Update: Mind full or Mindful Image…Artist Mystery Solved!

Art: Henck van Bilsen

Way back in June 2011
I posted a wonderful image that I had found while exploring the topic of mindfulness. 
Mind full or Mindful?

The only problem was that I could not find the artist! I received many emails from my blog readers asking if I knew the creator of this illustration.

Well the mystery was solved a few days ago by one of my readers and I’m grateful and very happy to  be able to pass this information on. And I’m going to order the Socks of Doom book myself! See below:

In case you’re still looking for the artist, I found him! It is by Henck van Bilsen, Consultant Cognitive Behaviour Therapist & Consultant Clinical Psychologist. It is from his book, The Socks of Doom, (LOL!). It has more cartoons with these characters: Zee Beatty (the man), and his much happier dog (Mr Percy). You can see details here, http://www.socksofdoom.com/, where they also post their conversations.

Non-Dominant Hand Art

Sun Mandala ~ Sara Roizen

About a week ago I had surgery on my right (dominant) hand to repair a torn tendon. It was the first surgery I’ve had, and needless to say my anxiety was high at times. There was also the fear surrounding my right hand being  ‘out of commission’ for about a month as I heal from the surgery. As an artist and art therapist both hands are usually covered in paint each day, and yet I had been given strict orders not to use my right hand for now. Hmmm…

I made a deliberate choice before the surgery to frame this whole experience in a positive and creative way. The timing seemed serendipitous, since I had been noticing how fast life had seemed to be moving recently – the days all blurring and feeling as though I was not fully present each day and moment. This has definitely slowed me down, as I navigate each day with the use of only one hand! (For example, typing this post is an exercise in patience and stamina without both hands!)

At work my art therapy clients have adapted beautifully and I am noticing how empowering it can be for them to take even more responsibility for the set-up and clean-up of the art therapy groups. I’m also seeing how disarming (pun intended) it has been for new group members who might feel intimidated to begin making art. When they see me drawing or painting with my left hand they often decide to try – and my spiel about the ‘process and not just the finished product’ now seems more poignant. I am also learning to ask for help when needed, whether from other staff or my clients. This is often difficult for me, and it is turning out to be a good learning experience. 

I started making art the same day that I came home from surgery. I just couldn’t stay away! It has helped me to tolerate the discomfort in my hand and to focus my energy on something I love. There have been many theories about non-dominant hand art and writing. Many believe that non-dominant hand writing/art helps to bypass the conscious/logical side of our brain and help us to access the unconscious. I have personally explored non-dominant hand writing as a way to do inner child work and access more primal and raw emotions and experiences. In addition, there are some studies that explore how non-dominant hand work utilizes the brain differently – some believe that it helps to integrate the right and left hemispheres of the brain.
The pieces in this post were all created with my non-dominant hand. I have been using metallic (silver/gold) permanent markers on black paper and also creating water paintings with my new ‘Buddha Board’ (perhaps a separate post on that later!) I am noticing how relaxed I am when creating non-dominant hand art. Creating art usually helps me enter that ‘zone’ that many of you are familiar with. However I’m finding that I’m entering that quiet space (zone) even more quickly in this current art work.

I would encourage any of you to try creating some non-dominant hand art to experience this for yourself! Try it out and then report back here with your observations!

Wishing you a wonderful holiday weekend… 

City Landscape ~ Sara Roizen 
Overlapping ~ Sara Roizen
Cocoon Woman ~ Sara Roizen
‘Buddha Board’ art ~ Sara Roizen
Chrysanthemum ~ Sara Roizen
‘Buddha Board’ Art ~ Sara Roizen
Bodhi Tree ~ Sara Roizen
‘Buddha Board’ Art ~ Sara Roizen

Writing-Inspired Art Therapy

“Siddhartha” acrylic & collage on canvas, Sara Roizen

“When Siddhartha listened attentively to this river, to the song of a thousand voices; when he did not listen to the sorrow or laughter, when he did not bind his soul to any one particular voice and absorb it in his Self, but heard them all, the whole, the unity; then the great song of a thousand voices consisted of on word: Om-perfection.

From that hour Siddhartha ceased to fight against his destiny. There shone in his face the serenity of knowledge, of one who is no longer confronted with conflict of desires, who has found salvation, who is in harmony with the stream of events, with the stream of life, full of sympathy and compassion, surrendering himself to the stream, belonging to the unity of all things.”  

From: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

I created the painting above a number of years ago after reading Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. The book evoked so many powerful visual images for me that I felt inspired to create a piece of art in response. The passage that I shared above is the part of the book that stayed with me, long after I had put the book down. I wrote the passage on transparent paper and incorporated the text into the piece as well. While creating this piece I let myself surrender to the stream of the creative process, as I layered color and collage and let the composition create itself. 

Fast forward 15 years or so…During my last art therapy group, a number of the clients began incorporating words into their art pieces. One group member created an abstract layered painting on canvas, and then carefully stenciled the words “We are one, Love.” Another client made a piece that reflected her favorite passage from the bible – a passage that had brought her strength during difficult times. One woman spent the time writing a poem about what love means to her and then shared it at the end of group. 

collage with quote: Sara Roizen

I was fascinated by the spontaneous addition of words to the art process and began thinking about the relationship between writing and art therapy. 

A few months ago I had attended the Expressive Arts Therapy Summit here in NYC and had attended a workshop led by art therapist Erin Partridge, titled Personal Hope Book: A Container of Resilience. The workshop included a discussion about Erin’s work in a high security prison setting, with treatment-resistant men. Erin found quotes about hope that resonated with the group members and was able to engage the group members in the process of creating “Personal Hope Books” where each page in the individual’s handmade book included a quote about hope and accompanying art work.

There are numerous possibilities to explore in terms of directives when it comes to using writing within art therapy. Below are a few ideas:

  • Before group, write feeling words on single pieces of paper (such as sad, joyful, ashamed) and put them in the center of the table. Ask each group member to select a word that reflects what they are feeling at the moment and then create a piece of art that visually represents that feeling. Or, ask them to create a piece of art that represents the opposite of the feeling they have chosen.
  • Provide the group members with a number of printed out quotes around a certain theme (such as the hope quotes mentioned above). Ask them to incorporate the quote into a collage/mixed media piece.
  • Chain story/mural: (Great warm-up activity too!) Have the group members participate in a chain story – where each person writes a few sentences of a story and then folds the paper down so that only the last part of the sentence can be seen and then continued by the next person. When the story is finished it can be read aloud, and then a group piece (such as a mural on paper) can be created to depict the story.
  • Transforming stress: (This is an idea that I created a little while ago after one of my clients brought an entire pile of bills/forms to our session and dumped them on the table!) Have the clients bring any forms, bills, etc. that are stressing them out at the moment and then make photocopies of them. (Just be sure to block out any personal info on the forms). Then, have the clients create a “stress collage” with the photocopies. Encourage them to get some frustration out by ripping, cutting-up, and layering the copies and to add color (with paint, markers, etc) to the piece. Additional words can be added on top of the photocopies.

One final note: Be mindful of language barriers and/or the fact that some clients may struggle with reading. This can be handled, (without drawing any attention to the client) by simply reading the quotes/words out loud at the beginning of group and arranging them in a way on the table so that the client(s) can differentiate between them clearly. 
Happy creating!

Ink Painting & Art Therapy

Sara Roizen ~ ink on paper ~ 2011
Sara Roizen ~ ink on paper ~ 2011
Sara Roizen ~ ink on paper ~ 2011
“Learn how to meditate on paper. Drawing and writing are forms of meditation. Learn how to contemplate works of art. Learn how to pray in the streets or in the country. Know how to meditate not only when you have a book in your hand but when you are waiting for a bus or riding in a train.”
     ~ Thomas Merton (1915 – 1968)
These are a few recent ink paintings on paper that I have created. I started this series during one of my open studio groups, after being inspired by a group member and his ink paintings.

The technique I have been using is “wet on wet” and is commonly used with watercolor and ink painting. You begin by doing a light water wash (spreading water over your surface with a larger brush) and then add your pigment (paint or ink) to the paper while the wash is still wet. You can wet the entire page before adding paint/ink, or you can only saturate certain areas of the page, which is what I have been experimenting with for the most part. As soon as you drop or apply the ink to the paper, it bleeds across the page as it follows the water. In some ways you can predict the way the color will flow, and in other ways you can’t! You can blow gently on the water pools to coax them in certain directions, or you can even move the paper around to move the water/ink. Experiment with the “blotting” technique, where you gently dab a paper towel, cloth, or sponge to the paper, which lifts off some of the pigment and water. This creates interesting textures and can add depth to the painting.

Sara Roizen ~ ink on paper ~ 2011
Ink Painting as Art Therapy
Last week, I used this technique in two of my art therapy groups at work. I gave a brief demo of the wet on wet technique, and provided my group with canvas paper, watercolor (metallic colored!), high pigment liquid watercolor, and of course water. I encouraged them to experiment with the technique, and not think too much about creating a finished art piece. Instead, I asked them to see what happens when they added more or less water, more or less color, moved the piece around, blotted it, etc.

While painting in group, we processed how this art technique can be related to life. Many of my group members shared that they had a difficult time “letting go” in general, and getting out of their own way at times. When I asked them to explore where that fear might be coming from, one of the basic themes that kept emerging was the idea of “trust” and how so many of my group members had not learned to trust others or themselves after years of trauma and negative experiences. Therefore, the process of letting go was often difficult for them, since they had no basis for trusting that things would work out if they were not in tight control.

After creating the paintings, group members shared how pleasantly surprised they had been at the way their pieces had come out. They were also surprised by the fact that they had been able (for that entire hour) to let go of the finished result, and simply enjoy the process of exploration. A few members expressed how much easier life might be if they could apply this way of painting to their way of interacting in the world. As we ended the group, I encouraged each person to think about one area (outside of group) where they could try on a more relaxed and open perspective, whether it was just smiling at the annoying person on the crowded train, or enjoying their next meal in a more deliberate and slow manner.
Finally, a short quote for you to contemplate:
“Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.”
~Bill Watterson~
Sara Roizen ~ ink on paper ~ 2011
Sara Roizen ~ ink on paper ~ 2011
Sara Roizen ~ ink on paper ~ 2011
Sara Roizen ~ ink on paper ~ 2011
Sara Roizen ~ ink on paper ~ 2011

The Mind is Like the Ocean

Sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor

I recently attended a 2 day workshop called The Wise Heart and the Mindful Brain. The workshop was led by Jack Kornfield and Dan Siegel. It was an incredible 2 day event and was attended by about 750 people – the majority of us in the healthcare and therapy field. Over the 2 days we explored many subjects through dialogue and direct meditation experiences. I have been meaning to write some posts about this event since it happened. However, I think that there was so much learning and new things to process that I felt a bit overwhelmed to be quite honest! (But it was overwhelmed in a good way – when you just have too many wonderful things you want to share, and don’t know where to start).

I am looking forward to sharing some of my experiences with readers in this post and continued blog posts. To begin with, here is a little information about the 2 presenters.

  • Jack Kornfield is a psychologist, ordained Buddhist monk, and expert in the integration of Buddhist psychology with Western psychology. If you are interested, visit his site at: Jack Kornfield
  • Dan Siegel MD is psychiatrist, mindfulness practitioner who has dedicated much of his life to researching interpersonal neurobiology and exploring the impact that mindfulness based practices has on the therapeutic relationship and the brain itself. You can find out more about his work at: Dr. Dan Siegel
Sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor

The mind is like the ocean. And deep in this ocean, beneath the surface, it’s calm and clear. And no matter what the surface conditions are, whether it’s flat or choppy or even a full gale storm, deep in the ocean it’s tranquil and serene. From the depth of the ocean you can look toward the surface and just notice the activity there, as in the mind, where from the depth of the mind you can look upward toward the waves, the brainwaves at the surface of your mind, where all that activity of mind, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and memories exist. You have the incredible opportunity to just observe those activities at the surface of your mind. 

– Dan Siegel, MD ~ The Mindful Brain
When I was little I used to sometimes worry about what happened to all of the fish and sea creatures during a big storm at sea. I pictured the boats and people on the surface being buffeted around by the huge waves and the torrential rain. At some point in my childhood, someone pointed out that the fish were actually safe during the storms. 
“Why?” I asked?
The reply was that the fish were safe because they lived deep under the surface of the ocean, where the chaos on the surface could not touch them.
(You can imagine how comforted I was by this newly found knowledge. Now I could focus my animal-loving attention on saving a different species of animals).

Perhaps this link to my childhood musings is part of what drew me to this particular visual metaphor. In the week since the workshop, I have often conjured up this vision of the ocean – beneath the surface. When I stop for a moment to do this, it automatically creates a space in between my experience and my reaction to that experience. This type of practice is what breaks the cycle of reactivity and “living on autopilot.” Try it out next time you find yourself in a very reactive state (whether anxious, angry, or just rushed). Picture yourself at the bottom of a deep blue ocean, looking up calmly at the ever-changing surface (of your mind). You may observe (and even laugh) at all of the activity on the surface. But the core of who you are resides in that still place.

Many mindfulness teachings and practices say exactly the same thing, only with different words. There are many different arrows pointing to consciousness and awareness, but they are all pointing towards the same center. 

Another arrow pointing to the center is art therapy and creativity development. Mindfulness based practices and art therapy (really, all of the creative arts therapies) are often a very natural and powerful integration of experiences. In more recent years they have been blended together more formally and referred to as Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy (MBAT). 

Sculpture by Jason deCaires Taylor

There are many specific approaches to art therapy and mindfulness practice. However there seem to be a few core similarities between the two based on my own experiences. In art therapy I encourage my client to focus on the process of creating art, rather than the finished product. In mindfulness practice we place our attention on the present moment; making space for whatever thoughts or feelings arise. In both practices, the emphasis is placed on experiencing the present moment in a non-judgmental way. A painting is not inherently charged with “good” or “bad” qualities. Rather, it is our own perceptions and thoughts about the art which will assign it ultimate meaning. Similarly, life experiences are not truly “good” or “bad,” but our thinking and interpretation places each experience into one of these categories. 

As Shakespeare wrote:

for there is nothing either good or
bad, but thinking makes it so
So the next time you are finishing a piece of art, music, writing, conversation, or a day at work – take a pause. Before you assign an objective thought about whether that experience was good, bad, beautiful, or ugly, just allow it to be itself for a moment. Don’t worry…your thoughts aren’t going anywhere. I promise they’ll still be there waiting for you when you get back. And there’s nothing wrong with that!