Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

Expressive Art Facilitator and Counselor Shelley Klammer

By Molly Anderson | Posted 7/8/11 | Updated 11/15/23

Shelley KlammerShelley Klammer is a Registered Professional Counselor and an Expressive Art Facilitator. She offers an array of online expressive art courses that explore the melding of art, psychology and spirituality at

Q: What started you on the path to expressive art?

A: I was a gallery artist in my twenties and felt very unsatisfied at the level of depth at which I was creating. My paintings were very composed and well thought out. My life felt shallow at the time and I felt like I was trying to live out an ideal idea of who I should be. I felt some deep inner rumblings that there was more to me than I thought and I began to paint and draw spontaneously. Even though my drawings and paintings were no longer gallery material, I started to feel better. It was an intriguing process to feel so lost to myself and then to have this whole cast of inner sub-selves come to the fore to communicate with me through my art and my writing.

Q: Who were your early creative influences and mentors?

A: Twenty years ago, I was first influenced most by Michele Cassou, author of Life, Paint and Passion, a book on spontaneous painting. I was eager to step out of the gallery scene and explore painting as a route to well-being and authentic self-connection. I also began to write every day and was influenced by Natalie Goldberg's books on honest and spontaneous writing. Now my 16-year-old daughter is a writer and she reads Natalie's books.

I fell in love with expressing everything — good, bad, beautiful, and ugly. Since those early influences, I have explored psychology and spirituality in depth, and how it relates to imagery and self-expression — especially through the work of Carl Jung and Robert Johnson. The combination of spirituality, psychology and creativity is compelling for me.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of bringing your work into the public eye?

A: The rawness and the honesty of my personal expression still feels hard sometimes, because I do not know why I am compelled to express some of the things that I do. I feel the urge to express and I try to honor it even if it feels hard. Usually when something repressed comes up to be integrated and accepted, fear arises. To share my humanness feels both loving and humbling and also terrifying. My goal is personal integration, and sharing this process with others is a good and human teaching tool. I show myself as a work in process.

Q: When you're creatively blocked, what are your favorite ways to get un-stuck and feel inspired again?

A: I used to create more to try to get "un-stuck" but now I just relax and create nothing at all, and wait until the urge to create comes back. I used to impose daily creativity practices on myself but found myself writing and drawing the same things over and over again. Usually when I wait and honor the urge to create, something new is ready to come out to be witnessed. I feel inspired when I am relaxed and in deep connection with my core self.

Q: What are some upcoming projects/events you have coming up?

A: I am ready and eager to take a break for the summer. I have just finished three years of training as a counselor — attending classes in the evenings and on weekends, all the while working full time in a therapeutic art studio. All I can imagine doing this summer is being very quiet and still and getting back into my feeling and intuitive body and out of my "learning brain."

I will however be considering what specific counseling practice I want to offer. I have the honor of meeting people from all over the world though my online collage courses and online collage forum, and I will be expanding in the near future to offer emotional and psychological support through Skype, email and phone counseling. Many things come up for people that need to be integrated when they engage the spontaneous art process, such as submerged memories, revelations, confusion, fear, anger, and sadness.

Q: Why did you choose to train as a counselor?

A: I had an art therapist attend one of my collage workshops and I told her I was considering going for formal training in art therapy. She suggested I take the psychology/counseling route- and am I ever glad I did. I eat, live and breathe art therapy. I work full time in the field, and I create spontaneously almost every day — even if it's just a small sketch or a bit of writing. When I went to an intro session for an art therapy program at my local college I felt frustrated. I felt like I should have been teaching the workshop. By training as a counselor, I learned all kinds of wonderful therapies that are expressive in their own right — such as Gestalt and Focusing and Family Systems therapy — that have all expanded my therapeutic perspective immeasurably.

Q: How do you balance professional responsibilities with your personal life?

A: It is very challenging. For the past three years I have not been home much. My partner has also finished her counseling designation and we will be setting up a practice together in the fall. I started my online business as a means of teaching from my home computer because I got tired of running out after working at my job all day to teach classes at night. My intention is to create a home business that involves more connection with my family.

Q: Sounds like you're a busy gal! We'd love to know — what's your favorite way to unwind after a long day at work?

A: When I am too busy, it feels as though all of my pieces are scattered out in the world. Because my life this past while has felt quite "head" and overly structured and practical, I crave pleasure, sensuality, naps, and lots of loose laughter and fun to consolidate me and get me back into one whole piece inside. Getting into my body through dance and exercise, and moving into my heart, engaging and connecting with my loved ones from a place of depth is the best medicine for me.

Q: What is your greatest strength as a creative soul?

A: I think every person's greatest strength is in overcoming their greatest weakness — of finding ways to personally heal and then sharing what they have learned with others. My particular area of strength and purpose is in encouraging women to find their spiritual core and authentic self-worth through creative practices.

Creativity is really just another word for the spiritual, larger part of our nature. We all come out of our human families and our ancestry with a conditioning towards a particular kind of weakness and our soul qualities are indeed the exact opposite of the very weakness that we struggle to overcome. It is quite a beautiful and exact puzzle. In my own life story I have struggled with passivity and self-diminishment as a woman. I have struggled with even wanting to have and express a strong authentic self.

Starting regular creative practices first helped me in my 20's to develop my own strength of will. And as I committed to expressing myself regularly, I learned about my authentic nature in the process. As my self-worth grew, I found that the strength of my heart-centered self-expression in my spiritual core was proportional to the degree of my apathy on the opposite end in my conditioned self. I share this to encourage people who are searching for purpose and meaning and the will to express it. We all struggle with our higher and lower natures but our struggles and suffering have some great spiritual strength as its opposite. This is the unique gift that we give to life and the key to our purpose.

Q: Let's talk about some of the little things that trip you up as you walk your soul's true path…

A: I sometimes forget how much I have developed my intuition and my deeper understandings over the years. I still find myself holding back when I actually do know just the right thing to say to people. My old conditioning kicks in and I worry about offending people with a truth I see. My clients have been teaching me recently that that they are stronger than that and they want the truth. I have come to understand that each moment we live is inviting a truth that needs to be seen and expressed. We can either ignore it or express it. I always need to remember to ask myself, "What is the truth of this moment?" and "Is there anything I need to honestly express in this moment?" To do this without fear of consequences is a great service to life.

Q: What are your best strategies for balancing your creative time with other responsibilities (both professional and personal)?

A: Professionally I have eliminated all of the excess creative work I used to do and I now only do what feels absolutely essential. When I was trying to find myself I was expressing myself all over the place. I maintained several daily creative practices and I worked full-time. I wrote to people from all over the world and helped them understand their collages during my spare time. This took a toll on my family.

Now I am more focused on taking time for love, relaxation and relationships rather than the inner need for such a wide range of creative expression. My focus is naturally moving towards reaching out and sharing what I now understand. I am also valuing what I have worked so hard to understand and embody in my professional life. I am valuing my time and charging for my services and this contributes to my family's income.

On a personal level I am much more incisive with my creativity. I can go very deeply and quickly into my own creative work now. My intuitive drawings have become their own living language. If something is bothering me I can let my pen roam. I can work out a psychological or emotional blockage quickly and intuitively.

Q: You recently shifted the focus of your career. Can you talk about the reasons behind your decision to take a new direction?

A: Understanding what I uniquely give to life has been an organic process of expressing the truth of myself and receiving feedback from clients, and then deepening my understanding of the creative and emotional needs of women in our culture. I work with women who want to express themselves creatively and who want to understand themselves on a deeper level through creativity.

Through my work with women over the years, I have seen that we are all looking for something larger to help us move out of our limited patterning. I see that women are looking for some greater purpose and meaning to live into. What I have discovered in looking at other women's collages, writings and drawings, is that they were spontaneously and perfectly expressing what they were searching for. We all have our visions and purposes encoded within us.

Expressive art is spontaneous art and it reveals things that our conscious minds do not want to see. Our everyday conditioned minds actually want to keep us in our "smallness." The women I work with are struggling with some particular "weakness" even as they are often highly functioning or have been very productive in their lives. Many of the women I work with are struggling with illness, burnout, depression or a lack of energy or motivation to live into their visions and dreams.

The shift in my work has been to focus on what is revealed about their purpose or larger vision through their art, writings and drawings rather than in trying to delve into and focus on the wounds of the past. So the focus has shifted, yes. Even though I registered as a counselor this past year my focus has moved more towards a forward movement — much like a coach. I still visit the past with my clients with the compassion of a therapist but more to understand how the past is blocking the forward movement.

Q: How did you accomplish this crucial transition — or is it still a "work in progress"? Just curious where you're at with this process…

A: This is more of a work in progress in that I am transitioning out of full-time work into part-time work and gradually into the coaching. I have been very fortunate to work full-time in what I consider is one of the largest and most beautiful art studios in Canada. I facilitate art projects and classes for seniors with dementia. I have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about creativity and aging in the past 5 years.

One thing I have been able to fit around my full time working schedule is what I call "E-mail Coaching as a Creative Process." It is something I have been doing for years. I have found that many creative people love to write, in that writing often allows a deeper reflective process than speaking. Communicating with my clients in this way allows me to sense into their collages, art and writings deeply throughout the week. I get back to them on the weekend and we reflect on the deeper meanings, purposes and directions that are cropping up in their life and their artwork.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge in transitioning to this exciting new phase in your career, and how have you worked at overcoming these obstacles?

A: Time, prioritizing, financial constraints — the same things most people struggle with. How I have worked at overcoming these obstacles is to get really clear on what is meaningful for me and to trust that if I am not doing "everything" in a day my life will still progress as it is meant to. I can easily say that I have "over-created" in my life. I went from total apathy in my life to becoming a "create–aholic" for many, many years. My creative process has now become much slower and deeper and more in balance with the whole of my life. I trust that birthing new creative forms takes time and I do not push myself so hard anymore.

Q: Who supports you in your creative dreams?

A: My partner Ondrea — a brilliant counselor and a born creator, who has encouraged and supported me through my counseling training, and who deeply understands and inspires my creative work in the world.

Q: How do you function as your own creative support system, and replenish your heart-well of inspiration?

A: In my nine-to-five job I am surrounded by art every day and this is a built-in creative support system and source of inspiration for me. Each day, I go to a colorful, large, fully equipped art studio and see first-hand how original each human being is, and the power of the human spirit to create despite age and disability. I work with a team of artists and art therapists who speak my language and I always have to remind myself not to take this for granted. As for "replenishing the heart-well of inspiration" — beautifully put Molly — my source of replenishment is the moment to moment choice to be centered in the core of myself. Being poised, present, very alert and wholeheartedly engaged with my life seems to energize and replenish me.

Q: I'm interested in your vision for the future, as you continue to walk this path. Any final thoughts or messages for us?

A: Thank you, Molly, for your kind connection and good questions during my career transition this past year. My vision for my future is to do more writing. I love to write and to translate spiritual and creative knowledge into something people can readily understand. Years ago I started to wake up very early before work to write. I have found that my greatest creative inspiration and joy is to write in the early morning hours.

My final thoughts to anyone reading this interview would be that of encouragement to carry on creatively. It is not always easy to be a creative person in this world because creating means thinking new thoughts and implementing new forms and social structures that are not commonplace yet.

I have met many creative people in the past few years who have expressed disappointment that the world at large does not really understand or support what they do. I have also experienced this world-weariness inside of myself. One day I got the inner message, "Do it anyway." I suddenly understood that the world needs visionary, creative people and we enrich our culture with a beauty of spirit that people cannot often put into words, but it makes them feel uplifted, happy and hopeful.

I know this from being an artist in healthcare. Many people say that art and creativity is frivolous and not practical and yet they are drawn to the colors, to seeing people be creative and to the warmth and healing that creativity brings into life. Do what you love creatively and share it with others. Even if the culture doesn't understand or support you yet, being yourself is part of the larger life process of bringing the creative spirit into everyday life. The world needs your authentic creative expression. •

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