My name is Carole Ogden and I am a member of Tonge with Haulgh Big Local Partnership in Bolton, which puts on activities for local residents through Big Lottery funding.
During lockdown we continued to meet as a group via Zoom, but of course we were unable to do anything tangible to help, because our local situation was so prolonged. We had a discussion about activities that we could offer online, to try and re-engage some people who were becoming increasingly isolated.
I had always wanted to learn to paint and, with plenty of time on my hands for once, wondered if other people might want to learn with me. I put it out on Facebook as an idea and immediately found ten other people who were interested. We all started off as total beginners, with a basic set of acrylics, brushes and paper, which were funded by the partnership and dropped off appropriately.
I watched YouTube videos of a painting and practised it, then we would paint the same picture live together, once a week, with the group following me on Zoom. My first efforts involved having to clamp my iphone into a tripod, and using a free app that turned the video image to a mirrored one and kept cutting to adverts! It was frustrating but I had limited experience and funds, so we persevered.
Whilst making videos for a friend on how to sew face masks however, she recommended the HUE camera and I duly ordered one. As it was Plug & Play, and easy to use, it really did revolutionise our painting experience.
I just needed something small-sized and easy to use, that would enable the group to see what I saw as I drew or painted, or that I could focus on an object which we would then draw. The mic is an added bonus, enabling me to put my laptop out of reach of paint splashes without losing sound.
The group has been a lifeline for several of the members, suffering from isolation and various health issues. Painting is such an enjoyable and mindful activity, and we have all become good friends, supporting each other emotionally and practically.
Even though we all paint the same picture, in the same way, it is surprising how the results are often quite different. I can’t believe we have been meeting weekly for two years now yet we have still never actually met as a complete group, in person.
Zoom still suits us better, as we do not have to travel, trawl equipment round or even clean up afterwards. Looking back at some of the pictures we painted at the start, and sometimes revisiting them now in watercolour, it is clear to see how much we have learned and improved. We have no desire to be professional artists, just to have a hobby that we enjoy and, sometimes, an art piece that we can be proud of.
My ginger cat, Lil, has been known to make appearances during our art sessions and the HUE camera makes it easy for me to highlight her in all her glory for the group, as she munches on my paintbrushes!
I am grateful to have found such a practical solution, because my whole group agree that our love of art and the shared experience of painting and learning together is one of the few very positive things to come out of an awful situation, and our lives have been improved greatly by it. When technology works, it really has the power to change lives.