One thing I am often asked is how I stay motivated to create so much art. It isn't always easy and I have not always been very good at it. As a working mother, there seems to be barely enough time in the day to do all that is required of me. But, I have learned in my many years on this planet that in order to stay productive and happy, I have to be creating. Art is my fuel.
One way that I have been able to stay creative is by joining art challenges on places like instagram. At any give time, you can use the search word #challenge, #artchallenge, or search by the month with the word challenge (#Junechallenge) and you will find whole communities who are committing themselves to the challenge of making art. There are photography challenges, painting challenges, drawing challenges, theme challenges... the list seems endless.
So, in order to encourage others to try out an art challenge, I thought I would create a list outlining my top 10 reasons art challenges are awesome! Here we go…
1. Art challenges are time limited.
Knowing that there is an end to a challenge makes committing a lot easier. I don't have to do a drawing every day for the rest of my life… just these next thirty days. And while there are art challenges that last for a full year, it is up to you how much you commit. For me, thirty day challenges feel perfect. By the time I am feeling like quitting, I am usually well over half way done and can muster the necessary energy to keep going. And having completed several art challenges at this point, it helps a ton in contradicting that negative story I can sometimes carry around about how I never finish the projects that I start.
2. Art challenges provide structure.
Most art challenges will include daily prompts - and while you do not have to follow the prompts, they can be an excellent way of allowing my brain to get started quickly without worrying about exactly what I am gong to do that day. It is also a fun challenge to figure out how I am going to use the prompt to create something that is uniquely mine.
3. Art challenges help me to improve my skills.
Like most things in life, practice encourages growth. The more I use a material, the better I become with it. The more I draw, the better I become at recognizing shapes and patterns and putting them to paper. My daughter, who is an amazing artist, will often lament that her art is not as good as mine. My response is always the same. I have been practicing for years upon years at my craft. If she practices, she will continue to learn and grow too. (And considering I was never as good as she was when I was young, I am fairly certain she will surpass me quickly)
4. Art challenges introduce me to new materials.
When I did my first Inktober challenge, aside from some drawings I made with a ball point pen, I had never drawn with ink. By the end of the challenge I had found my new favorite art medium. It is easy to become stuck using materials that are comfortable and familiar. The neuropathways in our brain become well worn grooves and the idea of picking up different materials often seem completely out of the question. Try leaving your comfort zone for a little while. New materials create new insight, new tactile information, and opportunities for growth.
5. Art challenges can encourage risk taking.
In that same way that picking up a new art material challenges us - so does following a prompt that we might not fully know how to address. Each time we take an artistic risk, our brain learns from the experience and we are more likely to take other risks in our life in general. We learn that sometimes we might make a mistake, but it is okay. We learn that we have the necessary tools to adapt. There is actually a lot more brain activity that happens when we make a mistake than if we did everything perfectly. Synapses fire, new connections are made, and our brain grows. You can read more about that here: https://www.youcubed.org/think-it-up/mistakes-grow-brain/
6. Art challenges are a practice of mindfulness.
When taking part in a challenge, I try not to spend too much time judging my responses or planning. I just make. I consider the day successful if I made art. While I am making art, I am not thinking about either the past or the future. I am fully in the moment. I have no room for anxiety or emotional intensity. I am focused on observing, creating, and clearing my mind.
7. Art challenges encourage productivity.
There is something incredibly exciting about completing a challenge and laying all of the artwork I have created out on the floor to see what I have made. Even if I had a crisis and missed a day, I still will have made a ton of artwork. I have a new series of real art pieces to show for my dedication and hard work.
8. Art challenges encourage discovery of artists.
So many of the amazing artists that I follow on Instagram I found through art challenges. Their artwork and creativity inspire me. I, in turn, can share their artwork with others I know who would also appreciate it. I am not just an artist, but also someone who loves art. As a visual person, beautiful and interesting art soothes me. It is a great reminder of why in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, one of the distress tolerance skills is using the visual to help when feeling overwhelmed.
9. Art challenges inspire new art
Sometimes, when I look at the artwork I created, I see the beginnings of themes that I want to explore in greater detail outside of the pressure of the art challenge. The challenge artwork becomes the sketch for a larger painting or the inspiration for a series.
10. Art challenges connect me with other artists.
Each day, I post my finished art piece on Instagram and search the theme to see how others responded to the challenge. I connect with other artists who inspire me and receive so much in support and feedback. I am always amazed at the diversity of responses for each prompt. Each of us may be on very different paths, but we converge to create. That connection brings me happiness.
This June I will be trying out a new challenge with a collective of artists called "artfreakscollective". I am hoping I can use the themes to explores some cool mythical creatures. Join me! And you can follow me on Instagram at arttherapytx. I will check in at the end of June and let you know how it went!
A lot of clients ask, "What is art therapy?"
Art therapy can be defined in many different ways. Art Therapy uses the creative process in conjunction with tradition therapy to build confidence, encourage healing, increase coping skills, relieve stress and traumatic experiences, and enhance cognitive functioning. Art Therapy is used to treat a range of mental illnesses including but not limited to depression, anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress.
Registered Art Therapists (ATR) are professionals trained in both art and counseling and hold a Masters degree in art therapy. Familiar with many different art forms, Art Therapists use painting, sculpting, and drawing to help treat children, adolescents, and adults. The creative process plays a big role in identifying problem areas, discovering solutions, revealing suppressed emotions, and facilitating healing. Art therapist is less about the product, and more about the creative and healing process.
The Science of Happiness posted a great summary of what art therapy can look like, check it out!
The next cycle for the DBT/Art Therapy group will focus on the skill of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the idea of how we can be present in this current moment, and it is very much a skill that one needs to practice. Our days are generally full of worries about the future, regrets about the past, judgments and criticisms of others and ourselves, hurts and transgressions... it is no wonder that we are overloaded and have difficulty with the idea of being present.
So what happens when we are present? Perhaps by giving our brains a much needed break from all of those previously mentioned challenges, it allows for a decrease in feelings of anxiety and stress. We are able in those moments of mindfulness to opt for more positive coping strategies to regulate difficult emotions. It has also been shown that having a practice of mindfulness improves our working memory and our ability to focus.
Art has always been for me a mindfulness practice. It is the way that I most easily transcend rumination, and move to a place of presence. Art engages my senses, my brain, as well as my physical being in a way that allows me to submerge myself in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as "flow"... a place of optimal experience and creativity. It is the medicine my psyche needs when the world is too much.
This morning, I woke up, and wanted to do a mindfulness experiment outside. I had recently received a macro-camera lens for my phone, but still hadn't used it. So, I pulled it out of the box and decided to investigate my backyard. I breathed in the fresh air. I watched how light and shadow fell across my yard. I noticed each thing closely. I used visual observation and focus as a means of being present. And I took some photographs. And it felt wonderful.
Go outside. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Notice your stomach moving with each breath. Smell the air around you. Feel the temperature. Engage your senses.
Now look around. Take in your surroundings. What interests you? Where do your eyes focus? What can you see? Notice light and color. Notice your own shadow. Take some pictures.
As of May 1st, we will begin seeing clients in our new art therapy space in East Austin. When we first walked into the space, we loved it. It was creative, interesting, and not at all the traditional therapy space that we were trying so hard to steer clear of. And so, we signed the lease and started thinking of what we would do with the space.
Change is not many people's forte. There are the logistical problems that go along with any new venture and the need to adapt to new surroundings. When we say yes to a new beginning, we might also need to keep an eye on the emotions that arise from something else ending.
A therapy office can often times feel like a very sacred space. We become accustomed to the set up, the smell, the art work ... and our bodies inherently begin to associate all of those things with the notion of safety. Our brain makes the connection and allows us to be vulnerable. For the therapist, the room is the container for all that is shared with us.
And so, here we are. We know this will be a wonderful move and we are also aware of the nervous energy living in the pits of our stomach. There are studies that show if you tell yourself that you are excited when you experience anxiety, you can actually positively impact the outcome of what you are anxious about. (See video below)
Definitely worth trying.