Do you have fond memories of painting as a child? Perhaps some may cringe at the thought, but only if you look back through adult eyes! The very act of dipping brush in paint and swirling colors on paper or canvas is liberating. Conversely, sorting through your emotions feels restrictive and confining. But what if you explore your emotions through art?
If you allow your mind to reflect on your painting experiences as a child, you’ll remember the fun. I remember my first experience with paints in kindergarten; finger paints! I loved swirling the paint around on the paper with my hands. Then we graduated to “real” paints with brushes, a whole new way to experiment. And the sheer delight of finding out I could mix the colors to make more colors! It was all fun until I started to “expect” something from my art; then the fun of the process melted into the stress of the end result.
Let’s color outside the lines
I’d like to invite you on a whimsical journey that I promise will not disappoint. And like all good adult activities, it will have a constructive purpose. I teach the two year old class at my church, needless to say we often manage to color a picture in each class. A hardened rebel myself, I can spot a kindred spirit whenever I pass out the papers and crayons. While it’s virtually impossible for a 2 year old to color “inside” the lines due to their under developed fine motor skills, there are those that try. Then there are those that have no idea why the lines are there. Then my favorite group are the ones who know full well society expects them to color inside the lines and they flamboyantly color outside the lines anyway.
Why do we have to color inside the lines? I suppose because it’s expected; your picture won’t look nice if you don’t. As soon as we have to learn to color inside the lines, the whole project becomes about the end result and pleasing people. We are not permitted to use creativity; grass must be green, and the sky blue. And so begins our journey into adulthood and performance mentality. But life is messy; and emotions even messier. You can’t express your emotions by staying inside the lines. It’s time to explore your emotions through art; let’s color outside the lines!
In a previous post, I discussed how to journal your emotions and shared some great worksheets to help you do that. The post is far from exhaustive on the topic, and I write about this often. Emotions are complicated; there is basically six primary emotions that manifest into 48 secondary emotions. Suffice to say, most people struggle to identify their feelings and the thoughts that create them. To gain some level of emotional regulation requires work and that’s where the worksheets come in.
However, sometimes things are so clogged up inside, we just need to get things out in the open to see what we’re dealing with and make some space. When working with individuals on grief processing, I remind them in order to move forward we have to “get what’s inside, outside.” We get the emotions out in the open so we can see what’s really there. This works for all emotions not just grief. Art therapy is extremely effective for exploring emotions. It allows us to get a visual on the turmoil inside and look at it objectively.
rules of engagement
I’ll share a few methods on how to explore your emotions through art, but first, let’s lay some ground rules. Don’t make this complicated, you can’t do this wrong. Remember life is messy, emotions are messy and tangled. It’s healthy to acknowledge what you feel, without judgement. The end result is for your eyes only, unless you choose to share it; you will not be critiqued.
A word about color; try to have an open mind about color. It’s well known that certain colors evoke certain emotions, which is true. However, it is not written in stone, use that knowledge as a guideline, but don’t find yourself assigning colors to your emotions based on that knowledge. For example, red is often associated with anger; but it can be associated with passion (think Valentine’s Day). Green can trigger an association with money or prosperity, but it can also signify health and well-being. Let your emotions tell you the color not the other way around.
methods to explore your emotions through art
Methods abound to explore your emotions through art. If you feel adventurous, like me, you can tackle painting with watercolors or acrylics. Paper crafting is another great way to express color and emotion using varied paper types, shapes and colors. I also love exploring with a good water-based marker set and paper. Sometimes I use different shades of colored paper, other times just white paper and see what I’m feeling when I pick up the markers.
Another convenient way to explore your emotions through art is to color a mandala. They are so beautiful and intricate, allowing for imagination and unlimited color! This is similar to the “adult” coloring books out there. These books are often topical, having specific pictures of flowers, etc., which is fine but it stifles your imagination. Remember we’ve lost our childlike view of coloring and will tend to stick to standard trees are green, sky is blue. Mandalas on the other hand are abstract; allowing you to feel the colors more easily.
Relax and Let Your Emotions Out!
One you decide on a method, allow yourself at least a quiet hour to explore. I like to start with a Mindful Check-in, which I discuss in this article. That brings current emotions to the surface and helps you get started. Then mindfully choose your colors; ask yourself which color to start with, then move through as you feel prompted. You may only use few colors or you may end up with several, go with the flow. I’m sharing one of my paintings with you below. You can see I used only a few colors, I blended and overlapped my colors.
No matter which method you choose, enjoy your time. You may choose to stay abstract as I did in my painting below, or choose more structured approach. I like coloring rainbows with markers or mandalas. Sometimes my mandalas have only two colors, other times several. I also will paint flowers with my acrylics, because they can be slightly abstract and I enjoy the texture variations.
Colors and Emotions
As I mentioned earlier, don’t get hung up on the colors, especially to start. Try to clear your mind of any color preferences or prejudices before starting. I’ll give you some popular ideas about color below, but this list is neither exhaustive nor definitive. We all view color differently, and emotions are abstract and “colorless”. It’s just fun to think about and look at after you have explored your emotions through art.
I like to look at which color is most dominate in my paintings or drawings, especially over time. I find my dominate color can change, but for me mostly stays with yellows and greens. When I speak about using art to process emotions, especially grief, people tend to think the paintings or drawings will reflect “dark” colors. Amazingly, I often see the contrary. The human spirit is far more resilient than many people realize. In our bereavement art classes for children and adults I see a lot of greens and blues; colors of hope, life and faith.
Colors and Possible Emotional Associations
- Black-can reflect mystery, isolation, or shame. It also can reflect the deepest of emotions, grief, despair and sorrow.
- Gray- can reflect neutrality or dullness; it’s more neutral than white because it’s neither bright nor light. It can also reflect indecisiveness or numbness: no feeling at all.
- Red- can reflect energy, passion, ambition or love. Conversely it can reflect anger or danger. Red symbolizes feeling with all your heart
- Orange- symbolizes joy and optimism. It reflects cooperation and teamwork attitudes. It can also symbolize reactive, reckless behavior.
- Brown- like the ground, it reflects stability, permanence and reliability. It can also symbolize foulness and dirtiness.
- White- as expected, white symbolizes spiritual purity, light, perfection and innocence. It also reflects calmness and confidence.
- Yellow- can reflect joy, enthusiasm happiness and cheerfulness. Conversely it symbolizes stubbornness and cowardice.
- Green- can reflect hope, youthfulness, balance, calm and safety. In general we think of green as growing things. It can also symbolize jealousy, spite and maliciousness.
- Blue- can reflect wisdom, loyalty, faith and trust. This color is associated with introversion and intellectualism. It also symbolizes sadness and melancholy.
- Purple- often reflects royalty, creativity, independence, imagination and going against the flow. Negatively, it can reflect pride and immaturity.
- Pink- can reflect kindness, gentleness, femininity and romantic love. It can also symbolize silliness, immaturity and being detached from reality.
celebrate your inner beauty
Regardless of what emotions you express through art, they are a beautiful expression of your current feelings. Seeing them on paper brings calmness and security. They no longer remain locked inside where you fear seeing them or feeling them. You now have a “picture” of your emotions in a non-threatening setting. You can view them without judgement and give consideration to thoughts and events that created them. It’s especially helpful to do this over time to have a good visual for emotional patterns in your life.
Exploring your emotions through art, provides an avenue to release blocked emotions. You begin building emotional intelligence which in turn helps you with better regulating your emotions. You easily notice thought patterns leading to negative emotions and develop the ability to reinforce positive emotions. Ultimately resulting in less anxiety, negativity and anger, while promoting confidence, stability and peace.
As an encouragement to you, I am including 3 FREE Printable Mandalas to get you started!