One thing I’ve loved about having an art therapy practice is the way the creative inspiration flows both ways between my clients and me. It’s a real give and take. The materials, process, themes explored, and energy generated always seem to hand me some kind of gift.
In a previous post, I wrote about a mask project at a foster care agency picnic. In preparation for that project, I spray-painted about a hundred pre-made paper mâche masks on top of some scrap cardboard. (An aside about process: The masks, available to buy here, are made from brown craft paper, and I thought it would be a good idea to give people a clean white canvas to work on. For later mask-making, I skipped the spray painting prep and found that it was unnecessary with most materials, the big exception being the much-loved Sharpie markers, which look dull on the brown.)
When I finished spraying, I realized that I actually had a lot of new canvasses that would be as much fun to fool around with as the actual masks. So I cut some up and played around.
Eventually, I did a larger piece incorporating red-painted twigs and a nest. I called it Family Tree because it seemed like it could be about all my mysterious ancestors, Eastern Europeans whose children (my grandparents) fled the old country. Sadly, somewhere along that journey the stories of those old country ancestors were lost, never to be known to the younger generations on their family tree. Even though I know nothing about them, I feel that they somehow have a lot to do with who I am, and their hazy images found expression in those pieces of junk cardboard.
By far the three most repeated words in art therapy sessions with kids: I messed up! And fast, before I have time to intervene, into the trash can goes the messed up, crumpled up paper, often with just one or two little marks on it. Sometimes it’s very difficult to convince kids that making art is not about a perfect product, but about the process, and that their mess-ups are just steps in that process. That embracing the mess-ups is, in fact, metaphorically accepting all parts of oneself, ugly and beautiful.
But try telling that to a kid who has a picture in his head of how something is supposed to look. And who is so afraid of being a failure that exploration and play feel impossible. And who feels so bad inside that facing those feelings in the form of ugly art is painful.
So I always try to demonstrate that nothing’s really garbage.
- Let’s make really ugly drawings! Keep going, make it worse. That’s not ugly enough.
- Let’s rip out the parts of the picture we like and make a collage out of them.
- Let’s try making sculptures out of the papers you threw in the trash can!
Presenting: four little paper sculptures from the trash can.
I learned how to knit as a kid, but then knitting sat on the back burner for about twenty-five years before I took it up again. I’m really glad it had a revival in my life, because there’s so much I love about knitting. The colors, textures, warmth, and beauty of yarns. The variety of projects, patterns, and stitches. The community that gathers at my wonderful local knitting store, where people share patterns, joys, sorrows, and news to the gentle clicking of knitting needles. My rhythmically moving hands. Watching stitches form into a perfect pattern.
I’ve used knitting with a few art therapy clients over the years and I think they’ve felt some of the kinds of benefits mentioned above, particularly the tactile, rhythmic, meditative comfort knitting offers.
For those also into knitting and/or recycled art, here’s a knitting artist to inspire you. Ivano Vitali spins yarn out of recycled newspaper and knits up gorgeous garments and wall hangings on huge needles.
Black Bijou (2011) is a cardigan and skirt outfit. The cardigan is knitted with black ads and has a white edge crocheted with newspaper in a daisy motif. The transparent skirt is made with the black edges of the newspaper.
Boa (2005) was knit from the yellow pages.
Lots more here!
Toilet paper rolls, cardboard, styrofoam.
It’s kind of amazing how much great stuff is in your garbage, in recycling bins, in nature, in the gutter.
To make these with kids, I’d cut a lot of random-shaped cardboard pieces for the body and give them some materials to work with. They’ll do the rest.
Art therapists pay a great deal of attention to materials, as all people respond differently to different ones. It’s an interesting topic and I’ll write another post about that soon. When it’s not practically Christmas eve.