directions that I wouldn’t have hit upon by intellectualizing.
Hard to describe, it is a recognition, a welcoming and affinity.
And it is delicate and needs time to unfold. 
As more of the parts become clear, they start influencing the whole picture, which again influences how the parts relate. The whole entity is morphing and bubbling like a magic cauldron from day to day. 
 I’ve finally done a mini mini paste up like a story board which I can gleefully change without having heart failure every time the right and left hand pages shift yet again!

My book

June 21, 2010

Good old paper and scissors work

I’ve been so busy designing my new book, that I’ve not had time to announce it here.  It will be published, all being well, this year.

Friends had been encouraging me to write a book compiling my experience and methods in working creatively with people with dementia. They felt it would be a great aid to caregivers and family members. After several years of false starts, I finally found the right tone and wrote it over an 18 month period from 2008-2009.  I was lucky to also find a publisher very quickly, and one that agreed to let me design and illustrate it myself.

The book is a practical guide to designing activities for people in all stages of dementia, but it is also a creativity manual  for caregivers. It is called ‘Chocolate Rain, 100 ideas for a creative approach to activities in dementia care’.

The deadline is pretty tight as we hope to launch it at a large dementia congress in England in November. Today I got up from  the computer and went upstairs to my studio to cut and paste. I felt like I could get a better idea of the whole if I could see the spreads in front of me. I actually cut the little sketches of each spread out and glued them with non-permanent glue to another sheet. That way I can keep up with the design changes without constantly renumbering.

I may check back here regularly, but the pressure to get everything done is already pretty intense, so I’m not going to add one more ‘to do’ on an already long list.   I had hoped to make a blog page just for the book, it may happen.

Lucie helping

What Evert taught me

March 22, 2009


Book inscription from Dutch calligrapher, Evert van Dijk

One of my oldest and dearest friends here in Holland is an impassioned calligrapher and retired teacher of handicapped children.

My encounter with him when I first came to live here changed my life as an artist irrevocably.  Evert saw my dilemma clearly. I was no longer growing artistically because I was caught in the prison of the  prevailing aesthetic in the middleclass American  milieu where I grew up. I’d  learned that art had to be ‘beautiful’ and that my calligraphy had to be as close to perfection as the human hand would allow.

Evert, with his wonderfully ebullient personality and outspoken views, blasted through that shell of pretense and released my authenticity. I think this is the task of all true teachers and mentors.

This altered view is also what releases calligraphy from craft and lifts it to art. My letters and mark making became much more expressive of who I was, and this had a ripple effect throughout my life; one I am only truly coming to understand about 20 years later.

In the article I am writing about art and dementia care, this theme of authenticity keeps reappearing.
Artists accept people with dementia as completely whole, viable, interesting human beings, and therefore often elicit lucid repsonses where trained staff have failed.   In an art session, the person ‘s markmaking is seen in the context of authenticity rather than conventional aesthetics.  I am not after a pretty picture (this would expose the person and me to the potential of ‘failure’)  instead, I look for interaction and engagement.  The rules change, a person’s  raw and spontaneous line becomes the new context for  ‘beautiful’.  The Japanese have a philosphy of aesthetics based on this called Wabi Sabi*.  

It is the ability to see the worth in something or someone just as they are without requiring that they fit a preconceived ideal.


*Wabi Sabi is an asethetic of the fragile, weathered and transient. It is the opposite of the Western tendency to aspire to the imposing, large and powerful. We idealize a perfect rose in bloom, Wabi Sabi cherishes the rose past its prime:  a chipped flea market wooden table with flaking paint as opposed to the latest design statement in glass and chrome.

Message in a bottle

July 22, 2008

A low key time. So I’m writing from the doldrums, sending out a message in a bottle and hoping for a breeze. Navigating still waters is part of being a creative too.

My oil painting, inspired by Krabbé’s show, shipwrecked. There was no inner drive to push forward. Not now at least. 

I gave a pleasurable and I hope informative workshop for the local ALzheimer’s café on creativity. People pounced on the delicious materials I had laid out and created beautiful things. The atmosphere was of possibilities, which is so important since discussions about dementia here tend to focus on limitations.

The things that are inspiring me now are developing an innovative educational tool for people who work with  Alzheimers patients, and writing a book on creativity and dementia.

The artist inspiring me now is once again Keri Smith. Her new book out in the fall goes straight to the core of things that I also have been thinking about and that matter to me.

I’ve painted our front hallway all ready to receive customers in my mini-gallery,   only to find out that I really don’t want to do this. So I am staying with this resistance and trying to trust what it might be trying to tell me.

Basically after years of soloing, I really am more interested in collaboration. I enjoy being connected to the community and area, and to other networks of creatives.

This is evidently a period of sitting tight and holding still. Waiting in alertness rather than initiating something just to feel busy or effective.

Dementia and Dementers

June 20, 2008

Here comes a rant, be warned.

When I first stumbled upon the work of John Killick and Kate Allan in  creativity and dementia care, the first thing I learned from them was never never never to refer to someone with Alzheimer’s as ‘senile’ or ‘demented’.

In Holland where I live, there is an even more insidious term used, ‘dementerende’, which means ‘dementing’  or ‘dementer’ (which has its own associations from Harry Potter!, ‘dementor’)- in the process of getting demented. 

Otherwise intelligent, compassionate people across all the disciplines and organisations involved with dementia care use this unconsciously without realizing how ultimately degrading and outright damaging it is. 

Once someone has been diagnosed with dementia it is almost as if they’ve lost the right to define their own identity,  (paraphrased from ‘Communication and the Care of people with Dementia’, Killick and Allan). 

Repeatedly referring to someone as a ‘dementer’ ( I have a one page brochure on ‘Activities for Dementers’ here from the national Alzheimer Non-Profit which uses the term 5 times, interspersed with ‘patient’), is defining them exclusively by their illness. It effectively wipes away any trace of personhood. On the other hand if you simply say, ‘person with dementia’, as you would say ‘person with cancer’ or any other disease, you address the wholeness of the person first, and the illness second. Or if you are a doctor who must use the term a lot, then PWD (person with dementia) , or Dutch MMD  would work too.

This depersonalizing of people with dementia is a grave violation of human rights. It makes possible situations like the one I heard of near here, where a beautifully situated waterside psychiatric nursing home is getting gutted, the residents moved to a less idyllic location, and apartments are being built because, ‘The patients don’t know the difference anyway and can’t appreciate the scenery’. Need I say more?