In Sickness & In Health - allow Art to Lead The Way

My hand drawing from first grade...who knew?

I came across the above art peace I did when I was in first grade while going through boxes of things in my Father's house after he died. The picture was a drawing I did of tracings of my little hands on brown paper that were filled in with images using Crayons. I found this picture after I had completed graduate school in June '06. I love this picture, because one of the first art directives we were given as art therapy graduate students was to trace our hands and fill them in with images. Our hand became our admission to keep what we discussed confidential in group. Little did that first-grader know that she would go on to become an art therapist many years and many pictures later. There were many things I didn't know about myself in first grade including that I would end up with a chronic illness and use my personal and professional experience to work with others whose lives have been affected by a chronic health condition.
I have lived 35 of my 52 years with a chronic condition and bring both my life wisdom and academic knowledge to my work. I like to say that I help individuals and families navigate the changing seas of chronic illness. That together we can celebrate the successes and acknowledge the challenges of having a chronic health condition. I help them build a healthy relationship with their bodies amidst fluctuating health. For instance, when my body is being challenged by a new ailment - how can I keep my identity in tact? As a believer in the healing power of expressive arts, I invite individuals to draw, write and create during the journey of living with an illness. One art directive you might try when your identity is in limbo, might be to create a collage of yourself feeling good and one when you feel physically challenged. How do they differ? What remains the same? What remains the same, I believe, is who we are with or without our illness. Our bodies might change, but we (I) do not. So, who is that I I am speaking of? I invite you to do an I collage or drawing. Include the aspects of yourself that never change, the aspects that do change and, the aspects that you are uncertain of whether they change or not. It doesn't matter how small or large this part of you is that doesn't change, it does exist. Create a large art piece that represents this never-changing aspect of you amidst chronic illness. Name the peice. Maybe she is one of the goddesses, or someone or something you have created. You might also want to write a poem about her. Allow her to teach you about your health condition. Allow all parts of you to be your sickness and in health.


The ArT of Collage

I'm a big supporter of the art-making process of collage. The Oxford Pocket Dictionary defines "collage" as work of art in which various materials are arranged and glued to a backing. I would like to add, that found objects such as shells, , fabrics, photographs, tree bark, string, yarn and different textured papers can be included in a collage. You can mix mediums and use them to draw or paint onto the collage, for instance including paint, colored pencils and markers. I use collage with clients because it takes the pressure of having to draw or paint away from the art-making process. What else I enjoy about working with collage is that whatever issue a person is working on or trying to understand in their life, collage offers a nonintimidating method to explore thoughts and feelings. Magazine cut-outs provide a variety of images that can be used to represent thoughts and feelings. For instance, lets say an individual wanted a deeper understanding of his or her relationship with their sister. I might suggest that they choose images that reflect what he or she likes about their sister and images that represent what they do not like. I usually recommend that they choose between 8 and 10 images so that they are not using the entire session to go through the many picture cut-outs. Once the pictures are glued down, I will ask clients to talk about the process and share any thoughts or feelings they have about the images they chose. Together we explore the art.

Try it for yourself:
Exercise: Introduce yourself with images. Instead of introducing yourself with words, you will do it with images.

Begin collecting magazine picture cut-outs such as people, animals, places, buildings, plants, sayings, words, things, etc. Keep them in a box.

You'll need: glue, scissors, large plain paper or cardboard.

This can be a work in process. Start by choosing images that you feel define who you are, where you are in your life and other aspects of yourself you would like to share.
Glue images to the paper/board in away you wish. Overlapping if you choose.
Continue until you feel your collage is complete. Reflect on the process and if you wish, you may write a short story or poem about the collage/process.

Title your collage.