Creative Caversham – The Art of Play for young and old – Joan Harris

Joan Harris has relocated from South Africa to chilly Caversham, bringing us her skills in teaching adults and children alike how to express themselves through art. Elestr Lee met Joan at her new studio

EAGLE-EYED residents will have spotted Artology, the new studio in Prospect Street, which offers a range of arts and crafts for both children and adults. Joan Harris, the owner, has been busy stamping her own warm and enthusiastic personality on the project.
“All types of people come in here – mothers and babies, dads with their children, people bring in their dogs for ‘doggy prints’ – we’re big on dogs here… we even had a rugby team! People come for corporate events or parties, and some like to bring the art they are working on, for some studio space,” Joan explained. When we met, Artology’s doors had been opened for just four months, but she is delighted with the response. Young and old have been able to paint pottery or do canvas painting or glass etching as well as vinyl sticker printing. Joan is supported by her assistant Lara, who organises the admin and marketing as well as assisting at events.
Not surprisingly, Joan has plenty of plans this December: ”We’re offering Christmas wreath making sessions, with Ella from Wild Blooms florist – they will be really spectacular!” she said. “Pottery and painting evenings will be on a Christmas theme, and I also have someone coming in with a small printing press, so people can learn how to make and print their own Christmas cards. There will also be courses for children during the Christmas holiday.”
Supporting and teaching children and adults alike is Joan’s passion. “I love building self-esteem through art, and with the right encouragement and learning a few techniques, everyone soon discovers they can do amazing things.
“Adults come in, and say, ‘I don’t know how to paint,’ so for example I can show them which brush to use for different effects. Learning new processes is the thing I can teach,

and this really builds confidence and opening creative possibilities. So many people have forgotten to find a balance in their lives…we all need time to play, and this is what I aim to provide.”
Johannesburg-born Joan migrated from South Africa to Caversham in 2019 with her Welsh-born husband and their two children. “We had no connections with Caversham. But we have discovered such a sense of community among our neighbours, who are so friendly. There are many young families in this area, and parents are so involved in their children’s lives. For example, a dad came into Artology today to spend a bit of quality time with his daughter, it was lovely!” Joan said.
In South Africa Joan had been involved in a variety of creative enterprises, including upcycling old pieces of furniture and household items – indeed, Artology is fitted with many examples of her upcycled cupboards and shelving eye-catchingly refreshed with chalk paint.
“Upcycling is something I am passionate about,” Joan revealed. She has always been enthusiastic about using mixed media in her creations, and loves to show her ‘art journals’ – montages of photos/mementoes/snippets of saved notes,which can be combined to create a personal art journal. “I like to suggest this idea to children, and sometimes when they start creating their journal about themselves, they can be quite negative. But as they build up the layers of fragments, they record the positives. I love layering, which is a really good exercise in ‘finding yourself’,” she explained. “Art therapy is something I am really into. But also teaching children that you can make art by using up stuff – one idea is to decorate old boxes, then piling them upwards to create a totem pole!”
Once the busy Christmas season is over, Joan is brimming with ideas for the coming year. “I would like to create more events for people reaching the autumn of their lives,” she promised. “I want people to come in and learn about upcycling furniture, and the use of chalk paints. I have always been keen on crafts such as papier-mâché. In South Africa, I used to make piñatas for children’s parties, which was great fun. People would hang them on washing lines because there you could plan for outdoor events, whereas here things are more geared for indoors. I am also into mosaics, vinyl painting.”
Joan is pleased her new venue, Artology, has already got off to a great start, and is looking forward to making plans for 2024. “Everyone is welcome, all types of people come to Artology, and I really want this to be a place of calm and joy.”