Blizzard road. Red lights paving the way. Pretending to be asleep when we park outside the house. Papa carries my limp body to bed. He smells like cigarettes, pine and honey.
He tucks me in and kisses my forehead. Later I hear him and Mama talk in the kitchen. The crack of a bottle. Red, blue and green lights flicker in the living room while songs of chestnuts and reindeer play loud enough to make out some of the words.
Family parties full of noise and energy. The buzz of anticipation and infinite play. Bacalhau, baked potatoes, the smell of garlic and wine.
Fifty different conversations happening all at once, a low hum you want to live inside forever. Those days are gone. But I remember them like they still live on separately.
I can’t see them anymore, but I know they’re there.
Woah, this one’s intense. In all honesty, I’m not sure yet. I’m still figuring that out myself. What I do know is that I’m passionate about many issues from women’s rights (especially when it comes to bodily autonomy) to mental health services, children’s rights/care, environmental protection, creating better systems to eradicate the poverty crisis in this country and to help establish a long-overdue work-life balance so people can do what they love and spend time with the people they love, etc. If I can put a dent in at least one of these issues and raise awareness, I’ll feel like I’m making an impact on the world.
One of the small ways I try to do this now is by sharing my voice in my writing and artwork when it comes to taboo topics about women’s issues and mental health. I still have a long way to go if I want to be fully honest in my work, and I still have many stories to tell that I’m not comfortable sharing yet. I’m working on it. I know I needed a place to turn to when I was struggling myself. Being a safe space for people to see their own issues reflected back to them so they feel less alone is my way of changing the world right now. With time, I’d love to expand this and eventually host healing abstract art workshops where people of all artistic backgrounds and communities can be free to express and literally pour their hearts out. I just want people to feel like they have a place to be loved and held.
I also think we change the world in small ways with every gentle act of kindness. I try to remember that when I feel like I still have a long way to go. Every time I FaceTime my little brother and we talk through his struggles at school and I see that I’m helping him process something or I hold space for a friend’s vulnerability and creativity, I know I’m making an impact. It’s like Van Gogh said…
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
YouTube’s been a friend to me for years, through the growing pains of high school with beauty gurus and vloggers helping me feel seen and into adulthood with art and spiritual channels inspiring me to find my own voice. It’s been both a place to shut out my real life by getting lost in someone else’s and a deep well of information to use for my own benefit. For years, I watched other peoples’ content and couldn’t figure out why I was so hooked. It wasn’t just that I loved watching other people create and share their stories, it’s that I was being lured into overcoming my fears to do the same. I just didn’t know it yet.
I can’t even tell you how many YouTube videos I recorded and edited on iMovie over the years, none of which ever saw the light of day. I even published two of them on my YouTube channel back in 2014, one was a “Get Ready with Me” and the other a “Get to Know Me.” I deleted both of them after about a week. The fear got to me again, and Lord knows I knew this routine well. I’d step out onto the stage for a quick high and then cower away after a few views, the familiar feelings of relief and shame flooding back. After many failed attempts, I eventually laid my budding YouTube curiosity to rest. It had been tucked away for years until one of the first nights I spent in LA in 2019.
Most of my dreams are fairly abstract. You can make out the general themes they might be trying to convey but they seldom give me a clear answer or task. So, when a resounding voice in a dream said “buy a vlog camera and get over yourself,” I woke up in the middle of the night with a stir in my stomach that was unmistakable — I was being poked with a stick by the Universe and she had HAD ENOUGH of my whiny bullshit.
I heard that message loud and clear this time around. Problem was, I didn’t know what content I had to offer on YouTube — but just like all things the Universe has up her gorgeous sleeves — there was a plan already in the works. All that time I had spent painting, writing and thinking about what to do instead of actually making videos turned into fuel for the videos.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a YouTuber yet (I’ve only made eight videos lol) but there was this moment after I finished exporting the “My Story” video that the initial stir from the dream turned into gratitude that actually had me looking up with my arms stretched out, tears streaming down my face repeating “thank you” and “I’m so grateful” at the abyss. I never do this. In that moment, I understood what I had studied so many times. I understood how you can only hide so often from the things that you’re being called to do, no matter how scary they might seem (and they’re always scary when it counts). I realized these stirrings of inspiration will work endlessly to find you because they want you to find your courage.
I don’t have many views, likes or subscribers, but I’m the happiest creatively I’ve ever been. I’m putting something out there! Doing it for those shallow reasons and wanting what other people had is what stopped me from doing in the first place. Now, when even one person tells me something I created or said inspired them, I think about the sixteen-year-old under her covers watching video after video, shrinking into darkness. I think about how that girl felt the stirring to try, but chose not to. I think about how I would give her a long hug and tell her that it’s okay to be afraid — it’s how you carry that fear on your back and show up anyway that matters.
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. 💕
This little video and project took two whole weeks to shoot, edit and finally export. I had so many technical difficulties, I thought it would never see the light of day. Somehow, through hours and hours of resistance, “Fogo” still managed to come together.
I can’t express the relief, excitement and passion I feel toward it — I hope that comes across and fills you with warmth and inspiration. “Fogo,” which translates to “fire” in Portuguese, was a labor of love, sweat and heat (mostly from my laptop, which is seconds from bursting into flames).
I got completely lost in this process, listening to songs I included in the video that inspire me to let go. As always, thank you so much for taking the time to watch and stay tuned for the next installment! Sending you all love and gratitude.
Hello everyone! I finally committed to something that’s been a passion and fear of mine for YEARS — YouTube baby. 😳✌️
This new “From the Art Series” will feature a time lapse of my abstract paintings and illustrations every week. I might also record some audio explaining what the pieces mean and how I get through the process. The idea behind “From the Art” is to uncover how certain feelings, thoughts and ideas make their way into our artwork to heal us. I hope that by showing how deeply cathartic expressing freely in this way can be that I’ll help others find their freedom too, or at the very least just give you something fun to watch when we need it most.
Feel free to follow, subscribe, and let me know what you would like to see. I’d love some feedback. 💜