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An artful journey – using art & collage as a spiritual practice

March 4, 2010

Monday was not a good day. I’d slept about 3 hours the night before, I was grumpy and frustrated about the bad news my daughter had received, and nothing had gone my way all day. I survived the day at work, but was not in the right frame of mind to go to my drawing class in the evening. Almost every cell of my body was screaming “just go home to bed – no need to go to EVERY class.” And yet I knew I would regret missing it and something told me it was just the right thing to do when I was feeling the way I was.

So I dragged myself to class. The first half hour was really bad. We had a visiting instructor, and she just wasn’t teaching the way we were used to being taught. For one thing, she wasn’t willing to give demonstrations, and said “no, I want to see what comes out of you without trying to imitate me.” That pissed me off and I almost got up and walked out.

I was trying to get the shading right on a nose, and it just wasn’t working. At all. I fought  tears. What’s the point? I can’t draw. I’m wasting my time.

I gave up on the first drawing and started another. And then another. And then slowly, in my third attempt, something shifted. My breath slowed and I felt the frustration slowly seep from my body.  Like osmosis. Gradually I entered that special meditative space where nothing else mattered but the paper, the charcoal in my hand, and my presence at the page.

Have you felt it? I’m sure you have. Call it zen, call it flow, call it prayer, call it meditation – call it whatever you like, but when you feel it you KNOW. It’s a mystical, spiritual thing that changes you, that heals you, and that shifts the icky stuff that’s stuck in you.

This past year it’s become more and more clear to me that this is the role art plays for me. I don’t ever intend to be a “serious” artist, but art has become a special touchstone for me, a spiritual practice. It’s how I meditate and pray, and more often than not, I walk away from the page with some deeper understanding of something I didn’t even know I needed an answer for.

For an upcoming retreat, I’ve been asked to put together a special station where people can spend time in quiet reflection and prayer while doing art & collage. It’s not a workshop, so there will be no instruction, but I’m putting together a page of instructions to leave at the table for those who want to engage. Here’s what I’ve prepared so far. Feel free to play along in your own home.

1. Before you begin, spend a few moments in stillness. Take deep breaths and try to free your mind of whatever baggage you brought to the table. Invite the Spirit to sit with you and to create with you. Inhale. Exhale. Open yourself to whatever  wisdom or blessings you may receive (even if that blessing is simply a chance to be still and quiet for awhile in your busy life.)

2. Do not approach this as “a work of art that needs to be mastered”. This is meant for your eyes only and does not need to be shared. Think of it as your personal prayer or meditation, between you and God. Set aside your perfectionism or ideas about “what art should look like”.

3. Begin with a clean sheet of paper or art journal. It’s up to you how you fill that page. You can doodle randomly, splash bold colours on it, or cover it with images from a magazine – anything that feels right for you.

4. If you choose to collage, flip through a few magazines. Don’t look for specific images or words. Instead, pick whatever moves you at that particular moment. It might be photos, random words, or a combination. Either tear or cut them out and collect them without giving too much deliberate thought to what they mean or how they connect with each other.

5. Play with the images for awhile, arranging and rearranging them on the page, folding them, tearing edges off, whatever you like.

6. Once you’re ready, begin gluing them on the page in an arrangement that feels right for you, using mod podge and foam brushes. You may also want to brush mod podge over the top of the images.

7. Add paint,  marker, glitter, or anything you like to the page. Sometimes the best way to connect with what’s on your page is to finger paint on it, meandering to different parts of the page with your finger, and feeling the various textures as you do so. Paint over some images if you like, or just paint between them.

8. Your mind will wander to many places while you do this, and that’s okay, let it wander. This is not about trying to corral your mind, but rather allowing it to freely connect with the images and with the Spirit that is with you in this space.

9. When you are done, sit back and reflect on what is on the page. Some of the images may surprise you. There may be themes you didn’t expect would emerge. There may be combinations of photos that communicate something to you. Be open to whatever you receive.

10. However, don’t put any pressure on yourself to see or interpret something on the page. Sometimes the value is just in the stillness and the meditative act, not in the final result. On the other hand, sometimes you’ll only notice something a few hours or even a few days later, once you come back to the page.

11. You may wish to whisper a silent prayer, but it’s really not important that any words be spoken. Remember that God is quite capable of hearing your thoughts even before they’re put into words, and quite capable of communicating to you in a deeper way than you could express in words.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2010 10:23 pm

    Heather, this is lovely. On a much smaller scale, I wrote in a similar vein at my own blog earlier. I’ve really been diving deeper into art journaling lately (through Connie’s Art Journal LOVE Letters workshop) and experiencing that zen-like flow. Today every movement felt like prayer. No wonder I felt so much better afterward!

    Thanks for a beautiful post.

  2. March 5, 2010 12:37 am

    my journals are my life! nice post!

  3. March 5, 2010 8:46 am

    I LOVE when I allow myself to do this kind “work” — and what you said here: “It’s a mystical, spiritual thing that changes you, that heals you, and that shifts the icky stuff that’s stuck in you.” That’s IT! Thanks for this!!

  4. March 5, 2010 8:57 am

    Wonderful! I’ve recently started playing with art journaling and felt like I was trying too hard to make it a masterpiece ( I have known perfectionist issues :)). Your post just put a very different slant on it and I’ve printed out your table directions to place on mine. Thanks for the inspiration, Heather.

  5. March 5, 2010 11:16 am

    Not a “serious” artist, eh? 😉 I wonder about those words…what they mean to you…why aren’t…why you don’t “plan to be…”

    Just a little poke. 🙂

  6. March 5, 2010 5:36 pm

    thank you. you speak so well to the beaut, self-exploration, and spiritual invitation of creativity and art! i love collage and use that mostly in my journey. if you’re interested, my blog is http://katytaylor.wordpress.com/ and my site, where there are even more is http://www.katytaylor.com/lifepractices_gallery.shtml. nice to share with others on the journey!

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