Art and Therapy

The artist Edvard Munch, best known for "The Scream," created a series of expressive paintings throughout his life with titles like "Jealousy," "Anxiety" and "Melancholy." "The Scream" was based on a real life hallucination that left him feeling anxious and melancholic (some psychologists believe he had bipolar disorder with psychosis based on his journals). For Munch art became his outlet, his way of processing these hallucinations and emotions. By sketching and painting he was not only able to process his experiences, but to share them.  

Like Munch, many artists, both amateur and professional, have found the process of creating art to be both insightful and cathartic. Today art is often incorporated into the counseling process through Art Therapy. Studies have shown creating art in therapy can be beneficial in working with a wide array of clients including those with chronic pain, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, dissociation and other mental health issues. 

Outside of the counselor's office clients can create art on their own as a means of processing their experiences. Today I want to encourage you to start an art journal for the next 30 days, taking at least five minutes a day to create. The process of keeping an art journal is an excellent way of articulating emotions or concepts that words can't describe. 

Perhaps you're thinking - but I'm a terrible artist! That's the beauty of keeping an art journal, the process of creating is more important than the final product and the journal itself is for you and you alone. It doesn't matter if you aren't good at drawing, you can create a collage with images from magazines, paint, scribble, make a single line drawing, use stickers etc. to express yourself. 

By now I hope that I've at least piqued your interest and if so here are a few things to help you get started:

  • Journal - watercolor journal or a mixed media journal both work well because the heavier weighted paper holds up nicely and you can use a variety of different media on them. If you do not have access to watercolor or mixed media journals you can also use a discarded hardback book You can often find these at the library or used bookstores. Use gesso on the pages to make them more durable.
  • Paints - watercolor, acrylic or tempera are good options. You can often buy watercolor in travel sets that make it convenient if you want to journal while away from home. 
  • Brushes - a variety of paint brushes will help you create a wider range of pieces. Here is a quick guide to brushes and their uses.
  • Markers, pens, pencils, crayons and pastels - again the more variety you have the better, but if you're limited in resources I would suggest having at least a sharpie (because it can easily write on dried acrylic) and some colored pencils or crayons. 
  • Adhesives - a simple glue stick should suffice for most cutting and pasting, but if you're feeling more adventurous try mod podge. 
  • Scissors - make sure to have a pair of scissors or x-acto knife on hand.
  • Magazines - a variety of magazines can come in handy for collage.
  • Quotes - anything that inspires you
  • Parchment paper - use this in between the pages once the paint has dried to prevent them from sticking together. 

Getting started

Begin by gathering your materials and choosing your work space. Once you're set up you can begin creating. If you need a bit of inspiration to get started check out the activities listed below. If you tend to procrastinate self care projects make sure to tell a friend/family member what you plan on doing. This is a good way of holding yourself to a project. 

  • Line drawing - Create a piece based on a single, consistent line. Let your line meander about the paper. Work as slowly or as quickly as you please - whatever best fits your mood. 
  • Self portrait - Draw the outline of a body and draw a line down the middle of it. The left side will be you in the past/present and the right side will be you in the future. You can make the images realistic, abstract or representational. 
  • Meditate on color - Look at your materials. Select the first color that resonates with you in some way. Use that color to begin your piece. While you work reflect on why that color appealed to you at this present moment. 
  • Feelings Collage - Using materials from a magazine create a collage that reflects something that is presently happening or happened in your life that could use some processing. 
  • One Single Thing - Choose an object, a quote, a color etc. and repeatedly draw it. As you draw it you may notice aspects of what you draw change. Notice how it changes and explore what that means.  
  • Draw with Music - Select a song that resonates with you and listen to it as you journal. 
  • Calming Collage - Choose images, colors and quotes that provide you with the feeling of calm. Return to this entry as needed. 
  • Letter - Select one person in your life who is significant and create a letter for them (you don't have to send it). You can use any type of media, actual letter writing is completely optional.

image: Melancholy Edvard Munch, 1891 - public domain via wikipedia

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