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Creative Mess Making: Developing Positive Habits Through Art

In Spring 2019, Helium Creative Health Hub artist Paul Bokslag facilitated a series of creative workshops for students between the ages of ten and twelve at St. Gabriel’s School in Limerick. St.Gabriel’s is dedicated to the care and education of children with multiple physical disabilities. The group working with Paul comprised a mix of needs, including children on the autism spectrum and wheelchair users.

A young artist presents their wax resist artwork.

During the first workshop, Paul got to know the children and learned about their specific needs and interests, so he could deliver a custom made workshop series, designed to suit the interests and talents of each student. He also introduced everyone to the five Creative Habits of Mind, a framework to support and encourage the development of creative skills through becoming more inquisitive, imaginative, persistent, disciplined, and collaborative, a framework which guides the development of all of Helium’s creative programmes. 


They started off the day by playing an imaginative game of “This is not a cloth, this is a …” in which everyone takes a turn to shape a simple cloth into an animal or object. Next, the group created wax resist paintings, using two bunches of flowers as inspiration. One young artist became very inquisitive about the subject matter, exploring it further by pulling apart one of the flowers to discover all of its details.


“We thought about the types of characteristics that are important in art work like bravery, persistence, collaboration, endurance. At various times, the students showed that they were developing these skills through the work that we were doing with Paul. They were gaining life skills through art.”

-Siobhan Murphy, Teacher

Marbled artworks.

The second workshop featured the Viewfinder game, where each child was asked to find a small spot in the room that nobody had noticed before and tell a little story about it. This gave the children a brand new outlook on a familiar space. They also created some large communal marblings, working together, the children filled a large tray with water and added colourful drops from small bottles of fluorescent ink. They created the marble pattern by stirring and blowing the water to move the ink around, and then carefully lowered the paper into the tray. There was great surprise among the group as each newly marbled sheet emerged from the water as if by magic. And onwards to a new project – mask making where each child would develop their own unique papier maché mask over the course of the remaining sessions.

Mask making using papier mache.

The third session started with a fun bear hunt challenge that had the children exploring and discovering more about their surroundings. Once the determined young artists completed their hunt, they got to work on their masks, layering materials and colours. While some of the artists realised how challenging it was to stay focused, others were excited to see what their creation would look like, but all persisted to bring about amazing results.

Child hard at work on their mask.

In the fourth session, the children were introduced to some famous artists, looking at animal paintings done by professionals, which provoked some interesting questions…One artist inquired, “Why did Franz Marc paint his horses blue?”. Inspired by well-known artworks, the group then returned to the important business of mask-making with great focus and attention.

Painting and creative mess making.

During the fifth session, the group discussed the “colour wheel”, which many of the children already knew a bit about. Using their knowledge of primary and secondary colours, it was back to the important business off painting their masks, inspired by the boldness of Franz Marc’s blue horses. With permission to make as much of a mess as they possibly could, participants showed great independence in bringing the final touches to their masks, with just a little bit of assistance and guidance from Paul. 


“The students enjoyed the sessions with Paul so much. Paul was always hugely well prepared for the sessions and worked at a pace which was ideal for the students. A lot was achieved but we never rushed!”

-Siobhan Murphy, Teacher

The young artists in their masks.

The final session began by looking at the work of painter Eoin O’Malley. Eoin uses a wheelchair and paints holding the brush in his mouth. The children were particularly intrigued by the video in which Eoin makes a large floor drawing with a marker attached to his wheelchair, especially inspiring the class’ wheelchair users for future artmaking projects. As the groups’ time with Paul was coming to an end, it was time to celebrate everything that had been achieved over the course of the workshops. Everyone came together for a group photoshoot modelling their beautiful mask creations with the backdrop of their group marbling artwork. Some even took to photographing their friends with the class digital camera! To end the celebration, each group member was  presented with their printed portrait of them wearing their mask.

“Thank you to Paul for working with our children in such a creative way. Dylan loves each and every session.”
-Parent of Participant

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Helium Arts is a registered charity and compliant with the requirements of the Charities Regulator, the national regulatory authority for charities in Ireland


CHY Number: 19236
Registered Charity Number (RCN): 20075200
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