Art and Mental Health: Painting for Stress Relief

Person's face with bright colored paint smears, titled "5 Painting Exercises for Stress Relief"

Hello, friends! Today, I want to have a conversation about mental health and how you can utilize painting for stress relief. Following along with a full painting tutorial can be fun and relaxing but there are smaller exercises you can do when you’ve just had it with the day and don’t have the patience to concentrate on a step-by-step project.

Disclaimer: Before we go any further, I am not a therapist, doctor, or anyone skilled at treating mental health in others. I’m just someone who is a natural-born worrywart and who has found that painting for stress relief stops the internal chaos.

Art is a superhero when it comes to working on your mental health. Seriously, painting for stress relief is amazing because it’s easy to do, you can do it any time of the day or night, and you can do it from the comfort of your own home without spending a fortune!

We all know people who meditate daily to relax and wipe the negativity slate clean. But, there are those of us who try and immediately open the flood gates, releasing random questions like “do ants sleep?” (I literally have a mental picture of an ant, all snug in his bed, with little zzzzs floating above his head).

For those who can’t seem to quiet the mind, it takes a more active approach to banish the “uggghhhs” of life and that, my friends, is where art swoops in to save the day. It’s an awesome feeling to feel the feels, release the junk, and move on (feeling roughly ten pounds lighter, I might add). So, let me show you how painting for stress relief can help so you don’t waste one more second on negative thoughts. Let’s go!

Painting for Stress Relief: 5 Exercises to Beat the Blues

Woman, covered in bright paint splatters, laughing. Titled: Unwind Through Painting.

Play with Color

Color has a huge influence in our lives. Think about it, we all have a favorite color, or combination, because it makes us feel some kind of positive feeling. Whether it’s relaxing, invigorating, or cozy, you definitely feel something when you think of your favorite color.

Color can influence our moods, can affect the choices we make, and can also affect us physically (take a look at this cool article to learn more about color psychology here). Painting can relieve stress just by choosing the right colors. You can use your own personal favorite colors or branch out and see if using colors that evoke certain feelings can break your blahs.

Colors to Consider:

  • Red – associated with love and passion
  • Orange – optimism and social interaction
  • Yellow – happiness and optimism
  • Green – balance and new beginnings
  • Blue – peace and calm
  • Turquoise – promotes clarity
  • Pink – love, friendship, caring
  • Magenta – harmony and balance
  • Brown – protection and comfort

All colors have a positive side and a negative side so only choose colors that make you feel a positive emotion when painting for stress relief.

Open hands covered in rainbow colored paint, explaining how you can change your mood with color.

Color Painting Exercise:

  • Choose as many colors as you want, based on your favorites or on color psychology
  • Gather your tools together (you can use canvas, paper, cardboard, palette knives, brushes, and sponges, whatever you want!)
  • On your chosen surface, put small dots of your colors wherever your intuition guides you
  • Next, grab a tool and, following your gut, start smearing the paint around on the canvas
  • Keep the colors separate from each other or blend them as much or as little as you want.

That’s it!  This exercise is about using color, not about shape or trying to paint objects. Just allow yourself to enjoy the colors.

Black and white photo of a spiral sea shell with a pearl-like sheen. Titled: Choose Relaxing Shapes.

Paint Relaxing Shapes

Basically, the brain finds curvy shapes relaxing and calming but angled and pointy shapes are more aggressive and create strong emotions. With that in mind, when you’re painting for stress relief, focus on using shapes that are curvy or rounded.

Ideas to Try:

  1. Mandalas: Mandalas are a circular shape, where you start at the center and work your way out, and typically using dots of paint. Of course, this isn’t the only way to create a mandala but, if you search for them on YouTube, this is the most popular way of painting them. Some people use special dotting tools but you can use the end of paintbrushes, pencils, cotton buds, safety pins, or anything else that will give you a round dot when the paint touches a surface. Mandalas are known to promote relaxation and a meditative state.
  2. Spirals: Spirals are found throughout nature, from DNA strands to seashells. Symbolically, spirals represent growth, change, and energy. When painting for stress relief, spirals are pretty easy to do. You can either cover your surface in a ton of different sized spirals or try painting a pretty nautilus shell.
  3. A lazy river: Water is a natural de-stressor and doesn’t have to be difficult to paint. Try painting a snaking river in a dark forest glen or through a grassy plane.
  4. A winding road: Just like the lazy river, a winding road can make a great painting for stress relief. Winding roads, especially those that have no particular destination, symbolize adventure and moving forward.

You can find many step-by-step tutorials for all of these ideas on YouTube or just relax and go for it on your own. Remember, you’re not painting to master a skill, you’re painting for stress relief!

Three paint brushes resting on top of an art journal, with a floral cover, and a white palette with bright blue and turquoise paint on it. Titled: Dear Diary...

Keep an Art Diary

If you’re someone who has a hard time processing your feelings, or even putting names to your feelings, try seeing feelings as colors and shapes. Grab yourself some paint and something to paint on. You could use regular paper, canvas, card stock, a piece of cardboard, whatever you can find.

Art Journal Exercise:

  • Think of a situation that is bothering you and assign a color to it (Example: Your co-worker Sue hasn’t been pulling her weight. Physically, you’re exhausted but something else is eating at you. If that feeling was a color, what color would it be?)
  • Assign that feeling a shape (is it soft and flowing or hard and jagged?)
  • Put the shape onto your work surface using the assigned color
  • Add more, splatter it, scribble it, whatever makes you feel better
  • Continue this exercise as much as you want and as many times as you want

You may be quite surprised at the depth of your abstract art when you’re not focused on technique.  Whether you decide to create an art diary from your painting exercises, frame it, hide it, or burn it, give yourself a few days before you decide what to do with your painting. It’s best to not make quick decisions when you’re purging emotions.

White Palette knife in the process of smearing pale blue and turquoise paint together, with the title "Squishing Paint is Good for the Soul".

Squish Some Paint!

I love it! Seriously, there is nothing more soothing than squishing some paint with a palette knife. Doing repetitive motions is an easy way to relax.

How to Squish Paint like a Pro:

  • Choose two colors that you feel would work well together (make sure they sit next to each other on the color wheel or at least are on the same team when it comes to cool and warm undertones)
  • Squeeze a dollop of each color right next to each other on a palette or a plate
  • Grab a palette knife, old library card, plastic knife, etc.
  • Squish and smoosh and squish some more!

Add this new mixture to a canvas or piece of paper and use it as a background for a future project. Don’t stress about how to put the squishy paint on the canvas/paper. Maybe you need to get rid of some frustration, short quick strokes should help. Or use feather-light curved strokes to really feel relaxed.  Don’t overthink this, just slap it on the canvas/paper. It’s just paint, after all.

A white canvas with negative words written on it, half covered with different shades of purple paint, titled: Cover the Ugly with Pretty.

Erase It With Paint

One of my favorite exercises to do when painting for stress relief is to write down everything that’s bothering you and replace it with something positive. The act of getting all of that negativity out onto the canvas, or paper, and being mindful to cover it/replace it with positivity allows you to let it go.

How to Magically make Negativity Disappear:

  • Write everything that’s getting on your last nerve onto a canvas or sheet of paper (you can use watercolor pencils or regular pencil very lightly)
  • Cover the entire thing with lots of paint and let dry
  • Finish by creating a piece of art using colors you love, a subject matter that makes you happy, or you could even add printouts of favorite positive quotes or words

Taking a few minutes to create a painting for stress relief can give you a break from troubles and worries and allow you time to regroup and face things head-on with renewed strength and determination.  Playing with colors you love and the act of creating something unique can give you a sense of accomplishment on a day that would otherwise feel like a big fat fail. Let me know in the comments, what is your favorite color/color combination?

More Articles:

Sara

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