8 Art Therapy Activities for Coping with Grief
There is a strong connection between art and how the brain processes emotions. The purpose of these activities is to help a parent acknowledge and understand their feelings, and restore a sense of wellbeing. Many people find creating art very calming. For more on art therapy and how art affects the brain visit Art Therapy as a Means of Coping with Child Loss and Grief
Jump to the 8 art therapy activities here
You don’t have to be an artist to do these projects. You needn’t show your creations to anyone else if you don’t want to. Just express yourself in whatever way suits you best.
Here are suggestions for art supplies. You don’t need all of them. For example, if you like drawing, just get pencils and paper. These materials are easily found at stores like Target and Michaels.
- Paper or sketchbook, heavy paper for painting
- Pens, pencils, colored pencils, crayons, markers
- Acrylic, poster paint, or watercolor paint
- Paintbrushes of various widths and sizes
- Clay, putty, or Play-Doh
- Journaling Book
- Scrapbooking materials
- Coloring Book
1. Expressing Emotions with Color – the Emotion Wheel
Express emotions without judgement with the emotion wheel. Draw a circle, freehand if you wish, it doesn’t have to be a perfect circle. Divide it into 8 sections. (The diagram shows 7 sections, but I think an even number of sections is easier to draw.) Label each section with an emotion and assign a color to that emotion. You need not copy the colors in the diagram. The colors you choose are your own expression. Alternatively, draw a picture in each section of what you think about when you feel that emotion.
2. Write a Letter to Your Child
Write whatever you want, words of anger or love, just get the words out. Maybe tuck the letter away in a drawer and read it sometime later to see if you have the same emotions you had when you wrote it. Or, when you’re done writing, rip it up and throw it away. This is a letter you’ll never send. But talking to your child in this way helps get to the ‘why’ of the emotions. For example, I’m feeling angry, but why? Writing the words makes it easier to to get to the ‘why’, and makes it possible to channel the negative emotion into something positive.
3. Paint or Draw Your Emotions
There are many ways to paint or draw your emotions. Here are some suggestions. You can probably think of a lot more.
- Employ colors, using one or several at the same time. Which colors best describe what you’re feeling? Paint large, abstract swatches of these colors.
- Make ‘line art’ by drawing or painting lines and curves of different widths and shapes. The lines can be jagged or smooth, flowing or broken, thin or thick, light or dark. What emotions do these line shapes trigger in your mind?
- Draw or paint blind. Pick up the pencil or brush and close your eyes. Make whatever marks you feel like making, all the while thinking about how you’re feeling right now.
- Draw or paint on torn or crumpled paper. What emotion does the torn, crumpled paper invoke?
- Paint a mountain and a valley. The mountain represents happy times, the valley sad times. Make pictures representing both themes.
- Paint ‘wet-in-wet’ with watercolor. Thoroughly wet heavy paper. Using a wet brush filled with watercolor paint, dab the brush onto the wet paper and see what effects you make. Combine different colors. I find the resulting abstract ripples and forms calming to create and look at.
- Finger painting – turn painting into a tactile activity and immerse hands and fingers in the colorful wet paint.
4. Keep a Journal of Your Feelings
Putting feelings into words on paper slows things down, giving the brain time to process the emotions and to reflect on their source. Writing a journal of your feelings doesn’t have to be about sadness. If you feel happy, write about that too. Write whatever comes to mind. Some people prefer writing with pencil and paper, others prefer using the computer. Don’t stop to read and edit, just keep the flow going and write. Here are some prompts to get you started writing your journal:
- Today I’m feeling like…
- Things about you I don’t want to forget are…
- I feel guilty because…
- The happiest times we had together were…
- Some of my grief triggers are…
- I can honor your memory by…
- These things would make me happy…
- I am grateful for…
- I feel angry because…
- The hardest time of day for me is…
- Things that I find comforting are…
5. Coloring Your Way to Calmness
Coloring books are extremely popular for adults searching for a calming, no-pressure activity. Some of the pictures, like mandalas, have very intricate patterns. It’s this complexity that causes the brain to intently focus on the activity while pushing away extraneous thoughts. One can find coloring books on almost every topic – plants, animals, insects, patterns, etc. There are online resources for free coloring pages, or one can purchase a whole book of intricate pictures to color. Color with your media of choice – markers, colored pens, pencils, or crayons.
6. Color Your Heart
Draw or paint the outline of a heart. Map swatches of color onto different sections of the heart. Which part of your heart feels cold and numb with little or no emotion – blue/purple colors. Which part of your heart is warm and energetic – yellow/red/orange colors. Does your heart have an empty space with nothing there? If there’s a hole in your heart, draw that too.
7. Play with Clay
Molding with clay is not only a visual activity, but it’s a tactile activity as well, engaging both gross and fine motor skills. Manipulating a ball of clay is great to calm the fidgets as well as sculpting the emotions. Clay is malleable. You can make it into whatever you want. How would you change past events in your life if you could? Mold the clay in such a way that depicts this scenario. It’s easy to mold clay into any shape, and it’s easy to destroy that shape and turn it into something else. Working with clay offers instant change and instant gratification at the same time.
8. Make a Scrapbook
Scrapbooking is a wonderful way to create a collage of emotions and memories. Make a scrapbook with family photos, magazine and newspaper clippings, pieces of cloth, or your own pictures. It’s all about expressing your emotions and recording memories in a relaxing way. Making a scrapbook is also a tactile activity. Looking at, and touching, the various textures of scrapbooking materials is calming for many people.
How To Start a Drawing – a guide for the beginning artist
If you’re a beginning artist, visit my website The Drawing Process in Art , a guide on how to start a successful drawing, including a blog with useful tips on the practical aspects of drawing and art history.