What do you do when the kids are on your nerves, your job has you down, and your spouse is deployed or otherwise unavailable? Instead of reaching for that box of cookies or your favorite distractor, why not create something?
This is exactly the recommendation of Virginia artist Mary Gallagher (MG to her friends) Stout. A military daughter, spouse and philosophy major who never saw herself as an artist, MG found her calling when a bout with post-partum depression propelled her to the healing properties of expressing herself through painting.
“I started painting everything, including the walls of my home,” MG said. “I not only found something I felt good about, but was equally surprised other people did too.”
Quickly bombarded with requests to create for others, MG does a tremendous amount of pet, as well as figurative portraits conveying authentic emotions. See more of her work here.
“Everyone has artistic leanings and can express their emotions through art,” MG said. So she created ways to let people participate in the experience of creating art.
“I give people tools like paint, crayons, charcoal and ask them to express their feelings or thoughts on a canvas,” MG continued. “I found that by doing this, they can mark a special event, or difficult or happy time and be part of the creation process.”
After putting their expressions on canvas, MG uses their work as a basis for painting their portrait, or other images, over it. She said allowing others to play a part in the creative process produces an emotionally satisfying experience hard to describe.
Because of her connection with the military, MG has also focused her art on military lifestyle, as well as difficulties vets face when they return from combat tours and try to re-enter civilian life. She experienced time alone when her husband was deployed to Afghanistan, so she also works with military spouses to help them sort through the feelings they have when spouses deploy or go through the myriad of experiences and issues related to military life.
“I felt a little awkward putting some of my feelings on canvas at first,” Bethany Stalder Lorino said when she worked with MG to create a “deployment” painting marking a time when her husband was away. “But I got into it with a little encouragement from MG and the results will be something we will have on our walls as a meaningful reminder throughout our life.”
“It was a once in a lifetime experience to be captured in such a unique way for something so near to our hearts,” Suzanne Conner said about working with her husband, Jason, on a painting. “We are a proud military family and now grateful to be able to be part of an art collection. It’s simply an amazing experience.”
MG knows the feelings are complex. “For the ‘non-painters’ I work with, creating a piece of art on canvas at the time they are having complex feelings provides a release,” she said. “It also creates a memory that allows them to see how resilient they are and capable of growing through their experiences.”
MG’s goal is to use her gift of expression to allow people to express their feelings in a work of art. She also recommends anyone get a pad of paper and some oils or watercolors and just give it a try.
“Unlike life, you can’t make a mistake,” she says. “Just paint over it until it’s exactly what you want.”
Susan Stalder is a solo PR practitioner, writer and military spouse.