The Art Of Emotions

‘Anxiety’ by Toby Allen


‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.’

(C.G. Jung)


My new job at the psychiatric hospital provides me with many exciting opportunities to collaborate with the other group leaders. We each come from a different background and have a unique way of working with the patients and creating and running groups on the inpatient units. One of my colleagues recently came up with the idea to co-lead a group together called Art Collaborations. In this group we mix psychoeducation with art therapy. The goal is to provide group members with an integrative approach to learning about mental health and recovery that speaks to both sides of the brain.

One of my drawings, illustrating the feeling of anxiety.

My colleague had come across the amazing art of Toby Allen and was inspired by the artist’s mission to give a visual face to mental health issues in order to address stigma. He approached me about doing an Art Collaborations group where we explored and brainstormed different emotions and created art around that theme. We both decided that picking actual mental illnesses (as Allen had done) could be too triggering for our group members, but we liked the idea of using an emotion as the direct art inspiration.

The Psychoeducation Piece
We began by explaining this new hybrid group to the participants and introducing ourselves as co-leaders. My colleague began by asking everyone to share an emotion that they experienced frequently and might be struggling with. Some of the common emotions were anxiety, overwhelm, confusion, depression, and anger. As emotions were said out loud, my co-leader wrote them on a whiteboard. We also encouraged members to share ‘positive’ emotions and examples from that category included happiness, excitement, and hope. Once the white board was fairly full with listed emotions, my co-leader asked everyone to decide on which feelings were the most challenging to experience.

‘Depression’ by Toby Allen

Overwhelm, confusion, and sadness topped the list of most difficult feelings for most of the group members and my co-leader circled them on the board. We spent a few minutes letting the group process why these emotions were so challenging. Many seemed to gain comfort by looking up at the board and around the room and realizing that they were not alone.

The Art Piece
Next I handed out watercolor paint, brushes, and watercolor paper. I chose watercolor because I find that it helps individuals dip into emotions more readily than drawing materials, but without as much potential to overwhelm group members on an emotional level. I often select watercolor paint as the middle ground between the two ends of the materials spectrum.

I asked each person to choose an emotion. It could be an emotion they were struggling with on a daily basis (like anger), or an emotion that they would like to experience more (like happiness). I then asked them to use the watercolor to give the feeling a visual form by thinking about questions such as: what color would the emotion be? what shape? size? texture? abstract or representational?

Some group members painted quietly while others verbally processed as they worked. As I glanced around the table I saw that some people were working abstractly while others were creating representational images. Once everyone had finished their piece we spent some time sharing the images and the emotion that had inspired them. One participant shared a picture of his cat and the attached emotion was happiness. The more he talked about his beloved cat, the more he realized that the picture actually depicted two strong emotions: happiness and sadness, since he had lost the cat a few years ago. We talked about the ability to experience two seemingly opposite feelings simultaneously. Another member picked anxiety and confusion as his primary emotions and depicted himself caught between the two words while listening to music. For him, the music was a way of centering himself when these emotions became too powerful. I thought it was interesting that he had illustrated the feelings while including his own solution for handling them.

One woman held up a completely blank page to the group. She explained that she experiences such a range of emotions every day, that she didn’t know where to start with the art. She said this in a sarcastic and slightly defensive tone. It might have been easy for me to privately assess her blank page as a form of resistance to the group process and the directive. However, I thought it was an extremely creative and revealing statement about where she was at the moment. It was a genuine reflection of her ongoing struggles to find meaning in her ups and downs. At times she felt like giving up out of exasperation. At other times she was able to find the playful fluidity in her high and low emotional states.

‘That Sinking Feeling’                              mixed media on canvas                                  A painting I created to explore the feeling of depression.

It was an interesting collaborative group to say the least. I am eager to continue working this way and weaving different approaches to therapy and group work together.

How can you apply this to your work or yourself? Have you ever tried giving visual form to a particular feeling? In many ways, art automatically gives form to our feelings but it may not be every day that we consciously pick an emotion to focus on as an actual art piece.

If you’re interested in doing more reading about working with your feelings through art (making the invisible visible), check out my past blog post here:
Feeding Your Demons (Some Art)

In the post I explore an amazing book called Feeding Your Demons, by Lama Tsultrim Allione and how her way of working with difficult emotions can be explored through art by giving visual form to our inner ‘demons’ and dialoguing with them in a creative process.

Happy art making to you! May you make room for all of your feelings in some form…even (especially) the challenging ones.



Round-Robin Art Making

Collaborative ‘Round Robin’ painting created by a number of women, during one of my creativity development workshops.

 “Creativity is contagious.

   Pass it on.”

– Albert Einstein

I believe that any form of art making in a group is a collaborative experience. Even if each group member works on an individual piece, the shared group energy is contagious in a way that often brings about growth, new ideas, and shared experiences.

With that in mind, it is often exciting to encourage my art therapy group members to work directly with one another at times. I have used collaborative art making in many work settings – in shelters, day treatment programs, with Palestinian and Israeli teens, in adult creativity development workshops, and currently with my clients in a psychiatric hospital.

On one unit in the hospital I work with adults with chronic and persistent mental illness. Many of these individuals have schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. When the illness is at its most extreme, it can make it incredibly hard for these clients to connect with others in a meaningful way, if at all. One of my primary goals in art therapy groups on this unit is to help people connect socially and emotionally with peers and staff. Art therapy has proven to be an accessible yet powerful way to build bridges for communication.

Round-robin art is a method where each person starts with a piece of paper and draws or paints on it for a minute or two, before passing it to the person seated next to them. Each piece is added to and then passed on again. Depending on the number of participants, the drawings or paintings can go around several times, or just once until the original piece is back to each person. (It’s helpful to have everyone initial the back of the starting piece to keep track).

                                  Round Robin Art

Last week I wanted to try a round-robin art therapy group with my clients in the psychiatric hospital. I had assessed the atmosphere on the unit and milieu, and felt that although people were experiencing a range of symptoms that day, it might be a safe and nourishing time to attempt my round-robin idea during group.

As my clients filtered into the room and took seats around the table I wondered if my idea was a good one. Some people were staring vacantly into space, and others looked at me with somewhat guarded expressions. One individual was self-dialoguing softly at the end of the table without making any eye contact. The fact that everyone seemed to be in such different mental and emotional spaces actually helped solidify my desire to try the collaborative art making. I was curious to see if it would gradually help connect the group members in some way.

I gave each person a piece of paper and reminded them to write their name on the back. I placed an array of drawing materials in the center of the table – mainly colored pencils, gel pens, and markers. Then I told everyone to begin drawing on their paper. After about 2 minutes I told them to pass the drawing to the person next to them. I let them vote on which direction they would pass to, and they chose left. I said that if anyone felt uncomfortable participating, they could sit with us and draw but not take part in the shared drawing experiment. One man decided to work on his own piece instead, but his presence was a strong part of the group and he seemed to enjoy observing the round-robin as he drew an individual piece. The room was incredibly quiet as the round robin art commenced. After a few passes to the left, people slowly began to talk and comment on the evolution of each page. Many were pleasantly surprised to see what was unfolding in their original piece and delighted to see drawing elements that they would not have thought of. The mood lightened as people laughed and complimented one another on the continuing process.

We did this for about half an hour, and once everyone had their original piece back I asked the group to put down the drawing supplies and take a look at how far their piece had come. I also asked everyone to title their piece, if anything came to mind. An interesting conversation unfolded about the differences in the pieces. Some drawings very open in space and feeling, while others were crammed with imagery. A few pieces looked like only one artist had worked on them, while others clearly had the unique marks from several artists. Some of the mark making and symbols had been repeated by others, while others had taken off in completely different directions. Each piece was full of energy and fascinating intersections between artists.

Round Robin art

This was not an art therapy group where people processed on a deep level and opened up about their past. But that wasn’t the goal this time. This was a group that helped bring disconnected individuals together, in the creation of a shared experience through shared art making. The little things that shifted, such as increased eye contact and some light conversation were clear signs to me that the art had (once again) worked its magic.

I found that over the remainder of the week, the clients that had participated in this group seemed more comfortable opening up during subsequent art therapy groups. They had established a new baseline for communication and had gained a certain amount of trust in the group process.

I would love to hear some feedback from you now! Have you tried collaborative creating in your groups? What types of collaborations? Murals, round robin art, chain poems, dyad drawings? What has worked and what has been a struggle?



Vinyl Record Mandalas, Vol. 2


I am excited to share that my second collection of vinyl record mandalas is on display at The Cabot!

Here’s my artist’s statement for the show:

Old scratched up records end their musical journey as they become dormant and unplayable. My vinyl record mandalas pick up where the stunted life of a discarded record leaves off, imbuing them with new energy and purpose.

These acrylic paintings on vinyl are mandalas – a Sanskrit word that means ‘sacred art within a circle.’ Each vinyl record mandala is a visual meditation reflective of the time of its creation.

Music is a living transitional art form, always moving from one note to the next. In the studio, my painting parallels the ephemeral quality of music as I flow from one creation to the next. The circular form of the vinyl records and the unique grooved surface are the only constraints in this collection. Within these parameters I let myself have free improvisational reign in technique, color, style, and theme.


My last blog post was actually about a setback I had with this collection and showing it. I had a show booked at a different gallery and the gallery suddenly closed about a month before my scheduled solo show. It was a major disappointment, but after a day of feeling badly I brushed myself off and began to reach out for help in finding a new venue to show this work. With the amazing creative brainstorming and help from the folks at Beverly Arts District (BAD) we came up with the idea to reach out to The Cabot as a possible location to show my work. The Cabot is a unique venue and historical treasure. It was opened in 1920 and held vaudeville performances and silent movies. For 37 years it was the home of Le Grand David and his own Spectacular Magic Company. In present day The Cabot serves as a movie theater, concert venue, and a cultural hub for the community. I’m so happy to be able to share my work here at The Cabot. It’s a perfect space for the merging of music and art – two of my greatest passions.

sara-roizen-vinyl-mandala-vol-2-side-37If you happen to live in the area or are in town visiting, please join me at the art reception on Thursday December 1st from 6-8pm. 

The Cabot
268 Cabot Street
Beverly, MA

There will be wine, beer, food, a turntable, and nearly 100 new vinyl record mandalas!

If you’d like a sneak peak at the collection, almost all of them are up on my site here.

The Facebook event page is here.

Below are a few from vinyl record mandalas from this collection. Enjoy and stay tuned for more news!





When Life Gives You Lemons…Keep Making Art

Vinyl Record Mandala acrylic on vinyl record Sara Roizen

Vinyl Record Mandala
acrylic on vinyl record
Sara Roizen


“Art is a ripening, an evolution, an uplifting which enables us to emerge from darkness into a blaze of light.”
– Jerzy Grotwoski


Over the past nine months I’ve been pouring a lot of time into creating a new collection of vinyl record mandalas. The first collection (Volume 1) sold out online a few years ago. I was amazed and humbled by the response and delighted in sending each unique piece to a new home.

Months ago I was booked for a solo show at a wonderful gallery in the town that I live in. Unfortunately, I found out that for a few different reasons, the gallery was closing suddenly at the end of this month. Therefore, my solo show was no longer happening in October.

After receiving this news, I spent that day feeling a variety of feelings. I was shocked at first. My mind went to the months and months of time I had put into preparing for this show. As the show date approached, I had devoted even more time to getting ready and finishing the last pieces as I prepared press releases. These were my ‘babies’ that were waiting to be born and presented to the community. Next I felt frustration and anger over the canceled show. I followed my thoughts as they spiraled into a cycle of self-defeating thoughts and a negative outlook on my art career.

At some point in the day, a little switch happened in my thinking. I realized that all of my feelings about the show were valid and needed room to be felt. So I let them have full reign, but I gave them an internal timeline. I told myself, ‘ok – feel everything intensely today without judgment. Then tomorrow, figure out your next step and get creative.’

Vinyl Record Mandala acrylic on vinyl Sara Roizen

Vinyl Record Mandala
acrylic on vinyl
Sara Roizen

I realized that no time or energy had been wasted in creating this collection. I will always make art, whether or not I have a specific show scheduled. It’s my daily medicine. It brings me joy and imbues my days with a greater sense of purpose and connection. There is a good chance I will find a new place to show this body of work. In the meantime, I will keep creating…because that’s what I do!

Like the changing seasons, I find that my approaches to art making in terms of theme, materials, surfaces, and size is constantly in flux. However, there are certain bodies of work that I continuously return to, such as my mandalas, wood burning, and textural layered paintings on canvas.

Working within the parameters of the vinyl records has brought me a new perspective and way of working on other surfaces. A couple of weeks ago I began working on square and rectangular canvases again. It had been so many months of working within a circle, that I was very interested to see how my work has evolved and adapted to new surfaces. I feel even freer in my paint strokes and in the playful ways I am exploring layering and line work. Below are a few new pieces that have come out of this transition and my temporary ‘setback’ with my canceled show.

untitled (so far)! acrylic on canvas Sara Roizen

untitled (so far)!
acrylic on canvas
Sara Roizen

untitled (so far)! acrylic on canvas Sara Roizen

untitled (so far)!
acrylic on canvas
Sara Roizen

After finishing this blog post I plan to head up to my studio and dive into some more painting. Perhaps I will work on some more vinyl record mandalas, and perhaps I will work on something else. Either way, my art is like an old friend that still constantly surprises me.

Have you had setbacks in your own creative process, whether it is art or a different modality? What gives you the motivation and drive to keep creating despite obstacles?




She Let Go

'She Let Go' acrylic and mixed media on wood Sara Roizen

‘She Let Go’
acrylic and mixed media on wood
Sara Roizen


I was introduced to this poem today. It came at exactly the right time, as things tend to do. I’ll let the poem speak for itself. I hope that it resonates with you and your heart as well.

She let go.

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.

 She let go of the judgments.

She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.

She let go of the committee of indecision within her.

She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons.

Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice.

She didn’t read a book on how to let go.

She didn’t search the scriptures.

She just let go.

She let go of all of the memories that held her back.

She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.

She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go.

She didn’t journal about it.

She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer.

She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper.

She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope.

She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go.

She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter.

She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment.

She didn’t call the prayer line.

She didn’t utter one word.

She just let go.

No one was around when it happened.

There was no applause or congratulations.

No one thanked her or praised her.

No one noticed a thing.

Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort.

There was no struggle.

It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad.

It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be.

A small smile came over her face.

A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore…


– Rev. Safire Rose

The Messy & The Magical

My messy and happy paint hand.

My messy and happy paint hand.


“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert

I was recently listening to the Mama Truth Show podcast while cleaning up in the kitchen. I love a good podcast, whether the topic is parenthood, creativity, art, or psychology, or all of the above! The host Amy Ahler interviews different guests, and asks each one a final question at the end of the interview. She asks, ‘what is messy and what is magical in your life right now?’

I love that question for so many reasons.  I smiled as I stared at the pile of dishes and the crumbs left behind by my children as they headed off to school this morning. I was smiling because something had clicked. Life is both messy and magical. I have visual and emotional proof for that, and I bet you do too.

The magic and the mess (and the magic in the mess) tends to play out beautifully and constantly in the creative process. I glance around the studio and see evidence for this. Little piles of barely contained chaos in the form of collage pieces, half used paint tubes, and scattered brushes are the satisfyingly messy reminders and tools that help produce the magic in my art. When I’m in my studio or working with an art therapy client, my tolerance for mess, whether physical or emotional, is incredibly high. Furthermore, the mess is welcomed with open arms. The mess provides juicy material to get curious about, shape, take apart, rebuild, and transform.

This morning I had the thought – what would life be like if I approached my daily life as a wife, mother, friend, (fill in the blank) from that same open space of curiosity and trust in the messy yet magical process of daily living? What if I took my studio habits and way of framing things out into the other areas in my life?

This is precisely what I hope for my art therapy clients when we have breakthroughs during the session. I hope that the creative lessons and experiences from the session seep into daily life. When a client accidentally smears a painting and gets frustrated, that’s a ‘mess.’ Great! The transformation is what he or she does to transform the mess into a magic moment. As the therapist, part of my job is to make space for that mess and help the client become curious about the mess rather than immediately judging it as ‘bad’ or a ‘failure.’

Sometimes mess just needs to be mess for a while. Not every messy moment in and outside of the studio can be immediately transformed into something magical. Sometimes it requires a cumulative dance of many messy moments, before we can step back and acknowledge the alchemical magic of these experiences combined.

'Lotus II' acrylic & mixed media on canvas Sara Roizen

‘Lotus II’
acrylic & mixed media on canvas
Sara Roizen

There’s a Buddhist saying that is simple yet profound. It is, ‘no mud, no lotus.’ A lotus is a beautiful flower that has been the muse of many artists over the centuries. However, a lotus grows from the muck and mud at the bottom of the water. Without the mud, there would be no beautiful lotus floating serenely on the surface.

These are all rather abstract musings, so I’ll take a moment to get a little more personal. While thinking about the messy and the magical in my own life, here’s what I am coming up with at the moment.

The past 2 years have strikingly embodied the mess and the magic for me. Here’s some of what has been messy: leaving my thriving art therapy career behind in NYC and moving to another state to start over, the addition of our second child to our family, a last minute canceled solo art show, panic attacks, pneumonia, children in challenging stages, and adjusting to a new community.

Here’s what’s been magical (in responsive order to the above messes): becoming more resilient and trusting as I begin building my art therapy career in a new state, sharing our lives with a new child and increasing my capacity for love and joy, becoming creative in finding new places to show and sell my art, learning  how to inhabit my body more fully and befriend my experiences, our children challenging me to become increasingly mindful during hard stages, branching out and beginning to thrive in a new community.

In each instance, mess did not instantly give rise to magic. It is the process of getting really messy, embracing the mess, and not running away from it that has gradually given rise to the magic. And it’s an ongoing daily practice and often a struggle. I remind myself that I’m not set on arriving at some specific destination, whether it is with my art, career, my children, or any other area in my life. Really, it’s about learning to dance between the mess and the magic and enjoying the interchange, and sometimes the transformation.

Exploring the messiness and the magic in art

As I wrote earlier, the mess and magic are a natural alchemical force during any form of creation. However if you want to be more deliberate about exploring these two elements, here are some ideas to get you started.

Some of my torn up 'ugly' paintings on paper...ready to create something new (and maybe magical) with them!

Some of my torn up ‘ugly’ paintings on paper…ready to create something new (and maybe magical) with them!

‘Ugly’ Painting Collage

Can you challenge yourself and make an ‘ugly’ painting? I write ugly in quotes because it is a highly subjective word. What I’m really suggesting is giving yourself permission to grab the least attractive paint color in your bin (say that neon yellow you’ve been hiding)? Start moving paint around on some paper or an un-stretched canvas. Think about the ‘no mud, no lotus’ quote and make some real mud on the surface. Do you hate painting hearts? Throw a few hearts onto the surface. After you’ve reveled in the ugliness of your piece, set it aside and let it dry. I encourage you to live with it for a few days. If you’re feeling particularly bold, put it up on the wall for a while!

When you are feeling inspired, take the piece down and begin to cut it up or tear it up. Pay attention to how this action feels. Do you feel uncomfortable, excited, nervous? Honor whatever feelings come up. After you have a pile of new collage pieces, slowly start to create a new piece from the old ‘mess.’ It may be arranged like a grid where you use each piece, or you might only be drawn to certain key collage pieces. There is no right or wrong. But see if you can create some magic out of your previous mess.

Altered Words & Images

Words can have immense power. Think about the constant chatter running through your mind. It might be a bit muddy because so many thoughts can run across the stage of our minds at once. Time to get some of those ‘ugly’ thoughts on paper. You can write it out by hand or even type it on the computer. Take 5-10 minutes and sit down with a pen or marker and let those thoughts run wild and free across the page. The goal is to let your writing be stream of consciousness and not to edit what you are saying. If you’d like a little inspiration for writing in this way, check out Julia Cameron’s video and description of the Morning Pages exercise. As she says, let them be as grumpy, whiny, and ugly as you like.

After you are done writing, set it aside for a while. You might want to set it aside for the entire day or even a number of days. Perhaps you enjoyed this exercise and want to create a series of written pages over the course of a week. Whatever your time frame is, here’s the next step.



Once you have some pages of ‘messy’ writing, begin to cut out certain phrases that call to you. It could even be one word or a phrase. Create a collage from the pieces of writing. Feel free to add other art materials such as paint, more collage, printmaking, or sculptural elements. The words do not even need to be visible or readable when you are finished. Let the words combine in new and unexpected patterns. Play with abstraction and try not to get caught up in the finished product. Look at the words as images rather than conveying a specific meaning, the way you might enjoy looking at an unknown language simply because the curve of the letters is visually intriguing.

The Invitation

Do you have a favorite medium to use in the arts? How about doing a messy dance, a messy musical composition, or a messy dramatic monologue? Can you find magic in letting the mess be as it is and getting curious about it for a while?

So my friends…
Today as you are moving about your day and being presented with all kinds of different experiences, thoughts, and feelings I’d love to ask you, ‘what is both messy and magical in your life right now?’

Artful Reminders: Let It Go

"Let It Go" reminder art that I created.

“Let It Go” reminder art that I created.

If you let go a little you will have a little happiness. 
If you let go a lot you will have a lot of happiness.

If you let go completely you will be free.

(Ajahn Chah)


My 3 year old son was finishing up his oatmeal this morning when I heard him say, ‘it was an accident!’ I turned around to find a cup of spilled milk. It was puddling under the placemat, seeping onto the floor, and had soaked my magazine.

Instead of taking a deep breath, I found myself saying, ‘Why do you keep spilling milk? You have to pay more attention!’ He stared at me with big hazel eyes. As I furiously mopped up the milk I knocked into the same cup and the rest of his milk spilled out. Everywhere. The irony was not lost on me. I had told him to pay more attention, and I was not paying attention myself.

Still in a huff, I lamented about the milk saga to my husband. He paused for a moment before saying, ‘I almost don’t want to say this. But you know what I’m going to say right? Don’t cry over spilt milk. There’s a reason that saying was created. It’s because countless parents get worked up over stuff like this every day. I get it. But really, let it go.’

Simultaneously in the background my son started singing ‘Let It Go’ from the movie Frozen. He’s only seen the movie once, but the song has stuck. Clearly, the universe was throwing me all sorts of juicy lessons all at once.

I scooped my son up into my arms and hugged him. Then I apologized. I said, ‘I’m sorry that I got angry. Next time I get angry I’m going to try and practice what you do in preschool, and take 3 deep breaths when I get upset.’

Then I asked him, ‘If you see me getting angry over something silly like this, and you remember, can you sing the ‘Let It Go’ song to me? Maybe that will help me remember to let things go more often.”

His face lit up in the way that only an innocent (yet deceptively wise) 3 year old face can. And he said, ‘yes mommy!’

My husband later mused that I might not want to hear the “Let It Go” song in the heat of the moment if this song intervention catches on. But really, that’s the best time to hear it. Not when you want to hear it, but when you need it most.

The Takeaways?

First, we don’t always remember to pause before reacting. Whether it’s a toddler, a client, or a loved one – when that primal ‘fight or flight’ response gets triggered, it’s easy to launch into reaction rather than pausing for a mindful moment. Clearly, my fight response got triggered and I launched into a tirade rather than pausing and breathing before mopping up the spilt milk. Here’s the key though – I did some reparative work and grew from the experience. First, I apologized to my toddler. I owned my reaction and shared my thought process with him. Secondly, I asked him to help me in a creative game of sorts by telling him that he could sing the “Let It Go” song for me if I needed a little reminder. My hope is that he (and I) will retain the larger message after the spilt milk: pause, breathe, and when all else fails – sing a little song! My goal? To build connections with my son and model ownership over my feelings as well as my mistakes so that he can feel comfortable doing the same as he continues to grow.

I’m not claiming that I won’t get in a huff the next time he spills milk. But maybe I will take a breath before reacting and have a slightly calmer response. It’s all about practice. And being a parent, a therapist, or just being human gives us constant opportunities to practice letting go.

Visual Art Reminders

If you don’t have a toddler around to sing out your most needed reminders, how about creating your own visual reminder? Maybe you don’t need to focus on letting go. Maybe you need inspiration in other areas such as, working towards your dreams, staying focused, keeping an open mind, or self-care. You can create visual reminders for anything and everything!

The image at the top of this post is a quick pen and watercolor piece that I made the same day that my son spilled the milk. I added the words ‘let it go’ to the milk puddle in the drawing to help me focus on the important message I got that morning. I should probably post it by the kitchen table, where we are most likely to need the reminder and where many of the important transitions of the day happen.

Art Therapy Work

My art therapy clients have enjoyed creating their own visual reminders during individual sessions and groups. Artful signs can be created for many reasons and types of reminders. They can range from playful reminders to very specific ones.

For example, many of the clients I’ve worked with struggle with substance abuse and are in various stages of recovery. They have found it incredibly helpful to create artful signs with inspirational sayings, quotes, and reminders that they can post in their rooms and around the home. Their signs often focus on the reasons they are working towards sobriety and ways to stay focused on their goals.

The signs can be created with any art materials and be small or even poster sized. I suggest using a nice thick paper that will hold up over time when displayed. If freehand drawing is overwhelming or not your client’s cup of tea, they can create a sign using collage. For the words, write it out by hand or print out a favorite quote to add to the imagery.

I will often have a bag of pre-cut quotes that pertain to the theme of the group. Clients often enjoy sifting through the quotes and pulling out ones that resonate and have personal meaning.

Here are a few examples of quotes that I might provide for a group focusing on substance abuse and mental health issues:

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” (T.S. Elliot)

“I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.” (Art Williams)

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” (Lao Tzu)

A number of  years ago, my own art therapist created a visual reminder for me during one of our sessions based on one of my favorite quotes:

"Smile, Breathe, & Go Slowly."

“Smile, Breathe, & Go Slowly.”

“Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)

It hangs in my studio to this day, and every time I see it I feel more grounded and centered in what matters most.

Often clients will feel a strong pull towards a particular quote that they were unfamiliar with. It’s amazing how a few carefully selected words and an image can be such powerful daily reminders and sources of inspiration. Explore song lyrics, passages from books, poems, and movies. And of course there’s a plethora of inspiration and quotes online. Here’s one of my Pinterest boards with some of my favorite artful reminders.

And here’s an image I created with colored pencil shavings that I keep close by:

"Get out of your head, and into your heART." Created with colored pencil shavings.

“Get out of your head, and into your heART.”
Created with colored pencil shavings.

Now that’s a great reminder for all of us!





Summer of Art

Wood Burned Creations Sara Roizen

Wood Burned Creations
Sara Roizen

“Art is to the community what the dream is to the individual.”
– Thomas Mann

It’s shaping up to be a summer of art. The past months have been a flurry of activity in my studio in moments carved out between baby naps, adventures out, musings of a toddler, and all of the moments that make up daily life. Painting, doodling, vinyl record mandalas, and lots (and lots) of wood burning.

There are creative seasons of life that mirror the actual seasons. Active times, dormant times, and the transition times. I’ve been enjoying this active creative season of my life. The warm summer breeze gives me an added lift and moves my art making along.

On Friday night, my family and I attended the artist’s reception for the Arts Fest community art exhibit at Endicott College. One of my large paintings, ‘Birds of a Feather,’ was included in the show. It was a beautiful evening with speakers, music, and a wonderful turnout. I was struck by the amount of community support for the arts here in Beverly, MA. My toddler enjoyed running around to the food stations and snatching pieces of cheese and bread, and I enjoyed soaking up the creative energy!


The group art show reception at Endicott

On Saturday my husband and I woke up bright and early and loaded up the car with all of my latest wood burned creations for my booth at Arts Fest on Cabot Street in Beverly.

Arts Fest was an all day event that featured 150+ artists and artisans, music, food, and artsy kid’s activities. It was my first time participating and I was blown away by how amazingly organized it was. The Beverly Arts District (BAD) staff and volunteers are incredible and the Arts Fest drew tons of visitors. My husband and I got to meet so many people as they wandered into my booth, struck up conversations, and supported local artists. Many of my wood burned creatures and vases found new homes! I was thrilled to be booth neighbors with my friend artist and art therapist Amy and her son Ian as well as The Artful Life.

Art, art therapists, and community! Now that’s my perfect day. And a perfect season.

Wood Burning Art Booth

Wood Burning Art Booth

Wood burned flock in my Arts Fest booth

Wood burned flock in my Arts Fest booth


This way!

10,000 Likes: Art Therapy Spot Evolution

10,000 Art Therapy Spot Facebook fans and counting!

This morning I hopped onto my Art Therapy Spot Facebook page. While I was replying to some comments and jumping around the page I realized that Art Therapy Spot had reached over 10,000 followers!

Wow. How and when did that happen?

I went back to the first post I ever made on the page back in June 10, 2011:

I’m brand new to the “fan page” world, but I’ll get the hang of it!  🙂

I started my Art Therapy Spot Facebook page a little while after graduating from Pratt Institute with my masters in Art Therapy. This blog (started in 2008) and my Facebook page became a place for me to share my excitement and discoveries in the field of art therapy. I drew from my own experiences as an art therapist and all of the amazing articles and resources I was coming across.

My blog and Facebook page continue to be focused on art therapy, creativity development, news from the field, inspiring quotes and writing, mindfulness, and related healing modalities.

The original Art Therapy Spot 'logo' watercolor image I created.

The original Art Therapy Spot ‘logo’ watercolor image I created.

I have chosen to share my own art and creative process on my blog and Facebook page because it is central to my identity and evolution as an art therapist. I try to weave in my personal creative process with interesting and hopefully illuminating snapshots from my work as an art therapist. It’s important to me that I continue to share the role of art as a healing and inspirational force in my life too. After all, I became an art therapist because art has been an integral part of my daily life and experiences since I was a child.

My Facebook page and this blog are not created or maintained as any type of business, but purely as an act of love. I post and share because I know there are many people out there who are also interested in the field of art therapy. I have received many messages through my blog and Facebook page over the past years. I am always thrilled when someone reaches out.

Many people send messages asking to know more about the process of becoming an art therapist and if it is right for them. I share any resources and pieces of my own journey that I can offer. Countless others send me a message sharing personal stories about the healing and transformative role of art and creativity in their personal journeys.

I could talk about our field of art therapy all day and all night. Good thing I have a forum to do so!

Thank you for being a part of the Art Therapy Spot community, for sharing your stories, sharing the creativity, and sharing the love. I’m so glad you’re along for the journey as Art Therapy Spot continues to evolve, along with our field.

Yours in creative adventures,

Sara Roizen



Vinyl Record Mandalas

vinyl record mandala ~ acrylic & paint marker on vinyl ~ Sara Roizen

‘Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.’

– Wassily Kandinsky


A few years ago my husband brought home some discarded test press vinyl records from the music company where he worked. He knew that I was drawn to non-traditional art materials and surfaces and had a feeling that I would enjoy painting on the vinyl records. His intuition was correct and once I started painting on the vinyl records, I was quickly hooked.

vinyl record mandala ~ acrylic on vinyl ~ Sara Roizen

vinyl record mandala ~ acrylic on vinyl ~ Sara Roizen

The circular form of the records and the grooved surface provided an engaging and joyfully challenging surface to work with. I experimented with paint markers and acrylic paint and began to figure out the best way to apply the paint and markers. My earliest pieces in the series were mostly paint marker on an acrylic background. I posted them on my art site for sale before the holiday season, and was excited when people started showing an interest in them and buying them. The first collection is now sold out, and in the past few months I have been working on a second collection for an upcoming show. Details coming soon!

vinyl record mandala in progress

vinyl record mandala
in progress

I’ve received a lot of questions about what type of materials I use to create the vinyl record mandalas in addition to people looking for tips for working on vinyl. I love sharing ideas for art materials and my process. Of course there is no right or wrong way to do this. (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) But here are some materials and tips that might help jump start your own explorations.


Paint: I mainly use acrylic paint in combination with paint markers. In terms of the brand of paint, it’s really a matter of personal preference and budget. I tend to buy a combination of higher end professional acrylic paint but also fill in with less expensive (but still very good quality) acrylic. The two professional grade paints that I use the most are Golden and Liquitex acrylic paint. Spend some time on the Golden and Liquitex sites if you’re interested in learning about the different types of paint they carry. There’s a lot of helpful information, tutorials, and art examples. I will often use the ‘Basics’ line of liquitex which is slightly less expensive but nice to work with.

Some of the art materials I use to create the vinyl mandalas ~ acrylic, paint pens, & hand carved stamps.

Some of the art materials I use to create the vinyl mandalas ~ acrylic, paint pens, & hand carved stamps.

Many art and craft stores also carry a house brand. For example, Michael’s carries a brand called Artist Loft and I have found that paint to be economical and good quality.

Paint Markers

There are many different brands of paint pens and markers. Some are oil based and some are water based. I only use water based markers. I don’t like the smell of the oil based markers. My favorite brand at the moment is Sakura Pen Touch Markers. They come in a variety of colors and pen tips. I often use the white pens on darker acrylic backgrounds. The metallics also create striking line work on top of a darker background.

Since there are so many brands of paint pens and markers, my advice is to buy 1 or 2 of each brand offered when you walk into the art store or order them. They are not usually very expensive. Then experiment with the brand, pen tips, and colors to see what you enjoy working with most. The one other thing I will mention is that paint pens do dry up rather quickly so I’m always replenishing my supply.

vinyl record mandala ~ acrylic & paint pen on vinyl ~ Sara Roizen

vinyl record mandala ~ acrylic & paint pen on vinyl ~ Sara Roizen

Other Art Materials

In addition to acrylic and paint pens, I have been creating my own rubber stamps and using them on some of the vinyl pieces. The tape cassette mandala (second image down from the top) was created using a stamp that I carved out of an oversized eraser. Using stamps in conjunction with painting and layers helps give the mandalas an added depth and level of complexity. Plus, the process of carving each stamp is enjoyable in and of itself.

Using stencils and collage are two more techniques that can help build interesting layers. I repeatedly use my circle stencils to block out smaller mandalas within the vinyl record mandala.

vinyl record mandala ~ acrylic on vinyl ~ Sara Roizen

vinyl record mandala ~ acrylic on vinyl ~ Sara Roizen

A few tips

It can take some practice in order to get comfortable with working on vinyl. The grooves and variations interact very differently with the paint then canvas does. I usually don’t use much water with the acrylic because it will start to slide of the vinyl if there is too much liquid. Try applying the paint more thickly. Keep in mind that there is a natural flexibility to the vinyl record. This is a great aspect of it and acrylic is a naturally flexible plastic. Still, if paint is applied very thickly then it could crack if the vinyl bends too much. It’s an interesting dance between rigidity and flexibility. I enjoy the creative tension inherent in this process. And this brings me to the art therapy component….

Vinyl Record Painting & Art Therapy

When I was working at a few different adult shelters in NYC I brought vinyl records in to my art therapy groups a number of times. My clients were immediately intrigued by the alternative surface. Many of them fondly recalled listening to records when younger. I would often open the group up by asking clients to imagine that they were about to paint the soundtrack to their lives. I asked them to envision the album cover and the record artwork. After they had meditated on this for a while, they would often begin to paint on the record. If there was time at the end of group, many of them spontaneously created track lists for their piece. The song titles were just as illuminating as the visual aspects of the records. Those who were inclined would then share the finished record mandala and the album cover and track list if they had come up with something.

The process was playful and yet deeply engaging and meaningful. Most of my clients took the painted records back and hung them up in their temporary rooms at the shelter. The pieces became conversation starters among other clients and staff members. Months later, a few of these same clients visited me at the shelter and said that the record had been the first thing that they hung up in their new apartment after finding housing.

vinyl record mandala ~ acrylic on vinyl ~ Sara Roizen

vinyl record mandala ~ acrylic on vinyl ~ Sara Roizen

To read more…

If you’d like to read a little more about my vinyl record mandalas, check out this interview I did with a lifestyle magazined called Llamas Valley.

My vinyl record mandalas also popped up on Bored Panda a while ago, which was a neat surprise!

Stay tuned for more vinyl record mandalas. In the meantime, why not try picking up a few used records and experimenting with some record art too? Share your explorations here.
I’d love to hear about them.

vinyl record mandala ~ Sara Roizen

vinyl record mandala ~ Sara Roizen