Exploring Art For Healing

watercolour of reeds at the water's edge
Watercolour painting

Grief Involves Powerful Emotions.

You do not need to be an artist to use art to help support the parts of you that are wounded. Making art about your loss allows your grief to be seen and makes it tangible.


My grandmother died on December 17th, 2022. One week before Christmas.

On December 19th my ring finger on my left hand started to swell. For two days my finger remained swollen and stiff, difficult to straighten with no visible injury.

I started to think about how the ring finger on the left hand is connected to the heart and feelings of love, which is why the wedding bands are placed on this finger.

My heart is definitely swollen, full of sorrow, full of love and gratitude, full of disappointment and regret. My heart bleeds for having been separated from her for the past two years. Anger for letting the fear get the better of me and for causing me to miss out on the last two years of her life.

My Nanny; she was always there. Always there to call when I wasn’t feeling well, even as I grew older, if she heard I was sick, she’d call. I will remember the feeling of her small hand, holding it in mine, supporting her during hard times, connecting during happy ones. I am so grateful for having had her in my life. I am grateful for the gifts that she has given to me – her legacy of baking and crafting – her values of family, faith, and love. I am grateful to have had her in my life for so long – to have my grandmother in my life for so long, for so much of my life, it’s truly amazing. I will miss her forever.

(Dec 21, 2022)


Melancholy, the emptiness that incapacitates us through grief

Melancholy, a sculpture created by Albert Gyorgy, portrays the void that grief leaves us with. The sculpture depicts a figure made of copper sitting on a bench slumped over, with a giant hole in the center of it. This hole represents the massive void that we all feel when we lose someone dear to us, and many people have expressed their appreciation for this sculpture for it portraying the exact emotions they feel, but perhaps haven’t been able to quite put into words.

Albert Gyorgy felt intense sadness and isolation with the loss of his wife and went on to create this beautiful piece of artwork as a way to cope.

Benefits of Art For Loss

Paints, crayons, clay and other mediums provide a an opportunity for expression and a forum for the release of feelings. Difficult or otherwise, our art pieces allow us to create representations of our grief — something with form we can hold and we can work with.

Making art is also about the simple joy of creating, interacting with the art materials — feeling the squish of the paint between your fingers, manipulating clay or sand, blending the waxy texture of a crayon or oil pastel. These tactile experiences can help ground us.

Art can evoke powerful emotions. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or are in need of additional support, it is recommended you seek a referral to a qualified therapist or art therapist.

The tools and activities on this website are intended to be used as a resource for people who are grieving, those who are supporting grievers and healthcare professionals. The information provided is NOT meant to be a substitute for professional therapy.

These coping tools are meant to be incorporated into your personal healing journey and to be used within your own cultural and personal context. Our intention is to provide information that is both informative and invites you to explore your grief and loss through art and art-making.

Art Impact

Art can be a powerful tool and can touch us viscerally. Art can help by:

  • Expressing emotions that are hard to put into words
  • Providing a tool to express extreme emotions
  • Providing a break from grief, awakening a child-like spirit and providing the opportunity for play
  • Increasing serotonin, which helps fight depression
  • Being a form of meditation through healing and grounding.

All Art-Related Videos

Chantal – My Story

Chantal – My Story

Chantal discusses finding a release in doing a graphic novel to explore her grief as a thesis in art therapy school

Michele – Expressive arts and healing grief

Michele – Expressive arts and healing grief

Michele defines expressive arts and how they can help healing in grief

Claudia – Taking your art home after art therapy

Claudia – Taking your art home after art therapy

Claudia talks about why sometimes not to take your art home after therapy

Claudia – Defining an art therapist

Claudia – Defining an art therapist

Claudia talks about art therapy as a form of psycho therapy

Chantal – What is art therapy?

Chantal – What is art therapy?

Chantal explains how art therapy helps us express in ways that words can't

Jackie – Expressive arts and what you can do

Jackie – Expressive arts and what you can do

Jackie explains the many ways that expressive arts can help with grief.

Claudia – Materials in art therapy

Claudia – Materials in art therapy

Claudia discusses all of the wonderful options of materials to use in art therapy. Art, markers, clay, pencils, water collours, cutting, tearing. They physical engagment with the materials is like alchemy.

There One Day and Gone the Next : Art Therapy and Grief

By Sarah Smith DTATI, BFA

Over the last 12 years or so, I've had the opportunity to work with those grieving individually and in group settings, which has provided me with experience and insight into how art therapy (and art as therapy) can be beneficial to those dealing with loss.

What is Art Therapy?
“Art therapy combines the creative process and psychotherapy, facilitating self-exploration and understanding. Using imagery, colour and shape as part of this creative therapeutic process, thoughts and feelings can be expressed that would otherwise be difficult to articulate,”(CATA, 2022).

There's no right or wrong in art therapy, it's a matter of using the art as a vessel for wellness along side a trained professional. There are many benefits one can receive from engaging in the art making process such as: healthy coping strategies, insight, emotional stability/balance, stress /anxiety reduction, grounding of emotions, pleasure/joy, creativity, safe space, expression, control, freedom, and connection among many others!

Art Therapy and Grief
Grief is a very layered and challenging thing that is unique for each individual who experiences loss.
Because there is no “proper” way to grieve, art therapy can make for an excellent coping strategy as it allows for each person to express themselves in the way that's best for them.

Unlike traditional “talk therapy”, art therapy has the art, so this means that one does not need to speak if they don't want to or if they cant find the way to articulate how they feel into words. Sometimes, while people are grieving they cant even pin point how they feel and at other times the emotions can just be so overwhelming it can affect one physically and to try and talk about the emotions just exacerbates them.

Creating art in itself can be a healing thing. It can be a fun or relaxing thing to do. Engaging in an art therapy session can allow for so many more benefits. The art therapist can provide the participant with specific art therapy directives and art materials that they feel may be beneficial to your needs. Art therapists are trained to read and assess clients' artwork. This means they may see things you may have missed that you might benefit from if brought to your attention. This insight makes it a great learning tool for self-discovery. We as art therapists believe that the art work holds the subconscious. What's great about this for those who are grieving is that people can process however they need to. Some people need more time to process, some people need a more gentle approach where they feel in control, some people refuse to acknowledge things, and some people are just going through the motions and engaging in the art making process. The subconscious is purging and the healing is happening whether they realize it or not.

Art Therapy Directives (examples)
I facilitated a workshop at a hospice a couple years ago and offered it to those who had lost a loved one. The workshop began with a few art therapy warm-up exercises with the intention of helping everyone feel a bit more comfortable in the space and with each other.

The first art therapy directive I had them do was make flowers out of coffee filters, markers, and water. I wanted them to make something symbolic for their loved one. They began by writing whatever they wanted onto the coffee filters. Some people wrote the persons name, poems, a memory, or even drew a picture. They then watered down the filters and the colours began to bleed. Some people cried during this part. They could resonate with the symbolism. The water like tears. The bleeding of the colours representing pain, fuzzy memories, and a distant grasp on the person. When the coffee filters had dried we had turned them into flowers. The transformation of taking what we lost and carrying it forward in a new way was very powerful to witness and a very healing thing to say the least.

The second art therapy directive was focused more on the individual rather than the deceased. I gave everyone a mask. I instructed them to paint the front of the mask how they appear to the world and I asked them to create on the inside of the mask to show how they really feel or how they are actually doing (see figure 1).

colourful masks lay on a table

Figure 1.

They shared their art work from the workshop, but it was heavy. They were feeling sensitive and tired among other feelings so I had them sit and talk for a bit and then had them pull a self-care card for a distraction before letting them and drive home, as it may not have otherwise been safe for anyone overwhelmed after such an engaging session. This is typically how I run a grief workshop. Before they left the hospice asked them to fill out a score sheet to see how they felt about participating in the workshop and everyone said they liked it and for reasons, such as that they felt less anxious, they felt less alone, the felt lighter and more hopeful after the workshop.

At another hospice art therapy workshop, I had them create memory boxes. I provided them with a wooden box along with a variety of art materials, the only thing I asked was that they brought in a picture of the person they had lost. The purpose of this was to give them an opportunity to create something that could hold two energies, a place to honour them deceased, but also something tangible for them to have and hold. From my observations, I remember them taking a lot of time on these boxes and they were very quiet while making them. When they shared them, they were emotional, of course, but pride came through, it was like they made them for their people and wanted to make them well, so that their loved one would really like the box. This made them feel good for reasons such as honouring the person still while they are gone. Some people felt that their guilt had been eased a bit because they were physically doing something for that person who was no longer here. To see an example, see figure 2 and 2b.

a wooden box with a brass clasp and a picture of a compass on top.

Figure 2

a photo of a man inside a wooden box.

Figure 2b.

Following the memory boxes, I had them paint a step by step painting for their loved one. This was more of an art as therapy approach. This means they were literally using the art itself for wellness. They followed along with me and painted a whole painting. By following me, they were able to safely let go and get lost in the art making process. The intention was to enjoy the process while also giving them a healthy mental and emotional escape for however long it took us to paint the picture. I selected a picture of trees that had no leaves, purposely to symbolize letting go, loss, and reflection but the painting had an element of hope to it, the tress were pointing up to the sky, facing the light and there was lots of colour (see figure 3).

canvases featuring colourful, abstract art.

Figure 3.

The photos below are some examples of art from some of my sessions with clients around grief. They speak for themselves.

a colourful abstract painting

Figure 4.

a paper plate with a drawing of a poppy and writing that says "remembrance day"

Figure 5.

Chantal – The benefits of the physical part of art making

Chantal – The benefits of the physical part of art making

Chantal talks about how art can release energy in a healthy cathartic way

Claudia – Art and coping with grief and loss

Claudia – Art and coping with grief and loss

Claudia talk about how art is especially beneficial for someone coping with grief and loss