Archives for August 2013

Just Kidding Around

Sometimes there’s a fine line between art-making and play-acting. The art-making process can move in and out of pretend play, and sometimes art products turn into toys. In these moments, the art therapist, advanced degree and all, becomes an actor in the play. She may find herself sporting yarn headgear and a marker-drawn mustache to play the villain, as in the picture below. There is an element of trust here—I could have said no to the headgear and the marker mustache, but I said yes because I trusted both the patient and myself to be playful but not let things get out of hand.

Scary faces

Scary faces

Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished

Another recent example of the transformation from art to play is the story of the fish friends. At the art therapy conference this summer I learned how to make a printed, painted and sewn fish. When I taught the process to one of our patients and his mom we ended up with two fish friends who played all day.  His fish and mine swam and rested, fought off snakes, destroyed and rebuilt an entire imaginary town—working together to get  a frightened five-year old through a long day of chemo and physical exams.

Fish Friends

Fish Friends

Tracy’s Kids San Antonio News!

A San Antonio TV station recently ran a segment about our work at Methodist Children’s.

In two minutes and thirty seconds, it captures the essence of what we do for children with cancer.

Kathleen, the featured art therapist, explains, “the children we work with don’t have choices about getting medicine, they don’t get choices about when they go to get treatment.  But when they come to the playroom, everything is up to them.  They get to make what they want, they get to use what they want, they get to decide whether they even want to do it or not…”  “[Tracy’s Kids] gives them a way to express themselves without having to talk and a lot of times these kids don’t want to talk about [their feelings.] They are either not ready, or it is just too hard to find the words — especially for younger kids.  But they can put all their feelings into the art work.” One little girl in the clinic confides that the art projects “make her not want to think about everything she is going through” — and one day she wants to be an Art Therapist so she can help other kids like her. [Her ambition is not really far fetched — as a handful of our former patients have done just that.]  One of the experienced nurses enthusiastically relates how Tracy’s Kids “decreases fear through color and drawing and gluing.  We love it.  Literally it has changed our lives.”

From Kidney to Bird: A Sibling’s Art Experience

As school approaches, I find myself reflecting back on the summer and all the patients and their siblings who joined us at the art table each day.  Summer is sometimes the only time when siblings are able to come along to their brother or sister’s medical appointments and many siblings look forward to the opportunity to make art.

Last week a patient who had undergone surgery to have one of her kidneys removed came to the clinic for a check- up. She brought her brother with her and they both spent the morning playing with model magic (a kind of squishy dough similar to play-dough). Each time the sister went back for her medical treatment her brother would start to mold and color his model magic to resemble various body parts.

Coloring the Model Magic

Coloring the Model Magic

At first the model magic was colored and flatted to look like skin, which he playfully flopped onto his arm. A few minutes later the skin was colored and balled up to resemble a little heart. The little ball was then colored blue, resulting in a grayish blob he decided looked like a liver. After more marker was added the model magic started to take on the form of a little pink bean.  He spent a while perfecting the tiny form until he finally identified it as a kidney. As he held the kidney in his hands he talked about how worried he was about his sister and how scared he felt when she had undergone surgery.  He talked about how he felt different from his sister because he didn’t have anything wrong with his body.

Creating the kidney

Creating the kidney

After sharing his feelings he then decided that he wanted to make a gift for his sister and he morphed the little kidney into a bird.

bird for his sister

bird for his sister

This is a good example of why sibling participation in art therapy is so important. At the art table siblings are given a voice to express their own feelings, concerns and/or misconceptions of their brother or sister’s medical condition.  Being able to make a gift or special token also provides siblings with a meaningful way to contribute to their sibling’s recovery process.

Moss for band-aids!

In addition to bring an artist, I love to garden. I recently visited a moss nursery and learned a whole lot about how many kinds of mosses (Bryophytes) there are–lots!– and how very ancient and adaptive they are. I am creating a moss garden in my front yard, taking advantage of all the sizes, shapes, textures and colors of these amazing primitive plants to make a living collage of textures and shades of green.

Sphagnum closeup

Sphagnum Moss

Whole view

Moss garden

Nice light

Moss garden closeup

  Kids on chemotherapy don’t have very strong immune systems, so they can’t use natural materials like sticks and leaves or dig in the dirt, but I learned there is one kind of moss that is naturally bacteria free, and was used to make bandages in World War I! It’s called Sphagnum Moss, and it actually covers 1% of the surface of the earth. As I work in my moss garden, I find it kind of amazing to think about a plant that is so clean all by itself it was once used for a band-aid!

TK San Antonio in the News!

Kathleen Sutter, our Tracy’s Kids Art Therapist at Methodist Children’s  Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, some of the kids and staff were interviewd for the local news. Here’s the link to the story so we can all meet them and hear how much the folks in San Antonio appreciate the work of Tracy’s Kids.

Hot Air Balloons!

Many, many dots of hot glue and several rolls of mounting tape later… We have finally finished our collaborative mural!

This is the 2013 edition of our collaborative project that the Tracy’s Kids art therapists have been doing with other art therapists at Children’s National Medical Center since 2010. Children from all over the hospital contributed to this beautiful project, and it’s wonderful to get to see their individual personalities shining through in little details throughout the image. These painted hot air balloons were inspired by the giant hot air balloons that hang in Children’s National’s main atrium.

Not only are those fantastic sculptures a fun and whimsical addition for the kids who visit Children’s National, but they are a great way to help provide directions throughout the hospital for parents!

Siblings support

Iv pole

The other day a patient came in for chemotherapy with two siblings. All three children immediately set up space in the art area to create for the two hour chemo infusion. The older of the siblings had not been to the clinic as frequently as the younger sibling and was excited at all the materials available to him. After a few rough inventions that he scrapped, he went about collecting materials to recreate his siblings “i.v. pole”. With cardboard tubes, a few boxes, some large spools, string, wooden dowels, and a failed teepee(my art project), the pole was complete. All the families and staff were impressed with his attention to detail. As this was his siblings last planned chemotherapy it seemed fitting to bring a piece of the clinic home with them. While this sibling was unable to attend the clinic as often as the rest of his family, he was affected by the machinery just the same.

The Mosaic is Complete!

The mosaic that the kids have busily been working on these last couple weeks is now complete! It looks great and we are lucky enough to have it on display in our clinic during the month of August. Check it out!

The completed mural!

The completed mosaic!



Ladybug fairy


Leprechaun, pot of gold and eagle

Flowers and artist

Flowers and artist



Thanks you for all your hard work!

The doctor with the glasses

On the middle right in this panel from our Carroll Square exhibit in 2012 you will see a portrait of me that was done by an older kid--note the glasses!

On the middle right in this panel from our Carroll Square exhibit in 2012 you will see a portrait of me that was done by an older kid–note the glasses!

A little guy (almost three) was preparing to come to clinic with his big brother, who is the patient. His mom told him they were going to the doctor. “The doctor with the glasses?,” he asked. “No,” said mom, “the doctor doesn’t have glasses.” As they arrived in the clinic he came straight to the art area and said, “This is the doctor with the glasses, she lets me paint!” And paint he did. . .