Robyn Jin is a multidisciplinary artist currently residing on Lekwungen Territory, otherwise known as Victoria, BC. With a keen interest in somatic psychotherapy (based in the scientific research that humans store memories and emotions in the body on a cellular level) her artistic expression depicts her journey with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through postwar abstraction oil on canvas.
After studying Art Therapy, Intercultural Communication, and Modern and Contemporary Art, she began finding great comfort in expressing vulnerability in her creations. She frequently pulls colors and textures from the forests of Vancouver Island for both her creative work and meditation practice.
We got to know Robyn more intimately when she facilitated an art therapy session for the ecologyst team as part of a team bonding day. She's kind, patient, and her writing is just as beautiful as her art. She wrote "How Intimacy with Nature Creates Art" while she was on a month-long trip on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
How Intimacy with Nature Creates Art
By Robyn Jin
Packing my bags for a month in Tofino has almost become muscle memory. I grab my merino wool and sift through my T-shirt drawer for natural materials breathable enough for the humid, ocean climate. I grab my comfiest jeans, my ecologyst wool cardigan and oil paints and load them into my 1982 Plymouth Horizon.
It’s dogwood and lupin season on Vancouver Island, so I take the roads slowly enough to admire all the passing colours. I’m coerced to pull over again and again by tempting compositions, textures, and emotions I see throughout. I can see over seven types of green in just one cedar tree and the movement through the textures feels peaceful and gentle. It’s been two years now since I started selling art and I can’t help but perpetually pull inspiration from the colors and textures of our forests.
On the way up to Tla-o-qui-aht lands I turn on my audiobook about the ancient Japanese practice, Shinrin Yoku (forest bathing). The healing properties of our forests are fascinating. Just standing amongst them can lower stress, improve memory, lift depression, reduce chronic pain, and boost the immune system.
This is my favourite time of year along the Pacific Rim Highway. The air is warmer, and the mountains cherish the remaining, cool glaciers that still hold their brilliant glow. It’s no wonder I subconsciously add nature into every piece I create.
This is ‘intimacy with nature’.
You know that warm, glowy feeling in your chest when you see your crush walk into the room? Not the nervousness, but the connection and joy? Like when you’re standing on the top of a mountain, high above the clouds and feeling a big rush of dopamine. I’ve been practicing cultivating that feeling in the forests. I open my eyes, ears, and heart to the company the forest brings, and the hug of oxytocin it holds me in. This is intimacy with nature.
Studying Somatic Art Therapy and Forest Bathing has brought me more body awareness in every passing moment. Days spent in front of the computer embody tight shoulders, forehead tension, an anxious belly, and tired eyes.
I know it’s time for a dose of nature this trip because I feel out of rhythm, groggy and slow. I’m craving all the addictive indulgences of binge watching TV, eating junk food, and pushing away my underlying emotions with all my might.
Empathy and love light up when exposed to nature.
Sipping on my morning coffee in Tofino, the sun glows onto my ceramic mug as if it was the spotlight telling the spirals of steam to pirouette for the audience. I open a blog post saved on my browser and read how the areas of the brain linked with empathy and love light up when exposed to nature.
Morning coffee is always a time for daydreams, and I always find myself thinking, “How does empathy and love in nature feel—and how can I make others feel that in my art?”
For me, bathing in the atmosphere of the forest is feeling connected. Feeling connected to myself, to others, and to all living things around me in a nourishing and supportive way.
That’s the secret I try to put into my art.
I think a lot of us in this world need moments of relief. Moments where we feel held, safe, comfortable, and loved. And I think a lot of us can honestly say that we’ve found that in nature.
The grandmother qualities of the cedar trees, the sound therapy of the songbirds, and the softness of the forest floor all make me feel the same as I would resting my head in a loved one’s lap.
Everyday I study the light in trees, the movement in the branches, the reds in the roots and soils, and the warmth in the cool breeze. I want to capture how the cedar trees feel like feminine matriarchs through my brushstrokes. I layer many different shapes and colors to evoke intimacy and embrace. I want to help others feel their wounded selves held in each piece. I want others to remember the relief they feel in the forests when they interact with my art.
I’m not sure where I’d be without this practice.
If you’re reading this today and can identify with wanting some relief from this world, I hope you can find company in my words. It’s been a year and a half now since I was first diagnosed with PTSD and I’m still in awe of how the human brain can make us feel so disconnected from ourselves and the world around us.
All I know is that the more time I spend in nature, the more compassion I feel towards myself, my community, and the environment. My passion for being a sustainable artist advocating for slow fashion, sustainable clothing, and Canadian made goods is reignited when I feel intimate with nature. I feel more open to sparking up conversation with a stranger on the side of the street and making that long overdue call to family. I guess you could say my cup feels more full when I have a strong relationship with nature.
I’m starting a landscape minimalism series, and exploring concepts around an animal abstraction series during this Tofino retreat. And I know the more time I spend in Tofino’s beaches and forests, the more empathy and love I’ll feel for myself and my art.
Robyn’s piece, “Never Seen,” is currently on display at the ecologyst Victoria store at 552 Johnson St. It shares the isolation Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) experience when facing systemic barriers in a white hegemonic society, while also showing the support BIPOC can provide to one another while in it. Proceeds from the sale of the painting will feed into further racial and environmental justice work.
Film photos by Graeme Cano.
Digital images by Momme Halbe.