Studio in Cypress County a haven for visual journaling

Visual journaling a big part of healing through art taught by Renee Dowling.

It is often said that in order to partake in art, you need a comfortable place to work and often that involves have the proper tools, good skills and a picturesque setting.

It is also said that in order to bring peace of mind and getting spiritual relief from stress, anxiety or emotional pain, one needs to get away from it all, find somewhere peaceful and quiet to heal. 

In one swoop, Renee Dowling is ablw to address both of these issues on her family farm in Cypress County. 

In a blue building, her Reflections Art Studio and Community Classroom sits nestled slightly northwest of Medicine Hat on Highway 523 aka Holsom Road.

On her website ,, Renee Dowling tells people they can "escape in the country to learn art techniques to express your life stories and life transitions."

Dowling is a teacher of not only the skills, but ultimately, the ability for the people she is working with to believe in themselves.

Whether the students and clients just simply want to learn how to draw or increase their painting abilities, or something more spiritually deep than that, Dowling is a major proponent and expert in the skill of visual journaling.

"The 'growth mindset' is a major trend and mental health is now as important as physical healing," explains Dowling. "Visual journaling is a relatively new thing."

Dowling explains visual journaling is a lot like regular journaling or writing in some form of diary except often times it involves making pictures to help express some sort of feeling or emotion. There is no right or wrong way of visual journaling. Art is generally described as a subjective activity anyone can partake in. 

She says writing words is the most simple method of drawing; it is just a matter of having confidence to draw pictures, portraits, landscapes or even abstract design, does visual journaling become that much more of an individual expression. 

"I really love meeting new people of all ages," says Dowling who relates to anyone who needs to relieve stress and are looking for ways to overcome anxiety or finding a different cathartic release. "I use my background as a teacher (27 years) to communicate with the kids." 

She say the push of the #MeToo movement, Let's Talk mental health initiatives and just the general understanding of people knowing the importance of a clear and healthy mind is helping her desire to assist those who need to learn how to help themselves heal. 

She says about ten years ago, Dowling was dealing with the sorrow of having her son move to Edmonton for his post secondary education. She was having a rough time at work and she found expressing her emotions through creative art was therapeutic. Soon, she would have friends come out and join her and they would do art together. This developed into art lessons, almost fun therapy and the the idea of a studio grew and came to fruition just fairly recently. 

At first, Dowling was looking at a heritage building with family ties to it within Medicine Hat to this therapeutic creative instruction. However, after discussion with her husband, they decided to build a studio on the farm, in an out of the way location for serenity and a picturesque landscape setting complete with some farm animals including a beloved horse. 

Dowling gets a lot out of the people she meets and is pleased with being able to help people. Her ability to teach, the skill level she has with fine arts and the ability to combine both and know how to reach students and clients serves her well as she able to adapt to any personality. 

She said recently, there was a lone teenage girl who was out with a group of people.

"She seemed distracted, not in a good mood, sad maybe a bit angry," Dowling explains. Dowling said she worked with the girl and using her educational experience was able to teach her some drawing techniques and helped her to express herself better, who in turn could use it as a way to relieve anxiety and helped her relax.

It worked. During the first night, the teenager was using words that were tough and negative and the second night it was about hope and love. 

"On the second night, she said 'I finally found my second happy place in the world," recalls Dowling who added that is why teaching and especially art and visually journaling can be so powerful.

While there is a lot of catharsis involved for some clients/students, they have a lot of fun as many secondary school classes of all grades come out to visit the studio and they get a different field trip or special occasions. Whether on a professional development day or a nearby school comes out and she tailors the field trip experience to what the teachers want. Educational, but always enjoyable.

Her artistic prowess comes naturally as she says that her mom and grandmother were artistic in their own creative ways. She says her grandma especially would do projects like make Valentines and expose her to different projects. With her family she used to cut out pictures from old magazines and paste them onto pages. 

She also had some positive influences while in school and in junior high when one of her artistic teachers would encourage her.  Later on, she was influenced by well known local painter Gina LaCoste who has also helped her with Dowling’s blogging and Inspire Cafe´owner Maureen Newton. 

Dowling said she took a leave of absence from teaching. Because she was a Medicine Hat College alumni, she received some free support in regards to her entrepreneurial pursuits. She took a "business boot camp" class featuring instructor Deborah Peters. She went to some networking events and one in particular helped as there were many business owners wanting to connect with Dowling. 

Dowling is grateful for all the support the Medicine Hat College has provided and she has taken part in Pub Pitches, Dragon's Den style competitions for those students looking to win some grant money to assist them with their ventures. 

She is also working on partnering with nearby farms and rural businesses and they want to make the whole area an experience with farm tours, a pottery shop and u-pick farm amongst some of the possibilities. 

She also working with some private businesses on some contract work and has watched that side of her passion for art grow. 

The possibilities are growing for her business wise, but she stays grounded because she knows the importance of mental health and inner peace. 

Personal growth is a life-long experience and she knows visual journaling is one way to self realization or at in its simplest form... some fun.

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