Andrew Blythe has been interested in art and writing for as long as he can remember.

"My father was creative; he introduced me to art and gave me an interest in painting. My mother gave me an interest in writing. Now I do both those things."

Andrew has a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and he uses painting, drawing, and writing to aid his recovery and support his wellbeing.

Since 2000, Andrew has been painting at Toi Ora, a community arts centre in Auckland that provides space and tuition for people with experience of mental illness.

"It's a spiritual thing," Andrew says. "I spend a lot of my time painting away, and when I paint I don't feel frazzled or worried."

Art centres Andrew

Andrew was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 19.

"I was sick for a while before I realised that something was really wrong. I was spending a lot of time with gang members, I didn't like my friends very much, and I was drinking a lot. I went into town one night and got beaten up. The next thing I knew I was in a mental hospital."

Recovery has taken a while for Andrew. He has been re-admitted to hospital several times since that first stay.

As well as having people to talk to about his experiences, art has helped Andrew to centre himself and reconnect with the world.

"Art helps me not think about things so much," he says, "my thoughts get overwhelming. I paint when I'm sick, and I paint when I'm well."

Communicating through his paintings

Andrew has gone through periods when he hasn't been able to talk to anyone.

"I paint to communicate," he says, "but I had to break through that and start speaking to people again. The Framework Trust helped me with that, and so did being at Toi Ora. I'm always surrounded by people to talk to, and that helps me."

Andrew's work has been exhibited in Paris, New York, Sydney, and Belgium. His dream is "to become a great painter, out there in the world, selling paintings all over the world."

Bit by bit, he's getting closer to that dream, using his art and his time spent at Toi Ora to build up his confidence and gain the skills he needs.

"When I've finished a piece of work I put it up on my easel and just look at it, and think about it. I feel good then, about myself, about the work I've done. It's a good feeling."