Art for happiness; Get Inspired with Penelope & Danny.
“Art for happiness” is what comes to mind writing this article, hence the title. Danny & Penelope are a couple, and both good friends of mine. Danny and I first met over a cup of tea at a bakery in Champéry. Due to our shared interest in art and the fact that we were both in the same small town, was good enough reason for us to meet so we got chatting. Since myself Danny and Penelope have become friends. We’ve been painting together, drawing on iPads together and also spent an afternoon drawing together at their home.
Both Danny and Penelope are artists in their own right. Danny has an exhibition coming up soon in February and Penelope runs art therapy retreats.Both dedicate a lot of time to being creative, so continuing on from the ‘creative couples’ theme from last months Easel Editorial I am having a chat with them both to see how and why this lifestyle came about what it is they enjoy about their practice.
Hi Danny and Penelope, Please could you tell what your various projects and daily creative practices are?
I simply like to create paintings and drawings every day, it’s the process of creating images that I enjoy. Painting every day and integrating this in my daily activities, drawing inspiration from my everyday environment. I’m attracted by composition through shapes, tonal values and colours.
I simply like to create images I enjoy looking at and hope others may find them interesting as well. I don’t intend any other meaning with my works. My inspiration starts from the impressionists, and continues all the way with many contemporary artists.
I love to combine different media. Some of these include acrylics on canvas, aquarelle, gouache, ink on paper, and fully digitally painted works on an iPad. Changing media influences how I work and I love the impact this has on my work.
In a turn of life 10 years ago I studied art therapy. Since then have never seen art the same way. It became a wonderful tool of expression of difficult thoughts and emotions. I do not know how to paint or draw but I paint and draw very often. I also work as an art therapist, with adult groups and enjoy observing how participants find freedom of expression, achieving personal growth through the use of art.
Although I love and admire art in galleries, museums, exhibitions, etc; in my world there is no “right” or “wrong” in making art. Creating art is an integral part of being human. I also draw a lot of inspiration from impressionism and view their art as an open invitation to look and create differently.
– I find it quite special that you both share such a passion for being creative on a regular basis . Are you able to tell us at what point in your life this began to develop in to something regular and if it wasn’t always regular, was there a catalyst for the change?
I worked in the corporate world, first in technology and then in marketing and sales, for a bit less than 20 years. During the end of my otherwise glorious experience in career making, I got a first hand experience of abuse and burnout at the workplace. The time had come for a big change – no small changes could work anymore. I quit my job, divorced my ex husband, left my home and joined Danny in Singapore, all within about 8 months.
From the first moment I admired and got inspired by Danny’s passion for art. He gave me my first SLR and I took some beginners painting lessons under his influence. I was astonished to discover how making art was helping me to process the loads of change I was carrying. Making art made me feel better. When a few months later I discovered that Singapore’s La Salle was running art therapy MA. I applied for this course and did the studies for my own healing.
I thought I would do my art therapy studies and would go back to the corporate world. In the end the experience of helping people of all ages leaving a more healthy life – with the use of art – was very powerful to me and wanted to share it with others.
I’ve always been drawing and painting, already as a kid, teenager, student. And I’ve kept doing this activity ever since.
When photography was still special in the previous century (before everybody had a camera in their pocket) I was very active as a photographer. I did my own black and white prints in my dark room. Also there I liked the activity of creating. Painting and drawing continued in parallel with my photography. I tried to become a professional photographer but didn’t manage, so did a corporate job in management and technology, which I also enjoyed.
Not only do I love technology, but this job also gave me the opportunity to live and work around the world in 10 different countries in 3 continents. It was also where I met Penelope. The job had nothing to do with painting, but I always made sure I found time to keep painting. Eight years ago I concluded this corporate job but I’m still very into technology. As a bonus I can now can manage my own time fully and can dedicate as much time to my painting as I want, so I simply create paintings and drawings every day.
Apart from the joy others get from your art, what do you get out of it yourselves?
Danny: simply the activity or creating something, and always being surprised what comes out in the end, not knowing what will come out when you start. Being lost in the activity, not thinking too much, just trying, just experimenting
Do you tend to share your creative time with each other or is it something you do separately?
We do both. When we go on hikes we stop and paint on the spot and take a couple of hours to create something. We carry some simple painting and drawing materials with us.
We also work by ourselves, I like to create works any time of day in any setting.
Penelope, I imagine these courses come with a lot of satisfaction for both yourself and the people attending . Could you tell us a little bit about who these courses are for and can anyone join in? Where can we find some more information out about them?
Maria Schollenbarger, an FT journalist recently wrote this about my group art therapy work. “It may feel being in the woo-woo space but consider that the use of art for mental and psychological distress has been championed by everyone from Hippocrates to Carl Jung”
I start with this quote, because it feels right to mention that the work I do is considered still alternative in the space of mental health support. – Especially for adults. Publication of 3,000 evidence based studies about art therapy and mental health by the World Health Organisation may raise awareness in the future.
I founded Artful Retreats 7 years ago and I run 4-6 live retreats per year. In Covid times I run many groups on-line. Groups are usually up to 6 people, aiming to create a safe and respectable space where people can express and share freely without judgment.
I have met wonderful participants from all over the world, including Korea, South Africa, the Nordics and Canada. About 15 different nationalities have participated across the years in the retreats. Ages from 18 to 78, so far. About 70% women, although last October’s retreat was 70% men 🙂 These retreats are an open invitation to everyone who is invested in their mental health and are open and curious to use creative ways to explore and support it. No prior skills in art making are required.
The letters participants leave behind describing their experience during our groups is my biggest reward of being an art therapist. I feel truly lucky witnessing personal growth derived from small shifts or big transformations, facilitated by art making. I feel proud that many of the retreats participants often seek local art therapy support upon their return home.
Does being creative on a regular basis come with any effects that are unexpected? And what is it that drives you to continue?
Danny: Yes a lot… I end up writing stuff like this online with 2 other people on the same document, quite fun I find 🙂 🙂 don’t we live in an awesome world 😉 For me the question ‘are you creative every day?’ sounds the same as the question ‘‘do you eat every day?’. 😉
For me inspiration comes from all sorts of different things, not just art. What/who are you currently inspired by?
Danny: Nice environments, movies, good food, shapes, graphics that show up anywhere you look, light, shadows. People who do things, or tell interesting stories. Books, magazines, pictures, exhibitions.
I’ll be the first to admit I suffer from procrastination. I’ve even done a life size painting about it! Weirdly I know if I sit on a train for a few hours I will have a good few ideas by the time I get off. Do you have moments when you feel less or more creative?
Danny: There are two expressions that come to my mind from this question. The first one is something writers often use, by saying it’s not about being in the mood for writing. Just sit down and start writing you will get in the mood. They say if you want to write 10 good pages of a document, you have to write many bad pages. I think the same applies for creating images, paintings, drawings, photographs, to come up with a few very nice ones that I really like, I simply have to create many many that I don’t like so much. Just keep a discipline by telling yourself you will create something every day, and start by allocating an hour a day. Stuff will simply happen.
And the other comment/quote that the question brings up is about talent, it doesn’t matter how much talent you have, talent needs to be seen working.
How does your average day or week look like?
Danny: unplanned, unstructured, use the opportunities as they show up, just do stuff
As you both worked in the ‘corporate world’ ,is there something/habits or practices that you have transferred across to your time being creative?
Danny: just do stuff, don’t overplan, don’t overthink. These are however the reverse practices from the corporate world I was in 😉
There might be some that help now as well, even in being creative: such as think about your audience, keep some focus when you put a collecting together, but most important don’t try to structure too much.
What are your favourite art galleries in Switzerland?
Many, many thanks to Danny and Penelope for taking the time to have this conversation with me. I hope they have inspired you to add some ‘art for happiness’ into your life. If you have been meaning to for a long time but not got around to it yet it’s never to late to start. Below you will find the poster and all the details for Danny’s next exhibition in February. If you liked this article you might like to sign up to the Easel Editorial. It is a monthly newsletter, made better, written by Daniel, for creatives and collectors to inspire and support living artists.