Tag Archives: Art therapy

soft gaze, heart open

another one of my student art therapist cards … reminding me in all I do to… keep it simple. what is often most important is simply seeing and being seen. i am here with open heart, soft gaze, compassion. to myself and others. ruffled feathers happen, it’s true. and shouldn’t be ignored. and sometimes storms sweep along, tossing things about. but i hold this close: i can come back to just keeping it simple – seeing and being seen.



this little light of mine

how is your light today? a warm glow? a small ember? a fiery fury?

whatever is going on, I send you this little note with tender loving care:



mapping the body, the journey

this past weekend, as part of my art therapy training, i participated in a two-day workshop on body mapping with Christine Lummis, BA, D.K.A.T.I, R.C.A.T — a lovely, authentic and skilled art therapist based in the Kootenays of British Columbia.

what is body mapping? 
Body Mapping is an arts-based process/activity that becomes a “visual journey of the body’s story” (Lummis, 2011).  at the beginning of the day, we talked about the history (see below) and ways that people use the process — to explore disease, body image, life experience and more. we then began the process of making our own – i was excited, anxious, and curious to see where we would go .. and where i would go …

i won’t go into all the details — there are several specific steps/directives that were followed throughout the two days.  at the end of the two days, each person had created a unique map body but where we had placed the information was somewhat similar — thus creating a legend that we could all acknowledge and witness in eachother’s process.  powerful, moving, and so creative!

i’d like to share a my visual journey and a bit of my own process and images … please be gentle as you look and take it all in.  what would you do with these directives and ideas?  perhaps you will be inspired to create your own or seek out an opportunity in a group setting to do so. i’m sure that if i started this process tomorrow, my image would be different — who knows how much?!

one of the first steps was to trace asupport person‘s’ body and then have someone trace my own body onto the paper. in the left bottom corner, i paintedwhere I come fromand in the upper right corner I paintedmy goals and visions‘.  

at this stage, i had also completed a few of the other directives that included outlining my body, filling in the support body with colour, printing my own hand and foot onto the page and painted personal power symbols onto my own body. 

where I come from ~ it was important to me to acknowledge all the people and places that i come from — including my family and extended family and the beautiful landscape that has sustained them for a hundred years.  there is sorrow, loss, connection, disconnection and love. it is good to recognize the love.  











visions/goals ~ my vision/goal is the integration of where i come from in a way that is uniquely my own. bringing together and letting go. holding on. acknowledging painful parts and being with them in compassion. finding new ways of being and becoming.

i came into the process with the intention of compassion, kindness and light to myself and my journey.  sometimes i get caught up in the painful parts but this process allows an acknowledgement of all of it. one of the parts that i resisted and then found more resonance with as the process went along was painting the support person and naming all the people and things that support me — it really serves as a good reminder that i am not alone.

painting marks on the skin, marks under the skin, creating a self portrait (so difficult but once i got into it, i enjoyed the process — still not sure if it looks like me), diseases including treatments, side effects and self-care were all part of the process.  for example, i explored respiratory issues and my recovery from pneumonia through colours and images in the upper body. i did not write a message to the public but i included things i think of in difficult times like: be gentle, be kind, be brave. i am an ocean of calm. it just takes time.  


the final piece is integration.  this means filling in the spaces, going in to layer and/or gloss over parts and emphasize others .. whatever feels right at this time to finish the piece.  i spent lots of time here just bringing the energy of completion and wholeness to the piece.  and really could have worked through particular parts much slowly than over a two-day period (which is, of course, possible.. body mapping can be done in any length of time over any period of time as long as you give enough time!).  

i loved this process.  it is a creative, engaging, structured way to explore my own journey. there are many specific directives to follow and this creates a sense of order and safety; however each directive is an opportunity to explore the self, the body, and relationship to others in a very personal and deep way.  i would like to create a body map each year as a visual representation of my own growth and journey … but the process is so big!  perhaps a mini-body map with a larger one every five or seven years (that’s the enviro-geek in my talking).  i look forward to exploring the process and parts of the process in other contexts and learning more!

if you want to learn more:
Body Mapping was developed by Jane Solomon, an artist from Capetown, South Africa in response to the epidemic of HIV/AIDS.  Here is a link to her book (click on the blue link at the bottom of the page): “Living with X”: A Body Mapping Journey in the Time of HIV/AIDS. A Facilitator’s Guide.

The Moon, The Stars, and a Scar: Body Mapping Stories of Women Living with HIV/AIDS — this article, by Carole Devine includes the history of both body mapping and HIV/AIDS, powerful stories, and inspiring images.

Short blog post includes history and major organizations involved.

Canadian Medical Association Journal article 

Khayalitsha Hospital Art Project


the heart as home

Lately, I have been wallowing in my ill-health. Preoccupied.  Frustrated, angry, sad, hopeless, and low energy.  Does this sound depressing?  It is!

In response to my constant sniffling and coughing, I get a variety of well-meaning pieces of advice, mostly based on actions I could, should, or should not be doing:

“Don’t eat sugar, gluten, alcohol, dairy … oranges … tomatoes … bananas …”  

“Go to the doctor. Take some drugs. Get some surgery. Do you know what you’re allergic to?” 

“Have you tried … [insert every idea known to humans]?”

Okay.  I hear you. I have tried many things.  Not. Working. But one thing that has not been said to me is … 

“Why don’t you make some art?”  Art?!?  Of course!  

“The arts in healthcare movement recognizes the arts, creativity, and imagination as agents of wellness and their consistent and central presence throughout history as healing practices”   
        Cathy A. Malchiodi, art therapist, Arts in Healthcare: Arts for the Health of It.

” Fine art is good medicine. It comforts, elevates the spirit, and affirms life and hope.”  Arts & Medicine Institute – Cleveland Medical Centre says

Watch the Arts & Medicine video to be inspired by performance, participation, and research: 

But, I don’t live in Cleveland. So what can I do?  

Listen to the symptoms and adjust life accordingly”  Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul.  

How? How do I really listen to what my body is telling me? How do I understand it? How can art assist me with this journey to wholeness?

Here are a few methods for using art to connect with health/illness:

1. Start an image journal. A simple way to express daily experiences.  You don’t need to be an ‘artiste’ – you just need something to make a mark.  She says you could even just colour in a square on your calendar!
This idea comes from  Cathy A. Malchiodi’s book, The Soul’s Palette.  

I started mine today and here is my first drawing:

2. Make scribble drawings that connect you with how you feel.  My frustrations often turn inward and I start to berate my beautiful body for its shortcomings.  With this exercise, I can get those frustrations out on paper and perhaps cultivate some gentleness within as a result.
This great idea comes from Karen Wallace , a Canadian art therapist, who writes a fantastic blog! 

3. Join the community.  Get involved in an arts-based project where you can help others in whatever way you can.  Step outside and engage.  The Parade of Lost Souls in Vancouver  is a great example of a community-based arts project that connects self, art-making, ancestors, neighbourhoods, physical activity, and reflection into one festival.

4. Write a self-indulgent blog post about illness, arts, and health  — just doing this little bit of processing, researching, and writing has helped me identify some ways I can help myself.  And I am very inspired by what is happening in the area of arts and health!

In the end, we are responsible for our own understanding and process of health and wholeness. Making art is one way to deepen this understanding and connect with the self and body in an imaginative and holistic way.  It is one way among many.

A poetic reading of the body as it expresses itself in illness calls for a new appreciation for the laws of imagination, in particular a willingness to let imagination keep moving into ever newer and deeper insights” – Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

Note: In this post, I am mostly talking about physical illness, but of course that can not be separated from our mental health and well-being.

P.S  Check out my new etsy page: heart as home  where you can find my hand-made, needle-felted creatures!  

i am my own home

I find it so inspiring to search out and discover what others are working on in the area of art and social change.   Lately I have joined a few groups that are talking about art therapy and arts for social change and am excited to learn and share with these new folks  (I will post links and ideas as they emerge).

Connecting with others encourages me to keep expanding my circles – understanding my local and global community – and also pushes me to focus in on what really makes my own heart sing.    Many of my posts have focused on what others are doing so today I thought I would share a bit about what I am up to.

Right now, I am involved in community-based art for social change project in Regina focused on homelessness for World Community Arts Day – Art as a Catalyst for Caring and Sharing (February 17).  I will blog about it more as the day arrives.

I am also creating my own work – focusing on the process of creating as a healing and meditative practice as well as exploring particular sociocultural issues that are embedded in my mind and body.

… the human-animal .. gender … sexuality…  created by me. no name

… emotion-body… the way our bodies process,  hold, and  emotion and experience…

created by me.  this is what grief looks like.

Today on the radio,  I heard someone say that “creativity is the common ground”  and I think that is part of the reason I am drawn to art.  Yes, we have constructed systems around art –   “high” and “low”, “art” and “craft” – and this may have merit in some circumstances and in some circles but when it comes down to it  …

creativity and expression, however manifested, is a dynamic way to share a bit of our souls and come to a deeper understanding of each other and ourselves .. and it can be a whole lot of fun too.

i feel ya friend. with all my heart.

So, my latest research and soul searching has led me to the world of (mostly Canadian) art therapy.  I have a deep interest in art as a tool for healing and expression – at the individual, group, and community level.   Art therapy is an absolutely amazing field with researchers, practitioners, and clients engaged in diverse ways of knowing, feeling, and working.   It is a widely practiced form of therapy and has its roots in various geographical places and theoretical frameworks.

photo: me. location: toronto public washroom.

The Canadian Art Therapy Association (C.A.T.A.) was founded in 1977 by Dr. Martin A. Fischer.   There are 3 schools in BC (Victoria, Vancouver, and Nelson), 2 in Quebec (a MA at Concordia – the only one in the country), one in Alberta, and one in Toronto – The Toronto site has a great introduction to art therapy and the Vancouver site has a great history of art therapy in Canada. And the Nelson site is very vibrant with a great list of resources!

I like this simple video because it shows examples of art created in an art therapy session … of course, there are all kinds of videos on youtube …not sure who created this video …

In my searching I came across a great project/organization called Art for People – a creation of Martine Bedard and Andy Holmes.  All about love, peace, creativity AND environmental awareness/sustainable art practices –  Art for People makes art, practices art therapy, and contributes to international art projects around the world.  Check out the fantastic pictures on their site about their bike ride with their family (2 little kids), their artist-in-residence experience, and a link to blog by Earle Birney who is headed into a 3 year peace retreat (along with a list of others).

Healing the body and soul through art, expression, and dialogue… a place to explore without all the words and  expectations … to explore the difficult or traumatic or joyful  with colour, line, shape, and movement … to be supported in creative expression … I guess that is one of the things that catches my attention about art therapy is that it is accessible to most, if not all …

photo credit: me . location: somewhere in san francisco.  thanks to the graffiti artist (unknown).

Feelings … sometimes hard to deal with … always necessary to process … and as “we are the doer, so can we undo” : Swami Radha.

peace out for now,



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