Reflection: Barbara Bernath

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

Curated by Zara Contractor


'The Art of Transformation' by Barbara Bernath

My whole life has been a transformational journey, and my creativity has always led the way. Whether I am making art, playing music, writing, designing, or helping others through the work I do as an art therapist and creative coach - I clearly love taking life beyond the “as is” state and transforming all of it into new levels of potential and beauty. 

My guiding force as a creative person often centers around the specific transformational principle of ‘upcycling.’ Meaning, rather than discarding an unwanted or damaged item, or trying to repair it or recycle it down to its barest elements, “upcycling” creatively elevates a thing into an entirely new and beautiful work of art. I adore this concept, and see my upcycled projects as a metaphor for my entire creative life.

How did it start? My first upcycled art projects began in my early twenties after graduating from Emily Carr. I created a successful line of jewelry and interesting objects under the tag of ‘Barbara B Designing.’ These one-of-a-kind, handmade creations celebrated juxtaposed-realities from a variety of found-materials ranging from Boeing airplane parts and vintage souvenirs to old magazine text and images. Over the course of two decades, I salvaged and re-created hundreds if not thousands of pieces of wearable art and décor available in galleries and boutiques from Vancouver to Madison Avenue.

Later, I created a series of upcycled, exotic, cement candleholders called ‘Concrete Ideas,’ by pouring cement into repurposed containers (such as vintage-cake-molds) and then pressing exotic glass patterns, stones, and intricate jewels into the drying surface.

Another upcycled sculptural series (which continues today) comes from collecting broken vintage clocks from thrift shops and garage sales and transforming the clock faces and inner mechanics into whimsical and joyful 3D kinetic collages. I call these timeless clocks ‘mys-tic-tocks,’ ‘roman-tic-tocks,’ and ‘exo-tic-tocks,’ depending on the themes of the imagery I am using. 

Somewhere along the way, I came to realize that my actual LIFE, not just my art, could also be consciously upcycled and transformed. Not only was I transforming objects as an artist, but my own existence was in a continual state of upcycling. This realization came after engaging in long term therapy to better understand and transcend my broken childhood and family life. As I worked with my therapist, I began to love and respect my internal imagery, the metaphoric dreamscapes, and the awe-inspiring process of personal alchemy as much as I loved creating complex and beautiful images, art, and design in my outer waking world. I realized I could work on my inner self much in the same way I worked on my outside art. I noticed that images were a deep and transformative language, representing both internal and external states. I recognized that life itself was a creative project, and we were all capable of transforming our ‘broken’ selves into something new and amazing with the right tools and perspective.



This obvious connection between outer creativity and inner well-being inspired me to go back to university to complete my BFA and then to study psychology, and later pursue graduate level work in Art Therapy. Combining creativity with healing was a magical fit. After becoming an Art Therapist, I co-created The West Side Art Therapy Centre, and set up a private practice helping a range of people of all ages and circumstances use art and imagery as a transformative and healing modality. I also created a creative-counseling program for high-risk teens at an alternate high school for nine consecutive years, as well as initiating many other creative healing projects in the community over my twenty years of creative and therapeutic service. 

These days I work as a creative-life-coach and call myself, ‘The Mobile Muse.’ This new identity allows me to offer inspiration and guidance to a range of clients in a mobile way (in person, on the phone, on line). It’s inspiring to recognize that I am still essentially being an artist, and my clients are works of art, and together we are upcycling their lives. Through insightful conversation, visualization, hands-on art making, writing, role playing (and any other creative inspiration that arises) I help people to see the untapped beauty in their chips and cracks and together we transform their old flaws and failings into new strengths and opportunities. Just like my repurposed sculptures, I rarely aim to just ‘touch-up’ people’s lives, or simply smooth out their imperfections, I want to help people truly transform to an entirely new level. And most people can and do. After accessing their latent talents and visualizing their new selves, many of my clients are leading more creative and joyful lives than ever before. It’s a great feeling leading them toward dynamic new possibilities, identities, and experiences... because ultimately we are all works of art -myself included- and there is nothing quite as creative as continually transforming and repurposing my own life and helping others to do the same. 



Barbara Bernath has been in private practice since 1995 and continues to provide her services as a creative-life-coach, professional art therapist, and workshop leader to an interesting variety of public and private organizations. Her work has been featured in The Globe and Mail, The Province, The American Journal of Art Therapy, on CBC, and on CTV News, among other media. She has also written various educational articles on creativity and wellness, which have been published locally and internationally, both in print and on the worldwide web. She is forever working on her first book.

Barbara has eight years of post-secondary education and is a graduate of The Vancouver Art Therapy Institute and The Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design .In addition to her formal education and professional history, Barbara has spent over thirty years developing her own talents as an artist, designer, and musician. Therefore, she brings an unusual combination of talent, education, and compassion to the creative work she practices with others. Please visit Barbara at: or look for The Mobile Muse page on facebook