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hands paintedRecently, my Pinterest app told me that adult coloring books are trending right now. I knew they existed, but I hadn’t realized they were now outrageously popular. Of course, being an artist myself, it didn’t surprise me; however, I did begin to wonder what it is about coloring that appeals to the mind. I’ve begun looking into art therapy and the benefits it provides to people dealing with all sorts of illnesses and trauma. According to one study, “professionals are beginning to recognize the role that creative arts play in the healing process; increasingly, arts in medicine programs are emerging throughout the United States and worldwide (Ganim B. Art and Healing: Using Expressive Art to Heal Your Body, Mind and Spirit New York, NY: Three Rivers Press; 1999)”. To be honest, we are all dealing with issues that could use therapy—and perhaps this new coloring book fad came about because of art’s fun, non-threatening ability to help heal and soothe a troubled mind. In addition to coloring books, I’ve come up with 5 ways to use art as therapy.

1. Make abstract art to express emotions.
Sometimes, as a viewer, it can be challenging to appreciate an abstract painting. Splotches of color, pattern, and fragments of lines and shapes can seem devoid of meaning and hard to connect with. Yet these pieces can become the most powerful when a description of the piece from the artist is provided. What was going on in the mind of the individual while they were creating what stands before you? When we lose the requirement to make things looked “real”, we gain a new freedom to delve in and discover our own personal universe. We make the rules, and with no boundaries—social or scientific—can hold us back. We can use this picture to help us find the words that perhaps were held back by the conventional world. Here is a link for an exercise to address the feeling of grief:

2. Use representational art to express gratitude for the world around you.
Have you ever tried to draw someone? It’s hard. Even if you can get the face to look like an actual human face, you still have to make it look like a certain person. But as you stare hard into that face, you begin to see the tilt of the nose, the soft wrinkles around the eyes, and the curving of the lips—you begin to appreciate those features. The more landscapes I paint, I become more aware of the color and composition that lies all around me in the natural world. The term “grounding” refers to a practice used for people during panic attacks, where the individual goes through a series of actions to help them connect with their present surroundings. Taking in one’s surroundings at a representational level helps us become one with our world in a purely positive way. Here is a basic tutorial for drawing the face:

3. Use process art to calm the mind.
This is where the coloring book comes in. Most of the adult coloring books these days deal with intricate patterns reminiscent of Middle Eastern patterns, which are generally based on flowers and swirls. When the mind needs something gentle and relaxing, this is the perfect thing. Simple clay molding can have the same effect, especially when making pinch pots or anything that has a particular process and uses specific tools. Collaging can be a nice way to collect all of your favorite things and arrange them in a notebook to be recalled at a more troubling time. Here is a link for some great coloring books:

4. Use creativity and imagination to gain contact with your inner child.
Finger paint! There’s nothing more exciting than getting your hands dirty. Some of my favorite activities as a child included flinging paint with toothbrushes, tie dying shirts, building sand castles and nests out of mowed grass…art encompasses a wide range of materials. Just be creative. Weave your invention into what you cook, how you dress, at the parties you throw, and especially into the activities you plan for your children and loved ones. We never grow too old to try new things, and variety is the spice of life. If you need help starting or have any ideas to share, go to

5. Use artistic journaling as an outlet.
Another new thing that I’ve noticed around the Internet is a new form of journaling. It involves using sketches, color, creative writing, and collage to give a more visually interactive account of daily events and emotions. It’s like taking a novel with no pictures or anything noteworthy and transforming it into a vibrantly illustrated tale. The sky is the limit here—use magazines, crayons, and paint to illustrate what you’re talking about, or just show us a few of your favorite things. For more ideas, check out

 post by Sabrina Squires, Food and Care Coalition staff