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100 Excellent Art Therapy Exercises for Your Mind, Body, and Soul
January 9th, 2011
Pablo Picasso once said, "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." It's no surprise, then, that many people around the world use art as a means to deal with stress, trauma and unhappiness – or to just find greater peace and meaning in their lives. If you're curious about what art therapy has to offer, you can try out some of these great solo exercises at home to help nurse your mind, body and soul back to health. If you like the experience, you can also seek out professional art therapy treatment in your area.
Deal with emotions like anger and sadness through these helpful exercises.
- Draw or paint your emotions. In this exercise, you'll focus entirely on painting what you're feeling.
- Create an emotion wheel. Using color, this activity will have you thinking critically about your emotions.
- Make a stress painting. Choose colors that represent your stress and jab, scribble and paint your problems away.
- Put together a journal. Journals don't have to just be based around words. You can make an art journal as well, that lets you visually express your emotions.
- Make sock puppets. Sock puppets aren't just for kids. Make your own and have them act out scenes that make you upset.
- Use line art. Line is one of the simplest and most basic aspects of art, but it can also contain a lot of emotion. Use simple line art to demonstrate visually how you're feeling.
- Design a postcard you will never send. Are you still angry or upset with someone in your life? Create a postcard that expresses this, though you don't have to ever send it.
- Create a sculpture of your anger. For this activity, you'll make a physical manifestation of the anger in your life.
- Paint a mountain and a valley. The mountain can represent a time where you were happy, the valley, when you were sad. Add elements that reflect specific events as well.
- Attach a drawing or message to a balloon. Send away negative emotions or spread positive ones by attaching a note or drawing to a balloon and setting it free.
- Paint inside a heart. Using a heart as a pattern, fill in different parts of the heart with the emotions you're feeling right now.
Art therapy can be a great way to relax. Consider these exercises if you're looking to feel a little more laid back.
- Paint to music. Letting your creativity flow in response to music is a great way to let out feelings and just relax.
- Make a scribble drawing. With this activity, you'll turn a simple scribble into something beautiful, using line, color and your creativity.
- Finger paint. Finger painting isn't just fun for kids– adults can enjoy it as well. Get your hands messy and really have fun spreading paint around.
- Make a mandala. Whether you use the traditional sand or draw one on your own, this meditative symbol can easily help you to loosen up.
- Draw in the dark. Not being able to judge what you're drawing or having to worry about whether or not it's "right" can be very liberating.
- Draw something HUGE. Then something very small. Getting your body involved and moving around can help release stress as you're drawing.
- Use color blocks. Colors often come with a lot of emotions attached. Choose several paint chips to work with and collage, paint and glue until you've created a colorful masterpiece.
- Let yourself be free. Don't allow yourself to judge your work. After all, there's no way to fail and no right way to make art. Just draw, paint or sculpt until your heart's content.
- Only use colors that calm you. Create a drawing or a painting using only colors that you find calming.
- Draw in sand. Like a Zen garden, this activity will have you drawing shapes and scenes in the sand, which can be immensely relaxing and a great way to clear your mind.
- Make a zentangle. These fun little drawings are a great tool for letting go and helping reduce stress.
- Color in a design. Sometimes, the simple act of coloring can be a great way to relax. Find a coloring book or use this mandala for coloring.
- Draw outside. Working en plein air can be a fun way to relax and get in touch with nature while you're working on art.
Art can not only help you deal with the bad stuff, but also help you appreciate and focus on the good. Check out these activities all about reflecting on your personal happiness.
- Draw your vision of a perfect day. Think about what constitutes a perfect day to you and draw or paint it. What about this drawing can you make happen today?
- Take photographs of things you think are beautiful. No one else has to like them but you. Print and frame them to have constant reminders of the beautiful things in life.
- Make a drawing related to a quote you like. Take the words of wisdom from someone else and turn them into something visually inspiring.
- Create a drawing that represents freedom. This activity has you think about the concept of freedom and what it means to you, creating a work of art that showcases just what it means to you as an individual.
- Document a spiritual experience. Have you ever had a spiritual experience in your life? Draw or paint what it felt like.
- Make a stuffed animal. Soft, cuddly objects can be very comforting. Use this project to create an animal that means something to you.
- Work on a softness project. Using only soft or comforting objects, create a work of art.
- Build a "home." What does home mean to you? This activity will have you create a safe, warm place– it doesn't have to be practical– that feels like home to you.
- Document an experience where you did something you didn't think you could do. We all have to do things that we're scared or unsure of sometimes. Use this activity as a chance to commemorate one instance in your life.
- Think up a wild invention. This invention should do something that can help make you happier– no matter what that is.
- Make a prayer flag. Send your prayers for yourself or those around you out into the universe with this project.
Often, a great way to get to know yourself and your relationships with others is through portraits.
- Create a future self-portrait. This drawing or painting should reflect where you see yourself in the future.
- Draw a bag self-portrait. On the outside of a paper bag, you'll create a self-portrait. On the inside, you'll fill it with things that represent who you are.
- Choose the people who matter most to you in life and create unique art for each. This is a great way to acknowledge what really matters to you and express your gratitude.
- Draw a portrait of someone who changed your life. If someone has ever helped change your path, for better or worse, draw this person.
- Create an image that represents how you think others see you. Then, have someone in the class draw a portrait of you. Compare the results.
- Draw yourself as a warrior. Start thinking about yourself as a strong, capable person by drawing yourself as a warrior in this activity.
- Create a transformational portrait series. This project will help you to see how you've changed over time and represent those changes visually.
- Imitate Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Using objects that have meaning to you, create a portrait of yourself.
- Create a body image sketch. If you have issues with your self-esteem and body image, this can be an interesting way to see how your perceptions match up with reality.
- Draw a mirror. This activity is based around a Piet Mondrian quote: "The purer the artist's mirror is, the more true reality reflects in it." You'll need to figure out what is still cloudy in your own reflection of yourself, drawing a mirror and depicting those elements on paper.
- Draw yourself as a superhero. If you could have a superpower what would it be? This project asks you to depict your own image as a superhero with these powers.
Trauma and Unhappiness
These activities will ask you to face some unpleasant aspects of life, but with the goal of overcoming them.
- Draw a place where you feel safe. The world can be a scary place but in this project you'll create a place, draw, painted or sculpted, that makes you feel safe.
- Create a mini-diorama. This diorama can showcase an important moment in your life or some trauma that you've experienced.
- Create a collage of your worries. What worries you in your life? Cut out pictures from magazines to represent these worries.
- Draw something that scares you. Everyone is frightened of something and in this project you'll get a chance to bring that fear to light and hopefully work towards facing it.
- Turn your illness into art. Facing a potentially terminal illness? Turn your illness into something beautiful by creating art about it.
- Paint a loss in your life. If you've lost someone you love or something, paint it. This will help you to remember but also to recover.
- Make art that is ephemeral. Sometimes we have a hard time letting go, but this project will teach you that it's ok if something doesn't last. Use materials like sand, chalk, paper or water to create art that you will destroy when it's done.
If you prefer to cut and paste rather than draw or paint, these projects are for you.
- Create a motivational collage. You can hang this collage somewhere you'll see it everyday. Filled with images you find motivating, it'll help you keep pushing on.
- Create a face collage on a mask. We all wear masks of some sort. This project lets you showcase what's in your mask and the face you put on for the world.
- Create a clutter collage. Are there things cluttering up your life? In this project, use words and pictures to show the clutter in your way.
- Create a calming collage. Choose images that you find soothing, calming or even meditative and combine them to create an attractive collage that can help you to relax.
- Collage a painting. To complete this exercise, you'll first need to create a simple, abstract painting on paper. Then, tear this painting up and create another. Think about how you felt when you had to tear up the first painting and which you like more.
Examine aspects if who you are and how you see the world through these amazing art projects.
- Draw images of your good traits. Creating drawings of your good traits will help you to become more positive and build a better self-image.
- Draw yourself as an animal. Is there an animal that you have a special interest in or feel like is a kindred spirit? Draw yourself as that animal.
- Create a timeline and draw the most significant moments in your life. This timeline will be the story of your life, with the most important moments highlighted visually.
- Put together a jungle animal collage. Choose jungle animals that you find the most interesting, draw them, and then reflect on why you've chosen these specific animals.
- Sculpt your ideal self. If you could make yourself into the perfect person, what would you look like?
- Paint the different sides of yourself. In this project, you'll paint the different aspects of your personality, giving each a visual representation. You might only have one or two, or maybe even twelve.
- Make art around your fingerprints. Your fingerprints are as unique as you are. Use ink and paint to make art that uses your fingerprints.
- Draw yourself as a tree. Your roots will be loaded with descriptions of things that give you strength and your good qualities, while your leaves can be the things that you're trying to change.
- Design a fragments box. In this project, you'll put fragments of yourself into a box, helping construct a whole and happier you.
- Paint an important childhood memory. What was a pivotal memory in your childhood? This activity asks you to document it and try to understand why it was so important to you.
- Write and illustrate a fairy tale about yourself. If you could put yourself into a happily ever after situation, what role would you play and how would the story go? Create a book that tells the tale.
- Design a visual autobiography. This creative journaling project asks you to look back at your life and make a visual representation of it.
- Create your own coat of arms. Choose symbols that represent your strengths to build your own special coat of arms.
- Draw a comic strip about a funny moment in your life. Enjoy a moment of levity with this exercise that will focus in on a comical even that happened to you.
- Build your own website. Websites are very versatile ways to express yourself. Build your own to express what's most important about you.
- Create a box of values. First, collage or paint a box the represents you. Then, place items inside the box that represent the things you value the most.
Here you'll find a collection of projects that will help you be happy about what you have and express your gratitude for it.
- Document your gratitude visually. What things are you grateful for in your life? Paint or collage a work that represents these things.
- Create a family tree of strength. This exercise honors those around you who support you. Paint those close to you who offer you the strength you need.
- Make something for someone else. Making something for someone else can be a great way to feel good and help someone else do so as well.
- Make anchor art. Who are the anchors in your life? In this project, you'll make an anchor and decorate it with the people and things that provide you stability and strength.
- Draw all the positive things in your life. Everyone has at least one good thing in life, so sit down and figure out what makes you happy– then draw it.
- Sculpt your hand in plaster. Once it's dry, write all the good things you can do with it right onto the hand.
- Paint a rock. This project is meant to offer you strength. You can approach it in two ways. One option is to paint the rock with things that empower you. The other is to paint it with struggles you overcome.
- Write on leaves to create a gratitude tree. What are you grateful for? This project asks you to write those things on leaves to construct a tree or banner of gratitude.
- Map out the connections in your life. Draw yourself at the center of this project, then map out how you're connected to everyone else in your life. It will help make you feel much less alone.
- Create a snowflake out of paper. Write ideas about how you are unique on the snowflake.
- Build a personal altar. This is a highly personal project that will help connect you with your spiritual side and honor your resilience.
Inside the Mind
Take a look inside your mind to see what's going on with these projects.
- Create a blot art. Like a classic Rorschach test, fold paper in half with paint or ink in the middle and describe what you see.
- Map your brain. Make a visual representation of your thoughts to figure out how your mind works.
- Make a dreamcatcher. Having bad dreams? Create this age-old tool for catching your dreams with a few simple tools.
- Draw your dreams. You can learn a lot from what goes on in your dreams, so keep a dream journal and use it for inspiration to draw or paint.
If you're still looking for something to empower, help or soothe you, these projects may fit the bill.
- Use natural materials. Leaves, sticks, dirt, clay and other natural materials can help you get in touch with the natural world and the more primal side of yourself.
- Build an archetype. Check out this series of projects to build a set of archetypes, or ideal examples, that can help you explore how you see the world.
- Use your body as a canvas. You don't need paper when you have you body. Paint on your hands and feet or anywhere else to feel more in touch with yourself.
- Sculpt spirit figures. Connect with those that have passed on or your own spiritual essence using these sculpted figures.
- Make art out of recycled items. You can reuse old items that have meaning to you or just re-purpose something you have laying around. Either way, you'll get insights into how you can reshape and reevaluate your own life.
- Collage or draw on top of old photographs. If you're uncomfortable using old photos you can make copies, but with this project you'll draw out one characteristic you see in the person in the photos.
- Create your own interpretation of a famous work of art. How would you have painted the Mona Lisa? Using a famous work as your inspiration, create your own work. It could help reveal more about your lens on the world.
- Work collaboratively. Art can be better when two work at it together, so find a partner and collaborate on just about anything.
- Use a found or made object as a paintbrush. Whether it's something sharp or something soft, make your own artistic tool and use it to express what you're feeling.
- Make crayon stained glass. Reflect upon your spiritual side with this project that lets you create your own stained glass window.
- Paint a window. Windows let you see in and see out. Paint yours with things you want to hide or show to the world.