Fort Refuge - Abuse Survivors Support Group

Abstract Art
As a Means of Abuse Recovery

by Tasha

I've drawn and/or painted most of my life as a way to express myself in a way that words couldn't. While I was in the abuse, I used it as a way to feel disconnected and separate from what was happening to me. Now that I'm out and working through the trauma abuse caused me, it has been an invaluable way for me to explore immaterial concepts, express my feelings, release pent up emotions, put ideas in a physical form, and ground when I'm feeling upset. It is very helpful when I don't have words to express what I'm feeling, thinking about, or experiencing. I've found it very helpful in dealing with trauma work in therapy. The physical activity helps release tension, seeing the results in front of me gives me a sense of accomplishment, as well as a sense that what was bothering me is now put somewhere, so I don't have to hold onto it in my mind.

I don't attempt to paint realistic images any longer, as I prefer abstract forms and concepts. I can paint and draw realistically, and it took me about six months to develop that skill when I was in college. I do prefer to paint and draw abstractly though, so I'm not as good at realistic images as I used to be. I like to let the abstract shapes, colors, and forms speak for themselves, to express the concepts, ideas, and feelings that I'm trying to convey. I like the freedom that painting abstractly affords me--the freedom of expression, and the lack of restrictions and expectations from the audience.

When I draw, I do so mainly on paper, plain notebook paper mostly, and usually with pencil, charcoal, or pen. However, when I paint, I use many different surfaces, with very diverse media. I'll paint on wood, cardboard, fabric, walls, sheet-rock, and occasionally on canvas. By far, my favorite surface to paint on is cardboard, such as boxes that dishes or furniture come in, or even the paper cases from work. I get all of these boxes for free, and they usually end up different from each other every time. I start by tearing the box I've chosen to a size I like, leave the irregular edges, treat the cardboard with gesso, regular indoor house paint, varnish, or something else that will prevent the paint from bleeding into the cardboard. I also tend to build up the surface with spackle or other such things, and then treat it so that the pain doesn't bleed through.

I sometimes paint with oil, but I far prefer to paint with acrylic, because it is a lot easier to manipulate and clean up. Adding varnish, house paint, oils, and other substances to my acrylic paints can give the effect of painting with oils but without the mess, the smell, and the cleanup. I find that far more satisfying, because I'm able to get the effects that I want much faster than if I were to use oils.

I get most of my supplies from places like local craft stores (Michaels or Hobby Lobby), home improvement stores (Lowe's or Home Depot), and amazon. I don't spend a lot on my supplies, except the gesso tends to be somewhat expensive, because it's a "real" art supply. I'm always amazed by what I can do with the things I find at the home improvement stores, and the best part is that they'll cut what you find to the size you want, because if you're like me, you don't have lots of heavy duty tools at home. I like to look through their scrap wood areas, because those tend to be on sale, and you can find some amazingly interesting surfaces there.

I think that I like to paint so unconventionally because during the abuse there was always a certain way that things had to be done, so now when I paint, I throw out all the "rules" and paint with my fingers and hands instead of brushes, I use unconventional surfaces, and I paint concepts instead of objects. I feel free when I paint, even though I am allowing myself to be vulnerable by expressing what I'm thinking and feeling. It's especially helpful now that I'm doing trauma work, because I was so controlled for such a long time, and painting is allowing me to safely explore giving up some of that control. It also allows me to express who I am myself, without the restrictions from other people, without the expectations other people have for me.

Painting also helps when I have urges to self harm, because the way I paint, I'm doing something physical with my body, I get sensory feedback from it, but it's not harming my body. I guess it's a huge release of emotions, and a way to safely explore expressing myself without being extremely vulnerable, but putting myself out there in a small way. I've had to revise how I paint due to physical disabilities, but I do like that I can still do it to some extent even if my disabilities are giving me a rough time. The hardest thing about it is finding enough time to really get into a project. I like to work on a project from start to finish in one sitting, because then I don't lose the ideas and feelings that brought on the inspiration. If I think I won't have time in one sitting, I try to write down what I was thinking, as well as choose a song or a show that can provoke the emotions again, so that the project stays on track.

I have sold some of my art, but now I tend to keep it in my own home, and sometimes I'll go back to a project that I did years ago and revise it, so that the same painting may change over years, as I work through whatever the inspiration was. Overall, painting and other forms of art are incredibly helpful for grounding, expression, redirecting impulses for self harm, and for working through the trauma abuse caused me.

There is nothing insignificant in the world. It all depends on the point of view.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
This page was last updated on August 15th, 2015
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