Pocket Change Unfolds

Several days ago, I found a rather large white box in the mail. It was bulging at the seams and when I opened it, out poured a tantalizing array of envelopes covered with stamps from far away lands. Artist Trading Cards for the 6 Degrees of Creativity Pocket Change swap! Cards from Australia by Jade Herriman

I invited my sister Amelia over to help with the swap; why not spread the fun? An amazing afternoon unfolded as we carefully unpacked the cards and laid them out on the tables, marveling as each envelope revealed new treasure.


Oh my gosh, how we were going to choose which cards went where? Amelia took on wrapping the cards; that meant I was going to do the selection. I decided "intuitive" was the way to go. Once I stopped worrying (and honestly there wasn't much of that), the cards seemed to sort themselves.

Cards on envelopes, ready to wrap up and send...

During the time that the cards were laid out, there was an air of expectation and exuberance in the studio, but most of all,  all of the love and caring that had gone into this awesome effort.

A selection of cards headed to Canada

There was no way I could have anticipated the sheer creative goodness shining forth. Thank you so much to Beth Rommel for gathering  envelopes from every corner of the world and creating parcels for Gretchen and I to sort and swap. (The three of us each sorted about 50 packages!) Thank you also to Gretchen Miller without whom, 6 Degrees of Creativity  and Pocket Change would not exist. And thank you especially to every artist and agent of change who participated--I look forward to hearing your stories.


In Praise of Mother Love

Mom's Cafe, ©2005, H. Hunter, 5 x 8," SoulCollage® In the course of bringing art therapy to different children in our hospital, I've had the occasion to also work with mothers. This isn't unusual, I often try to involve as many people as I can in a project. When you've got a family making art together, you have a family making change together.

But lately, it's moms whom I've found the most inspiring. We live in this world, which as I far as I can tell from reading the papers, seems to see people as disposable, their jobs lost to mergers, overseas labor and general sail trimming.

What I love about my job is that I get to see this notion turned on its head. We're a former county hospital and we take whoever comes to us--our patient population is a cloth of many economic stripes.

I've been working with one mother who has a number of children at home and a newborn in the hospital. He's been there several months and since he was born with a number of physical anomalies, he requires 'round the clock care. She's been with him the whole time and fortunately has excellent family support at home.

Initially, I proposed creating picture books for her children at home, so that they could listen to a story that their mom wrote for them and feel her love as they listened.

It hasn't worked out that way. Instead, each time I enter, the mom is standing by the crib being with her baby, adjusting a tube if needed, but really, just getting to know this little soul and loving him.

Art books weren't going to happen. What to do?

Conversations with strangers don't come easily for me, and without art materials as a medium, I initially felt lost. I decided that instead of book making, our art would be the making of conversation and of companionship.

So I've come by each day to visit, learning to be more comfortable with when we're not making anything.  I ask a few questions, watch her face light up when we hit upon something that touches her, but mostly, I've just learned about devotion.

I see fatigue on her face, and I'm guessing, she might get more than a little hungry sometimes, but her steady presence strikes me as one of the most powerful examples of love that I've ever seen.

This Valentine's Day, I recognize all kinds of love, but in particular, I want to celebrate the love of mothers for their children;  the strongest bond of all.

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!"

Pocket Change: Or, Small (Creative) Acts Create Meaningful Change

"Even after they are cut down, a sprout may be taken from them and planted in another place, and they begin to grow again." —Mishna

Pocket Change, Badge created by Gretchen Miller

Like a lot of people I know, I've been searching for meaning among the rubble of recent events; both inside our country and out of it.

Though it is easier but necessary, to critique what is going wrong in our schools, our homes, and our countries, I wanted to stretch a little and find a project which contributes to the good in a small but meaningful way.

It began with an idea from my friend, Beth Rommel, who wanted  begin the new year with something positive, something with art, something with others.

In collaboration with Gretchen Miller and myself, we concocted Pocket Change, hosted by 6 Degrees of Creativity.

Pocket Change’s intention is to focus on the concept of creating change through making something small (in the form of artist trading cards) to exchange with one another, as well as to encourage simple acts of creative kindness with others.

I decided to try out making a few of the cards. They were fun to create--simple, without encumbrance. They remind me of mandarin oranges. You pick one up, peel it and pop it whole, or in a few sections, into your mouth and suck out the sweetness.



photoPocket Change is all about how simple and small acts can create and instill kindness, gratitude, and change.  Think about the power of your mini artworks as a means to express and share a positive image, message, or intention with others (and the world!) that can make a difference, bring hope, or inspiration.

-Gretchen Miller

It reminds me of the Mindful Studio Practice that I offered as part of 6 Degrees of Creativity 2. The beauty of making artist trading cards is the opportunity for quiet moments in which your imagination can stretch.

But wait, there's more: the added bonus of sending these miniatures off so that someone else will benefit from your practice.

Please join us for some pocket size creative goodness and kindness to share with one another and others!  The deadline to sign up for the ATC exchange is January 15.  Learn more about the exchange details and how to get involved on the 6 Degrees of Creativity blog.

"Caring for children...our first job"*

"Holding the Light" ©2010, H. Hunter, 5" x 8", SoulCollage® Lately, it's been a Charles Dickens kind of time. You know, that line from  The Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way..."

These words, written by Dickens in 1859, 153 years ago, speak worlds about today. When I juxtapose the lights of Chanukah and Christmas against the carnage in Connecticut, I wonder how we can comprehend this paradox of light and dark. I don't know.

I took heart as I listened to President Obama speak at the memorial service for the 20 souls of the children and souls of the 6 adults.

"This is our first task -- caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations?...I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change."

That is a call to action if I ever heard one and it makes me take a closer look at my immediate world.

It's easy to become desensitized working as an art therapist in a hospital--every day--a census filled with names, ages, diagnoses.

Lately that census has included more than one child who wasn't adequately cared for; whose parents didn't meet their obligation and left them untended, unfed, or even worse, dropped or shaken.

My mind cannot contain the range of extreme thoughts which arise, watching a toddler careen around the playroom sporting an NFL-size helmet for self-protection.

Often, due to brain injuries, these children have little or no impulse control, so put away those crayons and markers art therapist, it's time to get moving.

The task becomes following them, holding them, talking to them, playing with them, getting down on the ground and dancing with them and in every way that I can, loving them.

In this new year to come, I challenge us all to take one small step toward the goal of caring for all of our children. What might that be? Taking time to listen, really listen when a child speaks, (put down the cell phone already!), donating time or money to an organization that brings aid to children, reading to a child, mentoring one, teaching a class at a local art center or finding a school that needs your aid.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we hold -- for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a little one’s embrace -- the best cure for the worst of times.

*President Obama in his address to Newtown CT, 12/17/12.

Winter Wisdom

Mindfulness at Play "Art expression itself is a way of creating something new from what you already have, but may not have fully recognized within yourself.” Cathy Malchiodi

The other day I received a newsletter from my art therapist friend Lisa Mitchell.

She's constructed a new series of workshops, including a vision board* workshop--and not just any old vision board workshop. Her descriptions note that, by using ordinary materials in unusual ways and learning new techniques, our intentions are solidified. In the process, our brain gets a workout using all our senses. The point is to bring our abstract ideas and dreams into the realm of the concrete and plausible, by incorporating them into the board.

That got me thinking about my own vision board, which I wrote about in a post, "Mindfulness at Play," at the beginning of the year. I decided to go back to the board and see what has come to pass.

As I look at the board, I see a large, peaceful Buddha's head framed by conifers and plants that remind me of our winter foliage here in California. Underneath the Buddha, from left to right, children hold a board filled with artist trading cards. To the right of the children a yoga class takes place. A teacher is helping a student with a pose.

In my post, I said that I wanted to deepen my art therapy practice; to become more present with the children, even as my own are grown. And I wanted, although I didn't write it, to have a steady yoga practice.

What's odd is that both of these desires have come to pass, but not by deliberate intention. The vision board hung on my studio wall, where it watched over me and I looked at it, day after day, while a year passed.

It has not been a straight path back to yoga--(is it ever?) Like Goldilocks, first I sampled the "big bowl," a class at our University gym. I was the oldest participant and the class, a Viniyasa practice, and I felt like I'd just had an aerobic  workout, not a yoga class.

Next, for my "middle size bowl," I tried a class offered through our hospital. The instructor offered peacefulness with a pale green scented candle. I ended up with a migraine.

Finally, for a bowl that is just right. The solution came in an unexpected fashion. Both my daughter and my sister have recently been diagnosed with auto-immune diseases that make certain movements difficult.

I remembered yet another yoga class I'd taken the previous year for people 55 and over. Led by the fearless and inimitable, Hana Raftery, majoring in exercise physiology, she had every one of us, from me to the oldest 80- something moving with ease.

I e-mailed her and set up a private lesson for my daughter and me. I invited my sister, who suggested we have it in her new house, which has a wooden floor, but would be empty for another month. Shazaam! A yoga studio!

Downward dog pose

We began by meeting once a week and now have increased it to 2 times. We've been meeting since before Thanksgiving and even though the two of them are still waiting for their respective rheumatology consults, their movements are coming more easily.

I am in hog heaven, if you can say that about a yoga class. I feel like I really have found the bowl that is "just right." And it all started with a small 8.5 x 11 vision board.

I'm looking forward to making my 2013 vision board soon and I invite you to join me and make your own. Who knows, those dreams might just be waiting for an invitation to come out and play!

*A vision board is usually a piece of matte board on which you paste or collage images that you’ve torn out from various magazines. The intention behind the vision boards is the notion that when you surround your self with images of what you want to develop or change, your life changes to fit the images.

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.

Altering an Image

Many years ago in graduate school when Polaroids still existed and the magic of images appearing before your eyes was still new, I enjoyed taking small photos of the sculptures I'd made and altering them with thick, gooey oil pastels--the kind that were an inch wide and 4 inches long and smeared like lipstick.

I savored the challenge of wielding a big stick in a small space-it was a means of gaining control over the uncontrollable. Graduate school was a place where hardball was the rule. Working on these small and intimate scenes returned me to a more comfortable place.

Recently, I've had the opportunity to revisit photo altering in the Altered Image, one of the workshops in 6 Degrees of Creativity 2 taught by Fiona Fitzpatrick, an Australian art therapist. For my project, I chose a photograph my father had emailed to me several weeks ago. In the photo, my father, a young professor, crosses his arms with a roll of papers in his hand. His gaze is expectant, searching, as if looking into the future, wondering what it might bring--and a bit apprehensive at the thought.

As a child, I knew that my dad longed to write. He was an English professor at a Big 10 university, always busy with his classes and busy too, writing the texts from which he taught, but I knew that what he really wanted to do was to write essays. Essays were his favorite form of prose.

Of course, things got in his way as things always do.  I remember wondering if he would achieve his dream and being ignorant of the pleasures of retirement, I feared he might not find the time.

As I held the photograph, I remembered all this--and the recognition of all that has taken place since his retirement. My dad, Carl Klaus, is 80. He has written 6 books since retirement, his Mac on fire with all that he stored up to say.  It was this blossoming of words that I wanted to express as I altered the image of the writer as a younger man.

I wanted to take that figure and surround him with the fruits of his labor; fruits that he couldn't possibly see from his perspective in time, but that certainly, in due time, were his to harvest.

I took postcards announcing the publication of two of his early books and cut them into slices, encircling him so that he appears to be at the center of an illuminated manuscript. I tucked a picture of Kate, his second wife, into the corner. Her death became the subject of another book: Letters to Kate.

As I glued, painted and pressed papers onto the surface, I was transported by the process of juxtaposing past with present in the same picture.

I took a break in the middle of the process and checked my e-mail. There was an e-mail from my dad. While I'd been working on his collage, he'd typed a message: "...the attachment is the manuscript for my new book, which I just finished yesterday afternoon...I thought you might be interested... on the chance that it might give you some ideas you can use in the writing you do for your blog, for your art, for your professional work, for your personal satisfaction.

Mysterious, isn't it, how altering an image can affect your life in an unexpected way?

Take 2: Palliative Care and Paper Swaps (The Whole Story)

Our pediatric department is beginning a pediatric palliative care team and as we lay the groundwork, we're introducing the idea of integrative therapies to our pediatricians.

It's not a new idea. My colleague Kathy Lorenzato, a music therapist, has been teaching and practicing Reiki, a hands-on healing technique, for over 10 years, and I have joined her for the last 4 years. As far as integrative therapies go inside the hospital, at the moment, we're it.

With this in mind, the two of us were invited to speak to our pediatric physicians on staff about art therapy, music therapy and Reiki. I made a PowerPoint to explain the use of art in palliative care and put together a resource list on other integrative therapies.

It sounds simple on the surface, but as my husband noted, trying to explain the value of therapies whose effects cannot be quantified, to a group of science oriented folks, made me more than a bit nervous.

That's where my own art therapy came into play. Over the last couple of weeks, I participated in a Paper Swap organized by Gretchen Miller of 6 Degrees 2. I mailed my offering to an artist living in Missouri and looked forward to receiving an envelope of my own in return.

Days passed while I worked on the PowerPoint and my anxiety rose accordingly. Raised in a family with a healthy number of doctors, I've had some run ins with scientific minds and I've always felt myself lacking. Although art therapy requires a certain amount of intellectual engagement, I depend more heavily on my intuition, letting passion do the heavy lifting.

One day last week at the peak of my fear, a large padded envelope arrived, postmarked Australia. I opened it carefully and sifted through the contents; feathery tissue, textured rice papers, leaves of patterned scrapbooking pages and a packet of gaily colored buttons.

I considered the colors and shapes sitting on my lap and something shifted internally. As I touched the papers, taking in the colors, patterns and textures,  my fear eased. I realized that "right here, right now" on my couch I was experiencing the tangible results of art therapy.

I went into the presentation 2 days later with an insight. Rather than seeing the doctors as a group of individuals whose opinions I wanted to change, I saw an opportunity to heal the split between my own thinking and feeling, between the intellectual and the artistic.

I stood on the podium, praying the memory stick and my own memory would work. As I looked at the slide of a patient's artwork projected behind me, I remembered the joy I felt working with him--but I also remembered the research, the effort that others had gone to, in order to document the effectiveness of art therapy. Research that is necessary for art therapy to be accepted into the treatment team's fold.

The presentation went well. The physicians were attentive, and even better, I felt the old split inside me being carefully drawn back together. When our talk ended, we gave a Reiki demonstration. Up there on the dais, Kathy, one of the pediatric residents, our Child Psychiatrist and I offered Reiki treatments to four doctors who came forward. I felt the tide beginning to turn.

Going Through, Not Passing Over

I've been thinking a lot about holidays this year, particularly the Jewish holiday of Passover.

Passover is a time of spiritual renewal, of looking back in order to see ahead. A broad theme of Passover is freedom, something so vast, that I've scarcely tried to contemplate it; being someone who prefers to find the macro in the close-by mundane.

I'm also someone who seeks to understand what spiritual traditions have in common rather than how they differ.

The Friday before the holiday weekend, I met a child in the hospital where I work whose artwork contained just these confluences of large and small, distant and nearby, to which I would add, past and present. This young six year old girl had lost her father to incarceration and her mother to death by addiction.

When I first heard about her, I wasn't sure what to expect. Certainly not the vibrant being who walked into the playroom eager to engage in the activity I had chosen: creating a paper Easter basket.

I like this activity because by creating a series of folds and cuts in a square piece of paper and manipulating them, you can create a real container.

Flora sat down and pulled one of the folded pieces over to her place and began to copy the words, "Happy Easter," onto one of the squares. With great detail and many felt tip markers, she painstakingly created designs and drawings on each surface of what would become the inside and the outside of the basket.

I find it intriguing that at this stage, while the child is painting or drawing, the inside and outside are not yet determined. Enclosure can go either way, depending what she chooses to do. A metaphorical exercise about the public and private selves.

At any rate, after Flora had filled both sides of the paper, I stapled her basket together-but she wasn't done quite yet. she took squares of soft, pastel patterned fleece and glued one to each surface of what had turned into the inside of the box.

She proudly showed me her basket, asking, "but where are the eggs?" I went on my own egg hunt and found several colored plastic eggs. I handed them to her and she tucked them into the bottom of her basket.

It seemed to me that this small child exquisitely exemplifies the theme of Passover. She lost her original home and was forced to leave for a new one (she is lovingly cared for by a relative); she had created her own safe transitional home in the basket.

Six Degrees of Creativity 2

In my daily life, I work hard to carve out studio time. I treasure these precious hours of creativity that bring sanity and grace to my hectic, scheduled life and I didn't think there was room to add "one more thing." However, when I was invited to teach a class for Six Degrees of Creativity 2, I was intrigued and tempted. Six Degrees of Creativity 2 is an on-line art workshop and community, sponsored by the Art Therapy Alliance and includes six different workshops. Each is offered by a different instructor from the art therapy community and explores hands-on art making concepts and techniques as means for social change and transformation.

Although I thought long and hard before taking on that "one more thing," I knew that teaching one of the six classes could add a new dimension to my studio time, especially since I could choose what I wanted to teach. So, what did I want to learn more about?

I like to teach around my current studio obsessions, but for a class lasting six months, I needed to find something that would provide continuity, no matter what my immediate focus. I decided to explore how to help artists and other creatives build and maintain a studio practice; nurturing a conscious habit of doing something over and over --or what Csikszentmihalyi called "flow:" that single minded immersion into an activity.

Writer Elizabeth Bishop came up with wonderful line. She said that, "the thing we want from great art is the same necessary for its creation, and that is a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration."

I decided to call my class, Still Point in a Changing World: Creating a Mindful Studio Practice. We'll concentrate on cultivating that perfectly 'useless' or mindful concentration that drives a studio practice.

Six Degrees of Creativity goes on sale April 1 - June 30, 2012 and you can find out more by clicking here.

Cultivating Patience

This week I've been thinking about the patients I see at work and the health changes I'm encountering in my own life as I go through the proverbial aging process. I've made a conscious decision to not be one of those people who ruminates and makes a running commentary on their health.

And yet, it's hard to have patience with myself as I wind my way through my 50s.  Who among us can really say we have patience with ourselves? Patience with others maybe, sick children at work definitely, but not our own physical deficits.

Then one day, I had a "driveway moment" while listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation last week. Allan Lokos, a psychologist and Buddhist was speaking on patience: "...the body is changing. And we look in the mirror and we realize one day, oh, the muscle tone is not what it was. And sometimes, we can become very angry at our own body, impatient with ourselves. And I think it's very important to realize, that is the nature of the body. Everything is changing; the body is changing. So why not go with that so that we don't go to the finish line just resisting and unhappy, but going with what is natural order instead?"

Listening to the words melted something inside me, that part that has no patience with my own shortcomings. I decided if that if patience was what I needed to be able to work and thrive, then I could be kinder to myself. And by showing myself kindness, I could reflect that kindness outward to others and through my art.

Here are some of this week's watercolors, painted while I practiced patience.

Inscribing a Circle

I've been drawing circles since I was four, but my fascination with them as an art form dates back to to the 80's in front of an ashram in Oakland, CA, where, just outside the door, I saw a most astonishing drawing done in a rich array of vibrant colors all contained in a circle.

Ritual rangoli done in powdered pigments

These circles, called rangolis, were done for religious or healing ceremonies. As an artist, I ached to be able to do something like this and after some investigation, came upon the mandala (the Sanskrit word for circle), an art form with a long history across many cultures. Like the rangoli, it is art created created for ritual purposes in a circular form and these days, also employed in art therapy.

New Years Mandala, ©2008, Hannah Hunter, Collage

So, while I've been painting, collaging, and inscribing these geometric discs for years, nothing could have prepared me for the excitement about the circle that recently burst upon the art scene in the form of Damian Hirst's spots.

I started poking around and pretty soon I discovered that I could make a distinction between a circle and a spot. It's strictly my interpretation, but the way I see it is that the spot is just that: a rounded mark or splotch made by foreign matter. It seems to have arrived in a rather casual manner.

Spots tossed on a watercolor in the studio, photo by Amelia McSweeny

The circle on the other hand is a closed line, something inscribed in which all the points on the line lie at the same distance from the center. It seems intentional, elegant, something that shows up in nature, but also something that 3 and 4-year olds begin drawing as they enter into the world of representation. The circle is one of the early building blocks.

Rose Colored Egg, ©1998, Hannah Hunter, Colored pencil

I looked up on my studio wall, where all three current pieces are iterations of the circle, so I tried to dig a bit deeper to see what was so fascinating-- and, what keeps me returning to them as a form decade after decade.

Rice Bowl, ©2012, Hannah Hunter, Collage

I'm reminded of something that another blogger, Gwyneth Leech, said in a recent post, "Spots Before My Eyes...:""...there is the infinite variety of things, then there is an infinite variation of one thing." A circle suggests eternity (think of a ring), something bigger than myself, time layered upon itself, the pleasure in creating a multitude of variations on a theme.

Zodiac Season, ©2010, Hannah Hunter, Collage

The idea that each circle can both be the same yet different; it's own infinite, elegant universe is  powerful. A 3-year taps into these infinite possibilities without fear or the preconceived notions of adults. When I began this post I thought that I'd be arguing for the integrity of the circle, but now that I've experienced spots and dots á la Hirst (and, for a great post on spots, see Joanne Mattera's  "Connecting the Dots), I'm looking to get rid of some of my trepidation and preconceived notions, and hopefully, adopt some of the spot philosophy too.

I know that many of you have had fun in the studio with circles, spots and dots--if you have any stories or images you'd like to share I'd love to hear from you.

Mindfulness at Play

Have you ever felt the axis of your life shifting? Last year I was deeply focused on my artwork, with art therapy a bit out of focus.

As the year has turned, however, so has my attention. For many years, I relied on observations of my own children's developmental stages to help me understand the children with whom I worked.

Now, with my own children navigating the waters of young adulthood, I no longer have that framework to depend on. While the memories are there, I need to stay fresh in my art therapy practice.

With that in mind, I've been re-infusing my knowledge of art therapy and child development by lots of reading, particularly on the Art Therapy Alliance group threads on LinkedIn.

I've been particularly intrigued by the development of Cathy Malchiodi's "Trauma Informed Practices Institute." In her recent newsletter, she lays out some of the core foundations for integrating mindfulness practice and positive psychology into art therapy.

"Making art can help us become mindful in the moment, just like when one learns to be present in the moment through the practice of mindfulness meditation. In art therapy, we often speak of that moment in art making when "flow" occurs-- an experience of losing oneself in the experience, but at the same time being present and engaged in the process. Being in the flow state can help you become more relaxed and begin to observe yourself in new ways. Art expression itself is a way of creating something new from what you already have, but may not have fully recognized within yourself."

Observing the children on the unit, I would say that the flow state has more and more been relegated  to the world of Wii, Playstation 3 and Nintendo. While there is value in learning to control the actions of characters on screen, I have a personal bias. I think it is just as exciting and possibly more so to be able to affect actions with one's own hands in our three dimensional world.

In other words, how do we help children find their way into the flow state with art, music, dance and other forms of creative expression? That's the question I'll be asking of myself in the next few months as I craft art activities which stimulate that sense of flow. I'll also be looking forward to attending Cathy's class this March in San Francisco: Enhancing Resilience Through Trauma Informed Practices: Positive Psychology and Mindfulness Based Art Approaches.

For a treat, if you click here, you will find a podcast containing a wonderful talk with Oxford psychologist, Mark Williams and a short 3 minute mindfulness meditation that made my day.

New Website Crowning

As a parent who has recently experienced the empty nest, it's pretty darned exciting to have a project that I've been so involved with that it feels almost like my own child. Which, of course, means it's not without its joys or difficulties. The new child however, is a virtual one, my website.

As I mentioned in my last post, it was my goal to create a website that I could manage on my own. To that end I took a class, worked with my friend Chris and finally in the beginning of the Jewish New Year, welcomed my site into the world.

While it was complete in many ways, I still wanted to load some pictures of my recent work, tidy up the blog and transfer my Blogger posts before I made it public.

As I've learned to work with the site myself--WordPress book at hand and Google at my fingertips, I've begun to experience a pride similar to what I felt as a young mother.

As they did then, the first few snafus catch me by surprise--like getting caught without extra diapers or wipes in public; but with practice, I've learned how to problem solve. And, like reminding a small child over and over again to pick up their toys, I've tussled with the never-ending chore of cleaning up errant links, and misbehaving formatting.

As with children, there is no stasis, no resting point where the process is over. As I introduce my website, I see it as a work in progress, something that has come a long way, but will continue to develop and grow as I do.

Without further ado, let me introduce my website:  Hannah Klaus Hunter, Fine Artist, Textile and Paper Collage I invite you to visit, to explore the different pages and I welcome your thoughts and observations. In a bit, I'll begin writing all my posts on the WordPress site, but I'm not quite there yet. More on that later.

Clear Sight

I’ve been doing some thinking on my vacation; going away is often a way of coming closer to myself, of discovering what’s been stored up inside me for lo these many months.

Landing in Kauai, I assumed I would magically relax into a state of being where one activity flowed into another--not the hurried hula I find myself performing on most working days.

While there were indeed many delicious activities; ocean walks, tropical flowers and rainbows, I was surprised to meet up with some of my oldest and most familiar demons; the ones that incessantly wish to compare myself to others who seem to be more, do more, achieve more.

A hold-over from childhood, these thought pests seemed more intense than usual, even creeping into my dreams. My sister, who had joined us, noted that sometimes in Hawaii, it seems that one’s stored up issues just seep out like lava--a kind of “detoxifying” if you will.

While the gremlins nibbled and morning doves cooed, I tried to set up a studio practice--sparer than my normal routine, but something to do in order to counter my inner detractors. I decided to sit down for an hour a day with watercolors and just paint something. I picked the simplest forms I could find; lemons and limes picked from trees  growing in the yard and tiny birds of paradise that grew by the outdoor shower.

As I painted, I observed my initial antipathy to mixing the color green. It brought up memories of phthalocyanine green oil and viridian oil in undergraduate school and my messy complicated affair with oils). I persevered and, finally, loosened my association of mixing colors which matched my mood and began instead to evoke a feeling of relationship with the fruits I studied.

What I also observed, as the days peeled off, was that after painting I experienced a feeling of clairvoyance--clairvoyance in the French sense of the word, which literally means: “clear sight.” The fabulous leaf and flower forms that surrounded me seemed heightened, standing out as if I were staring at an intricate Indian miniature. I experienced an intensity of seeing similar to the high that practitioners of yoga describe. I felt loose and clear headed. I breathed effortlessly.

I’d like to claim, after this time away, that I’ve returned to normal life with no worries, sustained clear sight and a pack of good watercolors. But reality, like river water after a storm, is muddy. Spending time with transparent colors and resplendent foliage allowed me to see the landscape through the mist; there are always more layers--I understood again that we can never really remove ourselves from the complex relationships of people and situations, the endless rich entanglements of this world. However, like finding a blossom in the Hawaiian jungle, I can always locate something to focus on.

My 7 Links

Marriage Circa 2011, ©2011, H.Hunter, Collage: paper and acrylic paint

I recently accepted Donna Iona Drozda's invitation to participate in a project: My 7 Links Project. For this project, each blogger chooses 7 different posts to fit seven unique categories and then invites up to 5 more bloggers to do the same, and so on, as a way of uniting "bloggers from all sectors in an endeavor to share lessons learned and...to... create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts..."

A timely invitation and one that I thought about because it seemed to me a perfect chance to look over the year's post, to form in my mind a gestalt of what I'd written, a means of seeing the road I'd traveled and perhaps the road I might choose to take in the year ahead.

Like the doors on an advent calendar, I invite you to open up one or more of these links and see what you discover.

Most helpful: Young Adult Bereavement Art Group/Art Therapy in Action: This post proved to be helpful in two ways; one for me, because the post reflects how much I learned about the grief process of young adults, but also because this information is useful to those people who wish to start an art therapy based bereavement support group in their own community.

Where I Live, ©2000, H. Hunter, 15" x 18", Acrylic & Caran d'ache

Most popular: Finding Sanctuary: addresses our universal need to find a safe and sacred space. Nature + art = one of the most effective ways to find it.

Didn't quite get the attention it deserved: Timing is Everything: There's a lot packed into this little post with M.S. Merwin's poem. Spring opens our eyes with its fleeting beauty and we're reminded, once again, of the transience and beauty of life.

Most proud of: Art Therapy 101: No questions here. Art Therapy 101, about my daughter who was my first teacher in art therapy, wrote itself.

Peonies at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art

Most beautiful: Accidental Journey: Places of the soul--all of us have them and I accidentally traveled back to mine in this trip to Maine. Here I share images and thoughts of this magical journey, especially one gorgeous blush colored peony.

Surprising Success: A Different Kind of Summer: I had no idea when I wrote about spending the summer in the studio that it would elicit so many responses. At the hospital, when I'm asked what I did on the weekend, my answer is always the same: "I was in my studio." (And it's always a pleasure.)

Most controversial: New Beginnings: The controversy here is subjective within the quilting world--I suddenly felt confronted by an entirely different way of seeing the quilting process, one I hadn't considered and which challenged me to re-examine my approach to the aesthestics of art quilts.

And now some nominations--4 blogs with entirely different focuses--something to satisfy different parts of my personality.

From the Scattergood Farm: written by two teachers at Scattergood Friends School (my daughter's high school alma mater) where students both study and work a living farm. In this new blog, they present some radical new ideas for school lunch. Check this out!

Patricia Scarborough: I love Patty's posts--witty and wry and half a continent away, I love to read her observations and see her plein air plainscapes. 

Dwelling Here Now: One of the first blogs I discovered, Anthony Lawlor takes a spiritual approach to architecture and the architecture of thought. 

Blue Sky Dreaming: Blue Sky's open minded approach to her subject matter and materials intrigues and inspires lots of us in the mixed media world.

Art: Worth An Ounce of Prevention

Still Quadrant, ©2011, H. Hunter, 18" x 18," Monoprint and Collage

I'm sitting at my desk at the Children's Hospital here in Sacramento. When I'm here, I'm firmly in my role as an art therapist, but every so often this role gets mixed up with my role as an artist.

I often feel like I lead a kind of double life, shifting internally between the person who keeps a curious eye open to composition and the way colors play against one another, and the person whose job it is to keep watch with another; one whose life has been compromised by illness, accident or abuse. I offer them the time and space, safety and support so that they can use the art materials and allow whatever wants to emerge to appear. We welcome the result as just right, true to itself, perfect.

Every so often, my roles get jumbled--like this week. I had been asked by our director of Patient Care Services to participate in an art benefit to help raise money for a local chapter of the Child Abuse Prevention Center. She wanted to create an event filled with art and combined with California vintners, to help support this worthy cause. For anyone unfamiliar with the impact of this issue, the Center's site posts an astonishing list of statistics:

Every minute in America a child is reported abused or neglected...One in five is sexually abused. Half a million children are reported abused in California each year. Every day in California at least one child dies as a result of abuse or neglect.

Each one is one too many.

These are startling and disturbing statistics and what brings these numbers home to me is the entry of one of these small "ones" into our playroom,  carried in the arms of a nurse. The care and treatment that these children receive is superb and beyond that, the love that surrounds them is priceless. So many arms are there to soothe, protect and hold them as their injuries heal and the natural resilience of each child takes hold once again.

I didn't think twice before I said yes, because the request touched my heart. I knew that here was a way to give back.

I'll be showing my artwork with a number of excellent artists: Chris Beer, Mark Bowles, Beth Rommel, Andrew Maurer, Jane Mikacich, Wendy Nugent, Diane Poinski, and Stacey Vetter. I hope you'll take a moment to reflect upon this issue and consider what you might do in your own area to help. If you're going to be around the Sacramento area, I warmly invite you to the Pour for Prevention event on Saturday, August 27th from 6-9 p.m. For more information and details, click here.

Home: Our Foundation

"Tempting Fate," ©2004, H.K.Hunter, 3.5" x 5", Collage: acrylic and magazine images on paper, Collection of Diana Connolly

Recently, I've pondered home as a symbol and a reality. In the wake of Japan's earthquake/tsunami and the rash of virulent tornadoes over middle America, the fact that one's hearth can be destroyed in seconds made me think about the various values held by the place where we reside.

"Many Chambered House," ©2004, 3' x 5", Collage: acrylic, colored pencil, calendar imagery and ink on paper, Collection of Virginia Shubert

Across our country, home prices have tumbled, particularly in areas deeply connected to me: California where I live, Florida where my son resides and Michigan, where half of my family originated. We've been lucky enough to maintain our home for many years but it has come home to me how quickly that privilege can be taken away.

As children, we moved frequently from state to state, house to house, apartment to apartment. While many kids dream about what they want to be when they grow up, I fantasized about having a home of my own (think:Virginia Woolf's A Room of her Own.)

Even as that vision took shape, my desire must have remained sublimated, because I also ended up making art about homes. Recently, I saw a message on my facebook fanpage from a collector, who bought one of my paintings nearly 20 years ago. The woman was kind enough to take a picture of the work and when I saw it, I recognized an early "home" piece.

"Piecing the Night," ©1992, H.K. Hunter, 8.5" x 7", watercolor on paper, collection of Michelle Heinz

That made me curious. I pored over my i-photo files and pulled out the "homes" I'd made in recent years. I've selected a few to share with you here.

"Katrina," ©2005, 11" x15", Collage: acrylic, ink, calendar imagery on paper, Collection of the University of Iowa Hospitals

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on home as you've watched the images of devastation flash across your television screen or heard the news about another small town leveled.  Has your art been affected by these current and timeless events? Are images of home on alert in your imagination?

Flood, ©2009, H.K. Hunter, 11" x 17", Collage: acrylic, ink, caran d'ache, foil and calendar imagery on paper, Collection: Anonymous      


I'll be posting intermittently this summer; I want to take advantage of long days and cool evenings in the studio and finish working on a chapter for Cathy Malchiodi's upcoming book, "The Arts in Healthcare."
I look forward to keeping up with you on your blogs and wish you a reflective Memorial Day weekend; visited by memories of the ones that have gone before you.

Art Therapy 101

Liz & Partner: Viennese Waltz, Photo: Jen Gross

Normally, I spend these posts focused on my explorations in art and art therapy. However, behind all of that lies the beauty and wonder of family. Family is my foundation.

This year, in celebration of Mother's Day, I was invited by Claudine Intner, an artist, blogger and mom extraordinaire to join a Mother's Day blog hop. I accepted and chose May 14, my daughter's birthday, as my post date. I couldn't think of a better way of honoring Mother's Day than to write about being Liz's mom.

One of the great delights of my life, Liz came into it twenty two years ago today. A young woman who has faced many challenges, she has overcome them one step at a time.

In fact, Lizzie helped inspire me to become an art therapist. Being with my own daughter, I understood the need to have compassion, to help my child as she met the inevitable challenges of growing up. What an awakening; to discover that no one was going to be a better advocate for her than I. And, it was this same experience of advocacy which spurred me on later, to work with children, who might or might not need an advocate of their own.

Liz & Partner: Nightclub Two Step, Photo: Jen Gross

Years have passed since Liz's elementary school days, but at the time, I poured everything that I knew as an artist into my mothering. When school was frustrating, Liz hunkered down at a small table piled with markers and paper and pounded hard on sheet after sheet of paper, producing a series of pointillist mandalas. Later on studying art therapy, I learned the theoretical underpinnings of catharsis but at the time, Lizzie blazed her own art therapy trail.

When she reached high school, and I learned about SoulCollage®, it was Liz who took it to new heights, carrying stacks of 5" x 8" cards and magazines up to her room and emerging several hours later with a fan of cards to share with me. (Before long, she began to assist me during workshops, adding her gentle presence and expertise.)

Together, her cards created the portrait of a passionate and deeply creative woman and I wondered what future form(s) this might take in the world. I didn't have long to wait. During her first year of college, Liz discovered ballroom dance. An incurable romantic, this art form fits her to a T. I've delighted in watching her emerge as a gorgeous woman, who continues to craft her life one step at a time. Today, on her birthday, she is performing with her dance team, "Spirit in Motion" and dancing a solo with her partner. I can't think of a more fitting way for her to enter her 22nd year: in motion.

To see more blogs on the hop, click on any of the links below:

5/1 - Claudine Intner http://www.intner.net/blog 5/2 - Melissa Liban http://melissalibanillustrations.blogspot.com/ 5/3 - Lynn Krawczyk http://fibraartysta.blogspot.com/ 5/4 - Ishita Bandyo http://www.ishitabandyoarts.blogspot.com/ 5/5 - Jeri Greenberg  http://www.Jerigreenbergart.blogspot.com 5/6 - Kathleen Mattox http://mixedmessagesbykathleenmattox.blogspot.com/ 5/8- Amanda Ruth http://bunnycarrots.blogspot.com/ 5/9- Judi Hurwitt http://approachable-art.blogspot.com/ 5/10 - Kathleen Murphy http://kathleenmurphydesigns.blogspot.com/ 5/11 - Hannah Phelps http://hannahphelpsgallery.blogspot.com/ 5/12 - Helen Hiebert http://helenhiebertstudio.blogspot.com/ 5/14 - Hannah Klaus Hunter http://hannahklaushunter.blogspot.com/ 5/15 - Claudine Intner http://www.intner.net/blog/