Art-making for Self-growth: How do we do it?

Art-based practices can be used for self-growth in so many different ways. Today, we are sharing with you one of our own creative processes that we initiated in 2018. We have called it the Writing Flow and we still keep developing this amazing project. What did it bring us so far? Please read this article to get an insight into our deep art-based work, enjoy an excerpt from the project we have co-created, and get inspired by what we do to stay more resilient and cope better with the not-so-great reality.

It all Started From Togetherness

Our longing was to experience and acknowledge each other in a beautiful and playful way. Three of us: Ineke Hulselmans, Joanna Wróblewska, and Anna Paluszek discussed how we could cultivate together the practice of creative writing in a safe and non-judgmental space. We came up with a frame for our project that was (1) simple and easy to follow, (2) satisfied our need of being heard, and (3) allowed us to experiment, be playful, and get inspired by each other’s creations.

Exactly on August 24th two years ago, Joanna wrote her first piece of text called Erratic. Ineke and Anna followed her, keeping a simple rule of using at least three words or expressions from a previous text in their own writings. The flow has slowly developed into a surprising narration of many fascinating voices. Although sometimes we have had longer breaks in sharing our pieces, we have kept developing the Writing Flow. Until now, we wrote almost 50 pages of stories, poems, and short impressions.

We would like to share with you three pieces written one after another by each one of us in the summer of 2019. To publish them, we created together a digital artwork illustrating our experience. In the end, not everything can be expressed only in words!

Please enjoy this short excerpt from our Writing Flow and get inspired by it. Our intention is that more and more people start to use art-based methods, like Expressive Arts Therapy, to stimulate personal growth and build more awareness around how we are in this world. Because… art makes sense! And we have an opportunity to make sense using the arts over and over again.

Writing Flow (excerpt)

Our intention is that more and more people start to use art-based methods, like Expressive Arts, to grow and build more awareness around how we are in this world. Because... are makes sense. And we have an opportunity to make sense using the arts.
The image we created together to illustrate the three texts published below.

Author: Anna Paluszek [20 August 2019, Jerusalem]

The Other Truth

The words exploded in her head:

How come? Where? What? 

The professor drew some lines and circles on the white board whilst saying:

 “History is not a line. The past is not in the back…”

Her breath stopped and tears were ready to appear in her eyes. The voice in her head repeated his words: “The past is not in the back” – accompanied by the hand motion directing all eyes behind him…

… “where the fuck is then?” angry Rationality screamed searching in the vast library of the collected wisdom.

“How can this be? This is not making any sense. Fine, we have feelings, emotions, and we should critically look at what we know and learn…

But come on! The past is in the past, and the presence is now. What happened in the Past is behind me, existing in presence… isn’t?”

Waters of mistrust and doubt sneaked into her mind and wouldn’t let it go, the same exact sentence: “the Past is not in the back” – was repeated on and on. 

The words sunk into her soul, and went to the woods, gardens and alleys of unpresence and unconscious, where they disappeared to come back with some new ideas – the forgotten creations.

The pain was strong and effective, nothing mattered when the body reached another dimension of pain that is like a soul wandering somewhere in the depth of the wet and dark shadow, discovering deep secrets of life and death.

Next day in the morning, she woke up and remembered and wrote down the following:

Past is not in the back.

I wondered at first, then my mind wanted to reject or ignore this discovery. So I said to myself – let’s see, maybe later. The next day my thoughts were ready to rehers, it was like that:

  • If a history is not in the back – where is it?

Memory of the body…

I started to think about how history is present (in the form of memory and its manipulations) in Palestine. On and on, never ending story…so it is not ‘the History’, but it is a living memory present in people’s stories, spaces around us, stones, paths, colours of the eyes…

This Palestinian experience of mine is not a first time I feel “the history” on my back or in my stomack.

 I saw it in people’s faces, emotions triggered by irrelevant supposedly events, actions or words. 

The borderline area, I am from, the story of my family, divided by the borders. The manipulations and propaganda in the textbooks and books that I read while knowing that it is only a tiny part of what has happened really.

I felt so many times the pain of secrets, rejections and crime of a taboo imprinted in the eyes, drunk with alcohol in self-pity or in religious  forgetness,  and any other way people find to forget about truth, pain and sense of guilt.

Her inner voice took its time to disperse all the knowledge it gathered during the long night ride:

  • You’ve got scared when you have heard that the past is not in the back. You were scared that it would take over your life, your presence and future, and you don’t want it, you live the other life now. You made your circles and walked all the way down here…but this is who you are.

Yes, I am – she repeated loudly to herself.

  • I am, Jestem*, Ana** 

The past is not in the back, because there is no ‘back’. It is, it was and it will be in you, as well in the trees, soil, and space around. All circles of life and death, every day and night. The light and darkness, the images that come just before we sleep, the colours nurturing our souls and painting emotions in our bodies.

From the pain of your mother when she was giving birth to you, till the sadness of your father when he felt too weak to hold you. 

The pain of the parents who can’t feed their child, and keep it warm and safe. 

Your first sell-out for a bit of love, the second sell-out for the sake of argument, and yet another one to feel anything. Another seven years have gone and you are still here, you are always here, no doubt.

You are THE presence – your past, present, future and beyond.

She smiled and closed the notebook.

*Jestem – “I am” in Polish

**Ana – “I am” in Arabic

Author: Joanna Wróblewska [23 August 2019, Potsdam]

The Living Body

I am

the body

not less

not more

just a living piece

of History.

My body spoke in the language of self-love. It expressed clearly and with no mercy, straight from the past and into the future. I closed my eyes and agreed to join it in the present moment. Then my body took me on a journey to hidden caves filled with blood and dark smoke. I’ve been there before. I looked at my hands covered with some sort of a black paint. Or maybe it was something else? A dense substance originating from my vivid nightmares, unrealistic hopes, and frequent disappointments. I looked around. My deepest forests were on fire. They cried solemnly with red and purple tears of anger and loss.


Red ink.

Death of all.

No come back.

History behind.

Future ruled by past.

Here and now.



Being there again was unpleasant. What am I saying… no, it wasn’t just that… I would use other words, but my body didn’t give me time to think. It moved my legs and arms in the rhythm of the orange flames. I danced around them and I sang songs of despair. The yesterday materialized in rapid moves of my fingertips. It manifested in the story told by my neck and shoulders. It was present in each tiny move of my dirty feet. History flew through me and left my body touched deeply. The red-hot soil received my History gently and with grace. The soil didn’t care, couldn’t remember, and wouldn’t end.

There was something in me, that didn’t let me stop. So, I danced even faster, and faster, and faster. I kept spinning around and suddenly forgot about the pain. I saw little pink scars forming on the surface of my heart, in the tissues of my liver, and inside my bones. Yes, I was a part of a big collective failure. I got involved, I spoke in the name of…, I fought fights that weren’t mine. I did it all because I listened to this little creature sitting inside my ears and telling me to be a good girl. 


Now I know, it wasn’t right. I can see the fires caused by the best intentions and I pray to my body for forgiveness. I ask it silently for an inner rain, pure and chilly. My body listens and stops. Silence. A gentle rain falls on my spleen and throat. It washes all the dirt off my cells. Now I can clearly see what is bigger than me and what is only a tool in my hands. I bow, apologize to the world, and walk away with gratitude. 

What is mine is mine

what is yours is yours

what is ours is ours.

Finally, I fully agree to the wisdom brought by the pain. I touch my scars and smile. Am I still the same person? My head nods and I see the Universe expanding.

Author: Ineke Hulselmans [28 August 2019, Ghent]

The Silent Life of Hands and Feet

She sits behind her desk. Fingers on the keyboard. Eyes alternating between her screen and the view of the trees outside her window. Here she sits.

She will sit here for the whole day.

She fixes her eyes again on the screen before her. She clicks through her emails. Her eyes glaze over the letters, the words, the sentences.

Her eyes wander up again. From the white wall in front of her to the brown window frame and out on to the trees.

The trees never move from their position. They remain unwaveringly loyal to the place where their roots have grown deep connections with the earth.

Her eyes pause. They rest there with the leaves. She takes in  their infinitely subtle shades of green and brown. 

She imagines their roots reaching underneath her. She imagines how they support her weight from below the surface of the earth.

She closes her eyes. She imagines growing roots of her own. Roots that reach all the way down. She wonders what they would reach for.

She imagines her feet bound to this place. She imagines belonging here and knowing this place by heart.  From the constellation of the stars to the way the earth transforms through the seasons.

She wonders if trees longed to move as she longed to belong.

She looks down at her fingers that rest on the keyboard of her computer. They haven’t been engaged much today. This is the time to obey. This is a time for duty. So they wait for a command or a plan. Something to follow. 

Thoughts flutter around in her head. She is unable to catch a single one. 

She frowns. Her hands are silent. Her eyes look towards the trees for a clue.

Finally she lets her hands move across the keyboard freely. They press random keys in quick succession.

She looks down to her screen and sees the letters that have appeared there. Randomly connected to each other. She sees nothing familiar. Nothing makes sense. 

She resists the urge to delete everything. She reads aloud what she has written. 

Dnfzoe ifnùAM+QKVNKDFJHA3RGH ùaEF?DLFNI Nbsinaqrinbq sqvnOI EZFNMQD<LDKVLIZURQBMSIJMQoi qmofn MEOINF MEOIFNGaùeo ghirpqa fgarpij zeignùpzi sidsfnzma’oti nimgnvq

She closes her eyes. She feels the vibration of her voice travel through her body. She is taken on a journey by these unfamiliar sounds. She continues to speak without even seeing what is on the page. 

Slowly she starts to sing those words. Behind her closed eyes she sees the trees. They speak to her. They tell her about how they see her wilting there. Like a flower that forgot what summers are for. 

They tell her about waving to her to come out and join them. 

She opens her eyes and she sees the trees softly waving in the wind. She feels the flower within opening. Carefully at first and then more boldly. Her eyes open wide. 

Almost without noticing she is standing. She is walking towards the front door. The trees are calling her home.

We keep creating…

Does this work have an end? It can go on and on until we make a conscious decision to finish it and close up our collaboration. For now, though, we keep creating. Through this experience, we have learned how to let go of judgement and simply write, how to be a creator and a witness at the same time, how to wait and be patient before our turn comes, how to deal with laziness and lack of inspiration, how to be open to what arrives, and how to hold the space for ourselves.

This project belongs to us and we belong to the arts. As long as we live, we will keep shaping our artistic experiences and respond to reality using all those amazing art forms. Writing will be always at the top of our list.

Joanna, Ineke, and Anna

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