Wild Heart Teacher Spotlight: Kelsey Gustafson

by | Feb 4, 2019 | Articles, Teacher Spotlight | 0 comments

At this point over 80 amazing women have gone through my Wild Heart Expressive Arts Teacher Training Program. I love them ALL so dearly and, like the proud creative mama that I am, want to show off their incredible wisdom, power and creative genius to the world. So I’ve created this series where once a month I will be showcasing them so that you can see what they’re up to and be inspired by their unique creative journeys.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative journey?

I have always been an artist. From the moment I could hold a crayon I was drawing and using all the colors. I was the type of kid who could sit in the corner all day molding miniature fruit bowls out of fimo clay while the other kids played tag. I would have been happy to be in my creative zone making cool stuff for the rest of my life.

But by the time I got to college, I had already learned from my culture that being an artist is not an acceptable life path. “How will you make money?”, they would ask. Being an art major was clearly not a practical or responsible choice, so I became an art minor which I thought was much more discreet. In an attempt to fly under the radar, I made sure that I had plenty of non-art related achievements and successes to hide behind at family meals and graduation.

Luckily, after I graduated college and moved back to the Bay Area, I found the most fabulous secret art oasis for closeted artists like myself- Chris’s Creative Juices Arts studio in Oakland! I stole away for clandestine visits as often as possible and my passion for painting grew and grew. Now, I have been intuitively painting for a decade and it has become necessary soul nourishment and one of the most cherished aspects of my life. I have attended countless painting classes, weekend retreats and complete the Wild Heart Expressive Arts Facilitator training.

This process has supported me to “come out” to my community as an artist. In the last ten years I created a 30 foot goddess painting, had my first public art show that was a wild success and stepped into the leadership role of Expressive Arts Facilitator. I love sharing art as a healing practice and supporting other “secret artists” come out as their wild and wonderful authentic selves.

What initially drew you to the intuitive painting process?

I had a pretty traumatic young adulthood and there was a time in my life when due to the trauma I could not function well. I was overwhelmed with panic attacks and my anxiety was through the roof. I reached for many things to numb the pain and was caught in a cycle of abuse and addiction. I was pretty disconnected from my body and didn’t know what I wanted or needed to be healthy. I certainly didn’t have a practice of making healing choices from the depths of my soul.

At this time of self loathing, when beauty felt like a foreign planet, I discovered Intuitive Painting. It was like an oasis for my aching soul. In the studio I did not have to be good or perfect. What a relief! It was a place where I could come and express the depths of my pain and despair.

The first painting I ever made was a scene of great violence that I had survived. For the first several years I would paint myself chopping off heads (and penises)! I painted rivers of grief and oceans of tears. In my paintings, I could rewrite my own story and access my power in a new way. I could finally escape the impossible situation, I could fight back, I could even kill the people who harmed me. I experimented with turning towards the taboo.

I kept waiting for Chris to kick me out of class. I imagined her saying “That’s too many penises. You have crossed the line, you’ve got to go”. But she ever did! Even when my painting grew bigger and bigger and eventually rolled out the door, it was never “too much”. I painted the most taboo images I could possibly imagine and was held in a space of safety and belonging. Being able to paint my most difficult emotions and memories and still be accepted was a huge part of my trauma healing journey. I began the process out of desperation. I would have tried anything to get relief. But what kept me coming back was the incredible sense of belonging and the chance to express my wholeness each time I came into the studio. All parts of me are accepted in this community and for that I am forever grateful.

How has intuitive painting been a transformative influence in your art and your life?

When I learned how to paint for the process not the product, my entire life began to become art. I became less afraid and more curious. I could dance with my shadow and question my own taboos. I began to see that so much of what limits me is cultural programming. I began to see that I have more agency and power than I ever realized. Painting from your soul is a liberatory and evolutionary process. It is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is entirely worth it.

My life now is more magical and full of meaning. If I could offer you a metaphor for how this practice has changed my life, it would be like Plato’s allegory of the cave. It was as if I had been sitting in a cave my whole life in total darkness. Then, suddenly someone turned on a light and I discovered that the cave was MUCH bigger than I had previously assumed. Every time you paint lights turn on and doors open. At some point, the entire roof rolls back and you can see the night sky. Your windows of perception expand and suddenly you become aware of the multitudes of possibility that exist beyond your domesticated dreams.

This work brings you beyond your limited conditioning into the dreamtime, the collective unconscious, the liminal realm. Since I started painting, my entire life has become a conversation with the great mystery. All of my relationships are more soulful, archetypal and steeped in meaning. I have found my soul purpose and path of service. Creativity has become a way of life, a way of relating to all people and things. Intuition is an ancient, ancestral and very human capacity that can be practiced, honored and honed. Try it and you will be amazed at what you create.

What inspired you to take the Wild Heart Expressive Arts teacher training program?

There comes a point in the painting journey where your soul beckons you deeper. Well, to be honest, there are many points like this… who am I kidding? This is not a path for those who want to stay on the surface, fit into prescribed boxes and maintain a meaningless life. This work offers constant invitations for depth and expansion. On the evolutionary journey as an intuitive artist reclaiming your soul, there is always a next step. And usually, the next step feels a bit scary or unfamiliar and sometimes impossible.

Since the moment I learned about the teacher training program, I had a fantasy about doing it. For a lifelong art fanatic, what could be more irresistible than 4 weeks of deep dive painting in a retreat setting? But like many fantasies, I sat on it for years, thinking it might be too good to be true. Ironically, it was through the intuitive painting process itself that I learned that sometimes things are just good and true. Sometimes there is nothing “too much” about them. I let myself believe that it might be possible for even my most wild and far flung dreams to come true. So in 2014 I finally made the leap and chose to dedicate myself to the art of teaching this beloved craft of painting. It was both a big deal and just another stepping stone on the my path. Now I have more tools to take bigger and bigger risks in my artistry and teaching and for living a brave, engaged and creative life.

Now that you’re out there doing this work tell us about your experience as an intuitive painting teacher and facilitator? What do you absolutely love about teaching? What are some of your biggest challenges?

To be honest, facilitating intuitive painting feels incredibly easy, natural and fun! I almost feel like I am cheating when I get to do it. I keep pinching myself and asking the great creatrix of all life “Do I really get to do this?” and she lovingly answers with a big fat “YES of course you do!”


The work itself is incredibly fun and fascinating. The biggest challenge for me has been letting myself do what I love. Because I have been practicing Intuitive Painting and facilitating embodiment groups for a decade, combining these two skills to facilitate intuitive painting feels like second nature. I view facilitation as an opportunity to do something precious and life changing with others. The hardest part of teaching for me was getting started.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that Chris Zydel is my godmother as well as my painting teacher and mentor, which means she often knows the best moments to give advice. One day, Chris sat me down to talk. I could tell this was going to be a confrontation. She said, “You have all of these resources- access this incredible painting studio, your training and your entire life of experience. You are particularly well supported to be doing this work so why are you not teaching?”

I had to admit it was a pretty good question. I realized that I had hit my old limiting belief of “who am I to teach art”? I had come out a bit as an artist but had gone back into the closet as a teacher. When Chris confronted me with this question, I realized that I am uniquely positioned with passion, depth of experience and personal connection to this craft. When I think of it this way, who am I NOT to teach painting? So I got over myself and scheduled my first painting workshop for a few weeks later. I am so grateful for the nudge in the right direction and as always facing my fears has yielded great reward. I absolutely love holding space for people to be creative and I am excited to be offering painting classes, workshops and retreats.

Tell us what happens at one of your classes, workshops or retreats?

My classes combine Intuitive Painting with some of my other passions: mindful movement, trauma healing and ritual. As a trauma survivor and embodiment facilitator, I have spent the past decade studying and teaching how to heal trauma through movement. I have a certification in a method called “Trauma Sensitive Yoga” and have a full time practice teaching this method as an adjunctive treatment for complex trauma.

Because of specialization in trauma treatment, my approach as a painting facilitator is trauma sensitive and survivor centered. This means that when I offer anything I take the unique needs of survivors into account. Everything is offered as an invitation not a command. As a student in one of my workshops, you are always in control of your body and your experience. Everything is optional and you will be invited to experiment and find a way of participating that works for you.

When I facilitate groups, I like to take time in the beginning to set up a safe container so that everyone’s most precious and vulnerable parts can be held with the care that they deserve. I also frequently invite my students to check in with their bodies as a resource and to bring embodiment into the painting practice as a tool for tracking what is moving through as you paint. As a part of my own ancestral trauma healing journey, I have cultivated a deeper connection to the pre-patriarchal cultures who celebrated the earth-based holidays connected to the pagan wheel of the year. To live in alignment with my deepest spiritual beliefs, I honor the ancient wisdom that comes from my family line and from the earth itself. Because of this, I am very excited to be offering daylong painting immersions that correspond with pagan holidays like solstices and equinoxes. These are fertile times of the year to be creative. During each workshop we connect to the cycle of the seasons and the meaning of that day. Each seasonal ritual primes us for a day of deep creative exploration. The next daylong workshops are happening Equinox (Saturday March 23) and Beltane (Saturday May 4th). You can read more about them here: http://kelseygustafson.com/reclaim-your-creativity/

What advice would you give to someone who is contemplating this expressive arts/intuitive painting path?

Throw your ideas about “good art” out the window. In fact, you can throw away any preconceived notions about what is “good” and “bad” at all. The intuitive painting path will be a process of pulling weeds. You will need to pull out the particularly tenacious variety that have grown roots deep inside you and are clogging up your creative garden beds: patriarchy, internalized oppression, toxic rape culture, consumerism, disconnection from your body…these weeds will have to go if you want to grow a flourishing garden.

You will be confronted with the beliefs that keep you small and limited, the ones that tell you to stay still and comply. The ones that make you feel like the only option is to submit to the powers that be. As it turns out, you can create your own damn garden way beyond the limited imagination of patriarchy. Be prepared to surprise yourself with your own courage. To discover what you CAN do even in this unjust and unpredictable world. You will discover that you can make miracles happen and that you are a magical and ever changing wizard who can create change in your own life. You will get to plant seeds of possibility and discover the weirdest most beautiful and terrifyingly powerful aspects of yourself. You will be completely amazed by what you create. If you want to break the rules and forge a new path in life, if you want to make cool stuff and defy the odds, if you want to make moves that matter, this path is for you.

Upcoming Event Information
Event Description
RECLAIM YOUR CREATIVITY: Daylong Expressive Arts Immersions

I believe that we were born to create. That naturally, we all yearn to express ourselves.

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that does not support our creative expression. When we are subjected to criticism and judgement when we step out on a limb to share our creative selves, the pain of rejection can be so strong that it can snuff our creative fire right out.

When was the last time you felt safe enough to share your voice? Your art? Your dance?

During this daylong expressive arts immersion, we will begin to unravel your artistic blocks. Together we will weave a safe container that will hold you in your natural unfolding. You will have the chance to paint and move authentically for YOU!

You will leave the day with a painting and a greater sense of embodied liberation and authenticity.

Are you ready to connect with other wildly creative people and create some magic?


Each immersion corresponds to a cross-quarter holiday on the pagan calendar. We will begin by tuning into the energies and elements that are most potent at that time of year. You will have an opportunity to enter into ritual space as we cast our opening circle and tune into the natural cycle of the year.

We will warm up with some embodied practices that will support you to connect you to the center of your creative vitality. You can expect to gently stretch, breathe and practice authentic, playful movement that expresses your uniqueness. From this open and embodied place, you will set the foundation for a potent day of creation!

You will be introduced to the Intuitive Painting process with Kelsey. You will be guided to paint freely, without planning your execution. This art creation space is free of critique and judgement (at least from the outside!). You will have the opportunity to paint from your gut, not from your critical mind. Express the depths of your soul’s yearnings with color, shape and form.

There will be plenty of time for sharing in circle, connecting with a unique and creative group of creatives and being in silent reflection in your own creative process.


Opening Circle

Embodied practice

Introduction to Intuitive Painting


Archetypal exploration

Intuitive Painting

Closing Circle

Spring 2019 Workshop Dates: Equinox: March 23 + Beltane: May 4

Time: 10 – 5pm (with a lunch break in the middle)

Location: Workshops held at the magical Creative Juices Arts Studio, at 432 Bellevue Ave. Oakland, CA

Payment Contribution: $125/day or $100 if you come with a friend! Price includes a healthy lunch and all art supplies.

Learn more and register at: http://kelseygustafson.com/reclaim-your-creativity/



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