Description of The Healing Powers of Art Making

I am always looking for good descriptions of what art therapy is and what makes art making so healing. Here is a great synopsis (written by colleague, art therapist Fredricka Brooks: website: which includes so many of the important aspects of the creative process of art making that makes it so powerfully healing:

“It has been my experience that people use and benefit from art-making in many different ways, including: making art as a way to be seen, finding pleasure and joy in the process, as a vehicle for self expression, as a way to communicate, as a way to care for oneself, a way of developing and learning new coping skills, relaxing, learning to work to completion, learning to self-start, and meditate. Art-making can increase self-esteem through pride about one’s work, creating meaning through making images, metaphors, and stories, witnessing oneself develop a visual language that is unique, and taking pride in oneself and one’s identity as an artist.”

Thank you, Fredricka!!!

Native American Ritual: The Dreamcatcher


The above image is an appropriation of the original idea and genuine representation of the Native American’s cultural icon, the Dreamcatcher, that has become a popular “New Age” kind of item as well as a lesser known art therapy “project” or “directive”. I am hoping to bring this one shown above, that I decorated at home today, to my studio, so I can add feathers to the hanging strings with the beads, as the feathers are believed to help the dreams to slide into the window. Wikipedia has a good description of the origin of the dreamcatcher and the connection with spider’s webs. ( The basic idea is that the dreams travel through the circular dreamcatcher and the bad dreams are believed to be “caught” in the “weblike” structure, the parts with the string in it and the good dreams slide in with the help of feathers to enter the dreamer.

While it is great to find a really genuine dream catcher, they are a lot of fun to make. In this case, a friend of mine, Anastacia Kurylo, (kid’s party kits website:, gave me the bigger outer circle and smaller inner circle with precut holes from one of her kid’s party kits and I added my own materials (metallic yarn, paint, rhinestones, mirror, beads) to weave the “web”like part and decorate it. Another way to make them if you don’t have a handy model like this is to take some sculpture wire to make the circle and then wind thinner colored wire around and through it. You can add sequins, beads, buttons to the wire and then tie yarn at the bottom and put feathers and beads on it. You can also wind colorful pipe cleaners around the big wire circle to make your Dreamcatcher more colorful.

I think the Dreamcatcher as a project for art therapy or for a children’s activity in school or home is a beautiful combination of the Tibetan “Mandala” (Sacred Circle), which we art therapists have appropriated for art therapy and the idea of dream interpretation and the importance of dreams in many psychodynamic approaches, especially Jungian, as Carl Jung himself made many mandalas and also had his patients draw or paint them…

Doll Making! A Great Therapeutic Activity

I have been interested in doll making for quite a long time. Many years ago, I made a few dolls with one patient and got inspired to make my own. I may have started making mine and then worked with her on hers; I can’t really remember, but I do remember the work with her influencing my continuing interest in dolls. I made some from “scratch” but after finding a particular muslin doll at an art store that was somehow compelling, I started decorating the premade dolls elaborately with my own drawings and collage elements and all sorts of things glued on. I made their hair from everything, cut up paper and drawings, weird yarn, even an old fashioned phone cord that was already pre curled… These dolls are up on my website currently:

Recently I’ve gone back to working on a series I started about six years ago that I continue to develop, but last week I went on an artistic detour with dolls. It started with a hastily put together doll in my supervision. The doll was made of cloth and wire and some other stuff. That was last Wednesday. The next day while at a day long seminar on “Child Art Therapy”, we were invited to play around with pipe cleaners during the presentation. As usual I embelleshed what could have been a simple way to keep my hands busy and my mind focused. I used extra pipe cleaners that were laid out on the table and not being used and I took out a roll of black tape I happened to have in my bag and some paper and  got involved in making another doll, this one quite flat. Normally I’m not really that into pipe cleaners. (I think there is a new term for them as children aren’t supposed to think of smoking when using them, but I forgot what the new name is!) These days, I am into almost every kind of material imaginable, probably from working with children of different ages, which makes you much more open to viewing all of the world as material for art and creating! So I found myself suddenly enjoying the pipe cleaners, and being surprised that I could make a doll out of them.

The next day in my studio on Thursday, I started making another doll, again using pipe cleaners to form the shape of the head, the hair and a lot of the body, but I tried to disguise the pipe cleaners by rolling yarn around them. The doll took a few days to construct and I liked the weird effect of making a flat round face of paper with a 3D body and back of the head, using stuffing. Since then, I sort of finished doll number 2 and began doll number 3. I am including pictures of them here.

The one below is the second one that I made over the course of several days. I will post the others separately as it is easier to do photo posts.

So what is it about dolls? Not everyone enjoys making them, so they are certainly not universal art activities (as opposed to something like magazine collage or tissue paper collage which appeal to a wide range of ages and populations). The interesting thing about them is that people are intrigued by them, even if they don’t want to make one. Dolls, especially “artistic” ones that are so weird and different from the standard kind of doll you purchase in a store, are very evocative. The ones on my website that are scattered around the studio have started assuming a life of their own. People react in all sorts of ways. Some kids like them; some find them to be creepy. Pretty much the same with adults. Some enjoy their feeling of being some kind of powerful voodooo type doll. The exciting thing about making them, whether from a premade one or totally starting from scratch is probably close to how people feel when making stuffed animals or puppets. As soon as you add the eyes, even if the body is not finished and there is no mouth, there starts to be a kind of “life” there. It’s amazing how expressive a few buttons and a simple line mouth can be. I especially enjoy doing the hair…

What is therapeutic about it? Everything. You of course really have to try making one yourself to see what it’s like, but it’s a bit addictive. Every time I’ve engaged in doll making, I don’t stop at one. Now that I’ve begun a third one that is similar to number 2 and 3 with the round paper face and and button eyes, I am very tempted to take number 1 and remake it by adding paper and fabric and stuffing and wrapping the pipe cleaners in yarn…

They are also definitely a kind of self-portrait, and for some people, it is a liberating process; once you realize it’s not that hard to put one together, it becomes very exciting to see how to create one and also there is no pressure to make something that looks real or “perfect”. The materials used add to the creativity and feeling of expressing oneself. It is fun to collect random pieces of yarn and fabric, old buttons, beads, wire, and then stuffing. Some people like to make it a project only involving dry media, wrapping and sewing entirely and doing no gluing. I cannot help but use the glue gun. It’s the best way to affix the yarn wrapped circle of the head to a piece of paper. Now that I’ve done 2 on the same color paper, I am going to make one with a light purple face. Most of my sculpture dolls on my website are inherently “multicultural” as they have faces painted in all sorts of colors. Using fabrics to make most of the doll encourages the creation of a meta-racial-ethnic doll!

On that note, I will end this post and post the other two photos. The first one I hope to change and elaborate and then post a photo of what happened after reworking it…