In the late 90s, I was still living in Melbourne, and alongside my standard cartooning workshops in primary schools, my work as an artist / teacher had extended into several other more specialised areas where education & well-being intersect.
For instance, my inspirational approach to teaching drawing skills, my easy rapport and capacity to encourage self-confidence in students, led to creative projects with a number of local government Youth Services, where the common aim is to engage young people who struggle with family dysfunction, drug issues, mental health issues etc. Youth Arts projects often provided these young people with an alternative experience of life or a new way of expressing themselves.
Similarly, certain schools and other services also invited me to work as a mentor to special needs students, students with behavioural or learning difficulties such as ADHD and dyslexia, or children affected by family trauma. I learnt that in these settings, concrete outcomes (eg a creative product / drawing etc) were not the priority – that building a sense of relationship, trust, acceptance and even just a chance to relax their usual defences towards life, were much more valuable in the process. Measures of success were often subtle: a usually nonverbal child spontaneously expressing enthusiasm, or a usually dysregulated person sitting calmly focused for an hour as they drew – or even just a person choosing to stay rather than walking out.
One fairly simple form of physical creative outcome was to compile and publish a zine or mini-comic of the students’ drawings. Seeing one’s efforts in print, reflected back as somehow “more real”, can be a powerful affirmation or validation for a person – a feeling of accomplishment.
I grew up with a love of the Published Document, especially comics and books, and I also enjoyed the aesthetic systems of graphic design. As a boy in the 70s I was familiar with many DIY publications (the “free press” and “underground” of the time), and as a teenager the DIY zines of the post-punk 80s.
By the 90s, Youth Services facilities usually had free access to decent photocopying machines, which offered the immediacy of DIY. I also used desktop publishing in my other work as a graphic designer, so I had the capacity to scan and layout students’ artwork more professionally at home.
Y Files Youth Services Information Directory (above): For this publishing project, Glen Eira Youth Services engaged me to run a series of workshops for young people to illustrate various “youth issues”. These illustrations were then published in the locally-distributed Services Information Directory, and displayed publicly as an exhibition.
BUGOUT!: This was an A4, 64-page black & white zine, showcasing original cartoon drawings by over 30 young people (ages 7 – 17) whom I had taught & mentored. The bulk were students from Cartooning Masterclass courses I had run independently at various community centres. A middle section of the zine featured work of older youth from an 8-week drawing program commissioned by Maroondah Youth Services at their youth drop-in centre, the Nosh Pit Cafe in Croydon. My role was to offer extension drawing techniques, design advice, and encouragement in developing the young people’s own ideas. Their drawings were scanned and used in future promotions of the Youth Centre, framed and exhibited at the Centre, and published within my own project, BUGOUT!
Pembroke PS Yearbook 2000: This publishing project was the culmination of many different educational & well-being programs run at Pembroke Primary School in 2000. Assistant Principal at the time, Kate Perkins, was passionate about the Arts as a vital factor in well-being and education. Part of her vision was to create a “drawing culture” across the whole school, wherein children of all ages could use their drawing practice as a complement to their learning and personal expression. Kate secured funding from various sources to engage me as Artist-in-Residence throughout the entire year. I facilitated a range of programs, including art workshops, using cartooning for numeracy & literacy skills, designing personal power symbols, and mentoring a small group of “at-risk” Grade 5 boys who were otherwise struggling socially within the school. Part of my mentoring role was to involve these boys in the digital layout processes for the Yearbook as well as providing artwork, in the process helping them to develop more confidence in themselves. The Yearbook was a massive job, but it was fantastic to be a regular member of the school community over such an extended period of time. And almost every child in the school provided at least one drawing to the final publication!