Using art to express your grief

art therapy

When you are experiencing extreme emotions, art gives you a way of venting in a safe way. No matter how disturbing the art you create, it’s much healthier to express these emotions than bottling them up inside.

Expressing and transforming feelings into visual images helps you to heal. It gives you a way to communicate your inner pain when you can’t express it verbally.  No technical skills are necessary and it’s never too late to begin.

It doesn’t matter what form your artwork takes and the benefit comes from the process itself, rather than the finished product.  You don’t have to be an artist and in fact, if you haven’t ever studied art, you will probably express your emotions more freely than those who are trained to worry about perspective, light, color etc.

How can art help you?

  • It helps you to release your emotions in a safe way.
  • It has been proven that creating art increases serotonin levels in your brain.
  • The process helps you to access your subconscious mind. The connection between your head, heart and hand in creating art can allow you to express feelings that may be trapped below the conscious level.
  • It can be like a form of meditation due to the repetitive, soothing actions. It creates a state of relaxation in your body that is beneficial to your health.

Think about your personal history with art

You may have negative or positive ways of thinking about art that come from your childhood. It’s worth asking yourself the following questions. I answered the questions myself to show you what they can reveal.

  1. Do you have any childhood memories of artistic activities?
    One of my good childhood memories is of coloring-in with a huge box of crayons in a fairytale coloring-in book. I also clearly remember my mother taking me to pick up autumn leaves which we made into a collage in a scrapbook.
  2. What did your family think about art?
    My father and grandmother both enjoyed art as a hobby but they came to it later in life. While I was growing up, there was little focus on artistic pursuits in my family.
  3. Did you have any negative experiences with art? Do you remember being told that you were not artistic? Yes, I was regarded as the academic and my sisters were artistic. At high school the art teacher encouraged me but I was very insecure about my artistic ability. My mother took art at school and she would often tell us the story of how the other pupils laughed at the picture of a grand piano she drew for her final exam. That story stuck in my head.

Getting started

Facing a divorce late in life has led me to explore all possible avenues for healing. One of these was experimenting with art to help with the healing process. I had done a few watercolor and acrylic paintings over the years but for this purpose, I felt I wanted to start off with some basic drawing and coloring-in supplies. (perhaps I was thinking back to the pure, carefree joy of coloring-in as a child!)

My Basic Supplies

Sketch pad
Color pencils:
Moore: Premium Art Color Pencils Set (48 pcs)
Oil Pastels:
Pentel Arts Oil Pastels  An affordable set of 50 colors so you can experiment freely from a vast range.
Drawing pencils with soft lead (2b or 4b)
Gum eraser and white eraser
Glue

Pens:
I like the Gelly roll gel ink pens because they glide effortlessly across the paper. I use the white ones to draw or doodle on black paper.  It’s amazing what interesting shapes come out when you pick up that white pen and freely allow it to wander freely on that black paper!

Sakura 37488 3-Piece Gelly Roll Blister Card Medium Point Gel Ink Pen Set, White

Sakura 57381 6-Piece Gelly Roll Classic-06 Gel Pen Set, Fine, Black

Find a quiet, comfortable spot

Try to find a quiet spot with as few distractions as possible. Make it as comfortable and pleasant as possible with soft cushions and objects that are important to you that have meaning and personal value.  Play some calm music – rather choose instrumental music as songs with lyrics can distract you.

Some daily art therapy activities

Try to commit to a session or two a week, or even daily if possible.

Create a collage

If you have never expressed yourself artistically before, it may help you to start by cutting out shapes and images from magazines. Cut out shapes, images and colors that express what you are feeling and create a collage. You will probably find that you want to add to it with pastels etc. and this will help to set the ball rolling for you.

Visualize and draw your emotions

Think about how you are feeling. Are you sad, angry, fearful? Say, for example, you are feeling angry, first visualize the shapes and colors that express anger in your mind’s eye.  Choose the tools that you think will help you to express this and just allow images to come. Don’t think about right and wrong ways to express it. You may choose never to share any of your pages with anyone, so you can let loose with lines, colors, shapes and even words.

Color a mandala

mandala coloring book

Carl Jung, the psychoanalyst, saw a mandala as “a representation of the unconscious self”. He believed that he could identify emotional disorders by looking at mandala paintings done by his patients and then work with the person towards wholeness. The word mandala is Sanskrit for “healing circle” or “whole world.”  Mandalas are associated with Eastern religions but their use has spread to the Western World and many people color or paint mandalas for the soothing, rhythmic activity and stress relief that comes from doing so. A mandala usually has a prominent center surrounded by an intricate design of colorful shapes. Try the Mandala Coloring Book for Adults on Amazon.

Looking back

Take a look at your work at the end of a session without being critical. If it triggers off some thoughts,  write them on the back. Add a date and a title. Once you have done this for a couple of weeks, it is interesting to look back on what you have done. Look at the shapes, colors, form and content of what you have created. Is there one emotion that stands out?  Is there a color that you use most often? What shapes are important to you? Don’t try to analyze your use of colors and shapes according to common associations. Your own meanings can be influenced by so many things, from your family background and culture to your religious beliefs. By looking back,  you will begin to discover how you personally express your feelings in visual form.

Last Word

Expressing yourself artistically helps to transform your emotional pain and make sense of loss. There is, of course, a limit to what the simple exercises mentioned here can do. Art therapy can really only be defined as such when it takes place in the presence of a certified art therapist. But it doesn’t hurt to try out some of these art activities if you are looking for healthy ways to process your emotions. The process in itself is relaxing and soothing, even if you never find any ‘deep meaning’ in what you have created. Make it a part of your life and you might be surprised at how much you grow to treasure it.

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