With both winter weather and new pandemic restrictions limiting our movements outside the home, indoor activities must take over. Prolonged separation from friends, work colleagues, and extended family can create stress and anxiety that needs somewhere to go, however. Exercise is a necessary stress reliever, but where else might one turn to calm the anxiety aroused by the worsening pandemic?
According to preliminary studies, even brief periods of art-making help reduce anxiety and the body’s production of the stress hormone cortisol. “Art making is intrinsically a joyful experience,” says Darcy Marlow, MA-ATR, MAEd, board-certified art therapist and licensed mental health counselor. High levels of cortisol can impair immune function.
Many people believe they are not creative, however. That belief can be a barrier to making art.
“Middle school is such a formative time in art-making, and it’s hard to hang onto creativity beyond that period in our lives,” says Marlow. “I call it the 7th-grade trauma,” she says. When adolescents look around the classroom at the artwork made by peers and then compare it to their own, feelings of self-judgment and embarrassment can arise. Those feelings can follow us into adulthood.
Getting Past Your Inner Critic
Perhaps you’d like to learn some new creative skills, but don’t consider yourself artistic. Marlow has some tips to help you get started:
1. Set aside all feelings of self-judgment.
2. Approach art as a journey of discovery, not a destination.
3. Give yourself permission to take risks.
4. Let go of expectations for the final product.
5. Focus on creative projects that make you happy. Don’t force yourself to stick with something that isn’t fun.
Starting a creative project with the right frame of mind gives us access to those feelings of joy and contentment. “Art is a visual language that helps us cognitively reset and calm our emotions,” says Marlow. Creative endeavors are a form of self-care because they help us relax and center ourselves.
Making Time for Creativity
If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of making art, or work and other responsibilities give you little free time, Marlow has a great suggestion: Set a timer. Give yourself 10 minutes to draw or paint.
“Don’t plan it. Let your mind wander,” she says.
If you need more structure, Marlow recommends a search for “visual journal prompts” online. She says vision boards and collage-making can be excellent forms of creative expression, too. You can also search online for short “collage prompts.”
Setting aside just 10 minutes to make something can get your creative juices flowing. That in turn can lead to more inspiration.
Simple Art Projects for All Ages and Skill Levels
Illustrator Ed Emberley publishes whimsical books that provide step-by-step instructions on how to make simple drawings of faces, animals, and many other things. His fingerprint books are particularly fun, and demonstrate how to turn your fingerprint into a myriad of playful drawings. Emberley’s blog provides new free drawing pages every month, and you can explore his books there, too. While his books appeal to children, they’re fun for adults, too.
Linda Barry, famed comic book artist and Associate Professor of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, believes that everyone is inherently creative. Her book, Making Comics, is a guide to overcoming your fears of drawing and turning your doodles into a daily visual journal.
Marlow recommends art therapist Carla Sonheim’s Drawing Lab Art Pack. The book is full of exercises to help you unleash your creativity.
Making Art With Family and Friends
Creative projects can also be great opportunities for connection and collaboration. Have an auntie or grandma with enviable knitting skills? Ask her to give you lessons via Zoom.
YouTube is full of how-to videos on drawing, painting, and other creative skills. Another way to connect with a friend or family member is to choose a video and make something together. For the more adventurous, The Museum of Modern Art in New York posts excellent videos as part of their IN THE STUDIO series that teach you how to paint like famous artists in their collection.
All it takes is 10 short minutes to get you started!
Image by PeopleImages