Encouraging creativity through therapeutic art

Posted 12/3/21

On the cold, dark days of winter, art can brighten both your home and mindset.

“Creating art is a great form of self-care. It can be relaxing, a stress reliever,” said René …

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Encouraging creativity through therapeutic art


On the cold, dark days of winter, art can brighten both your home and mindset.

“Creating art is a great form of self-care. It can be relaxing, a stress reliever,” said René Huge, gallery director at the Cody Country Art League. “You can channel your feelings and emotions into your artwork whether it’s the colors you choose or the images you utilize or even the medium you select.”

Therapeutic art is a way to foster your creative side, said Tiffani Jackson, a Cody artist who is a certified therapeutic art coach.

“Creating art is a tool to help people work through ‘issues,’ lower blood pressure, gain confidence, and manage anxiety and stress,” Jackson said.

She encourages people to start by purchasing a sketchbook, drawing pencil and gel pens, and to just start doodling. 

“In the field we call this intuitive art,” she said. “... I would encourage lighting a candle and listening to uplifting music and just see where the tools take you.”

Being creative opens your imagination to color and expression, Jackson said, and you can lose the fear of “doing it wrong,” and just create.

“This in turn releases the feel-good hormones that make you feel better mentally and physically,” she said, adding that “time flies when you sit down at the table to create.”

Gestalt Studios at the Polar Plant in Powell provides quiet, cozy places for people to sketch, paint or write. Each day, Gestalt offers “open paint” during its regular hours. For $10, they provide a canvas, studio paints, brushes and tools to paint as long as you like in the studio.

“I like to encourage people to move away from the idea that taking time to make artwork or participate in a workshop is somehow a ‘special treat,’ precious or indulgent,” said Erin Johnson, artist and owner of Gestalt Studios. 

Johnson used the analogy of Thanksgiving dinner — if she took time to make the full holiday meal once a week, or even once a month, she would probably be pretty good at it and it would be less stressful.

“I would feel confident about my process, and I might even be more willing to experiment with new recipes,” Johnson said.

But with only performing the ritual once a year, expectations are high, she said, and “if the meal is a flop, we don’t get another chance until next year.”

“If we only practice art on special occasions, we set ourselves up for disappointment,” Johnson said. “So, sketch, doodle, sing, write — do something to feed your creative side each day and, when it is time to take that workshop, you will be more comfortable with your process and be excited to try new things.”

She said the creative process — whether participating in it or observing — opens up channels in your brain to help with creative problem solving. 

“When we are dealing with a stressful situation or a particularly difficult problem, doing something creative can help us think about those issues in a different way,” Johnson said. “Art is flexible and personal. It can be a way to let out frustrations, calm the nerves, lower blood pressure or express emotions that might be hard to put into words.”

In its mission statement, Gestalt says art is “intrinsic to the human psyche.”

“Art is a very therapeutic activity. It provides not only an outlet for emotions but also engages the mind and promotes critical thinking,” the statement continues. “... Finally, and oftentimes most powerfully, it brings people together to share an experience.”

Art can be an avenue for making connections and getting involved in the community.

“The social aspect of an art workshop is important,” Johnson said. “We have all felt isolated at some point. Some of us may feel that our ‘social game’ has taken a hit recently.”

Workshops are an easy, low-pressure way to help “re-learn” the social parts of our lives, she said. 

“It’s a great way to socialize and meet other folks,” said Huge, with the Cody Country Art League.

You can take a class with friends or meet new people there.

“Lots of wonderful friendships have formed here over the past 57 years,” Huge said.

The Cody league offers a myriad of art classes for all abilities and ages, she said, including opportunities for beginners. Classes include silk painting, stained glass, mosaic, oil painting, watercolor, pastel, life drawing, Norwegian rosemaling, photography, soul flag, zentangle and more.

“We will have a new sketchbook drawing class in 2022 to help encourage more people to draw more frequently,” Huge said.

Jackson teaches a soul flag class and zen doodle courses at the Cody Country Art League.

She said everyone is creative — people just need to foster their creative side and find what brings them joy. 

“It could be woodworking, painting, crafting, drawing, etc.,” Jackson said. “When one is creating, they allow themselves to get into a peaceful and joyful frame of mind.”

If someone tells Jackson that they don’t have a creative bone in their body or they’re “bad at art,” she tells them there’s no such thing as good or bad art.

“I encourage people to reframe their thought process,” Jackson said. “This helps one ‘loosen up’ and not take themselves so seriously. It is incredibly empowering to create something you never thought you could.”

Learning helps keep your brain alert and you engaged, Huge added.

“When you learn something new, you fire synapses in your brain and that is healthy,” she said. “... It’s another form of important exercise, but a much more fun one.”

Workshops offer a space to explore new techniques, experiment and collaborate with others, Johnson said.

Gestalt operates an “open studio,” meaning workshops/classes and events are initiated by instructors or individuals wanting to use the space. The studio is available to groups and meetings as well. Two instructors lead monthly workshops: Marc Harrison, The Painted Dwarf, has a miniature figurine painting workshop each month and Barb Wancura leads an acrylic painting class most months. 

In addition to a range of classes, the Cody Country Art League is hosting artist demos through December on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The league’s gallery is open year round, seven days a week until Christmas. 

“Even art appreciation is therapeutic,” Huge said.

For information about classes at the Cody Country Art League, visit codycountryartleague.com. Information about Gestalt can be found at www.thepolarplant.com. Jackson’s website is www.BlissfulBlueZoneCody.com.