Reflected Realities at The Arches Project

“The Road Less Travelled” – self-portrait with Silver Birch and lichen. (Faber-Castell Polychromos coloured pencils on Fabriano Artistico Hot Pressed 300gsm & handspun newspaper yarn. (£180)

I wanted to share the piece I have created for the “Reflected Realities” Exhibition by The Arches Project in Digbeth (June 9th – June 23rd) . You may have followed its progress on my instagram page, or this may be the first time you have seen it but now you can see it in real life at the exhibition in Digbeth, so do please come along!

When the most profound questions about life have to be confronted to survive, traumatic experiences leave us scarred and fragmented but can also foster great resilience and a more intimate and different connection with the world around us. Deceptively delicate looking, the Birch tree’s deep roots, when properly nourished, also make nutrients accessible for many other species.

To create this piece, multiple layers of coloured pencils have been worked into watercolour paper and newspaper stories have been painstakingly remoulded, crumpled, softened, cut into strips and spun through the fingers into yarn. These techniques are slow, sometimes tedious and often painful, mirroring the process of recovery.



Newspaper yarn Gallery

You can buy my newspaper yarn creations on my Folksy shop here.  

Making newspaper into yarn

The process I go through to make my newspaper yarn designs mirrors my therapy and recovery journey. It has mainly been about building a new way of “being”.  I can’t change my brain or my history, but I can try to dismantle some of the power held by the stories that make up my ingrained feelings, thoughts and behaviours. The stories that do not help me to thrive (though they have helped me survive). It’s not possible to get rid of these well-rehearsed stories so it’s more about accepting why they are there and reshaping my response to them by not buying into them. To create something new from these stories.

Much like recovery or therapy, the process can be painful, difficult and tedious.

So I take stories that seem so sure of themselves, printed in black and white and presenting themselves as fact. And to start I crumple the paper, to soften and ready it for the process. I liken this to the fact that sometimes it is a “breakdown” or crisis, or some other major event that triggers me to seek help. The softening produced by this crumpling is the safeness and calming created in a trusted therapeutic and in safe supportive social relationships.

Without this, the process will just result in the paper ripping apart.

I then cut strips of paper, paying attention to the colours they contain and the slow process of twisting it through my fingers to turn it into yarn begins. I keep the colours I want and mould the paper yarn using my fingers – a part of my physical body.

In the same way, experience of new feelings and ways of being have to be felt with your body to truly understand and learn. Our feelings are real physiological, biological things that happen inside our bodies. All the thinking in the world cannot change your feelings. We need that embodied experience to really learn new ways of feeling.

We can learn from hearing about something or seeing something done but we only really understand when we do it ourselves. It seems to me we often concentrate on the words and thoughts of our lives and can easily forget the spaces in between, where our essence of simply “being” resides. I think this is where compassion, soothing and connection acts, on the spaces between the words. Only in embracing the whole can we recover a fulfilling life.

This is a slow, messy process resulting in ink-stained, sore fingers but it’s needed to create something new. I can create anything from this yarn. It was once a set story (full of bad news and trauma) as well as sometimes misinformation. It is now flexible, pliable, stronger and more beautiful and can be used to create any design. The words have got new meanings in their new contexts as part of the yarn itself, or lifted from the newspaper to be given new life as little tags on golden thread.

We are not our history. We can be so much more.

An accidental Christmas card design


I was intending on entering a Christmas card competition, but I wasn’t actually thinking about this when I came up with my design. I had been doing a lot of doodles and sketches ‘inspired by’ how    s    l    o    w    mental health recovery can be. And because it feels so slow, sometimes appreciating things on a tiny scale can really help. It can help me see things from a different perspective and bring me back to the present moment. The present moment without the tangled webs of hopes, dreams, fears and stories we tell ourselves. Even in a city, it can help me feel much more connected to the natural world because on a minute scale, every tree, every wooden bench and brick wall can hold a tiny natural landscape.

So I think I was drawing about focusing on a minute scale during the festive period too. Christmas can be a sad or lonely time for some people, including those using mental health services over the holidays. It can be especially difficult when everyone seems to be enjoying it except you. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, it might not feel that great. Or you might be overspending and exhausting yourself to make sure you can provide a really great Christmas for others. And even if you love this time of year, it can still come with pressures, expectations and unnecessary stress. So I was hoping to draw something that could be for anyone, whether they celebrate or not – hoping they can all find a moment of kindness, connection, warmth and sparkle no matter how small during this festive season.

I ended up doing two versions because I thought the first one was a bit overdone but I am still not sure which I prefer. Both have been entered into the Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust Christmas card competition. You can find out more and enter here:






New online shop!

The lovely people at RSVP and GINA have made a lovely new online shop where you can purchase books, cards and crafts. It has some lovely brooches, books by the very knowledgeable and insightful psychologist, Nina Burrowes and a selection of my own photographic greetings cards. So do go and have a look around!

Meanwhile, there’s a sneak peek below at some of the newspaper yarn cards I have dropped off at RSVP recently which will be coming soon for the festive season.

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Of course you can also buy stuff via my folksy shop, where I list stuff I haven’t managed to take down to the RSVP offices, so do keep checking both….esp as I smell Christmas approaching!

urban bee by the roadside. all rights reserved Bibi Senthi