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Painting as therapy

Life sometimes feels too big, scares me or overwhelms me. Anxiety rears its head, hello PTSD! But fortunately, there are more and more times when PTSD fades into the background. And the crazy thing is: you can see it in the illustrations I make!

Narrowing your circle versus expanding it

I once had a therapist who described it very nicely. When you feel anxious or stressed you make your circle smaller. Think of it as the figurative space around you. You make a shrinking motion, just watch it, it really is! When you feel good, you feel free, you make your circle bigger. You expand your space. You explore and enjoy. You also connect more easily with others, letting your large circle "contact" someone else's circle.

I have always remembered this little reminder. It makes it easier for me to understand what is happening and interpret what I need. The remarkable thing is, it suddenly struck me last week that I do this in my illustrations too!

Paint what I feel

Let's start with a few examples. Below are some illustrations I made while in my little world, the small circle. I retreated and sought safety and security.

Two of these illustrations I made on vacation (two different vacations). I only see this myself now, but it is true. Vacations are always tricky for me, I enjoy nature and beautiful hikes, but it also evokes anxiety more quickly.

Generally, I can say that I paint here purely as therapy. I paint what I need. No drama, just a warm cocoon. I very often get asked why I don't paint certain things (boys, girls or women with different skin color, religion, glasses, blonde hair etc), well the answer is so simple. I don't create to run a business, sell a lot or make everyone happy. I create for myself, to understand my own feelings.

When my circle is a bit bigger

I feel a little better, maybe still very tired, but I can handle the (adult) world with proper self-care. I find it very instructive to create this blog, because suddenly I see this myself clearly now in my illustrations, haha.

Ik schilder waar ik behoefte aan heb (zoals altijd!). Maar in plaats van me te verstoppen in mijn magische wereld, blijf ik wat meer in de echte wereld. Ik kan het aan, voel me goed, maar ik heb dit wel nodig als ‘self care’. Zie jij het verschil? Of misschien voel je het wel?

On top of the world

And sometimes, I feel free, curious, in need of contact or to do new things. I dream about new places, beautiful views or cosy moments. My circle is large, I have room to move and feel I can take on the world.

Enjoyment is central. Often at this stage I discover through painting what I am in need of. I have lived in a constant state of fear for so long that this is actually a new piece of life to discover. Coincidentally, here are 3 illustrations with several people together, but there is absolutely no need for that. Perhaps "splash fun" left at the bottom speaks most to the imagination of "enjoyment, relaxation, space and freedom".

So you see, again, I illustrate as a kind of therapy, or journey of discovery.

Did you already know the bigger and smaller circle? What is your circle like right now?

5 thoughts on “Schilderen als therapie

  1. Dag, ik ben helemaal verliefd op jouw tekeningen. En zo blij verrast dat je in Nederland woont want de meeste komen uit Engeland. Ik heb net jouw blog gelezen, mag ik vragen waar jouw ptss vandaan komt.
    Lieve groet Marja van de Weerdhof

  2. I’ve always loved this abour your art! it makes me feel protected and safe as well. and I really like the example with the circle, I feel it deeply and can relate to these stages. when a PTSD episode hits, I’d love to crawl into a little tree house all by myself with only some animals for company – just like you draw it in some of your illustrations.
    when I’m in my over-the-top stage I’m extremely active and outgoing, basically talking to everyone for hours and taking care of all my loved ones – so you see, it’s hard to keep it balanced for me 😂 I still have to learn a lot about my illness and energy levels… so far comfy mental images, reading, strength training and drawing or looking at cozy art are some of my favourite coping strategies. I’m also motivated to look better after myself when I see your cozy content because your paintings and words make me feel understood.
    your art is not only beautiful and inspirational but it also helps us all feel safe and protected. thank you for sharing your journey with us 💛

  3. Mooi verwoord. Het voelt precies zoals ik het momenteel ervaar. Mijn cirkeltje wordt steeds kleiner doordat mijn migraine erger wordt / langer duurt. Doordat ik een aanval probeer te voorkomen plan ik steeds langere periodes in ‘om niks te hoeven doen’ of ‘dek me vooraf in’ door te zeggen dat ik van te voren niet met zekerheid kan zeggen of ik kan. Ik voel me er benauwd door of inderdaad de cirkel kleiner worden. Bedankt voor de mooie omschrijving 🥰

  4. How do you actively work on expanding your “circle” and creating a larger space for yourself when you feel good, and how do you prevent yourself from shrinking your “circle” and limiting your space when you feel anxious or stressed?

    1. Good question! I think it’s different for everyone, but some things that really help me:
      -Don’t ‘overplan’ my days, there has to be enough time and space to feel, rest and from there decide how I plan my days/weeks.
      -Retreat in my own world, whether it’s some me-time with a book, painting, walking with the dogs or bake, relax or visit a museum it doesn’t matter. As long as I can have that feeling of retreating in my own world.
      -And.. being aware of that circle! I forget it a lot, but it’s constantly moving. Bigger, smaller, bigger, smaller. But by thinking about it I remind myself that it’s okay to take more space. I don’t have to be present or alert all the time! Especially in company of other people (a big learning point for me).

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