STREATOR – Jeremy Johnson has always had natural artistic ability, but in 2010, his interest in it took a new turn when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Johnson began having seizures and had to move back into his parents' house in Ottawa.
"I began painting after the brain tumor," Johnson said. "I don't know what it was – I found it very emotional. I was always good at drawing, but the abstract I could not do well. Couldn't let loose, let go. You know how they say yoga is meditative and therapeutic? I feel the same way about abstract painting."
He likes the idea that "there are no mistakes in abstract," and so he brought his talent and natural teaching ability in July to the Illinois Valley Brain Injury Clubhouse in Streator as part of a grant through the Thrivent Action Team.
Lori Welch, who founded the clubhouse, said the benefits of using art and music with those who have experienced traumatic brain injuries are enormous. The clubhouse already has an established music therapy program in place with a certified therapist.
"Ever since I started this program, there's a lot we can do and not be therapists. I'm not a therapist," Welch said. "Art and music transcends thinking, memory – it brings memories back, helps socialization, creative expression. For some reason with art and music, we always see memories, cognitive skills come out. And they like it."
With Johnson's own history of a brain tumor and the accompanying seizures, he can reach the members of the clubhouse in a unique way.
"When I heard about Jeremy, I had to get him here, especially with his background," Welch said. "They can relate to him, and they can know there is life beyond a TBI with art and music."
Johnson began by encouraging the clubhouse members to let go of expectations, use their intuition and have fun with painting without boundaries.
"The seizures are tough on us," he said. "I want to teach you guys how to do some of this because it's fun. Abstract is ourselves, unique, so we don't have to copy anything, just let it flow. Colors become our feeling. We're going to choose whatever color appeals to us."
With the sounds of Bach's "Air" flowing in the background, Rachael Spence stood at her table and moved along with the music, painting in two shades of purple and a shade of yellow-green.
"I'm just going with the flow," she said. "It makes me feel happy. It looks like waves."
Ken Poutre combined blue, red, orange and white to make his creation.
"I like [art] a lot," he said. "I draw a lot of pictures here. I really like it. It's something I enjoy."
Johnson said others have encouraged him to expand his reach. He often teaches in a one-on-one setting, and has found that helping others has helped him, as well.
"I myself am socially isolated, but the more I do it, the more it helps me," he said.