Art As Tool

The more I experiment with art for wellbeing, the more possibilities emerge. I’ve written before about “art as refuge” and “art as tool” – the two distinct ways I feel art can help wellbeing. Art as refuge is the more familiar of the two to me, and I still think this has immense impact by absorbing, calming and focusing people’s minds away from issues. But through Medley I’ve also started to seek out other ways to use art and creativity as a tool, to express specific feelings more directly.

Photo by Deeana Arts on

Journaling is one possibility, using art to enhance a journal through the use of colour, image, decorative writing or scrapbooking. But I’m looking still further. I’ve experimented with a few drawings and paintings using imagery to represent and express feelings – a thought tree (where I painted a tree, then added thoughts wriiten on leaf shapes) and an umbrella picture (colourful umbrellas each reresenting something that shields us from pain or the negative, just as umbrellas shield us from the elements). But I’m still searching…

A while ago I came across an initiative which intrigued me and seemed to open up another perspective on expressing yourself through art. My Illustrated Mind is run by Kathryn Watson, an artist and researcher who first trained as a doctor. Her main aim is to enable “honest conversations” so that people feel less alone and mental health is more understood. A successful Kickstarter campaign crowdfunded My Illustrated Mind back in April 2021 and card decks were produced. You can see examples on the Gallery page of the website and they are so striking. Each set has a main “character” embodying a theme. There are human and animal characters, and as I myself particularly enjoy drawing, painting and observing wildlife, I focused first on the snow leopard character and its theme of mistrust and social isolation. It was memorable how the illustrations and words alike explored human experience through this character, conjuring the snow leopard as a “wounded animal”, cold and hopeless in remote mountain lands – and drawing immediate parallels with human feelings of isolation.

My Illustrated Mind is powerful because it is deeply rooted in individual, personal experience and yet is entirely transferable. This is someone exploring and sharing her own experience of mental health issues such as low self-esteem and isolation- and so enabling others to visualize and vocalize their own experiences. It’s also powerful because the cards open up opportunities to share, to talk and discuss and pool ideas and thoughts and reactions. People will all respond to the cards differently, maybe identifying with particular characters. They also help you think about what links different feelings. I might not have connected social isolation so closely with mistrust before, but these cards really brought out how one can fuel the other. All the cards differ in style too. Some echo graphic art, so they are particularly expressive, and words themselves become part of the images. These reminded me of the inner dialogue we can have, and of someone I knew who told me he was always losing arguments with himself.

Learn more about My Illustrated Mind at and it would also be great if you would like to share any responses or thoughts in Medley’s Facebook group focused on art and mental health, Think Art – just go to Thank you

Published by medleyisobel

My name is Isobel and I run Medley, an online initiative sharing art, nature and music for health and wellbeing.

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