Collage: The Path of Least Resistance?

Are You Feeling Resistance?

Collage: Familiar Materials
What might it take for me to grow through this resistance?

When I’m feeling it, what I notice first is all the excuses I make. For instance, in the case of getting down to my self-prescribed practice of making daily art I might procrastinate by saying, “I don’t have time right now.” “I’ve only got a pencil and I want paint.” “I’m hungry.” “This paper is the wrong size.” “I’m not in the right place.” “I’m alone and I’d rather do this with someone.” “I’m around other people and I’d rather do this alone.” I’m sure most, if not all, of those phrases sound familiar. Even if we don’t say them about art-making, we say them about something in our lives: exercise, making a doctor’s appointment, contacting an old friend…  We avoid. We resist. It’s in our nature. And yes, I’ll get to talking about collage in a minute.

Human beings favour stasis over change

We prefer the known to the unknown, and the same to different, in general. Sure, we all know an adrenaline junkie who thinks it’s great fun to leap off cliffs to feel the rush, but that rush is created exactly because adrenaline is produced when we are confronted with something we don’t expect or that our system interprets as dangerous! It triggers our biological fight/flight/freeze response!

And that’s a good thing. We are this way for a reason. It’s best to avoid the lions and tigers and bears. They bite. But not everything our bodies or our minds interpret as a tiger is a tiger. And that’s why we’re lucky to have the ability to think things through and to go beyond our first glance or our innate assumptions. That scary shadow in the corner looks like a monster, but I can turn the light on and see that it’s my pile of dirty clothes. If I worry about making art in a group, I can come to realize that everyone is not looking at me.

Resistance to our own creative urge

Open Door Collage
What treasures might I find if I walk through that door to the unknown?

In my experience as an Art Therapist, I’ve found that for those unused to making art, it’s important that I find a way to introduce the idea in as non-threatening way as possible. “I have to warn you: I can’t draw!!” is a panicky statement that I hear from many clients, even those who have bravely chosen to see me for counselling specifically because I do work with art. I hear that kind of exclamation as an expression of past hurts – someone, at some time, has judged you. Maybe it was just you doing it to yourself, but as often as not the judgement came from outside, and from someone whose high opinion was really important to you. It probably wasn’t even intentionally hurtful. “Neat! A pretty flower! Shouldn’t the leaves be green though?” Little corrections to our creativity when we are young or vulnerable can create a sense that we are somehow “wrong” in our selves.  Interestingly, even positive feedback (especially of the praising sort) such as, “Oh, that’s beautiful! Let me put it on the refrigerator!” can create resistance too. Even though it might feel great in the moment, somehow, underneath the praise, we can still hear the comparison to a hypothetical piece of art that isn’t good enough to be displayed! The result is sometimes the opposite of what was intended. Now I’m afraid I can’t live up to the expectations that have been raised by this success!

Overcoming Resistance

Fear drives resistance.
What I fear may be merely an illusion.

We don’t want to be governed solely by our biology or by the habitual thought processes that we’ve developed to deal with that biology! So what do we do when we know we would be better off just doing the thing we’re feeling resistance to? Sometimes we need to find a feeling of safety – an anchor if you like – that we can hang on to while we jump into the unknown or the frightening. The adrenaline junkie ties himself to a bungee cord, and he probably  has a trusting relationship with the person who set up the adventure in the first place! When I ask a client to jump into their creativity, it’s important for me to find out where they feel safe, and where they feel vulnerable. We move outward from a point of comfort and familiarity, with the assurance that we can always backtrack to safe footing if it gets too rough out there. 

Collage as the Path of Least Resistance

Collage has a few characteristics that make it a good choice for working through resistance. Magazine images, pictures from old calendars, catalogues, and greeting cards, and scraps of coloured paper of different types (origami paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper…) are all familiar materials that we do not necessarily associate with art, and especially not with that really scary thing, Fine Art. This is not to say that collage can’t be Fine Art, capitalized and everything: it definitely can. But when we are looking for materials and techniques that are going to ring fewer warning bells about lions and tigers and bears in our primitive brain, using the familiar and “everyday” is the way to go! You aren’t required to have particular skills in drawing. You don’t have to manipulate special tools; you might want to use scissors and a glue stick, but you can tear the paper instead, and you might even just want to arrange your images without anchoring them down permanently. Taking a picture of the arrangement and keeping that can work just as well!

So, to get back to my promise to myself to make art every day as a way of taking care of myself, keeping my “baggage” to a minimum, and generally staying happy: what about those days when I’m feeling particularly burdened by anxiety about it? What about my days of heavy resistance? What about those days when the good paint and the high quality paper scare you and your self-talk is all “you’re going to waste it!” “what’s the point?” “it’s not going to be good anyway?”

No specialized materials necessary!
The familiar can be a safe gateway to the adventure of traveling beyond our resistance.

Pull out the recycling bin. Take a deep breath. Spend at least five minutes roughly tearing out images and words that just feel right – whatever appeals or feels important in whatever way. Try not to get caught up reading the latest article! Then look through the pile you’ve collected and refine it- cut or tear the images more precisely if you want, and start to arrange them on a larger piece of plain paper. Glue them down – or not. Stand back and look at what has arisen out of the exercise. What feeling tone does the new image have? How do you feel while you look at it? You can write about it in a journal, or just ponder it for a while. Give collage a try and see if it might be a way to move through your resistance! (…and while you’re at it, make that appointment for a mammogram, and get in touch with an old friend!)

What is an Open Studio?

An open studio is where you are accepted and encouraged, wherever you are on your creative journey.

The Open Studio
Ready for you to come and make art!

Open Studios are places that are built on the principle that engaging in the creative process is a healing activity.

The Open Studio is a concept that has been in place in Art Therapy for many years, and many examples of them exist. Some are found in institutional or residential settings, and others are embedded in communities, offering a place for artistic engagement to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.

Open Studios are OPEN! They invite the participation of everyone who comes, at whatever their skill level. The Open Studio at St. George’s in Victoria, BC is an almost-two-year-old program held in the Parish Hall of an Anglican Church in Cadboro Bay Village. Begun in 2013 as a brief, 12 session pilot project, it has bloomed into a vibrant community of artists – teenagers and twenty-somethings right through to retirees – who hang out with each other once or twice a week to create everything from hand-made clothing to acrylic paintings. Certainly sometimes you will find a senior helping a teen learn to sew, sometimes it’s the younger ones helping their elders with taking a digital photograph with their phone, but it’s rarely a stereotypical interaction. I’ve seen tears shared, subtle and tender expressions of caring, and raucous laughter. There is mutual respect, a sense of fun, and true joy in this varied and expanding community.

Lately I’ve noticed that at least once a week, someone we’ve never met before walks in to the Open Studio and tells us “I saw your sign outside and I was curious!” As often as not, that contact is the beginning of another person’s journey at the Open Studio. Of course, it can be intimidating to join something new, especially if your personal history does not include a lot of positive messages about your creativity. Our invitation to you is to check out that feeling of discomfort when you think about creating art in the company of others. What’s it like? When have you felt it before? What  might be different in a place where the focus is on how you feel while you make art instead of on what you make? We try our best to make everyone as comfortable as possible. You can work in solitude; you can work at a table with several others; you can ask for help; you can ask to be left to your own devices. We’ll offer you some coffee or tea!

The unique thing about an Open Studio that practices Art as Therapy is that you will have the opportunity to reflect on your creation with an art therapist. An art therapist is trained to help you look at the images with compassion for yourself, encouraging you to listen deeply to your own inner wisdom. You may find parallels between the way you make art and the way you live your life, or between the image you have created and your life circumstances, or between the way you feel about the image and the way you feel in a particular situation. It is your interpretation that counts – we are there to support you in your search for meaning.

You are invited to join the adventure! Come to the Open Studio at St. George’s on Monday mornings from 9-12 or on Wednesday evenings from 6-9!

Musings on Autumn Changes

The smell in the air, the changing colours, the shorter days, all reminders of the inevitable turning of the world…

And of our own changes…

OneLeafWhen I walk on these cooler mornings with my dog, I am finding myself unexpectedly grateful for her advancing age. She doesn’t pull ahead, and has the patience to allow me to fiddle with the camera in my phone, as I try to capture bits of beauty.

I have not always appreciated autumn changes. In fact, I think I’ve had whole decades where my only emotional association with the  fall is dread at the coming winter. Possibly that’s because I truly despise being cold. More probably, though, it may be because sometimes I’ve simply been less open to the whole notion of endings and letting go, and as you know, I’m a very metaphoric person!

 So today I made a conscious effort to look for the beauty of change on my walk.

Autumn Fungus

I saw some things I just don’t notice during the summer months. I’ll probably do some searching on Wikipedia later to find out whether that fungus is always around, or if it’s just a seasonal guest at the bottom of the tree in the dog park. But regardless of the biological reality, for me it’s something new in the midst of all the other things dropping away like the foliage. It was a chance to get on my knees and really look, to take the effort to see if it was more than “just brown.” When I’m not paying attention, I risk seeing everything in our Pacific Northwestern fall as “just brown” and end up feeling blue! (Isn’t colour-language yummy?)

New among the old, ripe fruit next to fallen leaves, life living itself in full colour!



I wish I had successfully captured the blackberries this morning- a word painting will have to suffice. Everything is on the same branch. There are berries that have already dried into darkened husks, ready to drop their seeds for next year’s crop, right next to some that are still pale, hoping for a last burst of warmth to bring them to ripeness. When I find one that looks still perfectly full, I pop it into my mouth, oh so conscious that I may be disappointed by bitterness or the fuzzy taste of over-ripeness! But daring to try. A good one today! Was it my last chance? Maybe. I’m glad I dared.

On Success and Failure

Walker Doll: Success and FailureA lot of graduation speeches are being  made across the country this month.

I’m sure a lot of them are all about success  and failure, and how to achieve one and avoid the other.

What I liked best about the one  I heard at my daughter’s graduation was that it was mostly about failure.  Success and failure are awfully loaded terms, aren’t they? One gets you the ticker tape parade and the best seats in the house; the other leaves you staring at your own toes, left behind while the “cool” people go to the dance. They seem to be mutually exclusive, but in real life I believe they are merely two sides of the same coin, and you can’t have one without the other.

So why was a speech about failure so great?

Firstly, it wasn’t all about how great and unique and special each one of the thousands of graduates was, and how they were all destined for greatness. I’m glad we, as parents, were allowed to simply appreciate our kids, whatever their potential. More importantly, it was very real. We all fail. We cannot hope to pass through life from one mountain top or cresting wave to the next.

There are downhill sections of every trail. And frankly, those times are what we  need the caring advice of our elders for!

Not the days when everything is coming up roses or when we get the job of our dreams. But the days when we just KNOW we’re not EVER going to get the job of our dreams (even if we might, actually, some day). Those days are the hard ones. It’s good, at the beginning of a long journey, to see someone we admire admit that they have failed on their journey, not once but many times, and admit that the fear of it still causes nightmares!  And when that someone is practically a synonym for success the way Martin Scorsese is, all the better!

Maybe that speech was more typical of one delivered to graduates of an art school, or maybe not- we are living in times where a gritty realism is appreciated- but I do think that the reframing of failure as a natural part of success is more likely among artists. Failure is where we learn, where we refine our ideas and our ways of communicating them.

An artist sees failure as a necessary element of the rhythm in art making.

Florence Cane, in The Artist in Each of Us, pointed out that there needs to be both active and passive modes in creative work. We need to sit still and consider, ponder, and discern just as much as we need to be engaged in actively applying brush to canvas or hands to clay. I believe we also need to experience what doesn’t work just as much as what does work in order to sustain an artistic process (or a happy life!) over the long term.

If it weren’t for our moments of not-knowing, for our mistakes, we would never experience the magic of serendipity or the glorious surprise of something truly new and unexpected.

If we let go of a narrow definition of failure and start to see it as an enrichment of our knowledge and experience, a re-calibrating of our compass, or a refinement of our technique, we can also transcend our narrow definition of success, and begin to enjoy each moment of our creating, our journey, and our life as the jewel that it is!

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)

Therapy – Am I Too Old?

Art Therapy: Stops Along the Journey
“Stops Along the Journey” 2013, Wool







Mostly, I just want to jump up and down yelling “NO! Of course not!! Never! No No No!” when I hear this question, but I know that’s not really helpful, and probably wouldn’t come across as very professional either, what with all the jumping and everything. Maybe what would help is a quick discussion of what therapy really is (regardless of whether it’s the talking kind or the art kind).

What’s the Point of Therapy Anyway?

Do you feel like you’ve done what you wanted to do with your life? Have you been who and what you wanted to be? Do you believe that human beings are not only capable of growing and learning for their whole lifetime, but actually meant to do so?

Therapy is all about Growth, Learning, and Positive Change!

You’ve probably heard of several theories about stages of growth and development. But in all likelihood, you’ve associated them with childhood and adolescence, and haven’t thought of what happens after that. The reality is, we  don’t stop changing! Certainly, some of the changes associated with aging are in the category of loss, but that’s only part of the story.

We are developing (and that means AGING!) from the moment we are born!

A young adult struggles with defining themselves as separate from their parents, with finding a vocation, and possibly seeking a romantic adult relationship. The middle years of maturity may revolve around the dual roles of providing for one’s family (of whatever composition or size) and caring for children. From mid-life on, you may  be  preoccupied with efforts around your “peak earning years” at your job, possibly with launching children as adults, and increasingly with attending to the needs of an aging parent or other family member. Issues of identity and meaning come up again and again through each of these stages, especially if, along the way, you experience losses (of job, marriage, health, or from a move) that make a re-negotiation necessary. What often gets ignored are the continuing changes past what we think of as “retirement” age, which include concerns with spirituality, legacy, mentorship, integrity, and reminiscence.

Changing priorities and developmental transition can be daunting at any age.

In  my view, good therapy takes the whole person into account: their body, mind, heart, soul, community, culture, and environment. Keeping your eye on all those things isn’t easy, either for a client or for the therapist, but it’s vital to at least be open to information from all those areas. Willingness to be a witness to “the whole story” is something I see as a really important part of my job. Being truly seen and heard is something deeply needed, and deeply yearned for by many people during times of transition. Only by knowing our needs can we meet them. Only by knowing where we are can we choose our next direction.

Therapy is meant to be a safe space in which a person – of any age or stage – can freely explore their journey thus far, taking the time to find its fruits and heal the wounds incurred on the way. At its best, therapy can be experienced as a protected and sacred moment, outside of “ordinary” time, in which a person can meet themselves anew, with fresh eyes. The goal of this exploration, of this sacred moment, will be very different for different people.  It may be moving on to new plans and adventures; it may be the consolidation of your learning and wisdom. It will certainly be to create your best possible present, regardless of your age.

If you do find yourself on the older end of the developmental spectrum, here are a couple of links to sites that deal specifically with positive aging:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)

Art Therapy and Grief

Art Therapy and Grief

Where does your grief live in you?

Does it stick in the back of your throat? Has it lodged under your solar plexus in a painful ache? Does it sit uneasily in your gut? Perhaps you just know it’s there, covering your mind with a film of grey that makes it hard to think clearly.

Getting to know our grief, and how and where we hold it in our bodies, can be an important part of healing. Some people worry that focusing on these feelings is going to result in prolonging their grief. Paradoxically, the opposite is the case.

The more we push our feelings away, and the more we try to ignore our body’s messages to us, the more likely we are to remain stuck in unhealthy patterns.

Avoidance and constant distraction won’t work: but we do need to set some safe boundaries for ourselves when we engage with difficult feelings. On one hand, we don’t want to be so distanced from our own experience that we spend our life in a state of foggy dissociation. On the other hand, it’s not safe to walk through the whole day emotionally flooded.

It’s ok to decide when and where you’re going to get in touch with your grief, and to keep it to a comfortable amount of time. Therapy is a great place to do this.

Art therapy can be especially helpful for grief because not only do you have the safety net of a qualified therapist and their confidential office space, you also have the amazing power of art to contain and express your emotions!

How can art therapy help me through my grief? Think back to those first questions I asked – were you able to come up with an answer pretty quickly? Most people find that talking about emotions in terms of the physical senses (like “the weight of guilt,” “rage burning inside me,” “all choked up with sadness”) comes naturally. An art therapist might take it just a bit further, and ask about more senses, like “Is that guilt heavy like a rock, or an anvil, or something else? How much does it weigh? What colour is it? What texture is it?”

Now imagine that, instead of just coming up with words for it, you’ve got help and guidance to create a visual representation of your feeling. Maybe even in three dimensions! You’ll be able to change it, shrink it, imagine your life with it or without it, make a house for it – the possibilities are infinite!

Most importantly, while you’re working on it, you’re using your hands, your thinking mind, and your heart all at the same time to create something new out of the pain and find a broader perspective.

The process of working with art materials, with no pressure to create something “for show,” is pleasurable and relaxing, allowing you the space and time to process painful emotions.

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)

An Art-Ful Exercise of Imagination

Shall we go for a walk together?

Walk in Shuswap

We know that walking is good for us – all that cardio exercise and stuff, right? And on some level most of us feel that getting outside is good for our soul too…

where we can smell the air and get in touch with nature.

There can be more to the Art of Walking than that, though. Walking is a very rich metaphor. When we walk, we travel. What’s our current journey in life like?  Are we travelling with a purpose, or meandering with no concrete goal just yet?

Is it a pilgrimage, a crusade, a shopping trip, an exploration, a rescue mission, a vacation?

Is it a saunter, a slog, a hike, a climb, a trek, a jog, a march or a mad dash? Do you lope, limp, mosey, swagger, strut, sashay, goose-step, trot, or tip-toe tentatively? 

Next time you’re on a walk, and it doesn’t matter what kind – you could be doing it for health and relaxation or for errands – indulge your imagination. See your walk as an epic journey! What pitfalls do you encounter? What supports or friendly strangers (à la Tin Man on the Yellow Brick Road!) help you along the way? Is there a fairy-tale witch in disguise, waiting to give you a magical gift in return for your kind gesture?

Letting your imagination have free-reign for a time each day nourishes your ability to observe small details and to see your life from a different perspective. Doing so while you are walking adds a kinesthetic and sensory dimension to the experience.

When you get home, perhaps your journey can be translated into art: a poem or drawing or map. Maybe it can become the basis for tonight’s bedtime story for your children (or you!) And sometimes, the story you weave out of your walk can inspire you to journey differently tomorrow.

Some neat walking inspirations:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)

The Art Therapy Guide to Getting Dressed!

Reflections on the Art of Personal Adornment

You’ve heard the sayings “dress for success,” “the clothes make the man,” “putting on my warpaint,” “power dressing,” and “wear your heart on your sleeve.” Our language is full of idioms that show  just how important what we wear is to us, beyond mere protection from the elements.

What we put on our bodies, whether that is make-up, a tattoo, jewellery, or clothing, can have a much deeper meaning than simple decoration.

Personal adornment has been an important part of culture around the world for as far back as we can find artifacts.  Masks and costumes continue to be used in ritual; special garments can denote status or membership in a particular social or professional group; jewellery has been everything from a sign of wealth and even legal tender to a tool for prayer. Faces can be painted to prepare for war or for a first date, with equal attention to detail and “getting it right”! Sometimes it’s about creating an impression on someone else, whether the intention is to attract or intimidate.

But lately I’ve been looking at it on another level too, as a place for creative expression of who we are in the moment, who we might want to become, and of how we feel or what we need.

As a part of my work in art therapy, I’m particularly interested in everything we humans do that involves the senses and our creativity.  And guess what? Personal adornment is all about touch and the visual sense

Do you prefer clothing that wraps you comfortingly in something soft, or that makes you feel invulnerable, like you are wearing armour? Are the colours soothing? Shocking? Warm or cool? Is your jewellery small and inconspicuous or large and highly textured? Are there particular symbols that feel important for you to wear? Are they visible to others or not? The answers to these questions will differ greatly from one person to another, and from one day to another even in the same person.

Next time you’re getting dressed, think about it!

A hand-me-down sweater from your best friend or your favourite brother can be a comfort during hard times. A necklace with a special symbol or a particular stone or gem worn close to your heart can keep you physically and emotionally aware of what your heart needs today. A ring that you can see and touch throughout the day can have the job of reminding you to look for something positive in that moment. A vest, scarf, or a necktie can be a tangible metaphor for “suiting up” to meet a challenge head-on.

  • Will today be a day I need to be surrounded by my favourite, most comforting or most energizing colour?
  • Is there a symbol of my faith, my gratitude, or my particular strengths that I can wear or carry with me today to help me meet a challenge?
  • Is there a way my clothing, my jewellery, or even my make-up can help me to focus on a quality that I’m trying to bring into my life? Do I need more softness or compassion for myself and others?
  • Do I need to feel a little bit tough or armoured today? Do I have a garment or a piece of special jewellery that can remind me of my boundaries and that it’s ok for me to stick to them?

When you choose, whatever you choose, do it with mindfulness and intention. You can give yourself the gift of a little self-care that will keep on giving all day long!

What do you do for yourself in terms of adornment, clothing,  and colours?

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)

Welcome to Art Therapy!

owner-openhearthWelcome to Art Therapy at Open Hearth Studio!

I’m so glad you’re here!

If you’re like a lot of people I talk to, you might be wondering what Art Therapy is all about. Many people, if they’ve heard of it at all, assume that it’s something for kids. But Art is good for everyone, no matter what your age. And I love the reason why-

Because the CREATIVE PROCESS mirrors SO MUCH of the way we live our lives!

When we make art, and even when we simply experiment with art materials, we’re also giving ourselves a glimpse into what makes us tick. The cool thing is that it’s kind of like walking on a sandy beach – we leave visible marks of where we’ve been and what we were doing.

Take this blog for instance! 

I type for a while, stop, think about it, erase it, start again, find something else to do, think again, type again… etc. While this is going on I’m making decisions, having feelings about what I’m writing, making judgments about it, imagining what my readers will think, and every step of the way I’m leaving marks on the “page” (and if I hit “ctrl/z” often enough, I can retrace most of the history of what I’ve done!) Simple? Obvious? Sure, but what if I were doing this in a mindful way, guided non-judgmentally by someone who knows the way, and who cares about me and my process? What if I could learn to compassionately witness my own process of creation (and therefore my own way of thinking, feeling, judging, acting, and relating) and begin to use that insight to craft the life I want to live?

Whether or not I create art that I “like” doesn’t even matter in that scenario. The art itself gives us an additional perspective on our process; one that we can look at from across the room, and from across the span of weeks or months, unlike our thoughts and feelings that are invisible and gone, often before we even notice them or can understand their effects in our lives.

Working with an Art Therapist can be a deep, challenging, exciting, and even enjoyable process of learning and self-care!

My hope for this new website, and this blog, is to share some of my explorations, learnings, and questions with you about Art, the Art Making Process, Metaphor and Symbol,  the Importance of Play, and Self-Care and how they can all contribute to a balanced life, well lived!

Welcome to Open Hearth Studio – may you find something to interest you, amuse you, inspire you, and of course, to kindle the spark within YOU!

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)