Advice & Guidance, General, Inspire

The Mental Health Benefits of Being Creative | Claire Warner

19th May 2023 Estimated reading time: 8 mins

Lots of people find that being creative helps their mental health and well-being.
For over 65,000 years, humans have been engaging in creative expression, using imagery and colours to communicate and connect. Reflecting on this rich history, we can’t help but wonder about the benefits our ancestors derived from their creative endeavours, like the Neanderthal man’s use of red ochre on cave walls. Today, we are privileged to have many resources at our disposal, opening up a world of possibilities for self-expression and mental well-being.

A wide range of creative tools is available for selection, including pencils, pens, paints, various mediums, and surfaces. I consider myself fortunate to have had a grandmother and mother who shared a deep love for painting. At around the age of three, I received my first magic painting book, and instantly developed a profound affection for the captivating world of water and colour. My mother, using her Winsor & Newton half-pan paints, skilfully created watercolour paintings of flowers, cats, the garden, and other everyday objects. I was completely captivated by her artistry and the ability to bring life to these subjects.

From a young age, I completely lost myself in the world of drawing and painting. It’s a well-known fact among artists that when they’re engrossed in their creative process, they can forget about everything else around them – all their worries and troubles simply fade away. It’s like diving into a blissful escape where they can relax, unwind, and enjoy this incredible hobby.

 

mental health fielf of hope landscape art therapy

Field of Hope

Art for Mental and Physical Health Recovery

On my 40th birthday, when I was desperately trying to recover from ME (post-viral syndrome), my precious friend gave me a box of watercolour paints and said, “I think you should start painting again.” It became one of the keys to my  recovery. The only thing I could concentrate on for five minutes. It gave me back my self-esteem when I felt I couldn’t do or achieve anything worthwhile, and I felt so in tune with myself again at last.

I am a great believer that we are all born with a creative side, which busy lives often squeeze out. It is the feel-good part of us that gets lost through lack of use. So, this and discovering that I loved to share my passion with others, is why I started teaching art.

One thing I quickly came to understand is that everyone, absolutely everyone, is dealing with something in life. It might seem insignificant to others, but for us, it’s a big deal. And there are those who are fighting some really tough battles. That’s why I strongly encourage anyone to give creativity a shot. Alongside drawing and painting, there are so many other options to explore – cooking, playing an instrument, gardening, writing, and many more.

Art for Therapy

My best friend at boarding school in my early teens had bouts of going into what she called her ‘dark place’. She struggled with her Mental Health and depression, although I didn’t understand it all at the time. I just tried to be there for her, sit by her and watch out for her. I wish I had known then what I know now and could have helped her more.

My first student was a more mature lady who came to my house for one-to-one painting with me. She was going through a very painful divorce late in life. I would prepare a lesson and she would often start to paint, only to end up crying for most of the next hour. But what amazed me at the time was that we still managed to do some painting, and she said it had all done her so much good. It was the beginning of my realisation of just how therapeutic painting could be.

The trouble with us adults is that some of us want to be perfect at something straight away, without spending time perfecting our skills. Impatiently, we can put up barriers for ourselves, claiming there is no time, no money, no space. I completely understand. This can be true. But I had to break down those barriers too to make room for some precious ‘me time’.

Seaside and Sailing

So how can this work for you?

I have made a list of suggestions and hope that one or more will resonate with you and start, or continue, you on a journey of creativity for therapy.

  1. Start small.
    Take a few minutes, a scrap piece of paper, a pencil, whether it’s sharp or not and make some marks on paper. You could just doodle or try to interpret something around you. Start with just a few minutes. You don’t have to complete a four-hour masterpiece; this isn’t a painting challenge. Try some colours – paints, crayons, coloured pens or similar.
  2. Join a group.
    If you can, join a friend or art group and try the benefit of the support of others who can help you
  3. Schedule Time.
    If you find any of the above helpful, claim some time in your calendar for you and your creativity. I know it is hard to find time; I had the same trouble, so you need to make time by scheduling it in. Five minutes or five hours; it is all a start to being kind to yourself and developing your creative character.
  4. Follow a Tutorial.
    You may benefit from an art magazine, such as the SAA’s Paint & Create, or teaching videos, which are everywhere. A huge library from the SAA’s  Video on Demand service , which is free for members to watch; YouTube clips; you can also pay for films from artists you like to follow. The resources are impressive.
  5. Paint the Sunshine.
    I love to paint sunshine. There are very few grey clouds in my pictures, and in the winter, that is a great help. When it is dull and dark, and the light and colours outside aren’t cheerful, find a picture of summer and sunshine for inspiration. I think you will find it helps your feeling of well-being and Mental Health.
  6. Have something booked to look forward to.
    Another thing about winter in particular. When there are celebrations and lots of family get-togethers, some can feel very lost and lonely. A good painting buddy who becomes a friend is a special way to keep in contact with someone who cares when you are alone or down. Try to book in some art sessions together for early in the year to look forward to.

 

What to paint or sketch?

Think of something that makes you happy and try putting it down on paper. I go to my happy places for ideas – pictures of the beach, sea and sunshine are my favourite, and I do love boats, having spent so many weekends sailing in my childhood. A photo of a place in a summer garden, maybe with a book, or just listening to the joyful sound of birds. Nature is therapeutic – trees at all times of the year, beautiful colourful flowers, wild animals, pets, a quiet landscape, and for me, watching the waves in any weather.

 

mental health art therapy seaside breaking waves

Breaking the Wave

Your painting environment

In my workshops, I ask people to turn off their mobile phones, leave the world behind and enjoy the peaceful environment, and focus on the joy of painting and like-minded good company for the day. I have had the great pleasure of experiencing and watching so many wonderful things happening to my students as they work on developing their art. Many recovering from illness, loss, or trauma have told me that it has ‘saved them’. They have established lasting relationships with others and or formed firm friendships and holiday buddies. Not all creative attempts are successful, of course. We all have to face disappointments, however, experienced we are. It’s good to share those disappointments and encourage each other with past successes and future achievements to come. It is a joy to see my students creating something they are proud and pleased with, and a privilege to be part of their pleasure.

 

How art can improve your mental health?

­Painting can bring peace and resulting calm by reducing stress and giving you the opportunity for self-expression.
­It can often bring emotional release because it stimulates the creative side of your mind while you are focusing on your activity, which has been proven to lower anxiety, improving your mental health significantly. I have often had laughter and tears with my students, which is so therapeutic. It can develop increased confidence. Like so many things in life, art requires practice and perseverance to increase your skill, and this means going through struggles. It is only by breaking through our limitations that we can improve our confidence.

I didn’t say any of this is easy, just worth it. It is important to say,

I am not trained or an expert in therapy, but I have been a keen observer of the results that painting can bring while I have been teaching adults for over 30 years. I hope you find much joy, relaxation and release by pursuing a journey of creativity.

 

About the artist

Mental Health Art Therapy Claire WarnerClaire runs one and two-day workshops in Northamptonshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire and other locations by arrangement, and three to seven-day painting holidays in the Cotswolds and Andalucía, Spain.

saa.co.uk/clairewarner

Email:loveofart@googlemail.com

Online workshops to  purchase: treetops-newbury.co.uk

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