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Embracing Discomfort

In this whole process of change, we’re spending more time in our homes than ever and we’ve needed to use our space differently. Many people are using this time to remodel their homes and yards. I wonder if, like me, they are seeing the spaces in their homes from a different perspective; realizing what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve had to take a fresh look at my art-making space. How I normally used the space wasn’t working anymore as my needs changed. I wanted to shift into providing telehealth for my clients which meant I needed to reconfigure my space. Basically, I had to change my entire studio around to create a conducive background for teletherapy. It soon became a disaster zone with boxes, art supplies, books and furniture spilling into the rest of the house as I began to rearrange my space from this new perspective. 

It was both exciting and uncomfortable. The chaos felt overwhelming at times, but in order for me to move forward, I realized I must embrace the discomfort and make the changes. Thankfully all of my efforts paid off. I love my reconfigured studio space. Now it only takes a few moments for me to make a shift if I want to have my daughter make art with me, to conduct an interview over Zoom, or to provide a telehealth art therapy session. 

Encouraged by the experience, I’m allowing that same change to occur in my own art-making process. I’m embracing the discomfort by trying new materials, tools and methods; trying things I’ve never done before. It can be messy and uncomfortable, especially for those of us who want perfection. When we expect everything we do to be a masterpiece, we tend to not challenge ourselves to step out of our own box and we miss out on new discoveries.

For example, here is my practice dot painting piece that looks pretty awful.

I didn’t understand how to use the tools yet. I didn’t know to space the dots or when to layer the paint. I gave myself permission to make a mess and fail on this first one. It was freeing to just play with the new tools and not have unrealistic expectations of myself.

Here’s another attempt; it’s not perfect, but it’s interesting and fun. I’m learning. They are both works in progress, and that’s okay, as I too am a work in progress. We all are.

I’m embracing the discomfort of not being good at something in order to learn something new and continue to grow creatively. I always want to remain teachable.  

By doing this, I’ve discovered a new, unexpected source of relaxation using a process which is very different from my other work. I’ve found a painting method that is very soothing and comforting to me. 

You never know what you are going to find when you try something new. You never know what you are going to discover. This process also has a ripple effect. When you expand your mind to learn new things, new languages, or new skills, you become a better problem solver. You are expanding into areas of your brain that have been resting. Experimenting gives your brain a much appreciated workout.

Transform the need for perfection into a mind of curiosity. Allow yourself to move in small steps. If you are unable to embrace discomfort in one area of your life, try it in another area. The practice can transfer to other areas of your life when you are ready. Be gentle with yourself and just try something different. Embrace discomfort.

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Creative Break

In March, when my business suddenly changed, like most everyone else’s,  I was no longer facilitating in-house art therapy groups. I felt a deep loss. It was then that I realized how important it was to me to be creating within a community and interacting with people about their artwork. 

It was very clear that I needed to create art within a community and to see other people’s artwork. I needed to start something to make this happen for myself. So I sent an invitation to my friends on Facebook asking them to join me on Zoom for a creative break. Happily, several people jumped at the chance to make art together!

In Creative Break we welcome each other, connect briefly about the topic, then independently create and explore with instrumental music playing in the background. We then show our creations to each other and share what the session’s topic means to us.

For me, during the exploration, I find I’m able to relax and get into a state of Flow. Sometimes I’m able to immediately create an art image that expresses what I’m feeling, but at other times I struggle with what to make. In that struggle I keep thinking, keep wondering, keep moving around my studio. Often I grab some art material that I am instinctively gravitating towards because I know that I need to stop overthinking it and just start making something. That effort of simply starting seems to unlock something inside of me. It allows me to go past my own criticism, to go beyond my own judgment; and I just create, making something. 

By diving in and making something, I can allow my thoughts to wander in and out. I might think, “I didn’t realize this is what I thought about this,” or, “yes, this is how I feel.” I often discover buried or new thoughts. 

When it’s time to connect and share with others, I learn about how they explored and discovered their thoughts and feelings about the topic. It allows me to process what I am thinking and feeling; it helps me realize that our art pieces speak volumes. I often find myself transformed through this seemingly simple task. It’s simple, yet profound. 

The more I attend Creative Break, the more I feel a sense of community and I believe others feel the same way.

“Creative Break has helped me connect my emotions to my art. Prior to this time, my process was to start with the idea of what I was creating. Starting instead with a feeling and seeing what develops is changing my whole creative process.” – Erinn

Sometimes, I will take what I started in Creative Break and continue working on it after our session. This usually ends up being fun and prolongs the feelings of rejuvenation. Many times I feel better after a Creative Break session. I don’t always have a profound epiphany, but it helps me feel grounded. I have a greater sense of energy that propels me to move forward through the rest of the week. I feel more connected with other people and less isolated, better heard and understood, more resilient.

Through time, our art-making community has become a valuable part of my life, and of those who regularly attend the creative break.

What started with a selfish goal in mind has turned into something that has been a blessing to many people. 

Many of us are struggling with challenges that are different now than they were before. So when people hear about Creative Break, they ask me to provide this opportunity for their children. Medical professionals and mental health care providers have also asked if I could do this for them. With that in mind, I have started Art Therapy Creative Break sessions for adults and teens at Art Lab Rx. 

Creative Break sessions are held weekdays with groups for teens and others for adults. The one hour sessions are offered through a HIPAA-compliant website in small groups of up to 8 people. 

We will have a topic, time for quiet art-making, and time for simple sharing and processing the art in the group. 

Come join us for one session or participate every week. Only basic art materials and a quiet place to join us online are needed. For more information please send an email to artlabrx@gmail.com. We’re waiting to hear from you!

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Shared Art

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

Rebalancing

Have you taken the temperature of your mental health? With the recent increase in using thermometers to check for symptoms of COVID-19, I started thinking about the general imbalance of attention to our mind with respect to our overall well-being.

We may seek advice from a nutrition expert when we want to eat healthier, or look to exercise experts to find out better ways to move our bodies when we want to strengthen our muscles or increase flexibility. Also, we go to church services, read blogs from spiritual mentors or seek other types of spiritual counsel when it comes to improving our spiritual lives. If we freely tend to these aspects of our lives, then why do we hesitate to seek out a therapist for our mental health?

Our mental health is an equal component of our overall well-being. One could say it even has top priority since the phrase is, Mind-Body-Spirit. That said, our collective mental health is grieved right now.

As a society we are experiencing loss, great loss. Not only loss of life, which is devastating, but also loss of work, loss of schedule and routine, a loss of sensory inputs through our tactile awareness that bring about a loss of equilibrium, known as homeostasis. Homeostasis is our natural, physiological balance or rhythm.

You might not realize how important your sensory inputs are to the rhythm of your life. Consider the sound of the alarm at a certain time, how often you snooze, the smell of the morning coffee or tea, showering, different clothing for work, taste of food at certain hours from certain vendors, the clank of the keys, sounds of cars speeding by, sounds and smells of the city bus or train, keys in the door, the sensation of driving, holding the steering wheel and having traffic around you, the sound of work shoes on concrete sidewalks, and so much more. These sights, sounds, tastes, smells and the things we feel, all contribute to the sensory inputs of our regular routine.

Think of your personal homeostasis as a mobile. Each of those tactile elements are different….not everything is equal but it’s all in balance to make up our regular routine. Once one thing is knocked out of whack, everything else in the mobile moves and continues to seek balance, seeking it’s natural rhythm, homeostasis. That’s part of why we feel out of whack, maybe a little depressed.

So what do we do about it?

Move. Start by taking a look at what actually is still part of your normal routine. If you are not going back to work for a while, pay attention to which of the five senses needs to be activated. Maybe you need to get flowers that smell good and look pretty, maybe specific foods that remind you of your previous routine. Or search out foods that are comforting to you. Find textures that appeal to you, be aware of the ones that are soothing, or satisfying for sound and feel. Go and do things that activate your senses.

We all have different circumstances and varying levels of resiliency. Take your mental health temperature, and if you recognize you need more help to return to homeostasis, it’s ok. We can help.

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Image credit: Wooden Mobile “Expressions” by DJECO

Art Activity: Mosaic Collage

I don’t know about you, but during this stressful time I struggle to focus and my mind seems to wander more easily. To manage this, I’ve been using the art-making process of creating a mosaic collage out of old magazines, calendar pages, and advertisements.

This art project involves ripping or cutting colorful paper into small pieces and gluing them onto a canvas, board, or thick paper to create a mosaic collage of a pleasing image.

The physical action of ripping or cutting paper can help us release stress, but we don’t stop there. When composing a pleasing image, we need to slow down as we make selections from our various pieces of paper. We make design decisions which help us to focus. It soothes and calms us as we apply glue to the back of each piece and build our collage design, one piece at a time.

This activity also helps us make a shift in how we view the things around us. We now might look at a magazine page or advertisement as art materials and not junk mail, for instance. Learning to shift our view through the art-making process can make it easier for us to look at our lives from a fresh perspective as well.

Your mosaic collage design can be whatever you want: a landscape, flower, abstract image, or even a portrait made from various images of eyes, lips and hair. This is also a good art project for students. You can use it to practice color theory, compare patterns, and learn shapes.

Here are some basic directions:

Gather materials:

  • Old magazines, advertisements, calendars and even old artwork
  • Scissors (optional)
  • Glue stick or bottled glue
  • Canvas, board, or paper (paper bags also work well)
  • Muffin tin or containers for sorting (optional)
  • Damp rag or paper towel for wiping fingers

Instructions:

  1. Look at the collected items for color and pattern. Use what you see to help you decide on your design.
  2. Tear or cut pages into approximately 1” size pieces. You decide if you want the pieces to be bigger or smaller, and they can be whatever shape you want. I find that squares are the easiest to cut out quickly.
  3. Sort the pieces by color, pattern, and maybe words. A muffin tin works well for this. For instance, place separate colors, leaf patterns, and flowers in different sections. This will make it easier to select your pieces when you are creating your design.
  4. Place your sheet of paper on the table in front of you. Set out your glue and a damp rag for wiping your fingers next to it. Place the muffin tin so you can easily see all the pieces.
  5. Decide what image you want to create. Do you want to make a self-portrait, or a landscape scene, or a bright colorful flower? You could even choose a famous art piece and recreate it with your mosaic pieces. It can be silly and wacky or soothing and calm. You get to decide what you want this to be.
  6. Start by laying out a few pieces and arrange them until you are satisfied. Take time to play with your layout. Have fun!
  7. Glue these pieces down before adding more.
  8. Keep adding pieces and gluing them down. You get to say when your piece is finished!
  9. Set your new artwork aside to dry.
  10. Don’t forget to clean up!
  11. Share your picture with family and friends and invite them to make one of their own!

Congratulations! You turned trash into treasure. Well done.

Keep following us for more fun ideas and interesting articles. Thank you.

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Art Activity: Found Objects Mandala

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We need to move! It’s important for our mental and emotional well-being to get up and move around when we’re confined to our homes. Step outside, smell the fresh air and explore the world around you. Movement or exercise breaks up the monotony of being isolated indoors.

Need a little incentive? Challenge yourself to create art in the form of a mandala using the natural elements you find as you observe and explore your surroundings. It will get you moving and stimulate your brain. 

A mandala is basically a design inside of a circle. Think of it as a flower or a circular pattern that you make with layers. We often see them in adult coloring books with intricate patterns.

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Nature Mandala Instructions 

Found-objects in nature

  1. Pick a location for your nature mandala. Maybe your yard near the sidewalk, a road,  or in your favorite park along a walking path. Place it so others can see your creation because it’ll brighten their spirits and they may be inspired to add to it! 
  2. Place a rock in the middle of the area you’ve selected. 
  3. Surround it with other rocks in alternating colors or textures. 
  4. Possibly add sticks or pine cones. (It’s best to use things that won’t blow away in the wind.)
  5. Take pictures to share with friends and challenge them to create their own nature mandala. 

The basic idea is to get outside, make art with nature, and hopefully involve others. Plus, it looks cool!

Tree Mandala

If you can’t get outdoors, create a mandala at home using objects found around the house.

Home Mandala Instructions

Found-objects in house

  1. Pick a location for your mandala such as in the middle of the table or on the floor. 
  2. Decide on a theme. Maybe things that make you happy, are colorful, or are found only in your kitchen, for example.
  3. Look for an object to use for the center of the design.
  4. For the next layer, look around your home for interesting items that all have the same color or shape, for instance.
  5. Place those items around the center object.
  6. Now keep adding layers that extend from the center.

Creating your own mandala from objects found in nature or around the house is a wonderful way to see items around us with a new creative perspective. We can invite friends to do the same thing and potentially build a creative community!

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Telehealth for Art Therapy

Did you know you can do art therapy through telehealth? If you are feeling more and more stressed right now and haven’t seen a Therapist before, this is a great time to start. Art therapy through Art Lab Rx is the perfect place to begin. You do not need to be an artist to benefit from art therapy.

As an Art Therapist I often hear new clients ask if it’s okay if they only draw stick people. Yes, stick people are great because they, too, tell a story. Even though we are trained to be concerned about the outcome of our art pieces since grade school, that is NOT the most important thing in art therapy. 

Your work with an Art Therapist is more about the process and less about the final art product. We guide you through creative self-expression interventions that help keep you pleasantly engaged without too much difficulty in order for you to get into the flow of art-making. 

Traditionally this is done face-to-face, however, since the onset of COVID-19 and social distancing, Telehealth is a wonderful format for art therapy sessions. I must admit, at first I wasn’t sure I could get the same connection with my clients through an electronic session, but there’s actually more personal connection than I first thought. I have been able to maintain consistency by continuing to work this way with clients. 

Telehealth services are safe and secure with a HIPAA compliant platform and ethical guidelines apply to your Telehealth sessions. Your privacy is protected because nothing is recorded, saved, or captured. 

Art therapy through Telehealth could be a less intimidating platform if you’ve never been to therapy before. 

How to prepare yourself for a successful Telehealth session:

  1. Safe Space – Find a room where you will be comfortable with minimal distractions. It’s best to close the door… use headphones if needed. Create “white noise” by turning a fan on outside of the door and turn off music in the room. 
  2. Lighting – Have a well lit room where the light is at your side or above you but not behind you. 
  3. Technology – You can use a laptop, desktop, phone or tablet. Make sure you have a good internet connection with the latest version of Firefox or Chrome.
  4. Art Materials – Gather whatever art supplies you have on hand. We will work with what you’ve got.  
  5. YOU – Breathe…this is new and different, we get it, and if you tell your therapist how you’re feeling about the process, we can work through anxiety or fears together. We make it work for you. 

Seeking therapy when life is overwhelming or stressful is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Telehealth removes the access barrier to therapy when you need it most. Contact us, we are here to help. 

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Creative Break

Our schedules are disrupted and our senses are either over- or under-stimulated because the normal things we hear, see, and touch in our daily routines have changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Your emotions are real and valid. We all need ways to express strong emotions in productive ways that don’t diminish their value.

Take a creative break. Making art can be a soothing activity to engage and manage our senses. Here is a simple watercolor painting project you can try at home. If you trust the process, it can take you from perceived chaos to a sense of calm while discovering unexpected beauty.

The key is to intentionally observe how wet pigment moves, swirls, and interacts on wet paper while being safely contained on the page. This process helps us acknowledge the chaos around us while at the same time, regain a sense of control. Have the courage to shift from feelings of anxiety to peaceful acceptance and curiosity. 

This step-by-step process is one way to use color and creative self expression to soothe and ground yourself during times of stress. 

Gather basic tools:

          • Water in a cup
          • Paintbrush
          • Sketchbook, mixed media, or watercolor paper
          • Watercolor paints

Instructions:

  1. Set up a painting station with your paper in the middle
    2. Place your paint, water cup and brush on the right side if you are right handed, left side if you are left handed.
    3. With your wet brush, add a drop or two of clean water into each color in your paint pallet to activate the pigment.4. Dip a clean brush into your water and paint a small to medium sized shape onto the paper, adding more water if necessary to keep it wet.5. Dip your wet brush into a color of your choice, then gently touch the tip of your brush onto the wet paper in 2 or 3 spots.6. Watch what happens as the color spreads, swirls, and moves in random shapes.
    7. Clean your brush and repeat the process with another color of your choice. Tip: Add small drops of water to the paper as needed so the colors can flow naturally.8. Give yourself permission to move slowly and observe the pigments interacting.
    9. Add a few more colors if you wish.10. Allow it to dry and marvel at the finished product.11. Great, you’ve done it! Now explore more. Try another shape with new colors.

Now, pause and check in with yourself. How do you feel? How did this help? If this has made a difference for you, please share this with friends and family to stay creatively connected with them.

Take a Creative Break.

Give yourself permission to try other materials and methods.

Make art.

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Make Your Mark

We are born to create. It’s in our DNA. We were made in the image of the Master Artist himself, yet we often discount what is innate by saying “oh, I’m not good at art,” “I can’t draw” or “I’m not creative.” Maybe we narrow the definition of creativity to artistic ability alone. It’s as if there’s some unattainable, high standard for a creative outcome where everything we create must be a masterpiece, ready to be framed and put in a gallery.

Creativity is much more about the process than it is about the product. It provides a release and causes a sense of relief by helping to clear your mind and calm your nerves. “Anything that engages your creative mind — the ability to make connections between unrelated things and imagine new ways to communicate — is good for you,” says Girija Kaimal, a professor at Drexel University and researcher in art therapy. [Source: NPR.org]

All forms of creative self-expression can enhance your life, doodling, coloring, knitting, baking, scrapbooking, woodworking – the sky’s the limit. It enables flexible-thinking, improves your ability to focus and can help you make sense of your emotions. Because it can be relaxing, it allows you to experience a state of flow. Also, “engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathway in the brain being activated,” says Kaimal. “Which means that you feel good and it’s perceived as a pleasurable experience.”

Try picking up a brush or a marker and just start creating for the sake of creating. Who cares what it looks like? Give yourself permission to play. Don’t be afraid of making a mess as you might discover your own style, your own expression… your own mark. 

God loves all forms of creativity. He specifically called people to make artwork, music, dance, writing, and more. Find out what type of self-expression works for you. Be brave and overcome the fear of making a mistake…make a mark, you’ll feel better, you’ll live better.

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Gratitude in Struggle

Being grateful does not mean things are easy. But gratitude can be a blessing when expressed while we are going through our most difficult challenges in life. Lately I’ve been through various trials and horrific experiences, and while I would never choose to go through them, I can see how I am growing and changing as a result of these struggles. I am thankful for this growth.

Feeling gratitude during conflict is not easy and it may be the last thing we want to do but focusing on gratitude opens our hearts and minds to new ways of thinking. It can put our struggles into perspective and help us find balance. That stability gives us a platform for coping with difficulties. 

It is often only through times of change that we allow ourselves to grow and learn, to be stretched and pulled, to see things in a new way. That, in itself, is something to be grateful for as it is important for us to stretch our brain, heart, and spirit. This stretching of our minds, known as neuroplasticity, is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience. 

Our brains are amazing in their ability to adapt and change. In fact, studies have shown people continue to develop neuroplasticity through old age. So you CAN teach an old dog new tricks! 

In my art therapy practice, I have my clients use the art-making process to enter into a mindset of gratitude. The very act of considering art making for a specific intervention begins to develop new pathways in their brains. As they continue making art about their challenges, their minds continue to change and expand. Gratitude becomes a healthy companion in the recovery process as they begin to see problems in new ways and choose alternate ways of responding to them. They are learning new ways of living their life.

We learn best through experience and the things we learn help us cope with future challenges in life. Plus, our responses and expressions of gratitude can become a guide for others to mimic when they, too, experience challenges. 

Gratitude does not mean everything is okay. Gratitude does put us in a place of openness so we can respond better to our circumstances. For that, I am grateful.

– Lisa Lounsbury, MA, LMFT, ATR-BC, Executive Director of Art Lab Rx, LLC

Art Lab Rx, LLC
10225 Yellow Circle Drive
Minnetonka, MN 55343

Phone: 612-226-5472
info@artlabrx.com

Art Lab Rx, LLC was created in 2015 by Lisa M. Lounsbury. Art Lab Rx is a registered trademark. © 2018 Art Lab Rx. All rights reserved.