Friendships and human connections add meaning to our life. As a child, I loved getting a letter in the mail from my pen pal; a little gift opened with great anticipation. I had equal joy writing a letter in reply as I thought of her delight in receiving it. I learned at an early age that writing can build relationships as a beautiful means of communication, plus I loved to get personal mail. Art-making is another way we can express ourselves and I’ve discovered it, too, can enhance my friendships and it’s still fun to get personal mail.
The idea to communicate this way with a friend came when I went to the Minnesota Center for Book Arts in Minneapolis (https://www.mnbookarts.org/) and saw a gallery show featuring a display of several Japanese-fold sketchbooks (website) completely opened. Artists made art in the first spread, then sent their books to other artists all over the world. The beauty of the Japanese-fold album is, when you lay the book open, it becomes one continuous piece seamlessly flowing from one person’s creation to the next. The amazing variety of artistic styles was inspiring.
Collaborative or shared art intrigued me, so I asked an art therapist friend of mine to do one with me. We each bought a Moleskine Japanese album and met with our new sketch books, paper and art supplies at a central location. We chatted, as friends do, while making art on the same piece of paper; turning the paper every now and then so we could add to each other’s work.
We pondered various methods of distributing our shared art piece and decided on ripping it to give the sections a natural deckled edge. As we said goodbye we alternately selected pieces to take home with us. The Moleskine Japanese Albums have little pockets in the back where we tucked our new collage ephemera pieces for inclusion in future artwork in our new books.
Once home, we each created to our hearts content on a two-page spread, adding a little detail on the next spread as an invitation to the other person, enticing them to respond.
I encourage you to start a visual conversation with a friend. You can start how we did or choose a theme for the first spread and decide when you’d like to send your books back and forth. We tried once a month and that worked for a while, but later settled on once every other month. You get to choose, make it your own.
This visual conversation contributes to the Adlerian concept of social interest by connecting with others in a unique way. Often both people will be thinking of the other as they make art on the pages. Friendships are enriched with the personal and intimate nature of the small shared book, responding to each other’s art-making. The book becomes precious and holds a sacred space for non-verbal communication.
It also gives us the opportunity to see things from a completely new perspective, helping us to see our life with a new lens. Usually both friends show their book to others, encouraging them to start a visual conversation of their own.
This shared art experience helps with both anxiety and depression because it is calming and soothing to create art, and it encourages you to take action by getting the book, responding to the other’s work, and then sending the books back and forth in the mail. It’s an active process.
It enhances neural plasticity by encouraging both parties to think of novel ways to create based on the other person’s inviting images. The act of looking at the book when it comes in the mail, seeing their response to your art, their invitation to you, and the process of thinking how you are going to respond creates new neural pathways. Then, as you act on those thoughts and make the art, you are strengthening that pathway and enhancing neural plasticity, thus changing your brain. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks.
This project has the same excitement of the old-fashioned pen-pal letter in the mail, with a creative twist. It’s a great way to connect non-verbally with someone who lives far away or in the next town. It can be a great way to get unstuck and to feel inspired. Plus, it’s just plain fun!
– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC