Sussex-based charity, Drawing Life, holds life drawing classes for people with dementia. Project Director, Judy Parkinson, writes about the challenges they faced in 2020.

It is said that every cloud has a silver lining. 2020 has given us no shortage of clouds, and, if you’re an optimist, silver linings. Drawing Life has done its best to look on the bright side and come up with new ways to help people living with dementia, stroke and other age-related issues to stay creative and tell the world, ‘We’re still here!’

Until Covid-19 upturned everything, Drawing Life held regular art classes in care homes and in the community.  Our classes were little performances – transforming the lounge into an art studio, with an artist playing the part of teacher and a model setting a scene with costumes, props and backdrops.  Participants became artists for an hour, expressing themselves with sketches, scribbles, assorted marks and meaningful splodges, sometimes with words, and often with laughter.

Drawing is a proactive rather than passive task, inspiring a feeling of purpose.  During every class there was a remarkable sense of concentration – almost meditative.  Many care-givers told us that our classes reduced anxiety as soon as people sat down with paper and pencil, and they would remain calm for quite a while afterwards.  Drawing gives care-givers a different perspective too, prompting new subjects to talk about with those who may have lost the art of conversation. 

The Covid-19 outbreak put our classes on hold. Our first response was to create a specially designed sketchbook, which is now in the hands of hundreds of keen artists all over Britain. Carers and activity coordinators have asked us for support so they can help people make the most of the sketchbooks.  They want hints and tips on how to set up sessions and develop drawings.  Our next move was to establish a YouTube channel on which we hope to offer the next best thing to being in the room.

Now anyone can watch our artists reprise their roles as teacher and introduce a model with plenty of clear instructions.  The leap from sketchbook to screen doesn’t change any of our key messages. We still want people to draw with an ‘anything goes’ approach: to relax, make some marks, take their pencil for a walk around their paper, and most important – have fun. Our videos can be viewed at any time so that carers can plan ahead and hit play once they have gathered their artists together in front of a screen.  There’s always the pause button if a longer pose is needed for people to finesse that last detail.  

We are developing ideas for a new series called Sixty Seconds in the Studio in which we visit a working artist’s studio, look around and watch them create a drawing in our sketchbook. These videos will be uploaded soon and will introduce viewers to new people, new locations and easy drawing techniques.

The forecast is cloudy – there might be a vaccine soon, but face-to-face art sessions look a long way off.  No one has been immune to the disruptions and difficulties posed by the pandemic, not least those in care homes, but we hope our innovations will unlock people’s imaginations and help them find their inner artist.

We are very grateful to the National Lottery Community Fund and Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust for their support.

View our studio art sessions and subscribe to: Sketchbooks are free of charge and can be ordered through our website:  

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