07 Oct 2018
Based in London and born in Malta surrounded by sea and sun, Denise Scicluna is an art psychotherapist, painter and author who enjoys nature, creativity and pebble painting. She talks to Mark Hayhurst about her life and work.
How did you become interested in art?
My interest in art is about expression. It gives a voice to my thoughts and feelings. For me the interest and drive to create art has always been there but grew alongside my inquiring mind and want to express myself.
When did you realise you were good at it?
I personally do not think it is about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art. Making art has always felt comfortable and natural as it has been, and still is, a form of expression to me. I often describe it as my own personal therapy.
Who encouraged you to follow the art path?
Realising how naturally inclined and passionate I am about art, left me with no choice of following that path. I have always had support and encouragement from my family where creativity and passion are a core part of home.
You practice art across many mediums photography, painting and crafts – do you have a favourite or does each one have different aspects that you love?
Having experimented with various mediums, I always knew that painting was my favourite one. I do less photography nowadays and I have decided to mainly focus on painting and crafts. I guess I am indirectly still influenced by the other mediums. My two published books about pebble art are a perfect example as they incorporate painting, crafts and photography altogether. Working on them has been a great opportunity to merge different mediums into one final product.
What led you to the field of Art Psychotherapy?
Art Psychotherapy was my next natural path to follow after completing my training in Psychology. I discovered about art therapy as a profession through a family friend when I still was living in Malta. I thought about how interesting and meaningful it would be to support people through art and creativity and to also integrate my two main interests together - psychology and visual arts. My personal experience and approach towards my art and creativity connected with that of the art therapy profession - it felt like the most appropriate journey to embark. I now work as an art psychotherapist in London where I have set up art therapy services in schools.
There is a lot of attention focused on mental wellbeing and mindfulness at the moment and the role that arts and crafts can play in helping with this. How important is creativity and for people to have access to express themselves through art and crafts?
Working with my clients as an art therapist, I have come to experience the depth of the art making process; how it acts as a channel of emotional expression and how a final piece of work embodies emotional states of being.
My personal experiences of making art has taught me to realise that having a creative outlet improved my self awareness and led me to understand myself and the world around me. Art making, whether it is crafts, sculpture or painting, is a personal transformation which is unique experience to every individual whether it is a child or adult. Obviously, one cannot exclude other creative outlets such as music, digital art, dance and drama.
You are originally from Malta – what brought you to London?
Knowing that I wanted to train to become an art therapist, meant that I would eventually have to leave my home country. I also wanted to spend a period of my life living abroad to expand my personal and working experiences. London seemed like the best option, so after completing my post graduate training I decided to stay for a while. Being in London has brought amazing opportunities and connections into my life – Rock Art and Pet Pebbles are a few of many!
What interested you in, and led you, to pebble art?
I enjoy textures and unique forms of nature a lot. Pebble art started as my fascination of the natural occurring shapes of stones I would find and how I could work with them, creating something inspired by nature, within nature. I enjoy painting on the surfaces of objects being clay or pebbles and bringing them to life.
You have written two books on pebble art – Rock Art and Pebble Pets – did you enjoy the process of planning and compiling them?
I never imagined back then, that my interest in pebble art will lead to two published books. The process of working on the books was incredibly satisfying – I enjoyed planning and sketching so many ideas and was very excited to have them translated on to an arts and crafts book for people to try and explore.
What I enjoyed the most is knowing that I can share my ideas and creativity with people – bringing parents and their children together; inspiring adults to be creative and messy again - creating small pieces of art from natural objects. I like to hope that I could sparkle imagination and creativity in people, and have kept that in mind throughout the making of both books.
How did you decide on what you were going to paint?
The designs which I painted on the pebbles were mostly inspired by the shapes of the rocks and the subject of the book. Other times, I would have an idea for design then I would search for the perfect shaped pebble. It is quite exciting to allow a natural object inspire your piece of art.
Pebble art seems to be very popular at the moment – what do you put that down to?
I am really pleased to discover an increase in popularity in rock art. Over the past years I ran rock art workshops in London with parents and children. Some parents appeared surprised to know that one can actually paint on stones so it was a great experience to offer them a space to give it a try with their children.
There are also online pebble art communities were members paint pebbles, take photos of them and then place them in a particular location. They then post the photo and location for other people to search and keep the pebbles once they find them. I suppose the internet has a huge role to place as people are sharing their work more, but on the other hand maybe we are also realising the importance of creativity and the need for it. Maybe spending too much time on devices is making us crave a break from it, and return to traditional and natural mediums.
What inspires you?
Nature, music, human beings, my job as an art psychotherapist.
How do you approach a new piece of artwork or project?
I quite often start a new piece of work with not knowing what the end result is going to look like. I enjoy the process of seeing where the creation goes. All my paintings are based on the state I was in, during the times they were created. Some of them have a personal story or a particular emotion linked to it.
You obviously have a deep love of art and crafts. You even founded Malta’s first contemporary arts and crafts fair – how difficult was that to set up and how popular has it become?
Patches Market was founded in Malta in 2010 and has been a huge success. The idea behind it stemmed from the lack of appreciation towards contemporary crafts. I wanted to create a platform for local artisans in which they could share, sell and promote their unique creations. The first edition started off with 25 stalls, and by time the number went up to 60. Through the market, artisans were given the space to expose their work, communicate with their clients and showcase the creative process with the world. It was truly satisfying to see artisans’ work grow and expand, and be commissioned to do various jobs for clients.
What’s next for you?
The plan for me is to continue creating art and expanding my art psychotherapy practice. It would be great if one day I could combine art therapy and rock art into a one book – so watch this space!