Art wellness workshop improves mental health

Encaustic artist Terri Yacovelli demonstrated how students can participate in art wellness.

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Students pose with their work at the Art Wellness workshop. Photo by Jessica Ambler

On Jan. 24 the Martin Art Gallery held an Art Wellness workshop hosted by artist Terri Yacovelli. She discussed her work with encaustic painting, or painting with hot wax. She uses beeswax and damar crystals to make an encaustic medium. Then, she uses the encaustic medium and colored pigments to make encaustic paint. The paint goes on a rigid surface such as a wood panel. Each layer of wax is fused with a heat gun or a blow torch. There are typically layers created that are either opaque or semi-transparent to create multiple layers and luminosity. 

Due to the complexities of encaustic painting, Yacovelli couldn’t hold an encaustic painting workshop at Muhlenberg College, but she brought some of her encaustic artwork. Participants were allowed to touch the artwork and get a first-hand look at the bright colors and luminous work. 

She then started her art wellness workshop with the goal of materials experimentation, introspection and self-expression. Art wellness can be facilitated by an artist or an art professional, but it can also be self-directed, meaning anyone can facilitate art wellness by themselves. It is focused on self-expression through non-judgemental exploration or materials. Art wellness can also include mindfulness, meditation and spirituality. Yacovelli highlighted how art wellness can help reduce stress and increase self-esteem. 

Yacovelli asked the group to draw lines using charcoal and show what it is like when one is happy. Group members drew long and loopy lines, showcasing a joyous feeling. Next, Yacovelli asked members to draw lines expressing what it feels like to be angry. Participants drew thick and dark lines close together. They then erased their lines using a paper towel to create a smeared background. Yacovelli mentioned how regularly partaking in art without an emphasis on what it looks like can improve one’s well-being. 

Yacovelli then moved on to an inner circle concept using watercolor. She explained how “the [COVID-19] lockdown created a pause and contemplation for many about what is important.” The objective of the inner circle is a personal art exploration into what each person’s inner circle looks like. What would be included are people’s loved ones, organizations and activities that are essential in one’s life. Before adding color to the painting, Yacovelli explained that color psychology is the study of the effects of color on people’s minds, bodies, moods and behaviors. 

When asked by The Weekly how long she has been doing these workshops, Yacovelli stated “I have recently retired from many years as a Studio Art teacher and Adjunct Professor. My interest in arts in healthcare led me to develop these workshops.” Yacovelli expressed that “art is for everyone. Creating art decreases stress, fosters self-awareness and helps individuals manage emotions. Sometimes your art can assist you in visually working out things that may not be able to [be] explain[ed] with words. There is also joy in the process through material exploration. A person with a project is a person with a purpose.” 

In regards to why students should engage with art wellness, Yacovelli emphasized that “art wellness aims to integrate mindfulness with the creative arts to improve our wellbeing… It’s all about intention.” 

When inquired about how Yacovelli was introduced to Muhlenberg, Jessica Ambler, director of the Martin Art Gallery, stated “I was fortunate enough to have the teaching artist, Terri Yacovelli, reach out to me last year when she inquired about workshop opportunities at the gallery. I was incredibly impressed with her resume. 

This wasn’t the first time an art workshop was hosted at the Martin Art Gallery. Ambler mentioned that “last semester a Muhlenberg alumna, Sue Feely Gettlin ‘82, taught an art workshop in Martin Art Gallery which focused on the practice of paper cutting. Some of her work was featured in the 11th Annual Alumni Art Show last fall and in her workshop, she taught students how she creates them. 

Hanajah White ‘26, a gallery assistant for the Martin Art Gallery, was one of the participants in the art workshop. “I really enjoyed the emphasis on the workshop not being like an art class, but it brought light to one’s mental well-being and awareness of their emotions. I loved how the artist/instructor, Terri Yacovelli, told those in attendance, including myself, that this was less about perfection and more about one’s self-expression, exploration, and healing of one’s mental health… I can’t wait for more events like this where it takes the pressure off of students to be perfect as well as being able to have events where you can unwind because this event did that for me personally,” said White.

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