Labor Day

The post on Felted Scarves that appeared on Friday was supposed to be my Labor Day reflection (rookie blogger). It is an example of how the Tracy’s Kids art therapists support their colleagues at the hospitals. The health professionals we work with  have very specialized knowledge and skill, and they are incredibly focused and productive. Giving them the opportunity to exercise their creative muscles for a little while can be a great stress-buster. So, check out my post on Felted Scarves, and have a happy Labor Day!

The first step of the process–laying out the roving.

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!

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.

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.