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Healing With Art

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

Wisdom. Adobe Draw on iPad. Discovery Bay, Hong Kong. April 2018.

I have loved to draw ever since I can remember. I used to fill notebooks full of drawings. I distinctly remember these 5 girlfriends that I would draw in a row, over and over again. They would have different clothes in each drawing - sometimes party dresses or even ballgowns, and sometimes beachwear or just jeans.

Being good

I would fill the top half of my notebook page and then the lower half, to save paper. Because I was told that I was wasting notebook paper. Wasting my time.

And as I grew older, this became a painful source of conflict with my dad. I tried to be a good girl for the most part, but my one act of rebellion in Form 3 was choosing to take a GCSE O-level in Art.

I had never seen him so enraged as when I was doing my art, and it terrified me to anger him so. I didn’t even do so very well at first, but I loved every minute. My best friend Isobel Jacobs and I would sit side by side, and paint and giggle.


When I eventually got an A and left for university in 1982, my gruff and unsmiling Art teacher Mr Mitchell pulled me aside to say that I should really keep up my art. That I had real potential. I remember saying airily at the time that I might or might not.

I was going to be a premedical student, and that would leave me little time for anything other than studies. And secretly I was relieved that my dad wouldn’t be mad at me for doing art any more. Turns out my freshman year was an orgy of rebellion and probably turned my mom’s hair gray all in one year, but at least I wasn’t in danger of becoming an artist.

Having awareness of our thoughts gives us the power to choose whether or not to keep them

Flash forward more than 20 years later, when I was attending a AAMC Junior Women Faculty Development seminar in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I signed up for an Art Interest Group on a whim. As each of my peers went around in the circle and introduced her art, we heard about watercolors and beading and quilting.

When it was my turn I found that my voice was wholly suspended with tears - I was so consumed with grief that I was unable to speak. While I had done art projects with my kids and cross-stitch embroidery over the years, I had not made art for myself for almost two decades. And I hadn’t even realized how much I had missed it.

My inner critic

Pen and ink on paper. Discovery Bay, Hong Kong. Oct 2018.

It took me another decade to slowly come back to painting and drawing more regularly. At first I didn’t understand how it was that I would be hesitant or reluctant to start a session, even though I knew that I would enjoy it once I got going.

And then I took this free online Coursera course from the University of Florida called Healing with the Arts, and we were asked to sketch our inner critic for the visual arts module. I had no idea how harsh and frightening mine was until I saw him.

In creating that drawing, I learned that having awareness of our thoughts gives us the power to choose whether or not to keep them.


Acrylic on wall mural. Hope Foster Home commission, Beijing. Oct 2016.

It has taken me yet another decade to reclaim my identity as an artist. But doing so has made all the difference. I have learned that courage involves taking risks and that that feels scary.

Painting has taught me to listen to my intuition, that it’s okay to mess up, and that the reward for being brave enough to try is always worth it in the end. And more importantly, that the voice of my heart’s desire is the truest and most important voice. I had suppressed it for so many years in the name of work or family that I had forgotten what it sounded like.

I wonder what does your heart desire? Have you forgotten or never known? Can you challenge yourself in small ways to start listening again by trying something you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t done yet? What would it be like to take on a “Dare of the Week”? Only we can choose how we want to live this one precious life.



Healing With the Arts

Free 6 week online program that can be taken at your own pace from University of Florida Drs Mary Rockwood Lane and Michael Samuels.

Healing With the Arts gives you the tools to heal what you need to heal in your life: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual, through art projects—including visual arts, dance, writing, and music—along with spiritual practices and guided imagery.

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