I can’t say for sure when my relationship with art began; only that I have had a pencil in my hand since I was old enough to wield it. As a child, I would doodle everywhere – paper, shoes, my walls, notebooks – anywhere that was a blank space always begged to be filled up with ink or paint or lead. Luckily, my parents decided to pick their battles and never stifled my… er… creativity. I loved how art calmed me and distracted me and focused me. I loved that there were no rules. I loved how all of my art teachers always seemed so laid back and positive and relatable.

A letter I wrote circa 1999.
(A letter from Haley H West circa 1999)

I kind of regret it now, but I was told by many adults that art was not a degree I could do anything with, and if I wanted to pay my own bills and, you know, not starve, I needed to search elsewhere for a career field. I like to eat, so I took their advice. Eventually, I decided to take the plunge into my other passion – mental health – and just do art on the side. I got an awesome job in Virginia as an artist for a company called Paint Nite – one of those paint and sip companies that walks people step-by-step through a painting as they drink wine. It was pretty perfect.

As I continued with my graduate degree in Counseling, I learned about the connection between mental health and art – how art relieves anxiety and can help heal trauma and can be used when words cannot. I fell even more deeply in love with art. I saw first-hand how mandalas would calm children and how teenagers opened up as they created collages. I learned that art was much more about the process than the product.

After moving back to my hometown, while I was still finishing my degree, I opened up my own paint and sip business. It was originally supposed to just be a one-time event, but it garnered a lot of interest, so I did another. And another. And thought, “hmm, this is actually something I can do.” I LOVE to see how people who thought that they had the talent of a 4-year-old end up saying “I did that??” I love to see tight-lipped, stressed-out women loosen up and unwind, even for just a couple of hours. And I LOVE to restore a little bit of hope into our beat-up old town.

Art has the ability to activate areas of our brain that go neglected too often. It teaches us to enjoy the brush strokes instead of stressing about the final product. It helps us feel like a kid again, which is something that us white-knuckle, type-A adults need more of. Art, if only for a moment, helps to set us free.

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  1. Lynn Wesley November 21, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    I am so thankful that you opened BS&BF because it has helped me confront my perfectionistic tendencies. Two years ago, we did a painting with trees and the one in front looked like a giant Christmas tree. I was so hard on myself during that paint night, and I still struggle when I look at it, thinking, “I wish I’d done this,” or “I wish this looked better.” But last night during Funky Turkey, I just allowed myself to enjoy the process and enjoy watching others enjoy the process. Thank you for sharing your gift!

    1. Haley Hardin West - Site Author November 25, 2018 at 8:56 pm

      It is so hard! It has taught me to toss aside my perfectionism as well. It’s impossible to be perfect with paint. It forces us to flow. The more we try to control it, the more forced it looks. So glad you were able to enjoy the process!


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