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Abstract Splatter Painting in Art Therapy

Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Often when we are looking for a way to engage and express our emotions in a cathartic way, we find that this release can be achieved through abstract artmaking. For today’s blog we will explore the technique of splatter painting as a means for emotional expression through the various stages of the process itself. This technique can be helpful for those experiencing tension, frustration, grief and loss, disappointment, and shame.

The splatter technique is attractive in an art therapeutic space because the technique does not require much previous experience and can easily be adapted to use with a variety of brushes and non-traditional materials. The experience of splatter painting invites us to dismantle any preconceived notions about how the image ‘should’ look and embrace the idea of accepting that which appears by way of repetitive and spontaneous action. While there are ways to manipulate the size of a splatter or the trajectory of the markings, one is aware that this process is more rewarding when we are not meticulously planning how the image will develop. The splattering process invites us to focus more on appreciating the uniqueness that transpires in the documented movements and markings that remain on the surface.

Splatter painting is a fairly simple process, with its share of challenges just as we might experience when expressing our emotions. Paint, when splattered, freely attaches to the surface it is directed towards and often where the paint lands is by chance. The paint can be splattered using a traditional paintbrush using tempera, acrylic or watercolor paints. Depending on how translucent or opaque one wants the splatters will be, this will dictate how much water is used as part of the watering down process. To create a splattering effect, one may utilize a traditional paint brush for varied sizes of splatters, and a toothbrush, which produces smaller mist-like splatters. Techniques include tapping the body of the brush onto your finger or another brush, so that the tapping causes the paint to drip off of the brush. If using a toothbrush, you would run your fingers down the bristles, pointing the head of the toothbrush towards the surface.

The beauty of this technique is that while there is an appeal to it’s expressionistic, chaotic and free-style aesthetic, paint splattering also can provide insight into our emotional experiences and ways of containing those experiences. Splatter painting may be cathartic and a source of release for individuals holding onto stress, pain, hurt and shame. For some this process may be challenging due to its messy and chaotic nature. This technique may be difficult for individuals who rely on order, structure and planning, but may also prove to be therapeutic in dismantling perfectionistic tendencies and expectations.

Self-reflective Questions to Consider Before, During and After the Splatter Painting Process:

  • What was this process like for you?

  • Was it difficult or easy to be less in control of the structure of the image that transpired?

  • Did you notice yourself tensing up at different points of the artmaking process?

  • Did you notice yourself loosening up at any point during the process?

  • What emotion(s) were you channeling if at all during this process?

  • Did you choose any specific colors and did you add them in any particular order?

  • Did you have a goal in mind or procedure that you were following, such as covering the entire surface, covering one area, layering with one color and then a second in certain areas of the page?

  • Were there any frustrating aspects of this artmaking process?

  • Did you struggle with any moments where the paint splatters did not go on as intended or were these moments that were pleasant surprises?

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