Saturday, 17 January 2015

Let's get serious

Before we begin let's talk about what art therapy actually is and what it is useful for. I am not an art therapist but an artist who found that returning to drawing really helped me to cope with my chronic illnesses, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. 

Art Therapy or Art Psychotherapy uses the creative processes of art making, dance and drama to explore emotional, psychological and physical issues. It is both diagnostically and therapeutically in conjunction with traditional psychoanalytic or psychodynamic principles. Patients can find that working through a creative framework helps them to build self esteem, explore and clarify emotions that are difficult to verbalise, learn better ways to communicate, strengthen fine motor skills and develop coping skills and confidence. 

That is all pretty technical so why don't I show you what I do. Living day to day with chronic illness brings with it constant fluctuating pain, fatigue and insomnia and with all these often comes a loss of self worth. I've have relished in drawing and making things for as long as I can remember so throwing myself into art again when my health began to deteriorate further seemed like a reasonable idea. A year on I count it as one of the smartest ideas I've ever had. Despite this being one of the hardest years health wise, since my diagnosis in 2009, it has also been my happiest. 

The first thing I want to draw when I feel the creative itch or want to distract myself is always animals and the first animal is always a rabbit. I am always drawn to their gentle nature and sweet faces. I recently received a set of Copic Markers for Christmas after lusting for them for months and months. Of course my first experiment was an inquisitive baby rabbit.

Baby rabbit study in graphite, copic multi liner and copic ciao marker

There are times that working on detailed portraits is too much for my eyes or hands or both so I fill sketch pages with quick studies of a new animal I like to learn to draw like these powerful lions I was learning for a friend who wanted a piece of Chronically Whimsical Tales for their home.

Lion studies in coloured pencil 

Mandalas are a very popular art therapy exercise and also tie in very well with mindfulness meditation, which I have been practicing diligently for several months for my chronic pain. I couldn't recommend it highly enough. Although mindfulness takes many months and years 
to learn it is well worth it for the sense of calm it teach you to induce at a moments notice. 
When it's too much to work on animals, mandalas are easy and enjoyable. Their simplicity, 
repetitive patterns and playful colours soothe brain fog and distract from physical and 
emotional pain.

Mandala in coloured pencil

Zentangles are new to me, they're all the rage on Pinterest, Instagram and every other form of social media you could thing of. They're like freestyle mandalas but have a lot of more 
structure at the same time in that they are composed of smaller and more detailed patterns. 
I have found that they are good for working my brain rather than soothing it. Sometimes it is 
nice to wake up and work hard and the results become more beautiful the more you 

Zentangle in graphite

When friends and family have a birthday or special occasion I like to make them a card 
instead of buying one. Sometimes I use a drawing I have already done but I often do custom pieces specially for them, usually of their favourite animal, because when I am feeling at my 
best I love to work on detailed animal portraits. This gives me the greatest sense of productivity and the happiness on my loved ones faces fills me with happiness too. Some cycles are are sweet and kind and should be practiced as much as possible to keep away the vicious ones. I drew this baby fawn for a friend's birthday last year.

Birthday card, baby fawn resting in the grass in coloured pencil

This year I'd like to learn about formal art therapy so I've invested it The Art Therapy 
Soucebook by Cathy A Malchiodi, ATR, LPCC. Over the course of the next year I am going to be going through this book working on the various exercises so that I can develop a deeper understanding of how art therapy works and how it could help manage chronic pain. As I work through the book I will share my progress with you so you can all learn along with me. 
Let's get serious, self imposed study

If you would like to learn more about art therapy see the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association website ANZATA

Until next time lovely readers pick up your pencils and create something and don't forget to leave any requests in the comments below or on my Instagram page xo.


  1. Very insightful post, i will make sure to keep an eye out for your next one!

    p.s Great detail in your Zentangle in graphite image! :)

    1. Thank you +Amy M I am so pleased you enjoyed my post and thank you for the feedback on my Zentangle, I loved doing it.

  2. Finally able to catch up on a few of your posts and wanted to thank you for this one in particular :) It's inspiring for my own journey and I will reccomend this to anyone who is looking to start art therapy for their journey!

    Thank you!

    1. You are very welcome Flutterbys motto, I'm glad this post spoke to you and I reqlly appreciate you sharing my work with your friends and readers. Good luck on your journey. I am looking forward to following it on your blog Whit It.