Finding Your “Soul-Zen” with Expressive Art

When looking at ourselves as a whole, it’s easy to recognize the importance of body and mind on our overall wellness. What’s not always obvious is how the final piece of the puzzle fits in: the soul.

People think of different things when they hear the word soul. When I use the term, I am thinking about the part of me that goes beyond my physical body and my logical thoughts. My soul is the source of my intuition and creativity, and the part of me that experiences love and happiness, as well as sadness and regret. It is the part of me that defines who I am at the core. I believe we can all achieve Soul-Zen, by expressing our special gifts and doing the things that make us feel unique and alive. If you are exceptionally talented at one thing in particular, you probably already have a handle on your “thing”. However, your thing might even be something you’re not very good at. Do you feel like you’re in your “happy place” while baking, building model planes, or playing the piano?  Regardless of whether or not you’ve mastered the art, if you feel passionate about it and it allows you to express yourself, make time in your life to do it!

Although I have earned a living as an engineer, a programmer, and a teacher, I have always felt like an artist at my core.  For me, expressive art is the thing that feeds my soul.

What Makes Expressive Art Different Than Other Forms of Visual Art?

Expressive Art is art that is loose, imperfect and alive with living lines, organic shapes and colors. My ultimate goal is to produce art that is representational (i.e. art that represents something physical, like a figure or a flower) but not photo realistic. It is art that has a foundation of reality but has been reimagined in some way. It should have added elements that inject interest and a sense of the artist’s perspective but it should also be simplified in a way that leaves room for viewer interpretation.

A Few Expressive Art Methods Worth Exploring

1) Expressive Sketching

This is one of my favorites for so many reasons: It’s always available and practically free. All you need is a pen or pencil and a scrap of paper and you’re all set. You can do it while waiting to get into your dentist appointment, while enjoying your morning cup of coffee, or when relaxing on the beach. Plus, sketches form the foundation for many other mediums so it’s an important skill to develop.

Now given the time, I can come up with a fairly realistic drawing from life or a reference image. The problem is, patience is not one of my strong points these days, and quite frankly I find realistic drawings to be a bit boring. Here’s where expressive sketching techniques come into play. You don’t need to invest years honing your art skills (assuming you’re not one of the lucky few who were born with innate artistic talent), and you don’t need to spend the hours it can take to recreate a scene with realistic detail. You just need to learn a few easy techniques that will allow you to recreate the feeling of an object or scene with just a few organic, living lines. It’s fun and it’s freeing and it’s a great place to start.

2) Watercoloring

I love, love, love watercolor artwork. I love the translucent colors, the little imperfections and interesting, subtle patterns that form when one pigment meets another. Watercolor is relatively inexpensive, portable, and ridiculously easy to clean up. Believe it or not, it is also easy to learn. It often gets a bad rap because mistakes can’t be erased like pencil can, or covered over like acrylic and oil paints can.  But here’s the kicker: the only things that separate those who fear watercolor painting from those who adore it are just are a few simple techniques!  With watercolors you can achieve amazing results you could never achieve with any other medium and there are several ways to “fix mistakes” .  In fact, you might even begin to view your “mistakes” as the features that make your work even more beautiful. But be careful! Before you know it, this medium might just become your addiction.

3) Mixed Media Art

This category is really a catch-all. I think this term generally brings to mind collage-like pages, layered with “flat” materials like printed papers and adorned with acrylic paints and inks, but for me, it is more about line & wash, specifically the blending of sketchy drawings and watercolor washes.

4) Mixed Media Encaustic Art

One of my expressive explorations has been with the amazing, ancient art of encaustics or  painting with warm wax. While that is beyond the scope of the topics covered in detail on this site, I do provide a brief introduction to this topic for those who have and interest in learning more. Mixed media encaustic is an art form that engages all of the senses, offering the intoxicating scent of warmed beeswax, layers of translucent color that can be created by rubbing pigment directly onto the surface, and a luminous finish that begs to be touched. It also offers the freedom to incorporate both graphic and expressive art, using everything from watercolors to oil paint, powdered pigments, paper, and all kinds of ephemera for those inclined to create mixed media masterpieces. Please note, encaustic art requires a bit of an investment in tools and materials and has a steep learning curve so I would recommend it only to those who have at least some experience with the more traditional painting mediums and who are ready for a change and up for the challenge.