For the Bookworms!

I’ve been devouring books lately…nothing quite like curling up in a blanket and diving into a good book when it’s freezing outside.

Over the past few years I’ve amassed a growing personal library of books that I couldn’t do without. I’ve received a few questions about which books I might recommend for someone who is interested in art therapy. Below is a starting list of books that I’ve found really informative, insightful, and inspirational. I’ve divided them into the categories of art therapy, mental illness, creativity & art, and spirituality.

Hope you enjoy!

Art Therapy

Approaches to Art Therapy: Theory & Technique, Judith Rubin

Handbook of Art Therapy, Cathy Malchiodi (a new edition is coming out soon!)

Creative Arts Therapies Approaches in Adoption and Foster Care: Contemporary Strategies for Working with Individuals and Families, Donna Betts

The Secret World of Drawings: A Jungian Approach to Healing Through Art,
Gregg Furth

Studio Art Therapy: Cultivating the Artist Identity in the Art Therapist, Catherine Hyland Moon

Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, Shaun McNiff

Existential Art Therapy: The Canvas Mirror, Bruce Moon

The Artist as Therapist, Arthur Robbins

Art is a Way of Knowing, Pat Allen

Art Therapy for Groups, Marian Liebmann

Books on the Creative Process/Art

Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, David Bayles & Ted Orland

Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go, Shaun McNiff

The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron

Books on Psychology and Psychotherapy

Freud and Beyond: A History of Modern Psychoanalytic Thought, Stephen Mitchell & Margaret Black

Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow, Judith Viorst

Attachment in Psychotherapy, David Wallin

Psychoanalytic Diagnosis: Understanding Personality Structure in the Clinical Process, Nancy McWilliams

The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood, Selma Fraiberg

Books on Mental Illness

The Buddha & The Borderline, Kiera Van Gelder

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Kay Redfield Jamison

Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Kay Redfield Jamison

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, Joanne Greenberg

Books on Spirituality & Mindfulnes

The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, & Jon Kabat-Zinn

The Translucent Revolution: How People Just Like You Are Waking Up and Changing the World, Arjuna Ardagh

A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, Jack Kornfield

Autobiography of a Yogi,
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Paramahansa Yogananda

The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield

The Bhagavad Gita, Swami Prabhavananda & Christopher Isherwood
(there are many translation versions – I happen to like this one)

Siddhartha, Herman Hesse

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Mindfulness Meditation and Creativity

Ascent ~ Sara Roizen

I’m happy to share that I followed my own advice from my previous blog on “getting unstuck in the studio” and have begun painting again! Aside from the list of ways to get unstuck that I already posted about, I have to say that starting to meditate daily again has had a very positive impact on my productivity in the studio.

There are hundreds of different ways to meditate, and I believe strongly that for each person it is a highly individual choice as to which meditation method(s) are most helpful. I grew up in a family who practiced TM (Transcendental Meditation) on a daily basis. Over the years I have often wavered in my constancy when it comes to practicing TM myself, however I have found that when I practice regularly, the quality of each day is greatly improved.

In addition to Transcendental Meditation, I am always exploring other types of meditation, from different schools of thought. Recently I read a truly helpful and well-written book called The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness, written by Mark Williams, PhD, John Teasdale, PhD, Zindel Segal, PhD, and internationally known meditation teacher and author Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. In this eye-opening book, the authors utilize elements of cognitive behavioral therapy and the concept of “mindfulness” to enlighten readers on how to work through depression, and other challenging states of mind and being. They write, “Mindfulness meditation allows us to respond creatively to the present moment, freeing us from the knee-jerk reactions that start the cycle of rumination.” (p.81).

The main premise (to summarize a wealth of information) is that when we begin to worry, grow depressed, or experience other negative states of mind, we usually attempt to “think our way out” of the situation. We automatically find ourselves in problem-solving mode. This has to do greatly with the way our minds are usually wired and our discomfort with sitting with and experiencing unpleasant feelings and thoughts. The more we try to intellectually solve our problem, the more we get stuck in the problem itself. Even if we do “find” a solution to the immediate problem, it is not long before a new problem springs up to take its place. In addition, when we try to out-think ourselves out of depression or anxiety we usually experience an onslaught of other negative and related thoughts such as “oh, here I go again – I can’t do anything right!” or perhaps our minds drift to the past to a previous time when we felt upset – and we feel that we are always doomed to feel this way. To summarize, one negative thought usually unleashes a torrential downpour of similar negative thoughts, which creates a snowball effect.

An alternative way to face negative thoughts and emotions is to learn to bring mindfulness to the experience. We do not deny that the emotion is there, but we do not add fuel to the emotion either – by continuing to try and problem-solve. Mindfulness is a skill (like any other) that we must practice and cultivate in every day life. In the beginning it may seem forced, and we find ourselves becoming frustrated with our attempts to be more mindful of the present moment. However, the authors emphasize that there is no such thing as “wrong” mindfulness meditation – as long as we are gently aware of the thoughts as they arise. (We cannot let go of a thought or feeling, until we have acknowledges its presence).

The authors include many daily exercises for developing mindfulness. Some of them are refreshingly simple, yet not as easy as they may sound at first! For example, bring mindfulness to the simple daily chores (that we usually do not enjoy). Try washing the dishes mindfully: truly feeling the way the warm water and soap feel on your hands, the texture of the dishes as you wash them, the sounds in the sink as they clank against each other…Or, when was the last time you ate a meal mindfully? If you’re at all like me, many of your meals are eaten in front of the t.v. while talking, or doing at least three things at once. Maybe set a goal for yourself of having one meal a week at the dining room table, by yourself or with someone else. Eat slowly and with purpose, paying attention to the way the food really tastes, the textures, and the smells. (Don’t forget to turn off the t.v.! Perhaps just play some soft music in the background).

Another one of my favorite practices that the authors mention is one I have been doing for years. It’s called the “body scan.” I like to begin with my head and progress down my body, all the way to my feet. Lie down in a comfortable position and begin by focusing on your breathing. Thoughts will inevitably come and go, so just notice that they are there, and then let them slowly drift on by. Sometimes imagining your thoughts as leaves that you place in a stream can help. You hold on to the leaf for a moment, and then place it on the water and watch as it drifts away from you. Beginning with your head, just bring gentle attention to each part of your body, noticing if any tensions, feelings, or sensations arise in that area of your body. If they do, try not to judge them but just notice them and imagine warm accepting energy going to that part. When that area feels more relaxed and less tense, progress down to the next body part. As you do this exercise, you might find yourself growing very relaxed and even sleepy. If you nod off to sleep a few times it is not a problem – it probably means that your body was holding onto excess tension that is just now being let go. Remember to be aware of your breathing as you do this – but do not judge the quality of your breathing, whether it is “too fast or too slow,” just notice it. When you are finished, take a few minutes to continue lying there and just breathing and feeling your body as a whole entity.

Mindfulness can also be practiced in the art studio, the recording studio, or when we sit down to write…really it can be practiced anywhere! One of the best ways to bring an awareness and mindfulness to our creative pursuits is to simply remain interested in each moment of creating as it unfolds. I know that for myself, and probably many of us, we remain our harshest critic. When I sit down to paint, it sometimes feels as if I am surrounded by a room full of critics, peering over my shoulder and judging each brushstroke I make. And yes, it’s true – someone will always have an opinion about the work that we create. However, what truly matters is that we learn to eventually make peace with our own inner critic. This does not mean that we have no thoughts or opinions or personal striving in the art we make. It does mean that we do not cut ourselves off from the source of creativity, by drowning ourselves in negative self-talk and doubt. It might mean that we do not place as much emphasis on the finished product, but more on the moment by moment creation of the work that we do.

Getting unstuck in the studio

“Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.”
– Stephen DeStaebler

How true. I know that I’ve gotten to this point when I walk by my studio and stare longingly at my canvases and paint, but am afraid to walk in. When I promise myself that “tomorrow I’ll paint” but find the day passing without picking up a brush. I feel a restlessness inside of me – pent up energy that has nowhere to go. Sometimes the feelings arise as anxiety or frustration. When I was young my parents tell me that they used to send me up to my room to draw for a few hours whenever they noticed that I was in a bad mood, or had too much energy and no direction. They report that I would come back down a few hours later with a smile on my face, and like a whole new person.

With all of that in mind, I have to admit that I’ve been having a very hard time getting back into the studio over the past few months. The longer I put it off, the greater the fear seems to grow. So here I’m compiling a list of ways to get back into creating. They are all methods that I have used in the past. With any luck, I will follow my own advice and get back into my painting rhythm. I hope some of these ideas will inspire you as well, especially if you find yourself creatively stuck from time to time.

  • Un-clutter your creating space, whether it’s a studio, a kitchen table, or a spot on the floor. This doesn’t mean making it spotless! In fact, most inspirational creating spaces have a certain degree of clutter. However, if you have to literally leap across a pile of stuff to land at your easel (true story) then you might benefit from some space clearing rituals. Plus, the action that you take to clean the space up a bit is a very productive activity in itself, which might give you further motivation to just keep on doing (creating) when you are finished!
  • Make the environment more inviting through music. Are there any artists or songs that consistently lift your spirits when you are down? Or maybe there’s some really angry music that gets your energy moving. (A lot has been written about listening to soothing music while creating, but I often find the opposite type of music gets me motivated, so it’s whatever works for you!) Music itself can be a source of inspiration for a painting, poem, or drawing.
  • Try a new material out. Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves with familiar materials. Using a new material (or one we haven’t used in a while) can free us up to be more spontaneous in our exploration. If you’re an acrylic painter, try oil sticks. If you’re a watercolor painter, try using gel mediums and playing with texture. Using collage elements and found objects can also be helpful when we are stuck, as it provides us with an automatic source of inspiration (and may be far less intimidating than staring at a blank canvas).
  • Create with a friend – collaborate. Creating can be a lonely endeavor. Sometimes this is what we seek, but at other times it may be helpful to have the added creativity and motivation from a friend. Creating with a friend is like having a three-way dialogue, between you, your friend, and the object that you are creating. It also can just be more fun that way!
  • Get out and see some art. Or if you can’t get out at the moment, look through some art books or browse the internet to look at art you are drawn to. Sometimes while looking at the art of others, we are re-inspired and remember what draws us to art in the first place. While you’re thinking about getting out, why not consider joining an artist’s networking group?
  • Brush up on your drawing and painting foundation skills. I’m not saying that you have to be classically trained in order to create (not at all!) However, sometimes getting back to the basics (paying attention to line quality, composition, color theory etc.) can be a source of inspiration in itself. Focusing on the basics again can help us get back to seeing with “beginner’s eyes.” Consider taking an affordable art class at a community center or local college. Or, think about buying one of many great drawing foundation books, such as “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards.
  • Find a space and time to show your work in the near future, and then work on a body of work for that show. This does not have to be a Chelsea gallery or the Guggenheim! Think outside of the box, and exhibiting in places like restaurants, coffee shops, or friend’s apartments if they have a good space. Often times places like restaurants and coffee shops are happy to have an artist’s work on their walls – it’s free decoration for them, and free exposure for you!
  • Create a small daily goal for yourself to create – anything. This could be as small as creating a miniature drawing a day on a little piece of paper or cutting out one image for collage each day and collecting them in a folder for future use. The goal could be bigger as well, such as paint for 1 hour each day. Sometimes scheduling the creating time into your day is extremely helpful. Look at it as something that you owe yourself – and that is just as important to your well being as the other things on your “to do” list.
  • Stuck without ideas? Here are a few random ideas to get you creating on a little theme: Paint a picture with only white and one other color. Mix the white in different amounts to the primary color and see how many different hues you can make. Create a list of different feelings such as angry, sad, joy, etc…Then pick one feeling from the list and create an abstract representation of it. Create a self-portrait of your “ideal self” as well as your “monster self.” Create a sculpture out of found objects, and then create a drawing or painting of that object – as realistic or abstract as you’d like. Re-imagine and create a piece based on a famous painting such as Picasso’s “Starry Night.” Take an image from a magazine, paste it onto paper or canvas, and extend the image outwards using paint or drawing. Cut up old paintings or drawings and create a mosaic piece (this is great when you have a lot of old pieces you are not fond of but do not want to get rid of – recycle them!) Make an altered book: go shopping at a used book store (the Strand in NYC is great!) and alter the book pages to make it your own, using collage, paint, textures, and cutting to transform it into something new.
  • And finally, here’s a saying that I have found very useful in creating art and for life in general. “Action precedes motivation.” Sometimes we need to make ourselves do something before the actual motivation is there. When all else fails just do it! As you engage in the creative process, inspiration and motivation to continue is sure to emerge.

Inspirational Art Quotes

Below are a few quotes that I find very inspirational and just wanted to share:)

Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos. – Stephen Sondheim

An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world. – George Santayana

Artists don’t make objects. Artists make mythologies. – Anish Kapoor

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
– Scott Adams

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures. – Henry Ward Beecher

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.
– Pablo Picasso

Great art picks up where nature ends. – Marc Chagall

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for. – Georgia O’Keefe

If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. – Vincent Van Gogh

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.
– Dorothea Lange

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. – Thomas Merton


Yesterday I found out that my patient had died. I had been working with him at the hospital since this summer and we had developed a very special relationship… He was an incredible 9 year old, who filled the room with energy, laughter, and new perspectives. I still cannot believe he is gone. It happened so suddenly and it still doesn’t seem real. In his little time on earth he influenced so many people and truly transformed those he came into contact with. I know that he has taught me an incredible amount – about how to be a better art therapist, and a better human being. He will be terribly missed. But I know he is in a better place, free of pain and full of beauty.

I wanted to share a few pieces of his artwork. He was a prolific artist! He spread beauty through his presence, as well as his art. Please enjoy!

New sketches

Here are a few new sketches, done during my vacation in the Dominican Republic. This wasn’t an adventure vacation – it was an R&R vacation! So instead of sketching what was around me, I went inwards for imagery. Lately a lot of the images have been of women in various styles…

Are you my mother?

This was one of my favorite books as a child. It was a very popular children’s book for many. However, when it was read to me – many deeper issues welled up in my young mind, and still do to this day – as an adult adoptee. The young bird in the story has been separated from his mother and goes on a quest to find her again. He meets all sorts of animals from different species and repeatedly asks “are you my mother?” Although he makes friends on his journey, each animal must reply that “no, they are not his mother.” Finally he is reunited with his mother and she folds him up in her protective wings. For me this ending was bittersweet because it did not mirror my own experiences, as one who is still searching for her birth mother.

Now, entering my second year in art therapy school, I am exploring ideas for my graduate thesis. My experience as an adoptee and my natural inclination to explore my feelings through art and writing seem fertile ground for a more in depth exploration of this topic. Questions that I am interested in asking are ~ how does an adopted child develop a sense of self, when they are unable to bond with the woman who gave birth to them? Has my own search for a “face” in my phantom-like painted figures been a symbolic search for my birth mother’s face and identity? How can art be used to heal the “primal wound” as it is often called in reference to adoptees?

I hope to make contact with other adult adoptees who have also been adopted through a closed adoption (one that closes off adoption records, rather than keeping them open). This is an exciting, sensitive, and large exploration that I know will take me in many unforeseen and creative directions.

Transitions & New Beginnings

This summer has been full of transitions, changing roles, new faces, and new environments. I’ve worn many “hats” as an arts instructor, graduate assistant for my school, and now as an volunteer (and upcoming intern) in Child Life at Mount Sinai. Sometimes my head spins when I wake up, and I can’t remember which job or internship I am headed to!

To be quite honest, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately more often than not…I have been painting and drawing almost daily over the summer and that continues to be incredibly helpful as a way to release some of my excess anxieties or give me an energy boost when I’m starting to get worn down.

I started to think about the role that my dreams have played in helping me to sort some of this material out on an unconscious level and nightly basis. While talking to my therapist about my reoccurring dream themes and motifs, we both realized that in my dreams I am usually either flying, or below ground or sea level. Many times I am diving in the ocean and surrounded by unknown creatures – or venturing into a cave that I have never walked through before. From the vantage point of flying, I am able to observe life as it unfolds below me but my feet do not touch the ground that I am observing. While talking about this with my therapist I realized that I am having trouble feeling grounded (literally and metaphorically). It is hard for me to find a resting place for my body and mind at this point in time, and I feel like I’m on a frequent roller coaster ride between flying high and burrowing lower into the earth or sea.

Do you ever feel that you are not “grounded”? How do you find that balance again in your own life?