The Birthday Self-Portrait: My Birthday Post, 2/1/2014

A long time ago, I was looking through a book of some artist’s work that I admired, it might have been Adolf Gottlieb, but I’m not sure, I’ve tried to figure out for sure which artist this was, but I never succeeded. Anyway, I read that he whoever he was, had an annual habit of making a birthday self-portrait every year for his birthday. I thought this was a really great and fun idea. I started doing it, but now I can’t remember how many years ago it was. I’m pretty sure I did a “Shoe Portrait” self-portrait the year I was making my series of Shoe Portraits. I can’t remember what shoes I picked to paint but I remember making a weird doll and sticking it in the painting. I think I cut the canvas and somehow put the doll in. Must have been about ten years ago in 2004 maybe. Anyway, every year after that I’ve done a birthday self-portrait, usually inspired by whatever kind of art I happened to be making at the time. I know last year I did a doll with a small tiny “clock” in her, from a watch ring I had. I made the doll from scratch. I will find a photo to post of it. The year before, 2012, I’m not sure what I did. I have two of them in my house from recent years, but I’m kind of annoyed at myself that I didn’t pay attention to what I did and document it better, since it was a fun kind of annual ritual and a fun creative gift for myself on my birthday. Usually I start them about a week before. This year for the first time, I made something I didn’t like and then changed the project completely. I started with a collage with a lot of cut out and ripped images, beads, an old drawing and other stuff and put it up on my studio wall. The next day or two after, I decided I didn’t want to finish it and that I didn’t think it was a real self-portrait, so I decided it would make sense to make an altered book, as I have been making them all year and very obsessed with them, as anyone who reads this blog regularly knows. I ended up cutting up that first collage and putting some of it in the book.

So I chose a book I had already worked on, a little children’s book with each page split in to two halves, originally the book was for matching the top image with the bottom, so it was fun to play with the format. I had already done a lot in the book and decided it had enough in it to build on and that it already had the feeling of a self-portrait, so I started altering it more, ripping out stuff and adding in stuff over the last week. I put s a few photos of myself in it and ended up using one on the cover as today I decided the cover didn’t seem right, so I ripped off an image of a person with a mask and put a photo of myself on it with the other images. I continued working on it today, which sometimes happens, that I end up finishing the self-portrait on my birthday, but I usually get it done by the day before. Of course as this is an altered book, I still don’t feel satisfied that it is finished, but it definitely feels right as my self-portrait for 2014 and reflects some of the past year’s experiences, both losses and rebirths.
I will post a few photos of the project…

As a blog post on my art therapy blog, this is a more personal post than usual, but I will end the verbal part by saying I recommend it as an art therapy project for doing with an adolescent or adult patient for their birthday. You can invite them to bring in a recent or old photo or several and then ask them what kind of medium they want to use. Anything can constitute a birthday self-portrait. A box with the photos incorporated into it, an altered book of course, a drawing or painting or collage on paper or canvas. Other interpretations of the self-portrait for those who only think of a painting of their own face and might feel discouraged and not interested in that, there are so many ways to make a self-portrait and it doesn’t have to have a picture or drawing of your face in it at all. Make a doll or a birthday pillow. A clay bowl to put flower petals in. A box that you can add small notes about what you want for yourself for the coming year into. Knit a birthday scarf. Buy a journal/sketchbook and decorate the cover and start your journal on your birthday. Have your patient make him or herself a birthday card. I have done this often and made a card for my patient while s/he made a card for him/herself. Making a card for yourself whether for your own birthday or for any other day is always a good art therapy activity. I usually give my patient a list of affirmations to choose to copy on the inside of the card or that could inspire you to make your own affirmations and write them inside your card to yourself. Collages with tiny mirrors are a fun twist on the self-portrait. I have one in my altered book. I encourage my patients to get themselves a special birthday present, whether an object or something like a massage, so doing a self-portrait can be an added way to feel special about marking for yourself your own arrival on this planet. It is helpful especially for depressed patients and people who claim to not like their birthday. I don’t always feel super excited for my birthday lately, so I understand when people want to forget about it or make it a day they don’t do anything special, but in art therapy this can be an opportunity to take better care of yourself and reclaim your birthday as a special day, which it is after all. Doing something special for yourself to mark the day you arrived here and that you are still here, no matter how you are feeling, can be very healing and self affirming. It’s kind of like the concept of “The Artist’s Date” from the book, “The Artist’s Way”. As a young 4 year old child once told me, “You have to love yourself of course.” and “You are your own best friend.”

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Photos: from top
First Photo: page from book showing the split page format
Second Photo: page from book top matching bottom
Third Photo:Inside front cover. QUote says: “How many are silenced because in order to get to their art they would have to scream.” -Ann Clarke
Fourth Photo: Current cover of book with photo and plastic doll in model magic
Fifth Photo: older version of front cover
Sixth Photo: Inside page of back cover
Seventh Photo: Image of doll, last year’s self-portrait

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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.

 

Inspiration Wall!

In my last post I mentioned having an “Inspiration Wall” in my last studio and present one. It is common for artists to have an area where they pin up little images that they love or which inspire them… In discussing Pinterest and art therapy, I was reminded of my inspiration wall which I could actually “pin” to one of my Pinterest boards!

I have used two sides of a wall in one corner. Here are some photos if the images I used thus far. The Inspiration Wall can be changed and added to as you discover different images…

Do you have an inspiration wall? You don’t need to be an artist to make one…

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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!

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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