Shelley: Chrissy, thanks so much for joining my interview series that takes a deeper look at my internet list called the Top 50 Art Therapy Blogs. You are listed under the category of "Arts and Healing." I have a been such a fan of your art and writing for several years now! I love meditating on the expressive art on your blog but I have been most deeply struck by the raw honesty of your writing.
1. Stabilizing Creative Confidence
Shelley: I love how honest you are about the dichotomy between confidence and fear that we all seem to struggle with as artists. In your blog you say:
“I worry whether you'll see through my colourful facade and understand that inside, I'm a strange mix of creative confidence laced with quivering fear.”
Shelley: What helps you to stabilize your “creative confidence?”
Chrissy: Creative confidence is something that over the years, has come to flow quite naturally for me. The process of creating is actually the easy part for me; the part that feels most vulnerable is sharing my authentic voice. Like everything else, practice and courage gets me through. I’ve grown to embrace taking risks as my intuition guides me, even when it scares the hell outta me to do so. I’m open to learning as I go. My intuition has never led me astray.
Shelley: Do you spend a good portion of your day immersed in creativity?
Chrissy: I’d like to say that I paint or write every day, but I don’t. I do however see my life as a creative process and I like to approach it as such.
As someone who has lived with lifelong anxiety, my daily creative experience often has a ‘self-love’ flavour, as I learn and develop new ways to accept and nourish myself and still be of service. For me this means morning and evening meditations, teamed with making choices mindfully from one moment to another. And learning to say “No”. This for me has been a highly creative experience in itself and when I create in art-terms, this all feeds into my work.
Shelley: I know you have a young son. What does a creative day look like for you right now as a mom?
Chrissy: My son has just started school this year which means I now have two full days a week dedicated for my creative practice. YAY! On these days, I’ll begin with a meditation and/or journalling and identifying my ‘Top 3’ tasks for the day. This typically involves a 2 hour Intuitive Art-making session whilst listening to music; followed by a combination of writing blog posts, developing new business ideas and products, marketing, updating my website, preparing for exhibitions and connecting with others in meaningful ways.
I’ve also learned to be a bit more gentle on myself and check in with my energy levels on certain days. Sometimes self-care is more important, so I focus more on the Art-making component and just surrender the rest. It’s all a fluid process for me and I’m learning to go with the flow.
2. The Journey of Self-Love
When I read your blog, it seems like you have been on a fierce journey of self-love. I love reading about your growing tenderness for yourself:
You write in your post, “The Art Work I Hated and Then Embraced”:
Most of the paintings I Love most, are also the ones I have struggled with on a deep level somehow. The fact that I felt so raw meant I was touching on something deeply authentic here. I was allowing my vulnerability to be seen. This could take time to get used to.
That night, I went to bed and I prayed. I prayed to find peace within myself. I prayed for help to accept the parts of myself I didn't like. I prayed for a kinder way of being. I prayed for a new direction.
I got her out again the next morning and something had shifted. She was exactly the same as the night before, but she felt less exposing, somehow. In fact, I kind of liked her.
I left her sitting on my computer desk until I could come back to her again in the evening ... and when I did, Love Just Flowed.
Rather than running from my need for kindness and Love, I stepped into it. I have often shied away from legible words, but this girl had something expressive to say:
Love Thy Self
Shelley: How do you hold a feeling of self-love in your body and mind Chrissy? What best reminds you of your self-love and what causes you to forget it?
Chrissy: The way I hold self-love in my experience is by first and foremost, listening to my body.
Self-love has become a daily necessity for me, particularly since becoming a Mama. I’m slowly outgrowing my old stories of martyrdom and replacing them with new narratives through daily mindfulness, self care, gratitude and of course, my creative outlets.
Over the last few years I’ve discovered that my thoughts are often a reflection of my bodily feelings - so if I listen to my body, she serves me well. This can be an incredibly challenging experience when my body feels riddled with anxiety some days. In those times, I lean into my body and ask myself, “What do I need here?”
My answer comes intuitively which might be to slow down, do some journalling, make some art, meditate, listen to an inspiring podcast or even take a 5 minute toilet break to breathe into my feelings. Sometimes, I just need a day off because I’ve stretched myself too far - I don’t always get it right! Yet overall, I’m choosing to practice loving kindness and empathy towards myself, and I think this is becoming more evident through my Artworks as well.
Shelley: You write: “When I first started creating this piece, I was at absolute rock bottom. I had experienced days of such intense blackness that I lay there in my bed thinking I would prefer to be dead than experience such suffering. I had no idea how I could possibly more forward from here. I felt as broken as they come.
Yet as the days passed and I stepped into my pain and felt it fully, my sorrow began to shift. Slowly but surely, I met a sense of peace with my experience. I discovered the hidden beauty behind sorrow. And my goodness, it was magnificent.”
I love how honest you are, as I too have experienced periods of intense emotional pain in my life. So wonderful to read that by courageously meeting your blackness fully, you recognized it as sorrow. By accepting your sorrow you met peace, and then you discovered the hidden beauty behind your fully-felt sorrow - and it was magnificent! Could you share more about the gifts you discovered once you got to the other side of your emotional pain?
Chrissy: I’ve grown to actually feel gratitude for the breakdown I described above in 2014. Back then I had a two year old son, was the sole breadwinner for our family and I had very little self-care strategies for dealing with a lifelong anxiety disorder.
I thought that if I just kept trying (or if others would just change!), one day I could finally heal and it could all go away.
How far this was from my truth.
Now I understand that an holistic approach to managing my mental illness has contributed greatly to my wellbeing. I undertake regular counselling, I’m following a medication plan closely with my great GP, and I value self-care and creativity as an important platform for my expressive transformation.
With these tools, I now have space to choose a life lived more on my values than fears. Rather than seeing my anxiety as something I need to banish and overcome, I’m now recognising my emotional sensitivity as a strength and a tool to let more love into my experience. This is a huge step.
I hope that by sharing my experiences via creativity helps rewrite the stigma people associate with living with a mental illness and that it’s okay (and admirable) to receive help. We don’t have to suffer alone, there are people out there to help us. If fact, we can learn to live a rich and meaningful life through the adversity - and make some really rich, authentic Art as a result of it.
Shelley: I read now that you are moving into expressive arts facilitation. You are feeling a calling to teach. You share this in reference to your new course, Creating with Feelings:
“The truth is, for me teaching calls for a great amount of courage, inner strength and presence. I've needed the last couple of years to truly explore who I am as an Artist + Being, so I felt strong enough to lead others into this world of inner discovery.”
Could you share more about what you had to explore within yourself in order to strengthen your ability to teach?
Chrissy: As you’d know Shelley, Art is a beautiful vehicle into our emotions. This means inevitably there are times when the creative process can trigger pain in a student’s experience and I needed to learn ways to deal with this. When a participant at a retreat I was running fell into a black hole within a few hours of a three day retreat, I felt deeply ashamed to allow this to happen to her. I took it on myself as something I did wrong and I shut down my teaching all together, thinking my process was defective.
Since then I’ve realised I don’t need to take on other people’s projections as my own. I simply needed strategies to facilitate art-making within my empathic nature; including setting boundaries, practicing loving assertiveness and practicing being present with other people’s pain without needing to fix them.
Shelley: What did you feel you needed to “presence into” in order to become more present for others?
As you mentioned above, I’ve been on a pretty fierce journey of self-love these last few years. Much of that has come from truly learning to love and accept myself in all my ways; which I’ve explored through meditation and creativity.
I feel like when we can accept ourselves and our experience fully, we can make much clearer intuitive choices as it’s called for within facilitation. I feel ready for anything, because I trust myself. Through this lens, facilitating creative and emotional wellbeing feels energising, rather than draining and I can keep my cup filled. I’ve needed this time to embody these insights and come out stronger as a result.
Shelley: Could you also share a bit about your art facilitation style?
Chrissy: I have the benefit of over twenty years experience as a kindergarten teacher. Team this with my work as a practicing Artist, and I’ve naturally evolved ways to share simple, achievable processes about living a creative life. Children are the most naturally free Artists and I have learned so much from them over the years!
I begin by using my teacher-brain by planning out my sessions in a story-like way, allowing one creative experience to feed off the next. I love this part of the facilitation process; the creativity of developing a beautiful session. It’s as exciting to me as making Art.
From here, I advertise my classes via my website and social media platforms and word of mouth gets around.
Each class involves a weaving of meditation, intuition development, intention setting, spirituality, music, scent and collage; all of which deeply reflect my own creative process as a working artist.
I share all this content via short bursts of practical creative workshops in the first half of a session. The latter is free reign for participants. I just float and support wherever I’m needed.
I’m currently in the process of creating a series of e-courses, which I am really loving the challenge and creativity of. It’s a truly humbling experience to witness people experiencing deep insights into their wellbeing through the process. What has emerged is deeply nurturing and easy to teach, because it’s working within my own natural process.
As I evolve, so do my classes.
Shelley: What are you best known for as an expressive arts facilitator? What do you most love to teach people?
I think being an Intuitive Artist + Teacher for many years means I’ve learned to trust the muse within. I share personal stories of feeling vulnerable in my art-making and how I’ve come through, and this helps my participants to feel safe to do the same in their process. People usually find me via my Artworks and leave with a more than just techniques for Art, but processes for living with empathy and self-love.
My favourite focus is about developing self-love, our own sense of spirituality and trust. Art is such a beautiful lens to explore this though.
Shelley: Finally, Chrissy what is the best advice you could give to new expressive arts facilitators?
Chrissy: Most of us who come to teach expressive, healing arts do so as a by-product of healing our own traumas and pain. We don’t need to be ‘healed’ in order to be a good facilitator; in fact, sharing our feelings of vulnerability can actually help participants truly connect and feel safe to explore their innate humanity.
If the deep drive to share via art comes from within, the love in your heart will attract the right people. I’d just say, be prepared to learn more about yourself when you’re ready to teach. Our students are our greatest teachers.
Chrissy Foreman Cranitch is an Intuitive Artist, Colour Lover and Proud Mama. You can explore her work on her website at: