Thriving through creativity and community

Research has shown that regular creative activity is linked to positive psychological functioning, while engagement with arts and heritage is associated with improved life satisfaction. This can have a number of dimensions, from the stress-reducing meditative quality of creative activities, to the social support derived from being part of a creative group.

Julia Wysocka of the International Community Organisation of Sunderland (ICOS) shares with us some of the approaches she uses to stimulate her own mindful creativity, and also tells us about the Eastern European Women’s Group whose programme of health and wellbeing activities includes creative workshops.

I have always loved visual arts – art and design have really interested me since I was a child. I was born in Poland and moved to Sunderland when I was 9 years old, and grew up in a very creative family. My dad was an artist and painted in his free time, and my sister, who studied illustration at university, is now a graphic designer. My mum enjoyed photography and was a travel blogger, and I sketched a series of maps of Herrington Park, Penshaw Monument and Hardwick Park, which featured in her Polish travel book, Turystyczne Perelki, about County Durham and Sunderland.

I have always enjoyed painting, sketching and drawing. It brings me to mindfulness. In my work you will often see a vivid use of colours, patterns and repetitive shapes. I also enjoy taking photographs of crowds, distinctive buildings and things out of the ordinary and then take inspiration from them to create a piece of art. Another way I work is through being inspired by shapes which bring a feeling of peace and mindfulness.

My work regularly features a mixture of techniques to create something which builds up positive emotions. I often work with acrylic, gouache and oil paint, but I also enjoy using inks and fine liners. I have previously practiced a variety of techniques, such as etching and woodcut printmaking, and then incorporated colours and tie dye.

During Lockdown, I went back to running my Instagram page @arti_things where I share my ideas with the world and get creative inspiration from others. Developing art work has helped me to battle my problems with mental health in the past, included dealing with bereavement and anxiety, and I would love to use this talent further to help others deal with similar issues.

I currently work at International Community Organisation of Sunderland (ICOS) where I run an Eastern European Women’s group to help with improving confidence, wellbeing and skills through engaging women in various health and wellbeing activities. The group was first formed in September 2020, and activities have included exercise classes, mindfulness and meditation sessions, and yoga. We celebrated events such as International Women’s Day, and had a trip to York where we visited the art gallery and had a historical tour around the city. With social distancing restrictions, we had to move some of our activities online, so we have started running coffee and chat meetings over Zoom, which have also developed into creative online workshops, making Christmas decorations and upcycling from different materials. 

This is a much needed project in Sunderland as there was not previously an inclusive space for Eastern European women to meet locally. It has been beneficial to many women who have experienced a variety of complex issues, including lack of social networks, communication problems, social isolation and lack of skills.

Find out more about:

the work of ICOS: https://icos.org.uk/

research on the links between creativity and wellbeing.

Inspired to start creating? We’ve collected together a selection of creative ideas, stories, videos and workshops from artists and organisations from across the city.