“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso
Art therapy is a broad term used to refer to the practice of creating as a way to heal wounds of the mind or spirit. While art therapists are employed with increasing frequency at hospitals, nursing homes, in schools, and in treatment programs for a wide swatch of ailments, the rejuvenating, stress-busting results of such a practice are something we can all benefit from.
Invite your creative side out to dance with these 20 art therapy ideas you can pursue at home:
Design a postcard.
Have something to say? Give your words extra dimension by literally decorating them yourself. Writing to a person who caused you pain? Consider burning or otherwise destroying the postcard when you’re finished, as a symbol of your decision to move forward. Have the need to send it, but don’t want to invite them back into your life? Mail your anonymous thoughts to Post Secret
Give thanks with cards of your own.
Focus on words and thoughts of gratitude, of your own design. Pick up a stack of blank cards and envelopes at a paper or craft store, or simply embellish a pre-made card. Consider offering thanks to those helping you through current troubles, or those who have helped you in the past. Already said “thanks” in person? A card is nice way to let folks know that they made a lasting impact.
Cut and paste a collage.
Not sure what to do with those advertisements and circulars scattered around the house? Take a pair of scissors to them, and let your imagination run wild. If you are seeking encouragement in a particular area – love, finances, body image, and so on – zero in on images that cause you to feel uplifted and positive, or ones that embody your goals. Use them as pieces of the larger puzzle of both your collage and healing.
Make a digital collage.
Short on art supplies, or simply more of a computer person? Fire up your laptop, and download one of many free collage programs. You can create a collage from your own photographs and memories, or conduct an online search to find images that resonate with you. Programs such as Photoshop will provide the most options, but more rudimentary programs such as Photoshop Elements, PowerPoint or some Adobe platforms offer enough for a first effort.
Draw in response to music.
Music is a form of art that is often said to move souls. Energize, relax, and otherwise give attention to yours by simply putting a pen or pencil to paper and moving it as the rhythm dictates. Sharp, staccato music may prompt you to draw jagged edges or bold lines; softer rhythms may encourage you to draw waves. Instrumental music is generally a more effective stress-buster than music with lyrics, because the mind is allowed to relax without distraction. If more formalized or finite images begin to emerge, allow it – the point of the exercise is to allow for creation without expectation or restraint.
Bring a motivational message to a colorful life.
Do you have a phrase or saying that makes you feel uplifted? Cut the words out of magazines and arrange an encouraging display. Don’t have a “go to” phrase? Find generic words, such as “happy,” “joy,” “inspire,” and start with a general display of words. Crack open old journals for inspiration, or start a new art journal for your new creations.
Move those magnetic words around.
There is art in manipulating the written word, too. Tap into your inner poet and give yourself something nice to read every time you open the refrigerator door, with fridge art. A box of words can be rearranged in a seemingly infinite number of combinations. For only a few dollars, pick up boxes with theme-based verbiage, or boxes that include graphic images. Running low on inspiration? Post a poem or story that resonates with you – just because someone else is the author, doesn’t mean you can’t still reap the relaxing rewards.
Bedazzle the box.
Most of us have a box of memorabilia tucked away somewhere (or bits of memorabilia scattered everywhere). Get organized and give your treasures a facelift by literally decorating the box you keep them in. Decor can be specific to a set of memories or time period, or more general. Decorating a box is also a great way to add to a time capsule or memory box given as a gift.
Create an affirmation you can carry with you.
Gain a more frequent boost from your art therapy efforts by creating a product that you can literally carry with you. Whether it’s a piece of jewelry, an article of clothing, or a key chain, choose images, words, and colors that remind you of how and what you want to feel. Not sure how to begin? Attend a class at a local craft store or gallery to get the creative juices flowing and brush up on techniques.
Brighten up old clothing.
Working through feelings of unworthiness or low self-esteem? Wish you had the budget to completely overhaul your wardrobe? Get thee to the craft store! Spend $20-$50 on beads, bows, even a bedazzler, and give items you already own an update worthy of fabulous you. Have a bit more to spend, and already know your way around the business end of a sewing machine? Pick up a pattern for a new item of clothing, or a book on an easy-to-learn craft, such as knitting.
Color it real.
Your feelings, that is. Select colored pencils in accordance with what draws you the most, then check out how they correspond to this chart. Don’t overanalyze or think too much about what your choices might “mean.” By taking a second look at your art after it is created, you may gain valuable insight into your underlying feelings.
Map out your heart.
At a loss for a place to start with art therapy? Go to the source, and a draw a picture of your heart – literally. Fill in the shape with images of the things you desire, dream of, and love.You can find photos, or simply assign a colored section to each corresponding desire. However you do it, your heart will be full both literally and figuratively by the time you finish this exercise.
Capture pain in chalk…
…then wash it away. While one purpose of art therapy is to purge the mind and heart of negative, past, or unwanted emotions, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to create a permanent monument to such emotions. Resolve this dilemma by pouring out your thoughts in chalk. When you’re finished, anything you no longer wish to carry can be literally washed away.
Sculpt a better state.
Sculpturing doesn’t have to require a lot of space or materials. Make your own play-dough with a few simple ingredients (conduct a quick online search for a variety of recipes), then let your hands and your imagination soar. The malleable stuff is ideal for exploring emotions that you want to work through, without making permanent; anger can even be unleashed when you smash your creation flat. Ready to relax? Mix essential oils into the dough for some aromatherapy. Store leftovers in the fridge for use during your next session.
Give art therapy a hand.
Use fingerprints to create in a way that unlocks the child in all of us, and provides additional texture to explore. Or, trace your hand and use the colors and textures of your choice to illustrate the things you hope your hands will create. Really need to let loose? Dip your hands in paint and slap some prints on the paper! The release of energy may be just the healing you need.
Not feeling drawn to the more traditional arts? Try one of these, and continue to reap the healing rewards:
Redecorate a room.
It is often said that healing occurs with even more speed and intensity when the external environment is adapted to facilitate and reflect healing. Burn off extra energy and adapt your environment to your needs by rearranging furniture, ridding your space of old things, and adding punches of uplifting color and texture. Remember to save room for vision boards, affirmations, and other products of your art therapy time.
Gather with friends, and create in public.
Hesitant to dive into the art world? Gather a group of friends and explore together. Art groups, like book clubs, meet regularly to explore different media and forms of expression at each gathering. Sound like too much of a commitment? Studios are popping up around the country that allow groups to create under the guidance of an experienced teacher, while enjoying both wine and food at the same time.
String prayer or meditation beads.
Take a trip to a local craft store and select beads that appeal to you. Remember to grab line for your string and a clasp if desired; fishing line can also work in a pinch. The beads can be of similar shape and color pattern, or can be random. If you intend to carry your prayer beads with you, select beads that are small enough to fit into a pocket or purse. Not finding what you want? A specialty bead store may have more options.
Rake the sand.
Whether you’re taking a fork to a plate of sand on your desk or hauling a truck full of tools to the beach, raking patterns is a good way to release emotions in an economical, non-permanent sense. Your creation can be a deliberate piece, or simply a series of geometric shapes that help you blow off steam. For an added shot of healing power, work on a large enough scale that the physical exertion required to wield your rake both calms and burns off excess energy or anxiety.
Help something grow.
Gardening is an art form that employs plants as paint and your hands as tools. Whether you build your garden in a small tabletop bowl, or take over an entire hillside for your colorful creation, let your imagination soar. Don’t know much about plants? Spend some time at a local nursery and find out what grows best in your area, and what care requirements are realistic for you. Peruse local books or visit several plant sellers to gather ideas for your arrangement.
Need some convincing that art therapy is a good choice for you? Consider these 10 Things You Never Knew You Could Learn From Art.
Featured photo credit: Chalk Drawings at Third Street via flickr.com