Emotional Landscapes

acrylic on canvas
Sara Roizen

‘Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance.’

– Charles Lindbergh


Art therapists tend to love working with metaphors, and I’m no exception. Metaphors spontaneously arise in art and serve as an entry point for connection and meaning.

In my art therapy groups at the hospital and at the shelter I’ve been introducing new visual starting points for groups as a way to utilize the power of metaphor in creativity. A while back I wrote a post on exploring resilience in art therapy by looking at photographs of resilience in nature and then having clients create their own symbols for inner resilience using nature imagery.

I was struck by how difficult it can be for clients to come up with the ways they are resilient when asked in a literal sense. Yet when they had nature imagery to fuel the discussion and art making, they were able to identify their resilient qualities quite easily. For example in my groups I’ve heard phrases like ‘I bend like the tree but don’t break,’ or ‘I feel vulnerable like the flower but I’ve been able to push through hard experiences like the flower through pavement.’

Since the resilience in nature group has seemed beneficial to many clients, I’ve been exploring other ways to explore our emotions and experiences through metaphor, while using pre-existing art as an inspiration . For the past couple of weeks I’ve been leading an ’emotional landscape’ art therapy group.

Inspiration & Brainstorming 

Painting by:
Emily Jeffords

I begin by placing some images of painted landscapes in the center of the table. I include a couple of well known paintings such as Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ as well as works by newer contemporary artists. The photos in this post are some of the examples I have provided clients. I aim for a wide range in style and mood. I’m often intrigued by how quickly the group members begin talking about the images and picking out their favorites while explaining why. It becomes clear that having the clients observe the artwork of others serves as an important connecting point for the group.

Art Time

After we talk about the images from other artists I ask everyone to take a moment and get in touch with their inner world. A few deep breaths can help bring clients back into their bodies after a lively group discussion. Next I ask them to tune into their emotions as much as they feel comfortable doing. For some clients, this request might be too triggering. I find this especially true for clients who are extremely anxious or have significant trauma backgrounds. If it’s too much to get in touch with an emotion in the present, I’ll often ask them to do a brief review of their week and pick one predominant emotion for inspiration. Being able to scan emotions over a longer time period is more accessible for certain clients. Then I ask them to imagine that their emotions could form a landscape. Some guiding considerations to prompt art might be: What would their emotional landscape look like in terms of color, intensity, setting, style, and feeling? I remind them that landscapes can be vastly different and can include settings like the woods, oceans, deserts, fields, mountains, etc.

Art by: Natasha Newton

Art Materials

Whenever possible I like to offer my groups a variety of materials from drawing to painting supplies. This allows clients to choose the material that resonates most with them. However it can be helpful to simplify materials too, depending on the specific group members you are working with. When using only drawing materials I place markers, colored pencils, and oils pastels on the table. Many clients enjoy chalk pastels since they are easy to blend. Just be mindful of the amount of dust chalk pastels can create and check beforehand to see if anyone has issues with the dust. Chalk pastels may also bring up feelings associated with being out of control for some. They spread so quickly and smoothly that certain clients may be surprised and then overwhelmed to find the paper (and themselves) suddenly covered in chalk dust. When appropriate, with painting I often offer acrylics because they lend themselves to multiple methods of handling and expression. Watercolor and watercolor crayons are also excellent choices for this exploration.

Processing The Art

Painting by: Elaine Jones

Processing of the artwork often happens organically as clients make art. At other times I have completely silent groups during art making. I welcome the silence and never rush to fill in the silence with my own questions or comments. Silence can be supportive and grounding, especially as a sanctuary from the often frenetic energy of the hospital. If we have created in silence I offer space for sharing and reflection towards the end. I might open up this part of group with questions such as:

Can you show us what you’ve created and say as little or as much about it as you’d like? What was this process like for you?

Did anything that emerged in your piece surprise you?
Did you plan the image out ahead of time or did it seem to emerge on its own?
Does a title for your piece come to mind?
If you could magically shrink in size and hop into your art, where would you like to land in the image? What would it feel like to walk through this landscape? Are there resting spots in it? Are there any areas you can’t easily access?

If time allows I encourage clients to respond to their art piece with a few written lines in the form of a poem, question, or dialogue. They may also move in a way that represents the art or share a song that emerges while looking at the piece.

But Really…Why Emotional Landscapes?
Some therapists may steer away from such a direct invitation to create directly from our emotions – especially in an acute inpatient setting. There are many times when I choose a subtler approach in terms of direction and theme. It is always necessary to assess on a moment to moment basis and make creative therapeutic adjustments as we go. However, my core belief that you have to ‘feel it to heal it’ is a guiding force for me as a therapist and on my own healing path. Whenever we sit down with a group of individuals, there are feelings in the room. Many feelings. That’s a given. At times it can be like addressing the elephant in the room, rather than trying to peer over the elephant as he sits in the center of the table (on the art supplies!) The ability to tap into metaphor – in this case the landscape – provides a direct yet perhaps gentler bridge into the realm of emotions. Asking clients to place any emotions within a broader inspired landscape may open up more symbolic space for the emotions, while grounding them in our connection to the greater world around us.

As always, I love to hear from you! Please share your ideas, questions, or adaptations to this art invitation.

The famous ‘Starry Night’ by Van Gogh.

The Art of Resilience

Ivy finding a path through the fence…photographed on one of my walks through our Queens neighborhood.

‘Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fall, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going.’

(Yasmin Mogahed)

I lived in Queens NY for many years. NYC is where I went to grad school for art therapy and began my career as an art therapist. The city held many possibilities and I had countless experiences there. However, one of the things I missed most while living in the city was nature. As much as I loved spending time in Central Park and other parks, I missed the ocean, getting lost in the woods, or being able to step outside and right into a backyard.

The longer I lived in the city, the more I began seeking out nature in the smallest of places. Whenever I walked around our neighborhood I would pay extra attention to any plants, trees, or animals I came across. Some of my favorite discoveries were of little wildflowers growing out of the pavement, hidden gardens behind neighbor’s fences, or ivy tendrils poking through fences along the sidewalk. I was struck by how resilient and persistent the nature in the city was. Nature adapted to life in the city, much like people adapt to the places they live.

Now my family and I live in Massachusetts and I have plenty of access to a backyard, woods, the ocean, farms, and rivers. However I still think about the glimpses of nature that I came across in the ‘concrete jungle’ of NYC. Lately I’ve been using the inspiration from my city walks by incorporating it into some of my art therapy groups.

A tiny wildflower growing through the concrete.

In my art therapy groups at the inpatient psychiatric hospital that I work at, I’ve been creating new art therapy group themes based on positive psychology principles. Positive psychology has drawn increasing attention in the past number of years and is often a challenging idea to explain to clients. Many group members assume that it’s about focusing on the good while ignoring the bad. I think the following explanation from Christopher Peterson, PhD is clarifying and helpful:

‘Positive psychology is the scientific study of what makes life most worth living. It is a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology.

Nowhere does this definition say or imply that psychology should ignore or dismiss the very real problems that people experience. Nowhere does it say or imply that the rest of psychology needs to be discarded or replaced. The value of positive psychology is to complement and extend the problem-focused psychology that has been dominant for many decades.’

A tree that learned to bend rather than break.

When doing art therapy work with a positive psychology lens, I keep returning to the theme of resilience. Resilience is a process of moving through difficult or traumatic experiences and adapting and growing. Resilience can be cultivated in individuals and strengthened. Part of that process involves helping clients realize the ways in which they are already resilient.

Within the predominant medical model of mental health, there is usually a focus on ‘what’s wrong’ with people and how to fix it, rather than ‘what’s right’ with people. I believe that a well-rounded approach to mental health must embrace both areas. All of us have room for improvement, but it’s also important to spend time acknowledging the strengths and positive qualities that we already possess.

I was finding that many of my art therapy group members had a hard time identifying positive aspects of themselves. Many of them are experiencing a psychological crisis and currently overwhelmed by stressors. I realized that using the metaphor of resilience in nature could be a useful emotional bridge within a group setting.

Art Therapy Group: Resilience In Nature

I begin the group by placing several nature photographs in the center of the table. The photos represent examples of resilience in nature and include things like: small flowers growing through concrete, new growth after a forest fire, and trees that learned to bend in harsh environments and weather instead of breaking. I let the group members explore them, compare them, and make free associations. I’ve been amazed by how strongly people react to them and how quickly emotions emerge, before we’ve even began art making. After a minute or two I begin asking the group questions such as:

What do these images have in common?
Do they remind you of anything?
Have you ever seen nature like this yourself?
Is there one image that you find yourself particularly drawn to and why?
How did these (flowers, trees, rocks) have to adapt in order to survive?

Usually the group members automatically pick up on the shared theme of resilience. Even if that word is not mentioned, other words such as ‘strength, flexibility, and enduring’ come up. I spend a few minutes talking about resilience and how it relates to positive psychology and our work in this group.

The Art Process

A drawing I made of ferns unfurling after being flattened by a footprint. True resilience!

After discussing the images and talking about the theme of resilience, I ask each person to think about the ways they are resilient. Once they have thought about themselves in this way, I ask them to come up with an image from nature that represents their personal resilience. It’s a symbolic self-portrait, using nature for inspiration. I encourage them to come up with a unique example from nature that might be different from the photographs we explored. Sometimes a client has a hard time coming up with their own image from scratch, and so I tell them it’s ok to borrow directly from a photograph that resonated with them. I encourage them to draw it mindfully while paying attention to the small details they might add.

In terms of art materials, I have done this with both wet materials such as acrylic and watercolor and dry materials such as colored pencils, oil pastels, and markers. Painting tends to evoke more feelings and greater discussion. Since I don’t always have long group time slots at the hospital, I have found that watercolor crayons can offer a happy middle ground between drawing and painting. They can be dipped directly into water to create a watercolor style line or you can draw with them and then go over the drawing with a wet paintbrush.

Absorbing Strength & Finding Meaning

While group members work on their drawings or paintings, there tend to be organic conversations about the images that are emerging. I enjoy helping the clients process their observations and experiences in the moment by asking questions that help them move more deeply into their art. I always leave time after everyone has finished their art to collectively view and talk about the work. Part of the power in art therapy groups is witnessing one another’s art while sharing experiences.

I’ve found that this art therapy directive has led to some of the most moving group experiences I’ve experienced at the hospital. I think this has to do with the group members feeling seen through their resiliency images and acknowledged for their struggles as well as their inner strength. Using nature as a metaphor helps clients create deep personal meaning, without having to disclose specific traumas within a short term acute setting.

As always, I love hearing your experiences – whether personal or in your own art therapy work with clients. Have you explored resilience using art or any other creative modality? Which examples of resilience in nature do you personally identify with? Next time you’re out for a walk – whether in the city or out in nature – keep your eyes open for your own examples. They’ll probably start popping up everywhere!

New growth after a forest fire.



Urban Outfitters Interview

             Vinyl Record Mandala ~ Sara Roizen

A couple weeks ago I was chosen to be Artist of the Week by Urban Outfitters Europe. Below is my interview with Urban Outfitters where I talk about the role of art in my life and my evolving creative process. You can also read the interview on their site!

UO: What inspires you to create artwork?

As a child I began creating out of emotional necessity, as a way to express and understand my feelings and experiences. The organic forms and rhythms in nature have always found visual expression in my work. Art has been a constant companion for me, a form of self-reflection, growth, and healing. I usually have no idea what I’m about to create when I sit down to make art. I enjoy the intuitive leap into the unknown. The challenge comes from continuously needing to trust my process while creating my own parameters to work within.

I am also an art therapist and currently work with adults at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. I gain constant inspiration from the individuals and groups that I work with. I am inspired by the creativity and the depth of emotions and experiences that naturally surface through art therapy. There is a genuine shared energy when working with others in this way, and I have always found that my art therapy career directly inspires my personal art making.


UO: Where did the idea for your ‘Vinyl Record Mandalas’ series come from?

My husband Adam used to work in the music industry in NYC. A few years ago he came home with some discarded test pressing records and asked if I could do anything creative with them. I had always loved creating mandalas (art within a circle) and the vinyl records lended themselves so beautifully as unique mandalas to create art on. We are both huge music fans with an eclectic taste in music. I loved the idea of repurposing old discarded or unplayable records and giving them new life through art. Once I started with the vinyl record mandalas, I just kept going!


Vinyl Record Mandala ~ Sara Roizen

UO: How do you choose which vinyl records to use for your artwork?

Sometimes I pick the record based on the small amount of label art on it and play around with that imagery as I paint. I like to think about what style of painting would complement the record based on the style of music. Even if the record name is completely obscured by the time I am finished painting, I like to think that the energy of the original music influences where I go visually.


UO: Your artwork combines the use of many different materials, which is your favourite to use?

It’s hard to decide on a favourite material. I work mainly in acrylics because I love how quickly they dry and how many textural pastes you can combine with them to create depth and layers. With the vinyl record art I have been using a lot of paint markers in addition to the acrylic paint. The paint markers allow me to add greater detail in sections. I’ve been playing around with hand-carved rubber stamps in this vinyl record mandala series as a way to add subtle layers. In other bodies of work I love pen and ink drawing, watercolor, and wood burning. I tend to choose art materials based on what my inner needs are at the time. For example, wood burning helps me to slow down in a meditative and unrushed way, whereas working on a large acrylic painting with palette knives allows me to use  bold strokes and channel more energy into the piece.

Sara Roizen


UO: Describe your creative process.

Open, curious, ever-changing, and fluid. Sometimes I’m on a roll and sometimes my creative process needs a mini break to hibernate as I gather more visual life inspiration. I think the creative process – for all of us – keeps going in daily moments. Having two young children also impacts when and where I create, although I have to say that I appreciate my art time even more than I used to now and I keep finding creative ways to make art. I don’t think the creative process is solely reserved for those ‘AHA!’ moments when you have an amazing breakthrough in your studio. It’s important to honor all of the quiet small creative moments that make up each day. That could be pausing with one of my children to see a shape in the clouds, or rearranging a vase in my house to reflect the light more beautifully.


UO: Do you have any advice for young art students? 

Although I loved my undergraduate painting education overall, I felt there was too much emphasis placed on getting that ‘finished gallery ready body of work.’ It didn’t jive with me. I thought I was in college to experiment in all of the glorious messy ways that are open to us as students. My artwork reflected many directions – some visually cohesive, and others less so. I would give the advice that I wish I had been given – to follow your art through each adventure, without judgment and without becoming paralyzed by comparing it to the art of others. It’s wonderful to be inspired by other artists, but it’s also too easy to spend hours perusing the internet for artists to emulate. After you’ve done that for a while, shut down your computer, head to wherever you make art, and get quiet inside yourself. If it gets uncomfortable or you think you’re not getting anywhere with your art, that’s great. That’s the starting point. Staying on for the rest of the ride is where the magic can happen. So see what emerges when you leave all of the critics at the door for a while, and that especially includes your own inner-critic.

wood-burned bird
Sara Roizen


UO: What do you like to listen to at the moment to get you in the creative mood?

I have so many things that I listen to. I used to only listen to music when I painted, but for some reason I’ve been really into podcasts lately. I really enjoy the podcasts On Being with Krista Tippett, and Insights At The Edge with Tami Simon. They are very spiritual podcasts and interview many leaders in the fields of mind-body science, spirituality, creativity, and psychology. This is kind of embarrassing, but I’ve also been on an acoustic covers playlist kick! I enjoy hearing reimagined versions of well known songs and the simplicity of the sound is moving and beautiful to me.


UO: Who are the artists that you look up to?

The list would be huge if I really thought about it, but here are some of my favorites: Bernd Haussman, Jane Davies, Paul Klee, Francesco Clemente, Georgia O’Keefe, Gerhard Richter, Rufino Tamayo, Hiroshi Matsumoto, Brice Marden, Kiki Smith, and Yayoi Asoma.


UO: What do you like most about working in your studio? 

Working in my studio is like going on a meditation retreat within my own home. My studio is a converted attic in our house and it is a light filled quiet space. Because it’s at the top of the house, I often feel like I’m creating art in a tree house. Time seems to stand still when I’m making art in my studio. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have that space.


UO: Can you tell us about any future/ current projects that you are working on? 

As always, I’m working on several bodies of work at once. I am continuing with the wood-burning, drawing, and vinyl record mandalas. With my paintings on canvas, I have started seeing a new vocabulary evolving in terms of energetic and fluid lines that remind me of calligraphic work. There’s almost an urgency to let the energy out in paint form. It’s a dance where I am giving into that rhythm and then stepping back to see how it unfolds. I have no idea where this body of work is headed, which is exactly how I like it.



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.

Image: cutandfoldbookart.com


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!