Monthly Archives: March 2015

Easter egg cartons

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I save all my egg cartons, and not because I have chickens. No, I save them to make egg carton purses. Decorated and filled with little items, they make wacky, fun gifts. They also make great jewelry boxes. And they are great projects for kids during this (or any other) season.

I paint and then decorate them with paper scraps, twigs, beads, feathers, recycled yarn and ribbons, whatever I have around. The purse handles come from my rusty wire collection.

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I fill the purses with small items, mostly things I find around the house: a tiny package of samples from my paper collection, chocolates, barrettes, snappers, buttons, beads, etc.

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In the Camp AmeriKids art & crafts room, where I work in the summers, the younger girls have made beautiful egg carton purses. They use the same array of materials, although we spray paint the rusty wires in bright colors. The girls leave them with us to dry, and we surprise them by delivering them to their cabins filled with little treats of small art supplies and candy.

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IMG_2462Happy Easter, Passover, and Spring!

Found mask

I came across this mask in a parking lot. It’s actually one of those cardboard drink carriers that had been run over repeatedly by cars and looked exactly like this when I found it.

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I tried inking it and running it through a press, but I think I actually like the original untouched find better.

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Inspiration: Watts Towers

IMG_0184 2Although I’ve visited LA many times, it took me years to make it to the amazing Watts Towers. When I finally did, I was awed. The towers and the whole compound (17 interconnected structures) were built over a period of 33 years (1921-1954) by an Italian immigrant named Simon (aka Sam) Rodia…in his spare time! As related to me by a tour guide, he suffered multiple losses, first his brother and then his daughter, became a reclusive alcoholic, and was finally abandoned by his family. He reemerged after some years, bought a narrow lot in Watts, and began to build (singlehandedly) this remarkable place.

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Rodia used scrap steel pipes, which he bent to shape by using the nearby railroad tracks as a vise. He covered them with wire mesh and mortar into which he embedded broken glass bottles, cracked tile, broken dishes, seashells, you name it. He worked in a nearby pottery factory and brought home damaged pieces to add to his work, and the neighborhood kids contributed by bringing him the junk they collected.

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IMG_0182 2The ladder-like structures on the outside of the towers allowed him to climb with all his materials and tools, and he just kept adding rungs as he built higher and higher. The tallest towers are over 99 feet.

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When I came back, I showed pictures of the towers to some of the teens I worked with in foster care. Rodia’s story of loss and recovery really spoke to them. They were greatly inspired by his work, and began to experiment with embedding found and collected objects into their clay pieces, enhancing the autobiographical aspect of their own work. One of my teen clients used heart imagery in all of her work and was particularly fond of working with clay. Seeing all the heart images incorporated into the tower structures, she felt a deep connection with Rodia, and the exposure to his work helped her to reach for more depth in her own work.

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This is a good example of how incorporating exposure to the work of relevant artists can really deepen the art therapy experience. I have been able to arrange a few gallery and museum visits with clients, but photos and books can also do the trick.

You can find more info, photos, and videos here.

Chosen

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There’s something really wonderful about being part of a community art project, even one that takes place online. Being a small piece of the whole can take the pressure off and feel liberating. Seeing the great variety in the work of others can inspire and somehow lessen feelings of intimidation. And the finished work, a very individual yet very communal creation, is always a beautiful surprise.

In 2011, I participated in a Portland, OR community knit mural project called You Are The Chosen One. The mural, composed of 108 squares knit by 99 artists, was the brainchild of Seann McKeel, who conceived of the theme, designed the grid, organized the knitters, and assembled the work. The only requirement was that the squares be a certain size, and the rest was up to the individual knitter, which generated a beautiful variety of squares. I signed up to do the H square in CHOSEN, and learned intarsia, a knitting technique that was new to me.

The squares were assembled by McKeel and friends into a large hanging mural that read YOU ARE THE CHOSEN ONE, and was displayed in downtown Portland in September 2011.

photo-142McKeel invited contributors to submit statements about what they feel they are chosen for, encouraging much reflection about the purpose of one’s life. The statements are as personal and varied as the squares themselves. What are you chosen for?

photo-141McKeel, the co-producer of You Who!, a monthly Portland children’s rock variety show, also organized the 2010 community-based art project knitnotwar 1000, an art installation composed of 1000 knitted cranes, an international symbol of peace. You can read about the inspiration for the project here, and if you want to knit cranes yourself, you can find the pattern here.

Interested in reading about a children’s community art project? Take a look here.

Weaving and quilting with paper

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Weaving and quilting have been practiced throughout history. Both of these traditional arts offer the comfort of ritual and the benefits of relaxing, meditative activity. These arts have been shown to improve concentration, develop fine and gross motor skills and visual/spatial skills, and increase energy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my art therapy practice, I have often suggested weaving and quilting activities using collage. Collage doesn’t require any particular fiber arts skills, and collage materials are readily available (magazines, newspapers, photos, cards, cat food labels, etc). Paper can be cut or torn. Throw in a glue stick, maybe a ruler, and you’ve got all you need.

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All of these activities (weaving, quilting, and collage) can contribute to reduced depression. Research shows that actually just moving our hands activates areas of our brain’s frontal cortex, leading to increased pleasure.

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Weaving involves pattern, texture,  and structure. It can be a metaphor for the fabric of our lives. The process accommodates a broad range of content and style.

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IMG_4399Quilts , with their associations of sleep and comfort, are made of specific patterns that are pieced together, and thus give clients a template or structure to work within. In addition, they can be practiced as communal activities, with group members contributing squares constructed in the same pattern. These squares are all done in a nine patch pattern, and you can see the range of expression the template encourages.

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Without requiring a lot of skills, paper weaving and quilting can promote organization, self-expression, creativity, and satisfaction for clients of all ages.