Using Art Therapy to Express Thoughts and Feelings

This is the basis of a project that I use sometimes within Art Therapy sessions, particularly where the person with me is struggling to express their emotions clearly.

First, write a different emotion at the top corner of four sheets of paper; then use abstract, non-figurative marks in a variety of media, but one colour/hue to express and convey the emotions, in four different ways on each sheet.

As an art psychotherapist, I'm really familiar with this kind of exercise; it's often messy but usually very satisfying. It's cathartic as well as highly effective in externalising, internal feeling and experience, so here goes: the four emotions were anger, calm, joy and fear.

A selection of both the media and some items I used to apply them, including a teasel stick. I also used water and white spirit to mix with different paints, oil stick and graphite.

1. Anger

Being frank, this emotion was pretty easy after a challenging phone conversation the evening before, but it was therapeutic! It goes to show that in art at least, all life experience can be useful.

Clockwise from top left: solid acrylic paint, charcoal and soft pastel, oil pastel, oil stick and white spirit, ink and dip-pen.

2. Calm

I consciously quietened my mind, growing mentally and physically still. With eyes closed I tried to relax and pictured a still circle in the centre of my vision, both light surrounded by dark and the reverse: perhaps too figurative?

Clockwise from top left and top right: graphite stick with eraser; bottom right: water colour on wet paper, allowing it to spread slowly out into the wet paper; bottom left, graphite stick applied to the paper then rubbed in with kitchen roll and the centre removed with an eraser.

3. Joy

I listened to Gustav Holst’s ‘Jupiter the bringer of joy’. It certainly gave me a sense of lift, energy, strength, light and exuberance.

Clockwise from top left: graphite stick and charcoal; ink and water on dry paper; water colour on wet paper, and finally soft pastel and marker pen on dry paper.

4. Fear

My first thoughts related more to ‘anxiety’ rather than fear, which feels more elemental and urgent. So I turned again to music and listened to… the theme tune from 'Jaws' and then ‘The Woman in Black’; it worked for me!

Top left, graphite stick and eraser; top right… no marks… white-out, the mind in fight/flight automatic, unthinking survival mode. Bottom right is thick charcoal, bottom left charcoal and oil stick, more of a gut-knotting fear.

If you're ready to start expressing yourself more clearly, book in for an Art Therapy session now via the Contact page.

David Reed Elliott Art Therapy

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