Reconnecting to ourselves comes in many different shapes and stripes. For instance, for Arizona-based art therapist Lanie Smith, MPS, ATR, it means solitude: being alone so she can listen to her inner needs and desires. It means expressing her creativity. One of the ways she does that is through visual arts. The visual arts help us to gain access to parts of ourselves, which might’ve been unavailable to us before, she said.
Using art lets us activate the intuitive and emotional part of our body, said Kelly Darke, ATR, M.Ed, BFA, an art therapist and professional artist in Livonia, Mich. “Creating art is cathartic, allowing you to express emotions in a safe and creative way.”
Below, Smith and Darke shared five art-inspired techniques anyone can try. It doesn’t matter whether you think you’re creative. It doesn’t matter whether you think you can draw. The intention is simply to express yourself in a different way.
Give yourself the permission to experiment and explore. As Darke said, doing so “reconnects us to that playfulness we had as children when creating art. It reconnects us to our intuitive self without judgment or criticism.” And all of us could use a bit of that.
Start with a scribble drawing.
Smith often uses this activity as a warm-up with clients. Start with any piece of paper and drawing utensil. “Close your eyes and take your hand for a walk, run, jump, skip, or dance on the paper, meaning you can move your line any way you choose.”
When you’ve filled up most of the page, open your eyes. Turn the page, and look at it from different angles. What shapes or images do you see? Use other colors and materials to make this image into a scene.
Once you’re finished, title your scene. Then reflect on these questions in a journal: What would this piece say if it could speak? Is there a lesson that I need to hear?
Illustrate a mandala.
“Mandalas have been used in art throughout different cultures, often representing the universe or wholeness,” said Darke, who teaches a class called Daily Visual Journal, which is all about using art as a mindful process of self-expression and self-care. In Man and His Symbols Carl Jung explains that the circle represents the integration of both conscious and unconscious. The process of drawing mandalas also can be calming and satisfying, Darke said.
Fold a square sheet of paper into eight sections, side to side, top to bottom and diagonally. Then begin by drawing a dot in the center. Draw a different symbol or shape around the center in each of the sections. Keep picking other shapes or symbols until you fill the entire page. If you’d like, when you’re done, go back and add colors or shading.
Create a self-portrait.
Smith suggested using any materials—from magazine images to natural materials to paint to pencils to clay. Your portrait doesn’t have to resemble you at all, and it doesn’t have to be a figurative portrayal either, she said. “Choose images, colors, and/or shapes that you like or that hold significant meaning to you.”
When you’re done, like the scribble drawing, give your self-portrait a title and reflect on the same questions in your journal. Respond to this additional question: How is this portrait similar and/or different than me in real life?
Create a future self-portrait.
Again, using any materials you like, create a future version of you or the life you’d like to be living. “Allow yourself to gravitate toward materials that feel good, soothing and fulfilling,” Smith said. Think about what you’d like to experience without worrying about the how.
Smith suggested imagining that you suddenly have a magic wand to help you create the life you’ve dreamed of. “You do not have to know what action steps would be required to become this person. You only have to follow your heart’s desire.”
Make a collage.
Collages are powerful for facilitating introspection. Because the images already exist, you can explore why you picked what you picked, Darke said. Why did you pick that image? Why that color? Why those words? Why did you paste that element next to the other one? “It can become an internal dialog about the story we are creating and how the collage story relates to ourselves and our personal story.”
To make your collage, gather magazines, a glue stick and something you can paste everything to. “You could choose images deliberately or intuitively and arrange them in a way that resonates with you.” Darke first picks her images and then rearranges them on her base until a story emerges.
According to Smith, the art you create is a reflection of your internal state—your thoughts, feelings, longings, turmoil and any areas that might require attention. “Listening to these inner prompts is what leads to authenticity and fulfillment.”
Again, this has nothing to do with skill level or technique, Smith said. “It is about tuning into parts of yourself that may have been neglected or [you] just want to explore. Removing judgment and evaluation from any situation opens the door for unlimited possibility. It invites improvisation, which allows for individuality and the uniqueness that is you.” And it invites healing, she said.
“Using art to reconnect to ourselves is such a natural and creative form of personal expression,” Darke said. “There really is no other experience like it.”