DonnaIn catastrophic thinking it is either perfect or horrible. Things are black or white. There aren’t shades of gray. So we spent some time last week with the women at the Lighthouse, a twelve-month, faith-based residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse, helping them learn to paint a gradated gray scale – from white to black. Frankly it’s easier said than done. It takes a keen eye and practice to progressively mix a little bit more black paint into white to match the eight step gray scale. Accompanying their painted gray scale was a corresponding worksheet of words they’d developed as a group in order to have a broader, and common, vocabulary of how to evaluated an experience.

It went something like this….”on a scale of one to ten, one being perfect and ten being horrible, what is slightly less than horrible? What’s slightly less than terrible?” And so on.

Their list looked something like this:

10. Horrible
9. Terrible
8. Awful
7. Bad
6. Not so good
5. OK
4. Good
3. Great
2. Awesome
1. Perfect

Being more familiar with the darker experiences of life, it’s not surprising they had more difficulty matching the lighter shades of gray (2-4). Sometimes art mirrors life. But then they progressed on to painting their seasons of life in shades of gray – with an accent color if they wished, such as Donna’s above.

This is one of my favorite art activities because there is often such a cohesiveness among their paintings. Each using different symbols, nevertheless, the images are somehow unified with the common use of shades of gray. 

Blanca created her seasons as past, present, future – a coffin shaped box presenting her childhood, a recovery broken heart in the present still afflicted with darkness at times, and the hope of a healed heart in the future. Jamie’s images include a “checkered past” in the lower right corner, a staircase representing her desire to climb up out of situations only to fall down again and again, and her broken heart beginning to mend at the Cross. She pointed out the vine that winds around the center dividing line which becomes more vague toward the bottom of the picture saying, “The Vine has always been there, but there were just times when He was less visible.” Jill’s use of the musical staff motif was a first. In the upper left quadrant the staff is upside down indicating that the “music” of her early childhood wasn’t what she thought it was, or what it should be. The musical notes go up and down on the staff now representing that there will always be ups and downs of life. 

If you were to add your own words to the Perfect-Horrible scale, what would you add? If you were to paint the seasons of your life, what would they look like? What accent color would you use and why?

Your comments last week were a big encouragement to the ladies at the Lighthouse. Thanks!


4 comments to Shades

  • Judy Siudara

    In my own life ,I have found that learning to look at the gray rather than black or white , is a pivotal method to a successful life. this exercise, especially the words, which can be so powerful, for better or for worse, works for me. thanks for the individual perspectives on gray. Love, Judy

  • judy alexandre

    grey is most often more helpful…I use a grading scale with myself and others often. Sometimes I use shades of red also

  • I love this project. Extreme language can kill a conversation. I was only thinking you might call this Gray’s Anatomy.

  • Thanks for this Lynne. I’m sharing this our Community Arts students. Your list, images and explanations are helpful.

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