Mon, 08 Feb 2016 0:00:00 GMT Marion MacDonald

Art Therapy: Challenging the Inner Critic

Rachel Nelson
Rachel Nelson

There's a great little coffee shop just around the corner from Mirasol's business office. I stopped in last week for my usual pre-meeting cappuccino and was admiring the latest art exhibit when I suddenly realized it was the work of Mirasol's own Rachel Nelson!

Rachel is an art therapist at Mirasol, and her artwork is on display through the month of February at Tucson Coffee Roasters at the corner of Camp Lowell and Swan in Tucson.

Of course we all know Rachel is an artist, but for many of us, it was the first time we had seen any of her work.

"I have the intention of putting my artwork out there more," Rachel confesses, "but it's challenging because exhibiting is really exposing yourself."

Some of the paintings are the result of Rachel's own personal trauma work.

"They were created during a period when I was definitely in an emotional state where I needed to just go through it rather than avoid it, so I let myself do that by painting."

The exhibition at Tucson Coffee Roasters includes work created by Rachel over the last two years. She especially likes working in encaustic, a molten wax-based paint composed of beeswax, resin and pigment which is applied to an absorbent surface and then reheated in order to fuse the paint.

"I feel like it's a powerful process because it's hard to control. You have to become adept at knowing how the element of temperature factors in, which to me is an intuitive practice. You have to become one with the wax and not fight it."

The layers of paint are polished, carved and sculpted to achieve richly textured surfaces.

"Working with encaustic has helped me challenge my perfectionist tendencies," says Rachel. "I used to be so critical that I wouldn't let myself create art. It took me years to learn to put that aside, to let go and to not care about the outcome. I think every single one of our clients has that same critical inner voice. So I challenge them to create art that is more abstract and less representational, because when the goal of art is realism, the perfectionist voice just gets louder and louder. If you can let the art be about your emotions, and not about the end product, that's when I see breakthroughs with clients. When they just let go, they start to enjoy it, and they can really do things with it."

"It's so important for me to continue to do my own art while also doing my work as an art therapist, because the two inform each other and help me understand what the clients are going through. They go hand-in-hand."

Rachel Nelson - The Hawk
"The Hawk" - Encaustic Bas Relief on Wood Panel by Rachel Nelson
Rachel Nelson Art Panorama

Rachel Nelson - Release
"Release" - Acrylic on Canvas by Rachel Nelson
You can see more of Rachel's art on Facebook at RachelNelsonArt or on Instagram at Sliverofspace.