When I was little, I wanted to be an artist.
I had a book that illustrated different jobs: A fox dressed in a firefighter’s suit. An owl pointing at a classroom blackboard.
Then, a cat splashing paint across the canvas. I circled her with my pencil.
I loved mushing paint together, drawing googly eyes and collaging magazine scraps for hours at a time.
But somewhere along the way, making art became another way to seek approval. If I could replicate a portrait by hand, my parents oohed and ahhed.
My classmates admired me. No one would notice my lack of confidence.
Years later, I tried to reignite that innocent spark to create, without adhering to the academic rules I had learned about “good” art.
It was much more difficult than I thought.
My inner critic attacked every paint stroke and asymmetric face. The entire process was so painful that I nearly stopped.
Making art as a meditation on shame
So, I decided to turn things around:
What if I observed those critical remarks? Where do they come from? What can I learn about myself?
When I let myself jab the paper with a brush, leaving a black chaotic smear, I can feel my anger releasing. Thin squiggly lines twist outwards from that core—perhaps representing layers of hurt and shame.
The harsh inner voice slowly recedes. I still hear its bickering, but it doesn’t keep me from exploring.
When you first let yourself spontaneously make art, you might find it extremely uncomfortable. Because you’ll reject yourself in similar ways that others have rejected you in the past.
It might be difficult to simply show up as you are, without adjusting the raw portrayal of your inner world.
That’s why expressive art activities are so effective for shadow work. For those of us who often get stuck in our head (me!), making art helps us connect to repressed feelings and cultivate self-compassion.
What’s more, research shows that making art lowers stress, activates the reward center of the brain (so we feel good), helps us flex our decision-making skills and lets us focus deeply.
I encourage you to make art to welcome your whole self.
Making Ugly collages can be freeing
One of my most favorite art activities as a child was making collages.
Tearing colored paper and arranging them to make something completely new fascinated me.
Other materials include magazine clippings, tissue paper, postcards, museum brochures and stickers. But you can use anything that inspires you: buttons, twigs, leaves, feathers, recycled glass, foreign coins, etc.
My partner and I decorated these standard French envelopes below with stickers leftover from my days as an English teacher.
At first, we enjoyed the freedom in picking whatever sticker pleased us and placing it somewhere without much thought.
But we both quickly observed our need to create a harmonious palette and composition. I cringed at my atrocious line of overlapping star stickers. My art professors would gawk in horror.
I took a deep breath. My partner kept adding stickers anyway. He didn’t care and seemed to have much more fun.
That inspired me to keep going too. I tried to let go and invited my inner child to lead.
I struggled a bit to sink into delightful play—something that contrasted starkly with my old perfectionistic tendencies—and eventually, I felt a warm joy animating my hands.
Transforming our wounds
Any art activity can help us highlight parts of ourselves that we’ve shunned: painting, drawing, collage, movement, sound, video, performance art, digital art.
The key is to accept yourself unconditionally, no matter what arises during the process.
When we embrace our shadows, we create space for more love and connection in a world that aches for togetherness.
Happy art-making, friends.
P.S. Would you like some free support? Get quick stress relief in a free EFT Tapping session in exchange for a short interview. Learn more.
Annie Moussu is a certified EFT Tapping Master Practitioner helping women build confidence, set boundaries & enjoy healthy relationships. Get her free EFT meditation & guide for people-pleasing.