Using a Favorite Art Therapy Directive at Home!


In art therapy, we often use the term “directive” for any specific art making instructions that are used by an art therapist as an intervention. For example, the scribble game is a popular art therapy directive. There are reasons for using specific directives with individuals, couples, and groups, and there are of course reasons for not using any specific directive, but allowing patient(s) to find their own way, pick out whatever materials they want, and make their own choice about the type of image they want to make. In the practice of art therapy, there are two aspects to any directive: the specific art materials to use and what image or kind if image to make. The scribble game emphasizes tge image as it begins with a scribble. It can be done with pencils, pens, markers, pastels and oil pastels, or even paint or ink or some combination of these materials. The therapist may specify the material or invite the patient(s)to pick their own material(s).

One of the most universal and “democratic” of art therapy directives is the Tissue Paper Collage. The materials usually involve many varieties of colored tissue paper, and paper or board to affix it to, as well as a brush and some kind of binder and sealant, such as Glossy Mod Podge or the cheaper option of mixing Elmer’s glue and water.

By calling this directive democratic or universal, I mean that I have found it great for every population and almost all age groups. It is a very soothing activity, which makes it great for anyone with trauma in their background. The repetitive nature of the activity, as well as the bright colors really make it ideal for anyone! In one day I used it in my group for people with eating disorders and/or body image issues, and with several individual patients, including a 7 year old and two very different adults…

The other really unusual aspect of the tissue paper collage is that it is really easy to do and requires no art making skills or special abilities. You tear the tissue paper unless you want to cut it, use a brush to spread the “glue paint” on the paper, canvas box or board. Then you put the piece of tissue paper down on the paper and seal it to the paper with your brush. You can layer colors on top of each other and easily achieve a stained window effect. The other great thing about it is that no matter what you do, you end up with a very beautiful and original finished art work. Some people like to add water color or other collage elements to the picture; you could even pick out words or magazine pictures or personal photos to glue on the collage.. The other aspect to it is the lovely wrinkles and textures you can easily produce. You can even crumple the tissue paper into balls or shapes that stick out of the paper to create a 3D effect.

Tearing paper is a very therapeutic activity, especially with those who have any sort of attachment issues, which pretty much includes all of us!

So at my house we are in process of major cleaning up of our apartment and reorganizing. We are noticing ways we want to improve the general look of the place and better showcase my art work as well as that of others. We suddenly noticed that we no longer like our Ikea colorful curtains at all and they seem to clash with our gold brick wall and the general look of the place. Ut was not my idea to make hand made curtains out of tissue paper, but I immediately embraced the idea, as it could be a beautiful way to have curtains in the window that resemble stained glass and that could magically let light in with the curtains “closed”! But what material to affix the tissue paper to in order to achieve that stained glass window effect that would allow light in but keep our privacy as curtains do? Plexiglass would make for transparency but seemed too heavy, costly and strange to put up against the glass windows. Then came the idea to try it on wax paper! We did a test strip and it totally worked! The wax paper allows for transparency and light to shine through the curtains but still allow for complete privacy. I have to make 4 panels or strips per window as we have big windows…

So I began the project. It is a bit daunting as each strip needs to be about 76 inches long, and it takes time to cover the whole surface with layers of tissue paper. I also added some other paper I have with holes in them to add to the visual effect as well as pieces of lace here and there glued on top of the tissue paper. I’m now in window number 2 of 3.

The coolest thing about these curtains is that the finished ones look very beautiful and impressive, such that people who know nothing about the secrets of the ease of the tissue paper collage directive will see them and marvel at how they were hand made so elegantly as to achieve a stained glass effect!

If you haven’t tried it, get some tissue paper and acrylic medium or Mod Podge and make your own. If you have thick paper or the right size cardboard, you could make beautiful hand made place mats! I just thought of this idea while writing this, and I’m tempted to try it some time after I’m finished with the curtains!!!

2 thoughts on “Using a Favorite Art Therapy Directive at Home!

  1. I am studying to be an art therapist and I am curious. How is tearing tissue paper especially useful for those dealing with attachment issues? Is it just that it is a soothing activity?


    • This is probably something that could be the subject of a whole post in itself, but tearing paper is energetically therapeutic as it gets one more into one’s body. Tearing is also metaphorically symbolic of a willful act of separating and you control it as your hands rip the paper. The bright colors and easy to do aspect of the project can give a person a sense if accomplishment and self worth. An hour of choosing colors, tearing tissue paper and affixing it to a paper or box or board with a brush and anyone can make something bright and beautiful or if one wants, one could choose dark colors and create something darker, but either way, self-confidence and empowerment result. The repetitive nature of the activity makes it soothing. It is not as scary as making a representational type of picture so the abstract nature of it makes it feel “safer” to traumatized people or people in a group who are wary of feeling too vulnerable. The end result is a picture that does not have a “I did this when I was 5” feel to it, so adults can have fun with the art making process and end up feeling like they made something that looks creative and feels up to their age…


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