(Do-It-My)Self Therapy: My Foray into Art Journaling

I am a do-it-yourselfer. If you’ve by any chance read my blog post, My No-Medication Journey to Emotional Health and Well-Being, you are aware that this doing-it-myself thing extends to all things, even things as crucial as my entire existence. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not. I’ve certainly been scolded for being too self-sufficient but that statement always struck me with confusion. Why wouldn’t I want to be self-sufficient? On the other hand, I guess I do get it: I don’t give other people a chance to help me, help can be good, we all need support, and so on. Hey, I’ve gotten help plenty of times. I mean PLENTY of times. Some of it was good, some of it was not so good. Regardless, I still developed this intense desire to figure it out by myself, whatever “it” is.

I’m also a researcher. I mean a personal researcher, not a professional one. I research EVERYTHING that crosses my mind (and yes, my mind is full and often tired but I can’t help it). I spend a lot of my life learning. I dare say I learn new things EVERY day. This, I have to admit, is something that I like about myself. Perhaps it started early in life. My mother told me many times, “Read well. No one is going to tell you your rights.” So, from a very small child, I have been reading, avidly. At times this has meant books. Sometimes it means news articles. Sometimes it means the small print on the back of a package of some product or other. Over time I adopted the (probably rather snooty) attitude that I once read on a poster: “Those who won’t read have no advantage over those who can’t.”

So what is the connection? It’s simple, really: if I spend so much time learning about something, why would I then turn to someone else to do it for me or to tell me all about what I’ve already researched for myself? This isn’t to suggest there is nothing to learn from others; to believe that would be just ignorance. I learned to READ from someone else, right? But for me, I take at least 90% responsibility for every, single aspect of how my life goes. The other 10% is reserved for those things I absolutely cannot accomplish by myself. There have been plenty of times when my mental health has fallen within that 10%. But, at this point in my life, that isn’t my issue. (Plumbing and electricity and washing my own car, on the other hand …)

As a person who has dealt with anxiety and depression since at least the age of 9, a great deal of my every day/every year life has been about finding ways to cope and feel better. I think it’s safe to say I’ve tried all the things (see the article referenced above). Here I am, half a century later, and I feel good, I feel healthy, I feel happy and successful (according to my definitions of those intangibles). But, as you all know, I will ALWAYS have to deal with managing my anxiety and depression. It’s part of the fiber of my being. Therefore, when I come across something that has a good chance of helping me to continue my lifelong emotional and mental management program, I’m inclined to give it a chance.

Because I’ve always been a bit of a maker (all sorts of things; I can’t specify), I’m always coming across articles and ideas about art. Recently, I came across some articles about art therapy journals. I was very quickly intrigued by the idea: daily journaling using any sort of media to express my thoughts, emotions, ideas. What intrigues me is that the process, by definition, is very hands-on, much more so than just writing on a page. In just a few days, I’ve found myself taking pictures with more thoughtfulness and then printing them out with the idea of perhaps turning them into something greater or at least different; using my fabric scraps to make pages; cutting out meaningful words and phrases from screenshots or off packages; painting with those tiny little containers I got who-knows-when ago from Walmart; using paste with reckless abandon; and returning to my once-abandoned study of art fundamentals (I’m still a beginner).

To say this is therapeutic would be an understatement. A more accurate word would be “meditative.” I wish I could really explain it in a way that would make everyone understand but I think it might just be too personal. Oddly, while I’m busy figuring things out, making decisions and bringing something into being from nothing, my mind is never actually BUSY. On the contrary, my mind goes quiet. I hear the wind chimes tinkling outside. I feel the house creak. I’m aware that my heartbeat has slowed. It’s as though all this work is going on in the foreground but I, myself, am lounging with my feet up in the background. It’s weird, to be honest; weird and restful and soothing and satisfying.

Right now, in the midst of this pandemic, having no idea when it will end, I’m free to throw myself into this and I’m doing so with the express purpose of making it a daily ritual. Even if I only get to do 5 minutes, I will do it. It’s like the cup(s) of tea I have everyday; I wouldn’t be the same without it.

Another aspect of art journaling that instantly appealed to me, as I noted when I saw images of other people’s journals, is there are literally hundreds of ways to approach creating one. As you can see in the photo, I chose to go super-simple and use a binder notebook. I didn’t see any images of anyone else doing that, something so super-simple, but I already had ideas about what I wanted to start putting in it so I decorated this binder and got started on my initial contents. But if you search for images of art journals on Google, you will be amazed at the things people have come up with. (People are so creative!) The main point is that an art journal is intensely personal and will, by extension, be unique to you and your aesthetic, both on the inside and the outside. If you search YouTube, you will find lots and lots of videos on methods, ideas, and materials. Here are the results of a Google search for “how to create an art journal.”

Art Therapy Journal on Porch
My super-simple, fledgling art journal waiting for me to join it on the porch.

If you have been craving something to do during this time of quarantine, if you have been looking for a way to reinvent yourself, if you have been struggling with emotions or problems you just can’t work through, if you have been simply seeking to add to your current skills and/or hobbies, if you need calming from all the anxiety of these days, if you’re looking for ways to use up some of the stuff you have lying around (pictures, cards, fabric scraps, jewelry findings), if you want to make a statement, then I urge you to give art journaling a try. You make your own rules; in other words, you cannot fail. You don’t have to be an artist!

Find a place to work that will give you a bit of solitude (even if it’s in the bathroom). My plan today is to get outside on the porch and enjoy the sun while I create. Most of us have been given the gift of at least a little more time. Try your hand and your heart at making an art therapy journal. You might be stunned at what you find in there even as you build it.


20 thoughts on “(Do-It-My)Self Therapy: My Foray into Art Journaling

  1. Great post! Would love to see a page (or snippet) from your journal, out of curiosity, but of course that is quite personal. I am currently working on a collage, which has a little more of a specific direction, I suppose, but is super therapeutic nonetheless, in much the way you described here. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Anna! Hmm, well it would take me a LOT of courage to do that but one never knows! I might share. 😊 I love collages. I’ve only made one, for my hubby for our anniversary, but it’s a lot of fun. I would like to make one with findings. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is wonderful, Robin. You’ve inspired me. While I’ve had many-a-notebook over the years (journals! sketchpads!) I’ve never had one quite like you’ve described. Perhaps I’ll dig through my hoards of crafting supplies and give it a go. No time like the present, right?
    Also, your porch looks SO serene. Enjoy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. How awesome! I’ve seen examples of these journals but am scared to try one!! I’m so picky about things, I’ll want it perfect and I know that shouldn’t be the case at all! And, I want your porch!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I do this sometimes too, and I know exactly what you mean–it shifts my brain away from all that thinking (often negative thinking) into a more relaxed, looser state where I just notice color or shape or random connections. It’s a great experience. Thanks for writing about it; it reminds me to pick it back up (I’m very inconsistent about it).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Robin, it sounds wonderful! Only problem for me is, my perfectionism takes over on any type of project. I HAVE to finish it and it HAS to be “right” or I feel frustrated. So then it becomes another chore for me instead of a relaxing thing. Do you have suggestions on getting around or overcoming that? (And yeah, I do the whole incessant research thing too.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh boy, Kelly. That’s a can of worms right there. Perhaps if you keep the intention of it being a PRIVATE journal, never intending to share it, you won’t have to concern yourself with the perceived flaws. On the other hand, I’ve recently begun following Anna C. Pishko (see first comment above). She came up with a really cool project that was born out of her dissatisfaction with her work. You can check out her idea and also the conversations around it here: https://wp.me/p9tzOV-av. You might see the imperfections in a new light. (Sorry, I’m on my phone and can’t figure out how to activate that link. 🙄 But check out Anna via her comment above, her 20th Century Housewife dress.)

      Liked by 1 person

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