Quick Post: Too Good for this World

Maybe this is offensive, but I don’t like it when people say “She was too good for this world.” After a young or not old person dies.
This is an odd stereotype. It sets up a dichotomy between “Angel People” who are seen as more pure and idealized for traits like kindness and sensitivity and even “living life to the fullest.” The song “Only the Good Die Young” is ironically about loss if virginity, not loss of life but he does imply that society views that by dying young, even a virgin, a person remains pure in some way. I’m not sure at what age you have to give up on this idea…
In some cases the persons life is frozen. S/he doesn’t get more time on earth to make more mistakes, be mediocre, not special, flawed, etc. if you die young there are recognitions of the amazing things you would have done. Luckily all these people are very dead and can avoid feeling pressured to live up to an unrealistic ideal of a human.
Because it is so awful when a young person dies at the beginning of their journey on life’s road, people comfort themselves with the idea that the person was not only too good for this world but “not of this world”. It can become almost an explanation as to why the person died, which does not really ale any sense.
This idealization also separates the rest of us average humans from the really superhuman almost Buddha like humans.
Also what does it mean to be alive and just trucking along and then when dead described in this manner. What if this person had continued living. Would s/ he suddenly join the rest of us humans?
In addition when a person struggled with mental illness and rated issues, they are struggling mightily just to exist in this world. That doesn’t mean thru are too good for this world but that their painful inner world and difficulties with the outside world can collapse on the person.
I know of many long lived people who are pretty “good ” and have made good use of their time on earth to make the world a better place. Unfortunately if your life gets cut off too early you don’t get more chances to use your goodness.
So perhaps a loss of a good and caring person is indeed a loss for the world, but most of all that persons loss of being cheated out of many of life’s joys.., This is not the same as being “different”, not of this world, ethereal, etc.

Altered Books in Art Therapy: Photos!!!

First I’m going to post photos of my own books, then later this week, I will post images of others’ work!

All of these photos are from the first book I altered to be an “Altered Book.” (Years ago I made something from a book but it was not an “Altered Book” as it was not still in the form of a book…
So I picked the book, The Artist’s Handbook, as it was inspiring to take apart a book full of rules about how to use art materials and completely transform it. The title turned into “Artist”. The photos below include the cover and the back of the cover, the book as it looks when it is standing on a table, sort of an accordion as I used a lot of 3D and thick materials in it. There are various pages shown with different ideas about altering a book, including a kind of window with two “shutters” and another window that is just a hole. You can see a large variety of materials used in the project… I started altering the book while facilitating my Supervision Group for Art Therapists, but a lot of it was made while working with different patients on their altered books. It is the only “adult” altered book that I have finished. I’m working on 3 others at the moment…














Altered Book Workshop! That Stolen Half Hour We Did not Get.

Yesterday morning I finally did my Altered Books workshop at the Expressive Arts Therapy Summit in mid town NYC. I only had an hour and 20 minutes, so the time factor was the most challenging aspect of it.

Anyone reading this who went to the workshop, please email me and if you could send photos to use on this blog and my public Facebook page and Tribeca Healing Arts website.

The cleanup after the workshop was so quick that I think I did not get any of the email lists I had given out for participants to put their name and email, which was terrible as I really wanted to see the work people did. From what I saw the participants did a lot on their Altered Book while I was presenting about the topic and working with patients in art therapy on Altered Books.

EXTRA TIME: sorry and apology to the participants for the extra 20 minutes to half hour that we missed, which was when I really wanted to have people reflect on the process and fill out my questionnaire about it, break into groups of two and share their books with each other as well as their experience making it during the workshop. Then I was going to address the whole group and ask people who were willing to show their book and talk about the process, what inspired them, what new materials they enjoyed, etc.

I was happy that at the end of the workshop one participant had time to answer a question and show us how she took familiar materials and used them in a new way by gluing crayons and pencils to her book. She allowed me to photograph her book and what she did, so I will post those photos soon.

On the plus side, I think everyone got a good idea of what the whole process involves in terms of making an altered book, what the stages are, and what kinds of books patients make and how their book reflects the therapeutic process. I am grateful to the five patients who allowed me to bring their books in progress to show the group. As I told people, slides, photos don’t do altered books justice. You need to be able to hold the book to have a real and intimate experience with it. I also brought four of my own books made during the therapy with patients which I enjoyed sharing.

So that was my first workshop on Altered Books. (I have presented and done many other workshops but none on this topic.) I think my passion for the topic really helped me with presenting it. I just wish I had kept my eye on the clock to at least have had 15 minutes for people to share what they made. It also was funny that everyone made such a mess and I had 10 minutes to clean up before the next presenter, so of course I did not find the email lists in all the mess of getting stuff off the tables!

Next time I hope to have at least 2 hours and ideally 3 hours to really get into the process that goes on during the workshop… Always good to want more to present and process. Not sure when my next chance will be. I even entertained the thought of writing a book proposal about this whole topic as I don’t think there are books out there about art therapy, Altered Books and healing through that process…

Basic Guide to the 3 Stages of the Altered Book Process in Art Therapy

I divide the process it into, The Beginning, Getting Into it! (like the middle), and The End. There are 3 subphases to the First Phase:

Stages, Activities, Directives and Methods of Altering Books:

 First Stage of The Beginning: The “Invitation”!

  1. Inviting your patient to do the altered book, introducing the process and choices of media as well as books to alter…
  2. It is best to have a variety of choices of books that you supply so the person does not feel like they have to “ruin” a book of their own and feel that the therapist will hold the “bad” part by giving permission to destroy a public already created object…
  3. Having, displaying one or more of your own altered book projects, finished or not, is a good way to show/explain the project, and make it fun, acceptable and inspiring!
  4. The Big Choice: Witness the patient choose what kind of book to alter or actively help with suggestions if appropriate. See list of materials for further classifications and descriptions.


Second Stage of the Beginning: Destruction/Preparation of Book as “Ground” “Surface” for Altering: The Separation Process of Removing Former “Author”/Identity of the Book to Prepare for Creation of Your Original Artwork:

Destroy, Take apart, Eliminate, Discard, Remove, Rip, Tear, Cut, Alter surfaces, Change, Separate, Dissolve, Kill, Remove, Expell, Extract, Remove

1.Take out pages, rip off half of pages, glue together pages, rip surface off board book pages, gouge out board book pages, make holes and tears on paper pages. Cut pages, cut edges of pages, staple or attach other pages or paper materials to be inside the book or extend beyond the page, Cut deep into the book through layers of pages, poke holes, use Sandpaper to rough up surface for holding paint or to alter photos and images in the book, keep book jacket as is, cut out parts, or discard. A whole session spent altering the surface and ripping and throwing out pages can be a good way to jump right in, have fun, and avoid getting overwhelmed with ideas about content.


Third Stage of the Beginning: Start Creating, Doing, Making, Using Materials:

Look, Find, Discover, Create Space, Begin Anywhere, Open, Enter, Conceive, Start Rebirthing Process (Book as House, Body to Redecorate, Design, Embellish)

            1. Choose some art materials, supplies, mixed media. See list provided.

2. Choose to jump in and explore and let the process lead you somewhere without an intention or with an intention, theme. What will this be? A Book, An Object made with the book? Note: Calling it a Self-Portrait can give permission to let the book unfold session by session. What makes this project so open, playful, fun and non threatening is often the idea of surrendering, seeing what happens, knowing you can redo pages and even rip them out, so it tends to go well with a “go with the flow” attitude which is mirrored in the improvisational aspect of the therapy session, thus, unless my patient states an intention or purpose for the book, I encourage him/her to wander, let go, play…

* Closed Flat Book versus Open “Accordion Book”: To keep the book flat if using thick or 3D media, remove pages all over the book so it can close. Otherwise, dive in and expect the book to start expanding like an accordion. (See Case Examples Presented.)

  1. Locus: Decide whether to start with cover or back cover, keep book jacket to use, or start at beginning, or dive into the book and work on pages at different sections.

4. Start altering/creating, with therapist as witness, companion, container, mirror, security guard…


Second Stage after 3 Beginning Stages: Getting Into It! Down the Rabbit Hole…

Play, Connect, Attach, Add, Embellish, Dig Up, Hide, Conceal, Reveal, Layer, Build

Directives/suggestions for this stage, which is the longest part of the process:

Note: There are so many things to do with altered books, these are just a few ideas to get you started… If a patient is “stuck” with how to begin in a later session with their ongoing project, I usually suggest some new materials. Otherwise, you can ask if s/he wants a directive or choice of ideas to experiment with…

  1. In individual art therapy, with the altered book project, each session begins with an invitation and choice to bring out the book and work on it or not. Some patients work on it every session, and some put it aside and get reignited at a later time. Putting the book “on the shelf” can be therapeutic in terms of the idea of letting something be unfinished, unknown, waiting for a new moment, accepting that you don’t feel like working on it. Or take out some other art work from previous sessions and consider recycling it, cutting it up, incorporating it into the book somehow.
  2. Tape up or paint on page or page spread and just reveal a few words that you choose.
  3. Paint/mark up one side and stick it to the other and then separate for mirror image effect/print.
  4. Openings and pockets: make different kinds of windows, doors openings: holes of different sizes and shapes, windows that open and close, fold page in some way to create a pocket.
  5. Experiment with unfamiliar materials from the list provided or take a familiar material and do something new (stick feathers or other objects into model magic and glue to the page…)
  6.  Pick a paper doll cutout and glue it on a page to create a full body self-portrait.
  7. Glue an envelope to a page and hide or store things in it. Pick words from magazines, other pages of the book or a word box.
  8. Yarn and fabric, sewing supplies, experiment with sewing paper and fabrics on the paper of the book or create a new page to put into the book somehow.
  9. Go through the book and start creating layers by working on several pages at a time. If you wet the page you can put objects between pages to keep them from sticking together or use binder clips. Big binder clips can allow you to use wet media in different areas of the book in one session.
  10. Consider the layout, you open the book and there are two sides. Are the two sides delineated and separate or do you take both sides and turn them into one continuous surface? Can each side represent opposing aspects of the Self?
  11. Consciously consider the book to represent different aspects of who you are, your identity, parts of yourself that you hide or reveal, parts you want to transform.
  12. Write a letter to yourself or to your future self or someone else and put it in the book.
  13. If you want to consider a topic or theme, think about what part of your story to tell: Is this book about childhood, you now, the therapy process and what you are doing in therapy, or dedicated to someone else, living or dead. Is it about a loss of some kind? Or your future child/baby? Does the theme reflect an interest or passion of yours or something new to discover?
  14. You can surrender to the book and let it lead you where to go and enjoy the process without having any idea what it is about or how it will turn out. Or, ask the therapist to lead the way with his/her book and copy the what s/he is doing.
  15. Take a page or page spread and deliberately make it ugly, use colors you don’t like, put words you don’t like on it, make an image that you find unpleasant. Put it aside and look at it during another session to see if your attitude towards it has changed and what you learn from this Ugly Self. Keep it or rip it out and cut it up and put it throughout the book.
  16. Try weaving with paper, ribbon, yarn, rubber bands…
  17. Use double sided decorative paper or fabrics or foldouts to add new pages into the book.
  18. Glue two books together and start from there.
  19. Find words in the book to create a title…
  20. Create fold out pages and add things in the hidden page.
  21. Deliberately use materials that extend beyond the page, horizontally or vertically, like suspending cut fabric or thread or wire with bead on it, a painted tea bag, or a glued on book mark.
  22. Use an unconventional type material: glue a teabag somewhere, make a chain of safety pins, play with aluminum foil, napkins, paper clips, coffee beans, sand, etc.
  23. Add in personal objects, old photos, tickets, menus, receipts…
  24. If your patient wants to, you could create two books at once, either by both working on similar or different books at the same time or even passing books back and forth.
  25. Use a page spread or page in the book to process a dream.
  26. Make a small doll, figure or animal to attach somewhere to the book, either to be able to move it to different parts of the book or to stay in one place with the book as environment.


Third and Last Stage: Finishing the Book!

The End, Time for Reflection on the whole process… Book as Therapeutic Object

  1. How do you know it’s finished? Does the book supply the stopping point? Do you intentionally “end” it? Do you choose to finish it by stopping but considering it unfinished and that it will remain unfinished? (Accepting the unresolved parts of the Self, seeing the Book as a Book of life that you put aside or decide to end with extra pages left in unaltered.)
  2. What feelings come up around finishing your book and your therapist witnessing the ending of this big Project?
  3. Does the book mirror something in the therapy process? Are you feeling like you have reached a turning point in therapy and ending the book satisfies that feeling? Does the book signal that you want a break in therapy or to end therapy?
  4. What else comes up around ending/finishing/completing or leaving incomplete?
  5. What do you want to do with your Altered Book? Does it now have a Title? How does it feel to hold it in your hand and look through it? How does it feel to watch your therapist hold and look through it? Are there moments you remember that were important for you on certain pages? Do you have a narrative that tells a story and how did the story arise? What does it feel like to have a chaotic book with no title that was made in no particular order with many different media versus making a book where you started at the beginning and knew you were finished when you reached the last page?
  6. If you and your therapist made “mirror” books together, what do you want to do with the finished books? How do they reflect your therapeutic relationship?
  7. For those who started the book at the beginning of therapy with their art therapist or a few sessions after beginning and worked on the book continuously in every session, what does it reflect to you about the therapeutic relationship, the therapeutic process, trust, intimacy, vulnerability? What does it feel like to have a concrete physical record contained in a book as reflected or symbolic of the therapy?
  8. Does ending this book inspire you to start another one or take a breather? Are you working on more than one book? If so what is it like to end one while continuing with one or more others?
  9. Post-partem feelings: process any emptiness, sadness, feelings of loss about finishing, ending the book…


Altered Books and Mixed Media!

This will introduce how varied altered books can be depending on choices of media, both conventional and unconventional. The form lends itself to mixed media, but some choose to use one media only…

Supplies and Materials for Altered Books:

Choices of Books:
First Important Part of Choice:
Kind of book, first choice between “Adult” books and “Children’s books
Adult Books: Hardcover is Best:
Choice of books with only words, books with words and pictures, books with only or mostly photos or pictures; Books with only writing in them…
Examples: Non-Fiction: recipe and how to DIY type books, Classification books such as dictionaries and books about birds or some other species, word origin books, non fiction, books about art supplies and art making, photography, crafts, art, artists, graphic novels
Anatomy and related type books,
Fiction of all kinds
(Notice the texture and thickness of the pages; each kind presents different challenges)
IF the book has a “jacket”, it can be kept and used in some way or discarded.

Children’s Books:
Baby and Toddler Board Books:
Square, or Odd shaped books, books with cutouts, books with mirrors and textures already in them, pop up books
Books about Numbers, Colors, Opposites, etc.
Opposite books great for theme of duality, conflict, dark and light, opposing forces…
This type provides a good thick cardboard page to work with and offers choices around how to manipulate and “alter”/destroy the page or leave parts of it intact.
Children’s Picture Book, all subjects
Children’s Chapter books, with and without pictures
Graphic novels

Materials for Altering pages and surfaces:
Sandpaper, coars and fine
Sharp scissors
Exacto knife
Hole puncher

Adhesives and Attachers/Connectors
Glue stick
Elmer’s Clear Glue
Glue gun
Gel and Acrylic Medium, Matte or Glossy
Mod Podge, matte or Glossy
Scotch Tape
Masking Tape, colored
Duct Tape, colored and patterned
Safety pins, gold, silver, black, white, different sizes
Paper clips, small and big, different colors
Binder clips
Wire, different colors and thicknesses
Pipe cleaners
Screws and other hardware,
Sewing and Embroidery Tread
Hole punch for Threading yarn or fabric
Rubber bands
Model Magic. Sticks things together, adds texture, things can be embedded in it

General Art Supplies for Mark Making:
Pencils, colored and graphite
Magic markers, sharpies, design markers, highlighters
Pastels, dry
Conte crayons
Oil pastels
Ballpoint pen
Other pens

Acrylic paint
Watercolor paint
Gouache paint
Ink, Black and colored, pearlized: (apply with dropper, fingers, blow on with straw)
Glitter glue
Paint sticks
Oil paint sticks
Watercolor pencils and pastels
Nail polish
Paper mache

Dry Collage Materials for Mixed Media (Embellishments):
Fake fur
Foam sheets,Foam stickers, Foam shapes
Rhinestones and jewels
Sequins, (come in circles, leaves, stars etc.)
Small Mirrors
Mosaic tiles
Coffee beans
Tea bags
Craft sticks, wood and colored wood
Doll shaped sticks, flat
Old coins
Postage stamps
Beach sand and colored sand
Coark board in different thicknesses
Aluminum foil
Ziploc bag
Saran wrap
Bubble wrap
Found objects or personal objects
Glitter, coarse and very fine
Pressed flowers, leaves

Papers for Collage:
Paper ripped out of or peeled off of the book or from other books
Sheet music
Drawing and watercolor paper
Scratch board paper
Decorative Paper (animal print, textile, art deco, tie dye etc.)
Glitter Paper
Tissue paper, colored and decorated (animal print tissue paper)
Old newspaper
Kraft paper
Tracing paper, vellum
Paper towel, napkin
Paper bags
Comic books
Old postcards and photos
Personal photos
Old drawings and artwork
Graph paper
Index cards
Canvas paper, white, black
Corrugated paper, comes in colors, neon, metallic
Plastic sheets, clear and colored
Mirror paper
Wax Paper
Envelopes, used and new, different colors, sizes
Paper doll paper pad, multicultural
Embossed paper
Floor plans
Woven and specialty paper
Wrapping paper
Candy and food wrappers