An inner child is considered the representation of yourself in your childhood years. While some people can recall their childhood as a happy time in their life, there are others like me who aren’t so lucky due to abuse, neglect, or other emotional pain. As a result, the inner child can seem very vulnerable, someone in need of a big hug.
For those who experienced a difficult childhood, becoming aware of your inner child can allow you to give your present and past selves the things you need to heal and be happy. This can be anything from unmet needs to self-love to a new hobby.
Inner child work begins with acknowledging your child self because it can make unexpected appearances in your adult life. When I first started noticing my inner child last year, they had a strong desire to do something creative with their hands that let them be free.
Although I had become creative as a writer and poet, there was unacknowledged pain that was keeping me blocked at the time. In addition to that, being a freelance writer had made me associate non-creative writing with making money. As a result, I didn’t want to feel pressured to monetize any new hobby I decided to take up.
After journaling and doing some self-reflection, I recalled the bygone days I happily scribbled in the computer program Microsoft Paint. It originally started as a way to entertain me as a kid during school and at home when I either couldn’t have free reign of the internet or didn’t have many computer games.
Whenever I would use Microsoft Paint, my favorite thing to do would be to pick a color, use the paint bucket feature to color the background one solid color, and then let loose with a whole bunch of different colors. I especially liked making the background solid back and then using the spray paint or a similar feature to unleash a rainbow everywhere. I didn’t draw anything in particular, I just had fun scribbling lines and patterns.
As time passed, my desire to draw for fun gradually diminished as I got discouraged by a parent and some teachers. Instead of “drawing nothing,” I should be practicing math. If I didn’t draw the correct way, it was “wrong” and I got scolded. Being told these things and seeing other kids who drew better than I did made me feel that drawing was pointless. The final time I drew as a kid was in 4th grade when I attempted to replicate a Picasso drawing with pastels.
As an adult, taking up digital drawing seemed beneficial for a few reasons. One is that I already had the tools that I needed to start drawing: a pen stylus and a digital tablet. Another is seeing other people do digital art regardless of their skill level encouraged me to try again. A final, most important reason is that the right drawing app could replicate the joy I experienced all those years ago in Microsoft Paint.
After asking for digital drawing app recommendations on Twitter, I downloaded Autodesk Sketchbook on my tablet. At first, I did a few test drawings to familiarize myself with features such as adding layers, certain drawing tools, and the color fill bucket. I also briefly experimented with using stock photos as a base for my art, but decided that it wasn’t quite for me. However, I did realize that I wanted to try drawing fan art (i.e. personal drawings of fictional characters) after seeing different visual artists do their own fan art. At the same time, I also wanted to see if I could make my own original art. I already liked making something from nothing when it came to creative writing and I wanted to see if I could replicate the experience in digital art.
A self-portrait is one of the first pieces of original art I would be proud of. It is where I started to learn the value of tracing photos and objects as a new artist. Although tracing is sometimes considered “cheating” by established artists, I found tracing to be a way to get used to drawing and give myself a basic foundation to start from. Doing the self-portrait would also help me indulge my inner child when I added color and used a bit of the “glow” feature in Autodesk Sketchbook.
As time passed, I started to draw without fear of not being “good enough” or “pointless.” Sometimes, I did drawings for my family members but I mostly drew for myself first. By drawing for myself, I was able to start using digital art to affirm myself. One way I did this is through the art therapy exercise found in the book Essential Art Therapy Exercises by Leah Guzman. This exercise involved drawing a shield of your personal strengths in order to be able to recall your positive qualities when you have triggering or intrusive thoughts about yourself.
When drawing the strength shield, I indulged my inner child by tracing the outline of a medieval knight’s shield. Then, I divided it into four sections where I wrote words in different colors that represented my strengths, like creativity and intelligence. I also filled each section with different colors and put sparkles around the shield to give it a magical quality. For a final touch, I wrote the following words on the top and bottom of the shield: “I deserve love. I determine my worth.”
Out of all the original digital drawings I’ve done this year, the one for my chosen name, “Penn,” is my personal favorite. It’s a simple piece with the word “Penn” in purple and a black background filled with splatters of colors, but making this piece was empowering for me as a non-binary queer person. It was also soothing to make, as it took the sting out of a rejection I received for a poem about my chosen name.
Since I rediscovered digital drawing as an adult, I managed to tap into a part of my creativity that I hadn’t acknowledged in a long time. My inner child was given permission to play through Autodesk Sketchbook in a manner similar to when I played with the drawing tools in Microsoft Paint. Through digital drawing, I’ve learned to please myself creatively and colorfully and I’m a better person for it.
How does art help you work through past trauma and manage your mental health?
Let us know in the comments.