Art journaling for mental wellness in Monrovia
Winter is typically a low point for many people. According to Mental Health America, January was Mental Wellness Month, kicking off a year strewn with national and global observances related to mental wellness, including eating disorders (February), self-injury, bipolar (March), drug and alcohol awareness and screening (March and April), sexual assault awareness and prevention (April), maternal mental health (May), PTSD (June), self-care (July), suicide, recovery (September), ADHD, depression, OCD (October), stress, and survivors of suicide loss (November). Then, get ready, we’re right back into the shortening days and long, deep, dark nights of the holiday season, which often trigger angst in even the sunniest of psyches.
Depending upon what you’re dealing with, there isn’t one single, neat fix. But a pair of Monrovia-based artists, mother-daughter duo Emilie Parker and Arella Tomlinson, ignite a weekly spark of well-being through Arella’s hands-on workshop called “Art Journaling for Wellness,” conducted at ClayArt West, her mother’s ceramics studio.
During a recent visit to the workshop, we learned that Emilie currently participates in her daughter’s workshop. This fact alone may astonish some readers, given that our mother-daughter relationships are often fraught and overwrought. But not here.
Both artists share a layered love of health education as well as a drive toward creative expression in the visual arts. Tomlinson was born in Altadena and attended Pasadena High School. After pursuing a fine arts degree at the University of Colorado at Boulder, CO, she returned to Southern California with web design and content management skills. She joined her mother on the corporate side of Kaiser Permanente, where Parker was her supervisor. Parker grew up in Sierra Madre and returned to the area a few years ago after running a pottery school in Boulder, CO. Today, daughter and mother are neighbors. Tomlinson, her husband Justin, and her two children live in the house her husband grew up in, just one door south of her mother’s home studio in Monrovia.
Tomlinson says of this enviable ease between generations, “Our relationship has always been really positive and easy. We have similar interests, and we both like to keep the peace and resolve things quickly.” She adds with obvious delight, “When I was growing up, my mom was always making art and always blowing my mind! Especially as a sculptor. She was always making things, experimenting with all kinds of materials, like rolled newspaper. ”
This resonance of personal nurturing may be the underpinning for the success of Tomlinson’s workshops. Although her credentials include a Master’s degree in art therapy from Loyola Marymount and a Bachelor’s degree in art, and she’s worked with families and children in community mental health settings, she is careful not to couch the process in clinical terms. She describes herself as a facilitator (not a therapist) and the workshops as peer-support groups. Each workshop unit includes five two-hour morning sessions priced at $200. Tomlinson supplies each participant with a journal, all art supplies, and an apron.
The web site explains that Art Journaling for Wellness is a time for you to embrace your creativity, honor your emotions, and express your innermost thoughts. It is both a creative practice and a therapeutic tool during difficult times.
Tomlinson adds, “It’s not a conventional art class, in the sense that we don’t place any importance upon improving drawing skill or perfecting artistic technique.” Instead, each unit is themed to a loose concept or prompt supplied at the beginning of each workshop. Tomlinson identifies these prompts as the five pillars of mental well-being, organized by the mnemonic “GRASS is green”:
G (God, Goodness, Grounding),
R (Relationships, Connections),
A (being Active physically, Action and trusting instincts),
S (Skills including Self-acceptance),
S (Sharing, giving to others).
Depending on the prompt’s content, Tomlinson will suggest specific media, including collage, acrylic paint, paper-folding, glitter, and stencils.
The appeal is obvious for individuals seeking to unpack their anxiety, depression, and trauma in a relaxed and proactive setting that goes beyond talk-centric “shrink rap.” But for Jeannine Savedra, a professional artist, a teacher at California School of the Arts in Duarte, and former fine art restorer, “I actually joined this workshop to forget about my technique. I want to loosen up and be around other creative people.”
After leaving an unrewarding work situation, Savedra found the workshop to be a way to unblock her creativity. Because the format is non-competitive and non-judgmental, “It’s a safety net and a support system,” she says.
Tomlinson does not set explicit session goals, so there’s no pressure. There may, however, be surprises, including breakthroughs and occasional emotional outbursts. While interaction is encouraged within the group, there’s no explicit analysis or interpretation.
“We are dealing with feelings that may have been buried for a long time,” says Tomlinson. “So sometimes things get a little cathartic. Because this is a safe place, exposing that feeling can be the door opening to your well-being.”