I was always a creative child. But growing up has meant making more time for mundanities like going to the gym, grocery shopping, taking meetings, and leaving less time to do the things that give me joy, like making things. Last year, my boyfriend got me a Christmas gift that forced me to finally take time for myself—he bought me a ceramics class for one.
The class I took lasted three hours on a chilly Saturday morning at Wilcoxson Brooklyn Ceramics. True, I didn’t want to get out of bed, and yes, I was anxious that I would be the only one flying solo (I was), but once the demonstration was over and I truly had time to myself to let go and create, I was so glad it was just me, my thoughts, and the clay. Turns out, that planter-making workshop was exactly what I needed and the best gift I’ve ever received. It was so delightfully therapeutic that I left with two gorgeous planters and the firm belief that everyone should make at least one item in their home. Once again, I remembered how good it felt to make something with my hands, but wasn’t sure why.
Why Making Things Feels So Good
According to Linda Turner, licensed creative arts psychotherapist, these psychological benefits are all more common than we may realize. There have been a number of studies supporting the positive impact art has on us, including its ability to enhance brain function, reduce stress, and uplift mood. Simply put, “creating art brings pleasure,” she says.
Of course, putting yourself in a situation where you can potentially fail (even artistically) is harder for some than others, but the process they teach at Wilcoxson is easy enough for novice ceramicists like myself to create something beautiful. Sure, there’s a little bit of technique involved, but in this project at least, there’s no real artistic skill needed—just the ability to let go. As someone who’s spent most of her life appreciating and practicing and studying art, that scared me.
How to Make the Most of It
For people, like me, whose minds have a tendency to go a mile a minute and become fixed on perfection, the key to getting the most out of your hands-on art experience is to just be present. “When creating art, you can enhance your experience by fully engaging in it, meaning turn off your phone, social media, and TV. Take away distractions; connect to and be present with your materials and create,” Turner advises. Catharsis can only be achieved by allowing yourself to be fully engaged in creating, letting go of expectation, and enjoying the process.
Turner also says it’s important to acknowledge your thoughts and bring yourself back to the present moment and process if you notice your mind wandering. A good way to do that is by listening to meditative music and noticing how it affects your entire creative process, including color choices, materials, and eventual outcome.
Of course, some may create specifically for the purpose of creating an end product, like with certain forms of pottery and jewelry-making. If that’s the case, Turner says to acknowledge this but be sure to allow for imperfection.
True art therapy is only done with a licensed art therapist, but there are certainly other ways to reap the positive benefits on your own. By experimenting with different mediums, you can what feels good to you.
Try These Projects
Play with clay
You don’t need a wheel and a kiln to experiment with clay. Simply playing with a block of clay can be an incredibly meditative and powerful medium if you’re looking for something different (and if you really want to get your hands dirty). Enjoy the process and let the clay be therapeutic.
Paint what you see
Depending on your mood and how adventurous you’re feeling (AKA how much clean up you want), decide what kind of paint to use at home, then find a photo or look out the window and simply paint the scene you see. Of course, some scenes will be easier (hello, beautiful NYC view of a wall!) than others, but let yourself have fun with it—there’s no wrong answer.
Pick up a pencil
For those who aren’t as comfortable with letting go creatively, Turner suggests drawing a circle. “The circle often provides a calming and grounding effect. I would also invite a person to notice their breath as they experience their hand on the page, creating whichever lines and shapes come forth,” she says. Try tracing a bowl or a plate to start, then allow your hand to move and just notice what you’re drawn to within that space.
Whatever you decide to try, remember to listen to calming music, don’t be afraid of color, and trust yourself. For feel-good effects, the process is far more important than the product.
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