We tend to set intentions without really listening to ourselves. We set intentions without actually going within and identifying what we genuinely need and desire.
Instead, we set intentions that we think we should. I should be more productive. I should earn more. I should meditate. I should change my diet. I should practice yoga or go to the gym or journal or declutter my entire house or ……
We take something that’s supposed to originate from our hearts and let it stem from outside of ourselves—society, social media, coworkers, magazines, ads.
Art can help us to dive deep. Art can help us to access our truest desires and yearnings.
According to Sara Roizen, ATR-BC, LCAT, “Art taps into our innate role as creators and provides a direct visual outlet for our inner worlds, hopes, dreams, and desires… Art accesses our inner wisdom and can coax material from the unconscious.”
This is vital because we tend to hide behind our words, “running from our true desires, or masking things we feel,” said Amy Maricle, LMHC, ATR-BC, an artist and art therapist who wants everyone to experience the healing power of art. Maricle is the owner of Mindful Studio where she teaches classes and offers creativity coaching.
“Art making can be a much more visceral, sensory and immediate experience,” Maricle said. “We can stand back, look at what we’ve created, and use the associations that pop up to gain insight into ourselves and our desires.”
It’s important that the intentions you set are nourishing and meaningful to you. Specifically, Roizen noted that intentions are words, phrases or images that both inspire and soothe the mind and heart. In fact, when you first choose an intention, she suggested checking in with your heart: Does my heart seem to expand with warmth when I think about this intention or say it out loud? Do I find myself smiling?
When checking in with your mind, consider if the intention excites you, and if “there is an opening of your mind,” Roizen said. Is there a positive shift in my perspective? Does it follow me during my day?
For instance, several months ago, Roizen chose “abundance” as her intention: “The more that I thought about the word, the more my mind seemed to scan for examples of abundance throughout my day. Instead of seeing a lack of things in my life, my brain was beginning to scan for the examples of abundance.”
Whatever intentions you come up with, art can help you explore them further. Art can help you honor your intentions, and even discover them in the first place. The key is to give yourself permission to make—in any form, in any way. Below, Roizen and Maricle share creative, playful, invaluable techniques to experiment with.
Create an intentional bowl. Choose one word to represent your intention, and use Model Magic (an air dry clay) to sculpt a small bowl “that will provide a special nest-like space for the intention,” said Roizen, who pens a blog on art therapy. Not only does this remind you of your intention, but the tactile act of using clay helps to soothe and center our emotions, she said.
These are some of Roizen’s favorite words, which might help to spark your own ideas: “Clarity, Adventure, Hope, Resilience, Abundance, Creativity, Healing, Growth, Joy and Harmony.” Again, make sure you pick precisely what resonates with you.
Create intentional rocks. “Painting intentions on rocks is a fun and inviting way to give our intentions three-dimensional form,” Roizen said. Start by taking a walk, and search for smooth rocks. If you already have an intention, think about it as you’re walking, she said.
Once you find a rock or two, use soap and water to clean it, and paint pens to write your intentions. Roizen loves Posca Paint pens. You also can create elaborate designs, and when you’re done, apply a weather resistant clear coat to the rock, she added.
Draw your favorite animal. It’s likely that if you have a favorite animal it’s because you’d like to incorporate some of their qualities into your own life, Roizen said. For instance, recently, she painted a snail with a spiral shell. As she meditated on her creation, she realized that her intention was “to slow down this year so that I could inhabit my life more fully. The snail represented my desire to dial it down and adopt a slower pace. The spiral shell symbolized my need to go inwards, recharge, and practice self-care.”
Begin by creating your own image of your favorite animal (using any art materials). Roizen encouraged readers not to try to create a realistic portrait. Instead, “focus on the emotion, color and energy of the image.”
After you’re done, ask your animal image these questions, which you can journal: “What are your strengths? What type of environment do you thrive in? What drains your energy and what nourishes you?”
“As you go about your day, tap into the animal’s unique qualities and see if you can carry these qualities into your actions,” Roizen said.
Play with this intentional process. Maricle recommended readers practice this mindful, artful process: Focus your attention on your breathing pattern. Visualize an image, texture, color, sound or smell that embodies what you feel would be wonderful for you in this year. Use the first thing that comes to mind, “even if it seems strange or illogical.”
Next return to noticing your breath, and return to noticing where you’re sitting and what you’re doing. Then play with any of these art prompts (and “try to allow colors and lines to choose you”):
- Coat a single page in paint (you might use acrylic or tempura paint). Use the other side of your paintbrush, a stick, a comb or any other object you can experiment with. “Turn it around and continue working and letting it evolve, perhaps adding new colors or lines until it feels complete for now.”
- Hold your paintbrush so loosely that it feels like you’ll almost drop it. Then see what lines you can make.
- Begin by looking at an object. “With your eyes, pick a spot on the object and begin pretending that your pen is touching the object, slowly ‘tracing’ the outline of it. Don’t pick up your pen, just keep going with one, wonky, continuous line.” You can do this several times with the same object.
After you’ve finished one of these prompts, Maricle suggested the following: Stand the piece upright, and look at it from 6 feet away. Turn it, and step back again. Snap a photo, and look at the smaller size. Then explore these questions in your journal: What does my art piece include? (You might write everything from it’s big to it’s blue.) What are the connections between what appeared in my visualization and what appears in my art? What do these images, colors and symbols reveal about what I most need right now?
Maricle stressed the importance of approaching these questions with a sense of curiosity and playfulness. “Symbols can be a powerful way we give ourselves advice.”
Creating art helps us to connect to ourselves. Because it helps us to access something deep within us. It helps us to listen to our innermost desires and dreams.
If you’d like to further explore your intentions through art making, Roizen suggested working with a trained art therapist. You can learn more at the American Art Therapy Association.
* Image from Sara Roizen of one of her intentional bowls; used with permission.