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Bristol radiotherapy mask painting workshop

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Spread a Smile delivers some incredible art initiatives for children and young people across our NHS hospital partners, including art workshops which support creativity and distraction and bespoke murals which enrich hospital wards and windows, helping to make the hospital environment more welcoming.

Another important part of the charity’s art programme is the personalisation of radiotherapy masks for children and teenagers going through treatment for brain, head and neck cancer.

The programme is delivered by Spread a Smile’s Head of Art, Marina, who works closely with patients preparing for radiotherapy treatment to find out their interests and how they would like their masks decorated. Sometimes a patient draws their own sketch and then Marina will take the ideas and create a bespoke and individual decoration for the mask. The process helps to make the mask less frightening, and experience shows that the patient often becomes very proud of their mask.

Last month Marina visited Spread a Smile’s NHS hospital partner Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital to deliver a special radiotherapy mask training workshop for oncology play specialists from the hospital. The aim was to share our skills and understanding of this important activity with the team at Bristol to enable to them to support patients under their care with their designs.

Each attendee came with their own radiotherapy mask and Marina shared different techniques and ideas for painting the masks using special posca pens. Everyone chose their own design and painted their own mask, to experience the process for themselves, before engaging in a useful discussion about how the masks and painting can be used as a preparation tool for patients needing the masks, helping to make them less worrying.

Britney Wookey, Oncology Play Specialist at Bristol Royal Children’s Hospital took part in the workshop saying, “It’s been long awaited for us to be able to paint radiotherapy masks and thanks to Spread a smile our patients will be offered to help design and paint their mask if they wish. Radiotherapy can be a scary treatment for a child at first but being able to decorate their mask so it is unique to them will give them a sense of control and choice. We now have band new kit gifted by spread a smile and their lovely artist, Marina, taught us some of her amazing art skills. Now we can’t wait to bring our patient’s ideas to life!”

Spread a Smile is proud of this bespoke area of work which reaches and supports young cancer patients during one of the most terrifying times of their lives. As one Mum said, “My son didn’t mind wearing his mask once it was painted and enjoyed talking with other children about what they had on their masks. He was so proud to show it to people. We now have it home and it is a prized possession on his desk which he proudly shows to everyone who comes in. His mask was his protection, and he was proud of what he had been through.”

To find out more about Spread a Smile’s services, please click here.

Derwent Art event with Curtis Holder

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Our thanks go to Derwent Art for inviting some young people we support and their families to the Derwent Art Prize exhibition and a special workshop at the Oxo Tower last weekend.

The Derwent Art Prize rewards excellence and showcases the very best artworks made in pencil by artists from around the world. Our VIP guests were welcomed to the exhibition for an engaging workshop led by Derwent Artist Ambassador Curts Holder who showed our budding artists (young people, siblings and parents alike), how to use the grid frame method to replicate an outline as seen through a grid.

It was a lovely opportunity to learn a new skill and find distraction and enjoyment through art in a beautiful and inspiring setting. As one Mum said, “I just wanted to say a very big thank you. Freya loved today’s art session especially as she got to meet Curtis Holder, who is an artist they have been studying at school.” Our guests were generously gifted with a Derwent goody bag to take home after the event, containing art supplies to help everyone continue finding their creativity at home.

We are so grateful to our friends at Derwent for their support and making everyone feel so welcome.

To find out more about our family events and register for our services, please click here.

Marina Constantinou - Head of Art

Marina – Head of Art

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Marina Constantinou is our Head of Art and has been working with Spread a Smile since 2012. Meet Marina below and find our a little more about how art spreads so much joy for the patients and hospitals we support.

“My life in art started when I took A-Level art at school followed by Fashion and Textiles Design at the London College of Fashion. When my children were three and four, I started face painting and that re-ignited my love for art. I started to think how wonderful it would be to face paint for the children at Great Ormond Street Hospital. It was something I always wanted to do so I was so excited to start working with Spread a Smile.

I work with a team of around five Spread a Smile artists, all of whom offer a different artistic skill, relevant to different age groups.

I particularly enjoy painting and personalising radiotherapy masks for patients undergoing treatment for brain, head and neck cancer at University College London Hospital and The Royal Marsden. Painting the masks makes them less frightening and helps children manage their treatment better.

My whole day is spent in the mold room or conservatory, where the masks are fitted for the patient. I have a selection of pictures based on the child’s requests and then decide on the day, what and how I will be painting. All of the painting is done using Posca pens so that it doesn’t interfere with MRI scans and I do them free hand without templates. It is such a personal thing for the child and something that makes such a huge difference to what can be a very scary experience.

Artwork at Watford General Hospital“I also enjoy painting designs on walls and windows within the hospitals. These really help to brighten spaces for patients, staff and families. My day starts with my case full of paint and ideas from the hospital of what they would like. Everyone loves seeing the artwork come to life before them!

 “I also carry out one-to-one art sessions with patients. I take a number of different application colour options from chalk, paint, pencils and pens for the patient to choose. I have many ideas and they choose what they want to do. I usually spend about 30 minutes with each patient and they keep what they have created. It is a great opportunity to chat and teach and such a therapeutic experience for everyone.

“My work means I visit many of our Hospital partners across the Country. I’ve created art across a range of wards, departments and areas from Hematology, to recovery wards, anesthetic rooms, ambulance bays, dining areas, therapy rooms, bathrooms, outpatients, inpatients and A&E.

“A lot of hospitals are quite tired and haven’t been freshened up for many years, so it is an honour to brighten up very dull and sterile areas on the wards or waiting areas. My artwork brings a distraction to patients waiting to see a doctor and they love watching the work unfold. It can open up conversations about art and inspire children and parents to paint or draw themselves.  

“My life painting for Spread a Smile is a privilege. I am given the freedom to colour and brighten spaces and ignite new feelings for everyone. The hospitals I work with are very happy when I do the artwork for them and allow me to give ideas and we work together.

The masks in particular are very special to me, as it was an idea I suggested. It was amazing to see Spread a Smile make it happen and I will always make sure I am available to paint a mask for a child starting their first treatment. It is very special work and one I am grateful for every day if it can make a small difference to children going through unimaginable things.”

Please donate to our Christmas Appeal if you can to help ensure Marina can continue to spread joy through art into 2023. Thank you.