View this exciting new exhibition on mental health, showcasing work from amateur and emerging artists, organised by our partners.

We had originally planned, in conjunction with Framework Gallery, to display this exhibition at the new Take Up Space Gallery in the Connswater Shopping Centre, East Belfast from Monday 23rd March. But, as with the rest of this year’s Imagine! Festival, here it is online.

The exhibition aims to erode the stigma attached to poor mental health and promote a better understanding of mental illness. After making selections from an open call for artworks, we’re delighted to present a selection here from a very high standard of entry – as hoped for, it’s an eclectic mix of artworks from both professional and amateur artists. Enjoy!

My current visual art practice explores how an experience of trauma fragments and compartmentalises the subconscious. The repetitive and ephemeral process of constantly editing a two-dimensional image via layering, masking, and over painting over a period of years mirrors the superficially of constructs of individuality demanded to conform to market and societal norms. My wider practice is concerned with the interaction between urban built environment and community well-being in societies emerging from conflict. I’m currently studying towards a master’s in planning and development at Queen’s and am a graduate in fine art of NCAD Dublin. Medium: mixed media on board.

From his late teens my older brother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He fought the diagnosis, never accepting it throughout all of his life. Being somewhat of a rational mind, for several decades I struggled again and again and failed again and again to understand what was going on inside his head as he ‘talked’ to his other selves. Finally, during the last years of his life, it was producing paintings like this, for myself, that helped me accept that all I had to do was just love him and care for him.

Media: The main rose was painted using acrylic, and the ‘border’ was made using photographs of flowers I took, and then later collaged on a 90cm x 90cm canvas. Long story short – photography, acrylic, and collage on canvas.

‘Art as Therapy’ – With a pocketful of mental health diagnosis’ from the age of 15, I’ve naturally travelled down the path of actual therapy… only to find myself somehow even more lost, frustrated, unable to properly convey to someone else how I was feeling.

Art allows me to express myself in a way that, I, otherwise would’ve been totally voiceless able to vocalise. Art is a process I essentially utilize, just like a tool, in order to physically convert all the chaos going on inside my head, so that my once illegible, indecipherable, and mostly illogical thoughts become something that I can actually process, understand, and deal with. Using art in this way has even, on occasion, had the power to grow into a sort of unspoken language, explaining to others how bloody bonkers what’s going on inside my head really is.

Therapy, to me, felt like a constant pressure of relentlessly struggling to solve puzzles trying to uncover the words, (which only ever came close – at best), that would describe how I was feeling… only to pass the puzzle-like burden along to my therapist, who then had the challenge of attempting to interpret the intended meaning behind my scrambled words. Unsurprisingly, this was almost always lost in translation before each tiresome charade had even began.

With art, I become my own (underqualified, but undeniably dedicated) therapist. Using art as a safe place, to provide a sometimes necessary escapism/vacation from reality, until a time whenever I’m better mentally equipped to deal with difficult circumstances/thoughts. When the aforementioned later date arrives, I use art as a way of taking back control over my mental health, by physically unloading what is, ‘wrong’ inside my head. Inevitably, this always prompts a sense of freedom, release, and clarity upon seeing my once terrifying thoughts, not only physically presented in a much easier way to digest, but also having them reduced to something as fragile, weak, and as easily destroyed as paper – working as a reassurance and reminder, that I am much stronger than the misunderstood power toxic thoughts once held trapped inside my unwell brain.

‘Art as Therapy’ gives me as much strength, resilience, and peace of mind mentally, as excercising, drinking 2 litres of water, and consuming 5 fruit and veg daily would physically benefit a body. Without, ‘Art as Therapy’ I would have never been able to grow, learn, or heal from past trauma, or find anywhere near the amount of happiness and self-acceptance my pockets are now proudly overflowing with today. Medium: photography, acrylic, and collage on canvas

There is a lot of pressure on people now and it’s very hard to express your feelings. I have found art to be the greatest way to show your feelings.

I have loved art my whole life. It’s what I escaped into during a difficult childhood and through my life whenever I needed a positive release. My daughter attended art therapy as a child, which helped her resolve her troubles at the time. I was a mental health worker for 20 years and during that time I was involved in compiling and delivering art activities for adults as a way of being mindful and hopefully funding a positive new hobby, with the added bonus of a therapeutic few hours spent creating. I recently had to leave my career due to a neurological condition. To avoid feeling useless and drifting into slobbery, I threw myself into painting and I haven’t looked back. It’s given me a purpose, it helps on the tough days when my symptoms are hard to manage and I feel like I not on the scrap heap. Art as Therapy is priceless. Medium: 90x60cm acrylics.

These illustrations were drawn when I was suffering from severe depression and a very debilitating psychotic episode, I was a resident in a rehabilitation centre at the time. I had decided to write a story to make sense of everything, drawing the characters was part of that process. Each character represents an aspect of myself, the story was never fully realised, it had lots of symbolism and patterns that interconnected and became too complicated to finish, I was quite unwell but I really love them, they are very cutesy but still quite dark. Maybe one day I will return to them because I think they have potential. They are quite different to a lot of my work, particularly on my @ruth_prints instagram. As a textile designer primarily I have been taught to experiment a lot, different styles, techniques, media. This is generally what is required of a successful designer in my field and I have honed this skill over the years, however I think these drawings are the best, most honest representation of my personality and own unique style. I have many sketchbooks of these characters too waiting to be developed. They have never been exhibited before. The photographs are from the same story and show where the characters lived. I was feeling ambitious and wanted to experiment with stop motion animation at the time.

Art for me has probably always been therapy, I didn’t even realise this however until after I was really ill, when I had multiple personal projects on the go. My doctors questioned if I was becoming a little obsessive with art making and it might have looked that way to some, however I can’t begin to describe how important it was for me during those darker months. It really gave me a sense of purpose and something to live for and it still does! I make art everyday! Never underestimate its power, it makes me an incredibly happy person and the world needs more of that. Everything I made during that period was highly personal and not done for show or money or anything more than making me last the day but it’s probably some of the best art I’ve ever made purely for its honesty.

This series of work is made using the technique of spilling inks and then allowing my mind to follow the forms, finding figures and stories within them when I illustrate over the patterns digitally. This technique allows my mind to wander, calling immediate emotive responses rather than allowing time to premeditate the content of the pieces. In doing so, I strip back any calculated decisions and instead make art which is intuitive and which truly expresses, explains or releases me from a mindset. The act of making the piece holds a mirror to my inner self. This continued series is a way to regulate myself as I move through day to day life. Medium: ink/digital illustration

I studied Art and Multimedia in South West College after my GSCE’s. Within the past year and a half I have been exploring my creativity, through writing stories, prose, performing and the use of watercolour and ink pen. Only in recent times have I come back to using art as a therapeutic approach to managing my wellbeing. Emotions can be difficult to express and release. Art has given me a medium in which I can feel the emotions using colour, light and dark.

The emotion expressed in this piece came from how I was feeling after my old work colleague (37) took his own life, he was a father of two and I just didn’t see it coming. I really struggled to know how to feel and how to process it. The full moon in the painting represents a time for letting go of the past, letting go of what doesn’t serve us, by letting go of our darkness we give space to our light within to shine. The process of starting and finishing this piece in one sitting enabled me to process my feelings and emotions, which lead me to feeling lighter upon completion. Looking at this piece now reminds me of the pain I was feeling but from an objective point of view. It will always remind me of him. Medium: watercolour.

My name is Fergus and I’m from Portstewart on the North Coast. I’ve always loved to draw and design from a very young age. Currently I’m living in Portstewart drawing for myself and for others whilst also taking part in professional training for theater ran by Tinderbox Theater Company.

This is the first time I’ve submitted anything to be part of an exhibition and I feel that is pretty fitting as the message is one I can relate to. Art brought me back from a downward spiral that I at one point saw no way of escaping (sorry for being dramatic). Picking up the pencil and drawing to this day still acts as a form of therapy for me. Art gave me an outlet to start to understand some of the thoughts that were swirling around in my head and eventually through that and beginning to grow in confidence with my drawings I believe it helped me gain the confidence to actually begin to talk to others. Any form of creative outlet I believe is essential for mental well being and for me art is my therapy. Medium: digital (and pencil sketch)

Northern Irish artist, currently living in London. I work mostly in acrylic and oils, inspired by nature and the human form.

Life can be hectic and unpredictable, and art is a great way to zone out, reset or express yourself. For me, art and creativity can have a powerful influence on wellbeing and promote a positive feeling of community and connection.

I often hear people say “oh, but I can’t draw” or “I’m terrible at art”. We need to banish the misconceptions and barriers that people face when it comes to “being artistic” to promote it’s therapeutic benefits. Being an artist isn’t about creating a masterpiece. Art provides a safe space for self expression, experimentation and it welcomes mistakes. Art encompasses a wide range of activities through which there are a range of therapeutic benefits that should be accessible for all. Medium: tar and oil on wood, 60 x 24 inches

Painting is done spontaneously from the heart, my self portrait feels a lot like shedding myself; a rebirth, and casting that philosophical ambivalence we all have for all that remains is a song of silence, where I am utterly alone and the night is dark.

Why I use art as therapy: I use art as escapism. When suffering stress, pressure or worry there are so many thoughts or problems circling that it feels as though caught in a cyclone, unable to grapple any one thing. When devoting myself to an artwork I can put all other thoughts at bay and allow them to prioritise themselves in my sub-conscious. Immersing myself in art provides a sense of calm. Medium: acrylic with pallet knife

Medium: oil on board and sound.

I am a 35 year old self-taught artist. I started painting in 2016 as a form of therapy to help combat depression, having gone through a particularly tough period at the time. In painting I have found an outlet that has become an invaluable tool for me in helping to ground me in the present. I find the process of painting cathartic and it really allows me to focus my energy positively. Medium: Acrylic on board .

This theme resonates with me on a very deep level. As a chronic pain sufferer, I am prone to depression. Expressing my feelings using various media helps me to reflect on what I feel, acknowledge it and get back to real life, ending up another dark period.

Please have for your attention this interacting body of work that illustrates a serious episode of depression that I have experienced in October-November 2019. I started with a number of simple paper collages aiming to fill the void that I felt at a time. After I had time to reflect and think about it, I developed this topic into a series of 6 A3 paintings.

My art in this case is not therapy as such, it is a raw communication of a void, emptiness, sorrow and non-existence of a person in depression. A choice of colours was dictated by a set of coloured paper available at that moment. There’s a certain degree of irony in it, because any mental disease might feel and look absolutely different to the one experiencing it and the one observing. Medium: mixed media on paper

I am an illustrator and graphic designer if I have to give a professional title for myself, but honestly I just like to continue to what I did as a child which is to create characters and the worlds they inhabit. You can find more of my weird art on my Instagram @con_orb.

As someone who is currently struggling with their mental health, I find even when I am feeling my worst I can have a moment of piece and clarity when absorbed in creating something. I think everyone should find a creative outlet for themselves, it doesn’t matter how ‘good’ you think the work is or if you don’t think it’s good enough to earn money, do it for yourself and yourself only.

I’ve always had a restless energy, and often struggle to settle myself.

I discovered my own mindfulness technique through creating heavily detailed patterned pieces. Something could be bothering me out and I’d force myself to focus on making something so repetitive that I’d end up zoning out for hours on end. Whilst listening to music I easily get into a rhythm.”

It provides a cathartic downtime with myself to process. I discovered a lot about diffusing negative emotions this way.

Starting a piece with a texture or pattern in mind allowed it to bloom on its own, without the pressure of overthinking what the end goal would be.

At the end when the piece is finished I could stand back and look at it from another perspective and see it differently, notice depth and variety that I couldn’t see up close. It’s become my own metaphor for self-care.

I am currently studying Art Psychotherapy at the University of Ulster, and have always firmly believed in the therapeutic power of art, from scribbles to completed pieces. I have a Psychology Masters, and complete commissioned portraits in my free time. As a trainee Art Psychotherapist, I hope to help others begin to give form and meaning to experiences they cannot verbalise, through the process of creating. Medium: pencil and pen on paper

I gave up art at school but art found me somehow and now it is what I do every day of my life. Stress and worry start to disappear the moment I take up my pen to draw or my camera to take a photograph. Looking at the world, noticing the small things or places that are most often overlooked, and finding pleasure in the things I choose to record whether in a drawing or in a photograph, enriches the daily round. Exploring the possibilities that art affords has seen me through some of the toughest times in my life. Medium: photographic art print

I enjoy working with textiles and as well as embroidery I would crochet and knit as I enjoy working with textiles. Working on projects helps keep my mind busy as I suffer from anxiety and I find being creative helps keep my mind not only active but stops it running at a breakneck speed. Being creative is a great escape from my day job, I love seeing the evolution of a piece from start to finish. Medium: embroidery

Coming from a background in social work, I’m acutely aware of the value of art as therapy. It helps people to record and truly process their experiences, distress and trauma. Medium: oil on canvas

“Creativity cannot flourish and reach its deepest potential without the participation of its demons as well as its angels.” – Shaun McNiff

I am primarily a weaver and all round textile enthusiast working out of an east Belfast studio. I find that painting, similarly to weaving can be a healing, meditative process in which we reconnect with ourselves. “Embrace” is one of a series of paintings which I made after struggling from acute anxiety attacks during my masters in Art Therapy. These helped me to reconnect to the soothing process of layering paint on paper, and manipulating shapes on photoshop to produce abstract forms. I always look at this piece and see it as two people having a conversation, perhaps about to embrace for support.Medium: photographic print of acrylic painting and Photoshop

I think the creative process can act as a practice of untangling the unseen of the parts of your mind. This piece is about obsessive thoughts, and the endless canvas of consciousness that allows them to expand. Spoken and visual creative practice for me, gives that structured playground to organise these thoughts, while borrowing creativity from the shadow or Id. It gives an output to treat the blind parts of suffering. Medium: digital ink on paper

Depression and anxiety have had a huge impact on my life for many years. The daily fight is exhausting. The things that help me are time with my family, music and crafts. I find comfort and relaxation in making things. I feel creativity leads to an increase in confidence, well-being and hope.

My emotions are enveloped by the darkness of my depression. Feelings of misery, life unravelling. At times I have the strength to fight, to find hope and bring colour back into my life. To rise above the sadness, isolation and despair. Medium: mixed medium pieces including feathers, wood and paint.

There was never any conscious decision to pursue and develop my Creativity as a means to cope with the crap that life throws at you. My mother’s Alzheimers diagnosis followed by her ultimate death. Then not long after, my wifes’ diagnosis with early-onset dementia and her untimely death. In amongst all that I had to deal with 8 months of testing for cancer.

I found that I could not fight all these demons inside my head and the only way to survive was to ‘creatively exorcise’ them. Get them out in the open – something tangable that I could poke with a big stick, inspect it, turn it over, see what it’s made of and find its weak points.

I quickly realised that whilst this was a very small victory, it was a victory none the less!

I found that I enjoyed all the problem solving of using mixed media and the more time spent – not thinking of all the Dark Stuff – is like drawing a line in the sand and saying “From this day on I will only worry about those things that I can change. If I can’t physically change them, then I shouldn’t be worrying myself sick trying.”

Now, every day I create something. i have no agenda, no rules, no reasons, no more need of my ‘exit strategy’ – its all about small victories.

One small creative victory every day.

I am an artist based in Belfast and I work within the themes of LGBT rights, architecture, and I am currently exploring mental health for some new projects. As an artist myself, I have and still currently experiencing from depression, anxiety, and isolation. Some days I have found it very hard to motivate myself to do anything and have been in pretty dark mindsets with my moods, but I have always had friends looking out for me. I think it is important to use Art as Therapy as a means of expressing ourselves, but as a form of engaging with the mental crisis in our society. Medium: illustration.