Color, Creativity, Grief & Gratitude

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Hi Everyone,

Have you ever heard the saying “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” It’s a powerful sentiment… and every time I read it I am reminded how important it is to stretch beyond your comfort zone. This week I’ll be doing just that when I give my first-ever Color, Creativity, Grief & Gratitude Workshop, to teach people how to use their innate creative gifts as part of the grieving process. I’m excited to be doing this workshop, because putting pen to paper was what helped me after my husband died unexpectedly 4 1/2 years ago… and I’m hopeful that sharing what I’ve discovered on my own grief journey will make a difference for others who are mourning the loss of a loved one. This is the cover of the handout packet:


For me, these four concepts, Color, Creativity, Grief & Gratitude are inexorably intertwined. When you lose someone you love, you are immediately and irrevocably changed. Grief sears your soul, and makes you so numb that struggle to make decisions, much less tap into your creative strengths. It imperceptibly colors your view of the world, and forces you to grow in ways you could never have imagined before your loved one died.

When newly bereaved, it can take every ounce of strength you can muster just to get through the day. This is where the practice of looking for the blessing (in even the most devastating situations) can help us stay grounded in gratitude. Expressing grief creatively, which is part of what I will be teaching in the workshop, can help people heal.

As you probably know from the personalized birthday messages I’ve shared in previous blog posts, I enjoy creating art to help people commemorate and celebrate special days in their lives. In addition to birthdays and anniversaries, for the past few years I have also been making memorial tributes to help people I care about remember those they love. They seem to bring such comfort to the families that I wanted to share a few this week in hopes that you might consider creating something similar when someone in your circle of friends and family has a need. The memorial tribute pieces I do fall into several categories:

KEEPSAKE BOOKS: I make these by inscribing a person’s name and life dates in the front of book, and asking people to share special stories about them so the family will have additional connections to their loved one. Our community lost a bright light this week when my friend Allan Burnstine lost his valiant battle against cancer. I made this book for Allan’s family, and asked everyone who attended the funeral to write something in it.


When someone I care about loses a loved one, and I am not able to attend the funeral, I create a title page for their keepsake book, and send a file that they can print out and paste in the front of a similar book. This is the one I created for my friend Regina when her mother died last week:


POSTERS: If I’m especially close to the family, I will hand-letter a poster that can be displayed during the funeral. In September I had two friends who lost loved ones the same day. This is the poster I lettered for my friend Dave in honor of his wife Linda:


And this the poster I lettered for my friend Judy in memory of her dad:


DIGITAL COMMEMORATION PRINTS: As a gift of comfort for friends and family, I often create a special piece when I hear that someone they love died. I have several different designs (most of which originally were created in memory of my husband), and letter the name, and the life dates if I can find them, of the person who died. This is one I did tonight when my friend Alison shared sad news that a mutual friend died:


MEMORIAL KEEPSAKES: These are pieces I usually give to people I’m close to. I just made this one and gave it to my friend Allan’s children; I made one that says “Forever in My Heart” for his wife.


People often display these next to a photograph of their loved one.

HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY CARDS: When a friend mentions that they are remembering someone they love on their birthday, I make a birthday card to help commemorate the occasion. This is one I made for a fellow widow on her husband’s birthday:


“ANGELVERSARY” PRINTS: I know first hand how difficult the anniversary of your loved one’s death can be… and how important it is to you that you are not the only person who remembers. So I often create ‘angelversary’ pieces for my friends. This is one I made for my friend Debbie on the 4th anniversary of her husband’s death.


Grief doesn’t have a time table; it isn’t something you can fix, nor is it something that people can just ‘get over’. While everyone’s grief journey is different, most people want to keep the memory of their loved one alive… to know that their life mattered. And each of us can help people we care about keep the memory of their loved one(s) alive… you don’t have to create personalized memorial pieces the way I do– just letting them know it’s okay to mention the name, and share stories about the person that died is extremely helpful. If you aren’t sure what to say, try “I was thinking about __ today; I know you must miss him/her very much”.

On a more celebratory topic, thank you for all the nice comments about the watercolor colorables and birthday messages I shared last week. Special thanks to those who were kind enough to leave a comment saying what sizes and themes you’d be interested in. Congratulations to Kim Jayhan, who won the set of colorables! Kim, please send me your snail-mail address, and tell me whether you’d prefer flowers or butterflies, and I’ll send your prize out.

Before closing this week, I need to apologize to Quwatha for misspelling her name on her birthday sign last week. I’ve re-lettered your name, and since your birthday was last month, decided not to include the ‘happy birthday’… this is the same artwork on two different backgrounds. Would love to know which you like best! Here is the dramatic version on black:


And this is a version using an ombre wash I created with the Koi Coloring brushes, and added digitally.


I tried a new tool for this lettering… can anyone guess what I used? I’ll letter the name of the first person who guesses correctly.

Stay Zenspired,



28 thoughts on “Color, Creativity, Grief & Gratitude”

  1. I lost my mom in August. It was sudden and I know the grief. It feels like you can’t breath. I miss her so much. Coloring helps I would love to get that tree you did so I could do one for my mom and my dad. I lost him ten yrs ago. Where can I get a copy ?

    1. I.lost 2 years ago and went into a deep depression. I am a very positive and fun.person normally, but the process of losing her was more than.I could take. I went to grief therapy and coloring was part of my therapy. I recommend it as it you in the process. Try to find a support your area, it.helped me.

  2. Joanne, a friend just lost her husband of many years, I bought your book for her. Thank you for sharing your ideas of embracing the living as they go through their period of grief. I will use your ideas and make them my own as friends and family leave this life.

  3. Joanne,
    I love these memory prints and cards you’ve created. I would love to share these with friends who have lost loved ones. This is a gap in the greeting card business that your beautiful art could fill. Because you know this grief, you’ve captures the heart and the thoughts of many as they remember their loved ones. Thank you for sharing your work and your heart with us.

  4. Joanne,
    Did you use Sakura Koi Coloring Brushes? It looks like some of the work you did in last weeks workshop. And I love Quwatha’s name in Black…it’s great in the lighter colors but the black is stunning!

  5. Joanne,
    These are beautiful, and I’m sure all your friends who have received them feel comforted by their sentiments and beauty and by your friendship. Thank you for sharing them with all of us.


  6. You used your new pigma Calligrapher pens!

    Now for my real reply to this week’s blog. The Memorial Keepsake you did for my Dad is so special. I feel so blessed to have it and for it to be from you.
    Your workshop sounds awesome. I wish it were in NoVA.

    ((Hugs)) Toni who is having a tearful day.

  7. wonderful for your friends to have you for a friend. You are such a compassionate and empathetic person. Pam Cardinal

  8. Oh my, Joanne, how sweet of you to re-letter my name. It shows you care and you do read your blog comments. I love both of them. I guess my favorite would be the first one with the black background. The contrast with the bright colors seems to fit my personality more. The 2nd one is beautiful and peaceful but I’m not that quiet. 🙂

    And, thank you for sharing your memory keepsakes. They are absolutely gorgeous. I would love to take one of your workshops. Maybe you’ll be in Las Vegas sometime??

    As for the new tool you used in my name, I have no idea what it is. Could we have a choice of tools? It wouldn’t be a pen with double nibs, would it?

  9. Thank you so much, Joanne, for sharing. My husband died in June and the grief is so strong and it comes in waves. Your art and so openly sharing about the loss of your husband is so helpful to me. You are a blessing.

  10. This couldnt have shown up in my email at a better time. After waiting so patiently for my daighter to finish college, start her career and settle in with her military husband I finally got the news that I would finally be a gramma. We’ve been so excited. Until last night.. They couldnt find the heartbeat and she lost that so-loved child. As her mom i want to help but shes across the US from me. These seem perfect though. Hopefully it will.. It definitely helped me remember the spiritual side of things. Thank you for that!!

  11. Humm, what a great idea. My friend just lost a child. It is very difficult for her, and perhaps one of these ideas will help her. As for your question, I don’t know what new tool you used, but it sure gives you a precision and grace to your lettering.

  12. I’m going to guess that you used a fountain pen with an itallic nib on it. Very beautiful. I too lost a brother and my father 5 days apart from each other in June of 2015. Was very sad. But not forgotten for I know they are watching over us.

  13. Joanne, thank you for bringing this area of emotional distress out, and helping others with it through your art…I have seen a recent growth of acknowledging how art can help navigate through grief, trauma, illness and childhood issues. How it helps sooth the soul, provide needed focus and bring the demons that reside within outward onto paper, to either release or embrace with a lifesaving emotional healing. The only reason I now spend many hours per day creating artwork on paper or 3D form, is that art ‘became me during an emotional crisis brought on by the death of my very very best friends – which I witnessed in horror. These were 400 pound friends, my ranch partners, my daily love fest buddies…. large fuzzy animals who captured my heart and soul completely. We lived in a special cohesiveness, strengthened by their own tortured lives which I entered and saved them from. Bringing them to my own Valhalla with love and respect, I earned their lifelong devotion and love – we could almost communicate telepathically. They knew when I was ‘down’, or ill, or needed a helping hand with the goats. If I said ‘photo time’ they would gingerly prance over and lay their heads on my shoulders for the ultimate Selfie. Neighbor dogs took them down with malice and the goal of the kills. I laid by each of them as they tried to ‘be good’ for me, to get back to their beloved lives, to have their backs scratched in the sun or pose for photos with the kids from a local school….The grief and depression that followed was dark and immense – I found it hard to deal with how such beautiful lives and gentle loving creatures could be tortured with pain and fear in their final moments.
    It wasn’t until a dear friend, who saw me wallowing in this darkness and harboring hate for the neighbors and their dogs, handed me a colored pencil and say ‘draw something’. Since I never was an ‘artist-type’ or had any inclination to explore that area, I resisted. Finally one night while home alone, I took out an old drawing pad my son had left here from school days. It started slow, strokes here and there, testing, seeing if anything worked for me. Suddenly I found myself pouring out deep dark lines, frantic – distressed- angry – not knowing really what I was doing. Shapes of their faces looked back at me from the paper. Tears came pouring out, more and more pages of paper with their angrily drawn faces were strewn on the floor. After a few days, the pages seemed to change from dark thick lines, to accentuating finer details and focusing on features like their eyes, or ears, or the tilt of their heads when they were confused. Their faces were taped onto my walls, my best buddies helping me along spiritually through this new journey… morphing from their faces came other drawings, some angry, some deep and dark, others filled with colorful shapes and almost too brilliant… the mix of lightness and dark. I was feeling something opening inside, a door opened, a part of myself I’ve never explored — and my spiritual friends were along for the ride. They encouraged me, made me venture into the artistic unknown, nudged me to do more and different and just let it out with disregard of what others thought of the growing pile of artwork gathering in the back room. Creative Spirits Artwork was born, and every day I spend hours with my Buckley and Quigon – trying new techniques, experiment with different paints and washes and mediums, – gathering sticks and rocks and things from nature to turn into symbols of life and death – The Circle of Lives…. throwing paint and water and oil and more paint at canvases…. drawing intricate Zenspirations and turning them into cards for others or enlarging them for my walls, drawing on ceramics, porcelain, glass, wood, walls – literally anywhere there is space. Today I find the joy and release I still need – but also am so grateful to Buckley and Quigon for opening this door for me, for leading me on my artistic journey which changed my life. I don’t know if I could have healed, emotionally, without this. Blessings to all who find their own journey with grief and despair, and let the world of art carry them through. And thank you Joanne, for your part in this journey.

  14. Dearest Joanne,
    What an inspiration you are to so many! I just learned that there are many kinds of grief….mine involves the devastating choices my children have made in their lives…unwed mother, divorce, victim of rape….well, it just goes on, but my children have come a long way…sometimes the grief is just watching them walk through these life-altering things. Motherhood really does involve the heart!
    Your art has lifted and inspired me…I’m so terribly grateful! Thank you!
    I’m not sure what new tool you used….Zig Brushables?? But the color seems so vibrant?? Parallel pen?? Whatever! It’s beautiful!!

  15. To answer your question about the tool used……I’m thinking you did the lettering and then used a Photoshop style for the colour? Anyway – I love it!

  16. Beautiful.
    Yes, keep stretching and learning, you will look back one day and be amazed at what you’ve done.


  17. Lovely, meaningful and unfailingly kind, as ever. I adore all!
    My best guess is that you might have used a gelly roll shadow for the heart, not sure how you would get the two-toned effect on the outlines.

  18. Love the black version. As for the tool…hmmm. I was going to guess a speedball tip but you said you used Koi Coloring brushes so I’m confused 🙂

  19. My guess…but, first…you said that the Ombre Wash was created with Koi Coloring Brushes…so, I’m going to guess that the “new tool” for Lettering was done with Liquid Chalk Markers.
    Thank you, Joanne, for sharing your insights and heartfelt creative expressions to those who are grieving. Let us continue to celebrate the precious importance of life. Always uplifting.

  20. My daughter-in-law (age 35) died several years ago of breast cancer. She requested that we not say that she “lost” her battle with breast cancer. Jana WON the battle, because the cancer is eliminated and she has gone on to live in heaven.

    I heard a pastor recently who said “Death is not the end of a relationship, but the transformation of a relationship.”

    Thank you for your lovely tributes to those who have passed away.

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