The work on this page was inspired by the project “Collaborative scribble drawing” in the Expressive Arts Activity Book that I use a lot for study and inspiration (Darley and Heath 60).
Scribble art is a great icebreaker. No artistic talent or skill is needed so it’s easy to get started. If done as art therapy it can also create a rapport between the facilitator and the client by making it into a collaborative activity (Darley and Heath 60). For example, in a two person exercise each person can make a scribble on a blank piece of paper, then the participants trade papers and finish off each others drawings. The initial scribble can even be made with eyes closed to take all the pressure off of having to show artistic skill. Abstract results can also be a way to encourage conversation about something the scribble might remind the participants about (Darley and Heath 60). Following are several examples of scribble art that I made with my husband Tom and my Dad Don.
If you want to try something like these samples, here is a list for tools and materials.
Tools and Materials
Bristol board or drawing paper
Black markers in various widths
Found papers for collage – I used the insides of business envelopes
Tom and I each made a scribble with our eyes closed with black marker on Bristol board. Next we traded papers and used commercial stencils by The Crafter’s Workshop to further develop the designs. Then we finished off our designs by coloring in parts of the image with colored pencils and markers.
Tom’s scribble was a challenge to work with because it was very dense. It did remind me of something – I turned it into moths trapped and tangled to represent trying to overcome some kind of frustration or challenge. This kind of work is not only good for the brain but just from a visual point of view it’s a good way to discover effects you might want to use in other art later on.
These examples were made by my Dad. First I gave him an introduction to Zentangle and doodle art which I wrote about in a previous blog post. He practiced making some repeating textures. Then we each made scribbles on two sheets of drawing paper. We kept our favorite of the two sheets then traded the other. Then we filled the sheets in with textures from our samplers. For extra fun we glued cutouts from the insides of business envelopes into some of the areas in the scribbles. I thought they looked cool with the hand-drawn textures. The tape and tracing paper from the materials list were used along with the pencil to get my collaged paper pieces to fit in their spots on the scribble drawing.
I’m grateful to Dad and and Tom for doing art with me from time to time. I sure do feel a lot less lonely when I get to do a project with somebody. It helps us all with our general well-being and is also a great way to spend time together. When you’re working on art that is mostly mindless, once you get started, it’s easy to talk about various things. It’s also a good activity to do alone when you’re stressed and need to get in a better state of mind. The finished product really isn’t the point if you’re doing it for therapeutic reasons, but I also get skills and inspiration for future art work while I practice.
Works Cited andRecommended Reading
Darley, Suzanne and Wende Heath. “The Expressive Arts Activity Book: A Resource for Professionals”. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008.
Coloring Idea #2: Rainbow Effect With Gel Pens and Colored Pencils
Sometimes when I do “adult coloring” I have a specific idea that I am trying to explore. At other times, I just want to color without thinking too much – it’s so soothing. Rainbow color gradations are a sure fire way to lift my mood. Here is how to get a fun effect with stencils, gel pens, and colored pencils.
Step 1: Tape a stencil over the design area and outline with a thin, sharp pencil. For this kind of utilitarian marking I really like a mechanical pencil. It’s easy to erase and I don’t have to keep stopping to sharpen it.
Step 2: With the pencil and ruler, draw parallel lines at intervals across the page.
Step 3: Note how the pencil lines you drew divide the design into striped areas. Outline your pencil lines in one gel pen color per stripe in rainbow order. For example, I outlined the first in blue, then blue green, then green, then yellow, continuing through to pink.
Step 4: To make sure the gel pen is dry, lay a clean sheet of scrap paper over your design then burnish with a squeegee or bone folder. Lift the paper and check to see if any of the ink is coming off onto the scrap paper. Repeat if necessary until no ink is transferring.
Step 5: Erase your pencil lines. You probably won’t be able to get all the pencil lines out from under the gel pen ink lines, but the rainbow effect will still come through well enough. If the pencil lines bother you, you could go back in and touch up your work later with opaque gel pen colors, paint markers, permanent markers or the like.
Step 6: Color in gradations in pencil between and around your gel pen lines, maintaining the overall color progression in hues. There is a lot of room for creativity in how to color in this step. I choose to make the pencil colored in areas lighter tints of the hues in the gel pens and keep analagous colors roughly together. Keep experimenting and coloring until you are satisfied with the effect.
The example at the above right is not finished yet. Here are a couple more examples I’m working on of the same idea so you can see the work a little closer.
This is a time-consuming way to color, but sometimes that is just what I want. It requires just enough concentration to distract me from problems I want to forget for awhile, but it’s not so hard to do that I need a lot of energy. Sometimes when you’re in a crisis great ambition isn’t really there. I may or may not leave some of the background white. We’ll see!
Bringing the coloring to Dad in the hospital
I worked on the samples you see in this article and for PART 1 both on the go and at home in order to have samples to show to my Dad. Dad likes to do the #12daysoftomsbeard project and he requested that I bring him some shapes for it to color on at the hospital. I wanted to give him a choice of coloring techniques, so I had samples of each technique ready. I had supplies on hand to cover either choice, but to streamline my supplies I only brought colored pencils as both techniques can be done with colored pencils even though I used colored markers for the first one. Dad chose the stained glass effect from PART 1 – stenciling over patches of background color.
When I brought this project to Dad, he was only a few days past some serious seizures that affected both halves of his body, but especially the left. Dad is left-handed and I was very worried because Dad’s left hand had been in a claw-like position for about a week or more. After the seizures his hand relaxed. I wasn’t sure how much function Dad would have in the hand yet, so I prepared a couple of sheets of shapes in advance for us to color, one for me to demonstrate on and one for him. I taped the shapes to scrap chipboard pieces so they wouldn’t slide around while being colored. I also brought some shapes that still needed to be cut out so that Dad could cut some if he was able.
I showed Dad an overview of what we were going to do, then I offered him a chance to try cutting some shapes. He did a great job on them – with a right-handed scissors no less! I was overjoyed and a bit teary-eyed to see him doing so well. I told him this is what I want for Christmas – to see you able to do this! It seemed like a miracle compared to how he was just a few days before. For awhile I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to ever talk with him again, much less do art together!
I suggested some color schemes for Dad – primary colors, secondary colors, and analagous colors. It wasn’t critical that the pieces be of any particular color scheme, but when I teach a project, if I can I like to include some useful art information. I’m not a trained art therapist but I am a trained artist so I can legitimately call these activities “educational” even if I can’t officially call them “art therapy” (Darley and Heath).
I got some colored pencils out for him to cover each scheme, and let him pick from among them. Instead of covering the whole background like I did on mine, he mostly drew small shapes all over the background without covering it all the way. And instead of coloring in the negative spaces between stencil markings, he put numbers on his tags, numbers 1-11 to go along with the #12daysoftomsbeard. He was short one tag, so I’ll make a #12 later when we get to that.
In this kind of project, expressive arts for therapeutic purposes, the process is far more important than the finished results (Darley and Heath). There is no reason to try to change what Dad wanted to do if it varied from my samples. Dad has always been creative – I was so glad to see that ability is still there!
Here I am drawing stencil lines over the colored in shapes before filling in the negative spaces with black permanent marker. The main difference between coloring over marker vs. colored pencil is that the colored pencil creates a slightly waxy surface which might resist the marker at first. To help with this, I outlined the black areas in gel pen before filling in with a black Sharpie marker. The gel pen sticks better to the colored pencil and once the outlining is done then it’s not hard to fill in with the Sharpie.
I have started embellishing some of the pieces that we colored with punched paper pieces, glued-on sequins and little dots of squeeze paint to go along with the stenciling.
When #12daysoftomsbeard starts on December 25, we’ll have a good selection of items to display on the beard. Hopefully people will send us more parts as a challenge to incorporate each day. The first year we did this activity, in 2019, I started out by clipping little pieces of paper to Tom’s beard with tiny clothespins. To keep things interesting, we’ve been gradually elaborating by making little garlands, involving Tom’s glasses, adding found objects and props, incorporating parts of the background, using far-out creative filters and more.
What will happen?
Above is a commemorative artistamp sheet I made to show off some of my favorite beard pictures from the first three years we did this project.
Works Cited andRecommended Reading
Darley, Suzanne and Wende Heath. “The Expressive Arts Activity Book: A Resource for Professionals”. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2008.
The 2022-23 Holiday season for many people is probably going to be the closest they’ve had for awhile to normal patterns of celebrating. My Dad and I have made some attempts to join in this year, but to be realistic most of our energy has been absorbed by the effort to get and stay healthy. My Dad has been having some medical issues since mid-October and I’ve been staying with him frequently at his house and visiting him him a lot in the hospital. Except for the past week – I just took a week off because I seem to have been hit by a flu-like illness (not COVID, I took the test!). I’m on the mend now. Dad has been taken care of during this time at a rehab hospital and will be coming home later this week if all goes as planned.
When he’s discharged, I’ll be providing some care he’ll need for about three weeks. I’m not sure how much either of us is going to be able to attend holiday activities in person. We will probably have to sit a lot of it out. But we will try to keep in touch online!
The annual project #12daysoftomsbeard is one that my husband Tom and I have been doing every year at Christmas time. It’s a way of combining crafts, installation art, photography, mail art, digital art and conceptual art into a holiday celebration for us and our friends and family and anyone else who wants to join in. From December 25 through January 6th he poses for me with different items in his beard and I apply wacky filter effects then upload the results to Instagram. We invite people to send in pieces to use in the beard. My Dad in particular really enjoys this activity and he wanted to work on some beard parts while he was in the hospital. I’ll show you how we combined stenciling and coloring to make a bunch of pieces to use in Tom’s beard during the 2022-23 Christmas season. I’m going to try to make an extra big deal out of it this year for my Dad and myself because we are going to miss out on most other holiday activities this year.
If you want more background information on #12daysoftomsbeard before reading on, here are a couple of my earlier blog articles about it.
Tools and Supplies Beard printouts – scroll to bottom of the page for links to 6 graphic files to download and print Cardstock and chipboard Pencil and eraser Ruler Black permanent markers Black gel pens Colored pencils Colored markers Painter’s tape Stencils and/or cookie cutters Scissors Hole punch Scrap paper for covering work surface Glue stick Squeegee tool or bone folder
Optional for Embellishments Sequins Glue Squeeze paint
Coloring Idea #1 – Stenciling Over Colored Markers
Scribbling some colored backgrounds is an easy way to make vibrant backgrounds for stencil art. By filling in the negative spaces with black marker, you can create an attractive faux stained glass effect.
Step 1 – Color in the background with markers in random patches to make something similar to camouflage patterns
Step 2 – Tape a stencil over part of the work area and outline in black gel pen, black fine tip marker or black fine tip pen.
Step 3 – Repeat with different stencils until the whole design area is filled with outlines.
Step 4 – Color the negative spaces in with black marker.
Step 5 – With a glue stick, paste paper pieces to chipboard or cardstock and cut out.
Step 6 – If needed, touch up the edges with black marker to make a neat edge.
Stay tuned for PART 2: Rainbow Effect With Gel Pens and Colored Pencils.
I appear to be in-between crises today so I’ll take a moment to write a little about art!
This past Saturday, October 1, 2022, was the opening reception for the Art Saint Louis show, “Declaration”. Above is my contribution to the show. It’s made of found papers, paint sample cards and image transfers from found papers made with packing tape. My artist statement reads as follows:
“When I started, I was inspired by some found images of rug designs from a catalog combined with some of my own mini postage stamp inspired collages juxtaposed with paint sample cards in tints of yellow. I work part time in a hardware store where exciting possibilities are everywhere. Bright paint sample cards, caution signs and caution tape and anything in the store that is colorful are parts of life I greatly enjoy. One of the colors on the sample cards was named Dazzle Yellow. I made some image transfers on packing tape out of sign images from a catalog and pieces of found papers that incorporate yellow, basically making my own version of caution tape. The purpose of such a bright yellow is to get attention. Once you have it, how do you use it? Yellow could mean stop and be careful, stop and enjoy, or “Look at me, I’m full of possibilities today!”
This was not an easy art show to look at, because as you might expect, a show with the theme “Declaration” is heavy on political themes. I had my share of political ideas for art pieces I considered making for this show but I decided to go in a different direction – I desperately need a break from politics and I figured art show patrons might like a little break as well! Whatever the subject matter, it’s always an honor to exhibit among a group of artists as talented as these.
I’m on the left posing with my collage and Dad is on the right next to a panel outside on the sidewalk that we were all allowed to add to with chalk markers. I’m very grateful to my Dad for coming with me – my husband Tom was busy at a homecoming event at his high school at the time of the opening and I certainly don’t begrudge him that! My Dad has been coming to my art events for decades and I’m eternally grateful for his support!
I custom made the frame for this piece at the last minute – I hadn’t done any woodworking since making a memorial box for the funeral of my uncle last year. Due to tragic events of last year I had been in such a brain fog that I didn’t trust myself with saws, mat knives and things until I was kind of forced into making this frame. That’s part of my motivation for entering these shows – it’s therapy for me both because of the opportunity for expression and because the deadlines force me to get things finished.
I have made so many picture frames in a similar style that even though it had been awhile, I had little trouble and was vastly relieved when it turned out ok! I had been intending to buy a frame because I thought I didn’t have enough time to work up to making one, but in the checkout line after looking in three stores for one the right size and shape I discovered that I had forgotten to pay my credit card bill and the charge would not go through. I immediately made a payment over the phone but it took a couple of days to re-activate so I was forced to hurry up and make the frame. I’m now glad that happened because now I have a lot more confidence and the next frame or wood project will be much easier.
Here are some helpful links with more information about the “Declaration” show:
One of my favorite ways to relax is to cut up some old magazines and make collages out of them. One reason why collages are so relaxing is that I can start them without a pre-planned project in mind and just let my subconscious and the random materials in front of me suggest the theme. Stress is a common theme, because I tend to start them when I need to work some stress out of me. Another reason is that so much printed media, like all media, is filled with images that scream out desperation.
Most media has been on a trend during our lifetimes to become more and more extreme in intensity in order to feed what some people call the “attention economy” or the “addiction economy”. Many media companies rely on an intangible resource to generate revenue – that resource is our eyes on their content. Whatever distraction can direct our attention to them and away from real life is how many corporations generate revenue now. We are not people to them, but a resource to be exploited to fullest extent possible.
A lot of friends pass old magazines on to me to use in collages, and somehow, I don’t know how or why, I’ve been getting US magazine in the mail. The theme of a lot of my art and writing is media analysis, so I don’t mind getting these magazines to see the bizarro world that some people live in and the desperation on display when celebrities need your eyes on them in order to make money and promote the bizarro world agenda. Excess can be both entertaining and disturbing. I’ve done some study on what kind of toll it takes on the people who view it, and I plan to write more in that vein on an ongoing basis. Paging through the celebrity magazines, I also thought about the mental health of the people who go to extreme measures to remain in the top echelon of attention grabbers. Surgeries, diets, fashions, casting couches, drugs, abuse – what won’t they put themselves through in the quest for status in an insulated and dehumanizing system? When they break down, how do they feel about entertaining the masses with evidence of their pain and destruction? When they look at images of themselves, are they looking for signs that the cracks are showing, knowing that untold other sets of eyes are looking for that too and hoping they find some? When does what is on the inside start to show on the outside?
To make this collage I used a stencil I have that looks like a film contact sheet to make a grid in pencil on a plain piece of white cardstock. Using a template I made with a window opening the size of the rectangle openings in the stencil, I started building up images on separate pieces of white cardstock. After adding images to each rectangle, I added textures from stencils and an a black outline with markers. I used a gray marker to add some lines to the background, and gray and black markers with the stencils to add some more texture on and around cut out words, rearranged a bit.
I deliberately tried to choose less than flattering celebrity photos on which to glue mismatched facial features to make them look more “crazy” to show how I feel about corporations and government trying to use media and celebrities and communications professionals to try to force me to accept a bizarro world as my world. The Urban Dictionary states that a bizarro world is a place where everything is the opposite of the word used to describe it. For example, “good is bad, wrong is right, white is black, logical is illogical, giving is taking, insanity is sane”, etc. It’s one of my theories, shared by many, that those who start out relatively mentally healthy generally pay a price on the inside for living in a bizarro world and being coerced into propagating its false values. Picking up one of these magazines, no I don’t believe some of the messages it’s trying to send me. Ugliness is not beauty, exploitation is not empowerment, sickness is not health, artificiality is not freshness, materialism is not happiness, and celebrities are not just like us! And no, war is not peace, freedom is not slavery, ignorance is not strength. And I don’t love Big Brother either. So there!
When I started the collage, I initially intended just to have some silly fun with some silly magazines and not necessarily think about such serious topics. I can’t seem to stop analyzing media when I see it I guess. I hope my next art or craft project will stay more on the lighthearted side!
Here are links to the stencils I used, on sale in my store:
Directly above is a faux postage stamp sheet collage I started almost a year ago. Here is how it began. I was sorting through some old papers and I found two computer printouts that another artist, nonlocal variable, had sent to me as mail art a long time ago. The printouts were of faux postage designs featuring computer manipulated photos of Ray Johnson – an artist who is considered by many to have been the founder of the modern mail art movement. Ray Johnson is the subject of a lot of mail art projects. I participated in one such project myself in the fall of 2019. I also featured some pictures of Ray Johnson in my #12daysoftomsbeard art project because when my husband Tom is clean shaven, he looks so much like Ray Johnson that when I was working on the mail art project, Tom thought at first glance that I was using pictures of him!
In the same stack of old papers, I found an advertising booklet that had black and white portraits similar in size to the Ray Johnson portraits in the old printouts. At least they were close enough in size to possibly be used together in a faux postage design. I took a faux postage base I made a long time ago and use a lot and started laying down the portrait pictures on it to get ideas.
I originally had the idea to put the smaller portraits inside silhouettes of the Ray Johnson images and alternate the two on the stamp sheets. I made templates from scrap chipboard to help me cut multiple silhouettes and negatives of silhouettes from colorful paper scraps to play around with. I ended up saving the smaller black and white portraits for a future project and I kept the Ray Johnson images for this set of stamp sheets.
When I make chipboard templates for a collage or other project, I keep them in folders named after the project they were made for so if I want to I can use them over and over for related art projects. If I’m really turned on by the designs, I am likely to use the templates many times. I also made a bunch of rectangle templates to go with my faux postage stamp background, using tracing paper as an aid to finding which piece goes where on the collage. I numbered the chipboard pieces and their position on the tracing paper to help me get organized the next time I use the templates.
I arranged the different colored small rectangles on my collage sheets where I wanted them. I glued on the Ray Johnson images, some miscellaneous found images, and used black permanent Sharpie markers and stencils to draw on some bold designs in black marker. I printed out postage stamp related words, phrases and images with black permanent stamping ink onto white blank sticker paper, cut them out and stuck them on my collages to make them look even more like sheets of imaginary stamps.
I thought they needed more texture to look finished so I used freehand drawing plus stencils again to apply marks with paint markers and colored pencils. The final marks I applied were a bit of colored pencil outlining the white sticker pieces to make them look more integrated with the whole.
Here are the commercial stencils I used in the project. They were designed by the Crafter’s Workshop company:
I probably will display the resulting “stamp” sheets as framed collages some time in the future. I’ve scanned them into the computer where they will be reduced to a smaller size so that they look more like real postage stamps. Then I’ll print out and distribute the finished stamp sheets to some other mail artists. Many mail artists collect faux postage as art or use the resulting stamps as part of another piece of mail artwork.
Today is a good day to put away some of the partly finished projects I have lying around. It’s been almost three months since I broke my foot and toes and bruised up or sprained my shin area so bad it’s still somewhat swollen. I no longer have to sit for long periods of time with my foot elevated every day – it’s healing more and more. And it’s not a big chore to get up and down the stairs any more.
During the last three months I needed to have lots of projects within arms reach so I’d have something creative to work on to pass the time. I have more unfinished projects around than usual because sometimes I’d reach a stopping point where I would have to get up a lot, and instead of getting up I’d temporarily stop that project and start another one.
I do normally like to have projects around in various states of completion, because when I have a certain amount of time available for a work session I’m more productive if I can pick a task that fits the amount of time I have available. But they can’t all be out at one time. Some of it is going to be put away for awhile. To make the task more fun and to help me remember later what I was going to do, today I’m documenting each project before I put it away. I’ll keep adding pics to this page as I work. Enjoy!
WHAT: If you have ordered something from my Etsy store recently, or if you get a Christmas card from me, you will find inside one or both of the following invitations for #12daysoftomsbeard.
These tags are intended for drawing on or decorating, then sending back to me, so that I can hang them on Tom’s beard each day from December 25 to January 6. During that time I will take a crazy picture of the results to put on social media for people to find when they search for the hashtag #12daysoftomsbeard. Last year Tom and I experimented with different lighting effects, backgrounds and filters to come up with something unusual each day. Last year I tried to group the beard art items, background and filters by color because bright colors usually go far toward cheering and inspiring me.
Here are some examples of tags I decorated last year, a couple that people sent in to me, and a few images that resulted.
WHY: We mostly like to do this because it’s a lot of fun, and it makes us laugh! You should have seen my MIL’s reaction when she saw the orange picture of Tom! “What have you done to my son!!!” We could do this without any participation from others, but we appreciate it whenever anyone wants to join in. It’s an extra creative challenge to use something someone else sent in, and it’s a way to connect with people who are sometimes separated by distance or who I don’t even know in “real life”.
Why do people paint rocks and leave them for others to find? Why do Jeep owners put rubber ducks on random other Jeeps? Why did I put a banana peel on my head earlier this year and have my picture taken with it on? Why did people in Toronto make a memorial display for a dead raccoon and share it on social media? Group activities and performance art projects are a satisfying activity for some reason, for quite a few people. I will probably write more later about the psychological reasons why that is the case.
Earlier this year I started a SWOT analysis of #12daysoftomsbeard to try to use some of what I learned in marketing class to try to increase participation this year. I didn’t finish the analysis yet, but I will keep adding onto it in the future as I finish sections. Here it is if you want to read what I have written so far – SWOT Analysis of #12daysoftomsbeard.
HOW – One idea I want to try for increasing participation is to provide some more specific instructions. The wording on the invitations reads: “To play, color, glue, punch, stamp or otherwise decorate this tag.” For some people, that will be enough guidance, others might feel comfortable with something more specific.
I am going to suggest techniques to try, and post examples here on this page. Watch this space as I add them! Since I like to use mixed media a lot, it will be a challenge for me to use just one technique at a time, so maybe I’ll try that. Enjoy!
To participate, print out one or more of these sheets. Color or decorate the beard pieces with the designs and materials of your choice. Mail the pieces to Tom and I. Then check the hashtag #12daysoftomsbeard on Instagram between December 25 and January 6 each year to see what happens!
For more inspiration
Here is a link to a slideshow of images from the web page of IUOMA – The International Union of Mail Artists. I’ve been uploading the beard pictures to this gallery as I go. Intermixed are images that other people are uploading of conceptual art that they are both sending and receiving. This slide show changes daily as new images get added and older ones drop off. It might give you some ideas! Sometimes I put this slideshow on the screen while I’m working for extra inspiration!
I fell down the stairs and bent my foot the wrong way. I might have two broken toes, I realize it could have been a lot worse. The pain is way down today so my head is more clear and I can actually write something! I don’t have to spend 100% of my time off of my foot until I have a follow up appointment with an orthopedic doctor, but I will have to spend the majority of my time with it elevated, at least for awhile. Not sure for how long, but in the meantime I’m taking the opportunity to study my art therapy book and my horticultural therapy books to see if there is anything I can do to cope better with the fear and frustration of being temporarily unable to move around much. I’d also like to help my stressed out family cope with helping me with my injury while dealing with other severe recent losses. What can I learn while I study and try things out?
Having Some Fun With Negative Space
I started out by working on some collages I began during #virtualartparty number 4, an online session my husband and I hosted to help our friends and family do a little art and hopefully feel less lonely during the pandemic. I’ll write more about the collages later, but for now I want to write about the leftover cut away paper pieces I was dropping in the waste basket to be composted. The shapes were interesting, and reminded me of something. What was it? Why were these scraps interesting? Then I remembered this really cool architecture photo I had put on an Architecture Pinterest board. And some sketches I’d done for a ceramics class in the spring of 1990. Good memories of one of those times when I couldn’t stop the ideas from coming, and a pretty good percentage of them still seem exciting to me.
What I was noticing was the shapes made by the negative space – the parts I cut away – and how they reminded me of positive and negative shapes that I responded strongly to. I took the most interesting white paper scraps back out of the waste basket and glued them down on black paper. I scanned them into the computer to make these positive and negative images to see if they inspired me to make something with them.
Using Photoshop, I made selection outlines out of the white shapes, stroked them in black, and printed out the results as coloring pages so I can try to encourage myself and other people to enjoy the benefits of coloring and art making. There is enough going on to get people started – sometimes a blank page is intimidating if people don’t know what to draw or color – that’s a tip I learned long ago in Drawing 1. There is still room for individual creativity in these and other coloring pages I’ve made available for free download.
The shapes that resulted from the paper cutting do somewhat resemble natural forms, but the overall design so far is abstract. Is abstract art good for therapeutic purposes?
I often encourage people to try making some abstract art in a project that is relatively low stakes such as an art journal page, because my reasoning has been that many untrained artists are afraid that they can’t draw and therefore are discouraged from making art that attempts to be representational. If I can show them how to make art from found papers and found objects, maybe that will help them become less inhibited and just have fun.
My favorite kind of art is abstract and if need be I can keep myself entertained with shapes, colors, textures and lines for hours if not days on end. Even if I think it’s fascinating and fun, abstract art is likely going to be a hard sell for most people. Those who appreciate abstract art the most are often art and design professionals or people very knowledgeable about art, such as patrons or collectors. The general population is mostly not that big of a fan and prefers recognizable nature-based images (Marcus and Sachs 15). We know from reactions to modern art and modern public sculpture how wide the gulf can be between the tastes of art and design professionals and the general public. If this sounds elitist, it’s not meant to be, it’s just a fact pointed out in a therapy book to help practitioners offer projects that are most helpful to the patient (Marcus and Sachs 15).
Abstract art isn’t necessarily therapeutic to people with certain conditions or states of mind. Experiments on physically or emotionally stressed patients revealed not only an affinity toward nature imagery but hostility to abstract art – even to the point of attacking the abstract pieces in some cases. The same artwork often prompted positive reactions from the staff, showing how the varying states of mind of individuals influenced how the artwork was perceived (Marcus and Sachs 30-31).
Practitioners intending to use art to facilitate health should keep the client’s needs in mind above their own personal tastes (Marcus and Sachs 15). Stress is detrimental to healing, both mentally and physically (Marcus and Sachs 25), so the last thing I would want to do is add to someone’s stress if I was trying to help them.
What could I add to my abstract background to make a project that is more soothing to the general public? My project is aimed at people who want to color but don’t necessarily want to draw. I have several stencils in my collection with botanical imagery that will appeal to the universal human need for nature-based imagery. I can use colors that are soothing and also found in nature. I chose blues and greens for this demo because hot colors might aggravate certain conditions and interfere with wellness (Winterbottom and Wagenfeld 182).
Art Journal Page
Here is an art journal page I made with one of my abstract printouts and a botanical themed stencil.
Marcus, Clare Cooper and Naomi A. Sachs. Therapeutic Landscapes: An Evidence-Based Approach to Designing Healing Gardens and Restorative Outdoor Spaces. Wiley, 2014.
Winterbottom, Daniel and Amy Wagenfeld. Therapeutic Gardens: Design for Healing Spaces. Timber Press, 2015.
Trigger warning: this blog post deals with the topic of suicide. Please get professional help if you are suffering from mental health issues. If you are afraid that you might harm yourself, please call 911 or a suicide hotline immediately. Here is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number – 1-800-273-8255.
Knowing how to make memory craft projects and having memory craft materials around is most helpful when going through something like my remaining family and I just went through. My uncle Dave was discovered deceased on August 27, 2021 and my brother Larry died from suicide on September 4, 2021.
I think some people were taken aback that I was open about my brother dying from suicide almost immediately after hearing the news. No one gave me flak over it, but I do think a few people were surprised. I did ask my Dad for permission before I posted the cause of death. My Dad and I are the two remaining from our original nuclear family of four.
There are reasons why I wanted people to know the truth right away. For one thing I wanted people to know exactly what horror we were dealing with because it’s not likely that our lives will be “back to normal” any time soon, if ever. We will be needing and asking for some leeway in meeting some of our obligations as we try to figure out what our lives are going to look like now and decide how to prioritize tasks.
Another reason is that my brother fought to overcome bipolar disorder for over 20 years, and my late uncle did as well. My brother’s illness affected our family greatly even well before it was diagnosed because there were serious symptoms that made all of our lives challenging at times, even if we didn’t yet understand what they meant. I have done volunteer work from time to time over the years to help people with mental illness, mental disabilities, or are just going through a tough time as the result of a normal grieving process. In the past I taught workshops at the former Open Door Art Studio and a few years back I donated a few days work and a lot of supplies to Artists First studio with the hope of someday doing more work there. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, my husband Tom and I did a series of eight webcasts we called #virtualartparty to help people enjoy art and craft activities to help avoid mental health problems that could result from anxiety and isolation.
I knew my brother’s suffering had increased quite a bit over the last few months. I tried to show I cared and encourage him a little by doing a couple of “art therapy” projects with him and my Dad, and with a few other people who were also going through a hard time. I was planning to do more whenever I was able. I put “art therapy” in quotes here because while I’m a trained artist I’m not a formally trained art therapist – but since all art is therapeutic, my philosophy is it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if it doesn’t work, at least you have tried. And a few minutes of distraction from misery is better than nothing as well. I have to look for something good where I can in order to go on.
I have been through a course of therapy myself to recover from an abusive relationship and the resulting serious trauma. Even though I have great empathy for sufferers I know there is a limited amount I can do to help someone else recover from severe mental illness. My Dad and I know we tried everything that we could think of to save our loved ones but we could not do it. Dave and Larry were both under medical care and as far as we know fighting hard for many years. Our help and the work of many doctors and therapists was not enough to save them. I’m grateful for the people who can be saved and sad about the ones that can’t. There is a need out there for compassion and understanding to aid others in helping their loved ones with mental illness or consoling them if the outcome turns out tragic. That’s something I can help with in a little way perhaps by writing about it and continuing to make small contributions to the general cause of mental health whenever I can. I think dealing with reality head-on is more useful for this goal than trying to cover it up. I feel devastated over what happened but it’s based on sadness, not shame. I don’t want other mourners affected by mental illness or suicide to feel shame either. So I’m trying to contribute by setting an example of frankness and truth. I am not judging others who choose a different way – we all have our reasons for how we grieve and how we process our situations.
It comforts me to try to find answers and explanations to find meaning in overwhelming situations. Right now I’m more consumed with questions than in a state of readiness for trying to find answers. That’s where the memory crafts come in. I made a few things for the funerals in a hurry, which served the purposes of mourning the dead, comforting others, and providing a needed distraction and creative outlet for myself to help me cope. Following are some pictures. It’s my way to mark just about any important occasion with art and crafts – both celebratory and mournful.
We used the same tape on Larry’s boards but I painted it a black/bronze color before we started gluing down the torn paper. This is only a tiny percentage of all the photos we would have liked to show but Larry’s friend Tim and others helped put together a digital slide show as well that was greatly appreciated by all of us.