It’s not unusual for therapy clients to be curious about their therapist’s other clients. In the case of an art therapist, this curiosity Is intensified by the physical evidence, the materials and artwork, left by other clients in the art therapy room.
In the case of an art therapist working in a foster care agency, this curiosity is an ever-present topic. There is a family-like atmosphere in a foster care agency, where foster parents are often relatives or friends or at least acquaintances, and foster children become part of their social circles. Agency staff (case workers, therapists, psychiatrists, medical staff, etc) are shared by many children, which furthers the communal sense. Many of the kids stay in the system for years, so those who were my clients often knew each other, and my teen clients were sometimes good friends. Although kids often feel supported by this sense of community, they often feel exposed and smothered by it too. (Sounds like family, right?) Although they’re curious to know about OTHER clients, they don’t want anyone in THEIR business.
Maintaining boundaries and confidentiality in these circumstances is challenging, with so many interactions and all kinds of scenarios being played out publicly, right in the lobby. But it’s important to try.
I love this cardboard tube piece that hung over the desk in my office because it seems a great metaphor for all these issues around community and privacy. The staff in our medical clinic, just down the hall from me, knew I used a lot of recycled materials, and they began collecting the cardboard tubes from inside the rolls of examining table paper. The tubes turned out to be really appealing to some kids, and they began painting them in their sessions and hanging them up all over the art therapy room. Eventually, when I moved from one office to another, the tubes became consolidated into one hanging. So the various artists are unknown to each other, but yet it imparts a sense of community while revealing nothing else.
Sometimes one thing leads to another.
I have been making a lot of little zig zag books lately. (I wrote a recent post about them.) Then I went to the show of Matisse Cut-outs at the Museum Of Modern Art. It was so gorgeous and inspiring. There’s really no one like Matisse.
Back at home, I was breaking down a carton to recycle and found some cardboard dividers inside. They looked like little pages, so I hung onto them.
The next day, a friend brought me a generous amount of wild-looking leather scraps from a stash someone donated to her community craft workshop. I wouldn’t call them beautiful, but as collage materials they seemed full of possibility.
So I made a zig zag book.
Click to enlarge
Some art therapy clients benefit from working within a frame. If they have difficulty containing their feelings and behavior and lose control easily, they will most likely have trouble controlling art materials too. So it’s important to provide them with boundaries in the form of materials which can help them to feel more self-contained, organized, safe, and successful.
A frame can be as simple as a circle drawn on a piece of paper, but sometimes an actual physical boundary is more helpful to clients who are struggling with self-control. Cardboard berry flats make great readymade frames or shadowboxes, perfect for both 2-D and 3-D work. They come in several sizes and some even have handles that can be slipped through the holes to make a hanger.
If you have it in your mind to look for frames, you will find them everywhere. Thrift shops are loaded with them. But you don’t really need to spend any money. Any supermarket is glad to have you take those berry flats off their hands and save them the work of breaking them down for disposal. You can also make simple frames yourself. And never underestimate the great possibilities of scavenging. Below: different-sized old white drawer fronts that were left out on the street for trash pickup; a black thrift shop frame; a small corrugated packing box; and donated pre-cut oak tag frames.
Here is the work of a child who was given a paper-lined wooden cigar boxtop to work with. She used paints and Sculpey polymer clay to create her 3-D Rainbow Girl self-portrait.
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.
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.