Alligators In Cages


I think that sometimes we all wish that we could lock our fears and anxieties away in a place where we could feel safe from them.  Recently, I was working with a little girl who reminded me of the amazing power of art therapy to provide comfort and security in a scary place like the hospital.  This little girl asked me to work with her to make a picture using colored tape.  When I asked what I should make she answered immediately, “an alligator!!” When I made my masking tape alligator on the page she gasped, “oh no! He is going to bite us!”  I then asked this little girl if there was any thing we could do to keep this alligator from harming us.  After thinking for a second she responded, “Let’s put him in a cage!” We spent the remainder of the session making alligators and snakes and putting them inside of cages so we could be protected from their sharp teeth.  The next time I saw that little girl she replayed the same scenario with creating more scary creatures and putting them into cages.  This little girl became quite energetic while putting her scary animals into cages and seemed to feel incredibly empowered by that simple act.  For her, all it took was a roll of masking tape and she was able to keep her fears at bay and feel tough and in control over all the scary things happening around her in the hospital.   

Piecing It Together: The Art of Group Projects

Group projects are periodically introduced in the Inova pediatric oncology outpatient clinic as a way for patients to work together toward a common goal: to create one piece of art that represents all of the patients that come to clinic every week for treatment. These projects provide a way for patients to connect with one another, even when they don’t see each other at the clinic. Making art with multiple artists creates a sense of mystery. Each artist completes a piece, not knowing how it will contribute to the end result,  and others are added to it until the artwork is whole. The patients and family members know that the piece will hang in the clinic when it is completed for all to enjoy and everyone becomes invested in contributing to this community art piece.


Two multi-panel paintings were created recently;  a 24 panel zebra and a 9 panel butterfly. The images were drawn in black on a series of 4″ white canvas boards and individuals chose the panel they wished to work on. The only direction given was to use one color that was used in neighboring panels, understanding that the color could be incorporated in any way they chose. The intention was to create some continuity between the canvas panels. The butterfly and zebra came to life with each completed canvas. Everyone approached their piece in a different way and it was interesting to watch that process; to note which panel they each chose to work on, the colors they chose to use and the many different ways the canvases were painted.

These projects took some time to complete, but there was anticipation and interest throughout the process–and a sense of belonging and ownership for the many children, teens and adults who had a part in creating the final art piece. Although this work does not have the same therapeutic expression as an individual piece of art, there is power in the connection between those who contributed as they worked to create this piece with people they did not know or may not see any more in clinic due to treatment schedules. There was noticeable delight for some in learning who else had contributed to the butterfly and /or the zebra and for others in knowing that these were both a group collaboration.

There was excitement and surprise when the finished pieces were viewed for the first time. Patients and family members who worked on the butterfly or the zebra were surprised and delighted by what they had created and those who did not participate were excited about the finished piece as well. There continues to be much interest and investment in where the pieces will hang in the clinic and that perfect spot will be chosen soon.

Birthday Celebration!

Last week a new leukemia patient came in to clinic with her mom. She has been kind of shy since diagnosis but we’ve gradually gotten her involved at the art table. She was excited to put  a little sculpture  in our show at Carroll Square.

The tiny red bird’s nest on the right side of the podium is by the birthday girl!

She  just turned five on Tuesday, so she was all excited about her birthday. Her mom prompted her to tell me what they had done to celebrate–“I took my family to see the art show!” She was grinning from ear to ear.


Tracy’s Kids at Carroll Square Update

The Tracy’s Kids at Carroll Square show is looking really good. As promised, here are some pictures from the reception. They were taken with Tracy’s phone camera, so they’re not the best quality, but we hope you’ll enjoy them!

Happy New Year from CNMC!

Every New Year’s Eve, the art therapy room atChildren’s National Medical Centercloses for one day so that the art therapists can THOROUGHLY clean the room. Not only is this a great and necessary way for the Tracy’s Kids art therapy program to start out fresh in the New Year, but it also gives the art therapists a chance to truly appreciate the sheer volume of art that can be made by our patients and families! As a part of the cleansing, we sift through all of the artwork made by the hundreds of children who visit the art room each year. Stacks of paintings and piles of masks and mountains of model magic… Going through everything provides us with MANY great reminders of the wonderful things that happen in the art therapy room. We get a chance to laugh and share wonderful memories of the work we have done with children and families throughout the past year, encouraging us to continue our commitment to the mission of Tracy’s Kids in the coming year! 

We start 2013 with a clean art therapy room – one with plenty of space for all of the new and amazing things that will surely happen here in the coming year.

It’s like starting off with a brand new, blank canvas!

And we are all excited to see what will happen next!

Happy New Year!


New Year’s Resolution: Make More Art!

I recently spent some time reflecting on this last year and realized that while I worked hard as an art therapist, I neglected my “artist self” by not taking enough time to create my own art. As a resolution for 2013, I am going to try to make time (hopefully every day!) to engage in the creative process.

While this may seem like an easy resolution to stick to, making art is not always an easy or pleasurable task. It can be very agonizing to find the right composition, complimentary colors or to work within one’s own artistic limitations.  It takes courage to start a painting on a blank canvas, flexibility to adjust to a new art material, and confidence to know when the artwork is complete.  These are all parts of the struggle and joy that can go into making art.

As an art therapist, understanding the challenges of making art gives me an appreciation of the incredible work that I ask my patients to engage in every day. Engaging in my own creative process reconnects me to my intuition and feelings, and it often helps me to more deeply connect to my patients’ experiences at the art table.

A little space at home for art

Latex Free

Latex allergies are very serious, especially in hospitals and clinics.  The medicines and blood products given to the patients can actually increase their likelihood of developing this allergy.  For that reason there are no balloons in art making at the clinic.  This limits the piñata s, balls, bowls, and heads created out of paper mâché or plaster cloth.  I have found that large, latex free gloves work almost as well.  the gloves are difficult to tie and not as strong as balloons which is why i go with The largest size I can find.  First you tie knots in the fingers of the gloves right at the base.  Then you turn the glove inside out.  Now blow the glove up and tie a knot, which is the hardest.  I have found a piece of string or wire wrapped tightly works better than a knot.  This also helps as a hanging sting for while the ball is drying.






The layers of plaster cloth or paper mâché need to be thin and allowed to slightly dry between the layers.  The gloves are not as strong as the balloons and will become disfigured if applied too heavy or deflated too soon.

Happy mâché-ing!!


Keeping it Clean

The Tracy’s Kids Art Rooms in every location are a welcome oasis of creative chaos in the hospital environment. We like to have a colorful selection of art supplies on hand to inspire young artists. Many kids leave their recent works in the art room for everyone to see.


Art Room Display Board at Lombardi

All this is inviting, but since we work with kids with suppressed immune systems, we have to be very careful to keep all this stuff clean. We keep down the clutter as much as we can, sending artwork home or filing it away for safekeeping, but most importantly WE CLEAN!

 Hospital Grade Disinfectant

Every day the art tables, chairs, markers and pencils are cleaned with hospital disinfectant wipes, and EVERYTHING in the area—toys, brushes, containers, clay tools—is cleaned at least once a week. We want the kids to be comfortable and have fun, so we do our best to provide an experience that is both spontaneous and safe!

Being together

I have learned a lot in my 20+ years working with pediatric cancer patients and their families. After I had been on the job about six months, I had a revelation of sorts. It occurred to me that most people are simply unaware that kids can get cancer. I was a young parent myself, worried about developmental milestones and saving for college–but not about cancer!

Robin’s nest

But knowing what I knew changed my perspective on my kids. I was still anxious about the future, but I also truly cherished the present. I made sure that we did lots of fun stuff together, spent time with relatives and told stories about my own childhood. I wanted to really know my kids and help them know me–and I was grateful for the time we had together every day.

It didn’t make me a perfect parent–far from it–but we had some real good times.

Now, after Newtown, we are all painfully aware that bad things really do happen. In a time when the world seems more full of sadness and loss than ever, I am reminded of the lesson of this work–love those you hold dear, and make time for fun every day.

“Look Mom, I’m Sewing!”

Recently, our patients at Georgetown participated in Operation Sock Monkey, creating hand- sewn sock monkeys to donate to kids affected by Hurricane Sandy. Many of the kids had never picked up a needle and thread before so this project provided an opportunity to learn a new skill.

One little girl was especially excited as she learned to sew for the first time. She called her mom over to watch her make her tiny pink stitches.  As she sewed the first leg of her sock monkey she exclaimed, “Look Mom! I’m sewing!”.  Her mom took pictures and there were many “Oos” and “Ahhs” as we all shared in this exciting first-time experience.

As an art therapist (and someone who loves to sew!) it was a joy to witness and share in this little girl’s first experience of sewing.