Symbols of the Season
By Nora Sibley
This exercise helps creatives connect with their senses and the season as a vehicle for building personal meaning in the work. By connecting the physical and mental associations, new creative sparks fly and inspired meaningful action can take place.
Creatives are prompted to bring their awareness to the changing seasons by first sitting down to journal their responses to some questions. Next, they are asked to gather physical materials that relate to the thoughts and feelings that came up in the journaling exercise. The mental associations that arise bring additional meaning to the still-life objects they gather. When studied together, the answers to their questions and the objects they’ve gathered are potentially worthy of further reflection and creative action.
Step 1. Journaling. Here are the questions that creatives are asked to journal on for about fifteen minutes:
+ How do you acknowledge the changing seasons?
+ Are there any feelings that the current season brings up for you?
+ Do you perform any rituals this time of year that build meaning for you?
+ Is there any sense of nostalgia for you that this season engenders?
+ What scents and sounds of the season excite you or bring you comfort?
+ Is there a favorite food you like to enjoy during this season?
+ Is there a favorite activity you like to enjoy during this season?
+ Is there any activity or place that you want to revisit?
Creatives are them given the following instruction: Look back over the words in your journal and underline any phrases or words that jump out at you. Do you feel the energy of any colors in your mind as you read over your notes? Reflect on any emotions that you might have been holding back on. Would you consider going any deeper?
Step 2. Going into the season. Creatives are given the following instructions:
Go outside, take a short walk into a natural landscape and sit somewhere comfortable. Close your eyes. Breathe in slowly.
+ Is the air warm or cool?
+ Do you smell anything in particular?
+ What do you hear?
The goal is to be fully present in this moment in time. Let all your senses guide you in acknowledging what is unique to this time of year.
Step 3. Collection and illustration. Collect a couple of items or materials that reflect the current season. They can be from nature or from around your home, or even from the grocery store. Choose whatever you are drawn to.
Set up a simple still life. Illustrate them in whatever medium you prefer without worrying about your skills as an artist.
Think about why you chose them. Was it the color, shape, taste, texture? Was it about the memories attached to them or the meaning they hold for you?
As you really see them, what are you thinking about? Can you “illustrate” and infuse your work with these thoughts and feelings?
In session or as homework
I use this exercise as an art prompt that creatives can attempt on their own. Clients who are struggling with anxiety or who are feeling a loss of meaning in their art practice find this exercise to be a simple way to get the creative juices flowing again. We then devote the next session to explore what came up and whether it was useful in getting them started with art making again.
Adaptation for home use
Getting out of the studio space and taking a walk outside relaxes a creative’s mind and body and can help an artist reconnect with themselves and their senses. Being in a quiet, natural environment and breathing fresh air helps thoughts and feelings from the journaling practice sink in.
When we were children, nature filled us with curiosity and inspiration. As adults, we want to reignite these feelings of wonder that are quite easy to access, wherever we find ourselves. The crossroads of thought, association, memory, exploration, and personality, I find, encourage action and meaning making.
Once the objects are chosen and the art-making has begun, try changing perspective, lighting, materials, the size of the drawing, etc.
With several older clients who were struggling with whether their art practice was still meaningful to them, this exercise helped them find a way back to just seeing and creating in a simple way. Further, they noted that the exercise of thinking about what held meaning for them in a larger sense, including their traditions and rituals, created a natural bridge to meaningful subjects worthy of their attention and creativity.
One client of mine was very excited to have been given this prompt. The self-portrait work she regularly pursued created a lot of anxiety and her blocks worsened as she aged. The invitation to explore any other subject matter would probably have been received well, but this particular prompt to gather objects and think about the current season was particularly grounding, enjoyable, and lighter emotionally.
She welcomed the opportunity and easily started producing work as a result. She enjoyed playing with the lighting and the shadows and really looking and seeing her objects. These objects included colorful fruit that were connected for her to childhood memories of the holiday season. I believe that she felt a renewed sense of wonder and awe and appreciation for her art practice.
Tackling this new subject matter also meant that she bought a new tube of paint in a bright orange color. This step, adding new materials to her toolkit, also felt like a successful result, as it meant that she was open to new paths and potential projects. As we wrapped up our sessions, she shared that she was “thrilled” with her new series of works in pen, charcoal and paint.
I have found that the more my clients are connected with their senses, the natural world, and their memories and experiences, the less anxiety is part of the process of art making for them and the more meaningful the end result.
About Nora Sibley
Nora Sibley is a Rhode Island School of Design graduate, an artist, interior decorator, and a lover of vibrant color and inspiring travel. Currently she is a San Francisco-based creative director and creativity coach supporting artists in cultivating their intuition, sense awareness and inner resources. Visit her at www.norasibley.com or firstname.lastname@example.org