Three women artist instructors with a common goal: to help others grow, heal, and explore through the process of creation. Mason Gehring, Karen Baker, and Anna Sandoval talk to us about their path into art and wellness and the importance of the field in today’s new world.
Painting her way out of depression
“I’ve been in therapy for 7 years, and 4 years in I began to paint myself.” Mason Gehring explains that self-portraiture became a way for her to face feelings and show a journey she had been through about what she had to face within herself, which has been the hardest work.
“The most important relationship you can have is with yourself”, Mason explains, so that’s where she started her self-portrait journey. Mason says her paintings in her earlier “Deconstructed” series are about her processing very tough reflections of herself. “The white paint serves as a mask, saying this is what I wear all the time to protect myself either from myself, or to protect myself from the world.” Through the process of painting self-portraits Mason learned that it can be easy to paint sadness and anger, and has now shifted focus on thinking about what her self-portraits look like when she’s happy, when she’s healed and when she’s a at peace. Mason explains that because she’s been through depression, she knows there is only so much time to sit and go down that road before its harder and harder to get out.
In Mason’s class at DFAC, students will explore thoughts on identity through self-portraiture and discover the benefits of expressing themselves through art. Students will create 3 self-portraits over the six-week course. Mason explains she’ll encourage students to choose a color, shape, or symbol that will serve as an anchor throughout their 3 works. She’ll be creating a safe place for reflection and hopes students will use paint in a way that gets feelings out of their body and onto the canvas to look at. Mason would like the third self-portrait to be positive – and will ask students what their future self looks like, what they look like when then feel healed, strong, and happy and says that visualization is so important. Mason has a Master’s degree in Arts in Medicine.
When it comes to the topic of the role that art and creation have in our current society, Mason says “I feel it’s not happening fast enough, but I’m hoping that society is learning to value art more, and that whether you’re a pro artist or not, we’re all creative. Having an outlet is part of health care just like exercising and eating right, as humans we need it.” Mason’s personal mission is to help others realize that no matter who they are, they are creative and should be encouraged and supported to foster and explore that and make it a part of everyday life.
Art as a vehicle for healing when dealing with a loss
“I don’t let things get me down, I have picked up my bootstraps many times in my lifetime, and to have my artwork all of this time has been such a blessing to me.” – Karen Baker
Although Karen has always been an artist, in the last year she’s come to a greater realization brought on by personal tragedy, that through the process of play and creation, she could start to heal herself from the inside out, and share her process with others who are grieving.
Karen explains that as we go through life, we have losses as we go along, things change, most times hopefully for the better, but sometimes not. She says some things are easier to get over and resolve, and others are not. Karen explains that while it’s important to look back on memories, it can be difficult on the individual to keep dwelling on the past.
When someone is creating artwork, their mind is preoccupied by the process of what they’re doing, and that the innate creative ability we all have within us becomes an energy and a cleansing, Karen Says. Any time she’s had a loss she’s been able to use her art as her “get through.” “You have to go through to get through”, she says. “You can’t just stuff it [grief] and deal with it later, the best way to do that for me is through creating artwork”.
Karen’s course offering at DFAC focuses on art for grieving, but she knows that in times such as these, grieving isn’t limited to the physical death of a loved one. Karen has seen with many people recently, that they are going through what they feel as a loss of their life. For times such as this, many have felt they’ve lost their freedom. Karen believes we’re made to be social and we’re made to love. Karen explains everyone has a creative ability within them if given the right opportunity, and it brings great joy.
The loss of a spouse, a child, a family member, a friend, or even a beloved pet can be a very trying time, indeed. Karen’s course is designed to students navigate the grieving process. Participants will discover the mental and emotional health benefits of creating colorful and fun art projects while learning drawing and painting techniques combined with collage and found objects. Students will use writing exercises and journaling to help in understanding difficult emotions and promote healing.
Karen explains that no one must be schooled in art to be doing it, and she invites you to join her.
Recognizing a need
Anna come to art therapy by recognizing a need within other people. She got her start by teaching art to children and realized she had started facilitating the children through visualizations, then would encourage them to make an image of what they saw. Anna went on to theater and performing arts, and through that industry became familiar with people and behaviors, the arts and expression. She then went to school to get her BA in studio art at USF. Anna wanted more and started to research art therapy and decided that she needed to become a clinical art therapist. Anna has worked with all walks of life from those with addiction, abuse, PTSD, to other traumas.
Anna explains that art therapy is inviting people to discover that they do have a creative side of themselves that they’ve probably never used for their own benefit. The art therapist is a facilitator and a witness to help people with a diversity of issues to release emotion, so the emotion can be transmuted into an image. That image can speak to the person, making them aware of where they are, where they want to be, and how they’re going to achieve the goal they want to achieve.
“Sometimes you don’t know why you feel depressed”, Anna says. She uses the approach of allowing the student to express so they may gain further understanding. Students don’t need to be artistic at all, the image comes from the unconscious, Anna explains.
Anna describes that the process of art in wellness is like putting puzzle pieces together with someone that has blocked a part of the brain due to trauma, and that’s what Anna loves to work with. Anna explains that with people that have trauma, she starts working with them slowly, so they see there is a puzzle that has been thrown, and they start looking for the pieces and putting them together, and that’s the process of healing. Throughout the process people become more alive and more of a participant to reality.
Anna explains art is a huge part of healing and there is so little that people really understand about why its important. People tend to think that if you’re an artist you’re a genius so you’re not the norm, and only certain people can go through the process of creating, but that’s not true, she says. Anna describes that while you are making art, you are healing. She says it taps into all the dimensions, the surreal, the visual, the tactile, the cognitive, and the symbolic.
In Anna’s Art in Wellness course at DFAC students will be provided with the creative tools to improve overall functioning and will be introduced to relaxation techniques that focus on positive thinking, mindfulness, self-awareness, and growth. Using a therapeutic approach focused on natural expression and mindful intention, participants will learn to utilize important and beneficial coping skills to enhance wellness. Students will use a variety of art methods such as drawing, painting, clay, collage, graphic art, crafts, and collages. No experience, artistic training, or artistic skills required.