Listening through the Layers

The first steps include spilling out personal pain through mixed media art.
When the page looks "done" add layers of paint and name the insight gained.
  (Mixed media) art journaling helps one listen for meaning, experience healing, and (re)experience the creativity of being a child. It is during the process of art that one is “helped to remember some of the glorious things we have forgotten, and some of the terrible things we are asked to endure” (L'Engle, Walking on Water).  Artist Robert Henri argued that “art tends towards balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, [and] the economy of living—very good things for anyone to be interested in.” In explaining what he called “the art spirit,” Henri proposed that the arts were invented to capture—or express—the significant moments in life which are those moments of greatest happiness, wisdom, and vision. He called art “sign-posts on the way to what may be[;] sign-posts toward greater knowledge” (Henri, The Art Spirit). One of the great benefits of mixed media art and theological reflection is that the process provides a time, a space, and a place (the art journal) to listen. Listening opens a path to healing. 

Blessed Assurance

A journal reflection can begin with one word. When you sit down to do art, ask yourself what one word you are hearing and then listen to what God is telling you as you create art with that word as your theme for reflection. During the process of adding layers of art there is time to listen...and to hear...the message God has for you. Someone recently expressed it as being still and listening to the Great Healer [God]. Write the word once or multiple times on a prepared background in your journal. Choose colors that reflect what you are thinking/feeling about your selected word. You will keep adding layers; repeating the same word using different media.
In this example, the bold red is marker pen followed by a more subtle single word painted on top of the red with white gesso and a large stencil that is generally used for detailing a car. Mixed media collage elements are the middle layer. Choose colors and/or words and/or pieces of music which resonate with your selected theme word. Next, paint over the entire page using various colors (tempura was used in this sample; liquid acrylic works great too). This step seems bizarre...covering up what you've just
"created," but it adds continuity to the piece and helps to bring the visual toward a point of closure.Then name your reflection. Identify a word or phrase that expresses what you were hearing in your listening for God journey during the making of the art. The goal is something forward focused. In other words, what does this experience of art and prayer and listening suggest you might be doing as you move freely toward your future. You can also embellish with with a block print of a symbol.
In the sample here, "blessed assurance" expresses the hearing from God and the dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit which represents the peace of Jesus Christ...the peace that passes all understanding. Through the layers of art, which began with "anger," the artist is able to hear a message of comfort, encouragement and hope: blessed assurance and peace.

Mixed Media Background Quickie

When you don't have time to "do" art, it is always fun to slap some paint onto a background so it is ready for when do have time to do art. This mixed media quickie is in an altered book journal. The pages had already been prepped with white gesso and one layer of blue acrylic glaze which had been applied with the stippling technique and a #14 round mop brush. To this I made a "picture frame" with blue and yellow Neocolor II water soluble wax pastels. Then use a 3/4" flat brush dipped in clear water to smush the lines. Pick up a little color from the wax pastels and spread it across the page as desired. Next I used a screen to create the diamond grid pattern. This screen is generally used in a tub of house paint to run a roller brush back and forth and drain the excess paint before applying to an interior (house) wall. I used two shades of yellow and one shade of blue watercolor; pressing down hard on the screen to hold it still while I quickly ran the brush up and down across the screen. The entire project took 15 minutes. Voila! A mixed-media background for future use and a brief expression of creativity amid a hectic day. (An art version of a brief midday break for yoga.)

The 'Art' of Presence

Practicing the ministry of presence is all about simply being present with someone; not "doing" anything; not talking or even listening but being present to show love and care and kindness and compassion. The "art" of presence adds the element of (mixed media) art during the time of being present. It provides a neutral something-to-do and opens the possibility for interactive conversation, including deep sharing and deep listening. This concept has been particularly helpful for ministry with teens in a shelter for teens-at-risk. The art activity seems similar to the concept of the quilting bees of old; hands are busy while conversation flows. I took some of the teens and adults from my congregation to do the "Dump Sheet Self-Portrait" project at the shelter during spring break. I encouraged the participants to "dump" out their feelings related to whatever topic they chose. Some opted for silly; others used the exercise to vent their hurts and emotions. Some wrote heart-breaking feelings during the dumping. The participating adults used the time when the teens were doing the mixed media layers of art that followed to encourage and uplift the teens while the teens engaged among themselves with lively conversation. The "art" of presence is a wonderful combination of art, self-expression, conversation, compassion, and friendship.

Garbage In; Garbage Out

Dump out your feelings on a half sheet of construction paper.
I used my art journal to continue the "Dump Sheet Self Portrait" theme and prepare for teaching the concept to a group of teens in a shelter for teens-at-risk. I titled mine "Garbage In; Garbage Out" in memory of a favorite expression used by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar who always said that if you put garbage into your mind then garbage will inevitably come back out in your lifestyle. Much better to fill your mind with good stuff so that good stuff will flow back out in your life.

 Begin by "dumping" on a particular theme on the half sheet of construction paper. Write quickly without time to stop and think. Fill the entire page. Then "insert" yourself into the writing with a simple self-portrait. Draw a vertical oval for your head; add the neck; then shoulders. Fill in the facial features. Paint/stamp/ write words on the full sheet of construction paper to "counter" the negative dumping. In other words, write down the good stuff as it relates to the previous dumping. Then cut the bust and glue onto the full sheet of construction paper. Continue to paint, collage, stamp, and embellish the page to turn the dumping into a positive expression of possibility.
 Optional after: I glued by construction paper collage into my altered book art journal (left) and continued embellishing (below).

Dump Sheet Self-Portrait

"Dump Sheet Self-Portrait" is a modified idea from Journal Spilling: Mixed Media Techniques for Free Expression by Diana Trout. Her concept is to identify your (self) critic through art. I like the concept, but the emphasis is negative and I prefer to emphasize the positive. "Dump Sheet Self-Portrait" begins by "dumping" the negative self-talk but then "flips" the negative to a positive to complete the mixed media reflection.
Begin by "dumping" internal/self-talk about a specific topic/theme.

Draw your head, neck, shoulders & cut out & paste onto page.
My "dump sheet" theme was the negative self-talk I found myself doing regarding my re-entering the world of writing. I have written countless articles and published several books, but I am re-entering after being out of that loop for a decade. I realized all of my self-talk was negative and needed to be dumped and replaced with positive.  This exercise was helpful to identify the self-talk as being negative and to intentionally replace the negative with the positive.
Paint the background and add bold words that counter the dump sheet. Top with more layers of paint.

Embellish with stamping.

Collage items in the background. [Add facial features; see top photo.]