Patti was in the hospital for cancer treatment when she was first introduced to art therapy. She is now cancer free. Praise God!
Is art a form of therapy for you? I know it has been for me!
When I heard Patti Pendleton’s amazing story of how art therapy changed her life, I knew I wanted to share it with you. Find out more in this interview or read the transcript below.
Want to explore your creativity? Join us for 3 free art classes here: http://yourcreativeadventure.com/free/
SHELLEY. Welcome to this interview, my name is Shelley Hitz, I’m the owner of YourCreativeAdventure.com, and today I wanted to bring a very special guest on to share with you a little bit of her journey with sickness, art therapy, and how art really became a key part of her healing process. So, Patti Pendleton, welcome to this interview.
PATTI. Thank you for having me.
SHELLEY. Yes, you’re welcome. Now, share with us just a little bit about your story and how art became part of your life.
PATTI. I wanted to start in some type of art before I ended up getting sick, through your inspiration actually.
PATTI. It just kept being put on the back burner, life, other life challenges started getting in the way, and I just kept saying, “oh, I’ll do it later, I’ll do it later.” I didn’t really know there was a hidden fear that was really deep within me until I was diagnosed with cancer and put in the hospital.
SHELLEY. So, how would you describe that hidden fear? Because I would bet, a lot of people can relate to that.
PATTI. You think of drawing, and I automatically go back to when I was in school, just that, “oh I’ve got to draw this line perfect, or I’ve got to do this,” and not knowing the rules, I guess, of drawing. You go to school, and you have to do this, and you have to do it this way, so you have that mindset of, “I can’t draw a dog, or I can’t draw a person, so I must not be able to have any artistic value or any artistic motivation.” So I had that fear.
The art therapist kept going into my hospital room, and I think it was about a month after she kind of got a rapport going with me, I wanted to start with clay. I was looking into wanting to learn how to make pots. So, that was her outreach to me, giving me some clay, and that progressed into other things that she slowly moved me to different things to try.
SHELLEY. Yes. Now, you mentioned something that a lot of people can relate to; you had a certain idea of what art should be, that it needed to be a certain way or a certain thing and that if you couldn’t do that, then you couldn’t be an artist or do art. I think that’s such a big misconception because art is such a big misconception of what we see, there are so many different forms of art, and we’re all growing and a work in progress. Thank you for sharing that and that you had that hesitation because you didn’t know if you could do it correctly, or what is there. I just like to say; there’s a lot of freedom in art.
PATTI. There is.
SHELLEY. There’s a lot of freedom in art and expressing your creativity, and really to encourage people to take down those limitations and boxes that we come into. Then, you said that you were in the hospital and had cancer, how sick were you when you were in this hospital?
PATTI. The mass was pretty large, they honestly didn’t think I was going to make it.
SHELLEY. What kind of cancer?
PATTI. It was called Cell and Tissue Cancer.
PATTI. So I thought I had a pulled muscle in my buttocks, that was the pain I was experiencing until the pain got so severe that it was swelling up my calf muscle and foot.
SHELLEY. Wow. So, that took you to the hospital, and that’s when they found the cancer?
SHELLEY. So, you were pretty sick, you were not given a great diagnosis, they didn’t really think that you would come out of this. Now, when you were in that place, you know how severe this was, and before we started recording you told me you lost a lot of weight right?
PATTI. I did, I got down to 60 pounds.
SHELLEY. That’s crazy. When you’re in this place of desperation, and this art therapist comes in and gives you some clay, what began to happen in your heart, this dark, dark time when you just started to create and have different artistic outlets?
PATTI. I didn’t realize there was the hidden fear of the unknown, not knowing, putting the limitations on myself, and putting myself in that box and the limitations of not allowing myself to, as you said, there’s so much freedom. In starting with the clay and realizing there is joy in just having clay in my hand, and just having joy, I was like, “wait a minute, what’s going on here?” Not realizing. Then, I started embracing my art therapist; I couldn’t wait for her to come. Even though she would tell me sometimes, with all the medication and just being extremely fatigued, because I had treatments every day, and I was in the hospital for three months.
SHELLEY. These were chemo and radiation?
PATTI. Correct. I was having chemo, I had two, five-day bouts of chemo, and then I would have radiation for 27 days.
PATTI. So it was pretty hard on my body, especially being vegan it was challenging for me to eat, so I was losing weight on top of that because there are just not that many alternatives. We would try something to eat, and I would get sick, I even introduced myself back to meat just so I could get that protein I needed, but it was making me sicker. So, it was a big challenge for me just to balance a diet and get healthy. With the help of the Lord, I was able to figure out a plan to eat correctly, and the motivation of the art really helped me to grow and to shed all those old mindsets of holding myself back because that’s what I was doing. I was holding myself back, and I wasn’t able to have that freedom of expressing myself or even knowing that was in me.
SHELLEY. Do you feel like there’s a lot of parallels between your art journey and maybe your emotional and spiritual journey you were having during that time?
PATTI. Absolutely. Every picture that I was painting God was speaking through me, and I was able to shed things in my mindset. Every time that something was said to me that was negative, that I knew that wasn’t in my plan for life, or something that I needed just reassurance or confidence, the paintings were all plastered in my hospital room and I could just look at the love of God, not realizing how much of an impact art has upon us.
SHELLEY. Yeah, and it’s interesting because it’s the right brain activity, but I really believe that hearing God’s voice, praying, and worship because music is that right brain. A lot of times when we transition from that left brain, the fear, the logic, how is this going to work out, I don’t know what I’m doing, the perfectionism, the inner critic, and we start to move to that right side of the brain, I really just hear you saying you were just transitioning into that with the art and being able to process the deep emotions, and really connect with God in a fresh way. Are you still creating art? Are you still doing this on a regular basis now?
PATTI. I am, I’m actually taking your classes.
PATTI. I’m taking your brush lettering classes, which I love doing that, and I’m exploring other avenues as my art therapist introduced me to different types of art, I’m doing that also out of the hospital. So, I’m still doing the art that the Lord has guided me to in the hospital, but I’m branching out, I’m not allowing myself to be stuck in that box, I want to be free. That was one thing that my art therapist said to me, she’s like, “do you want to try something new?” She was always hesitant when she would ask me that. I said, “you know what? I want to; I’m not going to hold myself back.” It made me realize how many other things have I held myself back because I wouldn’t allow myself to step and try something new without realizing that.
SHELLEY. I often say, giving ourselves the freedom to be a beginner in something, especially as adults when we’re coming into something new like art, I had to allow myself the freedom to be a beginner again and to make some ugly art, or just creative expressions that may not be masterpieces in other people’s minds but brought me so much joy and I was able to enjoy the process. It was such a form of self-care for me that I hadn’t experienced for years because I say I’m a redeemed alcoholic and just didn’t take the time to do things that filled my soul because it wasn’t productive. But, it is productive to do art, because it fills us in a way and it brings us alive in ways that other things will not.
Now, after you were in the hospital for three months, what is your prognosis now? How are things going for you? You’re home, now right?
PATTI. Yeah, I’ve been home from the hospital for two months, and the good news is the cancer is gone.
PATTI. So, I’m learning how to walk again, because it did put pressure onto the sciatic nerve, so I’m learning how to walk again. It’s a challenge, but I’m getting stronger every day, and I’m still being productive in the art, and its still therapy for me, I still enjoy it.
SHELLEY. I don’t think every hospital has an art therapist, so that’s kind of unique that you had that opportunity.
PATTI. Yeah. I really enjoyed it; I didn’t anticipate it either. She came in with her cart, and I just looked at her like, “what are you here for?”
SHELLEY. Yeah, “what are we doing this for?” So, in your own words, and from your own experience, how would you describe or define art therapy?
PATTI. I encourage everybody to do art, and the reason for that is that you don’t realize that you need it, it reaches so deep within your own self that you don’t realize, and it brings this up in you that it pushes your endurance to have faith in yourself, love yourself, and believe in yourself that you can do anything, of course through Christ. We have got to make that first step, we have to allow him to be the hands and it’s a letting go, I think, of our old selves.
There is a lot of other things that were going on in my life before I got sick, so I was transitioning into that new place in my life thinking that, I’m in a new place now, what else can I shed? I had just moved and got rid of so many boxes, I had a hundred boxes and got rid of seventy.
PATTI. When I got back to the apartment I was like, “you know what, I need to get rid of some more.” I didn’t realize there was so much that I shed while I was in the hospital too, it was such a breath of fresh air to be able to express myself. I didn’t even look at it as an expression of myself; I looked at it more of it was therapy, it is therapy every time I paint, draw, or do something. You are learning a little bit more about yourself in a deeper aspect every time you take a paintbrush, work with paint, or any type of art that you do, it just brings you to life a little bit more, I think.
SHELLEY. I always say that lettering in particular, or watercolor, those are my two mediums that I currently do. Lettering really taught me to slow down, because I can be a go, go, go, type A person, and lettering is like, “OK, you need to go slow. Enjoy the process.” It’s like illustration versus handwriting. Then, watercolor, I think it really taught me a lot about letting go of control, because you cannot control watercolor; it will do what it wants. I think there are lessons that we learn as we’re going through it. As you said, there’s a shedding and letting go that happens as we’re giving ourselves the space to create and enjoy it. It doesn’t even have to have an outcome.
I saw a meme on Facebook a couple of days ago; an artist friend posted it. It was a little cartoon, and someone was saying to someone creating art, “how much are you going to sell that for?” “Oh, I’m not going to sell it.” “Well then, how do you know it’s worth anything?” It went through this whole dialogue, and at the end, it says, “it’s worth a lot to me because I created it and I enjoy it.” That’s all that, sometimes, it needs to be, just to enjoy the processes, and it doesn’t even need to have any other outcome, just to enjoy the experience and allow it to do what God wants to do in our lives.
So, what would you say to people who want to use art for therapy? They know they have some stuff that they’re going through, yet they’re not just sure how to even get started or what to do? Were there certain steps that the therapist took you through, or would you just create? What would you recommend?
PATTI. I wanted to start with clay, and when she knew that’s where I wanted to start, that I had something I wanted to learn, she started at that point. So, I would look deep within yourself and say, “hey, is there something in the art field that I want to try and never tried? Just step out and do it?” The first thing I did start out with, after the clay, was watercolor pencils.
SHELLEY. Oh, interesting.
PATTI. Yeah, so that was one medium that we tried, and then we went to acrylic paint. So, I would just get some watercolor and just have at it, you know?
PATTI. There’s no right or wrong, and that was one thing, and that was one thing God showed me. God has no boundaries, and there are no boundaries to art, there’s no right or a wrong. In my mind, I was putting that I would always be wrong because I was setting myself up for a fall, basically. We tend to do that when we’re not sure of things; our human nature wants to push, we’ll just push ourselves aside and say, “you can’t do it because you’re going to be wrong, you’re not going to do it right. Who are you to think that you can do something right when you’re just beginning something?” We all start at the same place.
I was reading something the other day on Instagram, I think, where someone was lettering and said, “those that you admire started in the same place you did.”
SHELLEY. Yes. Oh, my goodness.
PATTI. Yeah. You kind of forget that.
SHELLEY. I always tell people, “scroll back to the beginning of my Instagram, you’ll see where I started, and it looks nothing like what I’m doing today.”
PATTI. Yeah. So, yeah, just take that leap of faith and just start, even if it’s doodling with a pen, just start somewhere; it’s not going to be right, it’s not going to be wrong, it’s something that you’ve created that’s within you. We all have creative abilities within us; we just have to allow ourselves to do it.
SHELLEY. I think that’s good, and I think it’s good to start with something that motivates you or something you really want to do. Start there and just keep exploring, see what really sticks. So, one of my mentors said, “sometimes you just throw spaghetti against the wall, and you see what sticks.” So, sometimes with art, you try a bunch of different things and see what really makes you come alive, for me, it was lettering and watercolor, and it may be something different in the future.
Find what really brings you joy, and in the beginning, there is going to be a learning curve, it’s not always going to be enjoying every minute, because you’re learning things, but for the most part, it should be enjoyable. My husband always says, “Shelley, if it’s not fun something is wrong.”
SHELLEY. Your art is supposed to be fun. I love that. Do you happen to have any of your artwork close by?
PATTI. I do. Do you want to see the first one I did?
SHELLEY. Yeah that would be awesome.
PATTI. The watercolor pencils.
[Art show and tell bits excerpted]
PATTI. That’s the first one, and she just put it on some scrap paper for me.
SHELLEY. Neat, I love that.
PATTI. I didn’t name that. I still was struggling with this one because I was like, “it had to be a certain way.” So, as I was drawing and she was like, “you can stop at any time, it doesn’t have to be perfect.” She was helping me shed that thought pattern, and it took a while for me.
So, the second one I did was this one called Happiness.
SHELLEY. Beautiful. I love that.
PATTI. …Paper cut up, and I just slapped it on there.
SHELLEY. That’s like mixed media, right?
PATTI. Yeah, and so when I started realizing that, “oh, the pieces of paper don’t have to be perfect, and it looks so…” when I was putting it on there, and she was like, “you can overlap the paper.” I was like, “oh, you can?” I was still shedding that mindset.
Then, the last one that I did in the hospital, I just loved how God, he just picked out the painting and the colors, and just, it doesn’t have a rhyme or reason to it, art doesn’t have to have a rhyme or reason to it.
SHELLEY. Yeah did you name that one?
PATTI. I did, this one is called Neverending Story, and I didn’t realize that I was going out of the hospital to a rehab hospital and would stop my art therapy during that week. So, I was getting better and getting my strength back, and the Lord was showing me that, “I am the neverending story, we are all neverending stories.” So, there’s so much within us that we can share with other people, that your story matters and it’s a journey.
SHELLEY. Yeah, I love that, and I love the story, and it’s so important, I think, with our art, and to also not be afraid to share the story. If you’re not titling or naming your art pieces, go for it! That’s so much fun.
PATTI. It is, there is one that I did yesterday, I’m trying a new medium.
SHELLEY. Oh good.
PATTI. I wasn’t sure at first, it took me a while, and I really looked at it, and I was like, “oh this is amazing.” I didn’t name it yet, and then I looked at it today, and I was like, “hm, what should I name it?” I think it’s going to be named Shedding. So you know, getting rid of that type of thinking, because it really clouded my thinking when I was in the hospital, everything has to be a certain way, and timing was a big thing for me. Even though I was in the hospital, I still had to get down to radiation at a certain time, so I would get myself all worked up and really sick.
SHELLEY. Wow, and you were already sick.
PATTI. Yeah, I was sick, but I was making myself sicker. So, I was really delivered from that and just putting boundaries on myself and boundaries on God. I don’t think we realize how healing art is until we actually get our feet deep within it. I encourage people, take that leap of faith, and it doesn’t matter what type of medium you try, just get in there and try it.
SHELLEY. Part of the fun is just doing it. As you said, I never knew, I didn’t think I was creative, even two years ago. I mean I was a writer, publisher, and all that, but I didn’t know that I had that artistic ability in me until I started to do it.
SHELLEY. I think that’s so key, to give ourselves the freedom to create and be beginners, and it doesn’t have to be for an outcome. As you said, that last painting, the Neverending Story, it was just an expression of what God was doing in and through you, and it’s such a great reminder. So, when you see your artwork now, and you see those pieces you created during that time, does it evoke emotion within you? Does it encourage you? Is it something that is a great reminder to you now?
PATTI. It is, it makes me cry every time I see them because it reminds me of the time on those three months of where I was at, what I was feeling, and what God was doing in my life, how thankful I am, and what I’ve learned about myself within those painting. Each one of these paintings is not only paintings or masterpieces I call them, because every one of our paintings, or things we do in art, are a masterpiece in our own minds, it doesn’t matter what other people think about them.
You know, it’s funny, because I would have some people come in and say, “oh, your kids drew those?” I would look at them and go, “no, they’re mine.” I was like, you know, that’s OK. Once they started asking questions and wanted to know the story behind it, it opened them up and opened their hearts to what can be seen in the painting. So, that actually invoked emotions to them, which helped them also. So, I was like, “you know God, You’re amazing. It doesn’t matter how it looks or is perceived by another, there is a story within it, and if we search deep within whatever art that we do, we’ll find it.”
SHELLEY. Yeah. Your story is just incredible. I’ve known Patti for a long time. I’m also an author coach, and I have a program Author Audience Academy, she’s been part of that program, she’s published some books, and I’m sure you have more books in you as well as more art. If someone wants to connect with you, where can they find you?
SHELLEY. Definitely connect with her, check out some of her books and what she’s doing. You’re a walking miracle, aren’t you Patti?
PATTI. Yes, yes, I would have to say that.
SHELLEY. Because you are walking now!
PATTI. I am walking now! I am walking without a walker. I’m getting stronger, and God is good. We all are walking miracles; we just have to allow ourselves to see that.
SHELLEY. Yeah, any final encouragement for those that are watching or listening?
PATTI. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest you go to YourCreativeAdventure.com, because Shelley’s packaged her classes so nice and neat, and so full of information. I do really love your classes, and even though I’ve been in all your other classes, you are such a great teacher. There are so many different types of, would you call them different media, art media out there that people can try a little bit of everything. Just take that leap of faith and just try some of her free classes. There is so much out there that you can find something that if you don’t like one thing you can try another until you find that happy medium for you.
SHELLEY. I love that. I didn’t pay Patti to say that.
PATTI. No, she didn’t.
SHELLEY. When I first got into art it was actually from my nieces, I wanted them to paint something for me to hang in my house and they had done some acrylic paintings before and my sister had them hanging in her house. So, when I was there for vacation they got the paints and canvas, and I paid for all that, and then they painted. Then I was like, “oh, I think I can actually do that.” I came home, bought a bunch of supplies, I just went to Walmart at the time and got some acrylic paints and canvases, and I started with acrylics. Then, as you said, just keep trying different things, and that’s when I tried watercolor and was hooked. For you it might be something different, there’s so many mediums, there’s pastels, mixed media, pottery, so much.
One of my art mentors, Matt Tommy, does basket sculptures, literally basket weaving. There are so many kinds of art. Some people express their creativity through cooking, writing, or music; it doesn’t always have to be visual art to be creative. Just take that step and allow yourself the freedom to create.
Thank you so much for being here and sharing your inspiring story today, Patti.
PATTI. Thank you for having me Shelley.
SHELLEY. I just hope each one of you watching is inspired now to go and create, to allow your creative outlet to come out in whatever way that is, and just to have the freedom to do it in the way that you are created to do it. Thanks so much for joining us today, we’ll see you next time. Bye.
Has art been therapeutic for you? If so, share with us in the comments below!