EP2 – Art therapy & mandalas with guest Katie Hanczaryk

Episode Links


Welcome to my podcast, Creative Conflab, where we’ll have honest conversations about creativity, art, design, and craft. Ready to get started? Let’s go!

Tara: Thank you for listening. This is episode two with Katie Hanczaryk. Thank you so much for joining me today Katie. Just to start, I wanted to let you have the opportunity to tell people who you are, what you do, and how you got started in doing art therapy.

Katie: Thank you so much, I really enjoyed your first podcast. I’m very excited for you and to be honored in this way. Thank you for taking an appreciation in this project. My name is Katie Hanczaryk, I am currently working at the Avalon Sexual Assault Center for women and trans individuals who’ve been victimized by violence. It was really through the tragedy that occurred recently in Nova Scotia that has now been identified as a domestic violence situation where I felt this immense calling to offer some sort of creative way of coping and dealing with such a range of emotions that I was feeling and that I can imagine other people were feeling too – so I’m sure we’ll talk more about that later.

I’m an Art Therapist registered with the Canadian Art Therapy Association which I love deeply. And formerly, I was registered with the American Art Therapy Association but I’ve found my home here, I feel, in Canada as an Art Therapist. I went to NSCAD University and studied Interdisciplinary Arts and just kind of found my way through wanting to be an artist, although it was so profoundly rewarding for me, it didn’t feel like, it felt like it was missing a piece of that connection. A lot of artists are so isolated in doing their art, and there is a time and a place for me to absolutely indulge in that, but I felt there was this piece missing. So including counseling, I’m a Registered Counseling Therapist in Nova Scotia, so I hold both of those, and that fits very well for me.

That’s just a little bit about me.

Tara: You started in an art discipline and then sort of found your calling of, there’s something more here where I can help people through the art, and then transitioned into that, I love that. For people who don’t know, I’ve heard of Art Therapy but I’ve never known anyone close to me who does Art Therapy. So how is an art therapy session different from talk therapy session and how accessible is it now that we’re all self-isolated?

Katie: I don’t know about for you, or if it’s who I’m following on social media, or what I’m listening to, but it seems like so many people are just really longing for creativity. Your podcast is such a beautiful example of that, it’s like people are hungry for it. Art therapy basically is, it’s like talk therapy in terms of you have a therapist who is registered and it’s a profession, you have to work with someone, well, you don’t have to, but there’s a licensing board around Art Therapy now which is wonderful and people who are licensed or registered have gone to school for that. So they’re trained in how to work with people. A lot of social workers or psychologists may use art but it looks a little bit differently than traditional art therapy and art therapy can look a lot of different ways. Just like how talk therapy can have many different modalities. So in an art therapy session I gather some information from you like some of your history or I might offer a creative way of doing that. For example, one that’s just coming to my mind right now, I might ask you to, I might offer you a bowl of black rocks and a bowl of white rocks and I might invite you to put them in a little sand tray. Placing black rocks that represent difficulties for you or some hardships that you’ve experienced in your life and the white rough rocks representing some of the experiences that you’ve found were like gifts for you and then giving you some time to think about it in a different way and then as you place them on the sand tray then we might just talk about that. In Art Therapy there’s a common misconception that I’m going to interpret your art which I would never do. You as the artist have the answers for yourself and what that means for you. I might say, “I notice that your art is showing up in this way, or that this image keeps returning to you. What does that mean for you?” But I would never say, “This means that”. Because for everybody, it’s so different.

I also engage my clients in a variety of different materials. So it could be inviting them to do chalk pastels or watercolors or clay depending on the situation that is happening for them. Or I might just have, as one of my art therapist colleagues say an art buffet, and you can just choose what it is that you’re feeling called to work with in that moment. So sometimes our therapy can be directive, meaning I might ask you to draw a picture of your family or it might be more open-ended like why don’t you just draw a picture of how you’re feeling today and we can go from there. Even just a scribble and choosing a color or making a mark that kind of represents how you’re feeling. It can really look a lot of different ways but it’s expressing yourself and especially I find it’s that sometimes there’s difficulty in using words to explain how we’re feeling, so images can be such a wonderful way to communicate and to be seen and to share how it is that we’re feeling without using our words. For artists in particular but for anybody it can be an amazing way of connecting to someone when it’s difficult to share or even to know how it is we’re feeling.

Tara: Yes, I love that. That was all so beautiful. Especially, as an artist myself, which I know a lot of people can relate to, is that I fear judgment or how other people are going to perceive or interpret what I’m doing. And when we get those fears, we just shut down and we don’t create anything. So part of my whole initiative with the podcast is to ensure people that it doesn’t matter what anybody outside thinks, just create something. I love how you took something so minimalist as rocks to represent things. After doing something like that, you can move forward and do bigger things once you gain your confidence a little bit and expand and it doesn’t have to be with art supplies, it can be with anything.

We automatically think of creativity and go to art. Creativity is so much more than that. Myself as a creative, I’ve always felt better in times of crisis or when I’m feeling down when I create something. When I paint something, I draw something, I do collage, I cut stuff out of magazines and paste it on a page like we used to do in Kindergarten, it just makes me feel better. So what’s the actual physiology or what’s happening in my brain that makes me happier when that happens?

Katie: That is such a great question. You know, that space, I’m sure you’ve experienced this when you have the opportunity to be in the space where a few hours go by and then you’re like, “oh my gosh, I haven’t eaten, I haven’t gone to the bathroom. I forgot about everything.” Time flew away and I was focused. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who is a researcher, calls that the flow state. My interpretation of the flow state is when parts of our brain are activated, especially the left and right hemispheres of the brain are working together. This bilateral stimulation, that’s what they call it. When both of those parts of our brain and our higher brain, our prefrontal cortex responsible for decision-making what colors am I going to use, where am I gonna make this mark, or this cut, or where am I gonna paste this on? You’re using a rational logical mind. All of those parts of the brain are shut down during stress and we run on lower parts of our brain, our survival mechanism. That creates a physiological stress response in our body and it shuts down creativity. We’re thinking where I’m gonna get my food, I need safety, I need security, I need to feel warm, and contained and so a lot of the time, people don’t feel creative because they’re stressed out and overwhelmed.

Tara: I can definitely relate. Especially focus, decision-making, distraction happens so easily lately. Yes, all of those things.

Katie: Even the screen. Screens operate as our prefrontal cortex sometimes in our logical mind and so that can even influence how we’re operating in the world and our mindfulness and how we’re engaging in the world. Art is tangible, there is an object on the page and we’re interacting with that and, of course there’s digital art too which still engages parts of your higher brain as well, but I think why it feels so good is that it’s not even just the brain, I wonder about the heart as well. Because the heart opens when we’re expressing ourselves in that way and it makes us feel good. Our ancestors supporting us in making art because it’s a language that we’ve used for so many centuries. It is the ultimate transcending language in terms of if I show somebody a picture who doesn’t speak English, they may be able to resonate on a different level and we can communicate in that way. I think about that when I’m making art and why it feels so good to be making art.

Tara: I also wanted to say that the textures, and the feeling of it, feeling the paper. It is often soothing for me and feeling my hand going across the paper of your drawing and the sound of the pencil or the pen going across the paper, all of those different senses all get more stimulated. Especially when you’re in the state of flow, when you’re able to shut the world out and just create, I feel that.

Katie: Yes, me too. And I wanted to say, when we’re feeling stressed, it can be daunting to be like, OK, I am going to sit down and paint. So just a little tool, when you know that you’re in what we call the fight-or-flight, when you’re in survival mode, stress mode, everything feels like an attack. When we’re in that mode it could feel daunting to make that leap to I’m gonna do a beautiful watercolor or collage. Focusing on the grounding aspects of art, so it could be like exactly what you just said, feeling the paper, really looking, and using all of your senses. I like to put essential oils in my watercolors and smell them and so it’s this whole sensory experience and that activates our higher brain. So, even when you’re feeling stressed and it feels like it’s a big step to do a creative process, exactly what you said, engage the senses as a way to activate some of those parts of our brain that really encourage creativity and flow.

Tara: I love the idea of essential oils in the water for watercolours. I’ve never thought of that and now I’m so excited to do watercolors again. Thank you for that tip!

I believe everybody has creativity in them and because we associate creativity with art and especially now that everybody has access to so many examples of artists with social media, we think of Vincent van Gogh or Picasso when we think of art. What do you tell people who are stuck in that mindset of, “I’m not creative.”

Katie: Such a great question. And also, just to be transparent, that happens to me too. I think it happens to all of us, it’s a human experience of feeling blockages that get in the way of creativity. I agree, I think creativity is inherent in us all. A therapy model that I work with called internal family systems, they see it as one of the eight C’s. So, creativity, compassion, clarity, calm, and others. It’s like saying to yourself, “Oh, I’m not compassionate.” Well, some things get in the way of you feeling compassionate towards yourself and towards others. The same thing happens with creativity. You are inherently creative. Blockages get in the way and in terms of internal family systems they would use it in parts. So there’s a part of me that is the ‘I don’t think creative’ part or ‘I’m not worthy of making art’ part ‘I don’t have time’ part or whatever these things and parts come into being from potentially traumatic or even intense moments in our lives that maybe somebody told us that we weren’t creative, or if we were impacted in that way and we adapted ourselves to kind of mold into our identities. These usually happened early on and it’s really sad that I find a lot of people have these parts or these blockages, especially around art, which I find so interesting. Because art is subjective. Who am I to say something’s beautiful or not beautiful. That’s just your opinion and your perception of what you’re perceiving is beautiful or not beautiful. So I feel that when I would say to somebody and notice and acknowledge those parts maybe take a little bit deeper with the help of a therapist or if you feel confident and grounded enough to do it on your own. Where does that come from? Can I think of a time when somebody told me that I wasn’t creative?

Tara: You’re not good enough. Like as a child when somebody asks, why did you make the sky brown? Right?

Katie: Exactly! You’re allowed to make the sky brown! You’re allowed to have three moons in your drawing. There’s a time and a place for realists and people who are oil painters and the Picasso’s, yes, these are all parts of our history and our cultural identity around art. But as an individual who wants to become more creative, I would say it’s a hoop you can just jump through it. Take that first step. Acknowledge the parts that are getting in your way, thank them for protecting you from whatever it is that they’re trying to protect you from, but that you’d like creativity. You’d like to build that creative muscle, because it is like a muscle in some ways. You wouldn’t expect someone just to jump on the violin.

Tara: No.

Kaite: So, why would you expect someone, watercolors are a great example of that, to just be perfect. That’s another blockage. It has to look perfect or it has to look the way that I have it in my mind. There are some great people around Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert. They write a lot about that.

Tara: I am the ultimate perfectionist. I’ve been working really hard on it because as an artist and a designer, you’re not able to share your skill sets or the work that you’re capable of unless you share the work that you do. And so sharing the work that you do is hard. Brene Brown, I love her, she’s one of my favorites. The whole idea of being brave means you have to be vulnerable. And as artists we’re always being vulnerable because we’re always sharing our work, we’re always putting our creativity out there, and the nature of the world right now is everybody’s a critic. Everyone has an opinion. But I like to remind myself that opinion is not fact, right? So someone else might not like it. I love it, and I’m gonna keep loving it. And you can find someone else and enjoy their art.

You’ve already touched on it a little bit, but for people like myself, I’m a creative professional, so I make my income being creative and producing work. And so, do you have any tips for people like me out there on how to get back to our creativity or how to start getting over those blocks and getting out of that fight-or-flight mode of being stuck?

Katie: I just want to say, my heart,  when this all happened, it was all the small businesses where I felt, oh, that like heart tug. I’m doing my best to support those local businesses right now but artists, absolutely right now. I’m really feeling for the artists who have a hard time pre-COVID, on a good day, and then with COVID it is extremely challenging, I think that, you actually alluded to this as well, that creativity is not just art, so you know what brings you joy? Is it walking in nature? Now we can. So getting out in nature you’re activating your senses. So through sight like viewing beautiful art can be inspiring, viewing a beautiful film can be inspiring, listening to beautiful music, and I say beautiful like whatever brings you joy, or evokes feelings. What evokes feeling in you? That could even be anger sometimes, you feel frustration, you feel anxiety, you can actually use that and channel it and in art therapy we call it sublimation. You’re taking an experience and you’re sublimating it and you’re making it into something else. That alchemical process is hugely transformative so I would say, if you’re not feeling it, there’s a lot of different ways to go about this, but if you’re not feeling it, try doing something that brings you joy. And that could look like so many different things. How to get out of your mind a little bit and get into that flow stage and then like I said, sometimes you just take that first step and the first mark is always the hardest. Don’t you find?

Tara: Yes, the blank page is so intimidating. My design instructor actually used to tell us, “When you get a new blank sketchbook, take the first page and just scribble all over it.” Right? Then you’ve got over that thought of ruining it. I’ve already ruined it. So anything I create after this, that page is the worst page. Which I thought was brilliant.

I discovered you through your work with a community art project Mandalas for Nova Scotia (@mandalas4ns). I was on Instagram shortly after the tragic shooting happened and came across this brand-new Instagram account. I read what it was about and instantly knew, I had to create a piece of art for this and share it as much as possible. Can you tell the listeners a little bit about that project and how it came together?

Katie: Yes, thank you so much for sharing. Yes, you can find your work on my Instagram @Mandalas4NS. It’s just incredibly beautiful and incredibly inspiring. My cup runneth over with joy and love. That was the intention. We’ve experienced this tragedy and we’re, I won’t speak for everyone because I can’t, I was feeling overwhelmed, saddened, alone, scared, and felt that providing people with a tool that they could use to process some of their emotions so mandalas can provide people with that opportunity. Like we’ve been discussing, opening up your senses you are activating the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Because it’s like this puzzle in a circle you sort of have to get the pieces to fit in the way that you want them to. It’s this integration of different parts and pieces that come together to make a whole. If you think about mandalas in terms of a fractal, or viewing mandalas like the mandala project, you made your own mandala which provided you an experience of whatever it was that you were experiencing, hopefully positive, and then you’re sharing that with other people. Other people are then viewing your inspiring mandala, and then together there’s this community mandala. I’m hoping that all of these can come together, right now that we’re just on Instagram, but as it grows every single day, these incredibly beautiful poignant thoughtful loving images. I hope we can somehow find a way to display it all together as a symbol of unity and connection. It’s like a micro and macro level of healing and connection. It was my hope and my intention for this project and so it was really born out of a feeling of, I have to do something. Which I think a lot of people are feeling right now with the purpose of providing someone with a tool that they can use to work with these feelings. And then to share that so that others might feel inspired as well and my hope is that people who have never tried a mandala before will be brave and give it a shot and try it and see how it makes them feel. There’s no pressure, it doesn’t have to look a certain way, it doesn’t have to make you feel a certain way, it’s just providing people with an experience that invites them into a creative process.

Tara: Yes, it definitely helped me. It sort of switched my brain back into, I have control, and I’m safe in my apartment. Yes, I’m afraid, yes, everything is uncertain right now, but I can do this small thing and be creative. In this tiny project that took like an afternoon, for mine anyway, some of them are a lot quicker so I don’t want to discourage anyone to have to take an afternoon, but it really kick-started my creative energy again. And I felt that after I created that mandala. I kept looking back on it through the week and since then still, when I’m stuck I look at that and think but that’s a beautiful thing that I created at a time like when I felt my worst. And it sort of built a little bit of resilience for myself. To be able to move forward at the pace that I’m able to move forward, because not everybody’s at the same pace right now, which is another whole thing we could probably do another whole episode on, that we’ll save it for later.

But what I also love about the project is the creativity that people are showing and different mediums that are being used. I saw someone arranged their salad as a Mandala and someone else’s they found items on the beach, or flowers that they found, or instead of putting a pattern, using a circle as your canvas. I love how people are showing up and sharing so much and I think it’s really resonating with people and people are feeling that sense of community and inspiring each other. Which I know was your goal, so I feel it happening and so I hope you feel amazing about that.

Katie: I feel so touched and so honored and really the guiding force also is like I really want people to see these who know that we were so affected and wanting to share our love. So it came from a place of hope and healing and so my hope is that people in Colchester County, and all over Nova Scotia, and Burrell, Nova Scotia, where this happened can see those images too. That we care about each other and we care about ourselves. We’re taking the time to do that so thank you so much for taking that time to support them you know, to create these images and in all of the varieties that they take. I feel, yes, I overjoyed really and it’s like I said, sublimating that pain into using that as the object and then transforming that into beauty. We’re not pushing away those feelings. We’re saying okay, I feel this way and I’m gonna choose to do something about that. That is ultimately self-care. So, thank you so much and thank you for inviting me to on this podcast to talk about this project. That means a lot to me.

Tara: So how many have you received thus far?

Katie: Oh my goodness, there’s been over 40. It’s really exciting, every day people continue to email every day. I get multiple submissions and I have help with this project from the Nova Scotia Art Therapy (@nsarttherapy) and Gabriella is also on Instagram. She’s helping me with this project and also supported by Avalon so our hope is to spread the word and really wanting people who maybe haven’t tried a mandala to do one. That’s also a hope that I have it’s just sharing this project with anybody who you feel might benefit and I feel like that would be anyone.

Tara: Yes, we all need a little help right now that’s for sure. I always like to end on a positive note so what is one positive thing that you see as a result of this self-isolation and this whole pandemic situation that you hope keeps happening after we’re able to hug each other again? Which I can’t wait until that happens.

Katie: Honestly, meeting you. Would we have ever connected? If we were strangers in the street like, you know? I’m really touched by the work you’re doing and I’m hearing that you’re touched by the work that I’m doing and here we are connecting and sharing through this platform. That I sort of have been resisting for a long time, and so here we are and we are having this incredible conversation and doing these incredible projects and this really came out of this dark night of the soul that Nova Scotia and the world is facing.

I’ll say that, really connecting with people. And also doing things and creative projects that I would have never done had it not been out of almost desperation.

Tara: Yeah, so true. Thank you so much for taking a chance and coming on my show. I also love that we’re connecting. I love that we know how to reach each other and I will definitely be reaching out when we’re able to hug again to go for coffee. Actually hug you. That was amazing, so if anyone wants to connect with you, where can they find you and what’s the best contact method?

Katie: Please do connect with me, you can email mandalas4ns@gmail.com and Instagram @mandalas4ns. That’s probably the best way to get in touch with me right now. This project is growing every day and so I hope to collaborate with other organizations perhaps the AGNS on us to display these. It’ll be a big sort of metaphorical art hug when we can look at all of these images all together, and see them, and experience them and so that hopefully will happen. Please contribute to this growing project. It’s very exciting and I hope that you find inspiration as well and keep in keep in touch for sure.

Tara: As you were saying an art exhibit, I pictured one of those interactive art exhibits with all of them in a circle and you get to go in the center and see them all.

Katie: Oh that’s a great idea. Well, geodesic domes being in a circle is healing and thinking outside of the box of mandalas, I mean there really exists everywhere and that’s such a cool idea. I love that.

Tara: So let’s make that happen? Thank you so much. Take care.

Katie: Thank you so much, congratulations on your podcase.

Tara: And that’s the end of episode two. I hope that you enjoyed listening to the conversation between Katie and I as much as I enjoyed having the conversation. I know that I will be connecting with her after this is done and I hope that you got some knowledge and inspiration out of what we discussed today. Thank you so much for listening. If you want to follow along on Instagram or Twitter you can follow me @creativeconflab and the podcast is now available on all of the major platforms including Apple podcast, Google podcasts, Spotify, and a lot of people have searched the Apps that they use and found it that way. So try that. Have a great creative day and I will see you in the next episode

2 comments on “EP2 – Art therapy & mandalas with guest Katie Hanczaryk

  1. katie says:

    Tara, you are creating such beauty in the world. I am so inspired by this podcast and all the work you’re doing to share inspirations with others. Jolly Good Show!

    1. Thank you so much. Every positive feedback helps keep me motivated to continue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *