• Sufia Alam

Color palettes to match emotions

Updated: Aug 3, 2019

A painter's take on how art can help against mental illness

Becky Delgado, Birmingham artist

Becky Delgado was made to do more on this earth than paint pretty pictures. But for her, pretty pictures are her entrance to acceptance, love and understanding.

If you observe any of Delgado’s art pieces, you’ll observe a realm of psychedelic colors, with hues of green, yellow, blue and subtle hints of red and brown.

“If I’m showing emotions [through colors] then I need to go all out,” Delgado says.

Delgado approaches her art in a very specific manner. First, she thinks about the colors. These colors eventually translate to play a big role for all other aspects of her paintings. Next, she selects a mood: happy, sad, funny, chaotic? Then, she chooses the environment. Are they outside, in a room, is it sunny? Windy? Whatever her landscape, she knows that it will be connected to nature.

Delgado takes time to get to know each subject she paints personally.

Then, one of the most important steps, she picks her focus. However, merely picking the perfect subject isn’t enough.

“I view it almost as my job to tell the truth of my subjects,” Delgado says. “Yes it’s important that I get across what I want, but also how they are feeling. That’s why it’s really important to get to know them. I have to spend time with them. Find out what they like, what they don’t like.”

Sometimes hours will pass and I’ll still not notice a thing.

Her first technique when she first begins her process, Delgado has named her “energetic phase.”

“This is when it gets physical, I let off steam.”

The second half of the method she calls the “technical phase.”

“This is really when my creative flow kicks in,” Delgado says. “This is the part where I’ll be so into it I won’t notice anything else. Sometimes hours will pass and I’ll still not notice a thing.”

Delgado says she often loses track of time when immersed in painting

With these two techniques and steps combined, Becky paints every single one of her subjects, a process which takes anywhere from 1 month to a year. But the art isn’t only for her subjects she chooses to portray, they’re for her too.

Long before Delgado perfected her technique or even considered herself a professional artist, she knew her paintings were more than just an art form – art was her outlet. Art was her way out.

“Growing up, my dad would tell me I shouldn’t cry… and that’s all I wanted to do,” Delgado says. “I later learned I can have emotions, but don’t let them overtake you.”

With her being of Nicaraguan and Salvadoran descent, Catholic upbringing, and raised in the South, Delgado associates this formula as the reason for an emotionally restricted upbringing.

She believes keeping her emotions, both good and bad, completely restricted, manifested itself as a mental illness – Borderline Personality Disorder.

For Delgado, art has been an important outlet while suffering a mental illness

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you may think or feel about yourself and others, which can cause problems functioning in everyday life. It includes a pattern of unstable intense relationships, distorted self-image, extreme emotions and impulsiveness according to MayoClinic.

Art was my way of coping with reality, and still is.

This is when her psychedelic colors, nature themes, her subjects, all kick in.

While her surroundings from her home environment to her intimate relationships may have been contributing factors to her Borderline Personality Disorder, art manifested itself in a way that slowly helped Delgado deal with her mental illness.

“My sophomore year in college was finally when I had to come to terms that I was going through something and needed to get help. Art was my way of coping with reality, and still is,” she says.

According to Delgado, colors and emotions are related.

Being in touch with your emotions is like being in tune with another person.

Although Delgado always knew she gifted in art, with one of her first memories being a crayon scratch project (the one where you have one layer of different colors on a sheet of paper and then cover that layer with a black crayon to scratch out a design) she didn't discover until high school she could use her gift for other purposes. In her case, a form of helping her to cope with her mental illness.

If you ask Delgado why she chooses psychedelic colors, she’ll merely shrug and say it those are the colors she resonates most with.

However, as she used art as an outlet, few were able to see the adversities she was going through.

“My parents, although were never not supportive, always just kind of saw my paintings and said ‘good job.’,” Delgado says. “Everything was always just surface level with them.”

Although Borderline Personality Disorder may have caused her hardships from her relationships to communication abilities, one important lesson she had learned and always carries with her is that boundaries exist to help you and the ones you love.

“Being in touch with your emotions is like being in tune with another person,” Delgado says. “When in you’re in tune with yourself you can think about how they feel and vice versa. The energy, how they’re looking, how their mouth is going up and down, makes you an intuitive person. Boundaries helped me understand I need to protect myself and that boundaries are there to help you.”

Delgado said understanding boundaries has helped her shape a better connection to relationships

When Delgado was in high school and had not fully confronted her illness, her relationships suffered.

After realizing things needed to change when her boyfriend ended their relationship after what she admits herself had become unhealthy, she decided to go to therapy to confront her barriers.

Now, Delgado’s motto for every relationship, be it surface level or intimate, is being cognizant of boundaries. With boundaries, Delgado says she is slowly learning how to not let her surroundings always affect her internal feelings.

“This is really important to me because I know I can be very passionate with people, but I’m learning to give only as much as the other person is willing to give back,” she says.

Although complex, perhaps this is why with every subject Delgado paints she first needs to absorb them. It’s her only medium where she does not need to pay attention to boundaries. Her intensity makes her vulnerable to both the audience and herself.

With such an adherence to boundaries, Delgado now resides with different versions of herself. For example, there are two Beckys. One Becky for the world and one inner Becky.

Inner Becky is “bright, loving, always smiling, filled with love,” and most importantly, she is a “nurturer.”

Delgado says she wants to help people who suffer from loneliness

I can use my ability to help others realize that they never have to truly be alone

However, although inner Becky loves everyone, she’s very protective who gets to see her.

“She’s so precious, and that’s why I have to be careful,” Delgado mentions. “Nothing should be able to hurt my inner self because she’s beautiful and I’ve let people in so many times, and I’ve gotten hurt. I’m just trying to save myself that hurt.”

Yet, even after all the pain and the hurt, Delgado says the different sides of her and her art has led her to make one decision about her future – she is here to help others.

“I know what’s it’s like being alone, and it’s such a horrible feeling,” Delgado says. “I can use my ability to help others realize that they never have to truly be alone.”

With her mission to help others, all she can say for now is she’s meant to do more on this earth than just paint pretty pictures.

She has bigger plans. Like being a counselor.

“I really think with the internet being a thing there is so much potential for all of us to connect and help each other,” she relays with an excited smile. “There’s so many possibilities and I know once I start I’ll be at my best.”

With her art, she’ll continue to capture and share her truth and her subject’s truth with the world.

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