Art and photo by Larissa Davis

How paint and a canvas healed me

You may not have heard of frozen shoulder. I never did until it happened to me. My right shoulder, which had been injured several years ago, a minor rotator cuff issue, suddenly began to lose mobility. It became stiffer and stiffer. I went to a physical therapist. The exercises did not seem to have any effect and at times seemed to make it worse. The shoulder issue persisted for over a year. I gave up on fixing it.

When a crisis of the soul propelled me on a vision quest a year+ later, I discovered the book Art as a way of Knowing by Pat B. Allen. At the time I was feeling some energy blocking my throat chakra area, literally my throat felt tight and restricted. So I bought myself a huge canvas and some paints, and dove into one of her exercises, having no idea that the energy that would be released was in my shoulder!

What I did

I chose to start with red. Red represents passion, love, the root chakra, creativity. I began with some tentative brush strokes. But a few songs in (some tribal drumming tunes) the rhythms worked their magic and I found freedom in my movements. I was able to make sweeping strokes, stretching my right side and shoulder. It felt amazing to move to stretch that area while making marks on the canvas. As the movement and energy freed up further I was releasing tension and a myriad of emotions through almost violent attacks on the canvas. I then took to splattering the canvas with paint a la Jackson Pollock, and ended my red session with some watered down red blotches that ran red rivers from the top of the canvas to the bottom.

Next, I worked with magenta, adding more of the drippy blotches, and washes of color.

My third color was orange, which created some nice bright areas between the rivers of red.

Then I chose aquamarine. After dumping a copious amount on the palette I was concerned it might be too dark. And I had chosen it because it was cool and was not sure if it was a choice that came more from my left or my right brain. But I had it on the palette and decided to give it a shot. What a surprise it was. I loved how the color, when thinned, created a beautiful cool tone around the warmth of the red and orange. I was surprised more, though, by the emotions that arose as I worked with the blue. I felt pain, melancholy, deep hurt. When I made the blue blotches and those almost black rivers began flowing, something deep moved in me. I feel it even now. Something about connections, about the imperfections, the hidden painful bits. This part of the painting was slower and more introspective. And beautiful.

Throughout this process I encountered my big block, the one with the choke hold around my throat. It said this painting was not going to impress anyone. It asked why I wasn’t making something beautiful, something to show, something to impress, a masterpiece. This voice tells me that EVERYTHING I make has to be a masterpiece. It is a real drag.

But I listened, and then I reassured it that this canvas is for another purpose. This canvas is a conversation. This canvas is a place for me to hear my emotions, a place to hear the voice that is choking my creativity, and the voice that is gently tugging me, guiding me, calling me to walk my soul path. It says “The time is now.”

How to use this technique yourself

I suggest trying this technique to release stuck emotion and connect with your inner wisdom. Find a complete list of materials and guidance here.