Through art-making, Carolyn Mehlomakulu’s clients have gained insight into their real emotions, hopes, goals, values, strengths and needs in relationships. They’ve gained insight into how their past continues to influence them today.
By examining how they make art, her clients also have gained insight into the different ways their judgment, doubt and perfectionism manifest.
Knowing ourselves is vital for everything, isn’t it?
It’s vital for building meaningful, authentic relationships, and for making decisions that lead to our happiness and fulfillment.
Because when we’re not self-aware, the opposite happens. “Ignoring our own thoughts and feelings or trying to be someone that we are not often leads to increased stress and anxiety, frustration in our relationships, and feelings of self-doubt, said Mehlomakulu, LMFT-S, ATR-BC, a board-certified art therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist supervisor, who blogs about art therapy and has a private practice treating clients with depression, anxiety, and trauma.
The great thing is that we can cultivate self-awareness through art in many interesting, fun, and creative ways. Below are eight techniques to try.
This technique from Erin McKeen, LMFT, ATR, a licensed marriage and family therapist and registered art therapist in private practice, consists of two parts: On the inside of your mask, pick pictures, images or words that represent what you don’t show to the world. On the outside of your mask, pick pictures, images and words that represent what you allow the world to see, or how other people perceive you.
Vision for the Future
“Collect images and words that resonate with what you want in your life and assemble them into a collage,” Mehlomakulu said. Include images that resonate with you—even if you have no clue why they do. Pay close attention to your reactions to the images. Lastly, reflect on your completed collage, she said.
Draw your dreams regularly—or create other kinds of art based on your dreams. “Reflect on the art to consider what the dream is telling you or how it connects to your life,” Mehlomakulu said. “See if you notice patterns or changes over time.”
Reflect on your core values and beliefs, said McKeen, who specializes in treating depression, anxiety, grief and loss, identity and self-esteem, divorce, blended families, trauma, LGBTQ, and women’s issues. She gave this example of what your sketch might look like: “Family representing family values, holding hands around a fire that represents hard work and passion. The people are of all different colors representing equality. Each member has a heart that represents love and respect.”
Every day draw a mandala (which means “circle”). Originally, Hindi monks would create mandalas in the sand, sometimes spending years, and as soon as one was completed, it was immediately destroyed, writes Diana C. Pitaru.
Mehlomakulu stressed the importance of working intuitively and intentionally on each mandala, “focusing on what feels right for you today.” The only rule is to stick to the circular structure. “Notice how your mandalas change over time, reflect your thoughts and feelings for the day, or connect to symbols that are meaningful for your life.”
Spend several minutes meditating (or listen to a guided meditation or play music). Notice the thoughts, feelings or images that arise, and create a piece of art in response, Mehlomakulu said.
“Think about all of the different things that make up who you are—[such as] personality traits, roles, strengths and weaknesses,” Mehlomakulu said. Then, over time, illustrate each of these parts. As you start thinking about the different parts of your identity, you’ll start paying attention to how they manifest in your daily life—and you’ll discover new things you want to add.
“Some people enjoy creating small books of these pictures or creating each on a small card to create a ‘deck’ of these images,” Mehlomakulu said.
As you’re making any of the art above, focus on the actual process. According to Mehlomakulu, consider these questions: What does the art-making process reflect about you? How does it reflect how you handle things in your life? What thoughts arise as you work on your art? Do you have an outcome in mind, or do you start and see what happens? How do you respond to mistakes or unplanned things?
Mehlomakulu also suggested having an art journal to keep the art you create, the reflections you have about each piece, and journal entries about anything that’s on your mind. “Having everything together in one place allows you to see patterns, look back at changes, over time, and have a more complete picture of yourself.”
Consider working with an art therapist, who can help you to spot new patterns you didn’t notice on your own and teach you to see the deeper meaning in your art, she said.
Making art is a unique, powerful way to connect to our inner worlds. It is a safe, creative way to access our thoughts, feelings, memories—a way that’s unlike any other.
It also helps us connect to our imagination, and how often do we really do that?
Making art helps us unravel our many, many layers. And the more we unravel, the deeper our understanding of ourselves. And the easier it is to create a beautiful life—based on your personal needs, wants, wishes.