"Be Happy and Color!" Goes Live

IMG_5734(1)I was standing in front of my art cart about a year ago at the UC Davis Children's Hospital, looking over my supplies, organizing them for the day, when a nurse came through the door and began riffling through the coloring  books on an adjoining cart. "Do you have anything for a three year old?," she asked. "That's a good question," I thought as I too flipped through the stack of donated coloring books. I saw Spider Man and his assorted cohorts, but nothing that would really be appropriate to a 3 year old's developmental needs. As I walked back to my office, I thought that we could really use a book with healthy images that connects children to the natural world without the inclusion of violence.

When I got back to my office a bit later, I logged on to my email and found a new  note from a person that I didn't know, Pauline Molinari, a book editor, asking me if I would be interested in writing the text for a coloring book.

Kismet? Ask and ye shall receive? I was delighted that my unspoken question was answered so promptly. I quickly researched Pauline and the publisher for whom she worked, Walter Foster Jr.(an imprint of Quarto books), and picked up the phone.

Thus began a collaboration between myself, the fabulous illustrator, Stephanie Peterson Jones and Pauline. I was fortunate to have free reign over the structure of the book and decided to focus on 4 of the 5 primordial elements: fire, air, earth and water. (I didn't include ether because, well, you get the picture.)


Over the next several months, we mapped out spreads, I created prompts and Stephanie's illustrations unfolded in response.  All the while, I began to see more and more coloring pages emerge on artists' and art therapist's sites. I was excited and after the last prompt was done, the last quotation cited, the last drawing approved, I couldn't wait to hold the book in my hands.

But I did-- until last Friday, when I arrived home from an opening to find a package with the publisher's return address on the label. There, packed neatly, was the quotient of copies promised to me; crisp and ready for crayon wielding fingers.

I'm very pleased with the results and can't wait to share the book with my family and friends.  If you'd like your own free copy of Be Happy and Color, leave me a comment at the end of the post. I'll put all the names in my husband's Irish cap and draw one. (And I promise to draw blind.) That fortunate person will receive a package full of inspiration and coloring bliss.




Turning Point 6.0

Possibilities aplenty in the box of collage papers I woke up this morning with these lyrics in my head:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone. / I can see all the obstacles in my way. / Gone are the clouds that  had me blind. / It's gonna be a bright (bright)/ bright (bright) sunshiny day. Jimmy Cliff

For someone who, as my husband says, never seemed to pay much attention to rock lyrics, they have an uncanny way of popping up at telling times. I'm a day short of retirement from my long time job as art therapist at UC Davis Children's Hospital.

It's a graduation, a transition I'm making as I round the corner of my 60th year, while year 5776 of the Jewish calendar approaches and school all around the country begins again.

That's how I see it. As I end this chapter of living as art therapist/artist, I'm beginning again. I'm shifting the balance over to artist/art therapist. My collage box is full, my materials are all ready to go and I've got shows lined up through May. Hooray!

Collage boxes waiting expectantly...

But I can't imagine not practicing art therapy; intending to use my skills to help others heal themselves. I'll continue working with people, older ones this time and not primarily children.

I'm thinking about palliative care. I'm considering hospice and thinking about people who are struggling with or have survived cancer. I can't imagine not witnessing the profound delight in someone's eyes or hearing the enthusiasm in their voice as they discover they have the power to convey something powerful; a profound emotion with their own hands...which brings me to the lyrics of Ben Harper's gorgeous song: With My Own Two Hands. Have a listen and let me know what you think. Music starts at 1:26

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmE72KEzPPk&w=560&h=315]

Positive Art Therapy Interview

Janet Macleod from Positive Art Therapy recently interviewed me, asking about my role as an art therapist. I enjoyed thinking about her questions and taking the time to answer them. After 14 years of practice, they gave me pause. I'm including the interview here as a record of my thoughts at this point in my career. IMG_1347Q: What motivated you to become an arts therapist?

I knew that I wanted to use art as a form of healing when I graduated from college but I didn’t become aware of art therapy as a field of study until my forties.  By then, I was a professional artist and a mother. I’d had occasions to use art as a healing tool with my own children and in the studio art classes I taught. I was interested not so much in the technical aspect of art but rather what made someone draw and what those drawings might mean. I wanted to help people solve life problems with art and I needed formal training to do this. In a moment of serendipity, a lime green flyer arrived in the mail, advertising the Post Master’s  Art Therapy Certificate program at UC Berkeley. Kismet!

Q: Where did you train? What is your most memorial experience while training – good or bad?

Prayer Flags, ©2009, 24" x 24," Cloth, paper and acrylics on panel

I have an MFA in sculpture and textiles from California Collage of the Arts, so the UC Berkeley postmaster’s certificate program was a great fit. During my internship, one of my most memorable events occurred while I was facilitating a children’s bereavement art group. I was fortunate enough to be hired as a student—and that meant I was learning on the job. I had heard my art therapy teachers’ horror stories about paint and clay splashed rooms, but I did not know much about containment, timing or allowing clients to maintain their defenses.  One evening, I asked a group of teens to write a letter to their deceased. That evening was the first of a ten session group and after the exercise, one of the group members left the room and punched a hole through the wall! It was a powerful way of learning containment, timing and allowing clients to maintain their defenses.

Q: Who has most inspired you or influenced your work as an arts therapist?

When I began my internship (here at UC Davis Children’s Hospital), my supervisor, Johanna Russell was a great source of information and inspiration. I was full of art therapy theories but Johanna had been practicing for 10 years and knew the lay of the land. She also understood my perceived need for control in an uncontrollable environment. Over and over, she reminded me to “go with the flow,” words which have helped me to understand that even if I am organized, my materials at hand, ready to do an intervention, the patient might be anywhere other than where I expect them to be; at a procedure, playing foosball or heading to the cafeteria for a bite to eat. And that has to be ok.

Mending Walls 4, ©2012, 8" x 8," watercolor and text on panel

Q:   Are you employed as an arts therapist?

I work as a pediatric art therapist for UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento, CA.

Q:      What populations do you predominantly work with?

Our Children’s Hospital contains the neonatal intensive care unit, the pediatrics unit and the pediatric intensive care unit. I work with children and their parents on all of those floors, but primarily on pediatrics. I also facilitate an art therapy bereavement group at UC Davis Hospice; designed by myself and Don Lewis, LCSW of UC Davis Hospice. The group is collaboration between the UC Davis Children’s Hospital and UC Davis Hospice.

Q:  Where or who you really like to work with?

Hands down, our daily Art Therapy Group on the pediatric floor. I’ve been doing it for close to 14 years now and I love coming up with new ideas, new projects, new ways to interest children and families in art making. Kids come pulling IV poles, in wheelchairs or even carried by a parent. The group is huge source for normalization and socialization. Most people are surprised and delighted to find art in the midst of the hospital setting. Facilitating the Young Adult Bereavement Art Group is a close second. These young adults come from every imaginable background with every possible kind of loss. The ability to hold the group and see the changes in group members over the 8 week span is heartbreaking, heartwarming and inspiring.

Q:       Do you practice your own art? If so what and who has influenced you?

Arbor Vitae, ©2011, 8" x 8," Paper, leaf and watercolor on panel

Absolutely. I spend as much time as I can in my studio. I’m influenced by so many artists, but my current favorites are Giorgio Morandi, Pierre Bonnard, Milton Avery, and many Northern California artists. I’m also in love with the 18th century French still life painter, Jean-Siméon Chardin.

Q:       What other interests do you enjoy when you are not working?

I’m passionate about art making, I love to practice yoga and I enjoy getting out and walking—whether it’s in our town or out on a trail. One of my favorite soothing activities is diving into a good book.

Q:     What has been your biggest challenge while training or working as an arts therapist?

Bo Tree 1, ©2014, 8" x 10," Monoprint on panel

UC Davis Medical Center is a university hospital committed to learning as part of the healing process. Residents, interns and student nurses come to the hospital to learn. As an art therapist, learning as much as one can about the different diagnoses is of immense benefit to working with patients. I think of each illness or trauma as a kind of narrative, a story. The more I know about any particular narrative, the better I can assess each child’s circumstances. Considering the personality of the child, the family system and the illness becomes a puzzle to solve. When I can put my fingers on just the right art intervention, the results are worth the challenge of learning all of the medical terminology.

Q:      What keeps you motivated?

There are many moments of joy and wonder. The presence of art in our setting is like magic. Children lying prone sit up and begin painting. A teen that has hidden under the blanket pokes her head out and starts to paint a watercolor. The knowledge that I’ve been created a pocket of goodness and delight during a time of illness or injury makes me very happy. I also draw tremendous strength from making art and from my family and friends.

Q:    What is on your “wish list” either for yourself as an arts therapist or for the profession?

November Shift, ©2014, 39" x 38," Monoprint on paper

I have been active in the area of grief and loss since I began practicing art therapy, both in the hospital and in hospice. My biggest wish is that our Pediatric Palliative Care program will be able to grow by helping people to understand what palliative care really is. It is not a death sentence, but a way of caring for children with a chronic illness. Palliative care begins with the diagnosis, and addresses  the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual effects of the disease on the child. A pediatric palliative care program provides that child and their family with the resources they need not only to cope, but to live a rich and fulfilling life whether that life is foreshortened or, they are able to live out a full lifespan.

Q:       What strength do you have that has been most valuable to you as an arts therapist?

I’m able to act quickly on a referral, drawing on my intuition and improvisational skills to come up with a directive that targets the specific needs of the child.

All Hands on Deck with Palliative Care

Change Your Buddha, ©2009, 6" x 6" x 2," Fabric Collage on panel Every so often, I think that it's time to take a break from my blog. This happens when I feel like I'm reaching for topics and even though life seems to be full of them, I can't see the forest for the trees.

What I know is this: I've got a presentation for our Pediatric Palliative Care Consortium here at UC Davis Children's Hospital that's scaring the pants off me--nearly. Because instead of playing it safe and using Powerpoints to hide behind, my co-facilitator and I are going to ask people to break up into groups and interact with one another.

That's not such an unusual thing in the art therapy world, but when you switch to the academic and medical world, there is an increasing distance between the tangible and the virtual.  In a recent New York Times editorial by Richard Kearney, entitled: "Losing our Touch" he notes,

In medicine, "bedside manner" and hand on pulse has ceded to the anonymous technologies of imaging in diagnosis and treatment.

All around us, we are showered with information from ubiquitous social media (of which this blog is a part), wherein we remain at a discreet distance from whoever is providing information on the other end. Now in classes, we often face computers instead of professors. And as you gain professional status, you frequently find yourself in your own office, trying to engage a in webinar, which tends to lull you to sleep rather than enliven the finer points of a subject.

During our part of the day, I want the participants to experience as much as possible, the kind of immediacy that occurs when one is faced with a palliative care patient; the overwhelming feeling of questions that you have no idea how to answer such as : "Is this diagnosis dangerous?" and reaching deep down for some untapped source of strength.

Full humanity requires the ability to sense and to be sensed in turn: the power as Shakespeare said, to "feel what wretches feel":--or one might also add what artists, cooks, musicians and lovers feel. We need to find our way in a tactile world again. We need to return from head to foot, from brain to fingertip, from iCloud to Earth. --Richard Kearney

To this end, we've reserved a room that has tables facing each other rather than toward the front of the room. We'll divide up into groups and tackle a case that involves the anticipatory grief that patients face upon diagnosis. Then we'll take that case through the course of an illness to hospice and beyond, to bereavement.

I hope to model the kind of direct hand to hand care that we want practitioners to offer patients. To do that we want to identify inner strengths, the qualities that each of us possess which allow us to enter tough situations and to be of service, no matter how daunting the circumstances. We'll lay out a banquet of images and after explaining a simple SoulCollage technique, we'llask people this question:

What quality do you call on within yourself to support children and families in their grief?

We'll invite them pick images that speak to them, to their soul, about the qualities that give them the strength and compassion to approach and support families and children at the this crucial stage of life. Can you imagine what will happen if we share these qualities with each other?