November’s Featured Artist is visual artist and art therapist Raven Wilkins. Her love of art opened her to a world of possibilities that not only advanced her own artistic practice but also helps others as “art speaks when words can’t”.
Raven describes art as her first “security blanket”; as a shy child, she took art supplies with her everywhere she went and would create artwork for people she was too scared to talk to. Raven took pride in giving artwork to people, and found it easy to let her art speak for her. While Raven’s friends and family have always been supportive of her art, she recalls her fifth-grade teacher encouraging her art-making. Raven remembers her teacher placing a great deal of emphasis on the arts, and how beneficial they could be when incorporated into everyday learning.
As she got older, Raven continued to use art as a form of self-expression, self-discovery and self-care – although she did not realize it at the time. It was only when she began studying art therapy that Raven realized the impact making art had always had on her life.
Raven studied visual art at Brock University with the original intention of becoming a high school art teacher. It was during the summer break between her first and second year at university that Raven had the opportunity to work for the Down Syndrome Association of Brantford. Raven describes this experience as what drove her to pursue art therapy: “I worked with a little boy who was non-verbal, but loved to draw and colour. He and I spent our days drawing pictures, using this as our way of communicating with one another. It was through working with him that I realized how art could be used in a different way than what I was used to. I did some research on how art could be used to build connection and communicate, and found out what art therapy was. I felt a connection to it, and decided to pursue it.” After graduating from Brock University, Raven studied art therapy at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute.
When Raven studied visual art in university, she remembers the most important part of creating her artwork to be “the finished product that would eventually be judged or graded”. Being a perfectionist, Raven put a lot of pressure on herself to create a piece that was worthy of being shown. However, at the Toronto Art Therapy Institute, Raven learned to enjoy the process of creating art without worrying about what the finished product would look like. She learned how to make mistakes, take risks and express herself more freely through art, without fear of judgement. Her skill set as an art therapist helped her to appreciate her own artistic creations for what they are. She now knows that “not every piece has to be perfect if it is authentic to who I am, or how I am feeling when I am creating it”.
Currently, Raven works as an art therapist in the community facilitating groups while maintaining her own artistic practice. When running an art therapy group she uses a variety of materials such as pencils, markers, paints, clay and collage. She gives participants a topic or idea, but never discourages clients from creating a piece of art that differs from the topic or idea if they so choose. Raven encourages her clients to stay away from labelling their artwork as good or bad, and instead asks them “to look at each piece as a unique work of art that represents a part of them, and to see the value in that”
As an artist, her current work has been focused around using acrylic paints and plaster, and she uses the process of creating these paintings as her own personal art therapy. She begins by creating a simple design using plaster, and then covers this with primer and paint. She uses this process as her own form of meditation, as it helps her to ease any negative thoughts or stresses she may be experiencing. She uses what she is feeling in the moment as inspiration for what she paints, rather than planning it out beforehand. Typically, these pieces turn out to be simple landscapes or are inspired by dreams she has had.
If Raven were to offer one piece of advice to a developing artist, it would be to “create artwork that is authentic to you…make the pieces of art that only you can make!”
To see more of Raven Wilkins work, follow her on Instagram @ravenlynnewilkins.