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Using Art to Help Our Kids Process Grief & Loss: A Q&A with Houston Author/Artist Roger Hutchison

Interview by Kathryn Streeter

 

There is prayerful poetry woven through Houston author/artist Roger Hutchison’s work, a gentle reverence in his tone and posture toward the heartbroken. His recently released “My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes.: A Journey Through Loss with Art and Color” quickly became an Amazon Bestseller and is now in its second printing. This 32-page picture book live with vivid color takes the reader page after page through the emotions of grief and loss, such as anger, shock and hope. It’s Hutchison’s ambition to use art, color and poetic language to communicate love and promote healing in today’s hurting world. 

Hutchison’s book is a powerful companion to “The Painting Table: A Journal of Loss and Joy”, his earlier book, which brought inspiration to conduct Painting Table workshops and eventually connected him with the Sandy Hook Elementary community where he worked with survivors of the December 14, 2012 school shooting. 

Using his art and books as tools, Hutchison’s mission is to reach out to hurting communities, both near and far. Whether sharing his book with others, talking about color, art and grief or in his role as Director of Christian Formation and Parish Life at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church Hutchison’s life tells a cohesive story, one of intentional, empathetic outreach. 

Recently, Houston Family Magazine had a chance to catch up with Hutchison: 

 

How is it that art and color can be so therapeutic? Or, another way to put it, how does art/color connect with and soothe the soul?

My earliest memories are filled with color. The fragrant red of a garden-grown tomato. The towering green pines that surrounded my childhood. The deep blue of the Louisiana sky. The chattering song of my Pappaw’s Purple Martins. Stained glass windows that spilled puddles of radiant jewel tones across the church floor.

The connection we have with color is nearly impossible to describe with words. 

  • Color tells a story. 
  • Color helps us to remember. 
  • Color inspires us to dream. 
  • Color provides hope. 
  • Color walks with us as we grieve. 
  • Color is all around us. 
  • Color is our song. 
  • Color gives life to our anger. 
  • Color fights for justice. 
  • Color helps us to pray. 

Now more than ever, Color teaches us to love our neighbor.

 

As you witness those in your workshops, can you describe what you see in their faces, their dispositions/postures which are physical manifestations of what is being ‘relieved’ internally, a release or perhaps a loosening from pain/grief/sadness? 

There is a subtle rhythm to what happens when people gather around The Painting Table. Participants are often guarded and I sense a palpable fear in the air…the familiar one of “I’m not ‘good’ enough. I’m not an artist.” Participants will sit for a moment staring at the blank paper. They ask me what they should paint. I encourage them to tell their own story using color, not words.

In time, the rhythm and “air” in the room begins to change. Fingers are dipped into the paint and stories begin to form on the paper or canvas. Bodies relax and fingers dance a new creation across the surface of the page. It’s beautiful, really.

Conversation around the table also comes in waves. People are working on their own individual project, but they are aware that they are part of a larger community. There is talking followed by silence. I do not guide this. It happens on its own. Reminds me of breathing.

Gathering around The Painting Table is Eucharistic in nature. There is a connection to something deeper. It is a glimpse into our souls. For some, the experience can only be described as holy. 

People begin to relax, and for many, it is the first time they have relaxed in days or weeks. Oftentimes there are tears. There are always gentle smiles.

I recently led a session where a young mother of two children, ages 2 and 8.5 months, painted a beautiful angel. The angel was her husband. He had died suddenly just one month earlier. He was only 30-years-old. Painting gave her the space to grieve and a way to remember that he would always be with her and their children. 

People are desperate for community. We live in a world where fear of the “other” threatens to take hold. We can’t let that happen. My deepest longing is that we continue to gather around the table and share with each other the holy bread of peace and love. 

 

Programmatically, what’s the typical workshop like?  

It’s quite simple, actually. The ideal setting for a Painting Table session is a room arranged with round tables with space for no more than four people at each table. In the center of each table, I include paper plates (to put the paint on), a package of unscented baby wipes, a votive candle, small cups for water to thin the paint if needed, and enough paper/canvas for each participant. The paint is located at a different table. I provide a brief welcome/introduction and depending on the theme or focus of the day, I encourage them to begin. Participants choose their colors then return to their tables to paint. 

If time permits, and people are willing, I will often invite them to share about the experience and if they would like, their painting. It is always an inspiring conversation. 

A Painting Table session can last anywhere from one hour to a period of meeting weekly for several weeks. It depends on the goal and purpose of each group.

It is also important to note that a Painting Table session can be faith-based or it can be designed to fit a more diverse community.

 

What guidelines do you have for using “My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes.” in our families, our individual homes, while reading it aloud to our children? Would you also encourage invitations to convene community Painting Table workshops—neighborhood-based gatherings in private homes, libraries, civic centers, schools, churches, for example?

“My Favorite Color is Blue. Sometimes.” is a children’s book by design, but can be used by people of all ages. 

This is an especially good book to share with children at home – especially if they are grieving a loss or experiencing a difficult transition such as divorce. I would pair it with my first book, “The Painting Table – A Journal of Loss and Joy” or with a blank journal/sketchbook and some crayons/markers/paint. Grief/fear is a full body experience and we must honor this for ourselves and with our children. Read the book with them and reflect on where they might be right now…what color do they most identify with at the time? 

I am always interested in leading Painting Table sessions as I am able. I encourage your readers to reach out to me at thepaintingtable@gmail.com if they are interested in learning more.

 

We’ve all been rattled by the Parkland, FL school massacre. Maybe it’s too early to ask, but by chance, have you had any calls/requests to conduct a workshop for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community at some point? [Note: Maryland’s Great Mills High School shooting had not occurred at the time of this interview.]

No. I have not been invited to travel to Parkland. It was six or so months after the tragedy in Newtown, CT before I was invited to travel there. My experience in Newtown changed me – it changed me at a cellular level. The community of Parkland is still in shock. The pain and grief will never leave this community and they will need support now and five years down the road. I’ll certainly say yes if invited to join them on this journey. 

Hutchison is poised to pilgrim alongside the suffering, a desire unmistakably reflected in his words and art. Contact Hutchison for details regarding Painting Table workshops which blend art therapy and spiritually-grounded, mindful conversation to reckon with the struggles of loss in all its colors.  

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