It’s not just art: two women share their thoughts on process painting


It's often tough to find the words to express ourselves when we go through difficult situations. So, we have process painting sessions to help people to paint it out, says Lim.

It all started around 10 years ago when Marina Rushe first tried her hand at process painting.

“There were a bunch of us, eight women. Each of us picked our own corners where there were huge sheets of paper on the wall for us to paint on. We were asked to paint what we were feeling right at that moment,” recalls the HR consultant from Kuala Lumpur.

According to Rushe, process art can be a  very powerful experience because it helps people voice out what they think and feel instead of bottling it up inside.According to Rushe, process art can be a very powerful experience because it helps people voice out what they think and feel instead of bottling it up inside.Rushe reveals that she was “going through a lot” at her previous workplace at the time and she had hoped that process painting could be “therapeutic”.

The experience more than met her expectations.

“My painting started with one thing and it ended with something else,” she shares.

“You just keep painting over things, and going through the motions. I felt it was very therapeutic because you put everything that you’re feeling onto the paper as you paint. And, as your feelings change or you think about something else, you paint over it,” she explains.

At the end of the session, which took about one to two hours, the group spent another hour, sitting in a circle, talking about their art and what they went through when they were painting.

“Some of the women were crying as they felt the emotions that came from their paintings,” says Rushe, who is in her 40s.

Process painting is a type of art that emphasises the process of painting rather than the end result. It is used in therapeutic or educational settings to encourage self-expression and exploration.

The painter is instructed to let go of any preconceived ideas or expectations of what their finished artwork will look like, and instead focus on their feelings and thoughts as they are painting. It is said to help people connect with their inner self and express themselves freely without judgement.

For Rushe, it was “a very powerful experience” because you get to “voice out what you’re thinking and feeling with the people around you”.

Before this, like many people, she says that she tended to “bottle things up inside”.

“So, to be able to bring it out, felt like a great release,” she says.

A start of something new

Rushe with the process paintings that she worked on at the art sessions held by social enterprise Humankind.Rushe with the process paintings that she worked on at the art sessions held by social enterprise Humankind.Because of her maiden experience, Rushe says that whenever she thinks of art, she doesn’t think of “regular painting”.

Rather, she thinks of process painting.

So, when she saw an Instagram post by Humankind, a social enterprise in Kuala Lumpur, about process painting recently, she decided to sign up.

She went for the process painting sessions in October and November last year.

This time, the sessions were more structured and they were guided by a facilitator who explained not only the concept of process painting but also walked participants through the entire experience.

Rushe, who has a PhD in psychology, says that she understands how important taking care of one’s mental health is.

“Being a psychologist by training, I understand that mental health is very important, so I do take care of my mental health, and I would advise people to do so as well,” she says.

“It’s important to engage with your emotions, feelings and thoughts, and deal with them.

“If you suffer from depression, lack of motivation or lethargy, it’s important to take care of yourself,” she adds.

All about process painting

Process painting is not just a tool that can be used in counselling or group therapy, it can also be geared towards a person’s general wellbeing. A person doesn’t need to have mental health issues to enjoy process painting, says art therapist Lim Sue Lyn.

“On the two ends of the process art continuum, there’s art as psychotherapy and then there’s art as therapy,” says Lim.

“Art as psychotherapy is for more serious mental health issues, while art as therapy can refer to the simple act of painting which is therapeutic and de-stressing,” she explains.

‘It’s not an art class. I’m not an art teacher. The art comes from within and it’s about noticing what’s happening inside and listening to ourselves and expressing it onto paper,’ explains Lim.‘It’s not an art class. I’m not an art teacher. The art comes from within and it’s about noticing what’s happening inside and listening to ourselves and expressing it onto paper,’ explains Lim.For example, at Humankind (which advocates for the mental health and wellbeing of children, families, individuals and communities), they’ve held grief management sessions and process painting was one of the tools used because it helps the participants to express their grief, cites Lim as an example.

“We also have group therapy sessions that are geared towards resilience which help people to be flexible and strong even when stress comes along,” she adds.

“Process painting does not emphasise technical skill or aesthetics, but rather, artistic expression,” says Lim.

“It’s not an art class. I’m not an art teacher. The art comes from within and it’s about noticing what’s happening inside and listening to ourselves and expressing it onto the paper,” she explains.

“Sometimes, when we go through difficult situations, it’s tough to find the words to express ourselves. So, we have process painting sessions to help people to paint it out.

“The emotions (sensations generated in the body), feelings (generated by thoughts on those emotions), and thoughts (occurring in the mind) are things they can’t see, but if they paint them out on paper, they become ‘tangible’ or something they can see and touch,” she says.

Means of expression

Lim says that usually she will ask participants what they are thinking about and how they feel when painting.

She says that there are six ways of expressing ourselves through process painting: kinetic (energy), sensory (senses – colours we see, sounds we hear, touch or painting with hands or other body parts), kinaesthetic (movement – aggressive or calm), perceptual (shapes and lines that show boundaries), emotions (colours, how fluid the paint is – when overwhelmed, it’s usually more messy and expressive), cognitive (thinking and logic), and symbols (of a person’s life that may appear in the painting).

“A process painting isn’t about the final product. You can finish it in one session or you can take some time, paint something then come back to it weeks or months later when you feel there’s something else that needs to be added to it.

“After the session, the participants will discuss their paintings together. And, although the art therapist usually doesn’t interpret paintings, we’ll explore them together with the participants,” she says.

Process painting focuses on the process rather than the final outcome.Process painting focuses on the process rather than the final outcome.For Rushe, each session she attended and each painting she did addressed different aspects of her life.

“This one which I titled ‘Rubbish’ (thoughts) was about bringing out insecurities and turning them into positives,” she says, adding that she drew a monster in the centre to represent “conquering one’s inner demons and negative thoughts”

She points to another.

“This was done during the first session and is about getting in touch with my senses.

“The facilitator asked me to paint what what I was feeling in patterns, and as the patterns change, to be aware of what my feelings were, to process them and then move on to the next pattern,” she describes.

“After an hour, we sat down and discussed the experience. For me, painting helps to bring (to the surface) emotions and issues that a person is facing,” she adds.

Rushe acknowledges that while she finds process painting good for alleviating stress, it might not help everybody.

“You’ve got to know what’s best for you. In my case, process painting does help,” she concludes.

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