Aisling O’Sullivan – artist and art facilitator
SCHOOL was a challenge for Aisling in the late 80s and early 90s as she is dyslexic and not as much was known then about dyslexia as is known today.
“I was a visual learner and excelled in anything creative but I struggled with other subjects” she says. However, she has always loved working with people. Her brother, Stephen, who has cerebral palsy, was a source of inspiration and when she began working as a care assistant she instinctively brought her creativity into that work.
Later on, she met an Art Therapist (Deirdre Ní Argáin) in Milford Care Centre who recognised and acknowledged the talent and potential she could see in Aisling as an artist in that setting.
Deirdre suggested that Aisling pursue a career in arts and health. Milford Care Centre supported that transition and Aisling trained and qualified as an Art Facilitator in Munster Technological University, formerly Cork Institute of Technology. She sums it up best in her own words:
I can see now it’s the perfect fit for me,
with the heart of an empath,
the knowledge of a carer,
the vision of an artist,
it all seems like destiny!
Aisling has worked in Milford Care Centre for 21 years, the latter 12 years as a full time Art Facilitator. Under normal circumstances her job would involve receiving referrals, assessing client’s needs and coordinating creative art groups. She works primarily in the Nursing Home and Day Care services.
Since the pandemic began her one-to-one sessions in the nursing home have increased. This has pushed her to think outside the box and she has come up with new, creative, and safe ways to work with the residents.
Aisling has used virtual reality with people with neurological conditions and it was very successful. It was particularly effective for those who were in some way restricted to their beds or chairs. Nature images were projected onto the walls in front of the patients, which allowed them to go on virtual walks through various landscapes such as forests, beaches, and mountains. How wonderful is that!
Covid-19 has restricted us all from going to our favourite places but during this pandemic the residents have (virtually!) been to the seaside, they have heard the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. Through the use of sensory materials the sea breeze has been simulated as has the smell of seaweed, and the touch of sand and shells.
They have walked among the trees in forests at home and abroad, accompanied by the sounds of bird song and babbling brooks. They have touched leaves, branches, and acorns, and smelled the earthy fragrance of sandalwood. They have admired (and learned about) different artists and seen their rooms transformed into galleries with paintings projected like giant canvases onto their walls.
They have admired such beauty and reflected on their meanings. Not only that but they have had a virtual exhibition of their own work which in response to the pandemic was called ‘Creating Positives.’
Aisling says, “It continues to grow, and new ideas keep attaching to it. A virtual wellbeing programme has been put together in collaboration with O’ Sullivan, art and music therapists, each one adding to the project, enhancing the therapeutic benefits and extending the programme to reach hospice patients.”
This team has created a virtual wellbeing channel which can be accessed by all of Milford’s residents and patients through the televisions in their rooms. “The virtual nature walks are now a daily adventure, we stream live music and relaxation sessions from the chapel to their rooms” says Aisling.
They have a weekly reflection session where storytelling, poetry and reminiscence projects have been created and curated to meet patient’s needs. They also have an art appreciation session with painting and craft demonstrations, documentaries and live gallery tours.
Aisling has worked as a free-lance art facilitator in different healthcare settings in and around Limerick, such as workshops for mental health groups. She also runs workshops on art facilitation ‘The Ability Within Disabilities’ through the Milford Care Centre Education Department. She has also worked with the Alzheimer’s community on an art project for an exhibition in Limerick. All projects have been on hold for the duration of Covid.
Working with children
Pre-pandemic lockdown O’Sullivan regularly ran art groups for children in Castleconnell on Saturdays. The seeds of this project were again born from the support and encouragement of another friend, Claire Molloy, who saw passion in Aisling for working with children.
This started two years ago as a trial and has now become something that the community really look forward to. They are all-inclusive art groups catering for children with typical and alternative needs. With her qualifications, knowledge and experience she has been able to assess groups so they can fit well together, the outcome of which is a holistic and therapeutic encounter. She tries to let the children decide at the start what they want to do, giving them ownership of their little art group.
The classes have been a success thanks to the support of Ahane, Castleconnell, Montpellier (ACM) community group and Aisling is looking forward to returning to this work when the plague has passed.
Arts and health
As an art facilitator O’Sullivan specialises in designing individual art programmes for residents and clients with specific healthcare needs. She has introduced mouth/foot painting and sensory painting for the blind. Aisling has designed practical pieces of equipment to enable their ability to create. Thanks to her experiences growing up with her brother Stephen, she has grown as an artist and educator.
Aisling paints in various mediums – oil, acrylic, mixed medium, watercolour, sketching, pastel and photography. She does personalised commissions, cartoon pieces, requested murals and she also plays guitar and sings. Her creative journey began when she was a child but later in life she attended local art class in Castleconnell with a well-known Limerick artist, Annie St George. “When I sold my first painting I caught the bug” says Aisling.
Before that she used to watch Bob Ross on TV with a canvas on her lap. Aisling took life drawing classes with fellow student Cora Collins who has since become a well-known Limerick artist and is now a consultant for Dulux paints. “I would childishly get into a fit of the giggles but that calmed down when the drawing took over and I got used to seeing a naked body to draw” says Aisling. That class was run by another well-known Limerick Artist Paul Quane.
Aisling picked up the guitar by watching her sister play, and when she would leave the room Aisling would practice. Then she saved up and went to the Limerick musician, Austin Durack in Savins music school. “He taught her a few songs and in particular, ‘The House of the Rising Sun’, which I still love to play” says Aisling.
There have been guiding souls in both art and music in Aisling’s life and she still links in and out of the lives of these people and friends that have all guided her when, “I suppose I didn’t have the belief in myself. They fed my soul and lit a spark in me that’s impossible to quench. I’m always grateful for these guiding souls that have come into my life” she says.
Aisling says she is essentially “Self-taught and guesses the rest.” She says she is “Constantly learning” adding, “I will never be complete or qualified in art as I think art is infinite - there is always new ways to create.”
Aisling is quite philosophical. Her favourite art medium is working with silk, “It makes me feel calm like a meditation. It makes me slow down and allows me to have some control over the process, but yet no control of the final outcome. In that way, Silk reminds me of life.”
Aisling hopes to remain grounded and to continue being creative. She would like to develop her silk painting and scarfs into designing clothes someday. Aisling has had numerous exhibitions in Limerick and its environs and hopes to continue making and selling her artwork.
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