With how 2020 has been, it’s fair to say everyone has been more than a little stressed or had some difficulties with managing mental health concerns or taking time for yourself. Art therapy can be used as a medium to cope with anxiety, stress and as a way to release emotions and express yourself. You don’t have to be great at drawing, painting or sculpting to reap the benefits of art through art therapy.
Scottsdale contemporary artist Niki Woehler, who recently opened her own studio and gallery in Scottsdale, said her art is mostly abstract and she gets inspiration for her work from nature and incorporating textures and dimensions to create a dynamic piece of art.
“I do very organic textural art on canvas with predominantly acrylic paint and I also do resin on wood, plexiglass or aluminum panels, which end up looking really cool.”
She also recently completed a 54-foot-long, six-foot-tall commissioned installation for the CBRE offices in Phoenix, and a custom installation for the Indeed Scottsdale corporate offices. She also works with clients in their homes. “I’m really very fortunate that I get to do what I love and I wish everybody could say that,” Woehler said.
Woehler said art can be a way for people to release emotions and to relieve stress, which is how she got into art in the first place. “For me, painting was my way of escaping on the weekends or at the end of the day or from work or stress of life and I could just tune everything else out and lose myself in what I was doing,” Woehler said. “It’s amazing, I have told so many people that over the years, art has been the best therapy that money could ever pay for. It’s a really great way to not think about the things that are troubling you or to think about those things from a different perspective.
“I have had several canvases where I’m upset or sad or angry and I’ve thrown paint and screamed at canvases and cried and I’ve put on music and cranked it as loudly as I can, and I’ll sing a long and there is something so cathartic about being able to let those things go,” Woehler said. “I liken it to a pressure cooker, you let off a little steam and suddenly the pressure drops down and things start bubbling over, it’s kind of like that. And once you let off that initial steam and some of the emotions go, you can think more clearly.”
If people are interested in getting into art but aren’t sure where to start, Woehler recommends starting with the medium you enjoy, such as drawing or painting and go from there.
“Do you ever find that sometimes just being able to say what’s bothering you gets you halfway to where you need to be to let something go or work through it? That’s that canvas or paper or whatever it is you’re working on, that’s that person. I think a lot of times we have our answers inside of us already… I think that’s part of what art does, is you’re not getting anybody else’s opinion or perspective on what’s troubling you. So by focusing on the painting, drawing, sculpting, whatever it is that you want to try, that’s allowing your brain to process quietly.”
In addition to creating her own art, Woelher also teaches workshops and classes including a throwing paint workshop. While some people might be hesitant to try an art class, Woehler said it’s a great way for people to express themselves and be able to experience something different.
She also teaches art monthly at GiGi’s Playhouse, an organization that provides free educational and therapeutic programs to individuals with Down syndrome from birth through adulthood, their families and the community. Each year they hold an annual gala and Woehler thought it would be a cool idea to have all the kids participate to create a big piece of art that could be auctioned off at the gala; Woehler has helped make this happen the past two years.
“The kids had a blast with it because there’s no rules and they could do what they feel in the moment. They could use the color that makes them happy; and seeing their faces light up at the freedom behind that and watching them throw different colors on the canvas, I thought, ‘I bet other people would really enjoy that freedom too,’ because you don’t think, you just do it,” Woehler said.
She reached out on her social media and inquired if anyone would be interested in taking a class or workshop like the one the kids of GiGi’s Playhouse did, and she got overwhelming interest, selling out two workshops within minutes.
She said when adults came in for the workshops, they weren’t entirely sure what to do. “They were like ‘Where am I supposed to put it? What’s it supposed to look like?’ and the whole message of the workshop was to stop thinking and do what’s natural and see what you get as a result. There’s no pressure, you can’t do it wrong; and everyone loved it and loved their painting at the end of it because it meant something to them and I tell them to choose colors that mean something to you, that you love, that give you joy, that speak what you want to speak.”
Woehler said a lot of art is getting into it and the correlation between putting your body into something that allows you to let go of whatever is making you unhappy, sad or angry is powerful. “I associate colors with feelings too, and so when I’m really mad you’ll see red paintings; red for me is typically anger or passion, for me joy is orange. So I would say to people, think about colors and what they mean to you, and then use them as a method of therapy for yourself as well,” Woehler said.
Due to the pandemic, Woehler hasn’t been able to host another workshop since spring, but has received inquiries from previous attendees who want to bring their kids, friends or co-workers to another workshop to experience it together.
However, Woehler has made the best of the year without holding workshops by spending more time with her children and feels fortunate she had her own studio where she could take her time in the morning and go into the studio to create during the day. “While I was in my studio creating, I didn’t think about COVID-19 or what’s happening in the world, I could let that stuff go and focus on my art. I think people need that, especially now, there’s so many different things you can do to let your creativity out, for example, I’ve never taken an art class, but I’ve learned a lot by watching other artists on YouTube and trial and error. It’s about being kind to yourself and not expecting a masterpiece, but expecting to enjoy the process and letting go.”