Maria McCavana Blog

Women’s Work Project 

Getting started 

The idea for the project began a few years back whilst on residency in Sri Lanka. I had been lucky enough to spend 6 weeks in a small coastal fishing village in Dodanduwa as part of the Sura Medra International arts residency. Most of my work as an artist has involved people and places. Whether that is through walking with people, listening and exploring stories, creatively playing, spending time with people in their work places or homes, my work couldn’t be made without some degree of input from people I meet.

In Sri Lanka I didn’t need to go far to begin exploring my next project. Walking from the residency centre down a quiet lane  brought me to the sea. Along the route I was invited in to peoples houses. The men had left for the day and the women were working from home. Their day began with school drop-offs, going to the market, buying fish, cooking and after this they would start their work. By the time I had gotten out of bed and began walking these women had already started weaving coir to make rope and nets, mending chairs, making doormats, drying clay pots and weaving palm. 

As these women worked they chatted. Talking about their children, their husbands, their neighbours, what was current in the paper, the TV that day. As they worked they poured their laughter, worries, concerns, opinions all this into their task at hand. 

I began to photograph the women and then eventually my camera moved down and I became more interested in what they were doing, how their hands moved and what was being created as they talked. After a while I stopped photographing and began drawing. As I drew the objects they made I thought a lot about each of the women and over time thought about each of their personalities and how the things they made from scratch took on a kind of portrayal of each woman. Each object made slightly different than the one before. 

Coir Rope
Coir Rope Circle
Weaved Cocoon

It was with this in mind when I returned back to Glasgow to start the project Women’s Work.

About the project

My artistic practice over the last 10 years has been working within different sectors and environments of the NHS. I have worked to redesign waiting rooms with CAMHS teams. I had been artist in resident at Possilpark Health and Care Clinic. I had worked with Spiral and facilated workshops in hospitals care homes, Health Care Centres. And through all this I have built up relationships with an amazing group of women whose work I hugely admired. For this project I approached 

Sarah McLean Social Worker

Angela Bialek Art Therapist

Kasia Zych Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist

Cristiona Logan NHSCT Governance Lead Radiographer

Dr Lindsey Macleod Independent Clinical Psychologist

When I began talking to these women about an idea I had, it was right at the beginning of lockdown. Just at a time when these professionals who are challenged in what they do already would be stretched to their limits so probably the wrong time and the right time to ask to participate in a project.

The first thing I did was to write a letter to each of the women that outlined my idea and asked for a little bit of their time to get involved.

I set up meetings over zoom (a medium we all had to learn and struggle with) which was a way to find out more around their profession and for me to figure out if I could make the project work.

I had an idea to find out what are, if any, the objects, the tools they use in their profession that helps them do the work they do? Some of my thoughts were…

What are those connectors between a professional and a client? I know a lot is their training and supervision but what else?

What helps these professionals do the work they do?

What bridges the gap? How do they do the work they do?

Unlike in my previous experience of working with the Sri Lankan women and physically being able to go into their homes, touch the objects they were making, shake their hands, hug, have coffee and conversations, be curious, find things in the unexpected little happenings of day to day. I was now completely restricted to my home. I couldn’t wander into these women’s clinical spaces and begin photographing or chatting. 

I talked to each of the women through zoom, which has become the staple for communication. I recorded the conversations and this was a great way to go back and reflect. Each conversation opened up an incredible insight into each woman’s working process and the road that lead them to their professions. There is an openness and honesty around how they spoke about their practice and for me a real intrigue into a world that is hidden, private and confidential and often held within the confinement of often small clinical rooms.

The objects 

During a very quite period as covid took hold of our lives with what was an unbelievable concept as a lockdown and the women’s jobs became massively intense all was put on hold until slowly things began to emerge and to take shape and ideas and objects began to appear. 

Book Spine

First, dropped at my door step, I was given on loan a bag of assorted items, a piece of rope, sunglasses, a Russian doll set, pebbles. Then through what’s app, photographs of a crochet blanket, a doll, a child’s well used paint palette. With these objects and conversations around other materials like clay, paper and pencil, I began to put together my collection. 

Bubble wrap
Crochet Blanket
Child’s Palette
Russian dolls Apart

As my collection grew I had to find a way to work with these objects and so as before when I was in Sri Lanka I went back to drawing. I knew that with drawing I was only reliant on myself, I couldn’t have anything printed or made up by someone else. By now we were in total lockdown and all my usual avenues and go-toos were closed indefinitely.

About drawing

Drawing is a medium I love, although over the years I never seem to have the time to give drawing the time it needed. I now found myself with time and I could draw. My set-up was very simple, a drawing board, a lamp and a series of pencils and watercolour paper and I began to draw.

The drawings are time consuming and all consuming and through this focus I had time to reflect and think. The process of drawing for me usually starts off really bad, I need a few days to get a rhythm going, I stand up, I pace around, I change radio channels until finally my eyes, my hand and my pencil all work together without distraction. I also have to give myself permission to take my time and remind myself it’s ok to be ‘just’ drawing.

My first drawing was the Russian dolls. I had to give my objects back quite quickly so I decided I would photograph them first and spent a lot of time working out what that photograph, documentation should look like, how would it be set up and what would it communicate in the way it’s presented. I knew I was going to draw from the photograph so I needed to have all the information there, as I wasn’t getting a second chance.

The objects I choose to draw from after a lot of back and forth are

Russian Dolls

A crochet blanket

A length of rope

Childs painting palette

Bubble wrap

These became my 5 objects; my 5 drawings that I felt represented the 5 women.

Alongside my drawings of these objects I also wanted to have the mark-making of each of the women. I know I had their words and now their objects, but I also wanted their hands in the work. Paper, pencil and clay were materials that kept recurring as important tools that the women used in their practice. And these simple materials, a block of quick drying clay, a 2B pencil, a sheet of A4 cartridge paper, were sent out to each women with a small brief attached. 

The brief asked…


“With the clay, place your hands in it, push it about, pull it, tear pieces off it, mark it, score it, live with it for a while. It’s about your individual mark making, expression and response to the material thinking about the work that you do.”

The women’s visual response and thoughts

Clay Figures

The children and adults I work with struggle to relate to other people as well as large parts of their own lived experiences. Supporting them to understand how they have come to be where they are now is a difficult but important part of recovering a healthy sense of themselves. 

A large part of my work is trying different ways to engage young people in getting to know me so that I can get to know them. Ultimately I want the person I am working with to know that I can hear whatever it is they might want to tell me.

The figures then are intended to show that I will stay by their side and help them through whatever it is they are experiencing however painful, distressing and frightening this might be.

Sarah McLean Social Worker

Free association sculpting

Maybe something to do with connection and interconnectedness. 

Some relationships, families, communities are richly intertwined, providing mutual sustenance, growing and thriving. Others are less fortunate, overlooked, dwindling.

Dr Lindsey Macleod Independent Clinical Psychologist

Pushing, Thumping, Squeezing, Pressing. The shapes appear and disappear.

Angela Bialek Art Therapist


Cristiona Logan NHSCT Governance Lead Radiographer

Clay Circles

I started to make balls of clay and then flattened them, some cracked as I was working outside and they dried quickly. I didn’t really like the end result and I thought this is like a session when you don’t know where it takes you. Sometimes things aren’t satisfactory for the patient or me. Things aren’t tidied up and I felt that with the clay. 

I sometimes feel in a session disappointment and I felt like that with the clay. It felt unfinished; sometimes a session feels unresolved for the patient and me. This is part of the therapeutic process.

Kasia Zych Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist

The women’s work in clay

Sarah Clay
Lindsey Clay
Angie Clay
Cristiona Clay
Kasia Clay

The brief asked…


“Here is a piece of paper for you to respond to. Use any drawing material you wish, draw, use text, tear it, rip it, scrunch it up. It’s completely yours and your response thinking about the work you do.”

The women’s visual response and thoughts

Life Story Book

I will regularly ask young people I work with to draw how they are or have been feeling. For many children this is easier than finding the words to express these things. Colouring pens and blank paper are items I use on a regular basis for this.

Often the young people I work with have stayed in more than one place with more than one relative or carer. The young person’s understanding of how their lives have brought them to the point they are now at usually has lots of gaps and distortions. An important piece of work then is working with the young person to fill in the gaps and try to answer the many, many questions they have about their own life story.

Sarah McLean Social Worker

Just passing through line

During lockdown I went for a walk through Glasgow’s Necropolis; a place that provides perspective on life and death.

Dr Lindsey Macleod Independent Clinical Psychologist

Pushing, Thumping, Squeezing, Pressing. The shapes appear and disappear.

Angela Bialek Art Therapist 


My A level chemistry teacher advised me to consider becoming a therapeutic radiographer as she thought I had a technical brain and empathetic heart. When I graduated and started working in radiotherapy it was so important to me to try to help every single patient I treated. I just wanted to make their experience a little less difficult.

I always greeted my patients with a warm smile, clear guidance and explanations and lots of reassurance. As my career has progressed into quality and governance roles I hope I have contributed to a safe high quality, equitable service.

Cristiona Logan NHSCT Governance Lead Radiographer 

50 Minutes

50 minutes is the length of a clinical session. Whatever happens in that time happens. While I was drawing I had these thoughts and that’s where the words came from: time, containment, layers, mark making, creative.

Being in the moment with a patient, you see what emerges and respond to what someone brings. The drawing felt similar to a session, I wasn’t sure what would happen. I know it has a beginning and an end point. This is what it’s like in a session; there are so many thoughts.

Kasia Zych Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist

Drawing Lindsey
Drawing Angie
Drawing Cristiona
Drawing Kasia

 The final drawings and the words

As I was in the process of making the drawings I was thinking about how the women had explained how the objects were used in the clinical settings and once the drawings were made I felt it important to have this interpretation, these words beside the drawings.

The words 

Bubble wrap

Children, young people and adults enjoy the mindful popping of, and walking on, the bubble wrap. 

It can be very absorbing and therefore a great way to focus the mind. It’s also helpful for practising “urge surfing”.

Dr Lindsey Macleod Independent Clinical Psychologist

Child’s Painting Palette

In Psychotherapy we use basic materials, we want the children to be creative, it’s not directed, we want to see what emerges from their play. How the children use materials gives us a clue how they experience their internal world, what’s inside them. The children are given a box of basic materials including, paints, palette, drawing materials, little figures, string, tape a baby doll.

Kasia Zych Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist

Crochet blanket

My sister crocheted a blanket for me to use with the children I work with whilst I was going through my training.

I think it was her way of saying we support you. I use the blanket in the therapy room; it’s something soft in a clinical space. 

Children have used it in different ways – as a blanket for their baby doll; some children put it over their heads and look through the holes.

Kasia Zych Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist

Russian dolls

Sometimes children like to play with the dolls but at other times they sit on the coffee table and are more symbolic.

They are containers within containers; simultaneously holding and being held.

My work is often about containing parental anxiety in order that they can contain their child’s anxiety or distress.

I am similarly contained by my supervisor, psychology peers and professional structures.

Dr Lindsey Macleod Independent Clinical Psychologist


The rope is used to illustrate the point that struggling with our emotions can be a bit like having a tug of war with a monster….it’s exhausting and can feel scary. Doing an actual tug of war in the therapy room can open up new possibilities such as dropping the struggle, letting go of the rope, maybe even leaning into the experience. Is it possible to acknowledge the emotion and just allow it to be there? (It will pass in its own time.) Struggling with our emotions can sometimes just make them worse.

Dr Lindsey Macleod Independent Clinical Psychologist

The Drawings

Rope, Pencil on paper
Bubblewrap, Pencil on paper
Child’s Palette, Pencil on paper
Russian dolls , Pencil on paper
Crochet Blanket, Pencil on paper

After Lockdown

As we began to emerge from lockdown I invited each of the women to my studio so they could see the drawings and the collection of work from each other. This was at last a time to meet, see and touch what had been discussed for over a year. These studio meetings helped me to work out how to present the work and curate the exhibition in a way that told the story of the project and represented everyone who had been involved. 

The exhibition takes place at Summerhall Edinburgh The Meadows Suite Nov 11th – Dec 23rd.