Posted by: Cathy | September 17, 2014

Guest Post: Art as a Soul Scrub Brush by McKella Sawyer

“Ribbon Dancer” 24x30x1.5 Mixed Media on Canvas

We all have scary places inside us that we don’t always want to explore. Nobody likes to wade through the mucky stuff; most of the time we’d rather squash it down and pretend it isn’t there, that our life is all about unicorns and fairies eating lollipops and farting glitter.

It’s 100% ok to have mucky stuff. It’s normal. But it’s also super important to have a way to get through that stuff without losing your mind. Being the reigning Queen of Ridiculous Analogies, I like to think of this as a Creative Soul Scrub Brush.

For me, that magic scrub brush is art. I love art and creative expression because it reaches the part of the soul that we can’t access otherwise. It’s like an awesome vacuum attachment or grout brush that loosens the stuff we didn’t even realize was there. It stirs us and reveals things to us that we never knew we had in us. Both creating and experiencing art takes me deep down into my depths where guiding insights can find me.

Art is how I meditate and negotiate around a sticky issue while resolving it at the same time. It’s simple: I just put on my paint clothes, lay out a canvas and start making a mess. I lay down layers of gesso, paint, texturing mediums, and I go wild. Blasting music helps sometimes, and some days I prefer silence. By the time I start creating order from the chaos, adding my signature trees and figures to a wild background, any steps I need to take start to appear before me like neat little stepping stones.

“Step By Step” 24x36x1.5 Acrylic on Canvas

Most of the time when I make art, I don’t have an certain issue in mind. I might start with an idea or a rough thumbnail of how I want the piece to look, but 90 percent of the time I get sidetracked or I decide to take things in a different direction. I trust this process because I know that’s my subconscious guiding me. Somehow the colors I choose, the composition, the theme, the movement of the figures in my paintings reflect how I feel. The art becomes the perfect answer to whatever I’ve been going through, and that monster swimming around in my depths starts to look a lot more friendly.

Take this piece for example:

“Galaxies Inside 2” 24x36x1.5 Acrylic on Canvas

I painted this piece in the dead of winter. I hate winter’s guts and suffer from pretty nasty Seasonal Affective Disorder. I hate being cold and stuck inside, driving in the ice and snow scares the ever living crap out of me, I hate the gloom and gray, and my heating bill goes through the roof because I crank up the heat and take two hot baths a day.

Anyway, the painting, yes. I wanted to paint space and embrace the dark. I thought in order to endure winter, I had to make friends with it, celebrate it. I pictured a lot of energy, more dances, more prominent movement, more gold color. I wanted to bring some warmth into winter, but
as I developed the elements of the painting, I realized the colors needed to be cooler, more subdued. The dancers needed to be pushed back. When it came time to add the main figure, I debated, like I usually do when I reach this stage because usually, the mood of the main figure sets the mood of the entire painting, and this is the stage where the entire thing comes together.

So I took a picture of myself as I felt at that moment. Calm, tired, sitting down and looking up in hope, waiting for this challenging season to end. Then I added myself into the piece, and I realized that all I could do was have patience, to watch and notice. It’s ok that I didn’t have the energy or desire to celebrate. Wanting to hibernate and slow my life down is completely fine. This season has its gifts and spring will come. It always has. It wasn’t about endurance or just sucking it up, but of being patient and gentle, of appreciating what I could and being kind to myself when I felt horrible and didn’t have the energy to brush my teeth.

I’ve learned all kinds of stuff from my art: to take everything step by step, to take time to think and rest, to celebrate everything about life, to take action in my own life instead of living like a ghost and letting life happen to me. Art isn’t perfect, and artmaking isn’t always a skip through the tulips with a ice cream cone in one hand and a kitten blowing bubbles in the other. Art is hard sometimes. It makes messes, it pisses you off when something didn’t work. It’s a process all in its own. It takes patience and an understanding that what you visualized isn’t always what’s going to happen on the canvas, no matter how skilled you are, and that’s ok. But if you’re willing to allow changes and evolution of your original idea, and this is where the solutions come. Loosening the reins on your subconscious mind and letting it take your art in new directions will spawn all kinds of solutions. Each decision you make in your artwork will sneakily take you closer to a valuable insight.

McKella Sawyer is an artist, writer, wife, and soul explorer who dreams of helping women create beautiful lives in which they can thrive! Her art is available in her Etsy shop and she blogs weekly at

McKella also loves going for walks, doing yoga, reading, and eating unladylike amounts of dark chocolate. Don’t judge.
McKella’s Art Shop


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