Local art is featured at First Friday Artwalk, draws on art therapy background | SteamboatToday.com

Local art is featured at First Friday Artwalk, draws on art therapy background

This piece by Rachel Hirning is titled "Settle In." Hirning's work can be found at the Center for Visual Arts this weekend along with a variety of other artists for the monthly First Friday Artwalk which takes place at various galleries and businesses along Lincoln Ave. from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday evening.

— When local artist Rachel Hirning stands at her easel, paintbrush in hand, she knows the canvas holds no judgment.

There are no boundaries, insecurities or inhibitions to her creativity.

One stroke at a time, she makes those small, incremental brush strokes based on instinct; it's a process through which she has found not only a career, but also a method to unleashing creativity in others.

It all started with an art therapy workshop she took 15 years ago.

"The process arts workshop taught a technique that was not necessarily to make a painting look pretty, but to follow your own internal urges or instincts," said Hirning, who move to Steamboat Springs in 2007. "And out of that, I completely fell in love with the process of art making."

Art therapy, Hirning said, was a stepping stone for her career as an artist, and today, her paintings of simplistic spontaneity will be on display from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Center for the Visual Arts gallery as part of this month's First Friday Artwalk.

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"Art is a freedom you can't get anywhere else in the world," Hirning said. "And the canvas can hold anything you ask it to without any judgment. It's liberating and empowering."

Hoping to produce more of an experience than a narrative with her work, Hirning said the art therapy background gave her the ability to remain present in the moment when working on a piece and to welcome spontaneity.

"When I'm stuck in a painting, I revert back to what I tell clients, which is to ask the painting what wants to be there … I take myself out of the equation," Hirning said. "Sometimes, just sitting and pondering a painting is similar to when you have to sit with an issue that's happening in your daily life."

In 2005, Hirning graduated from Naropa University with dual master's degrees in transpersonal counseling and art therapy. She has spent nearly a decade working with individuals of all ages in a variety of settings, including the Aurora Mental Health's Early Childhood Program, Catholic Charities of Denver and Steamboat's Advocates Building Peaceful Communities. Since 2010, she has continued private practice work, leading process arts classes for both Yampa Valley High School and Soroco High School.

The process of art therapy, Hirning said, runs the spectrum — from the healing qualities of art-making to diagnostic classifications of people's work.

Hirning said her client work often involves metaphors used within a structured activity, such as an "In/Out Box" artistic exercise. During this activity, she asks clients to use collage materials to create images inside a box expressing how he or she feels and then create images of the feelings he or she shows the world.

If a client has trouble expressing emotions, she will offer an expressive media like watercolor to loosen his or her habit of control.

"To see someone open up and unfold meaning within their own piece just confirms the work that I do and makes it all worthwhile," Hirning said. "It's something that occurred for them that they will get to take with them for the rest of their lives."

Hirning said she hopes to continue painting and looks forward to seeing where it will take her. In January, she plans to have her website up and running with pieces of her work listed, along with information about her background and art therapy practices.

"Art, to me, is life," she said. "I know it sounds so cheesy, but it's being a participant fully in your life. And art offers that color, vibrancy and a real sense of presence that is life."

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@ExploreSteamboat.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1

If You Go…

What: First Friday Artwalk

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6

Where: Circle Seven Fine Art, 837 Lincoln Ave.

Other galleries and businesses along Lincoln Ave. will feature a variety of artwork see the Explore Steamboat First Friday Artwalk Listing here