One More Time

I love making art in community. That’s where I get some of my best ideas. Not stealing, but open sourcing because creativity begets creativity, and we all benefit when great ideas are shared. That’s what happened when I showed up the following Tuesday for open studio time. One of the women wanted to work on a large collage for her son incorporating the oil pastel/gold paint pen/watercolor gratitude cards we’d made the Friday before. She’d written prayers for him on the back of each card glued to the Bristol board substrate then surrounded them with magazine images that represented his character and interests. This creative alternative really extended the original project in a way I’d never thought about. This was just too good an idea to pass up!

Ordinarily, I try to vary the different kinds of therapeutic art workshops we do with the women at the Lighthouse, a fifteen-month, faith-based residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse. Over time we repeat activities, usually when the program’s population has changed through graduations or attrition. But this week I purposefully repeated an activity as a variation on a theme. I introduced the project saying we would spend the next two weeks creating prayer collages for loved ones – children, family members, friends, etc. They would begin by creating another 9×12 oil pastel/gold or silver paint pen/watercolor painting that they’d eventually cut up into small prayer or scripture cards. I hoped they wouldn’t be bored.

Ah, a lovely learning curve for the art teacher! The women confidently settled into their art. And the whole room got amazingly quiet; a good indicator that folks have settled deeply into the creative process. The learning curve for me was that the repetition of the art process allowed the women to move more comfortably into their art making. This was a creative project with a larger goal – a way of praying for and celebrating someone dear to them. With this repeated practice, their work became more complex and competent. Their images, designs, and colors took on significance. I was delighted by the thoughtfulness of their images and the conversations we shared.

Vivian covered her painting with lots of red spirals that represented the chaos in her life she said. I inquired whether she was aware that the spiral was often symbolic of a person’s journey to the heart of God. Double take…really? Big smile. As I recollect the jagged silver lines represent how her defenses are being broken down and a new life is emerging. She cut her picture into big cards and little cards since some of her prayers for her son are big, and some are small. Another painting of soft blues and lavenders with pale peach flowers was cut up to be incorporated into a prayer collage for a sister who is caring for one of the women’s children. Rosie’s “castle” on a huge fluffy cloud represents the mansion in heaven being prepared for her. Jennifer’s painting is full of exuberance, a quality I often associate with her when she talks about her family.

Sometimes the cut-up pieces seemed rather random as in the soft pastels of Teri’s piece. Other times, they were like puzzle pieces you could easily reassemble. Jill’s central image of a colorful spider web represented the things that ensnared the father of one of her sons. It was surrounded by other more positive images of things he loved and ways he’ll be remembered.

After a number of months of progressively brighter art work Kika’s work has begun to be a bit darker. As we chatted about the change, she indicated that she’s in a confused place trying to discern whether to stay in the program or leave. The large red face has a vigorous boldness and the black surrounding area is much smaller than it might have been a few months ago. We talked about how there seems to be strength in her lament….a beseeching for an answer soon. At the end of the morning several cameras appeared for a spontaneous group photograph. Someone handed a camera to Kika to see our happy faces. Without a moments hesitation she bubbled, “I just love you guys so much!” Captured by the moment and her enthusiasm, I ventured to suggest that she might want to pay attention to her response to that photo. That perhaps it might be an opportunity for discerning an answer to prayer. One more time.

If you were to create a mixed media painting to cut up into smaller piece and create a prayer collage for someone, who would it be for? What kind of images would  you include that represented that person in some way? What kind of prayers would you like to include?

Look forward to the word images you share.


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