Channeling Her Inner Chameleon: Destiny McKinney on her artwork, art therapy, and living an ethical, authentic life.

Channeling Her Inner Chameleon: Destiny McKinney on her artwork, art therapy, and living an ethical, authentic life.

Destiny McKinney is an immensely talented artist who dabbles in different mediums: drawing, painting, macramé, and tapestry crochet, to name a few. She takes her art beyond the standard canvas to create unique, original pieces. Destiny was recently awarded a Dreamzilla scholarship because of her artistic talent and future aspirations.

When Destiny started counseling a few years ago, she found out that she has autism and ADHD. It wasn’t something she was expecting but wasn’t necessarily surprised to hear either. She explained how it felt to hear she was neurodivergent: “Everything kind of suddenly clicked. Everything in my life that seemed unexplainable- myself, who I am- then just totally made sense. It was a different layer of understanding.” Destiny spoke about how her autism and ADHD diagnoses gave her insight to her past and how to go about her present and future. “When I was a teenager, I would get upset pretty often, and I couldn’t figure out why. While I can still get overstimulated or be in a fight-or-flight position for too long, I’ve learned different coping mechanisms to help handle these situations.” For instance, Destiny has learned how to talk to herself differently and how to talk herself down from really big emotions rather than letting the emotions overwhelm her. “I’ve learned how to identify certain emotions in my body and what they feel like.” She uses grounding and mindful techniques such as tapping into her senses and her surroundings, which can help slow and calm the mind down.

Destiny believes that her autism and ADHD has brought unique experiences into her life. For one, her neurodivergence has taught her how to be a “chameleon.” “I have so much information about all kinds of different topics. I can hang in a conversation about fixing cars, but I can do the same in a conversation about quantum physics. I have the ability to connect with people very awkwardly across a range of different demographics.” Aside from learning how to be a chameleon, Destiny also attributes her learning hyperfixations to her neurodivergent disorders, which go hand in hand with her passion for learning and exploring new topics. “Other than family time, I am usually doing something around whatever interest I have at that time.” Most recently, Destiny has been learning about quantum physics and the concept of the ripples of the universe. She commented, “I think because of my autism and ADHD I can remember things really well, almost categorically. I find myself compiling all the things I know. When I was in group counseling, I even had the nickname ‘Okay, Google’ because of my interest in learning.”

Along with a passion for learning, Destiny is an extremely talented artist. Destiny has been painting and drawing as early as she can remember. She credits her father as the one who supported her to continue working on her art. “My dad was great. He really supported me and my work and encouraged me even when I was drawing at a second-grade level. But his support gave me the momentum to keep going. He had even saved all of my little drawings over the years, and he’ll randomly give them to me.”

In 2011, Destiny started selling her artwork, and she wants to continue sharing her art with the world. Destiny sells un-commissioned and commission pieces, most of which are requests for portraits. While Destiny enjoys selling her artwork to others, she noted that, “I have stacks upon stacks of drawings and canvas. I enjoy creating artwork just for myself. Whether it’s because I’m teaching myself something new or want to create a unique piece to keep.” When asked what her favorite piece she’s created is, Destiny said, “I once painted a three-canvas painting of an eye. It’s my favorite because it flows so well.” Reflecting on where her inspiration for her artwork has come from, Destiny discussed that at one point she wanted to make statements about her life experiences and how those experiences made her feel. “I wanted to communicate my angst and to communicate an idea or concept. I still lean into communicating ideas and concepts through my artwork.”

Destiny’s neurodivergence helps her to be more versatile in her artwork. “With my artwork, I combine my art and creativity and resourcefulness to change the original idea into something different.” This versatility is seen in Destiny’s artwork since it broaches many different concepts such as portraits of people and nature and animals. But one concept she finds herself continually revisiting are skull drawings and tattoo styled illustrations because they feel the most familiar and come naturally to her. When she is learning how to draw a new idea, Destiny extensively researches the subject of the piece. “At first, I’ll watch a lot of videos but if it’s going to be a drawing of a living thing, I’ll research the anatomy, structure, shapes, lines, and curvature of the subject to get a complete understanding of it. I like to understand how it moves rather than just referring to one reference photo.”

Lately, Destiny has become engrossed with designing artwork on shoes. “It really stemmed from a trip to the craft store where I noticed that they sold blank shoes. Then a few weeks later I realized I really needed a new pair of shoes. When I couldn’t find any that I liked, I had an ah-ha moment and thought, ‘Oh, snap. I can design my own shoes.’ A couple YouTube videos later, and I started working on them.” It’s evident the attention to detail Destiny pays to her artwork, seen in the fine lines, assortment of colors, and shading in her pieces. Regarding the process of designing shoes, Destiny stated, “It’s really, really fun. I think it’s something that’s going to be able to take off, and it’s something I really love doing.”

In addition to her artwork, Destiny’s job has also inspired her. She currently works in an office that specializes in neurofeedback which is a type of biofeedback that assesses an individual’s brainwave activity to help them understand their thought patterns and try to modify them.1 Neurofeedback is done so individuals “can learn to regulate and improve their brain function and hopefully alleviate symptoms of various neurological disorders and mental health conditions.”2 It was job Destiny stumbled into but has introduced her to a field she wishes to build a career in. She said:

I want to be congruent in my lifestyle with my values, and I want to be authentic. I want to live in an ethical way where I’m helping an actual person with a name and a face. I value that we are all at a different part and at a different stage in the human condition. For the most part, we are all doing the best that we can with what we have at any given moment. It’s in these moments that I realize I want to do something to help people in the present and long term.

Destiny hopes to reach these goals through pursuing a career in art therapy. “I want to be in a career that helps people. My long-term goal is to open a non-profit youth community art studio. I know what the combination of having big emotions and not being able to process them, having free time and nothing to do, and having no safe place to really hang out can lead to: teenagers getting in trouble. So, I want to have a place where teenagers can go and create and have a creative outlet. And if they are also struggling with something a little bit bigger, having somebody that they can talk to. With an organization like this, it’s a place where the community can go and create and not have the financial burden of art materials and therapy.” Art therapy has been used for decades and is defined as “an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”3 Destiny has found that art is therapeutic because “With the visual elements of art that you can see and represent, you feel like you can really express yourself. The opposite of dysregulation isn’t calm. It’s expression.” She also noted it’s an activity that brings a lot of joy and allows you to be proud of your work. Art therapy is even a popular type of therapy for neurodiverse individuals because it’s considered to be “neurodiversity affirming.”4 Neurodiversity affirming practices “emphasize that there is diversity in human cognition, emotions, behavior, senses, and being.”5 Because of this, art therapy “allows someone to process, communicate or express feelings in an alternate way.”6

Destiny said that she feels like she’s her biggest, baddest self when she is “Helping other people for the sake of being helpful, not for some humble brag because then it’s not helpful. I want to be able to be a voice for people who feel like their voice doesn’t matter and to speak up for marginalized communities. Those are the biggest reasons for a lot of the stuff I do now. We’re all people and we’re all experiencing things differently.” Destiny shared that she attributes this idea to a term she once came across called “solipsism.” She defined it as “that weird feeling you get whenever you realize that everybody has intricate and complex detailed lives and that you will never know what anybody else is going through.” Through this way of thinking, it can empower people to work on better understanding and more openly accepting one another.

To keep up with Destiny and her art, check out her website, NeurodivergentArtistry.com

Sources

  1. “Neurofeedback,” Psychology Today, accessed 18 December 2023, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/neurofeedback.
  2. Psychology Today, “Neurofeedback.”
  3. “About Art Therapy,” American Arttherapy Association, last modified June 2017, https://www.arttherapy.org/upload/2017_DefinitionofProfession.pdf.
  4. Cathy Malchi, “Expressive Arts Are Neurodiversity-Affirming,” Psychology Today, last modified 14 December 2023, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/arts-and-health/202312/expressive-arts-are-neurodiversity-affirming.
  5. Malchiodi, “Expressive Arts Are Neurodiversity-Affirming.”
  6. “Art Therapy and Neurodiversity,” Art Therapy of MN, accessed 18 December 2023, https://arttherapymn.com/therapeutic-approach/.

About the Author:

Alyssa Marchese

Alyssa Marchese is a recent graduate from the University of Colorado where she earned her bachelors in English creative writing. Alyssa was diagnosed with ADHD in her early twenties which ignited her passion for promoting the importance of mental health and neurodiversity awareness. She enjoys listening to audiobooks, knitting, and volunteering at a local animal shelter.

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