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Saturday, 16 April 2016

Art Therapy 1: Seasons of Love Mixed Media

Today's blog is all about the relationships we have with people in our lives. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that all relationships will enter into different phases or seasons. Some will recover after their Winter season and blossom anew into a Spring season. Others will die and disappear into the shadows. I show you step by step how to make your own Seasons of Love wall decoration and walk you through the thought processes that will (hopefully) assist in bringing about healing in your life.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist).

I start on a 12" x 12" wooden canvas which I cover with gesso. Gesso will make it easier for my paint to stick to the canvas and is a type of primer.

I then decide on a colour scheme that will represent all four seasons. You should choose the colours that represent all four seasons for YOU! Ask yourself why specifically this colour? Why does this colour represent this season for me? I choose glitter finish cardboard as the thick paper will be naturally strong. I also choose a polka dot background that will blend in nicely with my winter paper. The background paper is tissue paper used for lining gift bags and such.

I trim the tissue paper a little smaller.

I now choose to use Chalkboard Paint to paint all around the sides of my deep-frame canvas.

The colour I choose for my Chalkboard Paint is teal as this also matches my background colour and my winter colour. Your colour choice will once again match your winter colour (which will also be your background colour). Remind yourself of the significance that this colour has for you.

While I wait for the chalkboard paint to dry, I paint a thick layer of Dala Acrylic Gel Medium onto my canvas.

I lay my tissue paper background onto this wet Acrylic Gel Medium. I try to retain creases and don't mind a tear or two. That is the way life treats us and this canvas represents our lives. Life adds creases and tears and our success in dealing with those will determine our mental health. Allow yourself to remember some of these creases and tears and to contemplate them a little. Acknowledge your successes in dealing with these events in your life. If it helps, you can take some time out and draw up a list of these events. How did you feel at this stage of your life? How do you feel about these events now when you think about them? Have you figured out where and how they fit into the bigger picture of your life?

I turn the canvas over and carefully tear away the excess paper. This is much easier than you would imagine as the wetness has made an easy tear mark. This is once again symbolic of life. If we have shed enough tears over people, it has left a wet mark that makes it easier for us to gently remove them from our lives.

We then turn the canvas right way up again and cover the tissue paper with another layer of Acrylic Gel Medium. This will seal the canvas and protect the tissue paper. In life it is equally important to seal our vulnerable parts. Notice that the Acylic Gel Medium dries transparent. This means that you are still open to the world and they can still see all the beauty that is you, but you have taken precautions with your heart and can not be hurt so easily. Take note that this layer is transparent. Are the precautions you took with your heart also transparent, or did you build a solid wall around yourself, hiding the beauty of your being from others? If so, what can you do to change this? It is possible that you might need help with this process as it can be a very difficult one that leaves you feeling vulnerable. Consider allowing a trusted friend to assist you in this process, or you may even wish to consult a professional therapist for support.

Waiting for the Acrylic Gel Medium to dry, I quickly paint a second layer of Chalkboard Paint all around the edges of the canvas.

I now set the canvas aside to dry. In the meantime I continue with the paperwork part of the project. I use a 12" by 12" white caft paper.

The paper is folded in half.

I then draw half a heart on the paper. Allow some space at the sides of the heart.

I cut the heart out on the fold.

I will be using both parts of the heart in the project. This heart represents the relationships I have in my life. These include love relationships with a special partner, family relationships with children, siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, etc. It also includes friendship relationships, work relationships and even short-lived relationships with strangers crossing our paths but leaving an impact. Notice also that when you remove the relationships from your life there is still a significant amount of life left. All of this is you. Your relationships will always only be a part of you and not the whole of you. This is very important! Take time to realize that you and your identity do not depend on your relationships with others. You are YOU, even without others!

I randomly divide the heart into four almost equal sections. These represent the four seasons of relationships.

I then use a paper punch with a butterfly design to punch out butterflies for that myriad of relationships I have in my life. I like the idea of using a butterfly here as the butterfly represents such freedom. It flies from one flower to the next, never staying put for long. This is the same for people in our lives. They are there one moment and the next they are gone. Sometimes the absence is short-lived, such as when they go off to work in the morning and return at night. Sometimes it is permanent, as when death claims them. The point to acknowledge is that nobody is bound to you 24/7 and you can at most have a butterfly relationship with people. What I also like about the butterfly design is that it represents metamorphosis, and that relationships can change. Is there a shape you can relate to more easily than the butterfly? Explore your reasons for wanting to use that shape and then go ahead and use it. This is your journey of healing and you may choose to adapt it to fit your personal experiences and style.

I punch out enough butterflies to fill the winter section of my heart. Notice how I plan the layout on the paper heart.

I now move on to the autumn paper. Once again I punch enough butterflies to fill this section.

Then I work on the layout for the Summer relationships.

Lastly I plan for the Spring relationships. Sit down for a while and acknowledge to yourself how the layout of your seasons made you feel. Try to summarize it in three or four words, e.g. happy, content, down, relaxed, sad, excited, irritated, etc.

Once the background is dry, I use Tim Holtz Distress Ink in Lavender to 'dirty' the background. The idea in arts and crafts is to age the work in this way. The process in commonly referred to as distressing. It is an attempt to mimic the aging process that knocks of life leaves on objects. How fitting to acknowledge that in our own lives as well. If we can see this as pretty in objects, the question remains if we can see how beautiful our scars have left us? How does this last question make you feel? Are you saddened by it? Perhaps you feel uncomfortable, upset, perplexed, astonished? Try to find a word or two describe your reaction(s) and feeling(s) towards this question.

I now lay the 'stencil heart' on the canvas. I lay the ruler in place to block in the Winter section and paint the whole section with the Acrylic Gel Medium. All of the relationships will be built inside the framework that is YOU. If we do not have this framework in place, the heart that makes up our relationships can not take shape. Never underestimate the important role you play in your own life and how that shapes your relationships. Examine your relationship with yourself. How would you describe it? Do you love the person that is you, or would you choose another word?

I now carefully and methodically lay the Winter relationships in place. Winter relationships are relationships that are in trouble. These are the ones that you need to work the hardest on if they are to stand any chance of survival. It is good to know that most things will come back to life after the Winter season. Judge carefully for yourself if a relationship is worth retaining and do your best to save it if you find it still holds value. Make a list of the relationships you have that are in their winter season. Ask yourself which of these are worth nurturing? Which need a bit of trimming, and which need to quietly disappear?

I block the Autumn relationships in exactly the same way as the previous section. Autumn relationships are ones that are suffering. There is still plenty of life in them, but they are starting to loose their lustre. Tend to these carefully. Winter is unavoidable in the seasons, but it can be avoided in our relationships if we pay close attention and catches it early enough. As with the winter relationships, you can once again make a list of your autumn relationships and examine them by asking the same questions.

Next to be blocked in are the Summer relationships. These are in full bloom and bearing fruit. They are the healthiest relationships we have with the ability to restore themselves. Their beauty in our lives are lush and abundant. These are our carefree relationships where we can relax a bit more and be ourselves. A word of caution though; you need to keep your hand on a summer garden if you want to get the most from it. These relationships still need nurturing. Identify and examine your summer relationships. Are there any asks too much of you to keep it in good condition? A taxing relationship can cause you to neglect another relationship, resulting in it turning into an autumn relationship. The attention you will need to devote to that relationship will then require yet more effort from your side. Think about your friendships and relationships and ask yourself where you need to invest more of yourself, and where less. With the metaphor of the summer garden in mind, which of your summer friends use so much water that there might not be enough left for the others? What would happen in a dry season? Which of your relationships bloom without a lot of effort and brings you the most joy?

The last section belongs to our Spring relationships. At first we stick some of these butterflies down in the same manner as the others. These are our new relationships. Some of them are forming strong attachments and seem as if they may move into summer. Yet they still need to prove themselves. Generally these relationships are exciting and thrilling and energetic ones, loaded with new conversations and experiences. They add some spice to our mundane lives. Do remember though, that they have not yet stood the test of time and may be very fleeting.

The last of these Spring butterflies are bent between our fingers. Some relationships are not meant to work out and they are not meant to last.

It may be our own doing that cause people to leave our lives. It may be something they did. Or perhaps both parties are responsible for the choice? Whichever it is, a dent has been added to the relationship and as it was still a new one, it did not have the strength to survive.

This time we do not stick the butterflies down completely. They each get only a small dollop of glue at the bottom. I use Tombow Glue.

When we stick these butterflies down we show them in their fleeting manner as leaving our lives. Do not hold on too tight to these. There season in your life is over and it is time for them to move on. You can also make a list of spring relationships and decide which of these to invest in and why.

I now want to draw your attention back to those Winter relationships. Can you see how they are disappearing in obscurity? We need to give them somewhere to go.

I once again replace the framework of your life. I use a permanent marker, in this case a Black Pigma Pen with a Brush tip, and outline the Winter frame with this marker.

I then make some short strokes along the outline.

While the ink is still wet, I distress it with my finger. I have now created a broken shadow next to my Winter relationships. Some of these can now be released to disappear into the shadows. Others have been left openings to restart a Spring Season in my life. We may need to rebuild trust, but they have been deemed worthy of keeping and we can start anew. How does this make you feel? Do you feel relieved to be able to let some of them go free? Or do you experience a sense of loss because some of them have left? Why do you feel this way? How do your feelings and emotions about the lost relationships influence your daily life?

Now let's turn our attention to the Chalkboard frame. I deliberately opted to use this paint on the frame. It leaves me space to write ideas and comments on my life about my relationships, allowing them to hedge me in and become a protective force in my life. These messages will not always be the same, and as the seasons, they too will change. Acknowledge that all relationships are constantly in dynamic transformation and allow yourself to adapt accordingly. Change the messages as frequently as you need to and do not hesitate to erase messages that are no longer applicable.

A side view of the messages.

A front view of the finished product.

Now hang this heart against a wall somewhere and allow it serve as a reminder and a checkpoint in your life. Do not forget to tend to the messages, the same way we should not forget to tend to our relationships.

Melette Els (Clinical Social Work) can be contacted via the webpage, or by email at, or by phone at 082 776 1536.
Melette Els B.A. (SocSc) M. (Th) 
BHF Pr Nr.: 089 000 00 28754 SACSSP Reg.Nr.: 10-17310

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