Art therapy for stress management

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Art therapy for stress management


Art can be a wonderful tool in the use of stress reduction.

Crayon resist
A technique that I'm going to show you that I find very useful in stress management is called crayon resist. To do the crayon resist, you'll need crayons or oil pastels, watercolor wash, or you can use acrylic such as this, mixed with water in a tub and larger brushes. Often you can get a big house-painting brush at the dollar store for a dollar. You don't need expensive brushes for this technique. None of the stress management techniques that we look at today will require expensive materials.

Often when I work, I like to put on music because I find that it helps me to relax more and reduces my stress as I work.

Remember to really bear down when you're using the oil pastels or the crayons because the amount of wax that you apply is what resists the watercolor later. So if you draw very softly and faintly, the watercolor can actually overbear and cover up what you've drawn. You want to get a good, heavy coat of wax.

The more that you fill your picture plane, the more pleasing this technique will be. So you want to have areas left for the wash to fill, but you don't want big expanses with nothing. So try to fill it with ideas, shapes, color, still life — you could work from something that you love in your home. Some people find it more stress reducing to think of things that bring about stress and to get them down on paper. Some people like to work from colors that are relaxing to them.

To get the wash, I used about a tablespoon of acrylic paint and some water and stirred them up. You can also work directly out of a little box of watercolors. They are very inexpensive to get or, that again, you may have around the house if you have children at home.

I like to apply the wash like this, in long, even strokes. But it's not necessary if you have another way that you like to work. This will give me the sense of water in this case, because I had decided to do an underwater scene.

I believe that this part of the crayon resist is very soothing, and especially as you work without talking, you'll find that you get involved in the paint and your stress leaves. And here's my underwater theme. And again I worked very intuitively, I really did not stop and judge myself, and I let it emerge, didn't judge it and didn't try to be the perfect artist.

I'm going to introduce an art technique called mosaic, or torn paper collage, and this is a particularly beneficial technique if you're feeling that there are stresses in your life that are out of your control — issues that are interfering with you feeling in charge. This technique is very beneficial in that situation because it allows you to take charge using the art materials. And to do the technique, we're going to use a variety of colored paper. You can really use old scraps of wrapping paper that you have around the house, scraps of construction paper, pieces of colored newspaper or newsprint, if you like, and in this case I've chosen a piece of black construction paper that will be my base paper. But you can work on white or any color that you would like.

In torn paper collage, you would take paper and begin to tear shapes that appeal to you. And as you tear these shapes, set them aside to work on later, but you can see how nicely the light colors show up against the black of the background. Another way to approach this project is using scissors to cut, and this will give you more of a mosaic effect.

You can cut small pieces like small mosaic tiles out of the construction paper or other scraps of paper that you have around, and you can see that even when they just fall on the page randomly, that they make an interesting pattern. But you can also arrange them very carefully with a certain amount of space in between and get a tiled effect or the effect you would have putting together a puzzle. So there are many ways to work with these same materials and get interesting effects.

When you're ready, when you've decided on part of your image, an area that you like, use white glue or a glue stick. And begin to put your shapes down. Then you can begin to build things around it. You can work abstractly. The beauty in stress reduction is that you're making all the choices here. You're in charge of everything you're doing here.

We worked in two different ways on the same idea here. This is torn construction paper, and the idea came about as a result of me first tearing a leaf shape and it emerged into a fall leaf motif. Again, I didn't strive for perfection, but rather to just enjoy the process of tearing and constructing imagery that I was in control of.

The second way of using the technique was cutting, much like a mosaic, and playing with these mosaic pieces on the paper background until I found a pleasing design. You'll notice that I let the paper be irregular, that I didn't worry about perfection and that I tried to enjoy the process. The end result really reduces stress. I was in charge. I made something that was pleasing to me, and I'm feeling more relaxed.

Soft pastels
Now I'm going to demonstrate a technique that is particularly useful if you're under a large degree of anxiety or stress. This is a very soothing technique. It's a little bit messy. We'll be using 12-by-18 paper, again, you can work larger or smaller, but particularly on this technique the larger paper is preferable because it gives you more opportunity to move on the paper, and the more movement you get into it, the more stress reducing I believe it to be.

In addition to the paper, you're going to use what's called soft pastels, and I have a variety of colors. I bought a box of 24, and I like to keep a damp washcloth or towelettes on hand because this is messy and sometimes you may want to clean your hands during the technique. You can also work on black or other colors of paper, and you'll get a different effect than when you're working on the white.

The soft pastels have a wonderful quality — the ability to give you a straight edge or a softened smear. You can also blend colors very easily. You have to be willing when using this particular technique to get a little bit messy yourself — but the end result is very pleasing as you can see the colors blend. It's soothing, stress reducing and pleasing to the eye because new colors emerge from blending of the chalk.

Another advantage of the chalk is that if you were to erase something you liked, you can go in and bring it back. They go right back on top of themselves. So you don't have to lose anything if you decide, "uh, I goofed," so then you bring it back.

You can see that these are very evocative and you almost get a feeling of movement. When you are using these chalks, you can create that effect of something that isn't stagnant but something that's moving. That's one of the pleasurable things about using this.

For me this is finished. Now, perhaps if you had worked on this, you would feel that it would need a lot more work or maybe you would have stopped it earlier than I did. Each artist knows for themselves when they are done.

You'll notice in the techniques that we're doing today that there is variety. That one technique may be much more concrete than another. One technique may be more abstract. And this is for you to explore and find the right one for you.

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Last Updated: 2008-06-13
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