Draw me a river – Louise Arnal

Louise Arnal looks back at a community event in 2019 in the Pang Catchment, and the creation of shared river art between 30 people aged 2 to over 70 years old.

On Saturday 16th March 2019, an event on ‘Flooding in the Pang Valley: Past, Present and Future’ was organised in Pangbourne. This event was held for locals to share their knowledge of local flood history and to see what has been done to reduce the risk of flooding since 2007 (such as natural flood management solutions). Tucked in a corner of the Pangbourne Village Hall, an art activity was set up, waiting to welcome little and bigger hands.

For this art activity, ‘Draw Me a River’, participants were guided through a 3-step artistic process. To start, they were asked to use a white oil pastel to draw everything they cannot see but that the word river inspires them, such as sounds and emotions. When the white layer of emotions was laid on the page, invisible to the eye, people were then free to use all the other colours of the palette to draw a river as they visualise it. Finally, they were given blue and green inks, which they could apply on their drawing, making their river, in white and coloured strokes, come to life! Placing a sheet of paper below each participant’s drawing, I collected all the ink that had overflown from it during this last step of the process. While the rivers would form the foregrounds of the final art piece, the overflown ink would form the background and represent the idea of flooding.

‘Flooding’, final community art piece background

The final art piece reflects contributions from about 30 people, from a range of backgrounds and ages. The youngest artist was aged ~2 years old and the oldest was ~70. Artists were a mix of flood scientists and lay people.

The purpose of the activity was to let people explore rivers, through their visual memories, but also their feelings. Most (if not all) people taking part in this activity had preconceptions about what a river is and looks like. Through this activity, the layered artistic process aimed to make participants rediscover a world they thought they knew so well.

‘Draw Me a River’ final community art piece

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