water lily

Creativity…as Therapy

I’m bent over my worktable, feeling the slick smoothness of Golden’s Heavy Body acrylic paint sliding under my palette knife. Occasionally I feel the roughness of the canvas and scrape a bit against it to form a valley. There is a faint smell of paint in the air, but I’m even more swept up in the saturated color, the smooth gliding texture, and the sound of birds outside the window. I catch a glimpse of the delightful pile of papers, findings, and fibers awaiting me on the far corner of the table. A smile crosses my face and I feel content, until I’m suddenly aware of the stiffness in my back. I sit back and stretch to see the progress I’ve made and decide on my next step.

Have you ever felt that way, lost in your craft, almost unaware of time passing? My hope for you is that you have. I hope you have experienced that Zen-like quality of being in flow!

Here’s why – the focused use of creation and your art is great for mental wellness and healing. There is an entire field of study around art therapy, but that’s not where I’m going here. I’m not talking about art therapy as a scientific practice. I am talking about the healing we receive from our creative practice as humans.

What do you GET to do?

So today we’re going to talk about your mindset around your creative craft and how it is so beneficial to give yourself the time and space to explore your creativity.

Today I want to talk about the importance of getting in there, not with a “get work done” mentality, but with a “make time for me” mentality. I want to help you see your creative practice not as a “chore” or something you “must do” but as a “helpful diversion for your mental state” and something you “Get to do” for your own wellbeing.

Your creative practice isn’t yet another thing on your to-do list, a drudgery you must suffer through. Your creative practice is a welcome retreat, a peaceful escape, and a place to rejuvenate. Approach creating through the lens of wellness and connection.

My Creative “Therapy” Practice

As a collage artist, I find my work to be quite therapeutic in many ways. Painting the ground is pure expression in color. For example, when I painted the grounds of my Neutrals collection in thick swirling layers of burnt umber, it looked so much like melted chocolate I could almost taste it. I literally went and got a fresh cup of coffee and some dark chocolate to smell, and I immediately felt at ease.

Cutting papers, prints, and old watercolors feels cathartic, and makes me grateful for those “failed attempts” because they truly are good for something regardless. They remind me to never be too hard on myself because I have created something that will shine if used in another way.

Piecing together all the parts, whether related in texture, color, or contrast gives me that feeling of “making sense” of the world when it can sometimes feel like chaos. Most often, the basic concept of these collages is planned but each composition is not, other than perhaps the use of a certain fibers or papers. I allow the materials to speak to me, with only a hint of the direction I might want to go. It feels like therapy among friends!

When I’m in my studio, I can patiently work on a project in almost a mindless way, almost as if it were active meditation. I usually have several pieces around the table at glue up time so I can work around the pieces. As I come back around, the first piece is ready for the next layer. The repetitive nature of that phase is especially therapeutic. There is a rhythm to it.

Take some time, right now, to think about your creative practice and your craft. What do you love most about it? How can you be more mindful while doing it and just “Be” with your materials? Slow the busy brain down and escape the craziness of the outside world. How can you benefit from this play, when your brain can relax, and your hands take over?

Why is Creativity Important?

Whether it’s a piece of art, a beautiful blanket, a musical score, a clay pot, or a solution to a math problem, creativity is everywhere. The act of creating something new not only adds to a sense of humanity, but also helps make our lives more meaningful. By developing and using our creativity, we learn to see the world differently and find ways through a number of challenges.

And therein lies the beauty of your creative practice. Taking time every day to actively work toward your creativity may be the best way to find that sense of calm and joy. Any creative process, like art, sewing, music, or dance, can help improve well-being. Creativity is a type of therapy. Taking time for creative pursuits is a form of self-care.

How to Get Started

We talked about ritual last week, and it’s important to have something you can go to when you need a bit of “self-therapy.” Your creative practice really is that thing. Even that beginning phase of a soothing ritual to move you into your practice can be calming and part of your self-care routine. Part of that ritual can be the mindset shift of putting your wellbeing first.

I strongly believe in the benefits of having a creative practice in life – for this purpose alone it’s worth it! That’s one of the main reasons I started this blog and why I started the Creatively-U Learning suite. My mission is to help as many people as possible find their way back to that joy of creating and being in “flow.” Use your creative practice as that wonderful little play time you get to go to when you need a rest… when you need to be uplifted. It’s not something you HAVE to do, it’s something you GET to do!

It’s been proven time and time again that being creative can increase positive emotions, lessen depression, reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and even improve your immune function. Creativity enhances our recovery in many ways and is an important tool in learning to express emotions, experience a sense of purpose and accomplishment, and enrich our relationship with ourselves and others.

A few things to jump start your creative therapy:

  • Remember to do something fun and free, just for yourself. This is “you” time and understand that you are important. Setting aside time for yourself is not a selfish pursuit. It is essential to your wellbeing.
  • Do something straight from the heart. Take the “shoulda, woulda, and coulda” out of the equation and listen to your heart.
  • Speaking of Listening: Many times, the sound our materials make can be therapeutic. Remember the senses? Your materials smell, sound, and feel a certain way. Pay attention and use it to your advantage.
  • Be curious. Following your interests or discovering things you have less experience in can lead to more inspiration and new ideas.
  • Take a break from your surroundings. Taking a walk, daydreaming, and changing the lighting in your creative space can all contribute to increased creativity.
  • You can also try doing your craft in a new way. Instead of working through a project in your usual way, you can change it up a bit. Be mindful though. If those types of changes increase stress, stay with the familiar and flow through your work as peacefully as possible.
  • You can also think of your creative practice as rest time. A time to simply “BE” and allow the materials to speak to you and see where it leads. Just go along for the ride and sight-see along the way!

My Hope for You

My hope for you is that you can find that flow and experience the “focused use of creating” for calm and healing. I would love to hear from you. Tell me when you have felt “in flow” and when you felt content and peaceful in the midst of your creative practice.  If it’s been a struggle, let me know. That is why I’m here. Drop into the comments below and let me know.

Take a few moments to contemplate how you can make your creative practice a part of a self-care routine for yourself – how you can adapt it to become a part of your creative therapy practice!

Join me LIVE on my Facebook page, Virginia Leigh Studio, at 3:00 pm Central every Wednesday and we’ll chat about this. I’d love to hear from you.

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If you don’t have a creative ritual yet, grab my FREE “DIY Creative Ritual Kit” HERE. It’s a fun and engaging guide to building your own rituals, full of ideas, activities, and examples to help you find that perfect creative prep-step!