Without Emotions, Art is Just a Picture

Art therapy is just art unless you are allowing yourself to truly integrate your emotions into your art. Hopefully, you have been reading this blog with the intent of exploring your emotions through art. Sometimes this can be complicated because you may have subconsciously created something that may be hard for you to comprehend. So you should always take time to reflect on what you have created.

Upon reflection, you may find that your creation has a pretty straight-forward meaning, dominated by one emotion. Or you may have found that you created something just to relax through the process of creating it. Some pieces may have a more complex meaning that you must discover.

This is the stage of art therapy that is most helpful to have assistance from an art therapist. However, you can deduce some things on your own. First, consider how you felt while creating the piece: was there a certain emotion or set of emotions that you felt while you worked on it?

Most art has symbolism built into it. Art created for a therapeutic value is no exception. If you look hard at your art, you may find that you have integrated symbols into the images and colors that you have chosen. These symbols are extremely important, but can be hard to see easily. Some symbols are universal, but others are difficult to interpret because only you can see what they mean. Creating a personal color wheel can be extremely helpful in this step! Instructions can be found here.

Some other questions to consider while looking at your art:

  • What did you like most about the picture?
  • Did something take up a disproportionate amount of space in the picture?
  • Is there one color that you used more than others? What does that color mean to you?
  • What do you feel when you look at your picture? Maybe you should take a day to consider this question after some time away from the piece.
  • Is there a part that you are most drawn to? Focus on the symbolism that this particular piece may have for you?

These suggestions are in no way a replacement for a certified art therapist, but they are a good starting point. If you have started thinking that you may want to consider working diligently with an art therapist, there are many places that utilize art therapy in your area. A quick Google search is sure to pull up some qualified therapists in your area. If you do not feel like putting out the money for individual art therapy, there are many groups as well.

If you do not feel comfortable working with an art therapist and you wish to continue working on your own, you should continue to diligently keep an art journal. Good luck my friends!


“What’s On Your Mind Today?”

Have you ever had a moment of perfect clarity? A moment that stops you in your tracks and makes you think that you might be either crazy or just stuck in a situation that isn’t good for you? Sadly, I had that moment tonight.

This semester I’ve pulled many all nighters. I can’t imagine my life without caffeine and I’ve officially saved the numbers of anywhere that will deliver food after midnight into my favorite contacts. None of this seemed horribly concerning until I stopped to think about what I’m doing to my body as I was working in my art journal. The realization of these things was probably aided by the fact that I was journaling at 4 o’clock in the morning as a break from studying.

I came across this great art therapy directive that takes a whole new spin on the general journal prompt “What’s on your mind today?” Instead of beginning with an intimidating blank space, start with a silhouette. I would have loved to use my own silhouette, but extra time is scarce in my life lately, so I copied one from the internet.


A Less Intimidating Canvas

With my question in mind I began to draw in my favorite colorful Sharpies. As I filled in the space, I began to recognize how I was feeling about everything I would put down. 


What’s On My Mind Today

It wouldn’t take an expert to tell you that I was overwhelmed, but seeing my concerns on paper made me realize the extent to which I was overwhelmed. I am concerned about my family, my grades, my own physical well being, and my faith in God. All of these concerns could be manageable, but together they leave my mind a jumbled mess. As I kept drawing, my picture of myself began to transform into a realization about what I need and what I am putting out into the world. I am so overloaded with stress that I have been pushing it onto those around me, which has been negatively affecting my relationships.

Seeing my own thoughts on paper made me realize that I can’t continue living as I am. I need to make a change. And I need sleep. Oh goodness gracious do I need sleep.

So what can you realize? Begin with a silhouette on a piece of paper. You can trace your own silhouette or copy one from the internet. Then sit in a calm, quiet place and begin to write and draw out how you are feeling. Let yourself freely draw and worry about interpreting it after you finish.

Once you finish, consider your own use of color, words, symbols, and repeating themes. Did you place things in a certain way that is important to you? Is there something that keeps coming up? How do the things you have drawn affect your life? Maybe you’ll have a moment of clarity like me and realize some changes that need to be made in your life. Good luck!


Zentangles are fun to create drawings that consist of simple, repetitive patterns that combine to create beautiful images. They are made using a single black ink pen so they are ideal for the beginner. They can be done as simply a fun project or they can be used as an art therapy directive.

Creating a zentangle is simple. You begin with a 3.5 in x 3.5 in square piece of paper and a black ink pen. Then you just begin to draw. Relax your mind and let yourself fill the page with simple designs that repeat over and over again to create an image. Try not to have a final image in mind when you begin drawing or you might alter your methods. Think of these small drawing as a process similar to the mandala creation.

You get the most therapeutic value out of it if you relax and let your subconscious guide your process. Many art therapists suggest meditating prior to beginning to draw, which I found extremely helpful, particularly in my second attempt. Refer back to the meditation methods mentioned in my Mandala article if you are having trouble silencing your conscious thoughts.


My First Zentangle!

My first attempt at a zentangle took my about 25 – 30 minutes. I kept getting stuck when I would try to think of patterns to include. My brain doesn’t think well in terms of geometric shapes, so this was hard for me. As most people may age tend to do, I turned to the internet for inspiration and advice. The internet prevailed yet again and I found these pattern quilts by The Lonely Maiden:

zentangle_pattern_quilt_1_by_thelonelymaiden-d65iuir zentangle_pattern_quilt_2_by_thelonelymaiden-d65iutb

Each little section of the quilt has a different unique pattern, which is pretty neat if you get stuck and can’t figure out a new design to use. I utilized some of these designs in my second attempt at this. Many people use the zentangle method to fill in different animals. This doesn’t quite match the original intention of freeing your mind and relaxing it, but it is very fun! 

I used this as an opportunity to consider what I would want my spirit animal to be by considering what traits I value most. Loyalty? Like the four-legged friend laying on my feet as I draw? Ferocity? Like the lion who stalks the land? Maybe cleverness? Like the stereotypical fox? After some internal debate, I settled on family values, like the elephants that have become my favorite animals, and now my spirit animals I suppose.


My Spirit Animal Zentangle

Elephants have intricate social groups, particularly among the females, who are often very close in the wild. These majestic creatures value their family groups so much that they even mourn the death of their loved ones by returning to the “burial site” (if you can call it that) and touching the bones of their fallen comrades in remembrance. I value my family more than anything in the world, so I think an elephant is a very fitting spirit animal for me.

I have had a particularly rough semester, so being able to include relaxing zentangles in my art journal is a great way to release some stress that seems to be continuously piling onto my shoulders. They are very therapeutic for me at this time in my life.

If you’re like me and you think that this is an awesome process, look into these websites and books for more information on creating really beautiful, unique zentangles!

  • Linda Farmer has a great how-to style page with sass.
  • The Ridgewood Centre Wellness Group has a great page that really talks about the therapeutic aspect.
  • Zentangle Basics is a short pdf book that covers the basics of creating common patterns.
  • If you have time and $15 or so bucks to spare, check out your local Barnes and Noble for books for beginners; they walk you through different processes, give you inspiration, and some have spaces for you to work on a regular basis. I recommend this since the internet can have overwhelming amounts of information.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things…

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles with warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

We all have things that make us happy. It may not be copper kettles, as it is for Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, but we all have something that makes us really happy. Sometimes just thinking about the things that make you happy is enough to lift your mood.

However, sometimes it’s hard to recall all of the things that make you happy when you’re having a particularly rough day.  On those days, it’s nice to have a reminder of the good things in life. This is where art can work as a reminder.

Lately, I have been working on a book of pictures, drawings, cut outs from magazines, and quotes. It’s a slow process because I haven’t had much time lately, but it has been a good experience. Whenever I have a rough day, I can just pull it out and focus on the things that make me happiest.

My book is similar to an art journal, but it only includes things that I love. I included pictures of my family, my friends, my pets, places that make me happy. Some pages are just catalogued memories that make me particularly happy, or quotes that mean something special to me.

If you are creating your own book, consider including…

  • Pictures of family and friends that you love
  • Pictures of places that have special significance to you
  • Quotes that mean something to you
  • Use colors that make you feel particularly happy or relaxed
  • Magazine cut outs (or prints from the internet) of things that make you smile
  • Pictures of vacations that you have taken where you really enjoyed yourself

Use this book as a way to explore different artistic mediums. Use different paints, pastels, photo transfers, anything you can think of. Definitely layer these elements to give your book a new layer of fun.

Colorful Creations

As human beings, we live in a world saturated with color. While we may have a limited range of vision according to then broad electromagnetic spectrum, we can still see a wide varieties of colors. We often choose to allow these colors saturate our lives. We paint our walls and our nails. We choose to have colorful cases for otherwise bland electronic devices. We paint with a wide variety of colorful paints.

But why do we do we choose the colors we do?

Think about the color of your bedroom: why did you choose it? Did it invoke any emotions or memories?

We tend to associate colors with meanings, whether we realize it or not. As we experience different things in life, we begin forming color connotations. These connotations definitely differ from person to person, even culture to culture. For example, black is associated with death and mourning in many Western cultures, but Chinese and Hindi cultures associate white with death.

Art therapy can really reflect different emotions through symbols that may be meaningful to only the individual. Color can be a huge symbol in this regard.

In order to effectively view our art as therapy, we have to understand the meanings that we put into it, intentionally or unintentionally. For example, my mandala had a large section that was colored various shades of pink. For most people, this symbolizes femininity or beauty, but I view pink as a shallow color that expresses incomplete happiness. This interpretation of color meant a lot to me in understanding my own artwork.

If you are attempting to do art therapy by yourself, you will need to think about what different colors mean to you. A great way to do this is by creating a Color Wheel of Emotions.

A color wheel is a simple idea that is used to educate children about how colors can be mixed. Think about using a color wheel of emotions to educate yourself about the emotional associations you have with color.

To begin, draw a circle and split it into 6 to 8 different parts. These parts can be equal or not, that’s entirely up to you!

Think really hard about what emotions different colors bring to you. Does red make you angry or happy? Does orange make you think of an event in your life that makes you peaceful? Fill in the sections of your wheel with the colors and include the emotions or memories you associate with that color. (This would be a particularly cool tool to include in your art journal!)

There are many fun variations of the color wheel of emotion. Carolyn Mehlomakulu’s article “Color Your Feelings: Art Therapy Intervention” has a great explanation of how-to create a good color wheel. She is a licensed therapist, so it is particularly helpful!

If you can’t think of any associations for a certain color, try this article. It includes a list of possible associations and even has some explanations of the colors in various cultures.

Starting an Art Journal

Journaling is a great way to express emotions that are too difficult or too personal to show the world. It’s also a way to keep track of your life: the daily events, the emotions that come and go with each day, the changes that occur as you grow. Life is a process worth remembering, but our brains can only hold so much at a time.

Journaling can go beyond just recording what needs to be recorded. Journaling can help you work through difficult emotions as well. Keeping an art journal can allow you to work through your emotions while creating something that can put your mind at ease.

So how do you start? You get yourself a beautiful journal! 

You can use anything as a journal; you can use a composition book, a sketchbook, an ornate journal, or you can even create your own journal.

This woman has done amazing things with a plain old ruled composition book! Go check out her page to get some great ideas for creating a journal out of a 99 cent composition book.

Creating an Art Journal from a Composition Book

Altering a book is another way that you can create your own art journal. You simply choose a book and create your own journal on top of the words written in the pages. Some journals even incorporate the author’s original words into their journaling through the use of blackout poems, a cool technique where you find words on the page and black out everything else, leaving a jumble of words that can be read together to make a poem or a story.

Your alterations can be very simplistic…


A Simplistic Altered Book Page

Or very extravagant…


A Very Ornate Example of an Altered Book

Altered books can be great ways to explore a more creative side of journaling.

So now you have a wonderful blank slate, but what do you fill it with?

Art journals are not solely used for therapeutic purposes. Some art journals are used to remember a vacation; others are used to remember the mundane things of daily life in a more exciting way. If you want to get the most therapeutic value from the art journal, you should push yourself to fill the pages with emotions, feelings you may or may not understand, and issues you cannot seem to process other ways. 

There are a lot of great prompts out there on the internet that can give you direction, but a general list always helps as starting point:

  • How are you feeling today? (I know this is general, but it’s usually a really good starting point!)
  • Imagine your inner critic as a monster. What does he or she look like?
  • Think of a few of your core beliefs and create pages for them.
  • Think back to a time when you were going through something very difficult and how you got through it.
  • Imagine the person you want to be and create a page about what makes that person unique.
  • Think about your favorite place. Why is it your favorite? What does it look like? How does it make you feel?
  • If you could give advice to your younger self, what advice would you give? And why?
  • Journal about a big change that occurred or is occurring in your life. Try to include your emotions about the change.
  • Pick one insecurity you have and journal about it.

Art journals can be created in any manner you would like, but mixed media journaling is the most common and the most fun! These websites have great ideas about how to layer multiple medias into one journal.

Now go get yourself a journal and start creating!