art therapy

Making space for a creative home

This blog entry is a repost of an article I wrote, which was published in Grounded Magazine in their Autumn 2014 "Make" issue. I'm revisiting it on this Spring Sunday morning, as I listen to my now 3rd grade daughter in her singer-songwriter creative zone in the other room. Unfortunately Grounded Magazine is no longer being published, and I wanted this piece to live on, so I will share it here with you. Wishing a spacious and creative day to you and yours!


My second grader and I linger at the table after breakfast on a brisk Autumn morning. I sip my light and sweet slow-drip and watch my mind fill with a Sunday to-do list: return emails, grocery shop, send birthday card. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a twirl of our handmade driftwood mobile near the window. For the next few moments, my thoughts flip-flop between warm days along the coast and plans to pick up butter and stamps.

Meanwhile, my daughter is grabbing a jar from a nearby shelf and is intensely engaged with acorn caps she collected on a walk yesterday. With profound focus, she is stacking them, lining them up, closely studying their shape and texture. She perches one between her thumb and pointer finger, declaring, “A perfect size for a fairy hat! Hey Mom, let’s make flower fairies!” Her proposal abruptly snaps me right back into the present moment, waking me from nostalgia for days passed and plans for the day ahead. One of the most profound gifts our children offer is reminding us to return to the present moment.

“Let’s make flower fairies!” is my daughter’s way of inviting me to enter her world of imaginal play and creation. She wants to connect in the most natural way children know – through immersion in the flow of creative expression. It’s so sincere and beautiful, and my iPhone is buzzing and there are dishes from breakfast and wet clothes to be dried and.. and.. and…

As both a mother and a mindfulness-oriented art psychotherapist, I have learned the deep, lasting, and mutual benefits of making art alongside our children. I can say, from personal and professional experience, this practice is not easy in modern parenthood. When we sit down to draw with our children, it’s either the ding of our inbox or the relentless voice of the inner critic distracting us from true absorption in the activity.

Slowing Down

A creative home life requires making mental space and time much more than it demands an expertly appointed craft room. Cuddling on the couch with a bag of seashell souvenirs and a spool of yarn from the junk drawer to create a garland will be meaningful as long as we are able to be fully present in those moments. Our undivided attention is what fills children up most. The added benefit is that if we really show up, it can be deeply gratifying for parents, too.

The best way I know how to enter into creative space with children is to slow everything down. Slowness is the antidote for the modern din, like an inverse yoga pose to balance all the rushing around. We can use the slow pace of the natural world as inspiration for the rhythm of our creative home lives. Step out for a family walk to absorb the colors, light, and offerings of each season, opening all senses to the experience.

Dancing with the earth models deep, meaningful living for children, reaffirming that each beautiful detail is worth honoring. When we experience the world through a child’s perspective, we are able to tune into the hundreds of colors on the skin of an apple. We can recall the magic of watching yellow and blue paint mixed to a vibrant green for the very first time. Slowing down each step validates a child’s inborn need to investigate the process. In preserving this innate gift, we challenge our own glorification of efficiency and multitasking. Bringing mindfulness to our experiences heightens the ordinary into something extraordinary. It allows space for us to feel something and to respond to it. This is what art is meant to do.

Making is our birthright as human beings. Children are aware of their inherent ability to create and are visibly enthusiastic about the life-affirming magic of putting something new into the world. Often adults have abandoned our inner makers for more socially sanctioned pursuits. The gabby inner art critic we carry can rest when we dive into a project with our children because they don’t expect us to be Martha Stewart or Wayne Thiebaud. Above all, they want to connect with our smiling eyes and benefit from seeing our committed engagement with the creative process.

Setting the table

Art materials are food for the soul. When preparing a creative activity, whether for my art therapy adult clients or for my young daughter, I imagine I’m hosting a special dinner party with an intention of making my guests feel cherished. Much like a chef pairs specific flavors so as not to clutter the palette and overwhelm the senses, I edit the selection of materials. The menu varies, but the setting is always deliberate and the meal nourishing.

I prepare the space with intentions of simplicity, beauty, and rhythm. I let in natural light and fresh air, assessing the space for distractions that could pull my family away from creative absorption. I turn off and cover electronic screens. I sweep away clutter that interrupts the eye. If I’m distracted by the worry that the “meal” will be messy, I simply cover the floor with an drop cloth, put butcher paper or oilcloth over the table, and we don smocks. If I still find mess to be an obstacle, I don’t cancel the party; we dine al fresco instead.

Just as I would select food at the market for dinner, I incorporate natural materials that are local and in season into our buffet of creative offerings. This reinforces a child’s attunement with the rhythms of the earth and helps parents come back home to these inner movements of the soul. Natural objects account for half of the “art materials” in my home. We gather acorns, sticks, shells, stones, leaves, flowers, and pine cones and store them in large, clear jars on a dedicated shelf.

Rather than a huge collection of art supplies, I invest in fewer, high-quality materials that promise a powerful sensory experience. Aside from basic paintbrushes, scissors, and glue, a few of my favorite art media are Stockmar beeswax crayons, liquid watercolors, Lyra Ferby colored pencils, wool roving, a variety of yarn and string, and white paper (140 lb. for painting and 80 lb. for drawing.) Knowing each type of art media holds an inherent metaphor, from the yielding way watercolors blend together to the resistance of a sharp pencil on paper, I purposefully select materials that will help balance the current mood.

Combining earthy items with traditional art materials makes for an elegant creative provocation — an art invitation without the intention of a specific product, inviting experimentation and free self-expression. I sometimes set up a provocation before my daughter comes home from school or prepare it before bed, so it greets us in the morning. Some favorite pairings on our art table that offer limitless possibility are:

  • leaves + clay
  • driftwood + acrylic paint
  • smooth stones + ink
  • acorn caps + wool roving
  • twigs + yarn
  • flower petals + clear contact paper
  • pine cones + colorful pompoms
  • a wildflower bouquet + colored pencils

Trusting the process

Children feel held when there is rhythm and appreciate a time each day or week devoted to making. Co-creating a ritual to mark creative time as sacred will bracket the experience as heightened and special, like lighting a candle or ringing a bell to begin and end art sessions.

Embracing an experimental mindset when making with children helps us to honor the process. This doesn’t always mean letting go of the idea that we might create a product or a useful craft; rather, it allows for meandering, messes, and mistakes along the journey. I trust that the art materials will tell us which way to turn next, and I listen to them with focus and wonder so my daughter might do the same.

Like all cycles, each creative process winds down to completion. Together, we clean our materials with respect and care. We set aside time to reflect upon what we have made, as this part of the creative process allows for integration and meaning-making. A child’s art holds his or her stories, emotions, worldview, and self-concept, so we treat the art with the same respect as the artist. I withhold my opinions and projections, being responsible to ask my daughter open-ended questions about her process and her creation.

When the candle had been snuffed or the bell has been rung, my daughter is often recharged and seamlessly moves into solitary play. My to-do list is still waiting there for me, and I face it feeling more balanced, satisfied, and connected. In my maker-momma bones and my art therapist heart, I have intimately come to know the value of mindfully making creative space where flower fairies can fly.

Working with dreams

Dream images are a lot like art images in that both come to us from our unconscious mind to teach, reveal, heal, or process something. Today I'm sharing three easy ways to engage with your nighttime dream world in your waking life. First, if you are a person who has a hard time recalling your dreams once you are awake, it may help to add a peaceful ritual to your bedtime routine, whereby you turn off the lights, light a candle, and set an intention to bring your dreams into waking consciousness the next morning. You might even invoke a dream at night by asking for clarity around an issue in your life. In the morning, set aside about five minutes of quiet (even if this means waking before the rest of your household) to scribble down any notes or doodles about what you remember from the night before.

Ultimately dreams symbols are unique to the dreamer. For example, one person may think fire is destructive while another might find fire to be cleansing. Dream decoder books totally run with the idea that one thing equals another, which drives me bonkers because it doesn't empower the dreamer to interpret her or his own dream. In my view, the meaning the dreamer assigns to each symbol in a dream is the most important place to begin the exploration. After the dreamer's associations have been explored, it may then be enlightening to tap into what the collective unconscious views these symbols to mean, to see if it lends any wisdom. For that second phase, I like to look at archetypes, symbols, and cultural associations.

Recurring dreams often happen when we still have not addressed the issue being presented, so they come back to us, calling louder and louder for us to pay attention. With recurring dreams, sometimes the story or symbols in the dream can shift, but the emotional intensity, quality, and often the overarching meaning stay the same.

Three simple ideas of working with your nighttime dreams:

1) Tell  the dream to your therapist or a trusted person from start to finish without interruption. Re-experiencing the story in the present moment while it telling can allow you to gain mastery over it and give you a new perspective on it. This can happen with a therapist guiding you to be alert to your body's responses and wisdom during your retelling, and by having a compassionate witness for the process.

2) Express the dream non-verbally through art. You might choose to make a book or cartoon panels about the story or perhaps set up the scene in a sand tray, with the supportive presence of an art therapist. You don't always need to unpack the meaning of each literal dream symbol and bring it into consciousness necessarily; working with the emotional quality of the dream may be quite helpful in itself. You can bring out "loose" art materials -- meaning ones that are really formless and open -- like watercolors, fingerpaints, or clay -- and trust that what needs to be expressed will be expressed through the art. Loose art media allow the spirit the opportunity to process unconsciously. This involves a degree of just trusting the process since it won't always look like it's directly accessing the dream content or characters. You will likely experience shifts in the dream or your response to the dream as you engage in this process.

3) Take the dream further in your waking life by asking yourself what happens next. You might imagine what you would have needed in the dream in order to solve the obstacle in the dream, if it did not play out in your sleep in a satisfying way -- maybe a tool, a shield, a magic power, a special uniform, or a vehicle, etc. Enjoy creating this item as an art project, as it directly accesses your inner resources and allows you to spend time creating your own solution. You can get creative with ways to further the dream and access all of the things your waking mind has at its disposal. After accessing resources in some way, you can tell the new story with its new ending, either by journaling or retelling it to a trusted person.

Wishing you rich, juicy dreams tonight!

An art therapist's favorite art supplies

I am often asked by clients, colleagues, and friends which art supplies are my favorites. I've not met an art supply I don't like, but I do have some standouts that are in heavy rotation in my studio. I believe in presenting my clients (and myself) with quality materials that foster positive, satisfying experiences. I display them in an attractive way, much like setting a buffet table for a most important dinner guest. I prefer natural light, beeswax candles cleanly burning, sometimes diffusing essential oils into the air, and in some cases, playing appropriate music. Creating a safe, pleasing sanctuary is part of the ritual of making art in my healing studio. This is not an exhaustive list of art supplies, by any means. It's just a sampling of a few staples in my personal studio stash. You can click the orange links in the body of this post to find these supplies on Amazon (affiliate links) or on other non-affiliated sites.


First, it's important to me to offer yummy paper. For basic drawing, I use this white sulphite drawing paper.  When watercoloring, I like 140lb cold press watercolor paper. I make a 12-15 sheet pack of watercolor paper last by cutting or tearing it in half or into fun, small sizes.  (I actually prefer tearing the paper against a metal ruler because it leaves a pretty, raw edge.)

Making marks:

Sharpies are a go-to art supply for me - I like to Zentangle and make zendalas with Sharpies. I also draw with them and then apply watercolors because these permanent markers will not run.

When it comes to colored pencils, I have two favs. For a standard, fine point, you cannot beat good ol' Prismacolors. Sure, they're more spendy than Crayola, but quality over quantity counts so much in art supplies in setting yourself up for a successful, easeful, richly expressive experience. I also love the luscious softness of Ferby Lyra colored pencils. I recently found these woodless colored pencils, and I'm hooked on them.

I always love creamy oil pastels and materials like them. I offer these oil pastels in my studio, as well as these thicker, creamier color sticks, which have a lipstick-like consistency but allow for satisfying broad strokes when working large. (I love the metallic set, too!)


Wet-on-wet watercoloring with liquid watercolors is one the most soothing activities for me personally, and for many of my clients. Mmmmmm! These are my favorite (and inexpensive!) liquid watercolors. I present them ceremoniously in these wonderful jars with these great wooden boards in my studio, and super-soft brushes aplenty.

Cake watercolors are old standbys for me, too. I prefer the palettes, vibrancy, and smooth application of these by Loew Cornell.

For 3-Dimensional Creations:

Because I don't have a kiln in my studio (yet? hmm..someday!), I rely on air-dry clay. I'm partial to the terra-cotta colored self-hardening clay. I also like white and gray tones, depending on the project. It's surprisingly strong when it dries, and can be easily painted with acrylics or inks.

I'm a fan of washi tapes of all colors and patterns. I stock baskets of yarns, ribbons, silks, cloth scraps... I offer wool roving, beeswax, buttons, and collage materials. I also love to keep natural wooden objects in my studio, such as wooden peg people, eggs, and Matryoshka nesting dolls. I get many of them at Casey Wood, but the basics can often be found on Amazon.

Most of all, I love art materials that are freely acquired from our abundant momma earth -- natural materials. I have stashes of sticks, driftwood, shells, stones, acorns, pinecones, feathers, leaves, garlic peels, twigs, moss, etc. that lend themselves to all sorts of art projects. They're free, gorgeous, and allow for such open-ended creating -- easily my favorite part of my studio.

You can check out some of my favorite supplies by clicking on the links to them in the text above and in the Amazon box below (scroll thru 5 pages in box) where you'll find extra goodies.

Happy creating! You can shop the list of my favorite supplies in my studio here.

The many varied expressions of art therapy


Throughout the month of June, the Art Therapy Alliance is featuring a different art therapist each day in a blog hop. I am so honored to be included among such inspirational healing arts professionals, as today is my day to be highlighted. Please visit the Facebook page for my practice, if you've not already done so, as I post daily inspirations and relevant articles, as well as updates on my offerings.

Please do follow along on the "hop" to learn more about 30 different and beautiful expressions of art therapy around the country and world. Let's celebrate this profound healing modality and so many of my awesome colleagues!

New ways to think about self-care

With the first series of my self-care for therapists group now complete, I'd like to share our diagram where we brainstormed both tried-and-true and brand new ways we can honor the self:

Some of the phrases the group used to define self care included "honoring the self," "refilling the well," and "making time and space to be mindful of my parts." (You can see these around the center of the drawing, on the green petals.)

The image above contains collective wisdom about the ways many of us may already be working self-care into our lives, and it also contains ideas that might be new to you for considering how you might refuel and practice gentleness and kindness with yourself.

We looked at how we can offer ourselves care in the following categories, and I've listed just a few examples below:


  • sleep/naps
  • exercise (running, yoga...)
  • diet/nutrition (gut health, eating breakfast...)
  • self-pampering (massage, spa day...)
  • medical care (regular check-ups, bodywork, natural supplements...)


  • therapy (self-study, self-inquiry)
  • art (can also be physical, spiritual, and social!)
  • writing (creative writing, journaling...)
  • alone time
  • travel


  • spending time with loved ones
  • setting healthy boundaries
  • community involvement
  • picking up a new hobby


  • daily  practice (mindfulness, prayer, meditation, ritual...)
  • retreats
  • energy work
  • spending time in nature


  • declutter your space
  • creating a sacred space at home (altar, resting place...)
  • fresh flowers/plants and natural light
  • playing music you love
  • memorabilia or photos that are reminders of joy
  • choosing clothes you feel good wearing

In discussing how therapists can honor their therapist selves around their work day, I presented ideas surrounding client sessions. For example, we covered:

  • how therapists/healers might prepare for their work day (physically, spatially, mentally, spiritually)
  • how therapists can honor (and not abandon) themselves during therapy sessions, and
  • how therapists can cleanse, refuel, and honor themselves after their work day

Notes on these can be seen on the left side of the diagram above; however, it is important to create rituals that are personal and unique to you.

In my private practice, many of my clients are other therapists, therapy graduate students and interns, healers, and caregivers who wish to create personalized, sustainable ways of making self care part of their daily rituals. If you'd like to connect with me for a free 20-minute consultation to see if I may be able to help you, please contact me.

I plan to offer a similar group later this year, most likely in autumn. Stay tuned to find out when by signing up for my e-newsletter (over there in the right column) and by following me on Facebook and/or Twitter.