The Person You're Becoming

"It's not just about creativity, it's about the person you're becoming when you're creating" Charlie Peacock


When I started thinking about writing this post it was with the intention of looking at the power that art can have as a form of therapy (whether officially labelled Art Therapy or when referred to as art as therapy). I then came to realise that the only way to have a truly honest discussion about why I believe in this more than ever is to actually address my current situation. Everything that follows is looked at from the perspective of grief but it is obviously applicable to so many other situations.

It's something that I try not to talk about much as, dramatic as it sounds, it's an incredibly painful thing to discuss, but as we unbelievably approach the year anniversary of my Mum's unexpected passing (I typed death to start off with there but apparently it's still too raw and death is a much harsher word to deal with so have had a mini sobbing fit) it feels right to address how I've tried to cope with it. 

This year has been one of massive change, both professionally and personally.

A 3am phone call changed my life forever. It's no exaggeration to say my Mum was not only my mother but by best friend. She was my soulmate, my other half. We were somewhat unhealthily close.

We Shall Not Sleep, Though Poppies Grow.jpg

This painting was the first thing I painted after my Mum passed. It was just after her funeral and I had flown home for a few days just to be alone to try to process what was happening. When I look at it I can just see someone who was so confused with what was happening and was living in a haze.

I couldn't cope with working and after 5 months I quit my job. She had always wanted for me to pursue my dream of being an artist and, while I was at my lowest point and really did feel like I had nothing else to lose, I decided to go for it. Not just for me but for her.

Now veering off course, to go back a few years, I had decided that I wanted to become an Art Therapist. It's not something that's offered in South Africa so I decided to go to Singapore and had what could be seen as a highly ironic breakdown. Not finishing that Masters is probably the one regret I have in life (but at the same time put me on a path to where I am now and at 24 I was no where near mature enough to deal with that responsibility. Without leaving that I would never have the people I do in my life now who, honestly, I can't imagine being without.)

Fast forward back to 2018, and I can safely say hand on heart, that without art I would not have made it through this year and will need it to get me through the coming years.

People spout things about the stages of grief (I have feelings about that that I won't delve into here but honestly, for me, it was bull). What people don't tell you about grieving is all the little things. How driving is nearly impossible as you will cry most of the way. How some days you can't remember anything, including your address, because your desire to shut out all memories that might make you remember also means you can't recall things you need. How some days your body will physically hurt from trying to function. How even breathing is tiring. How looking in a mirror is hard as you remind yourself of them. How you want everything that holds a memory to be gone from your sight but also wanting to be around all these things constantly. How seeing families brings a lump to your throat and how catching glances of similar faces to the one you lost brings you to tears. And mostly how, sometimes, it's all just a bit too much and you want to just sleep forever.

What they also don't tell you is how strong this makes you. You become a warrior. You work through it. You don't give up. 

And truly devastating as this has been I have also found myself, and my 'art voice' in it. And that's an amazing thing.

I didn't believe it could do it before. I didn't believe in myself or in what I was doing. Now, it's not even about believing but it's about having the courage to actually try.

Every time I make a piece I am processing my grief, my emotions, my concerns. It's an entirely selfish endeavor but it's also the most cathartic way to deal with this.

Which leads me back to why I actually wanted to write this. We took the long way round there.

All of this is why art is magic. Art is therapy, whether practiced under the guidance of a trained Art Therapist (and please make sure they're actually qualified, not just some hack who did a two day course) or when done alone at home. (Obviously there are different results and processes but either way it is a healing process).

Sometimes words are not good enough, and also let's be honest, words are hard. Just typing the first paragraph of this set me off so talking about things is another beast entirely. Art removes this barrier whilst still allowing you to make a connection between head, heart and hands.

It is a visual release, a way of making sense of the jumble of emotions and thoughts that rattle around inside your head. It is an externalisation of internalised chaos, and that externalisation is so healthy. If all that confusion and pain just sits inside you it will eat you, guaranteed.

The creative/art making process allows you to actually engage with all of these feelings (and trust me, there are all of them, it's very exhausting) and allows for vulnerability in a safe way. If you can allow yourself the freedom to not be self-conscious about it you can process your experience through the marks you end up making, and that it a wonderful thing. 

It doesn't have to be pretty, it doesn't have to make sense to others, but if it helps you release the monsters that are devouring your spirit, then that result in itself is beautiful.

I don't want to be the person that does this but I feel like ending this with two quotes is actually a nice way to round off (my English teacher would be cringing, sorry Ms Gardyne!), so here they are:

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”  Lao Tzu


“Art can permeate the very deepest part of us, where no words exist.”  Eileen Miller

So, if you're at a place where you feel a bit lost, or are just having a bad day, take your pain and your troubles and all the love you can give and channel it as best you can into your art. I promise it helps.


Liffey Joy