Get in front of the camera, they said. People want to actually *see* the artist behind the work, they said. I heard all of this repeatedly and continued to ignore it until finally, I didn’t. That’s the thing about slowly conquering your fears though, resistance loves stepping in and making sure you avoid exactly that. The War of Art, a book by Steven Pressfield, is a powerful resource all about fighting these creative blocks if you’re looking for a push. It’s about battling the urge to run, hide and avoid the work you’re called to do. When you do finally push through, you’ll find that people resonate with you more than you ever imagined.
For my latest video, I took a leap outside of my comfort zone and a step in front of the camera. I take viewers on a behind-the-scenes look at my day when I have art projects to work on, showing them the art materials I use and chatting about how you can find a space to paint even when you don’t have a studio (most people don’t). I also include a time lapse of my latest painting, “Pressure” where I get real about my insecurities and the pressures to be perfect online. I found piecing the visual work with my writing to be especially cathartic. I even include some clips of what it looks like to ship a painting amidst all the clutter of an apartment we’re moving out of. It’s all imperfect, and that’s the truth.
From the Facetuned and polished Instagram influencers to the YouTubers with every brand deal under the sun, we live in a time where new creators feel like they need to compete at that same level right away to be seen at all. Remember when people created content they were passionate about instead of trying to sell themselves and their surroundings as a product first? Those were the days, and that’s what I turn to for inspiration when I need it.
I’d like to think that 2020 is a catalyst for change in more ways than we’re yet aware of. One of those shifts is that people are being forced to be still and honest with themselves — they’re getting in touch with what matters to them for the first time in years. I think this is calling for a new era of content. People who want to bring honesty, light and empathy onto popular platforms in a way that’s been missing in a sea of superficiality and commercialism are coming out of the woodwork.
At the end of the day, the importance and beauty of art is that it connects people from all walks of life — they see themselves reflected in someone else’s work and feel like they’re a part of something. When we’re honest about who we are and we show all the bits that aren’t always beautiful or easy, we create a space where people can unite and find common ground. I believe now is a crucial time in our lifetimes to shed our facades and lead with authenticity so we can come closer together.
My longterm goal is to never stop being sincere, never forget what this pandemic has taught me and to share work that spreads light in times where it’s needed most. I think we’re all being called to connect on a deeper level and I’m eager to see where it will take us if we listen.
As my relationship with abstract art deepens, I find myself wanting to share all the juicy benefits it’s provided me with the world like a healing elixir. I think if more people knew how welcoming and nurturing painting like this could be, we’d alleviate a lot of the collective tension. Who doesn’t want that?
In this blog post, I’ll be sharing three ways abstract painting can help you achieve mindfulness and how you can start benefitting from this creative process regardless of your level of experience.
Let’s start, shall we?
To begin, I want to try to describe the process of abstract painting and what it feels like. To me, the thrill of it stems from freedom — every ounce of feeling and subconscious thought makes its way to the canvas without hesitation. It’s grounded in pure expression and never dictated by the pressure to create something perfect or recognizable.
That’s what makes it so inclusive. Whether you’ve been painting for years or never held a paintbrush in your life, you know you’re safe to channel your authentic creativity on the canvas and give in to the process as it unfolds without fear of judgment.
This specific type of freedom always reminds me of how you create when you’re a child; without inhibitions, not trying to stay in the lines. I remember coming home from school and spending time at my desk with all this energy inside that needed somewhere to go. I would tear through construction paper, rip apart old fuzzy posters, and start throwing any paint and assorted crafts I could find into this mass of controlled randomness. All the pent up energy made its way to this thing that wasn’t a thing at all. I didn’t think the result was pretty when I was done, but the aftermath was a fullness that’s stayed with me since. I’ve come to understand that these are the reasons why:
Abstract painting is free from the binds of reality
For anyone with a busy mind, abstract painting can provide a comforting stillness much like meditation. When you’re not focused on a clear vision, result or specific form, you let yourself wander into the subconscious. Vered Aviv writes in his Frontiers in Human Neuroscience article that “abstract art frees our brain from the dominance of reality, enabling it to flow within its inner states…and activate brain-states that are otherwise harder to access…it enables the exploration of yet undiscovered inner territories of the viewer’s brain.” With this freedom, you can express feelings and forms of energy that don’t fit the mold of something humans have quantified or defined.
For example, last year I went through something physically and emotionally traumatic that left me feeling deeply isolated even when I was given support. I wasn’t prepared at the time for the feelings that came up and I didn’t know how to articulate them. I tried talking about it (to myself and loved ones) and writing about it, but words didn’t do the experience justice. So, on one of the days when it all felt especially unbearable and claustrophobic, I pulled an old canvas out of my closet and faced the discomfort head-on. I poured every tear into a process that had no structure and allowed myself to feel each emotion while the painting naturally unfolded. It was the most healing I had felt since the experience because I didn’t have to define it — what came out of me was unfiltered feeling itself, all the ugliness and beauty of my “inner states.” While the process of painting through the trauma was painful, the aftermath when it was done was like drawing a full, clean breath.
2. Abstract painting helps you focus on the present moment
As previously mentioned, even if you’ve never painted before, you can achieve the mindfulness from abstract painting very early on in your practice. All you need is a canvas (or your medium of choice), some paint (I recommend acrylic to start) and paintbrushes or palette knives. The real magic unfolds the moment you begin concentrating on the canvas and experimenting. As you mix colors, discover new textures and play, you find yourself so focused on the task at hand that you enter the flow state. The flow state or “being in the zone” is a psychological theory that describes being so fully consumed by the present moment that the outside world, time itself and self-conscious thought slip away. You step outside of your typical thought patterns and into something bigger than you.
Often when I tell people about these benefits they’re reluctant to paint because they think of art-making as daunting, something you need the perfect training and materials for. While I won’t deny that my time studying art in college helped me build a strong foundation, it upsets me how many people feel like they don’t have “what it takes” to paint. Sadly, I think a lot of this shame stems from childhood. It might’ve been a bad teacher, hypercritical parent or friend who judged your artwork so harshly once that you gave up on art altogether. I understand, and I faced that shame every day in many of my art classes where the pressure to be perfect clouded the high of free expression. It took time to find a space where I could express myself without limitations, and when I finally did I stopped obsessing about the final result. Abstract art allows you that freedom to rediscover your voice.
3. Abstract painting can change your brain
Once you get comfortable enough to start playing with your new materials and painting consistently at your own pace, you’ll start to notice a drastic mood shift. For me, this was gradual but also completely life-changing. I’d notice the same release of energy and calmness wash over me that followed after a yoga or meditation practice. The more time I committed to creating freely like this, the less my anxiety or depression crept in (which was especially healing during the early stages of quarantine when I thought I might lose my shit for good). I was able to address those feelings, release them and put them somewhere.
Research shows that through this process you activate your brain’s pleasure and reward system (serotonin). In one particular study done in 2014, fMRI scans were used on two different groups of post-retirement adults — one half of the group engaged in a 10-week art intervention while the other did not. The results showed a significant increase in stress resistance through more functional connectivity in the brain for the group exposed to the art-making. No effects were reported for the group that did not participate, which further proved the “neural effects of visual art production on psychological resilience in adulthood.” You can read more about this study and others here on Art4Healing’s special report. The results are mind-blowing — from improved critical thinking to increased empathy and reduced depression/pain.
All of this research and information is to say that abstract art (all art really) is nourishment for the soul, and the benefits are universal. Whether making art helps you translate feelings that are otherwise impossible to explain, stay focused on the present moment or heal longterm wounds, I’m a firm believer that this practice is worth every bit of effort. For me, it’s made all the difference — it’s been a friend, support system and a guide into my inner self that’s helped me grow more than anything else ever has.
For those of you who are curious but embarrassed to try, please take this blog post as an official loving push into your abstract art journey. For those of you as deep into this practice as I am, please let me know if any of this resonates, and let’s connect!
If you enjoyed this post and would like an in-depth guide on what materials I recommend starting with along with some tips and tricks I’ve learned over time, I’d be happy to share what’s worked for me. As always, thanks for reading and happy painting. 💕
In one of my most recent “From the Art” abstract painting time lapse videos, I experimented with something a little out of my comfort zone. I combined a developing spiritual practice with my painting practice and became the vessel for what unfolded. While I do this often in the comfort of total solitude, sharing it on the internet felt like a major step forward. Let me try to explain why…
While I’ve been interested in all things magic and spiritual since I was a kid, I didn’t fully dive into how that could translate into my life as an adult until I moved to Los Angeles. I think the distance from my family and the drastic change of surroundings were the catalysts for an urge to look inward and find answers within myself. It started with listening to podcasts about astrology, mindfulness and manifestation on train rides to and from work. Then, as my interests became more abstract, my paintings started coming out more freely. I didn’t know then that what I was developing was my own version of sacred meditation.
When quarantine began, I found myself looking for answers more desperately than ever before much like everyone else. I was educating myself and creating during my free time more than usual and the result was two-fold. On the one hand, my creativity was at an all-time high. On the other hand, I was awakening to the parts of my subconscious that scared me most, the uncomfortable bits that scratched, tugged and pulled me until I paid attention.
In the three-card spread that I shuffled before painting “Orbit” as seen in the video above, I received The Empress, The Tower and the Seven of Wands. All three messages together advised me to connect to intuition, not to fear change even if it hurts and to persevere in spite of judgment or adversity. This felt glaringly personal and yet so necessary to share as universal truths. As I began painting the infinitely spinning shape on my canvas, I thought about the cyclical nature of our universe — how there are always lessons circling around us waiting to be resolved so we can truly make the most out of our lives.
A personal example I’d like to share to help further explain this dates back to when I was about five or six years old. For several nights during that time, I was visited by what I guess could be called a dream guide. He was a man with dragon-like features and an iridescent blue sheen who’d hover over my bed immediately after I fell into deep sleep. He was like a genie — a wise figure who’d talk to me as if I was an adult, emotionally preparing me for whatever dream adventure I’d be soon experiencing. Each dream was different, and so every lesson to learn from him was special in its own right.
Like a dream conductor, he’d guide me into some of the best dreams of my life where I’d lucidly fly on a broomstick over a breathtaking landscape or I’d shrink in my childhood room and toys towered over me like amusement park rides. Other times he’d calmly prepare to send me into nightmares that brought to surface my worst fears. For these, I would beg him not to take me with him, but he earned my trust and convinced me that it was essential I brave the bad as much as I indulged in the good. If I could gather the courage to bear the discomfort of pain and suffering, I’d be strong and emerge from the experience wiser. While it was never easy, he was always right. Eventually, the nightmare would end and I’d wake up in the safety of my warm bed again.
As I put all of this together, I realize that the lessons that have been circling around me for 25 years have been begging to be addressed and were even buzzing around me when I was traveling in and out of my subconscious as a child. The more I pause to look inside or stop to paint for hours at a time, the more I see them. They’re the same fears of trusting my intuition or the unknown blindly, showing my authentic self and being judged and of loss that have been weighing me down since I was young.
While this pandemic has brought so much pain and suffering, it has also brought to light many truths that we were burying under the constant busyness of our lives. I’ve come to believe that these quiet moments of introspection are contributing to the great “orbit” we all find ourselves in, moving together in time and space just trying to be present and not crippled by our fears. For me, this has meant working on being as authentic outwardly as I am inwardly. From sharing my artwork openly online to standing firm in my convictions and letting go of the constant need for perfectionism, I think I’m finally listening. I’m still working on it, but I am working on it.
During this major collective shift in our understanding of “normalcy,” what important themes and truths have resurfaced for you? Are you finding ways to channel what comes up and address it? Please, please, please feel free to share if you’ve made it this far. Thanks so much for reading if you did. Happy quarantining!