She recalls catching the creative bug when she was five while visiting her nana in hospital.
“Nana was an artist and a dressmaker. She used to give me one dollar and a bag of lollies for a picture,” Carmen says. “We’d make plasticine Paddington bears together and paint them.”
Now the Christchurch cathedral features regularly in Carmen’s work. “The cathedral represents Christchurch to me, the town as well as its people,” she says.
Carmen blocks out her worries when she is working on her art, and says it is good therapy for her mind.
“It makes me focus,” she explains. “It’s about transferring an idea from your brain and your heart on to paper. I can make this colour, and that shape or this pattern, the way I want to.”
Carmen remembers how difficult it was to remain engaged with art after the Christchurch earthquakes left her homeless and without her local art centre, both of which were destroyed in the quakes.
It took some time to feel settled again but Carmen never stopped drawing. “I'd do half an hour a day, even when I was unwell,” she says. “And, after 14 months, I managed to finish 50 wee drawings.”
Carmen’s persistence in tackling the daily challenges that come with living in a post-earthquake city, along with her need to keep drawing no matter what, helped her to become strong again.
She also found a new haven in Room 5 – an Ōtautahi Creative Space at the Phillipstown Community Hub.
Carmen describes it as a safe place to go, with nice, friendly people. “They're similar to me. They want to do art, and when I come here I forget that I've got a mental illness.”
The 45-year-old artist was diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was young – “it went away and has crept back again”.
Her passion for art enables Carmen to thrive creatively. She has been working on community projects, such as an artwork for the Phillipstown Neighbourhood Policing Team’s base. And she’s thrilled to have been awarded a scholarship from The Learning Connexion for an art and creativity course in 2016.
“It means everything to me. I never thought I'd get a scholarship. Now I want to have an exhibition and I hope to be able to do my masters one day. Art just makes me very happy.”