Throughout much of her professional career, a Denver counselor used art to help her patients through their healing process.
It wasn’t until close to her retirement that she discovered painting for herself, and is now using her own art to help others. Connie Zmijewski, who worked as a family therapist in the Denver area for approximately 10 years, had an interest in art but she never pursued painting until she took a painting class with some friends.
“I would use art when working with kids,” Zmijewski said. “They would draw and I enjoyed talking to them about their artwork as it related to their life. I found that they can express themselves more easily when they meet someone as a counselor by asking them to draw something that makes them happy or a picture of their family system. You can learn a lot about them as they explain what the picture is about.”
It was with children that Zmijewski had a lot of success using art as a form of communication, but it also worked sometimes with teenagers and adults.
“A lot of times you’ll pick up where there’s problem areas in their lives such as a picture that doesn’t show a parent or a parent that’s died,” she said. “I want to talk to them about what that person was in their life. I also did memory books with children who had traumatic losses where they create out of magazines pictures that relate to their family. When they become adults they don’t always remember, and the book helps them to keep in touch.”
While working with substance abuse patients in a treatment center for females several years ago, Zmijewski used jewelry-making in conjunction with group therapy.
“Like old women who quilt together, it lets you easily talk about things when your hands are occupied doing something creative,” she said. “The women would be so excited when I walked in the door because I’d bring my beads and they’d have an hour of therapy creating things.”
Today, while she calls her painting a “hobby,” she’s still helping others by donating her paintings to help fundraisers as well as painting images of deceased pets.
“You can get photos of your dog but there’s something about a painting that people feel attached to; I can’t explain it,” Zmijewski said. “There’s something in it that makes them excited. When I paint people’s animals, I try to capture their personality.”
While she uses other mediums, Zmijewski prefers watercolors because the water makes it run, allowing much more freedom of expression. She uses a lot of bright colors in her own paintings, and her work is whimsical and almost childlike, which makes people smile or laugh. She offers classes in watercolor and often paints at events, including the recent fundraiser held by Ross Bulla to raise money for the Lincoln County Child Advocacy Center.
“I like painting at events because it gets people interested in trying it themselves,” Zmijewski said. “I think it’s a wonderful hobby, and you can paint things that you can keep forever or pass on to family members or loved ones. Artwork can be used for many reasons and is very therapeutic.”
While Zmijewski was taking a watercolor class recently, the teacher mentioned that when children are 5 or 6 and you ask them if they’re artists, almost all of them will raise their hand, but if you ask adults the same thing, no one will raise his or her hand.
“There’s a problem in how we look at ourselves creatively because we’re told we’re not good enough or whatever,” she said. “Having art in your life can help you relieve some of your anxiety and get in touch with some of your feelings. There’s so many types of art that people can use to ease tension and make something beautiful. I love that so many people have become involved in just casually painting. They’re learning that they don’t have to be perfect to enjoy it.”
Zmijewski can be reached at 704-661-0408.