Felted Scarves

One afternoon the clinic emptied out a little early, so we invited the doctors, nurses, social workers and chaplain to an impromptu felting workshop. We had been experimenting with felting techniques, and found the process to be fun and relaxing and the results dependably good, even for first-time felters. For the oncology clinic staff, the chance to engage in a little creative play can be a great stress-buster.

 We took over the art tables and showed everyone how to lay out small strands of roving in several layers and felt them using hot, soapy water and friction to create beautiful scarves. It was pretty amazing to see the variety of designs, and how individual everyone’s piece was. We took a “class photo” of our finished scarves–we think they’re inspirational!

You can learn a lot about felting on the internet. We have found that websites that sell felting supplies (Outback Fibers and Dharma Trading often have excellent tutorials on their sites. Happy Felting!

Always Happy No Matter What

One important facet of the Tracy’s Kids philosophy is that art-making can empower children to be active in their treatment, alleviating the passivity of being a patient. When most people think about hospitals they imagine sick people laying in beds, but this painting perfectly illustrates how art can transform the treatment center into a place of wellness and activity. Created by the 10-year-old sister of a patient, she said the following about her art work:

Even though the kids here are sick, they still have fun and do things. There is a big rain storm, but they don’t care. They are painting and playing anyway.”

This young girl had never been with her sister to the hospital before, and it is incredibly gratifying to see that the art room made her view the entire hospital as a place where kids are happy and getting well.

The Tree

Working with art materials everyday is exhilarating and exhausting at times. It can be easy to get into a rut and pull out the same materials for the same projects time and time again. I am constantly searching for new ideas that will interest the patients I see at the outpatient clinic. One project I recently found was to wet an unprimed canvas and spread watered down acrylic paint on the canvas. This project caught my eye because I happened to have a roll of unprimed canvas. I decided to try a group project of a large tree to hang on the wall. I drew and cut out a tree on the canvas, filled cups with watered down acrylics, and placed syringes in the paint cups. While I was setting up a teenage boy and his mother stopped in on their way to the teen room. I told them I was making a tree and would they like to help. The mother seemed interested, but I thought the boy would not be. I was definitely wrong! Not only did he show interest in the project, he stood in the art area, connected to many pumps and monitors, and waited for me to finish setting up. I had met the boy and his mother two days before and found them both to be very nice and very quiet. The simple availability of the art project brought them out of the dark teen room where they engaged with other families and enjoyed themselves. At one point the boy exclaimed “This is fun”! I learned a lot from the family during our time with the tree. With my simple questions they opened up to tell stories of their family and how the illness is affecting all of them. I was even able to remind them of ailments they mentioned to me when their doctor stopped by to see what everyone was making. The ability of the art to engage, relax, and bring about further communication is what draws me to art therapy and pushes me to always find new and fresh ideas for the patients.

 

Kids vs. Cancer

Last year, in collaboration with Linda Kim of the GUH Child Life Program and the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, I helped write and illustrated a comic book for kids with cancer. It was the first time I had illustrated a comic book. It was a big project and a lot of fun. Thanks to Bear Necessities, we are able to give the books away to all our newly-diagnosed cancer patients.

 It was not only a challenge to me as an artist, it was also a great opportunity to get into print some of the basic information I like to teach young patients and their families. The book describes a little girl’s journey from being a kid who likes bike riding and art through the process of diagnosis and treatment for cancer. She confronts questions like “What is cancer anyway?,” “Did I do something wrong?,” and “Will my friends still play with me?”

 Her doctors explain a lot about the illness and its treatment—most importantly that it is not her fault, it’s not contagious, and they have really good medicine to help her get well. She reflects on how her parents feel, and she gets lots of support from Doctors, Nurses, Child Life Specialists, Social Workers, and yes, Art Therapists! She endures hair loss, chemo, surgery and radiation and completes her treatment successfully.

 The cover illustration is in color, but the inside is black and white, so lots of kids use it as a coloring book, which I think is great.

 If you are interested in the book, contact me: tracy@tracyskids.org or Linda Kim at LMJ4@gunet.georgetown.edu.

Tools of the Trade

As Tracy’s Kids art therapists, we are lucky enough to be able to offer the kids a wide array of art supplies every day. In addition to these hand-selected fun and colorful tools, as medical professionals we also have access to a whole other world of resources – medical supplies! Kids love nothing more than to blow up latex gloves and make puppets, or throw rolls of exam table paper on the walls for a mural, or squirt paint onto paper with a new syringe. The novelty of using these supplies always gets the kids excited, but it also gives them the opportunity to interact with the medical environment in a positive way.

Six Days A Week

I joined Tracy’s Kids Art Therapy Program at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) in May of 2008.  I worked Monday through Friday during traditional daytime 9-5 hours.  Then in January of this year I had a baby.  I transitioned into working part time after my return from maternity leave and requested that one of the days I work be Saturdays.  I knew that this would make it possible for a family member to watch my son, but what I didn’t know was how different, and wonderful, it would be to work at the hospital on a Saturday.

 During the weekdays at CNMC there is an incredible wealth of services and activities available to patients and their families.  When I came in to work on my first Saturday I was shocked at how incredibly quiet the unit was.  There were no activities for the kids to participate in and most of the children spent the weekends sitting bored in their rooms.  When I first started going into patients’ rooms on Saturdays they would become incredibly excited and almost always one of their first questions to me was, “is the art room open?!!”  Now the children are frequently waiting at the art room door for me when I arrive on Saturday morning.  I even had one child who, upon entering her room at 8:45 in the morning, greeted me by saying, “you’re here! Finally! I’ve been waiting.  These are the things I need for my project.” 

 Another especially rewarding aspect of having the art room open on Saturdays has been that it has enabled so many more families to be together in the art room.  Many children only get to see their siblings in the evenings and on weekends.  Being present on Saturdays has enabled the art therapy program to really reach more children who are in need of services.  And shockingly, Saturdays have actually become my favorite day to work.  I did not previously realize that there was such a void on the weekends, but I’m so happy to get to be able to bring a little more enjoyment to our patients outside of the usual weekday hours.      

Transformation: Lemons into lemonade

I was thinking today about what our programs teach the kids. People don’t come to the hospital expecting to make art, and at most hospitals art is not part of the process. But healing and creativity have a lot in common. They are both about transformation—making lemons into lemonade.

We start by meeting kids and families where they are, literally. We are part of the hospital staff. We know the routine, who’s who, and how to find your way around. We are there to help them find a way to just “be” in the treatment space. We invite them to let their imaginations, their stories, their interests and personalities help them through. And what they learn, I hope, is to trust their imaginations.

This summer at Lombardi we’ve been working on a group project that involves making “Big Heads” out of cardboard boxes. They’re part of a bigger project, which I’ll tell you more about in a later blog entry. But what is cool about the process so far is that kids can look at a cardboard box and see cheetahs, birds, monkeys, people, characters—and with  duct tape and tempera paint we work together to make them come alive. Spending an afternoon transforming a box into a graceful, beautiful, funky piece of art gives a kid a real feeling of accomplishment.

When I was in fourth grade we had an assignment to create a 3-D moth or butterfly out of paper. We were given two large sheets of white paper and told to draw our chosen butterfly as big as possible. We cut out the shape, traced it onto another piece of paper, and colored both pieces to show the markings of the butterfly. We then stuffed them with crushed paper and cotton balls and stapled around the edges. I made a luna moth, which was beautiful with its pale green wings, brown body, fuzzy antennae and graceful shape. It felt like a huge accomplishment when I was done. To me, it looked like a real, giant luna moth. The teacher hung all the butterflies around the classroom for a while, and they looked great. That was over forty years ago, and I still remember both the beauty of the object and how great I felt about making it.

I hope that many of the kids we work with will look back and remember the wonderful things they made, the solutions they figured out, and the feeling of accomplishment that came from the work. It’s a surprise—you never know what you can do until you try.

 

Mixed Media Stars

Working in a hospital clinic often means an abundance of out of date magazines. As a mixed media artist it is hard to just toss them out, even when the boxes start to pile up. Although there are always a few people interested in collage work, the number of old magazines far outweighs the images used. One patient and her parent introduced making layered flowers out of magazine pages, and that was fun, but, while the flowers were pretty, I decided to find other uses for our old magazines.

I wanted to make a star banner for the fourth of July. I made three star-shaped templates in descending sizes out of card stock. I then started to look for interesting colors and patterns in the magazines. When we had made a lot of cut-out stars, I asked people to pick out two or three. We started by folding each spoke of the star in half lengthwise towards the center, folding in to the wrong side, giving the stars dimension. We then glued a circle of foam between the layers to keep them from collapsing.

While this project was easy for many ages, the parents were the ones most invested. Parents accompany their children to outpatient appointments, so they too spend long hours with little to do. They would start by using the stars I had cut out, but then they moved to searching for images. The parents really liked having something to do at the art area without having to “create”. Although this was creating, it seemed safe and non-judgmental. Many parents said they liked the activity because even though they were not creative people, they could explore color and texture through the images.

A few parents moved on from the safety of the stars to more individual work as the clinic days rolled by. Although my intention for the star banner was for the younger patients to create, I was glad the parents took over. It brought more families to the art area to talk, share stories, bond, and create.

Scribbling Sibs at Children’s National Medical Center

At the main campus of Children’s National Medical Center the “Scribbling Sibs” program is designed to better support our patients and families during the summer months. In June, July and August siblings have their own art space, located in the waiting room of our clinic, which provides them with a unique opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings using supplies from our mobile art cart. From drawings of favorite animals and sports teams to self-portraits and inventive creatures that decorate and brighten the clinic walls, it is apparent that children continuously embrace their creativity, spontaneity and imaginativeness in this space. In addition to their individual creations, patients and siblings have worked together to create group murals in the clinic waiting area. Our favorite so far is “Under the Sea,” an ocean themed mural filled with scuba divers, fish, turtles, crabs and a variety of other googley-eyed sea creatures. It has been so much fun to a part of the CNMC team this summer!

From Children’s National Medical Center

The art therapists from Children’s National Medical Center are very excited to be a part of the new Tracy’s Kids blog and hope to share some of the very special things that happen here every single day!

The Tracy’s Kids program at the main campus of CNMC is very lucky to have four master’s level art therapists – two full-time, one part-time, and one Summer position.  As we are fortunate enough to have this many therapists, we are able to provide art therapy services to inpatients, outpatients and their families in the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders six days a week.

The mainstay of our services is the art therapy room (pictured below), a very popular place for patients and siblings to visit during their time at the hospital.  After finishing a new artwork, children and adolescents often request that their piece be displayed.   As a result, every available surface in the art therapy room is decorated with unique artwork.  When patients and family members return days, weeks or even months later, they are excited and touched to see that their artwork still has a place of honor in the art therapy room.  Just yesterday, a mother commented about how happy she was to see her son’s artwork still displayed prominently, nearly a year after his bone marrow transplant.

Art Therapy Room

 

The art not only provides the patients and families with a unique way to express themselves but also helps us to make a beautiful and welcoming space in the art

therapy room!  Displaying their creations in the art therapy room gives patients and siblings a sense of belonging and ownership in the hospital, and creates a sense of lasting connection with the staff members who supported them through their treatment.