Expressive Art Therapy Journal Exercises
I offer you an ongoing list of therapeutic art activities that I have developed and written to encourage honest self-expression, the exploration of difficult emotions, and the discovery of the subconscious and unconscious mind. Click on the links below for the full description of each directive.
1. Write Your Pain a Letter - In your art journal invite your "pain" to write you a letter. If you are having trouble finding a voice for your pain you might first want to personify it with an image or a collage. Take some time to center into your pain and ask it to help you choose your images.
2. Collage Your Values - Defining our values helps us make conscious choices and determines the intensity and flow of our psychological energies. If we do not define our highest values we will be caught living from our habitual conditioned thinking and emotional patterns.
3. Collage Your Appreciation - Our everyday mind constantly demands that life make us happy in this way and that. This dissatisfaction is the place from where all of our unecessary doing comes from. From this place of demands we create false ideas about what would make us happy - and all the seemingly necessary tasks to go along with those false needs.
4. Draw and Collage Your Inner Critic - Underneath the critic's voice is a fear of feeling shame and of feeling not good enough. Our entire society is based on perfectionism, on having the right things, on looking good. To give ourselves the permission to be human and to know we are doing our best given our current emotional circumstances and life situation helps our inner critic to relax.
5. Moving Through Stuck Feelings with Journaling - On any given day we are all likely to have half a dozen problems that keep us stuck inside. Ask yourself. "What is bugging me?" Why don't I feel wonderful right now?" "How is my life going?" "What is the main thing for me right now?"
6. Journal Meditation for Increasing Self-Love - When we do not have the feeling tone of self-love within we are forever looking on the outside of ourselves for love.
7. Collage Your Emotional Setpoint - It is challenging but possible to change our emotional set point. We all have varying degrees of happiness, self-love and self-regard that our "normal". Our "normal" is usually similar to the emotional climate that we grew up in.
8. Dialogue Ballon Collage - Consider that we intuitively choose characters that represent different parts of our psyche. For instance we have many inner children, teen, and adult parts of our psyche that represent where we have frozen emotions and non-integrated life experiences.
9. Journal Your Blocks to Success - It common to try really hard and not be successful with our efforts. We can often feel like we are on a treadmill that is getting no results. To be successful in any area you need to want with all of your heart.
10. Gestural Pastel - When you are finished your gestural pastel drawing, meditate on it for five minutes. Allow yourself to free associate and allow subconscious feelings and memories to arise as you gaze at your drawing with soft eyes.
11. Found Poetry Collage - It is intriguing to use old books for collage. I often buy old art and nature books and old novels in libraries and thrift shops. I even search new books stores for bargain picture books to cut up.
12. Collage Who You Admire - Often we have positive qualities hidden within that are longing to emerge into our life. When we disown our heightened possibilities we most often find them in our intense admiration of other people. It is interesting to find an image of someone you admire and contemplate why.
13. Word Collage - It is often quite revealing to randomly choose words and phrases to spontaneously collage. Prepare a free-form colored background for your word collage, using pastels or watercolor paint.
14. Expressive Pastel - When I was in my thirties, I started teaching expressive art groups to seniors. I was gifted with a true artist in my class. She was in her early 90's and her name was Tru! She had dementia and she had forgotten that she was an artist. Yet when I gave her a box of fresh pastels and an inspiring still life to look at she would begin to draw furiously and passionately.
15.Collage a Mandala - Because mandalas are a contemplative form of making art you can ask yourself a question about something that you want to know about your life. A good question to ask before beginning is, "What do I most need in my life right now?"
16. Intuitive Doodling - Doodling can be taken to an eloquent level of personal expression and is a good activity to do when you feel emotions that you cannot put words to. Sometimes drawn symbols can express and encompass a feeling more completely than thoughts.
17. Expressive Self-Portrait - It is intriguing to create an expressive self-portrait that focuses more on your inner state than your outer appearance. This expressive art exercise is good when you feel like one stage of your life is ending and you do not yet know where you are going. Reflect on the question. "Who am I right now?" Or you might ask, "Who am I becoming?"
18. Intuitive Watercolor - The medium of watercolor is spontaneous by nature and is well suited for intuitive painting. Watercolour behaves in an fresh and translucent way that is different than other paint mediums that can be changed or painted over. Watercolor - by the nature of the medium is a practice in allowing what needs to happen - happen.
19. Collage Your Stillness - It is so challenging to be still, and yet a quiet mind is essential to any kind of real creative growth. There is a loud frantic quality to our busy minds that masks the subtlety of the information that wants to come through. Spending time in silence is a deeply creative thing to do as it allows wholeness to speak instead of just our fragmented mental chatter.
20. Fabric Assemblage - It is rare that we take the time to spend a few quiet hours to simply play with color, pattern and texture with no pre-designed end product in mind. Focusing on a simple spontaneous assemblage can invite a relaxed awareness on the simple tasks of arranging intuitive compostions, working with color, juxtaposing textures, playing with interesting objects, and sewing with a needle and thread.
21. Paint a Tree Spontaneously - A blank page can be daunting for most people. Often at the beginning of a class, I will offer a starting point. You could start with a simple shape such as circle, or sense within for a figurative image that wants to be painted. If nothing arises from your imagination, intuitively painting a tree can be a good place to begin.
22. Warm Up: Paint Spontaneous Circles - If you have forgotten how to paint spontaneously, start with simple shapes, such as circles or squares. Concentrate on color, gesture and line and allow yourself to practice painting in a loose, free way. Expressive art is an exercise in becoming fully ourselves. Even a simple painting can express individuality, feeling, and self-empowerment.
23. Resolving Fear Through Collage - Fear embeds itself into our body musculature. Wherever there is a body blockage - there is stored fear and a defensive strategy against love, growth and new information. You can meditate into the tight and constricted parts of your body with collage, and choose images that reflect your fearful places.
24. Spontaneous Painting - Every human being has the deep urge to express themselves honestly but we are not often encouraged to be our most unique selves. Spontaneous painting requires no special talent, skill or inspiration. Because your natural, original style is already within, you are already good enough to begin.
25. Explore Painting Simple Abstract Shapes - Sometimes less is more, and simple abstract shapes can express the purity of a singular feeling that can get confused in a more detailed painting.
26. Collage Together Past Paintings and Drawings - You can start to keep a stack of drawings and paintings that have not quite hit the truth of you. If there is even one element in your work that feels strong, save your paintings and drawings and cut out what feels intuitively eloquent of what you need to express.
27. Fine Art Collage - Art magazines offer a rich resource of soulful and surprising subject matter for collage. Fine art imagery inherently invites us to stretch the limits of our imagination.
28. Draw Your Essence - To take the time to focus in on what our unique spiritual strength feels like can be something that we reflexively avoid. All to often we can drown in feelings of lack, emotional need and loneliness. When we meditate on what our spiritual strength feels like, we can practice making our soul strength larger than our problems.
29. Meditate on Color - Intuitively feeling what colors you are drawn to is the first step towards creating a spontaneous painting. Sometimes simply and intuitively choosing colors is a relaxing and emotional releasing exercise in itself.
30. Collage Cards for Self-Discovery - We each have a treasure trove of sub-personalities that live below our conscious awareness. Each personality part has its own goals and dreams for our happiness.This often sets up inner conflicts within and we can preoccupy our time with inner struggle between opposing parts of self. It is helpful to map out our inner world, so that we can start to recognize what aspects of our psyche are dominating our awareness at any given moment.
31. Spontaneous Watercolor Drops - Watercolor is a free flowing medium that is fun to splash around in. Painting watercolor drops is a practice of not forcing anything to happen with your creativity.
32. Wet on Wet Freeform Watercolor - Our minds cannot really think about color. We can only feel color. Color is prior to the birth of imagery. In color we can steep in the mystery of our feelings. And in spontaneous creativity, as in feeling, we must learn to surrender control.
33. Mandala Coloring Therapy - Coloring pre-drawn mandala patterns can be surprisingly soothing especially during times of emotional distress. Psychotherapist Rudiger Dahlke - the "father" of the the mandala coloring epidemic - found that working within a predetermined framework promoted a sense of peace and inner order.
34. Explore Feelings Through Intuitive Painting - Many intense feelings cannot be put into words, yet painting into the unknown of ourselves opens up new possibilities of understanding what underlying feelings drive us to think and act the way we do. As we "live into" and express an unknown feeling, something new and creatively fresh will come into our awareness. We will feel different, more real. We will remember and recover who we were before we became emotionally stuck.
35. Visual Journaling - We can all make signs, symbols, and marks on paper that express our inner feeling states. In fact with visual journaling - the simpler the better.
36. Active Imagination Journaling - Usually, if we wait in stillness long enough, an inner image will want to come forward and want to speak to us. This happens when we sleep and dream at night but it is possible to access our dream imagery during our journaling process while we are awake.
37. Draw and Journal Your Anger - Anger holds tremendous energy. The aim in processing anger is not to get rid of anger but to get our emotionally stagnant energy moving in order to see what we are not looking at within ourselves.
38. Color Body Mapping - We think we are our thoughts, but our body does not think. It knows who we really are. The discrepancy between the thoughts that fuel our social mask, and the feelings that are our bodily truth, create pain, soreness, extra weight, and illness in our body. Our body does not lie. It is incapable of being inauthentic.
39. Body Stories with Collage - Our bodies are a living metaphor of what we feel and think on subconscious and unconscious levels. Our bodies hold many stories, dreams, memories and purposes. Using collage to tell the story of our body, either in part or in whole, reveals what is hidden from our everyday thinking.
40. Painting with Music - In our ordinary workaday selves we may long for something to take us into our creative passion. Moving from mundane states of consciousness of dissipation, boredom and negativity into inspiration and creative expansion sometimes requires music.
41. Meditative Writing for Self-Reflection - When we self-express without deeper reflection, we release our emotional accumulations without understanding them. Methods such as free-form automatic writing and Artist's Way morning pages support an emotional release or a "brain drain" but unless we examine the deeper meaning of our thoughts and feelings, we will continue to repeat the same patterns of self-expression without knowing why.
42. Scribble Drawing - Florence Cane - the developer of the scribble drawing - was influenced by the metaphysical teacher George Gurdjieff, who coined the world “essence” as a term for the intrinsic, unchanging authentic soul within each person. Cane used drawing and painting to help people find their essence. She felt that spontaneous art could take people beyond their “driven”, compensatory, and conditioned behaviors.
43.Healing Grief through Art and Journaling Therapy - When our unfinished grief is running our consciousness, we are seeing through the eyes of the age that we were when we stopped up our emotional release. We cannot heal grief when we are inside of the defensive emotional patterning of the child, teen, or young adult that stores and avoids our grief.
44. Map of Consciousness Collage - It is possible to explore our personality dynamics by mapping them out visually with spontaneous collage and drawing. More often than not, in a single day, we can feel conflicted in our consciousness in several different ways.
45. Healing Traumatic Memories with Embodied Writing - We all have a protective, survival self that protects us from emotionally charged memories which may include fear, loneliness, overwhelm, powerlessness, lack of hope and perspective, fury, shame, disgust, or guilt.
46. Portal into Possibilities with Collage - As we heal our lives emotionally and psychologically, we progressively clear the way to connect to the realm of larger possibilities. These possibilities and potentialities are actually around us all of the time, but we can easily disassociate from seeing them clearly if we are struggling with emotional flooding, and the jumbled up thinking that results from inner psychological conflict.
47. Transforming Your Inner Brat - Every separate and split-off part of our mind has creative gifts and strengths that can be tempered and included in relationship with others. Our inner brat for example, knows what we want, and finds the drive to go and get it. Being defiant, it is often willing to deviate from the norm. It is creative, and even innovative about getting its needs met. The inner brat is young in spirit, sassy, and willing to say what it wants with great irreverence.
48. Free Association Pastel Drawings - Free association helps to surprise us out of our familiar preference for maintaining the status quo. Freud wrote, "Where there is a creative mind - reason - so it seems to me - relaxes its watch upon the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell."
49. Intuitive Zendoodle - Intense concentration can invoke the deep pleasure of a still and integrated mind, where all conflicts, worries, and inner struggles disappear for time. Zendoodling could be considered a form of concentration meditation akin to formal sitting meditation in the Zen Buddhist tradition.
50. Unburdening the Past with Expressive Art Therapy - Our entire psychology is built on defending away from emotional pain. So it could be said that our fundamental core conflict is to whether or not we will choose to feel what is difficult within and transform it.
51. Journal Process for Healing "Inner Demons"- We treat what is uncomfortable within as the enemy to be kept at bay at all costs, but what if we befriended our shadow parts of self?
52. Journaling Through Emotional Overwhelm - Stream of Consciousness Wr... - When we practice stream of consciousness writing, our present moment awareness can expand our contracted emotional field. We can gather the strength that is only available through present moment attention to bodily sensation. We can do this writing exercise to give our tumultuous emotions and mental states a break.
53. Exploring Mixed Feelings Through Embodied Storytelling - Because our psyche functions in pairs of opposites, it is no surprise that we tend to get caught in inner conflict and polarization much of the time. When we have mixed feelings we become stuck and exhausted. We cannot move forward. The purpose of not picking sides during an inner conflict is to see what new creative solutions arise by sitting in the middle and listening to both sides equally.
54. A Journal Process for Healing Negative Core Beliefs - In essence, all of the negative voices that plague us are resisted experiences. Negative core beliefs gain their foothold through our resistance of them. When we internalize negative suggestions or interpret events negatively as children, we spend our life energy constantly working against them.
55. Understanding Physical Illness - Journaling with Your Non-Dominant ... - Dialoguing with both hands, over time, deepens our understanding of the thought and emotional systems of younger parts of self which are influencing our direction away from good health.
56. An Emotional Approach to Healing Illness - A Painting and Journalin... - There is an emotional component that accompanies every illness that can be listened to and learned from. Transpersonally speaking, the separate self uses illness to express problems, and to identify itself as a separate self that suffers from emotional wounds that have not healed yet.
57. Create a Mandala for Healing - We can approach the mandala making process as a way to activate the latent healing powers of our mind to generate symbols for healing. As we allow our inner symbols of healing to emerge from our unconscious mind into tangible form we strengthen our will to heal.
58. Create and Intention Journal - Deliberately creating ourselves forward into more inspiring ways of being is to create something wholly new and fresh, and different from the past. The movement away from entrenched, self-defeating and repeating habits from the past requires determined practice to create new affirming mental and emotional habits.
59. How to Create an Altered Book - Altered books can be used to work through long standing emotional issues, to change unhelpful psychological patterns of belief, to find and cultivate a new strengths, or to process and accurately remember the past. Altered books can be joyfully made to help climb out of depressive cycles and to cultivate inspiration.
60. Processing Trauma Through Altered Book Making - When we are emotionally flooded or emotionally blocked, we hold our body trauma patterns in place by subconscious beliefs. Our body, emotions and beliefs form an interlocking "trauma pattern" that unconsciously repeats through our life, unless it can be consciously interrupted and recreated into more life-affiming patterns of living.
61. The Art of Setting Boundaries - A Painting Journal Meditation - Often we will feel guilty when we begin to set boundaries to protect our energy and time. During the process of learning to set boundaries it helpful to understand that the true aim of giving is to support emotional and psychological learning and growth, not ego stagnancy - in ourselves and others.
62. Healing Grief and Loss with Expressive Drawing - When grief cycles and does not seem to be healing, we can come to understand that there is an unmet need or an unhelpful belief that is feeding the grief. Expressing emotion through expressive drawing can help to cathart the feelings of loss and grief, but it does it not always heal the beliefs that feed into extended grief.
63. Exploring Age-Regression - An Integrative Journaling Exercise - Most of us experience age-regression on a fairly regular basis, especially when we are feeling stressed or vulnerable within our life circumstances. In order to not integrate - to resist - a traumatic experience, the child self freezes the body by tightening the muscles and holding the breath in a particular way to avoid feeling a difficult emotion.
64. Create a Calming Collage - Self-Soothing for Emotional Overwhelm - During therapy, or if you are processing heavy emotions on your own, it is often helpful to have self-soothing tools to calm, regulate and slow down the overwhelm of arising emotions.
65. Body Focusing Journal for Processing Difficult Feelings - Over a period of daily journaling from the body, knowings piece together into a larger whole. Daily fragments form larger meanings, and what was once difficult to own and assimilate is reclaimed and included into a fuller sense of self.
66. How to Create an Experimental Art Journal - Art journaling invites and nurtures new awareness by playing with odd combinations of words, metaphors and imagery to allow contact with something new and fresh inside. By playing creatively in your art journal, without judging or evaluating what emerges, new information infuses old repeating patterns with fresh new life and possibilities.
67. Healing Trauma - Art Journaling for Therapy - The aim of processing memory through art journaling is not to revisit a traumatic emotions over and over again, but to recognize where we have stopped living forward, and clear what is blocked.
68. Restoring Passion Through Gestalt and Expressive Movement - We do not need to go into memory to heal the past. Any part of our mind or emotional body that is still hurting and stuck in the past will always be available to express itself in the present moment.
69. Art Therapy for Anxiety, Panic and Post Traumatic Stress - If you did not receive the love and support you needed when you experienced trauma, you can give yourself loving support now. We can give ourselves the love and presence that others in the past could not offer.
70. Exposure Journaling Therapy to Reduce Fear and Anxiety - While avoidance tactics might provide a brief respite from anxiety, prolonged exposure therapy is a kind of "fear toleration" or "fear presence" practice that delves past anxiety avoidance patterns so that fear can be faced and overcome.
71. Understanding the Transpersonal Therapy Process - The process of inner psychological, emotional and spiritual work is to unblock defenses, move the stuck energy in our body to create healthy flow, and transform negative, distorted beliefs and emotions back into the Core Authentic Self.
72. Meditation and Creativity for Obsessive Compulsive Tendencies - Whenever we have mild or extremely exacting fixating tendencies we can use the gift of such a meticulous mind to concentrate on the positive practice of concentrated breathing and mind training to increase inner peace and emotional healing.
73. Healing Perfectionism and Self-Rejection - Understanding Your Ideal... - Because our mask is inauthentic, we experience continual rejection. People often avoid inauthenticity, and so this starts the struggle for perfection to create an even more infallible mask, so that the emotional pain of rejection can be avoided.
74. Physical Repetition to Calm Anxiety - Any emotional memory that is difficult to look at will have intense anxiety "sitting on top" of it. When discomforting emotions arise, and they feel too difficult to be present for, it is often essential to "work them" through the body first.
75. Spontaneous Collage Scrap Journal - Collages that take very little thought, time or effort can inadvertantly evoke an unknown feeling, a new idea, or a fresh longing. Leftover collage scraps - colorful papers, magazine clippings, rubbings, words, old drawings and paintings - can be created into quick, experimental collages.
76. Freedom From Shame - A Journal Process - As children, we innocently think that everyone else has a perfect family and ideal home conditions but ourselves. Shame arises when we believe that our challenging situation is unique, and that our entire thought and emotional process has to be hidden away from others.
77. What is Your Core Wound? - When we act from our core pain it is possible to feel our energy extending forward out of our center in a compensatory way that feels anxious, draining and overly effortful.
78. Practicing Spontaneity - 100 Faces Journal Project - It seems strange that we would have to "practice" being spontaneous but most of us were encultured early on to become rigid about about art-making. Most of us were bound by rules about what "good art" is beginning in elementary school.
79. Intuitive Found Poetry - Embracing the paradoxes that arise out of spontaneous poetry can open your mind to intuition and new possibilities for growth. Poetry relies on non-linear logic.
80. Expressing Your Vulnerable Inner Child - Many people believe, "I will not suffer if do not allow myself to feel." Yet, allowing our feelings to come to the surface enables them to grow up and mature.
81. Healing Negative Intentions - Because our hidden negativity lives in our unconscious mind, it can easily thwart our good intentions despite our best conscious efforts to improve and progress.
82. Healing Sexual Distortions - One of the best ways to understand our unconscious mind and our lower self is to take a deep look at our sexual behavior and our sexual fantasies.
83. Cultivating Unselfconsciousness Through Zen Painting - Unselfconsciusness is a state of psychological and emotional integration. To achieve integration through art, we can paint until we are no longer thinking. We can make brushstrokes until our brush seems to paint all by itself.
84. Practicing Forgiveness With Ho’oponopono - Ho'opononono is a Hawaiian spiritual healing method that focuses on internal healing by taking full responsibility for our outer problems with other people. It is especially helpful to use when forgiveness and reconciliation with another person seems impossible on an outer interpersonal level.
85. Learning the Language of Your Unconscious Mind - Our unconscious mind stores and hides away everything what we reject about ourselves. When we bring every split-off, lost, and unloved piece of ourselves back into the home of our accepting heart, our strength and vitality returns, and we experience a genuine inner peace that is free of enforced positivity.
86. Understanding Your Defense Mechanisms - It almost goes without saying that our defense mechanisms prevent us from progressing in our psychological and emotional healing work. We all have our own particular architecture of defense that keeps uncomfortable thoughts and feelings at bay.
87. Writing Healing Stories - Through our words and by "re- membering" our life, we gather together our disjointed, alienated, and separated part of self, and begin to re-value what has been hidden and disdained.
88. Develop Heart Awareness by Writing Your Life Review - We are always either withdrawing our energy from life in defense and hurt or extending outwardly in some kind of loving gesture. When we are withdrawing our energy, we are trying to stay within the familiarity of our comfort zone, and within our personal limits of loving.
89. Integrating Your Shadow - Psychologist Carl Jung describes the shadow as all the things inside of ourselves that we do not accept, do not like about ourselves, or do not wish to look at.
90. Resolving Childhood Emotional Needs - Often, without even knowing it, we attempt to get other to act in ways to meet our emotional needs that were not met in childhood.