Paint to Express

Feeling low? Painting can make you feel better

We all have one of those bad mental health days where unpleasant thoughts and feelings take over. When I feel sad or anxious, I don’t feel like doing anything. It is usually recommended to take a day off from work and just rest. When I do that, though, I drown in these negative feelings and I can’t just leave myself alone with that thinking.

I am a fine artist and I do use art to cope with my emotions. Painting is my job, but when I need to unwind, I don’t paint for others, instead I paint to express myself. When I am sad, my art becomes darker and it gives me such a raw feeling. There was a time when I felt lonely, empty, and hopeless. My brain was telling me to believe that I had no one and painting seemed to be my only form of expression. I did not paint to impress, but I painted to express. Expecting a great artwork at this time is asking for too much. It is best to just paint out these feelings. Colours helped me express my emotions. I saw a shift from using exclusively dark colors to using brighter colors like yellows and blues on occasion. It is almost how healing works. Healing is not linear, there will be ups and downs. Some days will be bright and sunny, while others will be dark and dreary.

Now, the critical challenge is, how to pick up that crayon when you cannot even get up from bed? Painting is a hobby and depression makes you lose interest in the things you enjoy doing. You shouldn’t push yourself to do it if it doesn’t work for you, as this is intended to be a relaxing and an expressive activity. I would recommend picking up the crayon if you are capable of getting out of bed. Painting might not be the solution to your problems, in fact, many prefer writing or talking, and if neither works for you, artistic expression might be the answer.

How did I go about it? I pulled out my sketchbook and some crayons, and now I am confused as to what to do with this blank sheet of paper. I was starting to feel like a failure because I am an artist, a psychologist and someone who has an idea what art therapy is, but still I felt incapable of expressing myself through art. I didn’t know what to do, so I read various prompts, one of which suggested, “Paint what you feel.” That was one of the most ambiguous statements I’d ever heard. Feelings can get complex and I had no idea what I was feeling or what colour reflected what I was feeling. You know what was the issue here? I was too terrified of making a mistake. Let me tell you something: there is no right or wrong when it comes to artistic expression. It's fine if your artwork doesn't accurately reflect how you feel. It is essential to let go of your fears and perfectionist tendencies. You must approach this with an open mind and without preconceptions about how the artwork will turn out. It might simply be scribbles and that is enough. Art therapy is not only visual but also tactile. The way you hold the crayon and the pressure you apply when making strokes plays an important role in making you feel better. The therapeutic aspect is the tactile activity. There's no need to analyze what you've created, but if you want to, you may. I didn't know where to draw the line between being aware and over-analyzing, so I didn't.

If you want to give this a try and need a headstart then you may use certain art therapy prompts. You can illustrate a song that represents what you are feeling. If you still feel stuck, try filling the entire page with shapes or different colours. You may even use one of those Adult Coloring books. Art Journaling worked out the best for me. Art Journal is just a sketchbook where the idea is to explore yourself through creative expression. You may paste pictures from newspapers, write a poem, or doodle. There are no rules here.

Some art that I made during my dark days: