Susan R. Makin Studio/Processes

Susan, under the watchful eye of Poodle Pal Assistant, Lev

Outdoor studios are fun! Painting in the garden prompts artwork with similar colors

Fine Artist and Art Therapist
Susan Contemplates Methodology, Meaning, and Motion

I paint for product and for process. I am “artist” and “art therapist”—sometimes both at once. It has taken a while to adjust: identify how "art as therapy" and "art therapy" can be distinguishable and complementary.

I painted for therapy (to soothe, heal, and relax) well before I knew about art therapy or became an art therapist. It didn’t take training and identification of an evolving clinical field to realize that what I was doing on auto-pilot could be helpful to others, as well as myself. Training and practice as a professional art therapist formalized practices, processes and outcomes with which I was already familiar. It also gave extra tools and necessary authority. Background knowledge, models and role models, safety tips, explanations, justifications, and clarifications made me better equipped to serve and assist.

As a result, for my own art-making, I soon realized I couldn't do as previously. Professional art therapy discoveries would inhibit fine arts initiatives. Pre-analysis of what I put on canvas without hesitation before, suddenly had me stopping and thinking, not doing. Also, the ability to make associations about my painting (process or product) could prove more unsettling than reassuring. It took years to adjust: not to "intervene" as "art therapist" when I was striving to be "fine artist."

Art that has therapeutic potential is magical. However, art therapists need to be careful and not over-impose—on themselves, or others. Untimely unsolicited input bestowed on others can interrupt flow: challenge meaning, motivation, and movement. Even the identification of bad art experiences at school must be handled with care—reminders of “failure” not encouraged.

When assignments at school or work are administered by others, rules and rituals are set externally. When we work alone, an "inner critic/guide" often sets higher standards. My "inner critic/guide" realizes that painting series come to me naturally, not as part of anyone else’s plan or mandate. My "series" that are product-oriented (figurative or representational) tend to favour beauty. My "series" that are process-oriented (abstract) permit greater randomness and uniqueness. Regardless, whatever I paint is eye-catching and engaging: can prompt discussion or be savoured as is.

Art Therapy practice soon taught me that following creation of a piece that is product-oriented (content- or intention-specific), there is an, almost, automatic tendency for the next to be process-oriented (less "restrictive" and/or more experimental and/or abstract). Each approach brings messages and meaning. Any “structure,” that “product-orientation” gives, even if “limiting,” may be reassuring, and can still lead to surprises. Not putting “limits” on process (there being no “product” in mind) can be “freeing” if there is “acceptance” that nothing needs to look like anything—a wide-openness to whatever may emerge. Predictability may have surprises, as product related pieces show. A route less traveled can lead to unexpected (and illuminating) destinations, as process related pieces show.

When I started this DocSusan website over a dozen years ago (in 2005), there were less "categories" listed in its Artwork Section than now.Ten years on (in 2015), I thought it timely to add headers: Illustration, Photography, and Mixed Media. The less comfortable/practiced I am with materials, the more "aha moments" they seem to give me (as well as viewers). I am unlikely to abandon familiar media in which I have invested vast amounts of time and effort over the years (oil and watercolour), but am open to conjuring excitement: expanding repertoires and possibilities. That in mind, from 2016 on, while "transitioning," there may be less "activity" evident on Gallery pages.