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.