Altered Book Workshop Proposal Accepted!

The good news is that my altered book workshop proposal for the 2013 Creative Arts Therapy Summit this fall was accepted! The whole event will be taking place in NYC in various locations, from November 7-13, 2013. Link to the site is:

http://www.cvent.com/events/expressive-therapies-summit-2012-registration-site/event-summary-a631d616cdd6499c92f749761a4d1d3a.aspx

The other part of my news is that instead of a 3 hour experiential workshop, I will be doing the workshop in 80 minutes, basically and hour and 20 minutes, which basically cuts out a little over half the time, so I tried to re focus the workshop.

Here is my description of it: (Let me know what you think; it’s a lot to pack into 80 minutes!!!)

Title: Altered Books with Adults in Art Therapy; Conquering Creative Blocks and Depression

Description:

In this workshop, we will discuss how the medium of altering books in art therapy uniquely treats adults with any kind of creative block and/or depression, connected with past or present trauma and feelings of creative deadness or loss of the creative “spirit.” Through the experiential, participants will choose a book and begin to alter it, thereby experiencing the uniqueness of this format that allows for the creative spirit to reawaken. The transformative experience of “destroying” a book to create something new can jump start the creative process through the variety of options, length of the project and the holding environment of therapy. I will also provide actual examples of Altered Books in process by some of the adults I am working with to demonstrate the scope of options in this particular medium and the essential role of the art therapist and therapeutic relationship in this long- term process.

3 Measurable Objectives:

  1. Participants will learn about ways that creative blocks and/or loss of creative spirit in adults is best treated through the creative process itself combined with the relationship with the art therapist.
  2. Through art making and viewing real examples of patient and therapist artwork, participants will learn about the different options provided by altering a children’s board book versus an “adult” hardcover book, and the messages the choice of book can convey to the patient and therapist.
  3. Through the experiential, participants will start the process of altering books and use at least 3 different media and techniques involved in the process of making an altered book.

 

Pinterest is Really A Form of Art Therapy!

I only started using the social media Imagery site called “Pinterest” about six months ago. I have not fully immersed myself in it and really participated regularly, but yesterday I was looking on a site and saw a bag I liked and “pinned” it to one of my boards. Then some time later I was still thinking about Pinterest and thought, “Wow, It really is similar to a certain kind of art therapy, how fascinating! I’ve got to blog about this discovery!”

To begin with, here is Wikipedia’s description of the definition and origins of Pinterest. I usually attempt to find other sites to cite on my blog but once in a while I find Wikipedia is best at doing the descrtiption and especially history and origin of some kind of phenomenon… I was surprised to find that in its beginnings the originator was interested in keeping it very “closed” and private and even wanted to talk and meet with its users. That strikes me as really a nice way to start a social media site, and I was quite surprised as right now, June 2013, is about 3.5 years since the development began.

“Pinterest is similar to earlier social image bookmarking systems based on the same principle, such as David Galbraith’s 2005 project Wists.[3] It allows users to save images and categorize them on different boards. They can follow other users’ boards if they have similar tastes. Popular categories are travel, cars, food, film, humor, home design, sports, fashion, and art.
Development of Pinterest began in December 2009, and the site launched as a closed beta in March 2010. The site proceeded to operate in invitation-only open beta.
Silbermann said he personally wrote to the site’s first 5,000 users offering his personal phone number and even meeting with some of its users.[4]
Nine months after launch the website had 10,000 users. Silbermann and a few programmers operated the site out of a small apartment until the summer of 2011.[4]
Early in 2010, the company’s investors and co-founder Ben Silbermann tried to interest a New York-based magazine publishing company in buying Pinterest. The publisher declined to meet with the founders.[5]
The launch of an iPhone app in early March 2011 brought in a more than expected number of downloads.[5]”

For those of you interested in the future of Pinterest and where it may be going with marketing and trying to get more traffic and interest businesses in it, I found a good link:
http://www.copyblogger.com/pinterest-2013/

I was actually just trying to find out how many users there are currently. As of mid may there were 11.7 million Pinterest users, which was behind of course Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the other big social media sites. The surprise data reported was that people were giving Pinterest and Facebook the same amount of their time when on the sites! Here is that interesting report on this data:
http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-media-users_b22556

Ok. Moving on now that I’ve explained a lot about it the most common types of investigation of Pinterest, that is, looking it as a social media site and phenomenon and also slightly related to a lot of shopping/fashion social media type sites where people post items of things that consumers can actually buy, as Pinterest is a cross between a kind of personality identity statement and a kind of gathering of consumer generated images, which is probably where they are going in terms of the Pinterest people looking to the future in marketing and development.

My discovery when I was musing about it had to do with the concept of simply “picking out images of anything that you like” which also translates to, in my words: “express yourself in images more than words, by looking at all there is in the known universe and finding what you love to do, look at, want to do in the future, have already done, or images that express an important aspect of who you are, including mostly images of things that are generated by others, either some photographer who put this image on the internet, or some piece of art work by someone else that you like, or your own image of something personal to your life, including, of course, your own art work…” On my own Pinterest, I have not really paid so much attention to what I do and how much I pin as I do not do it often enough, though, just as with Facebook and LinkedIn, and perhaps Twitter. I expect to follow the same pattern of checking out the site and going on the site not too often, going through periods of more interest, and forgetting about it, until the magic moment when I suddenly really “get into” it and start “using” it not just more often but to its fuller capacity and participating in it more than the average user. With Facebook, it meant starting my own Public Artist Page about my Artist career, a few years ago, and just last year, with my launching of my Tribeca Healing Arts Website, I launched my Public Art Therapy page. Along with this, I was visiting Facebook a lot more frequently and joined some art therapy related groups, most recently the “Visual Art Circle” which I will discuss in another post. With LinkedIn it involved posting more, connecting more, and joining about 50 groups, both Artist and Art Therapy related.

So probably like a lot of other people who blog, have a website and Public Facebook pages and participate in LInkedIn and are into social media, Pinterest is sort of an after thought, and given that all this Social Media stuff, whether personal or mostly professional, including blogging, takes up a lot of time, Pinterest was lowest on my time factor and still is.

As I defined Pinterest above, it is based on a very simple principle that is connected to art therapy, which is that people enjoy images and their non verbal power of communicating about themselves and the world, and that images have a lot of power, and that images are enjoyable; nvesting in expressing oneself through imagery is very healing and, here is a very important part of it — it is a great way to connect with other people and sometimes preferable to communicating just non-verbally!

Most non art therapist do not know that, among the principles of the healing power of art therapy is the idea that just looking at and sorting images as well as picking out images you like is therapeutic and a part of the art therapy process or even can be The Art therapy process which you choose to use to make contact with and engage with patients. With some client populations, certain individuals and also at certain points in the art therapy process, the therapist will use this style of intervention, which may involve showing an individual or groups a few boxes or container or files of “images”, often divided into categories, such as, art by interesting artists, images from nature and landscapes, images of people in various settings and from different ethnicities and cultures, and other such groups of images. The form can be through images the art therapist “pre cut” before the session or group. With the internet now available, the images can be from various magazines or from different websites on the internet, in which case, the art therapist prints out different images to fill these types of categories. In this case where the art therapist did this, what we call “prep work”, the art therapy intervention that is similar to the Pinterest process would be, “Look through these images, maybe pick categories that are appealing to you, look through and pick out images you like, or just images that intrigue you, and this can include images you don’t like or images that disturb you.” (By the way, this last part just made me think of adding a category to my personal Pinterest called “Ugly Images” which would be images I find disgusting, ugly, repelling, gross, unappealing…) Only that last idea does not seem to be what Pinterest aims at.

Usually most users approach Pinterest as a way to express their individual identity through images they love, like, are interested in, and positive about. I don’t imagine most users think to post images of things they find negative and disgusting, but in art therapy, actually, the “Ugly” image or art work can often yield a lot more discovery and information about the Self than what we are pulled towards. Whenever someone makes something they really don’t like, I take extra time to investigate with them its power and what it means to the person and why they hate it so much. In fact the “Ugly Art: Make something with colors you hate and try to make it as ugly and unappealing to you as possible” is a directive I am interested in trying out with people. (yet another post topic).

Anyway, Pinterest involves having “Boards” which are like bulletin boards that you “virtually” take a push pin and stick images on, but you have an unlimited number of these boards and can use suggested categories or invent your own categories. Until I wrote this post, my boards were in this order called:
“My Style, Favorite Spaces and Places, Stuff, Books Worth Reading, People I Admire, Cool Stuff, Bunnies, Art and Artists I Love”. You can have as many boards and thus categories as you want, I think! I have about 118 pins. I have now gone back on Pinterest and added the boards “My Art Work” and “My Past Artwork” and rearranged the order of the boards…

The reason I cited that info about my participation in Pinterest is that I did not think much about what boards I made up and wasn’t really invested in thinking of my own Pinterest as being an expression of where I find the most meaning in life. If I had approached it that way instead of casually, it would be the way it is now…This is to show that I approached this like other social media, attitude being “Looks interesting, why is everyone so into this, I will try it out but I don’t really have time to do it really, its not super important or meaningful, so I will just jump in without giving it a lot of time and energy”, then building up to, “Wow, I didn’t realize all the potential in this social media site, I’m going to give it more time and energy and shape it more to be useful to me and/or an expression of who I am.”

And so, I am going to try to invest a little more time and interest in my Pinterest, as I have not fully explored the potential of this particular social media. What makes Pinterest social, and thus a bit like a very large art therapy group, is that like with other social media, you can “follow” people whose images you like. Also, you can find “pins” (images to pin) which you like and decide to “repin” them from some other person you randomly found on Pinterest by looking up a particular subject. Also of interest about Pinterest, is that you can find images on other sites and often now have the option of clicking on the Pinterest logo to “pin” anything on the internet to your personal boards. You can find a lot of cool images on Pinterest itself by searching for a subject you like. Also, I receive weekly emails from Pinterest with suggestions of boards and pins to investigate. So the social part is “sharing” images with people and also “liking” them, similar to liking on Facebook.

I find the name “Pinterest” is itself interesting and inviting. The idea of a “virtual” online kind of bulletin board or group of boards that are unlimited in size for “pinning” images on is cool in the way that people sometimes find ways the virtual world can imitate the real world. If I had the time and space I would love to get pushpins and pin cool images on a bunch of boards, but it would of course not allow for unlimited images or the amount of sharing that takes place on Pinterest.

In fact, I actually do have a kind of “Board”, my Inspiration Wall in my new studio. I had one in my old studio too. I put up postcards of art by artists that I admire as well as some of my own images, and my new studio’s Inspiration Wall is actually on two little walls and for the first time includes an image I made with an artist friend,another form of art therapy, combining the studio visit with another artist with making art together…

I have not fully explored all the possibilities and scope of Pinterest yet, but I really do enjoy the connection with art therapy and the healing power of looking at images you like and feeling inspired or comforted or excited by them!

This week’s post: Celebrities Help With Society’s Progress in Understanding Mental Illness

I am still interested in raising more questions about society’s views, perceptions, misconceptions, stereotypes and prejudices regarding mental illness, as well as asking, “How far have we come in a positive way?” because it is true that we are improving.

Let me make this post more reflective of some positive progress in our society in understanding mental illness. Recent disclosures of celebrities regarding their struggles have been invaluable. Like it or not, celebrities can have a huge influence on citizens’ thoughts and perceptions, regarding everything from attractiveness to mental illness. (Of course, Angelina Jolie’s recent public revelation about her double mastectomy has been instrumental in helping women cope with the possibilities of developping breast cancer, and I even know people who, after hearing about this, decided it’s about time I go get that mammogram I’ve been avoiding. How amazing and wonderful!)

Catherine Zeta Jones comes to mind as the most recent “celebrity confession” regarding serious chronic mental illness. She suffers from Bipolar 2 Disorder, which is less severe than bipolar 1, but her mere talking about her struggles and explaining them even went further to educate people, because the vast majority of people do not even know what Bipolar 2 is or about its existence, so one could argue that though she has a less severe form of Bipolar Disorder, she has been couragesous and invaluable in helping people understand how complicated Bipolar Disorder is and also even more importantly, that many people who have any form of Bipolar Disorder are able to function and contribute greatly to society. The mere fact that many individuals with Bipolar Disorder are “in the closet” about it at work and in other arenas, reveals how easily those people who are taking their medication and other treatments are able to “pass” as not having any type of mental illness.

Wow! How timely. I just googled her and bipolar and she has just the other day, emerged from going to a treatment facility for Bipolar 2. Here is the article in the LA Times:
http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/gossip/la-et-mg-catherine-zeta-jones-bipolar-treament-completed-20130523,0,2772184.story

Actually she first revealed her struggles with bipolar a while ago. In fact, she was “outed” in the fall of 2012 and discussed her struggles in her cover issue interview in InStyle magazine, so actually it should not have come as a shock that she sought out treatment very recently, as most people knew back in fall 2012, as InStyle magazine is pretty mainstream:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/people/2012/11/13/catherine-zeta-jones-instyle-cover-helps-defuse-bipolar-stigma/1703053/

Zeta-Jones is not the first to discuss her struggles with mental illness and really help dispel a lot of stigma about it. I don’t usually like to quote from Wikipedia as it is so easy to just go there for info, and I like to cite a variety of websites, but they do have one of the most extensive lists of celebrities who have suffered from some form of schizophrenia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_schizophrenia

There are many celebrities who have talked about their battles with depression, whether as a teenager or adult. Kirsten Dunst was all over the news in August-November 2011 talking about her most recent bout with depression. I learned about it from watching of all things, the E channnel’s coverage of Celebrities with mental illnesses. This supposedly “superficial” channel about celebrities actually did a great show quite a while ago and extensively covered the range of disorders from eating disorders to depression to anxiety, bipolar and also drug/alcohol abuse. I just looked it up and it came out in 2008; I remember watching the show and I really thought it was a great way to help people understand mental illness and related disorders and see that wealth and fame have nothing to do with mental health. This is the summary of that show:

“Celebrity Crises: 10 Most Shocking Mental Disorders is an American television entertainment special produced by E! Networks which documents the mental trials and tribulations of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

The special originally aired in the USA on E! Entertainment on 22 August, 2008. It is 50 minutes long.
Synopsis

When Hollywood stars are diagnosed with a mental health ailment it’s big news. From rumours about Britney’s bipolar disorder to Heath Ledger’s bout with depression, phobias and mental illness are getting more attention.

But of course, mental illness can affect anyone. Close to 58-million Americans — about one in four adults — suffer from a mental disorder.

From eating disorders (Mary Kate Olsen) to depression (Heather Locklear, Kirsten Dunst, Mia Tyler, Jim Carrey, Heath Ledger), to cases where stars have harmed themselves (Christina Ricci – cutting) this one hour special will explore ten troubling mental disorders, with interviews from doctors, psychologists and the stars themselves.”

The show may not have been extensive and totally informative about all these disorders. Who could do that in 50 minutes? However, it was great in scope and just introducing these different issues to the public.

There are also people in politics who have a lot of power to help the public understand mental illness and decrease the stigma and shame. There are also pioneers in the mental health field, such as Kay Jamison, who is not only an expert on mood disorders but wrote a great memoir of her own struggles with Bipolar 1 Disorder, titled “An Unquiet Mind”. The fact that she is well known for her own “coming out” about her personal struggles, indicates we still have miles to go in decreasing stigma, as we see that in the field of mental health itself, the majority of psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists that suffer from any mental illness do not actually feel safe disclosing about their personal struggles. Another author and therapist who has written some great personal accounts of her own struggles is Lauren Slater. Her work is more on the edge and less well known to the general public, but she has written many interesting books about a variety of struggles.

So, in closing, I do believe that some of the best ways to educate the public about mental illness is through the mainstream media, whether it be a celebrity disclosing their struggles and talking openly about their treatment, or even films that attempt to focus on the topic, whether documentary TV shows like the one mentioned above, or the many biopics and fictions films about mental illness, such as the film “A Beautiful Mind” and the TV shows “Homeland”, “Six Feet Under” and “The Sopranos”, as well as numerous others. Even when such films or tv shows don’t give a totally accurate depiction of a specific mental illness (see my reviews of “Silver Linings Playbook,” they are still contributing to the more healthy dialogue that we need to have about this topic. A little misinformation is worth it if the subject at hand becomes more familiar to the general public and helps people view this topic with more compassion and less judgments…

Skipped last week’s post; some more questions about the stigma of mental illness…

I have been trying to post weekly so I was due to post on or around May 23, but obviously missed it!

I began a new topic, mental illness and stigma and society’s assumptions about mental illness, especially the common connecting violence and mental illness, which is disturbing to me, as I have treated and continue to treat so many people with various types of mental illness, including substance related issues, and there are so many people out there suffering from these issues who have never acted violently at all.

There is a lot of controversy right now about guns and what kinds of evaluations people should undergo before acquiring a gun. I am not pro guns in general, and my thoughts about this are that, if wonderful people who want to adopt a child have to undergo terrible stressful and traumatizing scrutiny to become parent(s), why should it be so much easier for any individual to just march into a store and acquire a gun? This is lopsided. Many people with mental illnesses are great parents.

In addition, there is the question, if you are diagnosed with a mental illness, does that mean you should be barred from owning a gun? Does it depend on the mental illness or severity of it? Who is to judge? Many people with “sociopathic” personalities are very good at “functioning” and passing as “normal”. Is it more likely that a person with sociopathic traits would be a danger if s/he owned a gun than someone with, say, a depressive disorder?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. However, I do think that if you want to own a gun, just like a prospective adoptive parent, you should undergo having visits from social workers to your house and should experience at least the same amount of scrutiny as these individuals who want a child so desperately.

And what if you have a mental illness and want to adopt a child? I’m not sure how hard that is, but just look at this “yahoo” website post and read the comments below it. I’m citing it to show that random people on the internet think very quick judgments about mental illness and fitness for parenting. There are a variety of comments in the comments section, a few supportive and trying to give the individual asking some answers and support, and some very harsh judgmental comments. It is sad to see that because there are so many more people wanting to adopt than kids to adopt, the “background checks” may cause agencies to be prejudiced against people with mental illness adopting kids if they have such a range of “choices”…
Here is the link:
http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120129172953AAV7qgj

Proposal!

After a lot of extraneous inner wrestiling with myself about this workshop proposal and whether I should even submit one (Questions like, do I really want to do this or do I just think I should be in this and doing it? Answer: don’t know. probably a little of both.), I talked to some colleagues who basically said, you’re overthinking it, just do it. Me: but I’m a therapist who doesn’t like talking in front of groups of more than about ten people, of course I’m overthinking this, and even if I wasn’t a therapist, I’m an artist, so of course I overthink everything and often arrive at the conclusion that anytihng requiring a lot of extra time and thought is just getting in the way of time that should be spent making art…

I went back to the website and just typed the answers to their questions. I stopped short of impulsively sending in the proposal right away which is what I’d be inclinded to do. I’m not going to overedit it, but it’s probably a good idea to wait a day and reread it once and find my resume before sending it in. Looking at my last blog post, I thought the writing in it was far better than the dry writing of the proposal but they limit the word count so there’s no room for metaphor…

Here is what I’ve written to submit: only missing the resume and photo

Proposal for Expressive Therapies 2013 Summit:

3 hour Workshop

 Title: Altered Books with Adults; Conquering Trauma and Creativity Based Depression

Presentation Description:

In this workshop, I will discuss how the medium of altering books in art therapy with adults can uniquely treat people suffering from low grade to serious depression that is connected with past and/or present trauma and a feeling of creative deadness or loss of the creative “spirit.” We will look at how this kind of depression is best healed through the creative process and what is unique about the altered book format that allows for the creative spirit to reawaken. I will discuss the role of the therapist in this process and through the experiential, I will invite participants to choose a book and begin to alter it. We will process the transformative experience of “messing up” and “destroying” a book to create something new and how it can jump start the creative process through the variety of options and the holding environment of therapy.

 

3 measurable objectives:

  1. Participants will learn about the connections between trauma and depression, kinds of depression that do not meet the DSM criteria but are very debilitating, and how this depression is rooted in a deadness of the creative spirit which was caused and triggered in a large part by childhood and current traumas, from severe trauma to less severe but serious trauma. They will learn to identify this depression in their work and how art therapy is uniquely suited to healing.
  2. Participants will learn about the technique of making “Altered Books”, including:

The importance of bringing in certain choices in books and how to present the project to their client, the difference in art techniqhes and media used to alter adult hardcover books versus children’s board books

3. Participants will choose a book and start the process of making an altered book so as to learn ways to identify different techniques that will “unlock” creativity and the importance of experiencing the making of an altered book first hand as well as the therapeutic value of making an altered book alongside their client.

Ideal Format and Preferred Length of Presentation:

This will need to be a hands on experiential workshop with time for explanation and discussion of topics presented and ample time for participants to actively start and altered book and share their process and experience with the group, so 3 hours is probably the best length.

Bio:

Natasha Elena Shapiro, ATR-BC, LCAT, holds a master’s in Art Therapy and Creativity Development from Pratt Institute. She has worked in private practice for many years in her Tribeca art studio where she specializes in working with adults and children with a variety of emotional issues. As an Advanced Reiki Practitioner and a practicing professional visual artist, she views creativity as central to the healing process. She also facilitates an art studio based supervision group for professionals and an art therapy group for women struggling with anxiety and depression. Her studio space is an environment designed to be inviting and help with self-acceptance and relaxation.

 

Literature Citation:

Gioia Chilton MA, ATR-BC, Altered Books in Art Therapy with Adolescents, Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, Volume 24, Issue 2, 2007, pgs. 59-63.

 

•  Art Materials Requests: Ideally a variety of hardcover books in any language as well as some early child board books, art materials including paint, brushes, scissors, colored tape, yarn, buttons and other embellishments, collage images. (Note: If some of the basic supplies are provided, I can bring in things like rhinestones, yarn, buttons, tape and collage images. In addition, if need be, I can find more books to choose from depending on the amount of people in the workshop.

The Altered Book: A Great Project for In Session Art Therapy

When I was in graduate school for art therapy, I had never heard of an altered book or seen one, and certainly it did not come up in my “Materials” class. We did not get assigned any kind of Altered Book in any class, whereas now I am hearing from grad students that in some class or other, one of their assignments involves an altered book, which is usually assigned to do outside of class.

I think my first experience of an altered book may have been at the Outsider Art Fair. I distinctly remember going to this Fair years ago when it was always in the lovely Puck Building, which is still there, located on Lafayette near Houston St. in Soho, downtown NYC. In fact years before that, I had some of my graduate art therapy classes in the Puck Building and we organized the student art show on one of the floors of this building. It is certainly a beautiful building. The last time I was there for an art event was the comic book graphic novel fair a few years ago when I met one of my favorite graphic novel authors/artists, Lynda Barry. It must have been back in 2008 when she had just published this beautiful book about her art making process, called “What It Is”. Anyway I think I saw an altered book years before that encounter in the same building. It was made by a female outsider artist and I remember the book being very thick and beautiful and having a lot of glue on all the pages. It was very inspiring and I wish I could remember the artist and find a photo of it.

I made my first “altered book” years before that without knowing it was an “altered book”. It was not quite what we tend to think of these days when thinking of Altered Books. I took all the pages out of this strange pretty bad dramatic novel I did not read and altered the cover completely to the point where it was not recognizable as having been a book. I put a lot of plaster of paris on it and then mod podged tissue paper collage. Then I somehow found part of a cardboard box and attached the book to it so the top opened up as the cover. I think I used the pages to rip up and glue inside the box. I will take a photo of it. Strangely it was a gift for a close friend, but she was a close enough friend that she told me she found the box to be too disturbing to use or look at, so I took it to my studio, where it has been more appreciated! It inspired one person to make something like it with me, and she ended up taking a dislike to the project and left it with me when she left town after we went through her art that she had done in art therapy with me. I still have that rejeccted box in my studio as well. (It inspires me to write a whole post about “ugly” and “rejected” art work and how it is therapeutic in art therapy!)

More recently, a few years ago I stumbled on an online class about altered books, and in fact I have now taken 3 online classes about it, each class covering different aspects of the art making process involved in altering books. I have been making them with patients for a while now, and by making, I really mean inviting patients to try it out and see if they like it. The first part of the process involves the explanation of what it involves, which is, basically, you choose a book and then you can start anywhere in the book or with the cover or back cover and start picking art materials to use on the book. The first steps also often involve ripping out pages from the book, either to use in the book or to throw out. It is usually good to do this at the beginning as a way to give yourself permission to “alter” the book. We all have pretty fixed notions about the sacredness of books, which I think still exists despite the internet, reading on tablets and other devices, or perhaps, the tablets have made books seem even more precious. Jumping in to starting an altered book project requires a certain amount of adventurousness, ability to tolerate anxiety about the unkonwn and anxiety about trespassing a boundary and destroying something in some way in order to create something completely new. It also involves changing ones mind in framing the idea of that book, from something to be read and kept intact, to an object just like any other “found object” to transform and make your own through your own creative expression.

There are many different aspects to altered books as part of the art therapy session that are quite fascinating, so this post will only touch on the first part, the beginning. Once invited the interested patient will next be introduced to the random assortment of books I have to choose from and pick something that speaks to them to alter. Usually Hardback books are more inviting as it is easier to treat the cover like a canvas, but lately I have seen a few people pick soft cover books, becasue I have a few that are an interesting size, kind of square and with a lot of photos, and a cover that is more sturdy than the usual paperback. So far, nobody has decided to go home and pick out one of their own books. Part of this I think is the therapeutic value of taking a book that’s in my studio already taking up space as a book waiting to be chosen, so the process of accepting this odd art project is made easier as you are not “ruining” one of your own books. And I really have a strange random assortment of everything from dictionaries/thesauruses to cookbooks to spiritual meditation type books. Included is a thick hard back Italian novel and some other random novels as well as several books with pictures about fashion or the styles of certain decades. I have a travel guide. I had a guide for artists about materials and how to use them.

This aspect of rejection of the project that began when I made my own rejected “too intense” book box and then an “ugly” book box with a patient is a part of the altered book project. I have had a few people pick out a book and start altering it and then by the next session ask to shelve the project until “I’m in the mood for it. It’s too daunting right now.” The Altered Book will either be seen as a great container that is continually inviting or sometimes it represents being overwhelmed and unable to make any decisions about what to do, resulting in the project getting “shelved”. One of my patients started a first session very excited about all the varied materials I had, wanting to jump right into art therapy and got going very creatively with some book that she even worked on for the first few sessions. At some point I think she started cutting pieces out of the book to create a kind of box within the book, maybe even using an exacto knife. Then in the next session she declared she no longer wanted to work on it, was not in that “headspace” anymore and went to other forms of art making. She made great use of art therapy but never went back to the book until we were terminating and she fondly remembered it as her introduction to me and our work and I think decided to take it with her. The book project just functioned as a jumping in point.

Why do some people get excited to do an altered book in the first one or two sessions of trying it out and then run away from it, shelve it, reject it? Maybe when this happens it is because I, the art therapist, am actually more excited about it than the patient and have high expectations for it being a great kind of project for long term therapy. Perhaps for some people, there is too much commitment too early and they are not really ready for it.

The other interesting thing about doing Altered Books is when people do get invested in them and go back to them every session. Lately that has been happening, probably because a few people in my supervision group randomly chose to work on altered books without my prompting them. Two people have left the group with unfinished books they have taken with them. One person brought her own book to the group to alter with materials from the studio. So that energy of the altered book I really believe was “percolating” for a while in the studio. I had another rejected altered book started about a year ago in one session and then put aside. For a while I was not really focusing on altered books in the studio, just taking these classes and thinking once in a while about it, and learning more ways to approach the Altered Book.

At this moment, my studio feels filled with Altered Books! Like anything that grows in a garden on its own, it feels like this altered book contagion has just sprung up naturally. Just this week I introduced the altered book as an option to 2 patients who got excited about it, chose their books and jumped right in using different media. Last week I had started my own altered book project in the supervision group I facilitate, thinking that now that I have so many patients working on them, I want to do one at the same time. So I chose a book that is a guide to artist’s materials for artists. It was very exciting to imagine taking this book that divides up all the materials and methods and painstakingly describes how to achieve certain effects, and how to “properly” use the different materials and media and rip up the pages and paint on it and collage ripped pieces on to the pages to start the process of making it into a book I hope will be hard to guess exactly what it was even called or to have a vague sense when looking through my book that there are a lot of pictures of how to make art and art materials terms but nothing much else kept from the original book. Synchronicity abounds in doing altered books. For me it came when I opened the book and realized it had belonged to the friend who rejected my first book box project and returned the gift to me. Of course I ripped her name out of the book first.

Anyway, at this moment there are at least 8 altered book projects that have been just begun or are in the mid stages of alteration. If I actually count how many patients have started altered books recently, excluding the person from last year who has not expressed interest in going back to the project, it would be 7, so my guess was not far from wrong, as I am the 8th and then there are one or two people in supervision doing them.

The next post would raise the question: What helps a person stay with an altered book project and continue working on it regularly? and What is it about Altered Books that some people become “blocked” or lose interest after jumping in excitedly.

The one thing true of everyone is that the beginning, that first session of being invited to make one, choosing the book and jumping into it or onto the cover and starting right away to alter it is universally exciting and stimulating. I have only seen people be intrigued and excited when they begin this process. Some express having a weird feeling about “destroying” a book but when encouraged get past that feeling. The fascinating part of the Altered Book is after the initial excitement and embarking on this without a doubt long-term project, there is a moment of remaining with it and committing to it further through getting inside the book and getting going with paint, collage, mixed media, ripping out pages and getting one’s hands dirty. It seems to require about 3-4 sessions at least to determine if one is going to get “turned off” of the project and too overwhelmed, or further jumping in and committing more and more to it. Those who find it to be a kind of safe container stay with it. Leaving it with me in the studio is a big part of that process. I will hold on to their book until they come back to it, so they don’t have to see it for a week. It is very different to work on a long term art project whether it is because the work is very large and will take a long time to finish no matter what or the project by its very nature requires time invested. It is hard to work on a lot of pages at once, especially if you are using any kind of paint or ink. Anyway, leaving the book with me allows the creator to take a break from it and not have to look at it in between sessions. This seems to help the project to become a safe container and holding environment. Even with my own altered book, I decided to try out at first just working on it during the supervision group and leaving it alone, so I also take a week off from it, in order to further get into the experience of my patients and supervisees doing this kind of project…

To be continued…

Here are some photos from my own altered book which I have worked on in different situations, first started it in the supervision group I facilitate, then worked on it alongside several patients who are doing altered books as well as in my studio the other day when I added a kind if nest into the book…

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