Monday Morning Art Circle


In March I'll begin a new job at Wellness Within, an amazing organization that provides support to cancer patients, survivors, their families and caregivers, all at no cost. They offer programs in expressive arts,  yoga, meditation and mindfulness. I feel very lucky to be a part of the program.

As I worked on designing a class, I came up with the idea of an art circle. I think of it like a living mandala; a gathering of people exploring the healing powers of art making. Creating art in a community setting is a gentle way of bringing all of us, facilitator (me) and group members alike, back to our essential, inner selves.

We'll be using a variety of media; collage, visual journaling, creation of personal mandalas and a wonderful directive that was created by art therapist, Gretchen Miller; Creative Covenants. Don't let this list scare you though.You do NOT need any prior art experience. The only requirement for our time together is the ability to wield a glue stick and use a pair of scissors.

If any of you reading this knows anyone with a cancer diagnosis, cancer survivors or their families and caregivers in the Sacramento area, who might benefit from this group, please have them contact Wellness Within. If you’d like to learn more about this workshop, you can email me at I’d love to have you join us!

The Monday Morning Art Circle

Date/Time Date(s) - 03/07/2016 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

25,24,23, 30x30--Counting Down!

I got busy over the weekend with an art therapy project for Wellness Within. They are a wonderful organization in Roseville, CA that works with cancer patients, survivors, their families and caregivers. It's a new job for me and I wanted to do my best for the workshop, so I put the 30x30 on the backburner for that time and let it simmer. In order to catch up and cover the three days, I laid out the ground papers and worked on all three simultaneously. It was fun and gave me some ideas about how to expand aspects of this series into larger pieces.







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.

Socks and STEPS

Oscar in the climbing hydrangea. We have a new program that we are rolling out at Children's Hospital.

STEPS, Supportive Therapies and Enhanced Palliative Care Services,  is a pediatric palliative care program which provides medical, mental health and spiritual services with a goal of helping a child to be as comfortable as possible throughout the full course of her treatment.

At present, we are introducing the program into the pediatric intensive care unit of our hospital.  I'm happy to say that art therapy is an integral part of the STEPS program.

I'm thrilled because I've long wanted to be able to participate in this continuum that begins with diagnosis and continues throughout the course of an illness.

Recently, I've had occasion to watch parents stand in front of their infant's cribs, hesitant to touch their babies, with all the tubes protruding from their tiny bodies. Helping parents to hold their child, no matter what the prognosis, is a challenge.

Art Therapy is about solving these kinds of challenges using creative activities which facilitate awareness and build confidence. What project might help parents to gather the self-assurance required to learn delicate skills, necessary to care for their babies?

In the right hands, the humble sock monkey* can become a powerful vehicle for boosting self confidence. I took up the challenge and created my own example, Oscar. As he emerged under my fingers, I was surprised by how his personality took shape and suddenly, there he was smiling back at me.

I found that cutting, stitching, stuffing and sewing require patience, coordination, imagination and a sense of humor. So I took Oscar and trialed my sock monkey experiment with some parents of young patients.

As I watched the parents sew, some of them stitching for the first time, it was a bit like watching a child take baby steps.  Knots didn't hold, thread slipped out of the needle (multiple times!), but the parents were able to pick up again, laugh at their mistakes and sew on.

Laughing at our mistakes and persisting are some of the skills we employ as parents (those of you who are parents know, there is no shortage of opportunities to make mistakes!) Sock monkeys help parents to experience new skills and their own creativity in a relaxed, yet authentic way.

One of the founders of STEPS, Dr. Theresa Murdock-Vlautin, said that the goal of STEPS is to "enhance care in body and spirit, coordinating resources to provide support, hope, healing and wellness." I look forward to watching the program unfold and the love and wisdom which will grow in the families and in our team as a result.

*For more information about sock monkeys, check out Art Therapist, Gretchen Miller's informative posts on sock monkeys here. For an excellent how-to video, you can look at Art Therapist Kat Thorsen's video here. Many thanks to both Gretchen and Kat for their inspiration and  incredible service projects with sock monkeys.

Mending Walls and Making Change

ATCs on parade At some point in their studies, art therapy students discover the "media continuum." On this continuum, media are placed along along an invisible line moving from point A to point B line according their degree of safety and control.

A lead pencil at one end of the continuum offers a feeling of familiarity and control--and on the the opposite end spectrum, oil paint offers an unwieldy challenge. If you don't watch out, you might find your client who has difficulty with impulse control spraying the paint all over your office walls.

The key is to match the both the media and the intervention to the needs of the client. To non-art therapists, this might sound theoretical and over cautious.

It's not. In my very first art therapy bereavement group many years ago,  an angry adolescent punched a hole in the wall of the hospital in which I was working; his reaction to my misdiagnosis of media and intervention. I hadn't read the signals and had asked the group to attempt something that put this young man face to face with his grief far too early in his grieving process.

If I hadn't been convinced about the medium continuum before, if my teachers' stories seemed only to be tall tales, I became  a convert and I've employed it ever since.

I use the same principle in my own art. When I'm feeling stretched thin, I stick with materials over which I have more control. When I'm feeling expansive, my work and my materials grow too.

Right now, I'm in the process of sanding the panel edges of my "Mending Wall" series. I love this series, but I don't like finish work. It feels like all the fun and discovery is over and I'm doing the visual equivalent of balancing a checkbook.

Mending Wall 1,© 2012, H. Hunter, 12" x 12," paper, watercolor on panel

Recently, I decided to intersperse the task of sanding with our 6 Degrees of Creativity "Pocket Change" project. My deal for myself is: finish one sanded panel--make one artist trading card.

I've arranged the artist trading cards, in various stages of completion, at a discreet distance from where I sand. I can see them while I work, their bright colors shining, offering the possibility of almost instant gratification.

Mending Wall 1, edges sanded and stained

I'm beginning to love sanding. By creating a new rhythm: hard medium/easy medium/hard medium, I'm finding patience and sanding is leading to new ideas for my next series. I love the smooth, variegated surface of the wood.

Meanwhile, artist trading cards gather at the end of the table, ready to be mailed off for Beth Rommel, collector and distributor for our Pocket Change project.  Gretchen Miller, Beth and I have concocted this project to focus on the power of creating change through making something small (in the form of artist trading cards) and through engaging in simple acts of creative kindness.

You get the picture--help yourself, help others--it's not too late to join us! The deadline is tomorrow,  Tuesday, January 15. For more information on the exchange, click here.

photo-2 2

I also invite to share stories about your own media continuum experiences--whether you called it that--or maybe just "those darn pastels!"

Phase Transition*

Yesterday I had the strange honor of sitting beside a beautiful young woman who was literally pulling her hair out. I didn't understand what was happening at first. I was getting to know her and she was getting to know me, as well as what I do in the hospital. We spoke of her illness, of the fact that her hair was falling out (she didn't want it shaved), of the cartoons playing on the television. The entire time we talked, she pulled at strands of her hair, twirling small bits,  and calmly yanked them out, putting them carefully on the coverlet.

By the time I left the room, she had tucked a considerable amount of what had once covered her head into a plastic sandwich bag for safekeeping.

It was one of those scenes that goes in so deep, I wanted to run away and cry. I had an art group to facilitate, so instead, I went back to my office and stared at the wall of orderly art supplies, the bottles and tubes of color lining the shelves bringing me comfort.

I've been thinking a lot about repair; how to reconstitute myself after being torn in so many different directions all day long. Inspired by comments on this blog, from my family and local friends, I've been thinking about my art work, it's purpose and relation to the art therapy.

I'm always trying to find a "balance"--somehow comprehend the relationship of making art to practicing art therapy, but both are subtle practices and too mysterious to hold onto all at once. Instead, I've begun to think of the two as intertwined, a kind of ongoing tapestry, in which each activity informs the texture and direction of the other.

Since trying this approach, I've felt more relaxed and present (that ever present word : "present"!)

I've found myself describing my art work as a way to restore a sense of calm amidst the overwhelming flux surrounding me. I've often thought of art making and art therapy as forms of Tikkun O'lam, a Jewish phrase that means "repair of the world." What I've most recently come to appreciate again, is that while practicing both arts, I am repairing myself too! (Well, heck, I knew that, but I guess it's just on a deeper level this time!)

I've continued to adapt patchwork quilting to paper and instead of putting diverse fabrics together to form a beautiful pattern, I take sections and bits of paintings along with pieces of collected paper and put them together into patterns--with the patterns signifying more than the surface beauty. They attempt to fuse the variety of experience together into a whole. The process of the work is soothing and at the same time frustrating. I paint, cut out a square, cover a small area and then immediately tear off other areas of the work, then repeat the whole process again.

It's stretching me, this work, not letting me become complacent. Each new section has its own internal direction but is also patient, waiting quietly for me to discover what it is and turn to it--again and again.

* A "phase transition" is the process by which matter transforms via a thermodynamic system from one phase or state of matter to another.