How Creative Art Helps Me

The following post is a beautiful guest piece by a coaching client who wishes to remain anonymous. She describers how art making is part of her self care and self soothing toolkit and how engaging in art making can shift her focus and mood. I’m pleased to share this piece that speaks in a moment to moment way about how creative expression can be a ‘go to’ in times of pain and how it can provide solace.

While making art at home is not technically art therapy (art therapy happens while a client is working with an art therapist), I encourage all the clients I work with to explore journal writing and expressive art making both between sessions and in an ongoing way after our therapy or coaching relationship has ended, because of the wonderful lifelong benefits that creative expression offers us. 

I am an incredibly selfish person*.

I say that because when I feel deep emotional pain, there is nothing else that exists. Pain takes over completely. I can’t hear the thoughts that could remind me of my fortunes. I have a gorgeous, healthy child who loves me to the moon and back. I have a warm home, delicious food on my table, amazing friends who surround me and work that makes my heart sing.

But when I feel pain, nothing else matters. Pain’s mission is to swallow me. To isolate me from the world. To convince me that I am worthless of even existing. To reassure me that feeling strong and capable was just an illusion.

There’s nothing else but me and my pain in the whole of universe. Me. Me. Me.

But then I remember I have watercolour pencils and a gorgeous watercolour paper block.

It all starts slowly. I scribble around a bit with my favourite colour of the moment. I put it back in its place carefully and take another one in my hand. Reverently. My focus is entirely on the beauty that emerges on its own.

Slowly my entire focus is on the sound of the colour pencil gently scratching the surface of the rough paper.

There is no right or wrong. There is no mind involved to be passing such a judgement.

I just doodle around with pretty colours. From time to time, I take a black pencil to make a contour and then go back to the colours.

The pain eases away. Just a bit, yet enough to remember a friend who is going through a very difficult life event. Her mourning must be a hundred times deeper than my current pain.

I keep on scribbling as I observe the compassion rising from the depths of my chest. And yet I feel only an echo of her pain! How lonely, how devastated she must be feeling in this moment!

When I fill a plastic cup with water and pick a soft paintbrush, I start dissolving some of my beautiful colour clouds into pools of imaginary tears. The soul is screaming in its whispering way. Yellows merge with magenta pinks, the petrol blue collides with the sunset purple-orange.

I start feeling one with her. The more I get lost in the surprising emerging shapes on the paper, the more I feel the rightness of everything that exists. She is where she is right now and she is there for a reason. This world needs her wisdom. She needs her devastating experience to open the doorway to that wisdom.

All of a sudden it dawns on me! I outsmarted that pain. My story is no longer just about me and my isolation. It is not about hopelessness and worthlessness. It is about beauty. It is about oneness. It is about higher lessons of our existence.

It is a vital shift of perception.

It is a victory.

And it took as little as a box of watercolour pencils and the roughness of the white watercolour paper.

 

Image: Thanks to Martin Jelovsek (http://www.tone-sound.eu), shared with permission.

*Also, I note that I feel uncomfortable at her assessment of selfishness. It jars with me and what I observe of her. “After all doesn’t pain often contract our view of ourselves and our world? Aren’t we all selfish in this same way when we feel pain? Aren’t we allowed to go inward and be preoccupied by our pain at these times?” I wonder.  Then again, as I think some more, I feel a sting of recognition – don’t we often berate ourselves for all the things we perceive as character flaws in ourselves much more when we are feeling pain? Don’t we tell ourselves we are terrible people, and selfish and uncaring precisely in those moments when we are most in pain? And I try to bring myself back to noticing with curiosity how she speaks about herself, not making my interpretation more central to our work than her own. 

Is art therapy really therapy?

For sure! You can take mental health issues to an art therapist like you could to any mental health professional. This is one of the biggest differences between seeing an art therapist and having a relaxing session with an art teacher.
With an art therapist you can experience the joy and pleasure of art making PLUS you get a sound psychotherapeutic approach that is designed to foster self acceptance, self expression and healing, in a space that is confidential, and held by a trained professional. The art therapist holds space, models a good working relationship with creativity, and is sensitive to many different dynamics in the room.

To the casual observer an art therapy group session might look like a ‘craft session’ but to the trained eye there is so much more taking place: the subtleties of working with people’s stories, interpersonal dynamics and relationship building are happening quietly in the background. Training in psychotherapy and art, and practice are the ‘X factor’ that helps an art therapist hold the space and create an opportunity for a reflective and transformational moment that is far more than the materials used or the ‘activity’ undertaken.

How does art therapy work? American art therapist Julie Houck reflects on her work:
“I have learned that Art Therapy not only helps to make sense of one’s experiences, but offers catharsis by bringing long held unconscious material to the conscious level…I have been very fortunate that others have entrusted me not only with their stories, but also with their personal journey towards healing. I understand the fear and courage it takes to trust in the process, and the overwhelming feelings that follow by bringing vulnerability to surface.”

Art therapist Alyssa Rose Crenshaw works at Oregon’s largest mental and behavioral health provider for children and families and says: “I take pride in offering a variety of art based approaches to meet clients where they are at and allow them to guide the direction of treatment. Sewing and fabric based arts have a particularly healing quality and offer clients the opportunity to feel a sense of control and mastery which they may have rarely experienced before,”.

 

 

Who wants to play?

Who needs an an infusion of deep, soulful, playful creativity at their next face to face event!?? I’m open to fresh collaborations in Australia in 2018 (or Europe May/June 2018). I would love for the right fresh fun collaboration plans to wing my way.
Imagine….
🌟A visioning session before your content master class, to connect people deeply with their what, why, how and who
🌟A break out group at your conference with gentle art therapy based processes unleashing new ways of seeing old problems
🌟 A creative morning session each day of your wellness retreat

I am flexible, practical and creative when it comes to planning events and collaborating.

I create a safe, sacred, well bounded group experience.

I am a qualified transpersonal art therapist and coach and experienced group facilitator.

Who wants to play!?

Drop me a line via my contacts page to start a conversation.

Does your inner child need some play time?

What do you do that is playful, open ended and full of joy?

In my experience, connecting with the inner child needs a few foundation- conditions to be in place…. For me these are:

  • Feeling safe – no one is criticising or judging me, I can’t ‘fail’, I’m not scared of making a mess or getting something wrong
  • It’s ok to be me – there is room for diverse outcomes, I know my unique expression is welcome, I’m not having to work to a detailed map, I’m not forcing my outputs to match someone else’s
  • Other people are playing too – it’s not a competitive environment, people are relaxed and seeing what emerges, I can concentrate on me because everyone is engrossed and taking care of themselves
  • There is a sense of wonder and awe – maybe the space feels like a place out of time, or the materials are delighting me, or the depth of connection with others is making me feel like anything is possible.
  • My senses and imagination is engaged – I feel lit up and enthusiasm is driving what I do

Connecting with that inner sense of joyful exploration might feel different for each of us.

No matter how we do it, it is wonderful to put down the weighty responsibilities of adulthood and deep dive into playfulness from time to time. Let’s schedule it in!

If you are in Sydney and would like some time to play, perhaps with a young person in your life, check out my ‘yarn dolls’ workshop. This Saturday Mixed Media Mini Masterclass is in Glebe on Saturday September the 23rd at 1-4pm. Places are strictly limited so please reserve your spot while there are still some available. Book now.

An afternoon of play – no homework, no prep, nothing you need to bring. Just come along and enjoy.

 

You don’t need to ‘know how’

Rather than needing oodles of technique, sometimes what is needed is to just open up the flow of expression.

You don’t need to know ‘how to make art’ to make art.

If you can hold a pencil, if you can write your name, you can make art.
Make marks, choose colours, create shapes, doodle, explore, express.
Rather than needing oodles of technique, sometimes what is needed is to just open up the flow of expression.
How do we do that?
By feeling safe.
By giving ours selves permission to play.
By having some structure and purpose.
By reorienting our relationship to art as something from our deepest places rather than something to do with pleasing others.
The more we allow creative expression to unfold without harsh judgement the more confident we are in letting it out.
The more we let it out the more our range of expression grows.

The more we let it out the more our skills and knowledge of techniques develop.
But first we need to give ourselves permission, create space, meet whatever comes out with curiosity and respect.

Working around and with resistance

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” – Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

What do you think? Do you think you avoid the big stuff that is closest to your heart and dreams? I know I do! As I do more and more to bring my wishes into reality I get closer to the really big wishes, and the resistance is fierce!

So how to work over, under, alongside or around resistance (aka fear of failure aka fear of success aka procrastination)?

Two things: dial up the fun, dial down the fear.

Or as I like to think about it: dial up the love.

What might that look like for me?

Dial up the fun: switch to a material that is new and I can explore (using gouache? swap to inks),  create some parameters that limit my options and get my creative juices flowing (try using and designing a limited colour palette? Create a vintage feel where each face is from the 1930’s), connect the doing with something else I also like (paint while listening to audio books? a new album?).

Dial down the fear: give myself permission to make ‘bad art’ (release any thoughts of ‘good’, try making grotesque faces like gargoyles, do some very very quick pieces that are allowed to be awkward and ugly), pick my environment so that I feel safe and happy while working (painting while other people are around, sitting in the sunshine outside, sitting at the dining table with daily life scattered around me rather than at my drawing desk), do a series just for me and my journal and not intended to share with anyone (later I can change my mind about that if I want to, once they are done, but shhhhh don’t tell my resistance that).

Another way to dial down the fear is to rethink the part that is actually scaring me – the idea of exhibiting them.

To do that I might:

  • Think creatively about my goal and what else might give me the same feeling of satisfaction with less stress – for example create a virtual, ‘online’ exhibition rather than a face to face one for example, approach a cafe as an exhibition space rather than a gallery
  • Phone a friend – this might be to work with a mentor or coach about it, or organise a group show with a friend, ask someone else to help me pick a venue, ask for help / ideas/ etc from friends and networks, connect with a purpose bigger than myself – raising awareness about an issue maybe, or donate sales to charity
  • Do the smallest step – some ideas here are forgetting the end point for now and just setting the goal of exploring 5 new galleries to see how they work and what the space is like, or just go and cost some frames and have fun looking at how I could mount them
  • Voice the fear – acknowledge and name the fear for myself, and comfort myself about it using kind language, journal about it, talk to loved ones about it. (Oh yeah also – blog about it!? lol)

What I will not be doing:

  • Shame myself –  I will honour my fear. I will not shame myself into feeling like a failure because I’m feeling scared.
  • Belittle myself – I wont buy into someone else’s story of what is ‘easy’ and therefore diminishes or downplays how I feel (I can do lots of other supposedly big brave clever things but it just so happens I’m terrified of going into a gallery and asking about hiring a wall).
  • Bully myself into action – It’s important to me that I don’t force or push or boss myself into doing it despite my feelings. I know that invalidates the part of me that needs reassurance and support, and creates a relationship of ignoring my feelings and treating myself harshly.

Basically the challenge for me is to NOT ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ because that response is actually very familiar to me. Rather my challenge is to feel the fear and love myself anyway. Feel the fear and ask myself ‘what would make this safer? Kinder? Easier? More fun?’ and then wait patiently until the right combination of supportive actions feels safe and I burst forward with energy again.

How about you? How do you work around, under, over and with your resistance when faced with something scary, new or close to your heart?

 

Resistance training

As soon as I made the commitment I mysteriously no longer wanted to do it. At all.

Huh?

As soon as I made the public commitment to keep painting faces ready to exhibit them, I suddenly stopped wanting to do it.

True story.

I forgot all about them.

Whatever urge I had to work on them had just dissipated, morning dew evaporating under the fierce light of the sun.

This is one way resistance shows up.

As forgetfulness. As sudden disinterest. As sudden more urgent priorities eclipsing the goal or project.

We bury the tender dream deep under protective layers of slumber.

And then we feel safe again.

No vulnerable going out on a limb.

No putting ourself in front of critics.

No deliberately stepping closer to danger.

The long term, deep and diffuse pain of not acheiving our goals seems preferable to the short term anxiety inducing fearful pain of actually moving towards them.

So how to work over, under, alongside or around resistance?

Next week’s post has some ideas.

 

Whim and whimsy

I have been sewing little dolls lately. I don’t know why. I don’t even know if I like them: as in, if I saw one on a market stall would I stop and say ‘hey I like these’? Or would I walk right past? Probably the latter.

But I can’t seem to help it. Making them has been responding to the call of whim.

Stitching faces is a new thing for me. Figuring out how to make the stitches small and close so they make a line. It’s slow too, much slower than drawing. It can take me an hour to do one face. An hour! Part of me can’t believe that I would be so indulgent as to spend a precious hour on just one tiny little thing.

I enjoy the textures of the fabrics, the colours, the combining if colours. I like that some of the fabrics and yarns are offcuts, vintage and scraps. I like how the faces can look so different based on the curl of a lip or the placement of some hair. I like how bodies can be hinted at with a rounded shape of fabric. I like seweing tiny buttons or beads on to finish them off.

They don’t make sense to me as a fascination. My ego doesn’t know what to do with them. They aren’t a form I would usually use to make sense of my thoughts and feelings.  They certainly aren’t grand or impressive. They aren’t meaningful with a capital M. I don’t even find them particularly great to look at. But I do find them fascinating. And I kind of love each one of them when they’re done.

Or maybe they do have something to tell me.

Maybe they are a lesson in loving what arises. Maybe they remind me not to take myself so seriously. Maybe they whisper that our time here is finite and many things seem vaguely ridiculous in that context, why should sewing a tiny blue face be any more or less ridiculous than anything else?

Maybe they celebrate my family connection with thread and the countless generations of women who have stitched clothes and toys for their families. Maybe they remind me that I am allowed to do things do no reason other than because it feels good.

Maybe they celebrate the variety of moods and personalities that sparkle and shine across humanity.

Maybe they don’t.

Maybe they’re just a nice change from painting and drawing.

Maybe they’re just a cosy winter craft that my fingers enjoy.

Maybe they are none or all of the above.

When whimsy hits I have to follow.

 

 

 

Themes for journals!

Some people get a bit stuck when deciding on a theme to explore in their mixed media journal pages, or picking a theme for a themed letter journal swap.

Here are some themes that I have seen work well in our group Letter Journal Love, or just generally in my own or others’ pages.

Try one out and see how it goes!

  • horoscopes
  • celebrating the new year
  • tea and coffee
  • tea cups
  • colour theme – choose either a single colour plus black & white or a palette of say three colours
  • Summer / Autumn/ Winter/ Spring
  • black and white
  • flowers and birds
  • illustrated quote journals
  • retro
  • fashion
  • cats or dogs
  • pattern
  • paisley
  • portraits
  • figures
  • stamps and snail mail
  • song lyrics or music
  • maps
  • love
  • water
  • health and wellbeing
  • dream home
  • hand lettering

Here are some I haven’t seen but would like to try myself:

  • shadows
  • knitting
  • self care
  • grief and loss
  • dream for the future
  • favourite childhood toys
  • family holiday
  • heroes from history
  • books I’ve loved
  • movies
  • dance
  • tv shows
  • shoes
  • space
  • accessories
  • my first crush
  • summer fruits
  • my grandmother
  • my grandfather
  • handbag
  • favourite flowers
  • view from my window
  • my favourite herb and what I use it for
  • what’s in flower now
  • lunch today
  • my inner critics and what they say
  • celebrating my strengths
  • how I feel today
  • what’s in my handbag
  • favourite art materials

Any others you’ve used and found fun? Let me know and I’ll add to the list!