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Art Therapy: Getting to Know the Drawing Materials

By Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

In an art therapy session, it is common for individuals to have a desire to draw an idea or image from their imagination, be asked to draw an image based on a theme/directive or be encouraged to draw from observation. The process of drawing can evoke a variety of emotions- fear if one has not drawn in awhile or since grade school, shame if one does not feel confident in their drawing skills or has expectations for performing in a certain way, relief if one has been holding onto pent up energy and emotions for some time and/or curiosity for where the process might lead. And of course there are other emotions that one might experience throughout that have not been mentioned. Drawing with a specific intention in mind might require planning skills and a level of understanding ways in which to externalize an image preconceived in one’s mind or an object found in the environment. Sometimes, one can draw with an intent of just using specific elements, such as dots, lines, specific colors, shapes, forms- these might show up as figures or patterns in an abstract way. Depending on the intent for the drawing, different materials can elicit different effects on one’s vision.

Drawing materials might include graphite pencils, charcoal, colored pencils, watercolor pencils, markers, chalk pastels, oil pastels, crayons, blending stumps, erasers, drawing paper, newsprint, pastel paper and/or a sketchbook. Understanding what these drawing materials are capable of will help us decide the best one to use based on what you are wanting to express or create and how you are wanting to express it. Graphite pencils and markers tend to be more resistive and rigid materials, as they tend to have clear marks and require some pressure when adding them to a surface- and different sizes will create different sized markings with different intensities (think about a #2 pencil vs. a large sharpie). Oil pastels tend to blend together while also maintaining their shape- the mark you make can hold its shape or you can alter it by smoothing over. Chalk pastels and charcoals have the ability to provide well defined lines and shapes while also being airy and blendable. Chalk pastels and charcoal often have ‘no boundaries’- meaning that they like to get messy. For some, the blurred lines and softer edges provide the blended, airy, whimsical and ambiguous effect that one is intending. For others, the ease at which lines and colors can be smeared together may prove to be frustrating and evoke a variety of sensations, including a feeling of disgust.

As you experiment and play with these materials, allow yourself to be open to possibilities of exploring not only a specific image or idea, but the emotions that come from creating with these materials. Consider engaging in an art session in which you experiment with a variety of these materials and reflect on your sense of comfort and discomfort, appeal and disgust, control and lack of control. If you are interested in exploring art therapy processes or wanting to experiment and play with drawing as a therapeutic technique in a safe and nonjudgmental environment, then I encourage you to explore the options available to you at the Holistic Health Counseling Center.


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