Art Therapy Interview with Rachael Nicholson

This article is part of My Several Worlds Art Therapy for Chronic Illness Interview series with artists from around the world who suffer from chronic illness.

Please make sure you stop by Rachael’s Red Bubble shop to see her art products. She has beautiful masks, colorful journals, clocks, mugs, and more. 

MSW: Can you tell us a little about yourself? When did you first become interested in art?

RH: Hello! My name is Rachael and I am an artist, writer and chronic illness warrior. Please feel free to check out my website and/or Instagram

I have always been totally obsessed with art, especially the use of colour and pattern. It seems stupid now, but I wanted ALL the Crayola sets growing up. It was my gig! As a child I would sit for hours drawing, painting and anything else creative. It was like a gateway into a different world. When I look back I was so lucky to have had supportive family members who recognised this budding artist and encouraged me all the way

MSW: Could you tell us a little about the projects you’re working on at the moment?

RH: I am scrambling to fit as much creative activity into my life outside of my day job. It can be difficult because I get so damn tired as a result of my Fibromyalgia. But I think to myself, even a little today is better than nothing at all. I’m currently saving up for a decent scanner, because all of my work is hand done (the good ol’ fashioned way!)

I can’t wait for that so I can start to transfer my designs onto notebooks, stationary and the like. In the mean time I am slowly working on different surface designs building up a portfolio for when the time comes.Art Therapy for Chronic Illness

MSW: How do you use your art to help with chronic illness?I have come to realise over the last year or so that having a creative outlet is essential to my well being.

RH: My partner really helped me with this. It’s quite embarrassing really, but one day he came home from work and I was just crying and being a total victim, I was in so much pain and I couldn’t think properly because of this awful fatigue.

He said, “When you next feel like this, please try drawing.” I had put all my creativity aside for a few years because I was so worn down and just trying to make it day to day. But the next time I felt pathetic, useless and in pain I picked up my pens again and started to create. I was still in pain, and still cried!

But I didn’t feel quite as useless. I firmly believe that if you are a creative soul, you need to let it flow out of you and into a project. When my pain levels are bad, I will add little bits to my designs, even if that means doing it from my bed and having rest periods in between. It keeps me focused and helps to develop mental toughness…which chronic illness warriors need in spades.

Art Therapy for Chronic Illness

MSW: Do you ever create art that describes your pain or your emotional or physical state of being? Would you mind sharing some images with us?

RH: I try to use my art as an escape. I want to create things that look beautiful. I guess that is quite vacuous at surface value. If I am going to vent about how badly I feel, I tend to write it down, because then I have the opportunity to get my head straight and get rid of the writing afterwards if I choose to.

I hope people look at my work and get lost in it and escape from the pain of life in the same way I do. I like the idea of creating meditative art that provides an opportunity for people to experience some respite from the craziness of modern day life.

MSW: How do you think art could be used for treatment in chronic illness? What benefits could art have to a patient/ Do you think art could help health practitioners understand their patients better?

RH: This is an interesting one, because everyone is so unique. Art could definitely help a lot of chronic illness warriors communicate with health practitioners, but personally I would rather communicate my pain in relation to having a chronic illness through writing, just because of the nature of my art work.

But as a general rule, even something as simple as questioning specific colour choices could provide an insight into how a patient is feeling to those with a trained eye.

Automatic drawing could be a useful tool to help a patient access subconscious thoughts and feelings.I do think art could be promoted effectively as a mindfulness activity for those who wish to try it.

MSW: How have your experiences chronic illness affected you on a personal level?

RH: It has been a total rollercoaster as I’m sure a lot of other warriors can relate to. But (and it’s a big but) I am SO much more patient as a result of my experiences with chronic illness and on my better days I just feel so grateful, because when you know how it feels to be stranded in your bed, the little things in life just seem so much better.

I’m not saying this Fibromyalgia gig is a bunch of roses or anything close to that, it is a vicious thing for lack of a better word. But I think over all, it has made me a kinder person and I know a lot of people who have had the same revelation due to being chronically ill.

MSW: What kind of art supplies do you need on hand all the time?

RH: GEL PENS – I’ll have one in every colour! Gosh I just love them. I even invested in those old school ones that change colour as you use them. That was a blast from the past. It reminded me of decorating the front cover of my school notebook “Ginger Spice rules 4 lyf!”

I love marbling inks too, I make my own using print making inks and turpentine. The colours are so rich. I’m also obsessed with metallic, paints, pens and the like – especially gold!

MSW: What is your favorite art medium? Which colors do you like to work with the most?

RH: I tend to start a piece by creating a marbled background and then slowly layer up from there using gel pens, sharpies, pro markers, paints and anything else I can get my hands on. As previously mentioned I love metallic colours like gold and bronze. I also love pinks, blues and purples.

MSW: What kind of tips would you offer to readers who are interested in starting art as a therapy treatment to chronic illness?

RH: Start. That is my biggest tip! It is so easy to prioritise other things over creative expression when you have a limited amount of energy in a day, but it will help you to start to understand yourself a little better, and provide you with some mental clarity and space. Start small. Whatever you do, it’s just important to start!

MSW: Do you have a favorite piece of artwork that you are exceptionally proud of?

RH: I made a book when I was studying my degree that I am still proud of to this day. The inspiration for the book was sparked by Timothy Leary quotes some of which I have scribed into the designs. I really got into the idea of visualising consciousness during this project.

Art Therapy for Chronic Illness

In the end I had created all these different sized pieces of patterned work that I somehow had to manifest into a book…I created pockets against a white background, so the book became interactive. You can pull the various bits of consciousness out of the book, some of which unfold and expand into larger pieces. I still love the concept to this day.

I think it’s because I finally had a creative epiphany. I didn’t have to make a book like everyone else that communicated a clear narrative, I could do it my own way and allow others the opportunity to come to their own conclusions.

Thank you so much, Rachael. You have no idea how calming and centering it was for me to read through your answers and admire your art. Thank you for sharing with us!

Please make sure you stop by Rachael’s Red Bubble shop to see her art products. She has beautiful masks, colorful journals, clocks, mugs, and more. 

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Taiwan since 2006. I'm a bit of a jack of all trades! I love art, gardening, flower arranging, reading (that's an understatement if you've seen my GoodReads profile), and snuggling with my cats. Animal videos make me cry. I hate cooking. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my garden bloom! Learning about new cultures and exploring the world has been my thing since I started traveling at age 19. A self-professed autodidact, I can speak comfortably on many different subjects and hold a special place in my heart for science, technology, law, health and medicine, and history. You can find me nerding out at home most of the time due to being chronically ill and housebound. If I'm not engaged in one of the activities listed above, I'm probably building websites. Check my About page under Carrie Kellenberger to learn why I'm taking you on this journey with me through My Several Worlds. I can't wait to get to know you better!


  • Katie Clark

    I love Rachel’s story of how she rediscovered her creativity and learned how it helped her live more FULLY despite Fibromyalgia. Her art is beautiful. I ekieve that creation is something humans have hard wired in us. Also, it can be a way to be mindful which I have found to help with managing chronic pain.

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      She is really amazing and I’m so pleased by her success as an artist. Since this interview, she has really taken off with her artwork. She has her own shop and offers painting and murals, as well as smaller art gifts like cards, bullet journals, recyclable bags, etc. I love her art process as well. If I had a backyard, I’d definitely be going out back to pour and mix paints the way she does during her summer months. She’s very gifted and this artwork is from the beginning of her journey. She has grown immensely with it as every artist does!

    • Carrie Kellenberger

      Thank you! I’m always looking for more artists to feature. Rachael has just sent me some new links because she has some really cool new things out for this season. Looking forward to updating this post and showing off her new work.

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