Making paper bowls and healing my fear, anger, and grief

I’m sharing this art process in detail because it is an inexpensive and beginner skill level creative activity that can benefit others AND the end result is cool looking AND a bowl is a useful item in the home – even if you don’t paint it or do anything super artsy.

I’ve been processing my own emotions through art for a few weeks because of feeling increasingly powerless in the face of witnessing the displacement of people from environmental conditions. My personal experience of losing my home at age 8 in a major fire storm means I get triggered easily and have to deal with my own trauma and grief again and again. When hurricanes and fires are in the news, not to mention war refugees and increasing political tensions, my emotions can get the best of me.

This paper bowl art process started with journaling for about an hour, in a stream of consciousness, on 18×24″ brown paper. Journal writing helps at identifying old fearful thought patterns like, ‘I’m terrified something really really bad is happening’, and then changing them with new affirmations like, ‘I am safe where I am now.’

After journalling, a couple days later, I felt like tearing up the pages. Ripping paper was particularly satisfying emotionally for the anger that emerged after the fear went away. I can’t say I’m mad at fire specifically but memories of failed relationships surfaced at this point and it somehow seemed appropriate to just be mad at men. (Men/man/myself/people who start fires, wars, disrespect the earth…) The sound of paper ripping is very nice, and so is the huge pile of destruction that builds up as big paper sheets are shredded. It only took me like 10 minutes to destroy everything I had journaled.

Tip: if you do try this process, from a technical point, you need smaller strips to use in the next stage. I used scissors to make the paper more usable for art.

I intuitively decided to use the paper shreds to make something. So the papier-mâché technique (1 part flower to 1.5 parts water paste) is what I started next. It is a wet and meditative application of layers of wet shredded paper over a form. I blew up balloons for the form. I spent the majority of time applying layers of small paper (like three days) and this was a release of grief. Crying is the last stage for me in coming back to a more emotionally balanced place. The material drips and cries with me or for me when I can’t anymore. 

At some point the focus on what’s lost starts to shift onto a new thing emerging. The vessel / bowl / container shape begins to take shape as each shred of paper is put into a new place. This is a cycle. I made 10 bowls – some of them fit inside each other like nesting dolls.

In tarot, the cups are symbolic for emotion. Many spiritual texts speak of the human body as a vessel or a container for the spirit and soul. You need a good vessel to contain your soul and spirit. I have been working with this container concept a long time (as many artists do) and this summer it came up again as part of an expansion in my mermaid obsession. I came into contact with hanging planters because a friend was making them. (Thanks Michelle for introducing me to this hanging planter technique)

In this symbolic way I now see the paper bowl vessels are one way I can process overwhelming emotions and build back a capacity to accurately perceive  my current life (not the past). I did not have an intention to make paper bowls at the start, but this post explains how the art techniques work nice together and anyone can do it more consciously in the future. If you try it out, let me know how it goes.

I always channel energy from big feelings in my art and I know that after the raw emotional drive is gone, I get to be more consciously creative. Now that I’m feeling more like an artist again (not a traumatized kid), I’m excited to play and finish the art I’ve started.
So far, I’ve also created small clay holders for them. The paper vessels have round bottoms and will not stand secure without a foundation to support them. (Thanks for the clay Mom ❤️)

This is work in progress, I have made 26 total vessels so far (counting paper, clay, and polymer versions). I’m not sure what’s next and at the moment things are still drying out.