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Finding Healing through Watercolor Painting: Using Art Therapy for Grief Work

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC


Grief is a complex and challenging experience that can manifest in many different ways. Often, it can be difficult to put these feelings into words or to communicate them to others. This is where art therapy comes in. By using watercolors, we can access symbols and images from our subconscious and express ourselves in a way that goes beyond language.


Watercolor painting can be a particularly powerful tool in grief work because it allows for a range of expressive techniques, from light and ethereal washes to bold and intense brushstrokes. This flexibility can help clients explore the many different layers of grief, from the initial shock to the long-term process of healing.


Watercolor paints are typically made of pigments suspended in a water-soluble binder, allowing them to be applied in thin, translucent layers that allow light to pass through and create a unique glow on the paper. This transparency allows for the layering of colors and the creation of delicate and subtle effects that are distinct to watercolor. Additionally, when looking at the process and elements associated with watercolor painting, we notice that water and gravity play a significant role in the movement and blending of colors on the paper, resulting in spontaneous and organic effects that can be challenging to control. This quality of watercolors often leads to unexpected surprises. These spontaneous and unforeseen moments can often reflect that process of grief and that challenge of relinquishing control.


Watercolor painting can be a therapeutic and expressive way to cope with grief. The process of creating art can serve as an outlet for emotions, a form of self-care, and a means of processing and understanding complex feelings associated with grief. The act of creating art can provide a cathartic and healing experience, allowing emotions to be channeled into the artistic process. Watercolor painting, with its fluid and expressive nature, may provide a means for artists to visually convey the complexities of sadness through the use of colors, textures, and brushstrokes.


Watercolor painting can reflect the feelings associated with grief in various ways:


  1. Colors and Tones: The colors and tones used in watercolor painting can evoke the emotions associated with grief. Artists may choose to use muted, somber, or dark colors, such as deep blues, grays, and blacks, to represent the sadness, melancholy, and heaviness often experienced in grief. Alternatively, artists may use contrasting bright colors or vibrant splashes of paint to represent the intensity and turbulence of emotions that can be associated with grief.

  2. Textures and Brushstrokes: The textures and brushstrokes used in watercolor painting can also convey the emotions of grief. Artists may use loose, expressive, or even chaotic brushstrokes to represent the emotional turmoil, confusion, and unpredictability of grief. Conversely, artists may use soft, delicate, or blurred brushstrokes to convey a sense of fragility, vulnerability, and sensitivity that can be experienced during the grieving process.

  3. Subject Matter and Symbolism: The subject matter and symbolism depicted in watercolor paintings can also reflect the emotions associated with grief. Artists may choose to depict scenes or objects that hold personal significance or represent the stages or elements of grief, such as a solitary figure, a barren landscape, or a wilted flower. Symbolism, such as a broken heart, a fading light, or a withered tree, can also be used to represent the emotional pain, loss, and transformation associated with grief.

  4. Composition and Mood: The overall composition and mood of a watercolor painting can also reflect the feelings associated with grief. Artists may choose to create a sense of emptiness, solitude, or longing in the composition, which can mirror the emotional landscape of grief. The mood of the painting, whether it's somber, reflective, or tumultuous, can also evoke the emotions and feelings associated with grief.


When you paint with watercolors, you're engaging multiple senses, including sight, touch, and even smell (from the paint and water). This immersive experience can be relaxing and therapeutic, allowing you to focus on the present moment and tune out distractions.


In addition to being an expressive outlet, watercolor painting can also be a grounding and meditative practice. Clients can use the act of painting to connect with the present moment, and to process their emotions in a safe and controlled environment. This can help quiet the mind, promote relaxation, and enhance mindfulness, which has been shown to have positive effects on mental health. .


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