In 2002, I sat in a small café called The Elephant House in Edinburgh Scotland. I often sat there alone after class, reflecting on the day and daydreaming about the things most 21-year-olds often do. I sat with my sketchbook, simply sketching my surroundings carelessly. It wasn’t a particularly ‘good’ drawing. But my hands and my brain always have to be doing something in order to focus my thoughts.
Today, when I open that sketchbook to that page, memories come flooding back. I remember the smell of the coffee and the view outside the window looking down onto Grefriar’s graveyard, that day covered in mist. I can recall the feeling of the foam on my cappuccino tickling my lip as I took a sip, the rich and crumbly taste of the elephant-shaped shortbread, the sound of the conversations happening around me, the emotions I felt in that span of time. The feeling I get from looking at that drawing is just as if I had taken mental video that recorded all of my senses. It is an incredible sensation. The recall is more complete than any diary entry or photograph.
I have come to realize the power of the recollections that a creative moment in time can induce. That revelation led to a new passion – Creative Journaling. I took to drawing or painting in my sketchbook in order to preserve memories or to express my feelings. It was liberating to work through my emotions through visual art in lieu of words. The stroke of a pen or brush can be harsh or gentle, and can convey perfectly what I am feeling at that moment. I never have to worry about someone picking up my journal and reading it. The true interpretation of what lays in its pages is mine alone. There are no rules. Sometimes I have no purpose for drawing, other than the feeling to do so arises. Sometimes I use my journal simply to experiment with material. Sometimes I incorporate words. Sometimes I collage from magazines. The medium or technique matters not.
I began volunteering teaching art to teen girls three years ago for a local program run through Calgary Family Services. The first tool I wanted to give these girls was an effective way to express themselves without the fear of being ‘discovered’. These are girls who deal with some pretty tough stuff; abuse of all kinds, poverty, bullying, self harm, sexual identity issues, etc. The option to have a healthy outlet is critical for these kids. I wanted to give them the ability to focus their minds and energy on a new and different form of expression. A form of expression that was ‘safe’ for them, that kept their feelings private from the prying eyes of siblings or parents, and yet still be totally effective.
When I began the program, there were a number of girls who wrote on their arms in sharpie marker, every inch of skin completely covered. At least one girl used the drawing to cover self-inflicted cuts. The drawing may not have been the worst form of self-mutilation, but it certainly wasn’t a healthy form of expression. I raised enough money to give each girl a sketchbook and some art materials. I was skeptical about how many of these girls would actually take to the techniques and lessons I was giving them. I felt that even if I could reach one girl and give her some help in how to deal with some of the difficulties that life brings, that this was good enough for me.
I was adamant about this first and only rule: you do NOT have to be creative or a ‘good’ artist in order to keep a creative journal! ‘Good’ art comes from a place of expression and emotion. Incredibly, this group of angst-ridden, hormonal, teenaged girls took to the project immediately, even the girls who muttered, “Ugh, I HATE art” when I announced the purpose for my presence in their classroom. Each week we worked on a different prompt. They were encouraged to take the sketchbooks home, and draw, paint, scribble, write, collage, whenever they felt the need or when they felt overwhelmed. The majority of the girls returned each week with pages upon pages filled.
Even more miraculous: those who had been drawing on themselves, stopped.
The class facilitators were as amazed as I was. Not one of those girls was asked to stop covering herself with pen ink. They spontaneously quit defacing their skin for one simple reason: They had a new and more effective outlet. To witness the power of such a simple tool was totally overwhelming. Further evidence of the therapeutic nature of the Creative Journal came at that year’s program graduation, when one of the girl’s mothers sought me out to thank me for giving her daughter a new and constructive way to work through some of her emotions. She explained that her daughter seemed like a new kid; the destructive path she was following was forgotten almost immediately. She appeared happier, more emotionally available, more outgoing. I won’t delve into all of the amazing things her mother told me that day. I will simply say that it was enough to turn me, a usually stoic woman, into a blubbering ball of mush.
I hope that these anecdotes are enough to encourage you to take a journey with me into the world of Creative Journaling. Do not scoff and say “I’m not creative, I can’t draw, I’m not artistic”. The only characteristic you need to possess is open-mindedness. You may surprise yourself. You may find a hidden talent or a new passion. You may discover a part of yourself that you never knew existed. All you really need is a sketchbook, a pen or pencil, and your willingness to let go.
She worked as an Interior Designer in Calgary until her passion for art overwhelmed her desire for wealth and fame.When she is not chasing after her two young kids, she is teaching art to teen girls in need and creating dolls for her small handcrafting business, Lil’Zo.
Bri believes that art is a powerful outlet, and many internal issues can be confronted, exposed, and resolved by simply letting go and allowing oneself to be creative – even if they don’t believe they are the ‘creative type’. Everyone can benefit from getting over their fears, and simply putting pen to paper, paint to canvas, click a shutter, put hands on clay, or whatever medium one chooses. Find her online here.