Drawing with my father after his stroke

April 17, 2016 in Blog bericht, pencil drawing by Michelle Dujardin

In the first week of February my father, 65 years old, got several strokes in the left hemisphere of his brain. In hospital his condition first got more severe, probably due to another stroke. There were deficiencies on the right side of his body; he could not walk properly, he didn’t use his right arm and hand (unless we asked him to, but he hardly had any control on the movement), he had difficulties finding the right words, was confused, had problems like memory loss and he couldn’t read and hardly write. Most disturbing for him was the loss of sight on the right side of both eyes.

The brain is a miraculous thing. My father was able to spell words correctly, even write them with his finger in the air, but he could not read. He couldn’t even read what he had just written down with his sub-dominant left hand. He could describe animals, but didn’t recognize them in photos. Rather dramatic for my nature- and bird loving father who loves to walk in nature.

In the first weeks after the stroke I asked my father to describe a stork and draw one for me. The discription was fine but this was the result of the drawing:

tekening ooievaar

Fortunately my father is now recovering in a very fine clinic and he is making lots of progress. He now walks by himself and his right hand is getting more active. Slowly he is starting to recognize words and letters and animal recognition is improving fast too.

In the beginning of his recovery I had the feeling that Zen drawing might be a good exercise for my father. Although he never drew (even my books couldn’t convince him to draw!) and his first interest was to restore his reading and writing abilities, I thought this was the right moment to discover the benefits of drawing. I had to wait untill his dominant right hand had recovered a bit more. When the doctors told us last week, that the main problem for him was focus, concentration and vision I figured the time was right to start. Today we had our first attempt in drawing together.

My fathers fingers are still quite inflexible and stiff, so I need to help him holding the pencil correctly. The first exercise we did today was drawing lines and symbols from memory. This was not a real problem, sometimes I needed to draw an example.

Then I asked my father to draw a stork from memory again (top) and to draw a stork from a photopgraph (below). You can see in the drawing how much his condition had improved already:

ooievaar schetsen

After these exercises I explained how (blind) contour drawing works. We took a ginkgo leaf to practice. He experienced more difficulties with drawing the right side than drawing the left side. I had the feeling that his inflexible arm was part of the problem.

ginkgoblad tekenen

Then I asked my father to draw the stork again (looking at the same photo) but this time using the contour technique. Because he had experienced some troubles while drawing the ginkgo I didn’t expect to much from the drawing. I was amazed when I saw how well it went!

ooievaar goed ooievaar resultaat

Mij father himself was surprised too, especially about the right proportions of the stork. He immediately wanted to draw more and we took an image of his favorite bird; the kingfisher.

ijsvogel tekenen

Finally we took a spoonbill (the writing says in Dutch ‘ This is a spoonbill’)

lepelaar tekenen

After our drawing session his handwriting had improved too. I had to end our session otherwise he would still be drawing right now. He was much more enthusiastic about Zen drawing than I had been hoping for.

This has confirmed my theory that Zen drawing can have many benefits like improving motorskills, and increase focus, attention and relaxation. Also my father told me that the exercise helped him to recognize and remember the animals he had been drawing. Now my father can’t read, and watching tv makes him feel tired, drawing seems to be an ideal way to spend his time. We will continue and I will probably write more about his drawing journey!

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