In a training this past week with a great group of staff who work in a program for adults receiving developmental services, we focus on materials: What are the right materials to offer clients? How might different materials affect different people? What kinds of materials and formats promote organization? Containment? Freer expression? What materials and tools might be helpful in various art situations with clients? Group members explore these questions by trying out a wide variety of materials themselves, noting their own reactions, and thinking about all of this in relation to their clients. Here’s a bit about the group and some of our collective revelations:
Model Magic, Crayola’s air-dry modeling compound that comes in colors, really is magic. It’s a feel-good material, something that seems to relax people and make them comfortable, and is therefore a nice way to start off a group. It’s soft and lightweight, kind of dry like a marshmallow but without the marshmallow gooeyness. The colors mix beautifully so there’s a wide range of colors if desired, and markers look great on it. I buy Model Magic in assorted class packs.
In this group, each person takes one packet and fools around with it any way they want. After awhile I offer some decorative elements: feathers, beads, sticks, wires, etc. There is a lot of laughing and general playfulness in the room.
The two works below are two-thirds of a trilogy with an ancient Egyptian theme. The fact that these three artists choose to make a trilogy of works also seems to contain a metaphor for their relationships as long-time coworkers.
Model Magic helps to create a comfortable atmosphere and to energize this group, and has the potential to do the same for a group of their clients. The drawback, surprise surprise, is that it’s not a cheap material. Here are some recipes for homemade substitutes, neither of which I have tried yet. This is a Model Magic knockoff and this is more like play dough and is flavored with KoolAid, which sounds gross. But it might be a good answer for the blind client of one of the group members, who has some history of eating art materials.
Later, group members choose from a wide variety of materials set up at various stations and explore them. Markers, pencils, paints, pastels, collage, and more. Some people combine different materials. One person in the group tries every material in the room on a single piece of paper. After an earlier talk about containment and frames, someone creates her own frame to work within. The discussion: Which materials are in your comfort zone? Which feel uncomfortable? What about paper sizes? Some people describe being stimulated and inspired by so many materials, but one group member describes feeling overwhelmed and working her way through the process with difficulty but eventual gratification. Topics like obsessive perfectionism, messiness, and perseveration are discussed.
Some people use many materials…
while others get absorbed in just one.
And one person brings a cosmic note to the group with an earth/galaxy mobile.
Some people become very absorbed in the art process, while others struggle to stay with it. All of these reactions are beneficial for understanding how clients might respond.
There are a lot of great questions and observations in the group. A profound one: Is it important to urge someone out of their comfort zone in hopes that they can grow by working their way through the art process? Or should we concentrate on encouraging a comfortable and fun experience?
Well, both. Falling apart isn’t good. Stability is very important. So safe, contained, and comfortable can be what’s most needed. But expansion is good! Growth is good. Trust in the importance of play in all of our lives for development and growth. Trust that staying mindful and attuned to clients will lead you to the answers.