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. 

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.

 

Making things: gift tags

As an art therapist and coach self-care is really important to my business, and to my overall wellbeing. When you work with people and need to keep an open heart and open ears…focusing on what they are saying in words and what they are expressing in images and gesture… it’s important to be well rested and grounded.

Making art is one way I look after my own wellbeing. And when I say art, yes sometimes I mean painting or sketching, and sometimes I mean doodling or making collage, or sometimes animation, sewing, or other forms of creative expression like baking and tending a garden.

Here are some very simple little gift tags I did while watching tv on Sunday evening. I made the rookie error of trying to watch subtitles at the same time as drawing – never a good idea! Nonetheless I like these wonky little characters that came out, and will use them on gifts or in the post as mail art/ happy mail.

Materials: Brown kraft cardboard tags pre made from a craft shop (or make your own by cutting up cardboard and using a hole punch), paint pen and black sharpie.

Tip for getting started: Try making a wonky and uneven background in one colour, and then drawing over the top so your images are partly on the background and partly on the bare cardboard. Rather than a flat tipped paint pen like I have used you could also use a kitchen sponge cut into a small square and some acrylic paint to make your backgrounds. Dampen the sponge in water, squeeze it out well, dip the sponge in paint and then stamp the sponge onto the tag to create a squarish block of colour. OR keep the sponge quite dry with only a bit of paint on it and pat or smear it onto the tag for nice texture. Let it dry PROPERLY (it will take longer than you hope, so find something else to go do while you wait) before drawing on top.

Hoping you also find the time for some little slice of creative expression in these busy weeks at this time of the year.