Catharsis Through Scraping Paint Around

“Catharsis: the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art.”

Two nights ago, I was sitting on the couch, antsy and bored, scrolling through Pinterest looking at things that might give me a little jolt of fulfillment. I’m very compulsive in many ways, one of them being collecting images on Pinterest, so when I saw one black, inky, expressive painting that caught my eye, I went down a rabbit hole and collected a ton of them. They make me feel things I can’t articulate, the way the cello being played instantly makes me cry. The paintings touched these deep, dark feelings I have inside me, the depth of the darkness, with it’s layers and messiness. I went to sleep and thought that I wanted to try to make something similar in the morning. So, I got up and went into my tiny studio in our house and looked around at what materials I had. I found a small tube of black watercolor paint and a container of watered down India ink that I had mixed for another project and kept around. I had some sheets of watercolor paper and a pack of large Bristol paper I had never touched that my brother and sister-in-law gave me for Christmas. I grabbed some paper towel, a spray bottle I had found under the sink the day before, put on some emotional music on my phone, put my ear buds in and started to play.

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First, I started by taking a torn scrap piece of watercolor paper, dipped it in India Ink and stamped it around on the paper to see what would happen. I had explored this kind of mark making a little before, so it was in my creative toolbox as a jumping off point. From there, I did dipped a piece of paper right into the India ink, another technique I had played with before…it felt like I was warming up for something but that something wasn’t clear yet. The music in my ears helped keep my feelings moving around in my body so I could keep playing and not get too stuck in the technical side of what I was creating. I was trying to tap into my intuition and just play.

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From there, I thought, “I wonder what would happen if I use the black watercolor paint almost totally black, not too watered down.” So, I squeezed some out onto a pallet I had, took a little brush and put some right on a new piece of paper and took the little scrap piece and scraped it down. IT WAS SO BEAUTIFUL. I felt this jolt of resonance and excitement and it felt like the flood gates opened.

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I started working fast, not thinking, just doing and responding to what I saw and the music I was hearing and feeling. I scraped, I sprayed water on the paper, scraped more and felt what emerged. No words for it all then, just feelings, raw feelings moving around in me and through my hands.

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And then I thought, “I want to work bigger.” So, I grabbed a bigger sheet of watercolor paper and brushed some black watercolor paint down and scraped and sprayed and scraped and all of a sudden, I was crying really hard. Like that flood gate not only opened my creativity, it opened up my feelings and they were coming out in ways that were surprising me in the moment but felt so good. I was working fast, scraping, pushing, pulling, moving, not thinking too much…grabbing new sheets to make more, finding places to let the other ones dry in my tiny space…

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And at one point, I realized I was starving, so I went into the kitchen and made an english muffin with peanut butter and as I was pulling the muffin out of the package, I noticed the little plastic clasp and thought, “huh, I wonder what that would do with paint.” So, I ate and took that little tool into my studio, put my music back on, and played around more.

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And then I ran out of watercolor sheets so I grabbed the pack of Bristol paper that had been sitting in my studio since Christmas and used some of that. It was totally different than the watercolor and the paint looked so intriguing on it.

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I was still working quickly and seeing what emerged. And then, all of a sudden, I felt…relieved. Like whatever needed to come out had come out and things felt quiet and calm. And then I had this urge/idea to paint with the bottom of the paint brush like I had seen others do so I dipped it in some paint and drew a little line which made me think of a tree, so then I started to paint a little tree…and another little tree…and another and when I stopped and looked, there were these three beautiful, delicate little trees standing in this big, quiet open space of white. Magic.

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And then I felt done and relieved and in awe. I counted up what I had made and it was 26 paintings. I think a couple of hours had passed but honestly, I have no idea. I looked at them and was amazed and that’s when I started to realize that what had just happened was catharsis. That word popped in my head and I didn’t really know if I had it right so I looked it up and sure enough it means “the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art.” I felt like, “holy shit, that’s exactly what just happened!” Luckily, I had a therapy appointment scheduled for yesterday afternoon, so I packed up what I had made to share with my therapist. It was the first time I had shared any of my art with her. I told her about the entire experience and what I realized were the feelings that were released (from a past relationship that was really painful and left wounds I hadn’t fully healed) and how much clarity I felt. It was powerful to share it all with her and while I was talking, I started to make connections to other times I’ve made art and realized afterwards that it was cathartic and was my emotions moving and releasing through me. But it’s a strange and magical thing because I’m not conscious of it while it’s happening, it’s not like I went into my studio and said, “okay, today I’m going to process that messy relationship through black watercolor paint.” No, it happened intuitively and holy shit that’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s blowing my mind that we are capable of that, that if we, well I speak for myself, if I keep paying attention to those little cues my intuition tells me about what I am drawn to and what I want to try and reflect on it, some powerful transformation and release happens. AND, on top of all of that, beautiful art emerges! What?! My therapist said, “you seem delighted and in awe of what you made. There is this clarity and confidence when you share your experience, not ego, not gloating, just clear wonder and awe and amazement. That’s incredible!” That’s how it feels. And now I’m thinking about ways I can keep doing this kind of therapy for myself in my art but also share it with others and maybe help them with some healing through art making. We’ll see what happens next.

Also, so I guess I’m blogging again! I’m feeling drawn to share these kind of revelations and experiences in a space like this so we’ll see where that leads.