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Healing and Wellness through Visual Art Journaling

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Over the last two years, amidst the upheaval around the world and events in my own life, I came to the realization that I needed to take care of my mental health and I couldn't do it alone. As much as the outside world has transitioned to advocate for mental health awareness in recent years, many people on a mental health wellness journey still experience the stigma of rejection, feeling like the lone freak, and feel that it's due to personal or professional failure when faced with needing help. That is a distorted view quickly remedied when we DO reach out for that hand to save us from the drowning waters.

This is my story, this is my journey.

I needed to reach out for help last October 2022, and I did. My wellness care team comprised of a mix of professional and personal relationships. My world had become so small that it was necessary that I connect with others if I wanted to recover a sense of purpose and peace in my life. I had to "get real" with God as well. I needed to humble myself enough to see the bigger picture; that we can't heal ourselves on our own. God places us in a community for a reason and provides the right resources outside ourselves in order to move towards healing and wholeness. Oftentimes, it takes a caring person whom we know that can read the signs, and between the lines, to point this out to us. We don't live in isolated pods cut off from one another.

The healing process was slow going at first and downright scary! I felt so alone. So closed off from those around me and the "me" I once knew, that it was like I had disappeared even though I was physically taking up space. However, my care team was there every step of the way to reorient my stinking thinking. I came to learn that our default of negative self-depreciation and worldview are not our identity, and my journey to wellness required a slow progressive rewiring of my brain.

Artistic creative expression has always been my "go-to" way of processing aspects of my life. Though at the beginning of my healing journey, my body and mind rebelled against my love of art making. Despite this, I had taken an interest in junk journaling over the last few years. Junk journaling is placing found 2D and 3D objects, photos, stickers, labels, patterned paper, to name just a few examples, in a blank journal-type book, either handmade or purchased in a shop. I thought I would try to accompany the professional and personal modes of recovery by creating a junk journal, or several. My reasoning was to document my journey in images and words.

My first attempt was difficult to execute. One day I set up some art materials so my mom could paint a Christmas present she bought for a family member, so with all my willpower, I just sat down at the same time and made myself create the front cover of my junk journal. It was like getting your teeth drilled into while sitting in the dentist chair and trying to speak with half your face frozen from the anesthetic and all these appliances in your mouth to keep it open and dry. Side note: I had tooth pain for many months coinciding with my mental wellness journey, and the dentist was determined to get to the root of the problem with as minimal invasive measures as possible. Thankfully she fixed the issue, and therefore, helped me move that extra step in my mental healing. Sorry, I digress.

I needed motivation and momentum to push me from the front cover of the junk journal, onward, so I decided to search for creative videos online as inspiration. That was when my mind exploded. In a good way this time! Social media and the online world had turned me totally off, as it was a big contributing factor in my mental downward spiral as I was trying to keep up with all the advertising of my former sewing and weaving business products, amidst all the "Bad News Bears" sites I was trying to keep up with. So, this step to get back online in a healthy detached way was a step forward for me. Anyway, not only did I discover more about junk journaling, but I came across the concept of Visual Art Journaling.

My initial response to visual art journaling was a bit hesitant, as it reminded me of art class in grade school where we were told what to sketch in it. As a result, I never really got into using it much after school like the cool artists you see in parks wearing hipster clothes and sipping hot tea in a metal tumbler.

Visual art journaling is all about experimenting with different art materials in some visual way in any kind of book, lined or blank. Some people use published books and alter the book in the same way by using the pre-existing text and photos as a springboard for their creative ideas. Either way, it's processing life through visual expression by refraining from the focus on what you are seeing in front of you with your eyes, and putting into form your own thoughts and emotions using the materials you wish to experiment with. It is a free-flowing process of art making. When I began the process, my artistic movements were rigid and stiff. As a dear artist mentor and friend of mine once told me, it was painful to watch me do art as I was so concerned with perfection and detail. Don't worry, it was not an insult! I laughed so hard, the statement was so funny coming out of her mouth. She was the one that helped me to stop depending on the paintbrush. I was initially horrified when we were told we weren't going to use paint brushes at our next Art Group session. Yikes! Once again, I digress.

Back to the story. I decided to transition to creating a visual art journal when I found that junk journaling was stifling my need to let go and break free from my rather square mental state. I went online again and researched various techniques to experiment with my art materials. To name a few, I use acrylic paint, sponges, my fingers to smear paint, stencils, paint pens, scratching, palette knife/used gift card, dots, lines, squiggles, swirls, paint pens, smudges, magazine photos, etc. Slowly the intellectual side of me gave way to free-flowing brain spills of thoughts and emotions. The results were amazing to me!

As I progressed in my wellness journey I discovered that visual art journaling was the perfect method to accent the professional and personal support I was receiving. It became a regular practice for my imagination to heal my broken and buried creativity. The amazing thing about visual art journaling is that you can review your whole book, or several, within a reasonable amount of time rather than sitting for hours reading old written journal entries. And like myself, I rarely reread past written journal entries unless I need to reference a detail even though I write in a journal as well as engage in art making.

The visual art journal provides the creator and the audience you may wish to share with, a tangible way to process life that engages more than one human sense. Depending on the media and materials you use in your artwork, the completed page spread may contain various textures to feel, colours, shapes, words to read, and even a scent such as leather, oil pastel, subtle acrylic paint undertones, or smelly stickers. One of my journal pages contains an upcycled resealable package that makes a crinkle sound when I open it to view the little items of meaning inside. This peeks the ear to notice by the sense of hearing, begging the question, did this carry a hidden message for me in my life? Those aspects of your work reveal what you may have been feeling or thinking at the time of art making.

Viewing each visual art journal page at different points along my wellness journey has enabled me to recognize how far I've come and to understand where I would like to be. As I approached the ongoing recovery side of my mental wellness journey, the act of visual art journal making has become a method of processing everyday life events and routine. This action helps me to create a tangible message that I have meaning and purpose to my life. As racing thoughts swirl 'round and 'round in our heads, the Arrival of the Third - to reference a concept within the Expressive Arts field - provides shape and form to our thoughts and emotions, an extension of the "self" through the "art making process". The thoughts within are grasped by our physical body within the art making process, revealing a product to be experienced by the senses.

This all sounds deep and complex to comprehend, but in reality, it is rather simple. The melody forms in the musician's mind. He sees and hears its shape by experimenting on a material instrument and writing out the notes and expressions on paper or music software program. The third arrives, the musical score, on both paper and audio recording. From this Third, arrives healing and hope. The Arrival of the Third is a spiritual experience for me.

This journey to wellness is ongoing for me, as it is for all people experiencing some form of loss, grief, disappointment, setback, illness, natural disaster, or shocking news. Artistic expression plays a large part in this ebb and flow of progressive healing. Currently I am furthering my creative play through my imagination in new ways on top of visual art journaling. But that revelation I will save for another day to write about.

God bless you abundantly.

Please view more of my visual art journal works by clicking here: Projects Page

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