Reflection: Anna Mason

Our Reflection article series highlights an individual's experiences of the arts as it contributes to health, healing and wellness

By Anna Mason

Curated by Zara Contractor as (adapted from Watercolours with WOW)

Anna is an award winning watercolour artist specialising in vibrant larger-than-life botanical paintings that are rich with detail. She's self-taught and now teaches her unique painting method to students around the world via her online school and book The Modern Flower Painter.

How painting helped me recover after the big C

I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2008 when I was just 28. The doctors could give me no reason why I had developed it. I’d spent most of the previous decade barely picking up a paint brush. I’m not sure if those two things are related.

Probably not.  I mean, that would be a pretty extreme reaction to not painting!

But I do know that in Eastern medicine the thyroid, as part of the 5th energy chakra of the body, is the seat of self-expression, and so problems there are seen to stem from someone not expressing themselves fully. Hmmm. Food for thought.
Fortunately thyroid cancer is considered a ‘good’ cancer to get. It’s very treatable, without the need for chemotherapy, and it’s rarely terminal if caught early. And mine was caught very early. Phew. But, as you can imagine, it was a shock and it took some coming to terms with, and almost 5 years to fully recover from. 

I painted all the way through.

I had only just started working as an artist at the time I was diagnosed. So I had no in-work benefits to fall back on and didn’t really have a choice but to continue to paint whilst I received treatment and recovered.

But, looking back, I can see there may have actually been a positive to this.

When I was painting, which I did almost every day, for many hours, I was totally absorbed, and I was CREATING. It felt good. And I wasn’t worrying about or dwelling on the illness.

Making art has been used for years as a way to help people heal, emotionally, from illness and trauma:

The creative process, in itself, is part of our natural process of maintaining health and wellbeing. When we find a place and time to play – with paint, clay, movement, sound,- and when we have silenced the voices that tell us we can’t paint, or dance, or should be doing something ‘useful’; then the process becomes therapeutic, perhaps  soothing, cathartic, expressive, absorbing, releasing, surprising, extraordinary, transformative. The free flow of creativity in whatever form, is inherent in all of us, and once rediscovered can be a powerful resource.

– From the Making Art Personal website (an arts in health organisation promoting expression, communication and understanding for people affected by life threatening illness, in particular cancer)

And it’s also clear that regularly being creative is emotionally really positive, combatting the negative effects of stress on the body, and helping to keep people healthy.

For many people, a cancer diagnosis, or other serious illness, can force them to take stock of their lives, and how they are using their most precious of commodities – their time on the planet.

This little video explains this nicely:

So, whilst I don’t want to imply that getting cancer is a good thing – surviving a life-threatening illness can often be the thing that finally allows people to give themselves the permission to spend time on themselves, and on honouring the creative part of themselves.

And to feel gratitude for the parts of our bodies that are working well (brains, eyes and hands if we’re lucky enough to be able to paint!).

Happy Painting!