Letting Your Art Speak

February 4th, 2009

rosa murillo ilse
Rosa Murillo's Ilse

Recently, artist and blogger, Rosa Murillo, posted this image on her blog and wrote,

I have this old pocket calendar from 2008 that I decided to use as sketch paper, and this face showed up yesterday. Her expression makes me uneasy. Like she wants to say something, but somehow doesn't. I read somewhere that when you draw you are actually letting your subconscious speak. So what I am trying to say?

I left a comment suggesting that Rosa try putting a speech bubble on the adjacent page to let the woman speak. And I'm so glad she did because look what this wise voice (Rosa named her Ilse) had to say!

rosa murillo ilse speaks
Rosa Murillo's Ilse speaks

I think our art often has messages in it for us. Sometimes these messages come from somewhere deep in our subconscious, sometimes they are bursting to get out. Giving them a voice in our artwork can be a lovely, gentle way to receive them. It might not always be a face, but since we can be playful in art, you could make any symbol speak if you wanted to.

For example, if birds are showing up a lot in your artwork, you could try drawing a bird in your sketchbook and then draw a speech bubble next to it. Give yourself permission to write whatever comes to mind, no matter how silly, weird, or outrageous it may seem.

You could ask your symbol:

  • What do you represent?
  • What message do you have for me?
  • What is it that you are trying to teach me?
  • How would you like to be expressed?

Then allow yourself to write in a stream of consciousness style. Your symbol may have just one word to share or a whole page. And if nothing comes, that's o.k. too! Just giving your artistic symbols room to speak to you, may open something up internally.

Sometimes I'm just not clear on what a symbol means to me until it's been around for a long time. Sometimes someone else will see the symbol in my art and say something that triggers the answer for me. It's fun to explore the imagery regardless of whether or not an answer comes. There's lots of juicy stuff to explore on this topic, but for now, I'll let you stir with this other way of playing with words and art if you feel called to do so.

Other ways to have fun with words:

  • Dawn Doran of the Knitting Gnome Blog has shared another challenge that fits well with the words theme this month. This time it's an ATC (artist trading card) challenge for kids! Check out all the details here.
  •  Rowena of Warrior Girl shared a link to a group writing project at Burning Lines where the participants contribute to the writing parts of a story. Cool eh? If you're interested in participating, contact Rowena at rowena dot murillo at gmail dot com.
  • I love the TED videos (if you've never seen one of them, you're in for a treat!) This one is of Jonathan Harris, an artist and computer scientist, who does things with art and words that just blows my mind!! Be sure to check out the very cool We Feel Fine project that Jonathan created.

15 Responses

i absolutely love this post and artwork you shared.
as soon as i saw her with her words she looked lighter and happy to me.

Was that your suggestion? Brilliant. I am wondering why I am all of a sudden seeing Rosa everywhere. We share the same last name and first “ro” but aren’t related, as far as I know, but I had lost touch with her, now she’s everywhere. I feel like the universe is telling me something.

Oh, and thanks for the link to Burning Lines. We need to get our story speeding a little faster. It’s a cross between Alice in Wonderland, a noir gangster film, and Wings of Desire right now… but it could change at any moment. Our last story started out as a prodigal-son-returns romance and ended up as a vampire bloodbath.

I LOVE this reappropriation of something that always makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. Love that it’s on top of something else, flirting with that feeling of “should she be doing that?” Even though I don’t have enough drawing talent to have a doodle somehow represent my subconscious, this was inspiring anyway. I can definitely do the stream of consciousness writing combined with maybe mindmapping and see what comes up.

What n interesting and thoughtful post. I have been ‘playing’ with ‘words’ and now i need to go back to my art and see what it is telling me. Thanks.

Very effective technique!

What a cool idea. I’ll definitely have to try that.

What a brilliant idea for a canvas :)

What an awesome exercise! I will be definitely doing it. Consciously. :) Thank you for this and the wonderful links and everything. :)

I’m going to have to try this!! what a great idea.

What a wonderful idea, Leah! Must try this!

WONDERFUL post, GREAT ideas! And I LOVE the old-calendar-as-sketch-book medium (media?) — the background of dates is risk, complex, varied — so glad to find your blog via @zoewestof on twitter — MAN, can’t wait to poke around ~

Thanks for sharing this beautiful post. I started watching the TED video and I was hooked. What an absolute treasure Jonathan Harris is! Fascinating stuff. I have never heart of TED before but I am intrigued!
Enjoy the day!

I came across Sarah Whitmire’s tutorial on soul journalling on her blog, Caspiana. And intend to have a go!


This is a wonderful challenge! I enjoy seeing all of the different ways artist approach the same concept and how they alter it to fit their own artistic styles and needs.
Thank you for including me and for this incredible website.

Thank You for sharing this. I Loved it!:)I think I will try it!:)

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