Blog : Insight from Laura

Expressive Arts on the Go

Expressive Arts on the Go

“Without tubes of paint, there would have been no Impressionism.” Pierre-Auguste Renoir

I recently learned that prior to the mid-19th century, painters of outdoor subjects – landscapes and oceans, towns and ships and trees – did so mostly in their studios. After having sketched a quick study of their subject on location, to get certain details down, they would return to their workspaces and start the real process of creating their images. I imagine many of them might have preferred to paint outdoors – en plein air – at least when the weather was beautiful, but painting equipment was so bulky and impractical for travel – unwieldy easels and messy, poorly contained paints – that according to historians, most did not.

That is, until the invention of the French Box Easel, or field easel! The genius behind this portable studio is not known, but these game changers were designed from the beginning with telescoping legs and a built-in palette for paints. They were made light enough for hiking into the forest, up a mountain, or across a rocky coast – as far into the world as one might need to go to find just the right point of inspiration.

And in this briefcase-sized field box one could, by about this time but not before, bring along a nice stash of paint tubes. That’s right, prior to 1841, paints were usually carried around in animal bladders and syringes. So, paint tubes were not only an entirely more attractive form of storage, they were also better for preserving paint for reuse and, most crucially, allowing artists to bring along a greater variety of color. It’s thought that this invention alone gave rise to Impressionism, because it motivated more spontaneous and greater variety of color choices! And with much less wasted paint, they could afford to apply it more thickly!

For me, this intriguing bit of art history rings all the fascination bells.Though not a painter per se, I do in the course of my personal Expressive Arts practice frequently create visual images using various media – pastels, pencils, pens, charcoal, clay, textiles, and yes, on occasion, watercolor and acrylic paints that still come in those convenient little tubes. However, I also like to spend as much free time as I can outdoors. And so when I was first developing my art practice, I often felt conflicted between my desire for lots of art-making time and my desire for lots of outdoor time. Fortunately, my mental lightbulb switched on and I decided to pack myself up something even smaller than a field easel – a simple little go-bag with just pencils, a couple of pens, a small box of oil pastels, and a very small pad of mixed media paper, and head out – to anywhere.

My ultimate desire with any art-making though is for it to be multimodal – combining more than one art medium or modality at a time. Often for me this means doing some movement or dance before I make visual art, or “moving” the image once I’ve made it to bring out the depth of my experience. But, movement practices don’t often seem entirely practical in public spaces – the parks and piers and beaches I frequent don’t feel quite right to me for such vulnerable forms of expression. I have found though, that I can do a little meditating just about anywhere. I don’t even have to close my eyes, or pretzel my legs into lotus position. I can just breathe deep and use this technique for grounding myself in the present moment:

  1. Notice three things I can see around me, at or above eye level
  2. Notice three things I can hear
  3. Notice three things I can feel, physically with my body

A few rounds of this and I find I have come into the here and now, and that’s when I’m ready to move to my art supplies and paper. As always, I allow myself to gravitate towards colors that I feel are calling to me, and gestures and shapes that come naturally and without much thought. It’s this low pressure, unplanned approach to making visual imagery that allows my imagination to take the reins, and steer my mind and my mind’s eye to a place that is normally unexplored – a place of rich nourishment and valuable personal feedback.

Expressive Arts practice for me almost always involves writing in response to visual imagery – and that’s another thing that’s easy to do while I’m out in public. Just a few lines scribbled on the back of my image, starting with “I am,” “I feel,” or I need,” brings me yet more information about where I’m at and what my internal wisdom is offering me.

Finally, Expressive Arts on the go doesn’t need to be limited to plein air practice. I’ve taken my go-bag with me to museums, cafes, hotel rooms. I’ve even collaborated on some imagery with my niece, in my little tiny notebook, in the backseat of a car on the way to a family funeral. Trust me, it made that journey not only more memorable but comforting and enjoyable.

Legendary Expressive Arts co founder and therapist Shaun McNiff has talked about how, early in his career, he was so inundated with required business and staff meetings, that he began doodling and sketching as they were droning on. He found he was actually able to better hear into what coworkers were really saying, and his images gave him more insight into the issues and ideas being discussed.

For me, the insight with this topic is that – in the same way I know now that creative expression is meant for everyone, that every person in the world has unique creative ability – I have learned too that creative expression is meant for everywhere. Our creative selves are meant to be taken out into the world with us and made a larger and more real part of our daily lives. We don’t need to wait for studio time or spare time, because we can find ways, means and the time to make art here, there and – anywhere.

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your leadership creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

expressive arts therapist, laura hensely

Laura Hensley, Counselor, LMHCThrough Expressive Arts therapy and personal practice, I find and make meaning, develop my own personal mythology, and gain confidence and connection to myself and others. I offer this same opportunity to Integrative Counsel clients by way of multimodal creative exploration of your intentions, goals, and heartfelt desires!

Time and Space Part 3 – A Room of One’s Own

Time and Space Part 3 – A Room of One’s Own

Author Virginia Woolf felt so strongly that writers need access to a dedicated physical space – a studio so to speak, from which to fully pursue their creative genius – that she titled her classic 1929 feminist essay just that, “A Room of One’s Own.” In it, she rallies and insists against a history of lost opportunities for women – to the world and to ourselves. Woolf inspires us to imagine not only the literature but all the art that was never engendered, because our need for, and even birthright to a life of personal expression has been left invalidated, certainly at the time by an unsupportive society, and often still by a lack of financial freedom – freedom that would otherwise give us the opportunity to find or make or build one room – just one – to call our own, where no further need or expectation exists than to let our own wheels spin as we cultivate our singular creative vision.

Woolf’s assertions ring true for me. I have for a long time nurtured a daydream of having the domestic largesse to devote one entire room of my house to setting up an art studio/writer’s loft. Or just as well, having the disposable income to rent a studio space, a dedicated and sacrosanct place where expressive practices are my only aim. No competing demands in the form of piles of laundry, dirty dishes, to-do lists or TV. Ideally, this space would have high windows filled with dappled sunlight coming through the oak trees, as well as dusty shelves full of my favorite books, comfy old over-stuffed chairs, and a clean, uncluttered desk. Jo March’s attic in Little Women always comes fully to mind.

But let’s face it, for me right now and probably for many of us, procuring an idyllic art studio space – at home or out in the world – is not a realistic goal. At least at the moment. And Virginia Woolf knew this – knew that affording a literal, physical space would be a practical limitation for many who would otherwise not only relish the opportunity, but make great use of it. Accordingly, she rightly and perhaps even more enthusiastically expounds on the need for a figurative room of one’s own.

And so out of necessity, and with the ardent goal of deepening my Expressive Arts practice, I’ve explored my options for creating consistent, easy access to my own figurative art studio. I’ve asked myself – what is it about this fantasy room of mine that feels so inspiring? On reflection, is it really the room itself? Or is it the contained, relaxed yet focused feeling that I can so easily imagine? Or, perhaps more importantly, is it that in this room I feel I could confidently, unshakingly stake my claim to the territory of myself? That I could relish uninterrupted in the development of my flawed but full identity?

So, along with these questions, I’ve experimented and discovered a few things about my need for a room of my own: my little back porch is a fine place for personal art practice, as long as I’ve lit a candle and turned my ringer off. I enjoy it most when I’ve cleaned and straightened up a bit, but even that’s not necessary. Arranging some simple art supplies beforehand seems to bring a certain sense of hallowed stillness and expectation. Also, I must spend a few quiet moments before I begin, meditating in an informal way and taking some deep breaths. Stretching to relax my body helps too. These are the few activities that bring me all the way into the present moment, and even my porch itself does start to feel transformed, and completely set apart from its typical daily uses. With just a few adjustments, and for a couple of hours, it resembles and functions as my dream studio would, in all the most important ways.

Creative Prompt #1 – Consider what you want a creative room of your own to feel and be like. Spend a few minutes jotting down ideas and quickly drawing some of your favorite features.

Creative Prompt #2 – Make up a grab bag or box of just a few items that can help you quickly and easily transform an area of your home into your temporary studio, including, if possible one favorite feature from prompt #1. Include whatever feels most likely to help you establish a calm, reflective state of mind. The possibilities are endless, but a few ideas are – a favorite rock or knickknack, some seashells, a candle and matches, an inspiring book. I often put on music for mood and atmosphere and pair a small plant or vase of flowers with my objects. Voila! Easy to set up, easy to take down.

Creative Prompt #3 – Spend a few minutes reflecting in writing on what it means to you to have a figural room of your own? How does it help you explore who you are, and go out into the world with more confidence? How might it promote not only your well-being but your personal development and sense of independence?

Creative Prompt #4 – Find community support for building or enhancing your regular art practice – check out Integrative Counsel’s virtual Expressive Arts Groups, first Thursday of every month!

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your leadership creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

expressive arts therapist, laura hensely

Laura Hensley, Counselor, LMHC. Through Expressive Arts therapy and personal practice, I find and make meaning, develop my own personal mythology, and gain confidence and connection to myself and others. I offer this same opportunity to Integrative Counsel clients by way of multimodal creative exploration of your intentions, goals, and heartfelt desires!

Time and Space Part 2: Deepening My Creative Practice During Quarantine

Time and Space Part 2: Deepening My Creative Practice During Quarantine

Who knew that the hustle and bustle most of us knew as a way of life – rushing from one appointment, one activity to another – would suddenly shift to a far less scheduled and necessarily domestic routine? In varying ways and degrees, most of us have been affected by the retreat required by COVID-19, from the world at large to the perimeters of our homes.

About two months in, the sudden shock of quarantine gave way for me to a more subtle sense of slowing down. The shut-down came to signify, among many other things, an opportunity to appreciate time and space in a way I couldn’t have imagined even a few months ago. I’ve been able to watch the changes in daylight as the sun moves across not only the sky, but the rooms of my house. I notice birds more, and the sound of breezes moving and shifting through the oaks and palms outside my house. Days and nights have seemed to stretch out, and not in a bad way. This feeling of open-ended time, with less to do and far fewer places to go, is something I don’t think I’ve experienced since I was a kid. Summer in the 1970s had a languid, long quality, and it was that set-apart kind of time that allowed me to daydream, muse, and freely spin my own internal creative wheels.

Creative Prompt #1: Have schedule changes brought by the shut-down reminded you of another time, when you felt less hurried and had more time to think? If so, jot down a quick description of this memory.

As an adult, I notice these unpressured wheels continue to turn most smoothly when I make enough time for my personal Expressive Arts practice. I find that when, not everyday but often enough, I carve out a couple of hours with even basic art supplies and a simple Expressive Arts process, I’m able to travel to that land of unhurried self-discovery and secret inspiration.

Creative Prompt #2: With a piece of paper and an art medium of your choice, first take a few deep breaths and then while basking in your memory of unhurried time, make a quick visual image.

And so the shut-down, for all its grief and fear, has given me this one silver-lined cloud – of the experience of expanded time. I’m able to connect on a weekly basis with others in virtual Expressive Arts groups and open studios, and also savor these unfettered alone hours of art-making, because they mysteriously, and surprisingly but unfailingly, leave me feeling better connected – to myself, my world, and all the people in it.

Creative Prompt #3 – Take a moment to observe your image and write a few words or lines, starting with the words “I feel…” Consider giving your image a title.

I’m not sure yet how I will, someday soon or later, transition back into a more hectic world. I’m trying to figure out how I want to, how I can without losing what I have come to really like about this slow time. I know for sure though that keeping at least some easy hours in my week will be a priority, and practicing Expressive Arts at home is simply the best way I know how.

 

Creative Prompt #4 – If you’re unsure how you’ll be able to fit an extensive art practice into your schedule, consider finding and spending just 90 minutes per week to create and rejuvenate. Would one all-in session work for you, or 30 minutes three days a week? Or anywhere in between. Great thing is – there’s no right or wrong way to go about making art.

Stay tuned for Part Three of Time and Space for Expression – “A Room of One’s Own – or at least a Nook and Cranny” We’ll discuss how to create a peaceful atmosphere for practicing Expressive Arts in even the smallest abode. Additional Creative Prompts will be included!

To read part one of Time and Space for Expression, click here!

 

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your leadership creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

expressive arts therapist, laura hensely

Laura Hensley, LMHC. Through Expressive Arts therapy and personal practice, I find and make meaning, develop my own personal mythology, and gain confidence and connection to myself and others. I offer this same opportunity to Integrative Counsel clients by way of multimodal creative exploration of your intentions, goals, and heartfelt desires!

Time and Space Part One – “Finding My Way”

Time and Space Part One – “Finding My Way”

By chance, it almost seemed, I found myself in an upstairs room above a bookstore, a converted attic filled with overstuffed chairs and well-worn sofas, comfortably messy and refreshingly informal. Here I was, at my first Expressive Arts group event, a workshop venture I’d stumbled upon while surfing the web for group therapy opportunities. About ten of us had convened and were milling around, getting settled, and introducing ourselves to each other. I didn’t know anyone, but felt strangely at home and among new but like-minded friends.

At the time, I barely knew what Expressive Arts was. I think it was the workshop description that had gotten me – something about meditation and art supplies and self-exploration – and I was sold. I was already in, and though it wasn’t til later that I found out more, so much more, about this curious and dimensional art practice, that day I got my first taste of something deliciously fun and soul-inviting. After a guided meditation, I created a collage of construction paper and magazine clippings, and when instructed to spend some time reflecting on my image through writing, I was surprised how insight into my own personal experiences began to flow like water.

“I am searching far and wide. I feel both constrained and supported by my circumstances. I long for wide-open freedoms of movement.”

Like I said, I was hooked. In the months and years to come, I developed a consistent personal Expressive Arts practice, and learned a great deal more about its fundamental principles, including:

  • It is intermodal, meaning not only do we engage in more than one mode of expression (visual art, sound, movement, drama, meditation, writing) at a time, we combine them in the same sitting. Doing so engages the whole person – body, mind and spirit.
  • Expressive Arts practice is for everyone. Creativity is the birthright of every individual, not the exclusive purview of naturally skilled or trained artists.
  • In a group setting it fosters community, and allows our unique creative expressions to be witnessed and accepted without judgment or critique. In turn, we can offer this to others.

Several years later, I continue to attend both virtual and in-person Expressive Arts groups on a pretty consistent basis, and have even become a facilitator (check out Integrative Counsel’s virtual Expressive Arts Groups, first Thursday of every month!). And my personal home-based practice has turned out to be, for me, like a weekly mini-retreat, relaxing and engaging as well as a way to reflect more deeply on both my past experiences and my way forward (try out a mini Expressive Arts exercise, quick and easy to do at home, in Part Two of Time and Space for Reflection – Deepening My Creative Practice During Quarantine).

 

*Sign Up for our free 9 Essential Ingredients To Court Your Creativity PDF. Learn nine crucial skills you can implement RIGHT NOW to increase your leadership creativity by stepping back into your right brain! Click here to sign up.

expressive arts therapist, laura hensely

Laura Hensley, Counselor, LMHC. Through Expressive Arts therapy and personal practice, I find and make meaning, develop my own personal mythology, and gain confidence and connection to myself and others. I offer this same opportunity to Integrative Counsel clients by way of multimodal creative exploration of your intentions, goals, and heartfelt desires!