During my time here at Artsbridge I have found some time to work on my own drawings and paintings. As I’ve written before, my own art process is incredibly important to me and it has been an invaluable method in helping me to unwind and process my feelings at the end of the long, intense, and exciting days with my students. Here are a few pieces that I’ve worked on in my free time here…They are a mixture of materials, including paint, marker, and collage.
This last year has been a very productive one for me and my personal art making. Although the first year of art therapy graduate school was incredibly intense and busy, I actually seemed to increase my studio time. I think one way of looking at it, is that I’ve been “practicing what I preach” as an art therapy student and intern!
My summer is about to get a bit busier, but all with good things (more on that later!) I know that I will keep returning to my studio practice, as it has been and continues to be an intrinsic part of who I am.
As usual, I’ve currently got about 6 different paintings going…I love being able to “dialogue” with each piece, and then switch the conversation to another one when I feel that the timing is right. Each day that I come back to them I find something new, that often leads me and the pieces into unexpected directions.
Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time developing my Sandstone Series. These pieces are highly textured, and I am using a combination of molding pastes, sand, resin pastes, paint, and sea glass that my mom and I have both collected over the years that she’s lived near the ocean. Each painting in this series, whether small or large, is built up from many layers – sometimes as many as ten. The process is incredibly meditative for me and I love combining the tactile with the washes of color. Often I will lay very wet washes of paint across the sandy surface, and move the canvas around so that the color stains and settles into the patterned textures in the same way that the ocean spills over the sand when the waves come in.
Below are a few pieces from this series…I am completing some more pieces in the series now and will post them to my blog and art site soon!
“It is in the space between inner and outer world, which is also the space between people–the transitional space–that intimate relationships and creativity occur.”
-(D.W. Winnicott from Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena,1951)
The term “transitional object” is used frequently in art therapy. In her book Handbook of Art Therapy, Cathy Malchiodi gives an excellent description of the meaning behind transitional objects and how this relates to art therapy:
Art products can become transitional objects which may become imbued with meaning beyond what they are in reality. For example, a drawing or painting made by a child who is dependent on the therapist for support may become a transitional object in the absence of the therapist, defusing separation anxiety. In a similar vein, an adult may make a clay figure of a parent who abandoned her as a child, symbolically evoking that person and the unresolved trauma of separation. Henley (1992) notes that art product functions as a transitional object because it supports self-relationship and empowerment and encourages connection with the therapist who facilitates the creative expression.
(Malchiodi, 2002, p.54)
When we are young, a transitional object for us may be our “blankie” that we drag with us to our first day of preschool as a “stand-in” for our parents while we are apart. When we are older, a transitional object may be a piece of jewelry, given to us by someone we love as a reminder of their place in our lives. At the end of our first year in graduate school, my supervision group worked on clay pieces for the last few classes. These evolved over a few weeks, and were left to air-dry for our last day of class so that we could take them home with us as a transitional object from our time together this year.
Our supervisor and teacher Alison gave us each a creative piece of herself – a hand-made ceramic piece that she had created – each one slightly different and unique. In this way, she gave us a transitional object that could visually and symbolically represent her when we no longer met on a weekly basis.
Both pieces are sitting side by side in my studio, and overlooking me as I create. For that matter, my studio has become filled with these transitional objects – many from clients and friends. Each one acts as a container for special memories and experiences that I have shared with others.
The studio is like an old friend, that is always there waiting patiently for my return…
My studio shifts constantly, but is always packed with inspiration & works in progress. Here are a few pictures of my studio in its current incarnation:)
Yesterday my friend and I created a ritual for our final class. I brought in smooth river rocks and placed them in the middle of the room. Everyone chose a rock that they identified with in some way. I have included the written ritual that we read to our class below:
You cannot step twice into the same stream. For as you are stepping in, other waters are ever flowing on to you.
A celebration & meditation on the nature of change…
Feel the smoothness of the river rock that you have chosen. Take a moment and think about the countless waters that have washed over the rock that you are holding. This rock looked different years ago, but it retains its essential nature. You have immersed yourself in a river of feelings, experiences, and new opportunities throughout your entire life, and in this past year. You retain your essential nature like the rock, but are always in transition as experiences filter through you.
If you would like to, feel free to use the river rock as a surface to hold some of your feelings, thoughts, or memories from this past year at school, internship, and life outside of that. Adorn the rock with any art materials, and in any way that you choose to, or leave it as is and simply think about or jot down some of these feelings that come to mind.
After we leave this room, I encourage you to find a special place outside to place the rock, so that others might come across a “little piece of you” and be touched in some way. This is a way of leaving a small imprint on the world that may impact people you have not even met.
I have been having many dreams about houses lately. The houses are composites of various places that I have lived. Some seem to stretch out into infinity, like a maze that has no end. While moving through these types of houses in my dreams I may feel overwhelmed, but also compelled to keep exploring the endless rooms.
Art therapists will often look at houses as a type of self-portrait of the artist or the dreamer. The roof represents the most conscious area of the person. How big is the roof and attic area? Is it expansive or small? How is it drawn? Is it completely enclosed or are there breaks in the roof?
The middle area of the house may modulate between the person’s conscious and unconscious areas. The lowest area of the house – the basement – is usually thought to represent the least conscious area of the person’s life. This makes sense when you think about our normal associations to basements – darker, sometimes a bit scary, and a place we do not spend as much time in.
Lately in my dreams, I seem to be spending a lot of time in the basement of these houses…digging around through old belongings and trying to figure out what to keep, and what to throw away. It took me a few reoccurring basement dreams to start to realize that I have been metaphorically “digging” through my unconscious in my dreams – holding certain things up to the light and putting other items back into the darkness. This seemed a perfect parallel to the deeper personal work that I have been doing since beginning my art therapy program. I have been pulling up pieces of myself and holding them up for closer inspection – lugging them up from the basement, and spreading them out on the lawn outside of my house. Some will eventually be returned to the basement, and some will find a new place in my dream house and in my waking life.
The poem by Rumi below, speaks to this theme, using the house and guests as symbols. Every day we are greeted by different guests – some are pleasant and others are not. However, he urges us to welcome each type of guest in, since they all have a specific gift to offer us in life.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond. ~ Rumi ~ (The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)
“Hill House” ~ acrylic & mixed media on canvas ~ Sara Roizen
Mural painting is an amazing form of creating…while working on a larger format our body and mind may be more fully engaged as we reach up, kneel down, twist around, sit, stand, or even lie down while navigating the expanded environment that we are creating on.
A few weekends back, my husband Adam, our friend Lee, and I all went to visit our friend Matt – who lives in a beautiful wooded area in the Catskills. We spent the weekend hiking around, exploring the small towns, and Adam took many amazing photographs. Check out the link below!
Part of our adventure while there was the creation of a group mural on un-stretched primed canvas. For Adam, Matt, and Lee it was really their first time painting and I was very curious to see how they approached the process ahead of them. All three energetically jumped in, and began to develop their own unique styles, ways of relating to each other’s images, and methods of exploring the white space.
I participated in the painting as well, but surprised myself by stepping back for a large part of the time and just enjoying watching the piece unfold before my eyes. We listened to music as we painted, and the majority of the piece was created in silence besides that. The communication took place on a non-verbal level, and each artist decided what felt right for them in terms of color, technique, size, and whether their image blended with someone else’s or maintained it’s own boundaries.
The finished mural is a snapshot of a moment in time…a reflection of where each artist was individually and more importantly, as a group at the time of creation.
I look forward to posting more about mural painting, as well as the unique ways that group mural painting can be used in an art therapy setting. I’ll also include some small ways to get started on doing group art…and no experience is necessary! More on that later…
Creating art has always helped me to process my feelings and experiences. For me, painting is a dialogue between my unconscious and the surface and materials that I am working with. Since beginning my internship at Housing Works, I have been utilizing the art process as a way to gain greater insight into my clients: my countertransference with them, and as a way to become more creative in how I work with them within the individual and group art therapy session.
Countertransference refers to the different types of emotions that a therapist may experience while working with an individual client. More specifically, countertransference is about the therapist’s unique personal history and how that may consciously or unconsciously impact how they react to or feel about a particular client. Countertransference used to be seen as an impediment or obstacle in therapeutic work, but over the years many therapists have come to see countertransference as a valuable tool that can bring heightened awareness to the therapetutic dynamic. For this to occur though, the therapist must first be aware of their countertransference and then decide how best to use it in a therapeutic capacity.
My clients struggle with many challenges – all of them are living with HIV or AIDS, and in addition, many have mental illness, chemical addictions, and past incarcerations. Working with these clients brings up many strong feelings for me, and this is where the art process has been so powerful in helping me to explore these feelings on a deeper level.
I have been creating portraits of my clients for the past few months now as part of this exploration. Obviously, the client’s names are not included and I am sharing portraits that are very abstracted and stylized in nature. I do not feel that any of these images would infringe on the privacy of my clients due to their non-representational nature.
I have included a few of my portraits of clients in this post. Each one has been a transformative tool for me and has helped me to better understand some of my countertransference with each indiviudal client.
“I had to abandon the idea of the superordinate position of the ego. … I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point — namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the centre.
It is the exponent of all paths. It is the path to the centre, to individuation.
… I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.” – C. G. Jung
Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle.”
Mandalas can be seen in the artwork and symbolism of every culture. In Art Therapy, mandalas play a very important role as a transformative symbol and process. In art therapy, a mandala is any imagery that is contained within a circle. The created mandala is a reflection of the artist’s self at that moment. Mandala’s tend to help focus and center the person who creates it. There is no “right or wrong” when creating a mandala, and in fact, the less you consciously think about it, the richer the mandala will be in form. In this way, the mandala becomes a mirror that we hold up to our unconscious – discovering apects of the self that we might have been previously unaware of.
Below I have shared a few mandalas that I have created recently. I have found them to be incredibly helpful for me to create after particularly emotional, stressful, or confusing groups that I have led, or when I need to emotionally contain a particularly intense experience. The simple act of creating within a circle is deeply relaxing and illuminating. I encourage everyone to allow yourself the space and creative freedom to create a mandala!