Felting- A Universal Language

As the snow fell outside the hospital today our patients were busy creating colorful, snuggly felted scarves.

felting

 

One little boy from Afghanistan particularly enjoyed the felting process. As he lay the bright red wool onto the table he smiled and called to his mom to come look at what he was creating. As his mom watched, he pulled little tufts of the soft material apart and carefully laid them on top of one another. His mom enjoyed watching the process, she shared that back home, in Afghanistan, they use the same felting process to make beautiful carpets.

felting!

 

afghan rug

 

This is the wonderful nature of art- the creation process and the materials are often a bridge between so many different cultures. Art, in this case, brought a little reminder of home to the clinic for this family.

Time For a Check Up!

Play therapy and art therapy often go hand-in-hand, especially at our clinic.  Many of our younger patients will engage in an art making process that turns into a puppet show and then a song or a dance. Often the play that our patients engage in reflects their experiences in the clinic.  Medical play kits allow patients to become doctors, surgeons and nurses performing everything from check- ups to shots on dolls, siblings, parents and staff.

Medical play also allows patients to be in control of something that is potentially scary. Reenacting a scary shot or procedure can help a child feel more in control of their own medical care.

Recently one of our clinic dads got a check up from two of our youngest doctors. They were very thorough in the exam- blood pressure and temperature were repeatedly checked!

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medical play2

 

Dream Traps

Over the course of treatment some of our young patients have nightmares, which are often related to their treatment experiences. One little girl came into the clinic upset about a nightmare she had had the night before. During her medical exam she told her parents and the treatment team about her nightmare and how it continued to scare her. As art therapists often do with kids who have nightmares, she was encouraged her to draw the dream. Once she drew it we discussed ways that we could get rid of the dream picture (by throwing it out, crumpling it into a ball, etc). This allows the child to externalize their experience and literally get rid of a scary thing.

However, once the patient had drawn the nightmare she decided that instead of throwing it away a better way to deal with it was to trap it in a dream trap. Using colored paper and LOTS of tape, we assembled an elaborately constructed trap. The trap was so complex in design that once it was complete the little girl, looking triumphant, confidently said, “no bad dream is getting out of here!”

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Several weeks later this patient returned to the clinic in need of a new dream trap because the one she made last time “was completely full”. So we got to work on a new, even more elaborate and colorful dream trap. This little girl even inspired other patients at the art table to create their own dream traps as well.

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.

Improv

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!

Happy, Happy Birthday to You!

Sometimes the things that the kids say in the clinic are so funny and cute that it is worth sharing. The priceless musings of our patients function not only as reminders of how delightful and resilient they are, but also as reminders of why the staff here loves the job that we all do.

There are so many examples of how our young patients make the everyday special with their unique view of the world.  A 3 year- old girl who had a really rough time and was admitted to the hospital, woke up the next morning  feeling better and excitedly requested sparkles and ribbon. She spent a long time creating a mixed media masterpiece, humming, singing and even doing an impromptu chicken dance as she worked. When she had finished making art and I was getting ready to leave the room she exclaimed, “Happy, Happy Birthday to you!”  It was neither her birthday nor mine, but she was just so happy that it must have seemed like the right thing to say.

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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.

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Tape-imals

The art room at the Methodist Children’s clinic is currently overrun with tape animals (and a few other interesting creatures), and they have created quite a buzz among everyone who sees them!

tape-imals

tape-imals4

tape-imals3

A young college student visited our clinic one day to learn more about art therapy and specifically how Tracy’s Kids operates.  While she sat in the art room, getting to know some of the kids, she showed us how to make sculptures out of paper and masking tape.  The kids and I were enthralled.  The construction is simple, but really require a lot of patience and problem-solving to get the desired effect.  It’s a great project for families to do together, because sometimes you need extra hands.

All you need is paper, masking tape, and paint.  Regular masking tape works the best.  We started with painter’s tape because I had it on hand, but it doesn’t stick very well (by design), even though it IS  a fun blue color.  The paper is easiest to sculpt if it’s on the thin side, like copy paper.  This could be a great use for extra sheets of paper that are often floating around hospital clinics.  Crumple the paper and work it with your hands until you get the desired shape, then wrap in several layers of tape.  If you do make an animal – or anything with limbs and parts that stick out – it works best to do it in pieces, and then join them together.  Most kids decide to paint the sculptures at the end, but it’s up to them!

I am a big fan of any art that is cheap to create.  As an added bonus, despite their use of simple materials, the end-result looks really special.  I love the attention they get from everyone in the clinic – doctors and nurses and everyone who happens by all “ooh” and”ahh” over them, to the kids’ delight.

tape-imals2

Yes, that is the Pillsbury Doughboy!

Sticky Art

Recently, a little girl started to come to our clinic for treatment. Although she is only 3 years old she is very brave when it comes to her medical procedures. The only thing that bothers her is the medical tape, which irritates the skin around her port (a tube for infusing medicine and drawing blood). Her fear of the sticky tape causes her a lot of distress and her parents as well as the medical team have been working hard each visit to reassure her that the tape is not going to hurt her.  Today we had an opportunity to make art about this fear when she exclaimed, “I want to make sticky art”!

With an array of colorful tape, stickers, glue dots and band-aids at hand this little girl set to work creating a flower garden. As she worked, the sticky materials stuck to her fingers and she talked about what it felt like to remove something that was stuck to her. With a sense of achievement, she peeled the band-aids off her fingers and stuck them to the paper.  

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Using sticky art materials and medical supplies to create her flower garden helped this little girl express her fear about the tape around her port.  Being in control of how much tape and how many band-aids she placed on her paper allowed for her to gain power over something scary. This is a good example of how art therapy can help address the fears that can come from some of the medical procedures our kids have to endure and how the art making process can help to empower them.

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