Headshot of Michelle Wood

Meet our Associate Artists: Michelle Wood, print-maker

From puppetry to print-making, Blue Cabin’s team of Associate Artists all specialise in using their artistic practice to help improve outcomes for care-experienced children and young people. 

Here, we meet Michelle Wood, who shares what it’s been like to help deliver Creative Life Story Work (a new model of life story work, which you can learn more about here) with care-experienced children and young people. 

Looking back, going forwards: four years of Creative Life Story Work

A rollercoaster journey

I can’t believe it’s four years since my first introduction to Creative Life Story Work. What an amazing, rollercoaster, learning journey with Blue Cabin!

Looking back to September 2018 when Jenny and the team brought us together with fellow Associate Artists, Elena, Nic and Pady, the excitement was building. There were many unknowns as well as a conviction that this was a really important project to be part of.

In my proposal, I wrote of being excited by the challenge of working with cared-for children and their supporting adults, and to develop creative print sessions specifically for their needs. I was also excited to work in partnership with Jenny and the Blue Cabin team and to learn from their powerful approaches to helping children with experience of the care system.

A splurge of ideas

Rooted in rich Therapeutic Life Story Training with Richard Rose and the Social Pedagogical approach of Thure Johansen, I mapped out my ideas on large sheets of paper. These are a visual treat for me to reflect on; there’s a splurge of creative ideas, lots of questions and an artist’s toolkit.

As well as needing physical tools, kit and equipment, the artist’s toolkit I mapped out in 2018 includes curiosity, intuition and seeing things differently. It involves listening, sharing, empathy and working together and adaptability, being responsive and dealing with uncertainty. 

Questions, questions and more questions!

And at that time, before we started on our first round of All About Me with children and their carers in South Tyneside in September 2019, like everyone else I had lots of questions. Some of the key ones relating to the role of an Associate Artist were: 

  • As an artist, what can I give a child or young person in care?
  • How do we work with children in care?
  • How can we support the children?
  • How can we support the carers/key adults?
  • How do we work together?
  • What support do we need?
  • What do we leave children in care with?
  • How do we start and how do we finish?

In response to some of these questions, my 2018 list includes: 

  • design enjoyable and playful activities
  • prepare well and give each person an element of choice
  • use lots of colour
  • be polite and respectful
  • ask appropriate questions
  • give some personal insights
  • use humour
  • make sure everyone can achieve
  • help everyone feel safe
  • encourage sharing and help each other
  • use good quality materials and resources
  • observe, gather stories
  • offer good challenges
  • listen

Going forwards into round seven 

By working through the first six rounds of All About Me, we now have a clearer idea of how it can work and how it does work. We have a wonderful expanded team of Associate Artists, with Lisette, Ruth, Paul and Alison. We each have a tested set of tools, activities, resources and prompts as well an approach that supports children and their carers. And we know that this might need to adapt and change. 

We know that it is a joyous, creative, emotional journey. We know that it does help children understand something of their life stories and we know that it’s often the start rather than the end of the journey. 

Blue Cabin provide amazing support to their Associate Artists and we have an understanding of how we can help each other. A combination of structured support as well as informal chats and buddying really help.

26th September 2022

So, as I prepare and deliver the boxes of materials, resources and prompts for my seventh round of All About Me, the anticipation, joy, and some nerves, are starting. The excitement is building again. This helps me prepare for the sessions coming up; for the uncertainties and unknowns – about the children, their experiences and situations and about being back online and fingers crossed everyone’s technology work – with an awareness that I’ll need to adapt some of my activities to ensure that everyone gets the best from the process. 

Looking back on my initial thoughts in 2018, it’s amazing to realise how spot on they are. 

As Blue Cabin Associate Artists, we are trusted and encouraged to be artists in the Creative Life Story Space, to bring our experiences and understanding of what it means to be an artist, and use these skills and our artists’ toolkits, to help young people understand their life stories through creativity. It’s a unique and exceptional role.

Thank you Michelle for writing this blog post. Find out who else is in Blue Cabin’s team of Associate Artists here, and visit Michelle’s website here