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The Self-Portrait Workshop

February 16, 2017


Stepping into a room can be intimidating.  Stepping into a room with lots of hopes and no expectations–with the full knowledge that God has showed up every time in the past and opened hearts in new ways–it’s exciting and intimidating still.  Telling a room full of incredulous thugs that we’ll be doing art today…well, there’s some humor to that.  But coming into a group of hurting people as one who has been there on many levels myself, coming as one of them with something to offer as a means of opening up our hearts and beginning the healing process…well, that is priceless.

Over the past 3 years, I have taught an art workshop geared toward people who have been through trauma and who are struggling to overcome some incredibly tough things.  As I’ve connected with different people these past months doing support raising and ministry development, the subject of the workshop has come up many times.  What exactly is it?  I cannot call it “art therapy” because I am not a licensed art therapist, and that would be like calling myself a physician when I don’t have the education or training.  Perhaps it’s just a way to walk in creative healing?  Creative processing? Either way, I would love to share it.  Any project or workshop that teaches people to see themselves as God does, or to reflect on where there heart is at a given moment is something that should be passed on.

This workshop has been a ministry that I stumbled into, very much in line with my stumbling into art journaling.  Actually, I think art journaling was a fruit of teaching the class–I ended up having so many projects to share that I wanted to keep them all in one place, i.e., an art journal.  I have seen massive fruit from it, in my own life and the lives of dozens of students.  It has so far worked for inner-city gang kids trying to start over, for Alaskan native students walking through healing and into adulthood, for middle and high school girls, for groups of grown women, for young children, for people who have walked through trauma, abuse, abandonment, or any type of lie that is thrown at them…who knows who else it could work for?

This workshop and concept will be another part of my ministry while in Costa Rica.  When I am not out on an assignment filming, I will get to do art like this with different groups in San Jose– children, people being rescued from human trafficking, people struggling with transition.  I’ll really know more about my specific student groups when I get there and get settled, so I am just trying to broadly define something here.

I first taught it about 3 months after I was raped in Africa.  I went down to the Denver Street School (where I was already known and had relationship from doing fundraising videos for them), and I shared my story with a room full of unruly high schoolers.  One girl cussed me out and left the room.  A bunch of them were fresh out of gangs and off the streets. But we did art.  And I was floored at the vulnerable, deep, hard, beautiful things these students told me.  Every time I teach, I try to tell part of my story.  My reason for it is to offer my own vulerability first–to give permission to be vulnerable.  I share something hard for me and something that really hurt me as a way of declaring that the room is a safe place, and a place where the guard can be let down.  That is key. At first, when I taught, I shared about rape and physical abuse.  Other times, I have shared difficult things from my family story, or about rejections and hurts and disappointments most recently faced.  Every time I’ve taught, I have had students open up and confess abuse, rejection, hurts, abandonment, oppression, and a need for Jesus.  Having a tough thug sit across the table from me and through tears tell me that he no longer wants to be a slave to Satan but know Jesus and show me a picture of a door with a key as his project…what do you say to that?

Truly, the key JESUS.  Every time I’ve taught this, I just ask Him to show up and surprise us all.  And He does, because He’s good like that.

Here is the basic outline of the class:

I generally teach it as a two day thing, but it can be condensed or expanded as needed.  It can be changed for what is appropriate for the age group, background, and setting.  With the inner-city kids, I come prepared for different things than I do with the homeschooled girls groups…I’m sure you see what I mean.

  1. I always start with my story, my background, where I’ve been and where I’m headed.
  2. Then I talk about CREATIVITY.  Here’s my thought: We are all made by a Creative God, IN HIS IMAGE, therefore every.single.person on earth is creative in some way or another.  The thing is, creativity expresses itself in a million ways, and there is no one right way to do it.  So, this particular art class can be done in any type of way–painting, drawing, writing poetry, photography…those are the easy ones.  If you feel like you can access the things in your heart best by rapping, carving wood, knitting something, or shoot, making a picture out of macaroni noodles…go for it.  The goal is the heart here, the process.  The end product is secondary.
  3. What we do is make a “self portrait”.  By portrait, I just mean “something that represents you”.  As I said in step 2, it is far more about process than product.  As long as you can TALK about it and tell me the how and why at the end, I don’t care WHAT it looks like.
  4. In creating this self portrait, I pass out a list of questions to use as prompts.  I get the participants to choose 1 or 2 of these and focus on them, otherwise it’s too overwhelming.  Each time I’ve taught this class, I’ve also made a self-portrait to present at the end, and I think I’ve only covered 5 of the questions over my time.  So, it’s not a big deal, it’s just a starting place. Here is the list I’ve assembled over the past years:

    1. Where do you come from?
    2. What is your past?
    3. What has defined you in your life?
    4. What are lies that you have been told?
    5. What are the truths that come against those lies?
    6. What has God done in your life?
    7. What is God DOING now in your life?
    8. How has knowing God changed your past/present?
    9. How has knowing God changed what you think about your future?
    10. Do you dream about the future?
    11. What kind of person do you want to be?
    12. What do you want to do with your life?
    13. How does God see you?
    14. How does God define you?
    15. Do you believe what God says about you?
    16. What is His calling for your life, what is His relationship to you?
    17. What FEELINGS take up a lot of mental space right now?
    18. What emotions do you carry with you through most of your day?
    19. Even thinking through these questions, what are you aware of?  Do you feel excited,      overwhelmed, angry, happy, scared, confused?
    20. Do you have a place where you can mentally escape to find rest? What does that place look like?

  5. So, I bring a variety of art supplies, and give lots of ideas and space to think and process.  Usually, we present the second day, or during the second session.
  6. In presenting, I always go first, again to make it safe for everyone else to share.  Each person is given the choice to share or not, it’s important to not put too much pressure here.  In the sharing these are the things I ask for:  What is the piece? Which questions were you tackling in it? How does it show who YOU are? Why did you choose that medium?
  7. Lastly, I just try to be open to whatever God is doing in hearts.  I see my role as one of creating space.  I get to step into some really tough stuff and just create a safe space, to talk, to process, to see things in a new light.  Giving permission to be creative seems to open up things in people’s hearts that they either never knew how to talk about or never knew were even there.  Don’t come in with certain expected results.  Just be a safe person and make it a safe space.

Can I answer any questions?  Has there been any unclear part of this that I can help with?  Have you ever taught an art class like this?  Let’s chat. If you would like more information, I would love to share.  If you would like me to teach in a class or at a retreat, let’s talk.

Here are a few examples of student work from past years. These are students who have given me permission to share, and there are so many more amazing stories that remain sacred to that particular class.

Only partially finished when I photographed it, this student drew a heart to help her figure out what was in her heart.

A poem created out of lines cut out of an old book. What’s in her head? What are the words she’s speaking? What is being spoken over her?

I LOVE this story. This girl had recently had a baby, and decided not to settle into what was expected of her. She went back and finished high school and moved on to college. It’s easy to let your circumstances and choices define you, but you don’t have to. You can make another choice, and move forward with life in hope.

This is a bit hard to see, but this student wrote out lies spoken over her in one of the eyes and on one of the lips. Then she wrote out the truth about how God views her on the other eye and other lip. Profound!

This guy drew himself as a police officer because he wanted to be a protector of his neighborhood. The moment when a young man moves from being a predator to a protector is a huge leap and the sign of some serious spiritual growth.

As closely as I can remember his words, he said to me “This is the keyhole into my heart. It’s dark in there. I want Jesus to come in. There’s flowers on the cross because He gives life. I drew myself as a wolf because I want to be strong.”

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