Adding Your Own Color: The Contemplative Practice of Art Journaling
By Kathy Keary
The beauty of creation never ceases to amaze me. I am awestruck when I see a colorful sunset. I find the thousands of stars that grace a dark country sky breathtaking. Trees in all seasons of the year captivate me. The roaring of the ocean finds me spellbound. Flowers of many colors fascinate me. The divine creativity and artistry is astonishing.
As people made in the image and likeness of God, a natural desire to create resides within us. Art journaling is a contemplative practice that utilizes this innate longing to create. Christine Valters Paintner in her book, The Artist’s Rule, invites the reader to experience art “as a prayer, a communion with your Creative Source.”
As people made in the image and likeness of God, a natural desire to create resides within us.
So where does one begin to pray with art? Contemplative practices frequently begin with making a connection with the Indwelling Spirit. Close your eyes and enjoy a moment of silence. Acknowledge the divine presence within you.
Next seek inspiration. Allow your artwork to be born from this divine guidance. Paintner instructs: “A remarkable freedom often emerges when we surrender to the movement of the Holy Spirit and allow the Spirit to guide our prayer through art. We need to slowly loosen our tight grip and submit to a process greater than ourselves.”
I keep a separate journal for art, but sometimes I find myself inserting art into my writing journal. Any medium can be used. I typically use colored pencils, markers, crayons or acrylic paint. Sometimes I use stencils. As you will see from my sketches, great artistic skill is not needed to engage in this type of prayer.
On Easter Sunday, I was moved to create an image of new life as a way to celebrate the Resurrection as I “sheltered in place.” This simple drawing at the top of this page (Picture 1) was the result.
When I drew the below image (Picture 2), my whimsical side was activated. “When we engage art as prayer,” Paintner comments, “we can remember that play is also an act of prayer, praising God out of sheer delight.” Simply stated, prayer can be a lot of fun.
Joan Chittister states that “All of life is sacred. All of life is holy. All of life is to be held in anointed hands.” It was from this contemplative sentiment that I was inspired to draw the beauty that was in front of me. In drawing the forest (Picture 3), I was praising God for his beautiful handiwork, and in the process, I connected with the Master Artist in a profound way.
One Autumn day as I was enjoying the grounds at the Renewal Center, I sensed that God was inviting me to just be — to clear my mind and embrace the beauty surrounding me. It was a deeply spiritual experience as I enjoyed a sunny day with the breeze blowing through my hair. As a way to implant the divine message to simply “be” into my heart, I created this image (Picture 4), which stands as a remembrance of this invitation.
As you can well imagine, life and death issues dominated my mind and conversations following a life-threatening diagnosis. Through much inner work and soul searching, I opted for life in that I chose to be intentional about celebrating life in each moment.
The next sketch (Picture 5) was my way of proclaiming this outlook and committing firmly to this stance. Picture 6 was created several months later as a celebration of a deeper understanding of the familiar word, “hope.”
Sometimes I am inspired to art journaling when I am touched by Scripture. Picture 7 was created in my response to the Book of Revelation 3:8: “I have left an open door before you, which no one can close.” By drawing this, the message remains imprinted in my mind.
There are times when I am journaling with words, but what I am trying to express falls short of what is stirring in my heart. At times like this, I turn to art. Picture 8 expresses love for Jesus and Picture 9 expresses gratitude for blessings. By expressing these sentiments in art, more time is spent focused on the emotions that are being communicated. Instead of a quick, “Love you, Jesus!” the drawing suggests my deep sincerity. I am spending time nurturing my relationship with the Sacred One.
Art journaling is an exercise in mindfulness where we see things more deeply and remain in the present moment. Paintner describes it as an “energizing activity” characterizing the experience of being fully present as “an altered state of awareness where we lose track of time. We become totally absorbed by what we are doing and yet fully present to each moment: we are fully alive.”
When you finish your artwork, thank God for inspiration and the opportunity to create an expression of your inner self. Then take a moment to rest in silence in the divine embrace.
We live in a beautiful world. I hope you will seize the opportunity to add your own color to it as you communicate with your Maker and express the stirrings of your heart.
Note: New articles in this series will be posted to the website every Monday and Wednesday. Full series can be found here: An Invitation to Something New: The Contemplative Life. On Thursday’s we’ll send an email to remind you of the articles.
[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]