Art Therapy VII – Strenght and Energy – Part II

During last week’s Art Therapy session I continued with my Strength and Energy masterpiece. In the previous session I had ripped the painting into little pieces, which I know re-assembled mixing colour and white paper pieces and sticking onto a new piece of paper completely randomly. In a first step in then looked like this:

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In a second step I then continued with writing phrases, thoughts, questions and ideas on to the reassembled painting, whatever really popped into my head in that particular moment. In a way I entitled the painting “The Warrior of the Pen rebuilding her life”, but that so far is only a working title for me. At the moment I am dealing with questions like: What are my dreams? What are my ambitions? What is giving me strength (writing is a definite answer to that)? What is normality? How is the post-cancer life going to be like? I know that the word crept up as well when I worked away on my piece.

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I know that the exercise of strength and Energy is not over yet, something is missing still, and it is not finished, far from it. By now I am thinking that there is not enough red, orange and yellow on it. Maybe I should repaint it with a combination of these colours…. Food for thought.

 

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Art Therapy VII – Strength and Energy

Strength. That was this week’s art therapy class’ topic. What gives me strength? What boosts my energy? As a technique my art therapist suggested that we should use a big sheet of paper and paint it in our favourite colours with big strokes, let it dry (that is why acrylic is the preferable material here), then rip the painting in pieces and do something else out of it. As I had an appointment with my psychotherapist this morning, I arrived half an hour later for the art therapy session, and hence why my creation is not complete yet. I am only at stage 3 – destruction of the painting (which I enjoyed tremendously, it was so very liberating), so I do not know yet what I will do with the different pieces of paper yet – ideally I would love to burn them, but that is not possible in the building. An idea just popped into my head – I could divide the pieces into two piles – on the snippets from the first pile I could write words on the white of the flip side whereas I would keep the second pile as it is. Afterwards I would glue all the pieces onto another piece of paper to create a collage. I like this idea a lot and shall keep it in mind for next week.

20130410_110626Without thinking too much this is what I painted with my favourite colours at the moment: light blue, green and a raspberry red.

20130410_112221So this is what my “painting” looked like after I had ripped it apart

20130410_112316A fellow patient drew this portrait of me at the end of this week’s art therapy session.

 

Art Therapy VI: Flowers in the Dark

On my way to this week’s art therapy, the image of a red flower on a black canvas popped into my head, and just did not want to go away…. Oh dear, I thought, so this what I will end up painting today…. I still don’t like using black in my paintings.

Today’s session started with a relaxation exercise – an imaginary journey. We were asked to close our eyes and focus on our breathing, while our therapist read a story to us. She took me to my favourite place in the world – the beautiful sandy beach on Macaneta Island in Mozambique, my happy place. There I was sitting in my comfy clothes, watching the sunrise, enjoying how the sun was warming my skin. In this dream I was then asked to blow up balloons and put my fears and my joys inside of them. I actually packaged the red flower in the dark room into one of the balloons before letting them go so that they could fly into the sky. How peaceful, how calming.

Back in the real world it was time to go back to the drawing boards. It was inevitable, I had to deal with the image of the flower in the darkness, but with my own personal little touch. So I decided to break up the dark with patches of purple, to make the painting look less oppressive and claustrophobic. The purple gives your work of art some elegance, my therapist commented. I then drew not one but four flowers, one obviously in red and the others in some of my favourite colours at the moment- orange, yellow and pink. My therapist complimented me on this good choice of colours, saying that they complement and contrast each other at the same time. There is movement in the painting as well, she continued. Thinking about it, I would rather say that the flowers are dancing in the wind, swinging from one side to the other. But the flowers are not blown away, they are strong and stay anchored in the ground. Maybe these flowers stand for really happy memories or moments in my battle that have kept me on the ground and have enable me to sail through the darkness, which is this horrible illness.

Like last week, the flowers remain a mystery, but as there won’t be any art therapy sessions for the next two weeks due to the Easter holiday, I will have some time to meditate on this.

 

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Art Therapy VI – Up: The Little Princess and the Red Flower

“So what do you want to work on today?” my art therapist asked me on Wednesday. “I don’t know”, I replied, “my mind is blank.” To be honest I felt a bit lost and had no clue what to paint. However my art therapist had a solution to my dilemma. “Why don’t you retreat to your corner where the cushions are? You remember that last week we talked about the balloons (note to my readers: the group was talking about sending off balloons, containing pieces of paper with our fears and dreams written down on them, into the sky). Well why don’t you close your eyes and think of a balloon – it could be you travelling in a hot air balloon or you being carried away by a whole bunch of balloons. See where the journey takes you.” My therapist knows (and she has realised that very early on) that I need a lot of space and freedom to express myself – so her guidelines suited me perfectly. Off I went to grab a sketch book, a pencil and my smartphone, so I could relax with some music, before settling down nicely and comfortably in my little corner.

When hearing the reference to “a bunch of balloons” I was instantly reminded of a particular scene (where a house is being carried away by a huge amount of very colourful balloons) in my favourite animate movie called Up, which I saw on my flight to Toronto last summer. Funnily enough, James Morrison’s song Up is also one of my battle songs. I used the YouTube app on my phone to watch the film scene again and then listened to the accompanying soundtrack a couple more times – and I just knew that this picture of me being carried away by a gigantic bunch of balloons set against the backdrop of a blue sky with a few white clouds, just had to go into my painting.

What then came was the image of Antoine de St. Exupéry’s little prince tending to this rose on his lonely planet – so I sketched this out on a piece of paper as well. I left the character of the little prince out though, but instead added a crown to the figure representing me – a little princess was born. Once I was done I got up and started painting with different colours….

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That image of the princess reminds of the Luxembourgish Royal Wedding, which took place on October 20th, 2012, only 10 days after my surgery. As I was still on sick leave, Miss MoneyPenny and Miss Goldielocks came over to pay me a visit. They had brought along some plastic tiaras with fake pink diamonds, which we were wearing while following the wedding on television. We nibbled on some cupcakes and had a glass of crémant – and for a few hours I just forgot about my illness and enjoyed feeling like a princess myself.

So what does the red flower stand for? I frankly do not know – maybe it stands for me being a caring and nurturing person as I love looking after people … I don’t know. In my painting I can only see the flower from afar, however I have not landed yet on the planet and hence I have not yet had the chance to examine the flower more closely. The mystery of the red flower remains to be resolved – but there are still loads of art therapy sessions to come where I will be able to explore this avenue….

Art Therapy V: Trilogy – The Lightness of Dancing

Today I just experimented. I took a huge piece of paper, decided spontaneously to grab the sponge out of pure curiosity to see what I could do with it, but was very determined to limit myself in the number of colours I was going to use. I went with gouache colours, not my favourite, but boy what a surprise they had in store for me. When I mixed them water, I realised how many different shades of one colour I could produce. Amazing!   Working with the sponge was so much fun, I could draw really big patterns and go completely crazy and wild in my creativity. It was a liberating experience.

My first painting was done in a light blue (maybe the blue sky that morning, a sign of the upcoming spring, had inspired me.) Light blue is one of my favourite colours, it reminds me of the sky in the morning, of the fresh crisp air. I then used a middle size paint brush and applied some strokes to the painting. I think it resembles a dancer (ok, I think Renoir has definitely left a mark on me in this regard). I wanted to keep my painting minimalist, in terms of actual objects depicted, so as to leave room for imagination and interpretation. That is how on the right hand corner I think I can discover an elephant whose trunk the dancer is caressing –that is why I entitled this painting Dawn – Dancing with the Elephant. What wonderful memories are resurfacing now – of me going on safari in the Kruger National Park in South Africa, having spent the night in one of the camps, then seeing elephants the next day…  Happy Times.

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Dawn – Dancing with the Elephant 

I was not done painting though, so on I went, grabbed a new piece of paper, using the same technique but a different colour for the background– purple. I love when the sun sets at night and colours the sky in this shade of purple-pink. I stayed with my theme of the dancer though, but this time I was compelled, forced even though I did not really want to; to draw my recurrent image of the heart. It reminded me of my daydream dance with Renoir, or the hope of dancing with someone I love in the future. So that is why that the painting was baptised: Dusk – Dancing with Love.

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Dusk – Dancing with Love 

I just could not stop painting today, so I attempted a third painting as well. This time I needed a stronger background colour – an orange-red, which reminds me of the warming and soothing sun. I wanted more people in this painting, not just one, and not static. That is why they are all dancing to a music no one can hear, contorting themselves around 3 little balls of fire, not caring what others might think of them. In retrospect this picture reminds me of my first weekend after I had discovered the lump – a group of my expat friends had decided to go out clubbing, and I was all up for it, dressed to the nines, dancing the night away, letting my hair down, just wanting to forget all my worries and anxieties, completely ignoring the fact that people thought I was crazy being able to dance like that without being drunk. This piece is called “Midday – Dancing the Happy Dance with Crazy People”.

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Midday – Dancing the Happy Dance with the Crazy People

My fellow participants were really impressed with my paintings, some suggested I should even frame them and hang them up in my room, and all my therapist said “Your paintings show such a lightness, they are so carefree”. Today I let go, I stopped thinking and just followed my heart that is how this unique composition of 3 paintings, entitled “Trilogy – the Lightness of Dancing” was created.

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Trilogy – The Lightness of Dancing 

Art Therapy IV – Light at the End of the Tunnel

“Light” was the assignment for today’s art therapy session. Feeling actually quite sad, for various reasons,  I decided to retreat to one corner of the room. I sat down on a comfy cushion on the floor , grabbed a drawing block, pencils and crayons and started to develop my first intuitive idea.  The words and images of “light at the end of the tunnel” had easily formed in my head, so I tried my best to express creatively on paper.

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So where is the green road of hope leading to? What is at the end of the tunnel?

Love… Maybe? Possibly? Eventually?

My ever-recurrent theme….

Art Therapy III – The Black Hole of Anxieties

Last Wednesday, I very nearly walked out of my art therapy class. Not sure if you know that feeling of when someone really bugs you and you just want them to shut up? Well that was how I felt that particular morning. There is one fellow participant/cancer patient who is really pushing my buttons – she talks a lot, is incredibly dominant in her conversation or shall we say in her monologue style. She keeps telling the group constantly and repeatedly how good the art therapy is for her, how much she is learning, how much it is helping her, how she is improving her drawing and painting skills, and what she feels like doing in the upcoming session, and how she does not like negative paintings or drawings…. It was well just so massively overwhelming for me. I literally felt like a bulldozer had just rolled over me, the session had only started for 5 minutes, and I was ready to pack up my things and just go. The therapist leading the session had not even had the possibility to explain to the group what the instructions/concept for this week’s painting were going to be. It was just too much for me, I felt how my whole body tensed up and all I wanted to do was to get out, to have room to breathe. Looking around the room, I then realised that I was not the only one feeling this way, that others felt uncomfortable too. However it took every inch of my self-control not to take my stuff and head back to the office. But I am not a quitter, I don’t run away, so I decided to stay – knowing full well that once everyone would be absorbed in their painting, I would forget about this nagging voice too.

So this week’s assignment was to draw a picture in a picture, a so-called frame-picture (Rahmenbild). To start of you draw a square on your sheet of paper, which can be as small or big as you like. This square is your fame. Inside this frame, you then draw your fears, anxieties, in short your negative emotions. Outside the frame you draw your positive emotions. Oh dear, was my first thought, drawing my fears and anxieties, that was going to be though. There were quite a few negative ones I was grappling with at that particular time, and letting them out would take quite a bit of courage, and it also meant that I would use the colour black for the very first time since having started the art therapy class. I was set up for an emotional journey.

Trying to avoid having to deal with my issues, I started drawing the outside of the frame, and rather than drawing things, I just kept colouring the “outside” space with different colours, strong, positive colours I like to reflect my happy emotions. This exercise was very therapeutic for me, in that it calmed me down, helped me relax, distress, unwind, and free me from the tensions that had built up at the begging of the session.

However eventually I could not put the “uncomfortable” drawing part off any longer. I started slowly, coming to terms that I would have to use black (which I had been so determined not to use at all in my paintings) and hence used this colour to draw the outline of the frame. For me this inside picture was to visualise my “black hole” that I fall into once in a while and that I find difficult to come out off. In that black hole, there are two major fears at the moment 1) I am scared that the chemotherapy might cause infertility in the long run and hence “rob” me of the ability to have children (this is expressed in the symbol on the top left bit of the black box –  a pregnant woman whose womb contains an unborn baby, the latter being represented by a little heart) and 2) I am scared that I will be on my own, not find love, not be able to enjoy a happy relationship with a man (that is why I have a drawn a broken heart, a recurrent theme in my paintings as my therapist has confirmed). These two things make me angry and sad at times, and that is why I have included a tear, painted in blue (difficult to recognise as a tear, I know) and a little figure with a red head, to represent the anger.

Once I was done, or felt I was done, my therapist came over to have a look at it and talk it through with me. One of her comments struck a chord with me – she said that the “inside” was very claustrophobic – the figure in the black box seemed to struggle, to fight to get out, but there was literally no escape route for him/her. I then realised that I had drawn myself as a prisoner of my negative emotions. I tend to bottle up my emotions and deny myself a way of expressing them, I sometimes want to share and sometimes I just want to keep them to myself.  So how could I resolve this dilemma? “Draw a door, a closed door, in the black box”, my therapist suggested – “you can leave that door shut when you feel like it or open it when you are ready to come out”. A brilliant solution, I thought, and this how I added a white closed door to the left bottom hand corner of the black box.

“I cannot see you in this picture yet –I?”  know you differently – are you only in the ”inside” picture?”, my therapist continued.  No, I am not, I replied, I am feeling a lot of happy emotions too, I am in both pictures. “So where in the positive picture are you?” – “In the pink square”, I replied automatically (this raspberry pink colour is one of my favourites at the moment), so that is why I added myself in that spot, drawing myself when I do one of my happy dances.

Finally I added an escape tunnel for the “angry” Steffi too, an easy escape route for when I need to air my anger, a way out into the sun. And this is how the following picture came about.

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Art Therapy II – The Tree of Life

Last Wednesday I was well excited to go to my Art Therapy Class and I was particularly looking forward to seeing C. again.  C., a very kind and warm hearted person, is one of the other 5 participants and we both seem to be getting on really well. When I walked into the waiting room, C. was already there and as soon as she saw me she had this really big smile on her face, opened up her arms, gave me a massively big hug and said “I have been thinking about you!” This felt so good, literally made my day and set me in a great mood for the session.

Once we were all seated in the art room, ready and eager for our session to start, C. surprised us all – she had brought along a gift for everyone – various angel necklace pendant made out of different stones. We all could choose one angel and I went for the blue one as blue is my favorite color. This was such a thoughtful random act of kindness, it really touched my heart.

Here is my little guardian angel:

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This particular session was more independent artistic freedom– in that there were no guidelines as to what we should produce artistically and what material we should use. Some decided to do something with clay, others used paint, and I decided to go for the wax colors. I love them because they are so colorful, strong and bright. I did not really know what I wanted to draw, usually I have a picture in my head, but for the first 5-10 minutes my mind just went blank. And then this picture of a tree popped into my head and I started drawing, filling the sheet of paper easily, not thinking about what I was doing. Here is the end result, which  I entitled “Tree of Life”.

Tree of Life

At first I kept wondering as to why I had drawn this tree, until I realized that the tree has been quite symbolic for me. In November I had started losing my hair, which I found particularly hard to deal with. Seeing the hair just come out in strands brought tears to my eyes and on one day I was so upset, that I had to get out of the office and get some fresh air. I happened to walk down one of the major avenues in Luxembourg City, which is lined by trees. On that day works were underway to have the leaves removed from the trees so that the Christmas Lights could be put up on the branches. For me this was very symbolic – the leaves were my hair, and I also knew that come spring, the leaves would be back and so would be my hair. What I remember from that sight as well is that even though the trees looked naked without the leaves, their trunks were still the spitting image of strength and power. I think this can also be true for me – as I have said previously the illness has marked me physically and emotionally (there are “cracks in the wall” – which I painted as black lines on the trunk in my painting) but at my core I am very strong.

I have realized though that I have only been able to be so strong and powerful due my roots. These roots are my family and the friends I have known for many, many years. These are the army of people drawn at the roots of my painting. These people have been my life-line (symbolized by the red pulsing vein), they have been feeding me with love, which has enabled me to face and tackle the illness.

There have obviously also been other people in my life, they have been drawn on the right hand side. These are friends and acquaintances, people I have known briefly, with whom I created bonds, which are fragile and can easily be broken.  I know this is sad, but it is also fine for me (it took me a while to accept this), some people come and go, some stay for short while and others for longer, kind of like clouds. And while some people leave, others enter your life, like the saying “If a door closes, a window opens”.

After the session I asked C. whether she would like to accompany me into town for a little shopping trip, and she happily agreed. My parents and siblings had given me a Thomas Sabo charm bracelet for my birthday as well as a gift voucher so that I could choose another charm for my collection. For me this bracelet is more than just a piece of jewelry, it is kind of like a scrap book of my life, which each charm having a special meaning or relating to a particular moment in my life. For example the orca whale reminds me on the one hand that as a child I wanted to become a marine biologist and travel the oceans with my hero Jacques Cousteau to save whales from extinction and on the other it stands for the beautiful memories of my whale watching trips in Canada, South Africa and the US. Therefore the newest addition needed to be chosen with great care and consideration. After some deliberation I settled for the red flower below as C. said that for her it stood as a symbol of  the affirmation of life and that in return reminded me of my blog sub-line (saying YES to life), so this charm was just the perfect choice for me.

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Art Therapy Part I – The Many Different Faces of Steffi

It is the night before my 5th chemo and I am unable to sleep – thanks to the cortisone in the medication I have to take the day prior to the treatment. The sleeping pills did not work either, so I thought I might as well use this “lost” time productively by blogging about my art therapy.

In January I took up an offer from the Fondation Cancer to participate in their new 2 hour Art Therapy “class” as I needed a creative outlet for all the emotions and feelings brought up by illness and as I had an urge to share my experiences with other cancer patients.

Yesterday I had my second session and that day’s task was to draw several self-portraits – with our eyes closed and while touching and exploring our face! What a challenge and scary thought – as it really meant having to let go of the feeling of wanting to control a situation and being open to surprises.

So here is my piece of art entitled The many different faces of Steffi

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There are a total of 9 portraits – the first one was done with a pencil (but I cheated a bit and kept opening my eyes throughout the process), the following 8 were then drawn with wax crayons. After each new portrait I would get up choosing a new color – something bright and eye-catching. I wanted my piece to be really colorful. I could have chosen to paint each portrait on a new piece of paper, but I really liked the idea of the portraits overlapping  and merging into each other on this big piece of paper.

The following 3 of the portraits really stood out for me and I gave each of them a title as well

Curiosity (my favorite self portrait out of all the 9) Image

Serenity (in blue)

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Hiding and Observing (in green)

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When I then contemplated my finished piece – I realized that the mouths in all of the portraits were all very big. I had particularly enjoyed drawing my mouth. Touching my mouth was an interesting experience, I just realized how soft and sensual my lips are – what a revelation really.  My therapist then suggested I should focus more on this particular part of my body, so I did the following two pieces.

My new favorite part of my body? 

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Love 

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For the last two pictures, I drew the outlines while having my eyes closed but filled out the spaces and added the captions with my eyes open.

Overall I am very pleased with the end product.

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I was also very thrilled when my art therapist commented that my paintings really showed my strength,  positive attitude and happiness. What a great experience!