Self-Help Art and Mindfulness

It’s a bit ironic that as a therapist it’s one of my jobs to address avoidance, especially when I realize that I’ve been engaging in a little avoidance of my own. For a while now I’ve been recognizing that as an art therapist, it’s a little surprising so many of my posts are not directly related to art. Pretty much all of them address therapy in some way, but art is my specialty and I can tend to stumble over writing about it sometimes. What I really want to get across is how passionate I am about it, and I feel like I’ve been lacking in this area…and I know that in part this is because art can be really powerful. I’ve seen the wisest of people come undone after putting feelings on paper and I don’t ever want to intentionally point someone in the direction of doing that while all alone. But at the same time, I see so much value in creating art at home. An introvert myself (actually I prefer to think of myself as an extroverted introvert 🙂 ), art is one of my all time favorite pastimes. I’ve even had moments of near enlightenment where time slips away and you’re so immersed in what you’re doing that it doesn’t really hit you until you step back to see the masterpiece (albeit, self-proclaimed masterpiece 😉 ). Yes, doing art on your own is awesome. But…this is not art therapy. And while there are any number of ways you can do art that may be therapeutic, still, you need to know it’s not the same. Just as any self-help book is not the same as meeting live-in-person with an actual therapist – there’s really no comparison. With no one there, who’s gonna help if you start to go down the rabbit hole? So be careful what you choose to venture into. So there’s my disclaimer; please heed my advice and be careful.

Ok, so that being said, I do think there are plenty of innocuous art tasks that you can – and maybe even should be doing at home. Today, let’s start with a little mindfulness. Try this: find a nice, quiet corner in a room preferably near a window for the natural light. Gather together some drawing paper and a selection of art materials such as ones that I like to call the basics: graphite pencil, color pencils, markers, crayons, oil pastels and chalk pastels. You might notice that these range from very structured to somewhat unstructured materials, the latter of which start to get a little messy when you work with them (chalk pastels can get very dusty, if you have breathing issues such as asthma, it may be in your best interest to wear a mask for protection). Start by drawing six circles on a piece of paper (one for each medium) maybe about 2” in diameter each. Next, take your time to fill in each circle, just by shading, with each of the materials. What’s it like to add pressure or go light? To draw with the tip or rub using the side? What’s it like to try erasing a portion of what you created? Can you? What’s it like to place two colors together – can they be blended with your finger, paper towel or piece of cloth? Pay attention to your body. Do you have an aversion to working with a certain medium? Or maybe one you like, or simply feel neutral about? What’s it like to get your hands dirty? And what are the thoughts running through your head? Judgment thoughts? Comparison thoughts? Worrying thoughts? How much are you able to let go of these in the moment, and simply allow yourself to be with what is? Once you’re done with this task, look at the page, and notice if there is anything you’re drawn to, or might like to try over again. Try drawing the circles again on another piece of paper and play with different techniques like hatching, scumbling and dusting.  Even with these few art materials, the options can feel endless. Next, draw the circles again and try to mimic a favorite artist. Can you recreate pointillism like Seurat using color pencils, markers or pastels? Maybe try to achieve the thick markings like those of Van Gogh using oil pastels. Or what about chalk pastels for a Rothko or mixed media for De Kooning? I recognize that I’m leading you to a lot of painters here, and you’re not working with paints, I get it. I’m just trying to get you to play – it’s all about beginner’s mind. My point is this…practice dropping the negative self-talk for a minute and allow yourself to be curious, allow yourself to be like a child again. It can be pretty awesome. When you’re finished, check in with yourself one last time – maybe there’s something you want to take to your next therapy session – bring it!

Copyright 2017 ©  Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.

Rachel Braun, ATR-BC  Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA

Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.