Art Therapy: Abstract Painting

We begin our lives being spontaneous happy and playful. Challenging circumstances,  relationships and events in our lives can cause us to lose that childhood sense of wonder and joyfulness. That loss can result in depression ie. a mental state in which we don’t feel happy to be alive any more, and some of us are haunted by PTSD flashbacks to traumatic events in the past.

I suffer from depression and I have previously published articles in this blog on happiness.  Every day I focus on creating happiness between my ears, and this summer being with children gave me the creative boost I needed to start painting abstracts.

This fall  I began art therapy and I’m loving using this media to express myself and communicate how I am feeling in abstract paintings.  Art therapy is a form of therapy based on the idea that the creativity can be healing. Every painting I create  helps increase my self-awareness and recognize how profoundly life events that traumatized me as a child have affected me as an adult.

Art Therapy combines the creative process and psychotherapy, facilitating self-exploration and understanding. Using imagery, colour, and shape as part of this creative therapeutic process, thoughts and feelings may be expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate.

We painters visualize our internal landscape and then depict it in paintings, drawings, sculptures  or carvings.  Once our artworks are complete we then discuss the work to try to glean deeper insights.

Sadly my camera is broken and I will have to buy a new one when I can afford to, so I can’t post photos of my offline art therapy projects.  The images I have posted here are abstracts I have done online using the tools provided by Brushster. It’s an interactive painting machine with more than 40 brushes and textures  with a full palette of colors and effects that blur, ripple, and fragment your painting.

From time to time when I’m online  I click in a try out another brush or two and create an abstract that reflects the mood I’m in.  Note that you can let the machine automatically paint for you but I don’t do that as I’m aiming to express my inner feelings.

The Canadian Art Therapy Association (C.A.T.A.) was founded in 1977 by Dr. Martin A. Fischer as a non-profit organization to promote the profession of Art Therapy in Canada.

Dedication

This post is dedicated to the artists, illustrators, and photographers who inspire me and lift my spirits all year round including:
The Art of Chrissy Marie and Purely Photography
Lynda Lehmann – Abstract Expressionist Paintings, Nature Photography, Poetry, Musings on Life and Creative Process…and Our Connection to Earth.
Lana Gramlich – Dreaming tree – where nature, dreams and art find a home.
TJ Lubrano – A Look in a Creative Mind


41 thoughts on “Art Therapy: Abstract Painting

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  5. Hello!

    I didn’t realize you had this blog; very interesting & well-written. I had a major depression several years ago – it is a tough road!
    I like your art on this page; especially love “Abstract4.” Beautiful!
    When you are not doing online art, what mediums do you like to paint in? I love oil & want to get more into pastels.
    I’d love to see some of your other paintings, too.
    Regards, Marilyn

  6. This is a beautiful post, and I am so glad I stumbled on it. I also suffer from depression which has led me into exploring ways of creating ‘happiness between my ears’ as you say. It is wonderful that you are discovering ways of concurrently healing and expressing your creativity, which is what I do through my writing. Blessings and joy,

    Amanda

  7. I have never tried art therapy but am aware of the huge benefits. A girlfriend of mine is a trained art therapist and she works with children on the autism spectrum, the pieces they produce are amazing and it gives them a means of expressing the feelings they are unable to verbally communicate.

    Your online pieces look so vibrant and am looking forward to seeing in the future your other artwork – especially the japanese brushwork.

  8. Shucks, hon. Thanks for the shout out. :)
    I enjoy doing abstracts from time to time for sure. For me they’re a stress reliever, when I just allow myself to play.
    I particularly like your 2nd piece here, although they’re all really cool.

    • @Lana
      Your work inspires me throughout the year. :) I had no idea how freeing creating abstracts would be. Nor did I comprehend the depth of emotion that can be expressed in colors and shapes that spontaneously flow off the brush tips. I’m learning so much about myself by depicting my inner landscape, and although the analytical aspect is challenging I’m benefiting from it.

  9. titi ~ Your artwork is amazing ~ so evocative and colorful. I love seeing these and being invited in to your healing process. You constantly amaze me.

    I feel like I am walking parallel to you path at the moment.

    You said: “Every painting I create helps increase my self awareness and recognize how profoundly life events that traumatized me as a child have affected me as an adult.”

    I’m not painting, but I’m definitely tuning into how past trauma has so profoundly affected my life, my being, my health. It’s like I’m suddenly seeing it for the first time after “managing” for so many years.

    I feel so fortunate to know you and feel a warm connection to you. Your writing has helped and inspired me in so many ways.

    I’m very happy that the art therapy is proving to be such a wonderful medium of expression for you.

    • @Sandra Lee
      Art therapy has provided me with an opportunity to release emotions connected with a lifetime full of traumatic events. It’s an important adjunct to my trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy for PTSD. I am carefully and gradually “exposing” myself to thoughts, feelings, and situations that remind of the traumatic events. I am reliving them identifying upsetting thoughts, particularly, thoughts that are distorted and irrational and replacing them with a more balanced picture. Perhaps art therapy isn’t for everyone but it sure is proving to be an excellent form of therapy for me.

      I’m so grateful for your friendship. I know that I’m more distant and taciturn than most people you meet online. I’m okay with that and I’m happy to know that you are too because I derive so much from reading your inspiring and insightful posts.

      All my love to you always,
      TT

      • Hello timethief, SoundEagle did not realise that you have been through so much until after reading this post, and hopes that you have found a stable core and prolonged emancipation from your past traumatic incidents.

        SoundEagle loves those abstract art, some of which have feathery patterns that tiltilate one’s senses and imaginations. Thank you.

        • While it’s true that I have been through a lot, that was then and this is now. I have had the benefit of therapy and I’m healing. I’m glad you like what you see because I’m liking doing what I now do to express emotions.

  10. Ciao TT! What a lovely post and I’m really honored to be included in the list of people who inspire you! Thank you!

    I really like what you created here! Love the warm tones in the digital picture. According to a few people I was hitting depression a while back. In short, working on my thesis was really difficult towards the end and I kept struggling with it so badly that it got to my health. Not sure if it was really towards a depression. All I know is that I’m really glad it’s behind me now! The only thing that kept me sane, was creating art and painting. So in a way, art was like a therapy for me. I could be myself.

    Thanks for the great post and sharing your work TT! Can’t wait to see your other work!

    Take care,

    TJ

    • Thanks so much for being you TJ and for sharing your illustrations. I appreciate them so much. I’m happy to hear you found some of my abstracts to be interesting. This si a new media for me and I’m enjoying exploring it.

      Art is a form of therapy and without doubt too much stress can send us into the pit of despair. Health matters. It matters most of all because without it we become despondent so I’m glad to hear that you put your health first and are better for doing that.

  11. TiTi, I didn’t know you were/are a painter. Nor did I know that you suffer from depresssion, except as it might present as part of a fibromyalgia or related condition.

    In college I was very interested in becoming an art therapist. But I trained to be an art teacher, and then went into commercial art! I didn’t begin to believe in myself as an artist, until many decades later.

    Your abstracts are just great–colorful and vibrant! As you can probably surmise, I love color and a large part of my life consists of looking for the “new visual experience.” So these images resonate with me. I have’t tried “Brushter” but maybe I ought to; it’s good to change tools to keep oneself fresh.

    Thank you for the kind mention, TiTi. And the feeling is mutual. You have inspired me with your articles on a variety of topics, with your candor and down-to-earth style. I think your humility comes across very well, but I never really picked up on depression as an independent force/factor in your life. I hope that as the years go by, you can release the inner fears and tensions more and more, and replace them with joy and self-love.

    I know that doing art is essential in my life; it lifts me up like a parachute over turbulent waters and shows me the way through the storm. (And there have been many…)

    I’ve been feeling down a lot myself lately, and it gives me courage to read what you wrote about your own situation.

    Peace of mind and a full heart to you, TiTi.

    Lynda xxx

    • I have been a sumi-e painter for 3 decades now. Although the technique is meant to be executed on mulberry paper and silk I have adapted it over the years to painting on stoneware pottery which we make.

      The depression I suffer from is connected to fibromylagia, chronic fatigue, associated conditions and arthritis in my hands and carpal tunnel. My hand is no longer steady enough to continue with sumi-e on a daily basis so we have changed the decorative techniques we use on the stoneware which we create and market to make our living.

      I was depressed because art has been such a huge part of my life and because my ability to make a living dissipated and I suffer from chronic pain. Until I started abstract painting in art therapy my depression did not lift. Now I have found another way to express myself. Even when my hands are hurting I can use the Brushter machine and when they aren’t hurting I can paint on art papers or on canvas.

      I have never considered myself to be particularly humble. A lot of what I paint is expressing my current frustration and anger and pain. Some is based on PTSD flashbacks relating to traumatic events that have haunted me. But the good news is that I’m still in the game, so to speak.

      Thanks for sharing your art. It’s an inspiration all year round.

      • Hi timethief,

        SoundEagle would like to wish you well here too and hopes that you don’t mind two comments from the same reader in one post.

        SoundEagle is somewhat concerned about arthritis affecting your hands and your ability to draw, both for enjoyment and therapy. Besides, you don’t look old enough (judging by your gravatar) to be saddled with such a degenerative condition that usually afflicts older folks.

        Let’s hope that you will find, or have found, one or more ways to be completely free of arthritis and also be rid of harrows of PTSD.

        Cheers and happy March and happy springtime to you!

        • Cheers and happy spring to you too. Arthritis and fibromylgia are not diseases of the elderly; both affect people of all ages. Also note my avatar does not depict the wrinkles and cross feet around my eyes and that’s why I like it so much. ;) Fortunately, I am no longer experiencing PTSD flashbacks and I’m hoping they are gone for good.

  12. TT, great works! I am so impressed by the interesting/beautiful color composition of these pieces you made by digital tool. Love to see some of your “real” abstract paintings.
    There are not many abstract painters I really admire but I somehow believe that the ART is all about shape and color, not realistic contents. While being a realistic trained “professional” artist, I am so tired of painting anything realistic and wish one day my “realistically trained” eyes can get their original innocent vision back!
    Yes, I do believe abstract painting, the pure visual language – shape and color – can help our mental health because by painting them we truly feel the joy of creativity – creation that is truly from inside of us and beyond the boundary of reality.

    • @Yun Yi
      Thanks for your kind words. You should try the digital tool. It takes awhile to figure out how to use each brush but I like challenges so that’s what I’m doing. As for my off-line works they are all being painted and analyzed for therapeutic reasons. It’s not likely I will be able to purchase a new camera any time soon. When I do I will take some photos and post them. Thanks for visiting and commenting too.

  13. Ah – at last, I can see some of your artwork, even if it’s not your usual stuff (I think I read that you do sumi-e?), I’m glad. These are lovely – especially the second and third from the top.

    I love doing abstracts – it’s what I started on, originally. My more recent work which is semi-abstract and figurative was quite a surprise to me! I still enjoy abstract art – it’s very freeing.

    My only experience of art therapy was a three day workshop I went to years ago (actually, a couple or so decades ago!) and that was quite eye-opening. Curiously, I have been sitting and looking at the results of one of those days, recently, and want to post them to my blog sometime. They came about from taking a dream I’d had, into the workshop and seeing what came about from it. Very interesting.

    I understand about being depressed – I’ve a history of depression too. Thankfully, these days I don’t get it quite as much as I used to and that’s a blessing. Art, music and laughter are good for us.

    Thanks for sharing your paintings, TT.
    :)

    • Hi Val,
      Thanks for the heads up on my spelling error in my comment – I corrected it. Yes, I did mean sumi-e painting. I am finding abstract painting to be freeing. I also witness my inner self seeking structure and predictable form. Being an observer of one’s own mind is an informative experience. ;) Today I’m drawn to the digital painting machine but I really don’t have time so I’m ignoring that at the moment. So much to do and so little time to do it in.

  14. TT, I LOVE these…..they are very beautiful and I am particularly drawn to “Safe & Warm” although they are all very evocative. Like Justus above, I never really had a liking for abstract art in the past. However, more and more of late, I realise that I just had to find abstract art that inspires me ~ mind I should have known that your would be inspirational!
    Great art and lovely post. Thank you so much for the mention and brightening my day today :D

    • Safe and warm contains a tiny image of me. It’s very small and that’s how I felt when I painted this — very small and very happy and content. This kind of painting is in direct opposition to what I am accustomed to. In sumi-e painting we aim to convey the concept or subject with as few brushstrokes as possible — economy. We also work in black ink. The colors I am using now in spontaneous abstracts are springing from deep emotions associated with dramatic events. There are other paintings I have done but they are focused on negative memories and flashbacks and I am choosing not to share them as I process them. The more I paint abstracts the more I want to paint more of them. :)

      I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a great New Year too.

  15. Rather coincidental that you recently published this article: earlier today someone at work, at lunch hr. chatted up about her love of doing art on the side and vice versa.

    I have dabbled in art, taking several evening art classes over past few decades. Last set of courses were on multi-media abstract art, then on acrylic brush stroke technique.

    All my art supplies, piles of empty canvasses and bits of art…are somewhere in Vancouver right now.

    Not sure when I will get back into it, but the Muse is still there. I just need some instruction to push me along.

    http://forums.teamestrogen.com/showthread.php?t=40796 You can see my tiny avatar –it’s an oil painting of waterfalls in a termperate rain forest, kayakers at bottom of falls. A more representative piece.

    For now, blogging and photography is the substitute to the painting Muse. Maybe it is a form of therapy after all also.

    • I have zero technique going in this class. I’m not in the least restrained and have no set idea of what’s going to result. It’s an amazing journey given the subject matter that sparks the creative flow. This may sound strange but I’m getting in touch with the little girl within who went through all that traumatic stuff so I can process the events as an adult.

      • Coo1, TiTi. Hope you will show your explorations more later here.

        I have another piece that is abstract with monoprints on tissue then mounted..a common technique among amateurs. Again waterfall-like. One of my favourite Canadian artists (an oil and watercolour landscape painter) died recently at 100 yrs. Perhaps a blog piece about her and how she inspires me.

        • That sounds like a terrific idea for a blog post Jean. Do it because I’m eager to read it. I’m dead on my feet and still have laundry to fold and baking to wrap up put in the freezer. Sweet dreams. :)

  16. Hi TT, cool abstracts, I look forward to seeing your offline art too.
    I havent been to an art therapy class …but creative pursuits are very important to me.

    • Thanks for the visit. I was so looking forward to getting a camera but now I’m focusing on getting a vehicle so I’ll have to be bold enough to ask someone else to take photos for me. The Brushster machine is interesting. I’m now able to control some of the brushes and create more representational looking pieces as well but they are very primitive.

  17. very interesting indeed. when i was more narrow minded, i used to think abstract painting was a joke, but in my openminded state of today, i dig it. might be something i try out one day, cause if nothing else, what you got up there looks cool.

  18. I think painting and the arts in general are great mood elevators, provided their free, spontaneous activity isn’t sullied by criticism, competitiveness or concerns with perfection or excellence. Joy and self-expression should be the focus, not producing masterpieces.

    • It may look like a craft class, but art therapy is a serious technique that uses the creative process to help improve the mental health of clients. Art therapy can be used to treat a wide range of emotional issues, including anxiety, depression, family and relationship problems, abuse and domestic violence, and trauma and loss. Art therapy programs are based on the belief that the creative process is healing and life-enhancing. As they paint or draw, a skilled therapist can use the client’s works of art and her approach to the process as springboards to help her gain personal insight, improve her judgment, cope with stress, and work through traumatic experiences.

  19. I’ve never taken an art therapy class but I’ve read about them and find them fascinating. I have to believe that anyone with creative leanings can output a lot of information this way, subconsciously.

    When I’m ‘in the zone’ painting or working on anything artist, I don’t even feel like I’m controlling the media. If in fact, that’s the truth, there are worlds of possibility using this as a form of therapy.

    • Flow experiences like the ones you are describing are the best creative experiences ever. The group I’m in is a therapeutic one. When painting I have been known to get so involved I don’t even notice time passing. In this group the production of artwork isn’t the primary focus — it’s exploring what’s within us and expressing those emotions that’s the focus.

      As well as having my van blow a head gasket and die on me, and breaking two computers (both are now repaired) my camera is hatched, and I need to buy a new one. It’s on the “wants” as opposed to “needs” list .. lol :)

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