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Demonstrating the power of art media in the therapeutic process

This exhibition features artworks by graduate students and faculty of the Art Therapy program at Notre Dame of Maryland University, and was inspired by the summer "Techniques and Materials" course in the graduate program.

The exhibition is fully installed in Civera Gallery, but is closed to the public. This virtual version of the exhibition is intended to supplement the physical show. 

Samantha Willett-Jackson

Nature, as said by Ian S. Heginworth and Gary Nash in their book, Environmental Arts Therapy, The Wild Frontiers of the Heart (2020), “engages the sensory emotional systems of children and speaks to their archetypal experiences that so ignites imagination.” Nature surrounds us; it’s something we are all familiar and similarly unfamiliar with. Certainly,
stemming curiosity by your sensory materials and sometimes more fervently the curiosity of the sounds of wildlife, smells of the earth, tastes of the air, or the feeling of the grass touching your toes, will create an experience that kindles the mind. I’ve found nature to be awe-inspiring; witnessing art created around me by the drives of life.

As an inspirational piece, I’ve cultivated nature and contained it by prying, ripping, pushing, and forming it onto wood. I found what I needed around me; dirt, petals, grass, and acorns. I added clay, sometimes paint, and used it to seal and feel with my fingers the change in viscosity of the materials as I pressed it to the surface. I felt at peace with the senses by creating my work outside where I could hear, see, and touch my surroundings. There was an inner peace there. I was no longer surrounded by the clicks of a television turning on and off, the fan spinning from an air-intake system, the musky smell of furniture, or the bright cold lights from the ceiling bulbs. Instead I was at harmony.

Then I felt the pressure of resolve; change, deconstruction. Nature destroys and changes every second and I wanted to become a part of it. Nothing is eternal outside. The land moves, the sky changes, plants and animals die. I harnessed this by allowing nature to take back what I took from it. Rain flooded my canvas and melted what I had created. The clay slicked and slid into the earth from whence it came. I watched it melt away for what felt like hours; mesmerized by its change in form. It was as if I was watching part of myself leave to a better place, letting my suffering drain out of my body. This perception was releasing but difficult, and I would not have been able to have this emotional release without feeling very connected with my work and my sensual, primitive self. 

Once emptied, this part of me was calmed and no longer conflicted with resolve of my artwork. I no longer needed it, yet the success of the process remained clear: the connection between my body, the earth, and the art showed that each element in the therapeutic realm affects the spiritual and emotional resolve as long as resolve is searched for in our never-ending journey.

Nia Willis

Nia Willis

Descartes claimed that the mind is distinct from the body  and can exist without one’s body. After creating this piece, I  started to believe him...but only for a bit.  

Simple shapes and repetitive mark-making are features that  are prevalent in my recent artworks. The nature of  effortless line and shape, in conjunction with warm colors,  present themselves to me regularly while creating. In  response to Michelle Kim’s presentation for the summer  course, I was immediately drawn to the terracotta hue of  earthenware clay. The action of kneading, dividing, rolling,  shaping, and smoothing the clay illuminated my desire and  need for meditative and mindful practices. During the art making process, I felt extremely relaxed physically, but my  mind was alert and attentive to the sensory engagement  unfolding. Furthermore, the cyclical separation and  connection of my self and physical body aided in my  understanding of the creative (“flow”) state that occurs  during an art therapy experience.

Erika Woo

Erika Woo

Masking tape is a utilitarian material  applied in art-making process. I placed  stripes of masking tape on the surface  in order to create patterns, colored it  with oil pastels, then removed the  pieces of tape. The remaining outline of  the pastels became asymmetrical  shapes. Lastly, I applied the gel gloss to  prevent them from getting smudged. I  repeated these steps again after I  applied my own image in the middle of  a panel.

The irregular shapes overlapped each other which caused  the two different layers to create more  depth and perspective. The process of  applying strips of masking tape and  removing them after coloring with oil  pastels provoked tactility. The mix of  various colors contrasted against the  black and white image of my self portrait.

Erika Woo

Erika Woo

My focus on well-being has been growing stronger since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I realized I bought many health supplements over several months and came to a conclusion that this had to end. I collected all the unnecessary pills as found objects to utilize in my artwork. I created an image of gastrointestinal system using different color-coded pills in order to symbolically depict my fixation and anxiety towards health. Applying the pills one after the other was a meditative act that put me at ease. The repeated movements affected my kinesthetic level of ETC.

Brianna Lucas

Brianna Lucas

My artwork is titled “Mismatched Hair.” I worked with a  photograph of myself from a copier print. The photograph was soaked in a container of lukewarm water, which stripped the ink from the paper and left a faded light green version of the original photograph. I decided to use it as a base and build a variety of materials on and around it. These materials include yarn, ribbon, newspaper, plastic, buttons, cardboard,  wood and tape. I explored how the forms of the materials I  had chosen could be manipulated to accentuate and compliment contours that were visible in my photograph. My process ended with reflection as the piece became about my struggle with accepting my biracial hair texture.  

My approach to materials in art therapy calls for a balance of comfort and exploration. I have learned to push the boundaries of materials that feel “safe” for me to work with and invite new materials into my creative process, which allows me to learn more about myself. I also learned to be more open to experiencing materials that I may have a slight aversion to. The Expressive Therapies Continuum guides me as I consider individual preferences and areas of potential growth. 

Michelle Kim

Clay is my preferred medium. It’s tactile and kinesthetically demanding, with a wide range of opportunities. Witnessing the transformation it goes through, from clay to ceramic, inspires and reminds me of my own potential and resiliency.

Clay demands all of my attention,  so I can’t be distracted by other things when I have it in my hands.  I enjoy the feeling of handling clay, especially when the moisture content is just right and the clay moves like butter. I have full control over what happens to it,  as I begin to transform the clay into a cup, a bowl, or a chain. The finished product holds a history that can be felt and seen as the artist’s touch is left behind. It can then go out into the world, serve a purpose, and have its own life after parting ways with its creator. 

Sunny Choi.jpg

Sunny Choi

This is a string scribble painting utilizing strings of yarn and thread and Expressive Therapies Continuum approach. After an ambiguous bilateral image was printed/painted, finding symbolic content of the image based on the colors and formal elements were focused. Like the traditional scribble drawing, the scribbling part helped me with making the first mark.  

The highlight of my experience was the colors and fluidity of paints that helped me find the images that arose and access related emotions. Once the pain was expressed and beauty in the past, acknowledging them visually and cognitively, another image arose on the top right (red and green)--the nurturer

seen as the artist’s touch is left behind. It can then go out into the world, serve a purpose, and have its own life after parting ways with its creator. 

Marissa Stacy.jpg

Marissa Stacy

My process for creating this piece was to simply notice what elements amongst the outdoors grabbed my attention. I took a short nature walk and collected different elements around my very own backyard. I was influenced not only by my surroundings but by my own particular art style. To me, this piece symbolizes not only the outdoors but growth. As an avid hiker, camper, and all around nature enthusiast it was great to work with unlikely art materials and translate nature into art. When I realized I needed to capture the moment of the art piece itself I turned to photography. As a hobbyist photographer, I was excited to incorporate my camera.  

To me, this piece symbolizes not only the outdoors but growth. I have grown through art because I learn best when working hands-on. Being able to physically touch and work with materials helps me to comprehend the knowledge at hand. The kinesthetic and sensory process of being outside and working with natural elements played a big part in how and what I  created. 

Cathy Goucher, LCPAT, LCPC

Wrapping Thread and Twigs

Response to Covid-19
Bleach and Black Paper

Holding Tension

Julia Andersen, LCPAT, LCPC, ATCS

Materials inform if and when, to  
reconstruct. Materials tell the story. Engage the senses and encourage meaning-making and personal narratives. Use texture, color, shape, size and edges. Materials are the art therapist’s tools.

Brianna Garrold, LCPAT, LCPC

As a mixed media artist, I seek to repurpose, transform, and  elevate non-traditional materials to tell stories, process my  own emotions, and reflect on counter transference from my clinical practice. This piece is a reflection of and response to  the therapeutic relationship in context of working with survivors of trauma. The materials selected represent the healing power of being seen, witnessing growth, and learning how to navigate new narratives.

Mallory Van Fossen.jpg

Mallory Van Fossen, LCPAT

Weaving is a process-oriented art form with cross-cultural  and historical roots, employing the stationary and  structural warp, and the fluid and variable weft as  structural components. The mindful process of “weaving a  life” lends itself to several relevant metaphors of life and  grief and being human. I primarily employ weaving as an  exercise in mindfulness, with the awareness that executive  function and vertical processing are actively utilized,  making the process of loom-weaving a whole-brain art  form. Certain materials such as clothing and other textiles  of significance often make their way into my work as a  means of transforming and preserving the impermeant in  a personal way.  

Cotton warp threads were painted on-loom, and weft  threads were hand-dyed in this piece. Each were obtained  second hand and exhibit a visible degree of impermanence. 

This weaving was created over the course of 4 months,  mostly during the middle of the night, and always in the  comfort of a mental flow state. It was made on a 12-pedal  countermarch floor loom. 

Stacy Nelson.jpg

Stacy Nelson, LCPAT, LCPC

This work came out of my desire to experiment with flow painting. Flow
Painting is a technique in which acrylic paint is mixed with a liquid medium, then poured onto a surface in different ways. The colors can be poured directly from individual cups or mixed into one cup and poured together. Then the surface is tilted in each direction to let the paint flow. The colors will interact in unpredictable ways, creating a variety of abstract designs. I have been interested in flow painting since taking a community art class on the practice, just for fun.

Flow painting was a worthy diversion during the pandemic and my husband’s
military deployment. I had just accidentally overbought small canvases for a work art therapy project, so I had materials at home, just waiting to be used. Since art materials unable to “fulfill their destiny” is sad, I started to experiment on the canvas with different pouring materials. I came across Liquid Glass, which gave the glossy and transparent colors I craved. I was able to lose myself in my work. I was able to invite my young nieces, also bored by the limitations of quarantine, to create satisfying compositions in short sprints of creative energy. We were all able to take a break from worry and unrest.

This type of painting has given me an opportunity to separate from news and anxiety. My art therapist brain certainly tuned into the fact that I was still somehow processing my world in my painting—Experimenting. Giving up control. Finding patterns in disorder. Adding and subtracting. Accepting the contours I shaped may disappear in an instant. Letting go of plans and expectation. Finding play and movement as I tilted each small canvas. Finally having the faith to believe that the finished painting will likely not come out the way that I “planned” but still finding something  captivating in the result.

Sharon Strouse, LCPAT

These two collages were created in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. Several faculty from  the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition meet weekly to creatively explore. These collages are  visuals of Stroebe and Schut's Dual Process Model of Coping: Loss Orientation and Restoration  Orientation. 

"Departures" Collage 

"I say I am fine and I am, however when I give myself time to create, this is what comes out. I  cannot get away from it, words and images everywhere strike fear. "Prepare yourself, avoid crowds,  wash your hands, stay calm, don't stockpile." Underneath it, a stark reality, people are dying,  young people are dying, and no one is safe. Departures. My world is unfamiliar. A  red lacquered Chinese screen, takes center stage. I place a diamond crown on a skull; I turn it  upside down and glue it into the thicket of a menacing forest. CORONA!” 

"Breadth" Collage 

"I surrender and let go of fear and enter the stillness of a forest. I take a deep breath, cross my  hands over my heart and offer a blessing to my body during this time of transformation. I glue a  dragonfly on the right and left lobe of my lungs. Dragonfly symbol of change, adaptability, light  and joy. In this moment I am fine."


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