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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Badrock

Understanding the Symbolism in your Art

Even the most sterile, uncreative mind has drawn an image at one time or another. There is something so natural about the drawing process that it appeals to all people, whether or not they consider themselves artistic. In fact, unlike other art therapy mediums, drawing is usually the first form of art therapy that clients engage in.

Drawings can reveal our feelings, thoughts, influences and interests. By drawing we bring forth elements within ourselves, place it on paper, and then look at our artistic creation from an objective perspective. This is a highly therapeutic process, and can be both an enjoyable and emotional experience.

To be able to analyse a drawing we need to understand how the drawing is structured. This complements symbolic imagery, line analysis, and colour analysis. This structure usually includes the following fundamentals – where the image is located on a page, application pressure, image detailing, and the size of the image.


Images located predominantly at the top of the page indicate fantasy and unattained wishes. These are usually unreasonable or unattainable in nature. This may indicate a client that is withdrawn or avoids others, or one that is too idealistic.

Images located predominantly at the bottom of the page indicate an insecure, needy or dependent client. It reflects a need for grounding and stability, as well as a desire to have their basic needs met e.g. shelter, food, and sex.

Images located predominately in the middle of the page indicate a range of normality. Such a client can balance their idealism and fantasy with a grounding nature and approach. APPLICATION PRESSURE

Heavy pressure on drawing lines indicates heavy emotions, including aggression, anger, or trauma.

Light pressure on drawing lines indicates timid-ness or fear. It may also reflect a non-committed approach from the client, or uncertainty in the artistic process DRAWING DETAILING

Shading an image indicates anxiety or frustration. If the shading is over a specific part of an image, then this may indicate conflict. For example, shading over the genital region of an image may indicate sexual trauma, repression or conflict.

Lots of image detailing indicates a need to be in control i.e. to have things the way we want. It also suggests a perfectionist personality.

Constant erasures and corrections indicate stress and anxiety in the client. This may also be the result of unfamiliarity with the art therapy process.


Large figures or drawings (in comparison to the size of paper used) indicate lack of perspective or control from the client. It may also indicate the client’s attitude towards something – the bigger it is, the more dominant it is in their life.

Small figures or drawings (in comparison to the size of paper used) indicate insecurity, low self-esteem and possible depression. It may also indicate the client’s attitude towards something – the smaller it is, the more insignificant it is in their life..

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