6 Degrees of Creativity

I am delighted to announce that I will be part of the 6 Degrees of Creativity project, along with Gretchen Miller, Cathy Malchiodi, Lani Gerity, Kristina Bell DiTullo and Kat Thorsen.

“6 Degrees of Creativity is inspired by the “Six Degrees of Separation” concept that each of us, no matter where we live in the world are only about six relationships away from one another, as well as embraces the power of social networking, the arts, and interactive creativity to making a difference through art-making, creative goodness, and community.

6 Degrees of Creativity will be a 6 month on-line workshop opening October 10, 2011 and running until March 1, 2012 that will include 6 different workshops, offered by a group of 6 inspiring instructors from the art therapy community to explore hands-on concepts, techniques, and ideas related to themes about transformation, social change, collaboration, and using art for good.”

Please check out the video and go the  Art Therapy Alliance page linked to below for more information about the workshop instructors. I sure hope you will you join us on this exciting creative journey. More details on registration will be coming soon.



The Hard Work of Making Art

Sometimes making art is fun. You get to the “aha” moment quickly and easily and are filled with excitement about your creation. Mostly it is not like that. I was painfully reminded of that during my art making vacation this week.

I didn’t expect to hit a home run on the first pitch, but I sure thought that the images would emerge more quickly than they did. On day one, I made 6 prints. One of them turned out okay. Days two and three were a bust. Frankly, I was ready to bail on the class. This was my vacation from work after all, I might as well spend some time doing something enjoyable. On day four my frustration reached its peak. I sat staring at my plexiglass printing plate with tears in my eyes. Why couldn’t I get an image I was satisfied with?

The instructor came by and told me I was thinking  too much and to think of this as if I were making a documentary-just start shooting. So I noodled around in a book of photographs and traced some of the poses onto my plate with a watercolor pencil. I made a print of this plate and then made an acetate  stencil of one of the poses. Suddenly I was in business. I used this stencil to make about twenty prints and some of them were pretty successful. I  worked into the afternoon pulling print after print, not thinking too much or stopping to analyze the results but just pushing  on. Ultimately, I am very satisfied with the series and so glad that I did not pull out of the class early.

I learned several lessons from this experience. First, the frustration I experienced parallels the frustration many of our clients feel in the art therapy studio. It was good for me to connect with that feeling again, painful as it was. It’s easy to forget how intimidating the studio can be, especially to the uninitiated. Second, I was reminded that time in the studio does not guarantee a satisfying product every time.  In fact, it may happen only rarely. But it is the time spent that is critical, time spent engaged in the struggle, the grappling with the image and the media. It took almost four days for me to find one image. Third, perseverance matters. Everything worthwhile takes time and finding the image that endures takes hard work.

Far from a restful and relaxing vacation, this  has been an exhausting week. There were times I questioned why I had chosen to make this my vacation. In the end, it was a meaningful and useful experience for both my work as an artist and as an art therapist. I anticipate  that in time many more lessons will be revealed. I will persevere.

Postcard from Art School

Making art is hard. I hit the creativity wall on about my fourth print, feeling like I was out of ideas and had already exhausted the potential of the medium. The good news is that this is the moment when creativity really starts to happen. I had run through all the obvious scenarios, the first 10 ideas, and now it was time to start pushing myself to find the 11th idea.

I am an impatient artist. I like to work quickly and push hard to find the image. When it’s done, it’s done. I don’t like to go back and fuss with things. Thus, printmaking is not an obvious choice of a comfortable medium for me. It requires something I have little of: patience. Slowly building up layers, reworking the image until it is just right, working with the ghost prints on the second or third go-around, honing my craftsmanship-all challenges for me.

This class is forcing me to slow down, to contemplate the image, to immerse myself in the process of printmaking. It’s a good thing for me. Too often I rush around trying to just get things done and  over with. I need to dial it down and pay attention to the small miracles right in front of me. More than learning the art and craft of printmaking, the most important thing I will take from this class is continuing the practice of carefully attending to all that is around me. This is good practice for art making, for life, for therapy. If I learn nothing else this week, it will be a vacation well-spent.

The weather is fine, wish you were here!

Taking an Art-filled Vacation

I miss being in art school. Charcoal and paint on my clothes and under my nails. Art history classes by day and long studio sessions at night. The camaraderie with my fellow students as we worked to crank out our masterpieces for the next big critique. The total immersion in art. Next week, I get to go back.

A vacation implies relaxation, freedom from obligations, escaping to a beach or city. My vacation is taking me to the Art Institute of Boston. No beach there. I am taking an intensive residency in printmaking. Geared towards art educators, the course involves paint under my nails, long nights in the studio, fellowship with other artists, visits to the MFA-sounds like heaven to me. While I could definitely use some rest, relaxation and beach time, this is an opportunity I could not pass up.

I have gotten some quizzical looks when I told people of my vacation plans. Why would you want to do that? Don’t you want to get away for a while? Well, yes I would like to get away. That is why I am taking my escape in the form of delving into the art and craft of printmaking. I am returning to my roots in the studio, strengthening and refreshing my artist self, resting my weary brain and body by filling up at the well of art making. I look forward to reporting back to you with my adventures and discoveries. My goals for the week are to complete a solid body of work, make connections with other art educators, and to reconnect with my core sense of self as an artist. If I make progress towards all of these goals, it will be a vacation well spent.

The Taboo Art of Altered Books

ta·boo–adjective 1.proscribed by society as improper or unacceptable

Improper?! Unacceptable?! Says who?

Look, I am a book person. I have a personal library of over 800 books. My most precious book, a 50th anniversary edition of The Little Prince, has its very own shelf. Heck, I even work at a book store. So why would I of all people choose altered books as my medium? Aren’t books precious, not meant to be written in or torn up or painted on? Isn’t that something every child who holds a book in their hands learns is taboo?

And yet I regularly tear out pages, cut them up, glue them together, paint on them, add collage, soak them in beeswax, cover them in fabric, stamp on them-usually rendering the original book unrecognizable. I would never do this to The Little Prince. But an outdated encyclopedia? A worn children’s book? A book I found in the recycling bin? As far as I am concerned, these are all fair game for altering. I am taking something that was headed for the trash bin and using it as my canvas instead. It goes from being a worthless object to a very precious one. This is a metaphor that anyone can hook in to. Who hasn’t at times felt dusty, outdated, useless? What if we could (and guess what, we can) transform ourselves into an object of beauty and worth? Altering a book is a powerful metaphor for how we can alter ourselves and I find that my clients and students are very responsive to this idea.

The clients I currently work with live in a world filled with rules. An inpatient psychiatric setting by its nature is rule bound. Very few decisions are yours to make. When you get up, when you take meds, what you eat, who you share a room with, what time you have to be back on the unit, what you do all day……..the list goes on and on. None of this is unique to where I work by the way, it is just the way this kind of hospital works. Altering a book is a small but powerful way to practice making your own decisions and doing something safe that is also a little risky. It hands some power back to the clients.

My students make altered books to chronicle their training journey. So much personal growth happens on the way to becoming a therapist, and an altered book is the perfect way to capture it. The books allow for multiple and contained expressions of the many issues that come up while in training. Students deal with concepts such as self-disclosure, transference and counter-transference, learning how to use supervision and termination and the books help them to process all the attendant feelings. As a teacher, I got tired of my students doing one-off art pieces in class that they ended up throwing away. With the books, they can do a small art piece in every class and it is contained in a journal form. At the end of the academic year, they have a chronicle of their journey.

Why do I use altered books in my personal and professional work? Why wouldn’t I? I see the “rules” and “taboos” about defacing books as merely suggestions. I encourage you to work with the discomfort that may arise as you explore the art of altered book making. It just might transform you.  

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