Full Episode here:
Nitasha’s Art Babblers initiative:
Sushi: Hi, this is Design Lota, the podcast where we talk about life as Indian Designers.
Angie: So! It’s been a while. How’ve you been, Sushi?
Sushi: I’m excited for Season 3, and what we have lined up. Did you miss me?
Angie: Sushi – We’ve been friends for a while now and about 4 years ago you made a birthday gift for me which was my own custom coloring book! Remember that?
Sushi: Haha yes. That was fun to make 🙂 You were talking about how there should be a coloring book for adults too and I thought it would make a nice surprise!
Angie: Little did we know back then that coloring books for adults would really take off. There are some beautifully detailed ones out there.
Sushi: I’m glad we see so much access and openness to art these days.
Angie: Yes, it does belong to everyone and can serve us in many ways. So, in today’s episode we’re going to talk to Nitasha Saarangi – she’s a designer who has been conducting Art Therapy workshops over the past few years.
Interview with Nitasha
Angie: Hi Nitasha, and welcome to Design Lota! How have you been? Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Nitasha: Hi Angie! Thanks a lot for having me here for this discussion. I’m doing good. I’m a graduate of the National Institute of Design, with an experience of over 7 years in research and graphic design. I’m currently working at Zensa technologies as a creative lead. I’m aso pursuing my Masters in Psychology from IGNOU (Open University). And of course, doing my research in Art Therapy , under the name “Art Babblers”.
Angie: That’s so exciting! You have a lot of things going on…we want to specifically talk about what you are doing with Art Babblers – So what made you jump into Art Therapy?
Nitasha: I started my research on Synesthesia as one of my projects in NID. And after my graduation, I somehow came across the term “Art Therapy” and I found a lot of similarities with synesthesia.
To give you an idea – Synesthesia is something where a person sees something when they hear, or hear something when they smell – basically their sense organ -related neurons in the brain are wired in a way that they pick up the other senses also.
Art therapy has a similar effect on the brain in terms of simulating various other parts of it. I realised that I too was doing this subconsciously, and using it in my daily life. So i read more about it, and realised I wanted to make it accessible to people who could benefit from it. So that’s how Art Babblers by Nitasha came to be, and I’ve been conducting workshops for people of various age-groups with non-pathological issues. I’m working on creating different modules and activities to help people going through specific types of issues.
Angie: These days, we do hear about people feeling the need to calm down or slow down, due to the general pace of life. We also have coloring books for adults. I think its interesting that you’ve designed workshops that go a little deeper into that. What would you say is unique about your approach?
Nitasha: Art therapy is quite subjective. Its great that there are coloring books available in the market for anyone to pick up, since art always has therapeutic value. So even sketching or coloring could help you deal with daily life. What is unique about my approach is that I create new modules based on research, which aren’t already available. I test out these modules with curated activities.
Angie: Can you give us an example of a module?
Nitasha: I can share a case study, though I cannot give out any personal details. There was a person going through Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She got pregnant in 2013, and nine weeks into the pregnancy suffered a miscarriage which was traumatic for her and her husband first, but her partner could come out of it very fast, but she kind of got stuck with the entire thing. She couldn’t lead a normal life beyond that. So what we did is I discussed with her. I came up with some activities which basically would nourish her soul – her inner self – and bring her out of that traumatic experience that she had. So we had some activities are very simple as planting some flowering plants and taking care of it, some pottery, some Kintsugi pottery – to give you an idea, Kintsugi is a Japanese technique where a broken piece of ceramic is put back together with gold, and it is believed that anything that is broken has its own charm, right?
We did that. We did a lot of art journaling. We did a lot of Photography. So basically it was not just Art therapy, it was something like expressive Art therapy that we did and it kind of helped her out in the long run and she could come out of her experience and lead a normal life. In fact, she got so much better after it, that she started pursuing her career which she had stopped for quite some time. She started doing photography on a regular basis and it helped her in her work a lot.
So Art therapy is very individualistic. It depends on what the person is going through and what kind of activities can help her. Here I took a Command Decision to take it beyond our therapy not just focus on art, but also having some expressive Arts therapy where we include activities beyond the domain of Art.
Angie: It’s really interesting that it’s so centered to that particular person’s needs at that time – kind of tailored to them, and to understand what they’re going through and what might help them, as compared to someone else.
Angie: Another angle to what you’re doing is also the workshops, where you’re giving an accessibility to Art and empowering people with these skills and experiences, so that maybe they can, in their own time get into art and use it as a way of just dealing with life. Can you tell us a little bit about the workshops that you’ve been doing and how that’s been going?
Nitasha: Sure. When it comes to workshops, we have to consider the entire group and generally the theme of my workshops are the daily life issues. For example recently, I conducted a workshop on Stress Management. So we did a lot of activities which could help us with Stress Management. There were a lot of coloring activities, there were a lot of movement activities. There are some, drawing out of imagination kind of a things, like Zen-dala. Zendala is a combination of Zentangles and Mandala. We explored creating your own movement that you can use to empower yourself when you are going through a stressful situation. So again when we are doing a workshop, it’s kind of a group related thing. You have to consider a generalized issue and you have to tackle it like that.
Angie: With this whole thing of making art accessible, from the point of view of artists and designers, do you think some feel like you’re giving away something that belongs to us? Which would be quite an entitled way of looking at it…but is that a reaction that you see from the other side of artists and designers?
Nitasha: I don’t think so. I think people are more open-minded than we give them credit for. People are okay with sharing it. And in fact, you should be, because art is something that should be actually for everyone. In schools, we see how much focus we give to academics, while art is a graded subject where it’s like, okay, you do something and it’s just fine.
But yeah, it should be for the masses because it has got tremendous value in that it can help you with a lot of things, from decision-making to Stress Management, to managing and dealing with grief and pain. In fact, if you pick up an issue, art has an answer to it.
So I believe that art should be for everyone and if people feel that it shouldn’t be then it’s very narrow-minded. But I haven’t come across many people who feel so restricted about.
Angie: Okay, that’s great. And like you said art especially in our education system is viewed as something like an add-on or a hobby or you know, if you have time you do it, right?
Nitasha: I think we’re slowly getting there…the education system is changing and these days, people are giving more weightage to extracurricular activities and I believe in few years or probably, you know, 10 years down the line things will be different. I think it’s progressing towards it.
Angie: Speaking of materials, you’re pretty open with what you use. You talked about movement and not just colors and paper, right? How do you how do you build your activities and kind of tailor them and decide what you’re going to use.
Nitasha: The main idea when it comes to Art therapy is that it should have therapeutic value in the right direction. What I generally take into consideration is the group, the individual I’m working with – how comfortable they are with what kind of material. They shouldn’t get stuck with a material and face issues with that or feel intimidated with a material.
So I keep the materials as simple as possible like pencils, crayons and even if I’m using poster paints, I give them the Liberty to work with fingers instead of brush, because people get little. intimidated with brush. They want to stick to the lines and borders.A lot of effort goes there and that creates a stress. Even if I’m doing origami, the kind of paper is considered in order to make it simpler to get started. This helps in building on the activity more than getting stuck with the material.
Angie: The tool shouldn’t come in the way of what what they’re trying to do. I had another question relating to this. Part of the intimidation is also when you start creating, you look at what you made and you kind of want approval so you show it to people and say “what do you think this looks like?” Also now with our culture of Instagram, want that approval. We want people to look at it and say “wow”. As artists and even regular people. we know that not everything you make is going to be wow, but it’s still part of the art that you’re making. It still is doing its work in you even if it’s not a masterpiece. So how do you deal with that in your workshops? Because there are multiple people and you know, they may not always feel okay with showing it or should you should you even. How do you deal with that?
So that’s the challenge that I faced with workshops. I have two ways to deal with it. Either I give importance to everyone and encourage them or else I ignore when people start telling that oh this person has done an amazing job and I try to explain to them that it’s not with the quality of it. It’s about just doing it. I’m still figuring that out because it is a challenge and ‘we kind of are in a system now where approval has become so important, like you mentioned about Instagram, Facebook and everything, about social media. It has become a habit to get approval. if I have not got enough likes it means my picture is not good enough, or I’m doing something wrong in my life.
Angie: it’s also internalizing, because this approval mechanism gets into you as well. So even if nobody is around, you do the self-censoring that, this is good enough or this isn’t. Whereas if you had just done it and just kept it aside, art is still doing its work. If you’re just drawing every day and not showing anyone that’s still a process happening in you.
Nitasha: Totally Angie, I completely agree with you. Since people are facing that culture of approval, that’s a challenge and I think it’s not going to go very soon.
Angie: I was doing some reading I’ve read that there is therapeutic art and there is a professional practice called Art Psychotherapy. Can you explain a little about what the difference is between therapeutic art and art Psychotherapy?
Nitasha: Sure. Well, there is quite a bit of difference between the two – art as therapy or therapeutic art embodies the idea that art making in itself is therapeutic and the creative process is a growth producing experience. For example art education the children with disabilities, community art programs for group shelters or neighborhood with economic and social challenges, and for people with mental illness – these all seem to have a similar goal and objective of art as therapy.
Whereas when we consider Art Psychotherapy, it is more symbolic and it Embraces art as a means of symbolic communication and it tries to see a qualitative aspect of Personality or emotion or any other aspect of human experience. Art expressions are used to enhance verbal exchanges between the therapist and the client in the Art Psychotherapy approach and this particular field requires specific credentials to work on, maybe as a psychologist or a mental health counselor. Art as therapy is where we are using art to express, but not really quantify things. When we talk about Psychotherapy, it becomes more Technical and involves working with people who deal with pathological issues.
Angie: Meaning, that sometimes when you do see something which would be classified as a pathological issue, you do refer them to a psychologist or tell them that formal therapy sessions might help them better?
Nitasha: Absolutely. In any case, clients come first and if I’m working with someone and they have certain kind of issue that cannot be dealt with just art therapy, I assign them to a psychologist who can help them out further.
Angie: So you also mentioned that you started doing a course on psychology. Is it adding to what you’re doing with Art Therapy and what you’re learning from it?
Nitasha: Well anything that we learn stays with us till we die. So I think I’m a very curious person in general and I like learning new things and taking up new courses and everything. I constantly keep adding to my knowledge span. Of course, this particular course has given me a structure that I can follow and so that I can know that I have covered all the aspects of psychology that I can put to use in my art therapy research and sessions and workshops.
So yeah, it has been helping me quite a bit. I hope I continue with this because psychology as a field is quite recent as compared to other medical fields and it has got a lot of scope.
It has a lot of opportunity to build on and learn more, research more, discover more and probably invent more. So yeah, it has been helping me quite a bit.
Angie: Some time ago, we were also speaking about art and its effect on our psyche and you started talking about the science behind it as well. So can you share a gist of that for our listeners?
Nitasha: Sure Angie. So, art as a process stimulates our sense organs and hence the brain in various different ways. As a result is a lot of hormones that are secreted from our glands, like Oxytocin Dopamine and Endorphins, Serotonin and these are a group of what we can call feel-good hormones. It affects the way we deal with our problems, the way we think, our perception of our environment and everything.
There are four different ways, in a hierarchy in which Art therapy actually works. First is the basic kinesthetic and sensory stimulation, which is what happens, for example, when you are doing art with your hand. So there is some kind of touch Sensation that is going through, there is some smell, there is some vision there is some noise, you know, but let’s say you’re just using crayons but there is this little noise of the crayon when you’re doing it. All these things together stimulate your sense organs and that is sent to your brain. This is a great opportunity where it provides you with a coping mechanism with created a light coming down to the second point.
It is perceptual or effective process. When you’re doing an art you have a kind of perception that you are presenting it on paper. So that gives you an idea of what you are doing, how you are looking at your environment. A kind of introspection that happens.
Coming down to the third point which is cognitive and symbolic process: So you have done your art, you know your perception that you have thought about while doing the art now. Therapy is also about introspecting. So in every workshop and every session, we introspect what the client has done exactly and together we introspect and we understand what is the symbolic.
Elements in the art that has been done. Once you have done the Art, there is always different levels at which it has been done. Even if a space is left blank, there is a reason why it has been left blank, you know, that’s the psychology that we think about and we discuss it.
Coming down to the 4th level, which is a creative level which encompasses the other three levels, it gives self-satisfaction to the person who is doing it, and he or she has something to show at the end of the session and there is a kind of sense of joy of fulfillment, a sense of well-being that they take from this entire activity.
So basically these are the four ways in which Art therapy technically stimulates the brain and which leads to the hormones that I spoke of earlier and overall there is a feel-good feeling as an outcome of any kind of session or workshop.
Angie: Well, thanks for that detailed answer. I think it really clarifies what’s going on.
Nitasha: What we are doing is very scientific. Actually, since the name is ‘Art’ therapy people may consider it to be very light. But my understanding has been that that it is extremely scientific.
Angie: What are some ways in which designers and just regular people can we use art in our daily lives, just to deal with everyday life, or even some serious mental health issues. I understand that there are some definitely some issues that require formal therapy. But Is there something we can do by ourselves at home with art that can help us deal on a daily basis?
Nitasha: Well, yeah. Obviously, it’s very very very subjective, like I always mention but still there are some activities that everyone can do, like the simple coloring mandalas or drawing mandalas or probably sketching in their daily life or you know doing emotion art, which is basically painting anything to your emotion and reflecting on it and to introspect – any kind of art you do, gives you at least a sense of fulfillment at the end. You just have to pick up a paper and start doing whatever you want to do with it. You can fold the paper…and it’s very interesting to know that all of us in fact, we have a tendency towards that. For example when we are talking on the phone to someone and if we have a pen and paper, a lot of people will just scribble. And that’s kind of art therapy that they’re doing unknowingly, right? You know, art can be formally integrated to each one of our lives, but informally it already exists. We just have to know and introspect on things that we are doing.
Angie: Yeah, that’s so interesting what you said because what came to my mind is, I have an almost two-year-old daughter and her approach and generally, kids approach to art is so open. We were talking about censoring yourself, but they just go for it. So whether it’s the paper or it’s the ground, they just have all this energy that just needs to come out in some way and that’s so interesting because they just don’t feel the need to show someone what they’ve made. Maybe the more we feed it to them, they start behaving like us, but I think there’s so much to learn from them. They probably don’t even call it art. It’s just who they are. Right?
Nitasha: In fact an interesting point came to my mind when you mentioned this. So before we even start learning to write and read, every kid starts off with art first. And art is so centric to us. We just grow out of it because of our schooling system or the system that we live in, where it is not given that much importance somehow or the other. But art is within us it’s just very very very natural to us. Even in the ancient past, when Cavemen were there, they didn’t have everything but they had art. They used to draw on leaves. They used to draw on things. Art is form of documenting, basically. So its just very natural to us.
Angie: So yeah, it does seem like such an innate part of us that, it can’t be shut down and maybe we need art as therapy now, because we’ve been shutting it down and we need an Avenue for it, to come out.
Angie: So let’s talk a little bit about you. I’m sure when we come up with some initiatives like what you are doing with Art Babblers, there’s always a trigger that is a little more personal. I understand your trigger is also to help others, but is there any personal reason that kick-started it, saying, this is something I want to do for others?
Nitasha: That’s true. Everything that we start it always starts with something that has affected us in our past. I have gone through a lot of traumatic experiences, both physically and mentally in my life and it was every time that art rescued me without me knowing. It was my go-to thing every time I faced an issue and later on when I was doing my research, I just realized that I’ve been doing the same thing without knowing that these activities were helping me, and I saw the result and it was spectacular, completely out of the world. When I started introspecting, which also we do in art therapy, that I have been doing this and how it has helped me, I realized I could extend that to others as well and help them to come out of their issues and help them to heal, help them deal with their everyday stress, and grief. So, yeah, so I think that gave me a kick towards starting Art Babblers, so that it can help more people like it has helped me.
Angie: So you still work as a designer, so I wanted to talk a little bit about how these two parts of your life are influencing each other. So has this experience with Art Babblers changed you as a designer?
Nitasha: Yes very much. They are kind of interdependent. As a designer, I am quite technical and tend to think in a systematic way. And that kind of helps me in art therapy to structure the activities, and see the result of it, because design is very user eccentric. So what I mean by user-centric is, it should have the correct impact on your end users. So I take that aspect of being a designer into art therapy where I make it a point that we’re very systematic and structured and it has a desired result. Whereas from the art therapy perspective, that helps me with my everyday struggles and you know, helps me with real-time problem-solving and decision-making and in general. Like I said earlier, I am working as a creative lead.
So just to give you an example, those times when you have to take command decisions, I’ve been tuned to take quick decisions in life. And that is one of the major ways, it has been helping me in the recent time. Other than that it helps me with people skills, when I’m working with someone how to know their psyche and deal with them in the daily routine work.
Angie: Okay, and you know, we talk a lot about empathy as designers and even on Design Lota, almost every episode we end up coming to empathy because it’s such a core aspect of design as a field, because it’s all about people and especially with art therapy, I would think that empathy is something that comes to the Forefront of the work you’re doing.
Nitasha: Yeah, absolutely.
Angie: So that’s really great. So what’s next? What else do you have planned with Art Babblers?
Nitasha: I want to reach each and every one that’s the major goal, especially with people struggling from depression, anxiety or even cancer and dementia. Currently I’m dealing with non-pathological issues, but like I said earlier, I’m doing my masters so that I can extend it clinically to people who are facing major medical issues, so that’s the plan!
Angie: That’s amazing! This is something that can be a tool, like you said, it healed the soul of your friend who was going through PTSD. This is something that can be extended to people in different stages of whatever they’re going through. So it’s a wonderful way to reach out to people and be a part of the solution.
So thank you for the amazing work you’re doing, and thank you for coming on Design Lota to talk about it. Where can people find you online? And can they get involved in any way?
Nitasha: Well, I have a website http://www.artbabblers.com and Facebook and Instagram Pages where I update the upcoming events and workshops and some activities and there is a blog with a lot of topics in our therapy which you can follow and you can take lead from there. Contact information is also mentioned on the website. So, Anyone can reach out to me. It need not be anything specific. You can just drop a mail or, write on my Facebook page and I’ll write back.
Angie: That’s wonderful. Thanks again Natasha for joining us on Design Lota. We wish you the very best in your work with that babblers in the future.
Nitasha: Thank you Angie. I’m really glad that we could discuss this, because I think this gives me a big platform to reach out to people so that my mission of making art accessible can be achieved a great. Thank you.
Angie: Thank you!
Sushi: Wow – It’s amazing how we can use art as a simple tool to start dealing with some issues we may have especially relating to our mental health.
Angie: Yes, it’s so important for us to have practical everyday tools to help us care for ourselves. Sushi – you’re into pottery, which Nitasha mentioned – have you found it calming?
Sushi: Definitely calming, and quite addictive. I’ve finally set up a tiny balcony studio where I can lose myself for a few hours.
Angie: That’s amazing – I spend time creating things with my daughter – like she loves to paint and we also make things with clay. I learn so much from watching her imagine and take creative risks which comes so naturally to her.
Sushi: I find it very fascinating to see kids *seriously* playing, and I think it’s one of the finest examples of creative confidence. I feel like we might also have that hidden inside us somewhere.
Angie: Yes – so let’s keep making art to survive and not just for instagram 🙂
Sushi: And there’s our tshirt quote for this episode!
Hey listeners, how do you use art to deal with life?
Angie: Or music, or pottery, or gardening, or crochet
Sushi: Tweet to us @designlota, or message us on instagram. We’d love to know about it.
Angie: You can find all the references and the complete transcript for this episode on designlota.com
Sushi: Join us next time for a much needed conversation on how we can up our productivity as Indian Designers
Angie: Until then, bye
In this episode, we speak to Nitasha Sarangi, who is an experienced graphic designer and an Art Therapy researcher.
Nitasha talks about what sparked her interest in Art Therapy and how art can empower people to deal with issues like stress, grief, personal tragedy and more.
She talks about the variety of art activities like drawing, pottery, movement that she uses in her workshops. She also elaborates on the science of Art Therapy and why it works.
She also enlightens us on how she points her clients to clinical therapy where that may be more beneficial.
We discuss the importance of teaching art as a core subject in school education.
She shares how conducting Art Therapy workshops has made her a more empathetic designer.
She shares her views about making art accessible and how natural it is to us as human beings.