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Discovering the benefits of playful art making

I came up with the idea of these workshops because frankly, the past few years have felt rather heavy. I know from my own experience how much engaging in art making can enhance well-being. It helps us become more focused and present. With the right intention, it helps us connect to ourselves. Useful insights can come through our hands as we work.

I found myself longing for more playful moments of connection with others. While working as an artist can offer peace and solace, it can also be a little lonely at times, even for a self-confessed hermit like me. No one was coming to rescue me from this ‘predicament’, so I decided to create for others what I longed for. I thought that surely, there must be others too feeling weighed-down by all that’s happening in the world who just needed to connect in playful, fun ways.

There is something liberating, nurturing and kind of magical about giving ourselves the permission to create freely and to play with art mediums. Playful self-expression in itself can be wonderfully healing. This is amplified when shared with and witnessed by others who can welcome our creative explorations with kindness, curiosity and care. As an art therapist I have witnessed this so many times.

The brave and wonderful group of women who joined me for ‘The Art of Play - Play Through Art’. had very limited art-making experience. And that was just perfect because it is the process that matters, not the outcome. Staying present, curious and open to the process is where the magic happens.

According to play researcher Dr Stuart Brown (1.), "The opposite of play is not work, it is depression." Play is connected to joy, social play helps us feel like we belong, it helps us feel open and curious. Dr Brown says that nothing lights up the brain like 3D play, especially the frontal lobe which is linked to problem solving and higher functions. Many of us forget to play.

In each session we played some arty games. I also offered some guided meditation to help us into a focused and relaxed state of mind. I encouraged everyone to embrace the ‘not knowing’ so we could truly engage in learning and discovering. You know, the thought “My god, I’m making such a dreadful mess, I have no idea what I’m doing!”. Learning to enjoy that discomfort - to ‘embrace the suck’ as Brene Brown calls it - or at least tolerate it, is key to learning new skills. A playful state of mind helps us laugh while doing it.

The outcome? Some gorgeous and totally unique creations, lots of laughs, lots of mess. Some learning and discovery of mediums one loved or did not love, of things that work and things that don’t. I hope everyone gained some insights into the ongoing joys and trials of becoming an artist.

The four workshops were possible thanks to the City of Stirling’s ‘Creative Communities’ grant that I applied for. I feel so grateful that my council provides such opportunities for artists and the community. I found the application process fairly straight forward. I encourage other artists who have ideas about sharing their skills to apply.

Organising workshops can take a lot of effort. From applying for a grant, to planning all the details, long packing and shopping lists, setting up and cleaning up - it is all a lot of work. And it is also infinitely rewarding in my experience.

Here is some of the feedback I got from participants. It makes me so happy to know that everyone benefitted in some way.

“I loved not having expectations on the end piece of art, it gave me a calmness just to create.”

“What a wonderful teacher and wonderful fun, creative workshop. I look forward to many more in the future, especially with Esti.”

“Very different from your ordinary art class. It lets you explore, try and create in such an individual way.”

“Made me think outside the box of what I consider is art. And it was fun.”

“Better than most therapy sessions I have been to! You have such a gift Esti!”

“I found the workshops a great opportunity to take time for myself, to switch off from my worries and to spend time with lovely people.”

“Esti's workshops were about so much more than just art - though of course that was the thing that brought us there. They were liberating, fun, playful and full of insight - into the world, into the joy of play and creation and into ourselves."

Here are some fun pictures of our workshops:


On the importance of 3d play:

1. Stuart Brown (2008), 'Play is More Than Just Fun', TED Talk;

A great article on how art can help mental health:

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