Health and wellbeing

Funding level: £10,001 to £25,000


Drawing Life brings life drawing to people living with dementia and their caregivers.

This community can easily find itself culturally and socially isolated, and sidelined from the general community. Drawing Life aims to lead regular life drawing classes for everyone in this community to improve wellbeing and social interaction, to use artistic expression as a fresh way for caregivers and participants to connect with each other and to bring their work to an audience. We also aim to develop the methods by which our activities are evaluated so that we can contribute in some way to research into dementia and its treatment, and to improve and extend our format further afield.

Classes take place in care homes, hospitals, community halls, galleries and colleges where we aim to set up regular sessions. Galleries and colleges in particular do not seem at first the most obvious locations for the dementia community either as visitor destinations or places in which to create artistic work, and we aim to change this. We are partners with Jerwood Gallery in Hastings and University of Brighton where we are planning regular classes.

Topics of conversation soon run out for caregivers and family members in the dementia community and the act of creating a drawing is often something new and interesting. During classes we have noticed a remarkable level of calm and concentration. Once drawings are framed and displayed participants respond to praise giving them a sense of purpose and achievement, even if it is short-lived. The classes provide social stimulation for caregivers, promote dementia friendliness, combat stigmas associated with dementia and raise the visibility of issues surrounding living with dementia.

Our approach is to teach as if to a class of 18 year olds, thereby treating people living with dementia like anyone else. The act of drawing gives participants a sense of purpose helping to make them feel relevant, included and ‘normal’. There is an element of challenge; the sight of a nearly naked figure is sometimes surprising to participants, but it is always stimulating - a sensation they may not often experience.

It could be argued that life drawing is a form of self-portraiture and the figure in the room might trigger deep memories. The figure might remind participants of themselves when they were young, or their husband or wife when young. The drawings reveal something fascinating about life and memory to the artists themselves, to their caregivers and others of all ages who view the work. Picasso said it took him a lifetime to learn to draw like a child. It is sometimes said that we revert to childhood as we age. Drawing Life offers people living with dementia, and with nearly a lifetime behind them, the chance to respond to a life model with a stick of charcoal and a piece of paper. People who may or may not have done life drawing before react in many different and encouraging ways through their sketches.

This activity is different from most offered to the dementia community. It is pro-active rather than passive, it engages the hand, the eye and the mind - even for a fleeting moment, but with ever lasting results.

Drawing Life

Moment of Pride

Feedback from families and caregivers has been amazing. There is a big demand for our classes. When a participant viewed her framed drawings with her grand daughter, the sense of pride and achievement was incredible. We held a class in Jerwood Gallery studio and displayed works for a fortnight.

Location: Hastings