Earlier this year, I started an art group during the pandemic called Artxercise. With friends and acquaintances, we created visual art, took photos, sang songs, made videos, and ended up getting to know each other and supporting each other. I wrote about this special experience for DeVisu, the newsletter for the European Federation of Art Therapists. Check it out!
I am a huge fan of Cassie Stephens… the amazing art teacher that posts videos and lesson plans for kids and families, especially during this difficult time. I was browsing her site for ideas, and came across the concept of collo-graphs, cutting and pasting scenes with cardboard, to be able to make rubbings and prints. I worked with a friend and her family, and we decided to imagine scenes of places that we would like to be, instead of confined in our apartments. We created a field of flowers, a desert scene, and riding a huge wave in the ocean. These collo-graphs can be simple enough for young children to create with just a few shapes, and more complicated for older children and adults to stay interested as well. It is also a way to introduce some magic, in a way that everyday objects can be transformed into art making materials. This is powerful for children and adults, who might think that they need fancy art making materials to create.
With children forced to stay indoors because of the COVID-19 pandemic, their world has been reduced. School, the park, teachers, peers, friendships, and routines have vanished in lockdown. For children this is particularly hard, and they can be feeling powerless, scared, and small at this time.
To help children feel as though they have choices and control in this difficult time, I invite parents to present the idea of making games with their children. Children can make the rules, the game characters, and the game board with their ideas and questions. It is also an excellent way for children and families to connect through play and will give parents the opportunity to interact with their children around subjects other than “Did you do your work for school?” It is a valuable way to have children practice writing and spatial awareness away from screens. I encourage my clients to use the ideas of the game snakes and ladders to add fun and a little danger to their games.
The game featured is a game that I created for friends for the New Year, to work towards more happiness. I use it as an example when I am working with kids!
Students recently created a triple Self Portrait after reading the story Something Else by Kathryn Cave. This story addresses acceptance and tolerance of those who are different and won the UNESCO children’s literature prize. These art works were created at a workshop that I led for the British Council.
Computer class at summer camp. I had never thought that this would turn into a weeklong project about movie making, social skills, and story telling. In the context of an international summer camp, I recently worked with two teens, an eleven year old and a sixteen year old, both on the autism spectrum.
The context of our work together was computer class at an international summer camp, and as I started the class together with them, both students were more interested in being engaged separately on computers and playing games then interacting. One young man was older and spoke English quite fluently, and would launch into long explanations about games and the Internet. The other group member would look away from me when I greeted him, and preferred to interact with me only when talking about games.
I gave them the challenge of creating an animated film together. Through stop motion animation, the students used video as a tool to interact with each other, with me, and as a way to zero in on verbal and non verbal cues, both with their characters and with each other. We also used storytelling, storyboarding, and the creation of scenes as a way to model that a film, just like schoolwork or a problem has a beginning, middle, and an end, and can be broken down into easily achievable chunks. It was also their creation, and creating links into feelings of pride, happiness, and uniqueness.
We began each class with a warm up that had nothing to do with computers. We threw a ball back and forth to each other. The person who threw the ball asked a question, and the person who caught had to answer. The sixteen year old young man, P, had very high verbal skills in English, and was ready to ask very complicated questions to his classmate. Through the contact with the ball, T, the eleven year old, who was prone to looking away during social interaction, needed to watch the person throwing the ball to know if it was coming his way or not. P was able to get T’s attention but would lose him with a very long question in English, when T was a beginner in English. I asked P to look at T’s eyes and mouth as he asked his question to make sure that T followed him, and understood. I told him that he needed to think about things from T’s perspective, and that some of his excellent questions needed to be tweaked a bit for T to understand. Everyday began this way.
To create the film, we used a stop motion animation kit called Animatazz, from the Drummond Park game company. The students mold plasticine onto plastic mannequins, with jointed hands and legs, and moveable heads. With the kit the students learn about the steps in animation, including how to create facial expressions, by moving the mouths, eyebrows, and pupils to create a look of anger, surprise, happiness. This was helping to reinforce social interaction because both students saw that by looking at the facial features of a character, they would be able to discern feelings, and understand what someone was feeling or thinking. We practiced with our own faces and then tried it out on the “dummies.” We finished our two hour session doing a screen test with the characters, and filmed the changes in their facial features.
The children took the lead on the storytelling, and each student created a character, drew him out on paper, and created a profile about their character. T decided to create a Vietnamese Engineer, because his grandmother was a quarter Vietnamese…What inspiration…
T shared his idea that the Vietnamese engineer was creating a robot. P volunteered to create a house-cleaning robot, and I was asked to create a thief who would be trying to steal the robot. T continually told me that the thief was a woman, and that she needed a cascade of long blond hair. I ended up giving her blond braids; T was not thrilled, but accepted the idea on account that the long blond hair was impractical for a thief. P told me he felt that T was quite eccentric character, and not willing to bend a lot on his ideas for the film. I told him that in life there are all sorts of people, and that even if one has quite solid beliefs about how to do something, there is always a way to talk about and propose new and different ideas. I asked him if he knew any other eccentric characters with quite fixed ideas sitting at the same table, he told me, “No, I don’t think so.”
We mapped out the story by writing a short script, and then chunking the script into short scenes, and drawing out comic book style how we would shoot each mini scene. I stressed to the students that having an essential story idea and framework was important, and that later, as the story began to take shape, we could veer from the script if we wanted to or the movie-making bug pulled us into another direction.
As we shot the frames for our film, the teens needed to be in constant communication with each other, negotiating how to place the characters in the scene, who would take the picture, which direction they would move to, and how to create special effects, like a Frankenstein style bed that would rise and the robot character would slowly come to life. The boys had to negotiate with each other about whether they took enough photos, and if the combined photos’ movements’ were fluid or not. We loaded the pictures from iphoto into imovie, and even at this point there was a work of negotiation and communication between both boys, where they had to talk about the time that each shot would take. With the computer as the fourth member of the team, the boys needed to experiment together to get this fourth person to work correctly. By Wednesday, we had the silent version of our film.
Thursday we worked at finding a quiet space to record the sound and special effects for the film, the children were ecstatic to do the voices, and it was also a great way to practice English for both of them, pronunciation and vocabulary. The sound recording created a support for interactions, and we dissolved into giggles a lot listening to our voices. P was able to show off his amazing computer knowledge by showing us how we could modify our voices, and create computer voices, or rock star voices. We spent a lot of our time playing, but the sounds were such an important tool in putting the boys in contact with each other. I left the boys to create the screen credits, and their precision was awe-inspiring. I had spoken to them about how every story has a plot, which includes both a problem and a resolution. Their beginning credits included the quote, “Vince is a Vietnamese engineer and he creates a robot that cleans his house, here is the plot….” Which scrolled Star Wars style across the screen. P also credited the alarm that shrieks in the film in the credits, as imovie sound effect. As I said, “Awe-inspiring attention to detail.”
On Friday we combined our forces with the art class that was organizing an exhibition of their work, and set up a small screen and a projector to show our movie. We had been in a small group working together for the entire week, and I did not know how T or P would re-act to a larger room, and large groups of students moving in and out of the art room, coming for the exhibition. It was very hard for T and P, they thought it was noisy, and crowded, at one point T faced the wall away from the film and said, “Why are we here?” I let him know that part of creating a film was sharing it with other people and talking about the process. I said, “Ask other students and teachers, ‘Would you like to see my film?’ and then watch their faces and eyes as they watch the film to see how they react, and what kinds of questions you could ask them afterwards.”
Later I saw him ask a counselor if he wanted to watch the film.
As the counselor watched the film, I asked T what he saw, he said “He’s smiling, and laughing.”
“What do you think that means?”
“He likes it.”
The counselor turned to T and said, “I really enjoyed your film, can you explain to me how you made it.”
T grabbed two rolls of scotch tape and explained the process by moving the scotch tape, and taking imaginary photos. He spent a good five minutes elaborating on the creative process, and of course his favorite part, the technical process.
By the end of the week, We had spent ten hours creating stories, making movies, and reinforcing important social skills, like recognizing facial expressions, looking people in the eyes, turn taking, and trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, be it your partner in crime or a character on the big screen.
Miss Paddy! Her recent arrival on the scene has created client led scenarios dealing with social skills and theory of mind. Her interactions have deeply involved the client, but at the same time he can smile and say, “You know it’s only a puppet.” And when she first starts to work with a new client she brings a fresh sock, because she is usually looking for a friend to meet and to play with. This way the client gets to create a counterpart, and works not only fine motor skills but he exercises his right to choose: eyes, ears, hair, a name, and how he wants to handle certain situations.
Parent and Child Art Therapy Sessions/Séances Parents et Enfants
Parents and children need to find a way to connect with each other in this busy world. Spending quality, constructive time together is sometimes difficult. I work as a faciltator between you, your child, and the artistic medium to create a special moment between you. I have facilitated projects between families using mandalas, videos, collage, and the creation of board games.
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Dans ce monde agité, il n’est pas toujours facile pour parents et enfants de se retrouver. En tant qu’art-thérapeute je peux vous aider à créer du lien et rétablir l’harmonie dans votre relation. J’agis en médiatrice en vous proposant un cadre d’activités artistiques qui favorise l’apparition d’instants privilégiés.
Ainsi une mère et sa fille, en créant ensemble un jeu de société, puis en y jouant, ont réussi à construire et partager un authentique moment de complicité.
I could be referring to a suit who works at a bank in Paris.
But I’m not.
Le cadre in french is a bank manager, a picture frame, a stretcher.
In art therapy, most clients are not looking for a bank manager, a hospital stretcher, or a picture frame. They are looking for a support system, a framework, a way of helping them navigate.
In France, the idea of the cadre psychotherapeutique, is that there are certain physical elements needed to create a therapeutic alliance. This alliance helps the patient feel safe and secure. These elements include a physical space, an agreement on the time, the place, and the payment exchanged.
But what if there is no physical space? In my case, I am the bookmobile of art therapy, bringing my services to my clients, instead of them coming to me. This shakes up the whole alliance, we are no longer on neutral territority.
Is this compromising?
Not if I have the frame work deeply anchored in who I am. If I know what I am capable of, and how I can work with a client, then I don’t need the four walls of an art studio to create stability and security, I know that I am the passer, the art studio, and that my client is the actor. I bring the walls for them to paint on. What we are doing is creating together. I provide the support, and they provide the brushstrokes, the ideas, the action. I am an easel to their Picasso. And this is where the healing begins.