We asked some artists to share with us their incredible and inspirational stories to understand how art can help with mental health and well-being by not only focusing your mind on the ‘here and now’ but to give you that free, creative outlet allowing you to find some inner peace, if only for a few moments a day.
Below are some stories from different levels of artists, showing that anyone can use this media to express their feelings and help them through troubling times.
“Change is possible if people are given an environment that facilitates recovery”
While supporting the Art group at Hartlepool and East Durham Mind I have found that common interest brings people together and shows change is possible if people are given an environment that facilitates recovery.
I have always being creative by nature but it was not until my early twenties that I developed the full skill set and ability to turn my ideas into physical casts and sculptures, for me being creative through writing, drawing and sculpting is a way of training the mind to become both more flexible and more resilient, It is one of the elements that lead to my recovery after an eight year battle with mental Illness. I learnt that recovery takes place through change and letting go of what no longer serves us, not just trying to break through with sheer force which for me, often lead to exhaustion and further damage. Insight and a belief in change is where real healing takes place, but like most things we must want to change and put in the work. It’s about finding the right balance between putting in effective effort and allowing healing to take place at its own natural rhythm and unfolding.
I am now currently working on a long term project ‘Following the Sound of Alchemy’ which aims to demonstrate the minds ability to transform itself through openness, personal faith and creative practice. Just like exercise, diet and socialisation I believe creativity is an absolutely essential component for our well-being, personal development and most importantly our ability to implement positive change in order to reach our full potential.
I thank all of those who have supported me in my journey of recovery both those in Hartlepool and East Durham Mind and also friends and family for giving me the opportunity to free myself through insight, in order to work towards something fulfilling without the burden of emotional restraint. I have learnt the value of what it means to be healthy both psychologically and physically.
“Art helps my mental health and particularly bad mental health days immeasurably”
From a young age, I’ve always been interested in drawing. I used to spend a lot of my time as a kid drawing Disney characters, copying a scene from a continuous unsteady image of a paused Disney VHS. I would colour them in and then have my mum put them in my special art folder which overtime gathered many different drawings from the age of around 3 upwards.
As I got older and entered my teenage years, although I took art as my main subject at school, I never had the same interest as I once did. I started to experience depression and anxiety through the later years of senior school but I never thought to emerge myself back into art.
Now, in my 20s, I use art, whether it be sketching, painting or general crafting, to help me with my mental health on a daily basis. I find that the time used creating a piece of art, passes so quickly that I lose the time to sit and think about anything that may be going on in my life at that time.
Since attending Hartlepool and East Durham Mind, I have participated in many of the drop in groups available, but the Art group would have to be my favourite. We have used many different mediums within the group, including acrylics, watercolours, charcoals, oil pastels and pencils and along the way have learnt the different ways in which we can use each to their best advantages.
Attending the Art group at Mind, doesn’t just give me the chance to experiment with new and different art techniques, it also allows me to see and chat with familiar and new faces of people that also attend the group. I feel this is also a great way to alleviate any of the stresses I may have faced that week, just by being around others who are similar to myself. You don’t even necessarily have to speak if you don’t feel you can, you can just CREATE ART, in whichever way you feel comfortable. That is the great thing about art, anything is art and is every piece is unique. There are no wrongs.
Art helps my mental health and particularly bad mental health days immeasurably.
“Art is a chance to get away from the worries of the world”
Art to me is a chance to relax and escape reality for a while and use my imagination. I like using mixed media from sketching to pastels and watercolour paint. I absolutely love blending colours.
I sometimes take landscape photos while I am out then transfer it on to paper using either pencil or paint. I think art is a chance to get away from the worries of the world and sometimes just to let your emotions erupt through your work.
“It helps me to escape for a little time from reality”
I have never been an arty person myself up until a few months ago when I started to attend the Starter Art group at Hartlepool Mind. I used to doubt my ability in being able to draw, but with the help and support that’s within the group, I have felt relaxed and included within the group. For the first time I have been able to have an attempt at art. It helps me to escape for a little time from reality and I also feel that I am able to focus without my mind going 24/7.
Art has become a good technique to help me to focus and relax and to use my imagination. I have seen how other people have benefited from art and how they put thoughts and feelings into their work. I definitely feel it has helped me to cope with my anxiety and busy mind.
“Art is a way for me to control my anxiety and to control my feelings”
Art gives me the chance to escape from reality and from all of my problems. Art gives me the option to express all my feelings and emotions onto paper, because I find it a bit hard to tell people how I really feel, so find it easier to put them all onto paper. Art is a way for me to control my anxiety and to control my feelings. When I was in school I only used to use pencil, coloured pencils and felt tips, but over the years, I started using different materials and different techniques and now I run my own art group at Hartlepool Mind. Art has been a great coping technique for me, so I wanted to do an art group so art can help other people.
Professional Artist and Therapist
“Developing a creative practice is something I believe everyone should do”
As a therapist in a busy recovery college in the north of England, I work daily with people who are managing mental and emotional distress. I understand this from my own personal experiences of anxiety and depression. Sometimes the thoughts and worries are so debilitating and they get in the way of us being able to pursue the activities and relationships that can keep us well.
As an artist I have always used drawing and other forms of creativity including music and writing to help me to express the confusion I often feel. As well as being a way to focus on the ‘here and now’ instead of getting caught up in my own head, it provides a real sense of confirmation of my own identity which is vital to well-being. It connects me to the ideas and values that are important and unique to me.
Developing a creative practice is something I believe everyone should do. I am very happy to be working with Derwent on their Wellness Campaign and will continue to promote art and creativity within my workshops and in my art practice.
See my Art blog WordPress@BeverleyHaines where I draw (or photograph) three things I’m grateful for every day as a practice in refocusing my mind onto the positives.
“Like meditation the drawing process allows me to focus in the most chaotic of times and helps collect my thoughts”
Ever since I was a child I found comfort in drawing and creating; it was always a place where I could collect my thoughts, make sense of things and ultimately was my ‘happy place’.
These things don’t change much throughout life and we are always told as creatives to hang on to the energy and innocence of how we thought as children.
I am now lucky enough to include drawing and painting as part of my every day. Like meditation the drawing process allows me to focus in the most chaotic of times and helps collect my thoughts. Through drawing I am able to express all emotions and impulses and translate any confusions or frustrations into things that I can process visually.
Having worked in a business environment for 12 years, I realised that the stresses and strains of the working environment were too much for me to cope with on a daily basis and it was returning back to drawing that really grounded me again and gave a sense to what I was doing. I have been a full-time artist for 9 years now and while it is not without stress, the act of creating helps me cope with these stresses and gives me an outlet for those feelings.
For me drawing and creating is a very intense form of meditation, everything I feel translates to the page and is cathartic in that sense. I feel lucky to be in this position and know now that it’s an essential part of my daily routine and one that I enjoy immensely.
Sharing these drawings has always been a really important part of my process too, not in a showy kind of way but as a way to share something that I am excited about. My approach to painting and drawing involves a lot of chaos, accidents, spills and mistakes and these are the elements I love to share, tiny little discoveries every day!
“To draw something is to truly look in a so much deeper way than taking a photo”
In my day to day life I am rushed off my feet a lot of time with work and family commitments but I know that if I stop, even for 10 minutes and look at something closely and pay attention to my breath I can restore my energy fairly efficiently. Even better than that is to spend some time drawing or making art even if only for a short while.
To draw something is to truly look in a so much deeper way than taking a photo. To see how a thing is constructed, to be lost in its form, depth, colour and shape. In my ‘Mindfulness and Art’ sessions I teach people to sometimes draw without looking at the page, only focusing on the object or to try sketching with the non-dominant hand and using varying pressures on the pencil or brush. We sometimes also try to focus on sounds around us or our breath or the feel of the instrument on the paper. It is an absorbing experience.
In this way you can see the beauty of ‘art as therapy’. Time disappears and the stresses of normal life are forgotten. Try it yourself and escape the hurly burly.
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“Illustration is not just a job for me – it’s a huge part of my identity”
Having my little corner, away from the chaos of motherhood, is really important for my mental wellbeing. I can switch off from full-time mum mode and be me the illustrator again. I need that designated space to focus. Illustration is not just a job for me – it’s a huge part of my identity.
Mental health is something I’ve been very sensitive to in the last year of motherhood, it’s important to check in on yourself and others, especially at such a life changing time. Feeling a loss of identity and anxiety are often a big part of motherhood we don’t hear much about.
I’ve had waves of both, especially in the early days. I ended up taking a shorter than planned break away from project work, and although I definitely am working less hours, it’s still a huge and very important part of my life and my identity. I’ve been lucky to be able to balance work and motherhood, which means I’ve still got a sense of my old self alongside my new role as a mum.
A few weeks ago, I sold my desk and packed up my workspace. I’ve never thought about it before but not having a designated space for drawing and getting into my work headspace has been really tough!
I’ve been ‘laptoping’ on the kitchen table and iPad drawing in bed as the little one sleeps. But it hasn’t quite felt the same. We’ve now moved into our new home and I’ve set up my new, smaller workspace. Already my head feels more balanced as I have that little corner, away from the chaos, to focus.
Motherhood is full on and full time, so my little bursts of work are also my “me time”. As the photos tell, these quick creative bursts are more often than not interrupted by my new sidekick – it’s a juggle I’m still learning but definitely enjoying.
A big thank you to all the artists who shared their stories and tips on how they manage to deal with the stresses of daily life and mental health through art and creative outlets. We hope their words have inspired you to take even just 10 minutes out of your day to be creative, forget about the world outside and focus on the now.
To share your own story, please join our Facebook group – the Art of Wellness where you can connect with other artists sharing their stories and their work.
Please seek professional help from places such as Mind if you are struggling with your mental health.