Why Art Therapy?

Sometimes life comes at you fast and furious, and when it does we can often get swept away in the moment whether that moment is good or bad. Unfortunately, when the moment is bad and prolonged, say over a period of months or even years, we can easily lose ourselves in the crisis and trauma. The longer the crisis, the longer the trauma, the more severe the consequences we experience. These consequences can range from anxiety to emotional shutdown and anything in between.

Before I go any further I want to say that I am neither a doctor nor a therapist (nor do I play one on TV), but I am a survivor. Not only do I have mild Asperger’s Syndrome, but I have also had PTSD since childhood. I am also the primary caregiver of our now adult son who also has mild Asperger’s Syndrome among other things. There have been long stretches of time where I was so caught up in the moment, in the “now” of life, where I was so physically and emotionally drained, the thought of any sort of self-care wasn’t even on my radar. In trying to help our son through a prolonged crisis period which lasted almost five years I researched and studied everything I could get my hands on so that I could be a more effective caregiver and stronger support for him while he and our family navigated that extraordinarily difficult period. When the crisis was finally over and I was able to decompress, the idea of self-care sneaked into my mind. I knew that if I didn’t stop and begin self-care I wouldn’t be any good to anyone, so I started taking a look at some of the avenues that I had learned about while helping our son. That’s when I took a good hard look at art therapy.

As I said, I had discovered art therapy while looking at various ways to help our son express himself in healthy and acceptable ways, but it wasn’t a good fit for him so we never pursued it beyond a cursory level. When I took another look at it with my needs in mind I thought it just might be the ticket. I have always been a very creative person, and that creativity is an essential part of who I am whether it is being expressed through music, writing, art, or a number of other ways. For me creativity is just as essential as breathing, and when I’m not being creative it feels like part of me is dying. So when I finally started to think about taking care of myself and nurturing myself through creative expression I was very keen to try art therapy. Since that time I have discovered that art therapy is an excellent choice for expressing your emotions non-verbally, safely exploring and expressing darker emotions, relaxation, and taking time to care for yourself.

Initially I purchased a couple of adult coloring books and markers. I had remembered how much I enjoyed coloring when I was a child, and then again when our son was little. I enjoyed the relaxation and colors, but after a while I wanted to really be able to express my emotions, some of which had been unexpressed since I was quite young. For that I bought an inexpensive sketchbook and dug out my son’s crayons and colored pencils. After getting over my initial apprehension I found that I was indeed able to express myself through art. On angry days there were some pretty angry, chaotic looking scribbles. On more peaceful days flowers and more orderly pictures found there way into the sketchbook. One technique that I stumbled upon and that I will be sharing with you in more detail in the future is what I like to call Scribble-pops.

As time went on the love I had for art was reawakened and I decided to pursue my art in a more serious fashion. As my art has progressed it has become even more important to me and is more therapeutic than ever. I love playing some classical music, breaking out my colors and working on a painting. I can feel the tension melt away, being replaced by a wonderful sense of peace that helps carry me through the day. I can also tell when I haven’t taken the time for art, and so can my family. They’re very much in favor of me “arting” as often as possible.

I hope that you will join me and take some time to explore expressing yourself through art, or perhaps help a loved one express themselves through art. It may seem like a little thing, but it can have a tremendous impact.


My Artistic Beginnings

Art has always been important to me, although at times it may not have seemed like it. I remember when I was in kindergarten I actually had a note sent home with me one day because my coloring was so terrible. Well, it was terrible at school. When we had our coloring time in school I seemed to be completely unable to stay in the lines and turn out a respectable picture. At home, well, that was a different story. At home I could color like a champ, nice and neat, everything between the lines. My mother was more than a little surprised at the complaint from my teacher and sent one of the coloring pages I had completed quite neatly so she could see for herself that I wasn’t a complete failure. From that point on I promised to do my best coloring at school and I moved on with my life.

As I grew there were a couple of rather large stumbling blocks that I encountered with my art. The one that was the most devastating happened when I was 12 years old and in the seventh grade. By that time I had not only become first cellist in the school orchestra, but I had also fallen in love with science. I guess I’m just an all-around geek. In my science class we had been learning about heat and the different colors of flames and which colors corresponded to the coolest and hottest temperatures. Unfortunately, at the same time in my art class we were learning about warm and cool colors. We were given a test in art class and when asked what color I associated with heat I answered white, because in science I had learned that if something is white hot it’s really, really hot. When I got my test back and saw that I got that answer wrong I tried explaining to the teacher why I had given the answer I had given. Rather than acknowledge my confusion or try to explain to me that there is a difference in terms between art and science, my teacher proceeded to excoriate me, pointing out that I was an idiot and that I would never understand art. (No, I’m not exaggerating. I later found out that he was anti-Semitic, which could have added fuel to the fire as I’m Jewish.) His words cut me to the core, and until that time I had always thought that there was no right and wrong with art, but apparently I was wrong since I was flunking a class for the first time ever. At that moment I gave up on art and poured my creativity into other outlets.

When I was about twenty I tried my hand at art again. I had been watching Bill Alexander and was amazed at how he could turn nothing into something beautiful in just thirty minutes. Unfortunately my personal circumstances at that time were less than optimal and once again I had to shelve my art. Then when I was thirty-seven something amazing happened. Our son was born. Years before his arrival we had already decided that we would homeschool him for a couple of reasons, but after he was born there were even more reasons for us to homeschool, so we did. It was during our years of homeschooling, while I was trying to foster an appreciation and love for art in our son that my love for art reawakened.

During his academic career I made sure to include some type of art in most of his subjects, and when it was time to “do art” I tried to make it as fun and engaging as possible. We would also look at the work of different artists like Monet, O’Keeffe, and Van Gogh. Looking back I think it was more than fostering a love of art in our son, but rather fostering his creativity. Our art ran the range from crayons to watercolors to salt clay to Legos. I remember one summer we tried setting up a pendulum paint dispenser on the tree in our back yard. It was an epic failure, but we sure had fun! Even, or especially, in our failures I tried to remain positive and encouraging, always letting our son know that with art there is no right or wrong. Art is what it is, and whatever you create is just perfect. That’s not to say that a person can’t seek to improve their artistic skills, just that there should be no pressure on a person who is exploring art for the first, or fiftieth, time. Creativity is a very individual thing and art, in whatever form it takes, can be an excellent avenue to explore that creativity. I encourage you to give it a try and see where it might take you!

Old Barn Window Colored Pencil Final Part 2

Final CP Old Barn

Well, here is the finished colored pencil version of the Old Barn Window. I broke a number of “rules” in doing this piece, and I’m very glad that I did. I really like how the wood turned out. I like how the stonework turned out as well. I’m not so crazy about the plants in the foreground, but I do know how I would do those differently in the future, so that’s a good thing. All in all this was not only a very relaxing project, but it was a great learning experience as well. Next I’ll be tackling this barn window in graphite!