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Ben’s People: ‘Sarah’s Scribbles’

Ben Ulisse
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The artist at home.  Supplied

One groovy grandma just got into art, and she’s encouraging others to give it a go.

Some folks find their calling early, often by chance or via parental influence. Whether it be a hobby, career, or both, that spark of interest remains at their side through good times and bad. Then there are late bloomers, people like Sarah Moeau who unlock something they never knew they had until later in life.  

For Sarah, her recent venture into making art has given her a newfound sense of joy, not to mention a boost to her self-worth and ability to manage stress. Inspired by her arty flatmate, she started ‘doodling’ after he suggested she try it for herself. After some initial doubts, Sarah sharpened her pencils and got stuck in.  

‘I always thought my two younger sisters were artistic, not me... I never thought I would be any good at it, and in my mind, if I couldn't get it perfect then I didn't even try. But I don't think that way now.’  

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Crisp black outlines are the foundation for any great artwork. Sarah Moeau

Putting in time and effort to create things is a form of catharsis, a means to release built-up emotional pressure. Stress-relief by way of making art may not be a new concept to those already familiar with it, but for fresh artists, it’s an intoxicating sensation. As Sarah puts it, it’s ‘creating a page of whatever I'm feeling at the moment.’ 

There is strong evidence across the field of medicine showing that making art does in fact have a positive effect on our minds, and in some cases can even help stimulate the delicate organ to repair itself. Repeated actions with the hand such as drawing or playing an instrument are like ‘physio for the brain,’ says a spokesperson from Hibiscus Neuro Rehab in Whanagaparaoa.  

The Australian, New Zealand and Asian Creative Arts Therapies Association celebrates the mental health benefits of art for improving self-awareness, exploring feelings and reducing anxiety. Experts in the field, Creative Arts Therapists, use artistic processes to help people explore and express unconscious matters that can be difficult to articulate in words. 
‘These methods provide a supportive space for participants to practise new behaviours, and this can be more effective than merely talking about change.’ 

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Strawberries & Beetroots Sarah Moeau

A lifelong student of the body, mind and soul, Sarah knew about the power art has in expanding the brain with new neural pathways before starting. However, experiencing that change first-hand was still a pleasant surprise for her. I love it because it takes me out of my head and right into the moment.’ She also tells me she’s getting into Neurographic art, an artistic style and therapeutic exercise developed by Russian psychologist Pavel Piskarev.  

The aim with Neurographics is for people to express their worries onto paper in the form of overlapping circles and lines, resulting in unique works worthy of display in any modern art gallery once colour is added. Sarah shows me some of this art, and my imagination swirls with images of paramecium in a petri dish, sea grapes in Kaikōura rock pools, and the Rugrats cartoon logo. But as it goes with many artists, the creative process behind each piece matters more to them than the final result does. For Sarah’s journey of growth in her art over the past year runs parallel to a more personal flourishment, the gradual overcoming of past trauma. 

She describes the lingering anguish left by an abusive relationship from early adulthood that had her ‘always walking on eggshells’ which she is still processing. Years later, Sarah was grief-stricken over the passing of her beloved husband working over in Western Australia. More recently, a demanding job at a supermarket working odd hours took a toll on her both physically and mentally, forcing her to cut back hours as problems increased before finally resigning.

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A tiny creature watches the moon. Sarah Moeau

Along with seeing a psychologist for these issues, Sarah finds refuge in her new artistic pursuits. It’s a form of escapism, a means to deal with complex emotions and a fun, relaxing activity all rolled into one.  
Previously, her urge to draw or paint came rarely due to art supplies being put away out of sight when not in use, and this was quashed even more by the busyness of working life. Now, with time up her sleeve and all her stationery sitting out permanently, Sarah is finally able to devote herself full-time to her favourite activity. ‘I even have my very own art desk in our garage studio!’ she says excitedly, and plans on selling some of her pictures, either at local markets or the end of her driveway. ‘At the very least, I'll get to meet some cool people!’ 

But Sarah’s quest to find her true calling remains, and while drawing is now a major part of her daily life, her reclaimed confidence and happy outlook from making art has her wanting a new career. Just in the past year, Sarah’s overall mood and state of mental well-being has improved tremendously, and a lot of that credit is due to her flurry of pencils on paper. Unlocking creative skills that lay dormant in her for years has in turn brought other gears back into motion, and it’s clear that the invigorated and rebooted Sarah we see today is picking things up where they left off.  

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Ones like these really get the mind's eye racing. Sarah Moeau

‘I never had any aspirations growing up,’ she says. Trying her hand at various roles such as being an office junior in an accountancy firm, a bank teller, and working at a plant nursery did not appeal, and Sarah tells me at nearly age 55 she’s still searching for her thing. Her dream job is being a pharmacy technician, a course for which she hopes to start next year.  

Neurographic doodling is certainly keeping her going in the meantime however, and she’s also hinted at making a return to another distant pastime of hers.  

In 2015 she took part in a musical with the Otaki Players Society for Whistle Down the Wind after auditioning with her daughter. Giggling, she adds ‘I just went to support her audition and ended up in it!’ Playing one of the townspeople, she began with only a few lines but by the end was one of the singing members of the troupe. ‘It was one of the best times of my life, and for those few months of rehearsal I made lifelong friends with many of the cast members.’ The show ran over a fortnight, with another highlight being a Samoan actor playing Jesus. Sarah looks back on the experience with a grin. ‘Boy, I was buzzing. It was pretty sad when it was all over, and I said I’d do it again... maybe some time in the future I just might.’

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"Squiggly lines filled with colour and texture give me so much joy." -S.M Sarah Moeau

She’s also a talented saxophonist, with a predilection for the alto sax.  

Sarah Moeau has one final thing to say. ‘I would definitely encourage anyone who thinks they are no good at art, like I did, to start with making a mark on some paper. Squiggly lines filled with colour and texture give me so much joy, and it’s a perfect escape from the difficult stuff in life.’