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Thursday, 12 May 2016

Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 1 of 8 - Creating A Journal

There is probably not one of us who have not had to deal with the devastating effects of losing someone dear to us. Everyone grieves in their own way and it would be a cheap attempt to say that one formula fits all. Yet, numerous attempts have been made to identify the phases that people in grief pass through and seven have been agreed upon to be more or less universal. We will take a look at these phases in an attempt to gain some form of understanding for the process we are passing through. We take this journey in the form of an art journal, attempting to somehow find a means of dealing with the loss we have experienced and continue to experience still. In this first blog of the eight part series, we look at creating the album that will house the process.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist).
You can follow these links to read the full series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

I will be using an A5 album as my journal. This is a concise small little album, but as I will be working on double spreads, I will effectively have an area equal to A4 to work on. I love the strong 300 gsm watercolour paper by Dala for the art journaling. You can literally use almost any medium on this paper and it will retain its shape. It just makes sense that I would be using an A5 sized paper pad to fit inside the album. There of course no rules dictating the size of album or journal you work in. There are plenty of choices out there and you may choose completely different from me. Note that you could use much lighter paper to apply paints to as well. Generally it is a good idea to then treat the paper with gesso first to prevent it from buckling and warping. The album I use comes prepared with gesso. In just the same way, it is necessary to prepare ourselves for this process. We can prepare ourselves by deciding what we want to do, or who we want to assist us, to feel 'protected' during this process. For instance, you may want to identify a special friend with whom to share the experience with. Or you may want to set aside quiet, uninterrupted time for working on your journal. Or perhaps yoy need to find a place that makes you feel comfortable and safe.

I will be covering the outside of the journal with decoupage paper. I love this soft lime colored paper with it's purple flowers and the words memories scribbled all over it. It seems to capture the essence of what I want to achieve with this journal. This will be the determining paper for the rest of my coordinating papers.

All of my papers have been used in previous projects, but that will not deter me. My journal is small and I have more than enough paper left to work with. My papers seem to reflect the way I feel these days, previously used and not quite fresh. Fitting then that I should use these papers.

The first step for me, is to take my album apart so that the two covers lay side by side.

I then fit my paper to the album covers.

The coordinating papers are fit in the same way. What is important when selecting your paper, is that it should speak to you. My paper speaks to me of peace. Yours may speak of hope, or dare I even say joy. You will best be able to determine the need that is foremost in your life. Try to identify and address that need. Your journal/album should invite you back when you put it down, not drive you away.

You will note that I have kept the front cover of my album rather simple. My main paper takes up most of the space and I have allowed only one of the coordinating papers onto the cover. This one has lines on it, which are lain down horizontally along the lines of the album. This was done unintentionally, but as I look at it now, I realize that it speaks of my desire to have the order of my life restored. I could not possibly cope with diagonal lines right now, and vertical ones seem too sharp, as if they are driving into me. It is interesting how our subconscious sometimes makes itself heard when we are busy with creative things. Take note when things like these happen to you during the process. Write it down somewhere so that you can refer back to it later. This is one way of acknowledging how our inner wisdom protects us in difficult times.

I now turn my attention to the back cover of the album. This time I choose one of the coordinating papers to dominate the layout. It is one with a flower motif on it. I find this very interesting. Once again my choice testifies to me of my willingness to participate in the process of emotional restoration. It is important to realize that, after a loss, one can never return to where you have been before. This is why we use the word restoration, rather than healing. A restored you will be 'new' and beautiful, but different from the former you. This is a process of restoration of the injured you, that is growing and developing to a place which is preferable to the 'damaged' state the loss has left you at. When I am done, and reach the end of the journal/album, I want to be able to appreciate the beauty of life again. I want that to dominate my life. It also tells me that I am still at a place where my memories seem to be overwhelming me. At this stage of the process, I still want to leave them behind, or at least have their prominence greatly diminished. I realize that it is because those memories still hurt so much. I experience some kind of conundrum; I want to remember, yet I am too scared to do so, and yet so scared that I will forget!

Having realized the significance of my choice of paper, I decide to change my layout. I want to actively work towards a place where I can still accommodate my memories, but I do not want them to dominate entirely. Yet I place this paper right at the top of the album cover as an indication of their importance to me. Remember that you can change your mind about any, or all of your decisions at any time during the process. This is the beauty of the process, which allows you to grow into new insights that may influence your journey and your way of thinking. I then allow myself to add some striped paper onto the back cover as well. This time I purposely turn them vertical. I am determined to reach a level of wellness where I will once again be able to cope with life's sharp edges. There is no specific time frame by which this should be reached. On the contrary, your journey through the process will determine for itself when you are here. Attempting to limit the process to fit a specific time frame, may be detrimental to the process, which may delay your restoration.

I paint the back of my papers, one at a time, with Dala Acrylic Gel Medium.

The paper is then laid in its place on the album cover and a second layer of Dala Acrylic Gel Medium is painted over it.

With the first paper in place, I repeat the same steps for the second paper.

This is followed by the third paper until the whole of the back cover is covered.

I then repeat the same steps on the front cover, putting the first paper in place ...

... followed by the second and last paper. There seems to be something symbolic about this process. I get the sense that little by little I will be able to rebuild my life, one piece at a time. How does it make you feel to think of rebuilding your life one piece at a time?

I now find a new paper to add to the project. It is slightly brighter than the rest of the papers, as I want to punch out some journaling from this and it would have to appear more prominent if I want to make it readable. This too, I find significant. Is it possible that I may find my voice again? I seem to have lost the ability to speak in this tragedy. I find that people are uncomfortable with my grief and I  end up saying things that they will be able to cope with, rather than what I want to be saying. Perhaps I will find my voice in these pages again.

I then proceed to punch out a significant title for my journal. This will be completely different for every person participating in the process and I do not want to influence you with my choices.

Having punched out the letter needed for my title, I paint a strip of Dala Acrylic Gel Medium where the title will go. Where will you put your title? Again, this is an opportunity for you to make your own choice and let your own personality shine through. You may find that during this time of grieving, people tend to make decisions on your behalf without considering your needs, or asking for your opinions. You may also find it difficult to make decisions for yourself, lacking strength/energy/direction, etc. The decisions to decide on a heading and where to place it, are not life altering decisions and can safely be changed if need be. That is why this is a safe place to start taking charge of something again.

I lay the letters for the first line in place and then paint over them with a coat of Dala Acrylic Gel Medium.

Then I do the same with my second line. You will note that I have opted to use the title of the blog series on my journal. Again, I urge you to think about what would be the most suitable title for your journal.
Did you use this title?
What does your chosen title mean to you?
Does it symbolize something specific to you?

Setting the front cover aside to dry, I turn my attention to the back cover once more. I find a roll of Washi Tape that is marked in measurements, like a ruler or measuring  tape. I place this right underneath my 'memories' paper. This is symbolic of my journey, an acknowledgement of how far I have come since the day my life, as I knew it, ended. Once this journey is complete, I will stop at this tape again and ponder this thought.

Working first on the front cover and then on the back, is very important. The front cover represents where I am now. The back cover represents what I envisage for myself for the future. Music is such an integral part of joy to me, that I can hardly stand the idea of people singing at a funeral. But that is me, and my own personal issue. I use a small strip of Washi Tape, with music scores printed on it, on my back cover as well. I want to hear music again. This will be an important marker for me in my own healing process.
What would such a symbol be for you? For instance, appreciating beautiful things, enjoying the taste of food again, remembering your loved one without crying, etc.

The I add a line of pink flowery Washi Tape that runs from top to bottom over my back cover. The colour is an odd choice, considering my colour scheme, but I include it anyway. I have always been able to take delight in life oddities, finding them the stuff that makes life beautiful. I want to be able to appreciate that beauty again. This firmly belongs on the back cover of my journal.

Lastly, I add two ceramic embellishments, using my Tombow glue to fix them to the page. One is of a girl in a frilly dress with a big smile on her face. I want that to be representative of me again. The other is of a purple heart. Right now my heart feels dead inside me. I want it to spring to life and bloom again. I could do a lot more on the back cover, but I have set my main goals in place and I now know what I am working towards. More, for me, would be clutter. You may feel differently. Explore your own goals and do your best to have the most important ones represented on the back cover of your journal/album.
What are your goals and/or wishes for yourself?
How can you represent those in your album/journal?
Add these identifiers to the back cover of your journal. Allow yourself to really make this back cover your own. You may ask for ideas from people, but don't allow them to choose and design it for you. This is your process. Your journey!

I once again use my Tombow glue on the front cover. This time I glue a string of pearl beads to the cover. I have no idea if this is true or not, but years ago someone mentioned in passing that pearls were meant to be worn at funerals and this has stuck with me. Understandably the significance of adding pearls to my journal, is an acknowledgement of death here. It signifies my readiness to start a conversation about death and loss, if only with myself.

I then find a poem I wrote a long time ago, but that seems to speak with a fresh voice to me now. I tore it from its binder to add it to the front of my journal.

Here is a copy of the poem, titled 'Search'
In the dead of the night quiet reigns
and stillness settles on the living.
Loneliness rises from its slumber
and subdues every creature to its bidding.
Its beastly bravado punishes harshly
with blow after blow of self-pity,
and the meek and the mindless
seek selfless and soulless
to be part of a bigger belonging.

I was very fortunate to have the words/journal-ling that I was looking for at hand. You may use this if it appeals to you, however, make sure that you use something that really resonates with your personal feelings and experience! You may have to search a little harder, but try to find words to attach to your journal. This is your journey of restoration. You have already decided upon your direction, but every journey has a starting point as well. Define yours clearly. Take your time. There is no rush. Bear in mind that the process of searching and sifting is part of the journey.

I decide that the printer paper is too stark white for my layout and decide to change the colour on the poem. I choose to use watercolour paint to do this with, as this paint is by nature transparent. My choice falls upon Phthalo Green.

I dilute the paint with a little water.

Then I paint it all over my poem. Have you noticed how I mentioned that this poem had changed its meaning for me of late? Isn't it rather fitting then that I should also change colour of the paper it is printed on?

I paint the back of the poem with Dala Acrylic Gel Medium.

I then lie the poem in place on the front cover and paint a layer of Dala Acrylic Gel Medium over the top as well. Then I sit back to acknowledge another accomplishment. Do you remember how I started off saying that I could not possibly cope with diagonal lines right now? And yet, I have pasted the poem diagonally onto the front cover. It would seem that I am stronger than I have given myself credit for!

I now add a single pearl bead to the top of my poem, bringing home the new meaning of the poem to me. I also stick two brown clay hearts onto the cover of the album. This is what my heart looks like at the beginning of this journey. It is a far cry from the glazed purple heart on the back cover. What does your heart look like right now? Acknowledge this and give yourself permission to feel the way you do. By denying yourself this privilege, you will not be able to fully experience the restoration process.

I then decide that I want the journal-ling to be even more prominent on the front cover and add a frame around the edges of the paper, using a green paint pen. It then occurs to me that by putting the poem in a frame, I have hedged it in so that it is contained. In the same way, our grief is restricted. It has not taken over our whole lives, even though it may feel that way at times. We need to acknowledge the parts of our lives that are outside this frame of grief.

I then use a hole punch and hammer to open the holes in the covers that were covered with the decoupage paper.

A close-up of the completed front cover, representing where I am. How do you feel when you look at your front cover? What emotions do you experience?

A close-up of the completed back cover, representing where I want to go. How do you feel when you look at your back cover? What emotions do you experience?

The two covers side by side, the back cover on the left and the front cover on the right. Having come to terms with where I am and where I want to go, I am now ready to start my journey.
Do either the front or back covers make you feel overwhelmed?
If so, is there something you need to take away?
Do you need to add anything?
Do you need more time?
If you feel in any way that this has out too much pressure on you, take it slower. Wait a bit, and rethink your covers.
Remind yourself of the measures you've put in place at the start to 'protect' yourself.

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

FMarietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy her books here:
You can purchase Designs By Miekie 1 here.
Jy kan Kom Ons Teken en Verf Tuinstories hier koop.
Jy kan Kom Ons Kleur Tuinstories In hier koop.
Jy kan Tuinstories hier koop.
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