Category Archives: art as therapy

A Copy Is Never As Good As The Original

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I have the honor and  privilege of teaching a class called “Creative Expressions” to residents at a local retirement home. I say honor and privilege because every time I teach, I always learn and receive so much more than I give. This week I witnessed how incredibly beautiful and important each person’s unique expression is.

When I arrived. I was greeted by six ladies sitting and ready to paint.  After handing out their watercolor sets and paper, I drew a large circle in the middle of their papers. I encouraged them to begin making shapes with color on their papers inside the circle. About half of them began painting without any further instructions. Another half said, “What do you want us to paint?” I told them to paint anything they liked because it was their painting. For some, this was a risky thing. If they didn’t have anything to copy or look at, how would they know they were doing it correctly?  “When I’ve painted before, I’ve always copied something,” said one of the ladies. I told her she was  going to paint something original, something unique from her imagination. She wasn’t sure she could do this but gave it a try. She was glad she did. Each new color and shape, gave way to the next shape. Once she started, she entered that creative zone where it was easy to focus and relax.

One woman just came to observe. I encouraged her to paint and give it a try. She told me she had never painted before. I told her that it was never to late to start. After watching the other women enjoy themselves, she changed her mind and decided to paint. She began by filling the bottom part of her circle with red marks until it filled about a third of the circle. She had to steady her hand with her other hand since she didn’t have much strength. Then she started adding shapes that looked like fruit on top of the red half moon. She completed her painting with a bow at the top of her basket of fruit. I took a picture of it and showed it to her in my iphone. She giggled with joy when she saw it. I told her how beautiful it was and that she was most definitely an artist. She smiled. As I was assisting other women, I heard her say to the woman next to her that Grandma Moses didn’t start painting till she was 80. “She just painted from her heart”, she said. I smiled and told them that all of them had been like Grandma Moses and painted what was in their hearts today. Each one said they had enjoyed painting and wanted to paint again next time. Their art was evidence that they could create something beautiful, something unique and something that gave them great pleasure. It inspired them to continue to create and even be like Grandma Moses who painted amazing paintings despite the fact she had no formal training. When we are asked to create something without copying something else, we tend to create something that originates from inside our hearts. A copy is never as good as the original.

"I've never painted before."

“I’ve never painted before.”

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Deborah Nell is a full-time artist and paints primarily on Yupo paper with acrylic ink, acrylic paint and gouache. You can see her artwork on her etsty store at http://www.etsy.com/shop/expressivepaintings

Refusing to Believe

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How important is faith and belief? Does it really matter what we believe? This week when I taught a Creative Expression class to some elderly women in a retirement community, I was amazed how a woman’s belief could override the facts that were so clearly set before her. Let me explain. I began the class by talking about Beautiful Places. Those beautiful places could be a literal place or a place in time that was beautiful to that person. A woman, let’s just call her Sandy, told me about a time in her life that was “beautiful” She was young and had many pets. Some of those pets were dogs, cats, rabbits, ducks and even a pet chicken that lived in the house. She became very animated as she spoke about her chicken. I listened intently and then asked if she would like to draw a picture about that time in her life. She agreed. I had several magazine pictures with me. One of them was a dog and she agreed to attempt to draw the dog.

As she started drawing she told me how she could not draw and that she really didn’t know what she was doing. I encouraged her as she started making marks on her page. I gave her suggestions about where the marks might go, but she made 99% of the marks on her page. I enthusiastically encouraged her to continue as she wanted to stop several times. She continued to tell me how terrible the drawing was and how she could not draw. I continued to tell her that she was doing a wonderful job and that it was becoming a beautiful drawing of a dog. When she finished she looked at the picture and said, “Oh that is not very good at all!” Despite the fact that this drawing was charming and delightful, she was unable to “see” that reality. Her belief that she could not draw overruled the physical reality of the fact that she had just drawn a beautiful picture. It wasn’t until I took a picture of her drawing on my iphone and then showed it to her that she could look at her drawing with new eyes. “Oh, that is pretty good!”, she said. In the iphone monitor she did not associate the drawing as hers, it was now on my iphone and she could objectively see the beauty in it.

Perspective is everything. This woman had been told all her life that she could not draw. She believed that lie, because it was obvious that she could certainly draw. Her perspective changed when she saw the drawing in a new context. What beliefs do we have that are flawed and not based in reality? How much joy was being robbed from her due to that negative belief? Even as she drew the dog, she could not enter into the joy of the process as she kept repeating the lie… “I cannot draw”. Are there lies you are believing about yourself that are keeping you from seeing the truth about who you are and what you are capable of? Have people you trust told you how wonderful you are and then you tell them, no I’m not wonderful, I’m not beautiful, I’m not good enough?

Perhaps you need to think about changing that belief. Do you want to continue to believe a lie about who you are and what you are capable of becoming? Be willing to challenge your beliefs. Be willing to seek out the truth about who you are and why you are here. You were uniquely formed and made in your mother’s womb. God knew you before you were born and has a plan for your life. Get to know the One who made you. Get to know His son Jesus who was sent to save you. He knows you and loves you like no other and He welcomes you with open arms. Don’t let unbelief keep you from receiving His redeeming love for you.Image

You can see my artwork at my etsy store at http://www.etsy.com/shop/expressivepaintings

The Amazing Watercolor Paintbrush

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One of the women expressing herself through painting.

One of the women expressing herself through painting.

I had heard about how the imagination is the last part of the brain to die. Today I saw with my own eyes the miracle of that truth. I held a Creative Expression Class for three elderly women in a retirement home this morning. They could hardly talk or hear and were wheelchair bound. Two of them kept falling asleep in their chairs. I placed a paper in front of them and asked them to choose the watercolors they wanted to use in their paintings. That’s when they woke up and pointed to the various colored watercolor tubes. I squeezed them out onto their paper plates. I drew a large circle on their papers and told them they could paint whatever they wanted inside the circle. Once they chose the color they wanted to start with, I prepared a paint-filled paintbrush for them.
I was not prepared for what followed. Once I placed the paintbrush in their hand, they came to life. They scooted closer to their paper and began applying the paint to the paper. For about 25 minutes they were focused and alert… they were painting. They decided where to put the paint, what colors to use and they created a painting.
Something clicked for them as they felt that paintbrush in their hands. That creative part of their brain turned on and they utilized their imagination.
Being creative is natural to all of us because we are made in God’s image and He is The Creator. It’s in our DNA to be creative. But this morning I saw that reality unfold before me.
When each woman finished their painting, they sighed and signed their work. Their paintings will be laminated by the staff so they can look at their creations.
I look forward to the next class with them. They may not even remember painting today but when I place that paintbrush in their hand again, the paint will flow once more and their creativity will come alive again. That watercolor brush is truly amazing!

To see some of my paintings go to www.etsy.com/shop/expressivepaintings or

www.deborah-nell.artistwebsites.com

Heart To Heart

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"Through The Years"

“Through The Years”

Today I taught my first class called “Creative Expression” to four senior residents at a local retirement community. Although the class got off to a late start with confusion about the time and if the class was cancelled, four women came to take my class.
I’ve worked before with foster children in expressing their feelings but never with the elderly. I was in for a pleasant surprise. Each woman brought their preconceived idea about what they could draw and what “art” was. When I asked them to draw what the four main emotions: mad, bad, sad and glad looked like to them “Susan” said, “I don’t think I want to do that.” She started pushing back her chair from the table. I told her that it didn’t have to be anything in particular. It could just be a color. She nodded and said, she could do that. As the four women began drawing their images for the four emotions. They began talking about loss and dying and their experience or lack of experience with art. I was intrigued and asked more questions as they slowly and thoughtfully answered. After they finished their drawings, they shared what they had drawn. One woman drew a coffin for “sad” and shared that her sister is very sick and she may be nearing death. Another women talked about her confusion about whether she should stay at the retirement community or leave for “bad”. She said she felt anxiety about this decision. As these women talked I felt like a kid uncovering layers of tissue paper from a present. Each layer revealed a little more of what was inside.
These women were treasures that had amazing stories and a depth of feeling within them. I was just scratching the surface. At the end of the class, they sat there and looked at me. They didn’t want to leave. I didn’t either.
They had shared more than their drawings; they had shared a part of their hearts.
All I did was listen to them. They in turn opened up their hearts.
What a simple gift we can give to one another… the gift of an open ear. In turn we are given the gift of an open heart.
Something to think about as we celebrate Valentines’ Day this Friday.

To see more of my paintings visit my etsy store and website

http://www.etsy.com/shop/expressivepaintings

www.deborah-nell.artistwebsites.com

Breaking the Chains

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"Break Every Chain" 12 x 16 acrylic on canvas

“Break Every Chain” 12 x 16 acrylic on canvas

Last night I painted an acrylic painting on canvas which resonated with many people on facebook. It’s called “Break Every Chain” and you can see it here on this blog.

In this painting I broke the rules of some of my patterns of painting. I normally don’t paint on canvas because I prefer painting on Yupo paper. I don’t normally begin a painting knowing that I will have to stop in 30 minutes. I did so with this painting. Eighty Five Percent of the painting was finished in 30 minutes. This painting surprised me because it has a feel and energy that is literally bursting off the canvas.

I believe that in all of us there is so much more of us than we allow others to see. We are held captive by fear, and judgements that have been made over us and that we have made ourselves. We fear failure, rejection and ridicule. How many times have we told ourselves, “I’ll never do that again!” When we try something new and we feel inadequate we may not want to try it again. It’s safer to feel competent in our world where we know the rules and can function almost without thinking about it. But the price we pay for safety stifles our creativity and freedom.

So what are some of the chains you carry with you? Chains are anything that hold you bound to something or someone. That something can be the way others see you. It may be your past. It may be an addiction or unhealthy relationship. It may be just plain fear.
The first step in breaking free of the chains is to admit that the chains are there. Sometimes that’s the hardest step. Once that step is taken, see if someone has spoken judgement over you as “stupid”, “fat”, “ugly”, “incompetent”. Have you agreed with their judgement? If so, you need to forgive yourself for agreeing with a lie. You also need to forgive the person who hurt you by saying such things or treating you badly. You only hurt yourself if you don’t forgive. That other person is not suffering because you don’t forgive them.

Ultimately true forgiveness comes from the One who took every judgement upon Himself so we would not have to carry that judgement any longer. His gift of forgiveness is free and leads to true freedom. If you have not met Him yet or have forgotten about Him. His name is Jesus and He is in the business of breaking off your chains. “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain… to break every chain.”

www.etsy.com/shop/expressivepaintings

A Picture Says A Thousand Words

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Some concepts cannot adequately be expressed through words alone. Some things are better said with an image or picture. I think that’s why first impressions are so important. It’s a visual image we see and it speaks volumes.

As I’ve been painting a painting a day since January 1st, I’ve found myself digging deeper for subject matter. Images that normally wouldn’t find their way into my work are appearing. Yesterday I painted a painting entitled “Out Of The Shadows”

I’ve been facilitating a bible study/class/support group for victims of domestic abuse for the last three weeks. My eyes are being opened to the reality of a woman’s journey out of a silent suffering that occurs behind closed doors. As I was preparing for the lesson yesterday I painted “Out Of The Shadows” I was deeply feeling the sense of hiddenness that so many women feel when they hide in the shadows of abuse. Many times the hardest thing to do is admit that emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse is taking place. If they admit that this is happening then they will have to admit that their dream of a happy, successful marriage or relationship is nonexistent. But admitting the truth does set one free. And coming out of the shadows does begin the process of freedom from abuse. One of the tools that the abuser uses to keep his victim bound is the tool of silence. If the victim remains silent, the abuser has won and she is the one who continues to suffer.

I am honored to assist these courageous women begin to find their way out of darkness and into the light of truth and love. In the painting, a woman is covered by dark long material. She is breaking out of the silence and away from the identity of a victim. She is coming out into the light. In the background you see her abuser. As she steps forward, he is exposed. This is something he does not want and he turns away from the light.

This painting is symbolic of anyone who is stepping out of any kind of darkness of lies and into the truth. May it give you courage and understanding of the many women who suffer daily from abuse.  God is making a way for women of all backgrounds and faiths to come out of the shadows and get the help they need to find freedom. If you are one of those women I urge you to contact your local YWCA and talk to someone there.  The group I facilitate is Christian based and its founder lives in Oregon. God is moving heaven and earth to make a way for women to find their way out of the shadows and into the light. Let Him help you for He so loves you and He will never leave you. There is nothing, nothing, nothing that can separate you from Him.

www.etsy.com/shop/expressivepaintings

"Out Of The Shadows" Acrylic Ink and Acrylic Paint on Yupo paper

“Out Of The Shadows” Acrylic Ink and Acrylic Paint on Yupo paper

How A Drawing Can Help Heal The Heart of a Child

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When I was a Mental Health Professional working with foster children I relied heavily on my knowledge of art and therapy to coax children to share things that were difficult to talk about. I was always amazed at the amount of trauma that many of these young children endured at such an early age, but I was just as amazed how one drawing could bring joy and evening healing to them.  They were now in a safe place, their foster homes, but they had not healed or talked about their previous trauma. I would meet weekly with these foster children in their foster homes to do therapy. It is difficult to get adults to talk about trauma, let alone a child. So I resorted many times to art as a way to help them express themselves.
On one occasion the 13 year-old boy that I worked with had a bad day at school. He said he was fine, but his body language and tone of voice said otherwise. He agreed to let me draw a pencil portrait of him. I asked him if he wanted to draw me while I drew him. He agreed. As he drew he dug hard and deep with his pencil onto his paper.

He began to loosen up and even smile a little. He was determined to draw me as he saw me. I was a little alarmed when I saw his finished drawing. He drew me as ugly and obviously angry. He wrote “Mrs. Deb releasing anger” on his drawing. By now, he was smiling and laughing and his mood had completely changed. He was then able to tell me about his day at school. He was able to get out his anger by drawing a drawing of me getting MY anger out. He had projected his anger onto me. I marveled at how amazing the process of drawing can assist someone to express something they are not even aware they are feeling. Art can be an open door to our emotions. IMG_2308
Art is a tool that can be used to soothe and heal a heart. How many times do we doodle while in a meeting or a lecture. It keeps us calm and enables us to stay sane.

Perhaps you are feeling sad, or anxious, mad or afraid about something. It may be difficult to talk about it or resolve it. Try drawing what you are feeling. Don’t analyze before you draw, just draw what you are feeling or what comes to mind. Try not to think too much about it. Once you are finished with your drawing you may understand something new about yourself or the situation. In any case, you should feel better just by drawing. It certainly cannot hurt.
There are exercises that one can do to explore and express the world of our emotions. Art used in this way is a tool, not necessarily a work of beauty,(although it can be) but of expression. That expression can bring insight and understanding to our hearts. In future posts I will give other examples and exercises for you to try. IMG_2309

For examples of my art work you can visit my website and etsy store.

www.etsy.com/shop/expressivepaintings

www.deborah-nell.artistwebsites.com