Puppet Friends

Young children especially love mixed media work. Exploring shape and texture, and processes such as gluing, rolling, taping, and all different ways of putting things together is fascinating for the preschool set. Yesterday at the art table I had two three-year olds and a four-year old working together for much of the morning.

At one point I got out a box of 3-D things to glue on paper–colored macaroni, popsicle sticks and little wooden disks. One of the kids began drawing faces on the wooden disks–really charming first-faces. She named the parts as she drew them–eyes, nose, mouth (a silly mouth!), ears, hair–as young children often do. I started making a face on a disk too, and soon we were gluing the faces onto popsicle sticks and having all kinds of great little plays with our puppet friends.

The young artists loved that they got to use the popsicle sticks to dig lots of glue from the glue stick–and then we had to put masking tape over the whole thing to get it to stay together until it dried. (Waiting for the glue to dry was out of the question!)Using tape and glue makes a little person feel very grown up.

Friend Puppets Hide and Seek Puppets Setting up Puppets

I hope you will enjoy these pictures of our puppet friends. The one where you can’t see the faces is the puppets playing hide-and-seek–by putting an extra wooden disk over their faces.

Halloween at the Hospital

We wanted to share with you the photos we took today of all the GUH Pediatric Oncology team in their fairy and princess costumes. We also included some pictures of the hospital’s Halloween Parade. If you haven’t had a good laugh yet today, take a look!FairiesOffice Shot 2Office FairiesOffice Fairies 2NursesKing JuanHelkhaSimone and familySpiderman   Rasha and the gang Minnie Maya and Mom Maya and Fairies Little Fairy Lemar and fairies In motion IMG_8434  Hallway Dog Dino and mom Trick or Treat Superman

Scurrying Fairy

Painting Brothers

One of the most fun things we see at the clinic is young children just beginning to explore art. The other day a young patient and his little brother came to the clinic and took over both sides of the double easel. They were excited to try out different color combinations– naming each new color they had made.Painting Little Brother

This is the part of art therapy that intersects with art education–kids need to play around with color and paint to help them understand visual language. But at the cancer clinic there’s another layer of meaning–kids who come here have to deal with lots of scary and stressful stuff–but working in the open studio adds a therapeutic balance. Happy, normal immersion in the creative process makes cancer treatment less scary, and the trust we build with the kids through that process lets us help the kids through lots of hard times. When they’ve had a hard day or they’re worried about something, paint and play-doh embody their sadness and fear and the art therapists receive it. It’s  a gentle, normalizing, fluid process, moving from education to self-expression to catharsis according to the clients’ needs–and it’s all art therapy.

Pinch Pots

On Tuesday we led a lunchtime “art-break” for the inpatient hospital nurses and support staff. Over the lunch hour, about 16 staff members joined for a few minutes at a time to create a clay pot and enjoy a few minutes of quiet and creativity amidst their busy workdays. These highly skilled medical professionals loved the process of creating  simple containers with their hands.

Potmaking 2Star potNurses pots 2Heart pot

Sponsored by Tracy’s Kids and the GUH Department of Pastoral Care, the workshop included pizza for lunch as well. The pots will be used at the upcoming Pediatric Interfaith Memorial Service to be held November 10 at Georgetown to honor the children who have died in our care. Each family in attendance will receive a pinch pot to take home, crafted by a staff member who cared for their child, filled with a paperwhite flower bulb ready to bloom near the holidays.

Archaeologists believe that the pinch pot was the first type of container people ever made of clay. There are centuries’-old traditions of pinch pots in Native American and Japanese culture, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. We love teaching this age-old technique and creating a little space for busy medical professionals to rest,  recharge their batteries, and create a little gift for very dear families.


I don’t watch a whole lot of tv, but I really, really love Project Runway. It isn’t that I’m all that into fashion, but I love the show because it reminds me of art school. The contestants have to solve an aesthetic and practical creative problem in a limited time, with limited materials—and that’s what you do in art school. You’re given a challenge and you solve it with a work of art. It’s not so different from our work as art therapists—we’re always engaged in creative problem solving.

Project Runway Season 12 Bradon McDonald Episode 12 Photos

Now Thursday’s episode was amazing. It was what they call the Avant Garde Challenge—meaning the clothing they design is supposed to push the envelope and edge into art, not just clothing. The guy who won, Bradon McDonald, created a dress that was truly a sculpture. But what was interesting to me was his process. He spent the whole first day in the workroom making these long noodles out of silk. He had no idea what he was going to do with them, he just had the idea to make them. For a while it looked like maybe he had wasted his time, but he ended up adding them to a soft, billowy form in ivory silk and coming up with a dress that blended spiky lines and poufy shapes into what looked a bit like a walking Cubist painting.

He trusted the creative process and took his time, making what he was inspired to make, pushing through his self-doubt and coming up with something that was truly inspired. In art therapy, that creative process is the most important thing. We work with kids, not professionals, and we’re not in any kind of competition. Sometimes we come up with beautiful products, and sometimes not—but we always try to help the kids we work with trust their own creative process. Last night’s episode of Project Runway was a testament to what we say so often in our work—trust the process!

Creative Destruction

Creation and destruction are two sides of the same creative coin. Part of the empowerment of art therapy comes because the patient is in control of when to create and destroy. Kids with serious medical conditions deal with a lot of experiences that are painful and scary, and anger and the impulse to destroy can be an instinctive response to pain. The destructive side of creation can  be  therapeutic, with the right approach.

One really fun, slightly destructive, and very exciting art project is to create a “volcano” and explode it using the chemical reaction of vinegar and baking soda. Here are some pictures of two of our guys erupting the volcano that one of them sculpted out of clay– turning a day of chemo into fun and exciting play.


“Nistar” Comic Book Event


We hope many of our friends can join us for this very special event NEXT TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24 at 2:00 p.m. at Lombardi. The Go 4 the Goal Foundation is hosting a book tour for Shira Frimer, author of a comic book about a superhero who works to find a cure for childhood cancer. Ms. Frimer is an Israeli author and art therapist, and the book is illustrated by a professional comic book artist who illustrates for Marvel and DC comics! Autographed books, refreshments and a fun art activity will make it a really interesting and enjoyable afternoon.  Patients, friends and families of Tracy’s Kids are welcome to come. Nistar Poster

Progam Evaluation Time!

The Tracy’s Kids programs are collecting feedback from kids and families who participate at all five locations.  We are confident that we do good work, but we always want to know how we can improve.

We are asking  specifically if we are meeting our key goals: helping  kids and families in the clinic or hospital relax and calm down, deal with scary or stressful situations, have fun, express feelings, and cooperate with treatment–and if we help in other ways too. We’d love for you to tell us about the things we are doing really right,  and also hear suggestions about opportunities we may be missing.

If you participate in one of our programs, please take a minute to fill out a questionnaire the next time you visit–and if you’re all done with treatment and you don’t have to go back anytime soon, email me and I will send you a questionnaire. Thanks for your feedback!

I’ve included a little photo gallery from our past blogs just for fun.

Tracy's Kids at Carroll Square 2012

Tracy’s Kids at Carroll Square 2012

Coloring the Model Magic

Coloring the Model MagicIv pole

Ladybug fairy

Ladybug fairy

imagefiesta window


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

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!