Masks for Monday

Masks have been around since ancient times, incorporated into ceremonies, rituals, performance, and play. This universal art form is all about the exploration and communication of persona. Through the metaphor of the mask, you have the opportunity to consider the MANY parts of yourself, including those you reveal to others and those kept concealed from the world. As promised last week, below are some art therapy directives involving mask-making. Give one (or all!) of them a try. These can be really useful exercises in increasing self-awareness and self-acceptance. As you create, issues may come to the surface that could benefit from further attention. This is a great time to reach out to an Art Therapist for additional processing and support!

There are many different types of masks you can use to explore the below directives. I've listed the directions and materials for 3, including a tinfoil mask, cardstock mask, and plaster mask.Create the form of your choice and scroll down to see the art therapy directives. Let the exploration begin!  


1. Tinfoil Mask: (Materials: Tinfoil, masking tape, scissors)


  • Overlap 3 sheets of aluminum foil in a stack. Push the stack of sheets firmly onto your face. Make sure you have the general outline of your face imprinted (nose, lips, corners of your eyes and cheekbones).
  • Using a marker, trace around your eyes and any other areas (mouth, nostrils)  you want cut out.
  • Cut around the edges of the mask.  Carefully cut out the eyes and any other breathing holes.  
  • While pressing the back of the mask to your face to keep the features strong, gently place strips of tape onto the front of the mask. When you feel the mask's features are firm enough, place tape overlapping across all visible places of foil, including the back.  

2. Cardstock cut-out: (Materials:  Cardstock, marker, popsicle stick, masking tape, scissors)


  • Draw a large oval face on your piece of cardstock. Cut out the face.
  • Draw on 2 eyes (mouth and nose if you want). Cut out.
  • Attach the popsicle stick to the bottom using tape.

Plaster masks: (Materials:  Plaster cloth- I like Activa Rigid Wrap Plaster Cloth, bowl with water, scissors, plastic mask template-found at most art stores)


  • Cut bandage plaster into strips of varying widths and lengths. 
  • Construct the first layer of your mask. Using 1 strip at a time, dip into your bowl of water, then run your fingers over the strip to remove excess water. Lay onto your plastic mask, smoothing the pores out of the plaster with your fingers. Use this same process to apply the rest of the strips, completely covering the mask.  Create an even base layer.
  • Add a second layer of plaster strips to your mask.  Try to create a uniform layer with as few bumps as possible.
  • Optionally, use extra plaster strips to build up any features you want more prominent…create a bigger nose, eyebrow ridges, add more character, etc. 
  • Let your mask dry completely. Remove from the plastic template. Cut out eyes.

***you can also easily purchase a cardboard mask (like the ones used in last week’s posting) at most art stores...

Mask Directives:

#1 Our many masks: Throughout the day we wear a multitude of masks. A professional mask at work, a distancing mask with strangers, a nurturing mask with loved ones…the list goes on and on. Make a list of some of your own masks. Pick out two that represent contrasting traits. Take your chosen mask (created from list above) and using art materials of your choice (paint, markers, collage, etc.) create your 2 contrasting “masks” on either side (inside and outside). These can be abstract images or realistic faces, there’s no right or wrong way! Use your creativity to explore the metaphor and gain a deeper understanding of yourself.

#2. Past self/Present self: Use mask-making to explore your past self/where you've been, and your current self/where you currently are. To start, do a brief writing exercise reflecting on these 2 aspects. Then, take your chosen mask from above and using art materials of your choice (paint, markers, collage, etc.) create your past mask on the inside and your current mask on the outside. Observe the differences and similarities.

  #3. Others vs. Self: Because a mask has both an inside and an outside, it’s a perfect vehicle to explore how others/the world see’s you (outside of the mask) vs. how you see yourself/really feel (inside of the mask). Often, there are many disparities between these 2 personas. Take some time to consider these 2 ideas, exploring how to represent them on your mask using the art materials of your choice (paint, markers, collage, etc.). Then get creative, letting the metaphor guide the way. 



I was recently browsing the Internet, looking for examples of masks to show to a client who’s been having difficulty with the directive. During my search I came across the February cover of National Geographic, capturing a retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant with his own mask in-hand. This mask, a face with hollow eyes and an exposed brain, represents the Sergeant’s own brain, to which he suffered more than 300 blast force explosions, followed by extensive probing while doctor’s worked to diagnosis his injuries. Take one look at the mask and the veteran’s psychological and emotional pain is clear, written across the face without any need for words. Despite the high-tech and advanced scientific efforts to treat returning soldiers, these issues, their “invisible wounds,” are not revealed through probing or medicine. This mask is one of over 600 created in a program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, where veterans work with trained art therapists to help heal their traumatic brain injuries, psychological traumas, and depression. Given just a blank mask and various art making supplies, the Soldiers have the opportunity to both see themselves and be seen, integrating the different parts of themselves into one, including experiences that were previously too painful or repressed to speak of. As one of the Veteran’s so powerfully states “Sometimes you find yourself saying, I wish ... I would have lost a body part, so people will see—so they’ll get it.” The mask making provides the opportunity for just that. Through creating masks in art therapy, soldiers are given both an outlet and a tangible object, all at a safe-distance. This process leads to deeper insight, understanding, and acceptance. The article displays so many powerful masks, as well as a terrific interview with one of the program’s art therapists. She explains more about her work with the veterans through the mask making process. I highly recommend checking it out!

Check back next week for some mask-making directives to try out on your own! These are great ways to creatively explore the different parts of yourself :) 

Finding space in limitations

I recently came across this fantastic TED talk that I think so many people will find inspiring. So often in life we’re faced with challenges- physical illness, emotional struggles, financial burdens, our own self-doubt. Its important to remember, that with limitation, comes choice. We can view these difficulties as barriers, forcing us to hang our heads low and turn back around, or we can choose to see them as opportunities, and take a detour. Who knows where it’ll lead you!

Phil Hansen was in art school, studying an intense style of pointillism, when he developed a hand tremor and diagnosis of nerve damage. Devastated by this barrier, he dropped out of school, convinced this was the end of his artistic career. This all changed when a neurologist suggested he “embrace the shake.” From this point on, Hansen’s mentality changed. His perceived weakness became an outlet for creativity and strength. He challenged himself to create art using unconventional materials and out-of-the-box thinking, such as creating with live worms, candles, Starbucks cups, making artwork using only $1, creating with scribbles from his hand tremor, and so much more. His artwork is truly inspiring! Click on the link below to check-out Hansen's talk. I encourage you to try out one of his ideas. They’re affordable, easy, and great ways to get your own creativity flowing.  In the spirit of embracing limitations, give it a try :) 

Intention Sticks

With the days getting longer and temperatures increasing, it feels like we're almost done defrosting, out from hibernation with a renewed sense of energy and purpose.  The last of the snow piles are finally melting away, revealing hidden sidewalks and fresh soil. We've made it...spring is almost here:) There's a bounce to your step, and everything feels lighter.  Leave the runny nose and frozen fingers behind and reground with a fresh intention. What better way to do this than by creating an intention stick as a visual reminder. 

Materials: Found stick or twig, yarn (or string, twine, ribbon, etc.), paint, paint brushes, writing utensil-sharpie, calligraphy pen, gel pen


Incorporating nature into your artistic process is a great way to ground as you create. Everything in nature is unique...a different shape, size, and texture, which translates into your artwork and also serves as a metaphor for yourself. Begin by taking a walk outside...pick a park or your favorite block, ideally somewhere without too much hustle and bustle. If possible, take a moment to close your eyes. Feel your feet against the earth. Breathe in the fresh air and notice any smells. Listen to the sounds that surround you. Observe your natural soundtrack. Feel the breeze and warm sunlight against your skin. Let this moment influence your intention. What word(s) come(s) to mind? What would you like to set as an intention as you start off the spring? Slowly open your eyes and take in your environment. Notice the colors and shapes. Begin walking with intention. Collect some branches and twigs, which you'll use in your artwork.

Once home...

-Select your favorite branch or twig. Return to your intention, and write this word or words on the wood using a writing utensil of your choice (or paint). You can optionally paint 1st underneath. 

- Take your yarn (string, twine, ribbon, etc.) and begin to wrap around the stick. Feel free to alternate colors and textures, making it unique to you. Find relaxation in the repetition of the wrapping, keeping in mind that you are setting or securing your intention in place. What a great way to begin the spring! 

- Using paint (or any extra embellishments) add any additional details to your stick. 

***Place your intention stick somewhere you regularly look, so it can serve as a visual reminder of what you hope to accomplish or create. Happy spring:)  







Art Therapy in the news :)

Being that art therapy is still relatively new to the vast world of psychotherapy, it's always exciting to come across an art therapy article published by a non-art therapist. An article responding to inquiry and interest about the field, written with genuine curiosity and the intent to both learn and share newfound knowledge. The Huffington Post recently published an article where they interviewed Dr. Sarah Deaver, President of the American Art Therapy Association, in order to provide readers with (requested!) information about art therapy. The article includes a great description of the field, concrete therapeutic examples, a discussion/comparison to outsider art, and more. I definitely recommend checking it out! 




Matters of the Heart <3

Happy Belated-Valentine’s Day. Typically, this holiday focuses on our external relationships…or brings attention to the lack there-of. With restaurants pushing price-fixed menus for two, stores stocked with chocolates and sweets, and every corner market flooded sky high with pink and red roses, its easy to get swept up by the over-commercialized messages and lose sight of what this holiday is truly about. Valentines Day holds significance worth applying to our everyday lives....remember, relationships come in all forms!  In lieu of this recent holiday, begin thinking about the love you’re directing inwards.  Regardless of whether you spent Valentine’s day with champagne and chocolates or Chinese food and Netflix, I encourage you to use the holiday as a platform to think about the most important relationship of all…the one you have with yourself. Visualize your own heart (the actual organ, not a paper cut-out) through this heart-based art exercise, helping you to tune-in, explore, and release. 



Materials: Paper, scissors, writing utensils (charcoals, pencils, pens), glue. Optional- watercolors, markers, colored pencils, etc.

- Think about what frustrates you or holds you back…. What’s keeping you from living your life with an open heart? What’s standing in your way? Imagine your heart…if you could see these blocks, what would they look like? Focus on several words or images and take 5-10 minutes to do a free-write exercise in your journal or on a piece of notebook paper. Try not to over think it, instead just writing about the first issues that come to mind.

- On a piece of drawing paper, using pencil or charcoal, draw an anatomical heart. Feel free to trace the attachment included in this posting. Cut out the heart and glue it onto a separate piece of paper (any color is fine).

- Fill the nooks and crannies of your heart with words and phrases from your free-write exercise, placing your personal blockages throughout your heart.

- Look at your image. Imagine moving through these blockages. What would it take to open your heart? What would it feel like to overcome these barriers? Focus on several words or images and take 5-10 minutes to do another free-write, related to this topic. 

-Using your 2nd free-write, write phrases, words, and/or sentences related to overcoming your blockages flowing out of your heart vessels. 

Add any additional color or design! Breathe, let-go, and release!

"You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection."



Combining watercolor + salt

Today, as I maneuvered my way through the snowy streets, I observed a consistent crunching sound coming from under my boots. The city had prepared and coated the sidewalks with a layer of salt, so instead of slipping about, I remained firmly grounded on my path. As I crunched along, I was reminded of one of my favorite art therapy directives…combining watercolors with salt. I've used this art therapy directive with individuals, groups, and in my own artwork. The simple process adds texture to the watercolors, leading to really beautiful results.  Enjoy!

Materials: watercolors, brushes, water, salt (table salt, rock salt, bath salts…any type will work), and watercolor paper

Set up your workspace so that all of your materials are accessible. Paint your image on the paper. Experiment with colors, shape, and design. While your paper is still wet, sprinkle some salt on top of the image. The salt will begin to absorb the water from the paint. Experiment with different types and amounts of salt and observe how the effects vary. The bigger the salt, the more it absorbs. Similarly, experiment with varying degrees of wetness. The more water you use, the more the salt has to absorb. Notice the abstract patterns created by the salt, crystallized images appearing like magic on the page. Once your image is dry, you can brush the salt into the trashcan. Have fun with the process, letting go of your attachment to the results. 

Juno-friendly art directives. Let your creativity keep you warm!

Winter storm Juno is here. With blizzard warnings in effect, the storm frenzy has taken over NYC. Of course its good to be prepared, but rather than panic, try channeling this energy into the creative process, making some beautiful environmental art projects that are only possible when temperatures get extra chilly. Take advantage of this time, relax, and have fun…I can’t remember the last time I had a snow day:) 

*As temperatures drop below freezing, try this beautiful bubble experiment. Tap into your childlike sense of wonder…

Materials: bubbles, bubble wand, (optional-food coloring…if you want to create colored bubbles)

Directions:  Bundle up, grab some bubbles and a wand, and channel your inner child. Try blowing a bubble and catching it on the wand. Wait a few moments to let it freeze…it’ll turn into a beautiful crystal ball. Better be present with this one…the bubble will shatter back into the environment almost as quickly as it froze. Try adding food coloring to the bubbles for added contrast. Consider your ability to be in and appreciate the moment… 

*Frozen sun-catchers to help you reflect on life a little differently. This project can be created inside or out, depending on your tolerance for the chilly weather and access to outdoor space…  

Materials: round container (cake pan, tupperware, etc.), food coloring, ribbon/yarn/string, water, small plastic cup, objects to weight down cup (coins, rocks, sand, etc.)

Directions:  Fill your round container with water. Place the smaller cup (filled with weighted objects) towards the edge of the pan. Either place in the freezer or find a safe spot outside where the water will naturally freeze. After about an hour the ice will be partially frozen. Without removing the container from its cold space, drop a few varied shades of food coloring throughout. Leave to thoroughly freeze. After about 3 hours (once completely frozen), remove your container from its cold place. Let it thaw at room temperature until it begins to loosen up (approx. 15 minutes). Remove the weighted cup and loop your ribbon/yarn/string through the hole.  Find a branch or pole outside to hang your frozen sun-catcher, brightening up the snow-coated city streets.

*If being inside is just too cozy, try bringing some of the snow to you with this frozen watercolor project…

Materials: ice cube tray, liquid watercolors, watercolor paper

Directions:  Fill an ice cube tray with liquid watercolors and freeze overnight. Once you remove, let it defrost a bit, so the cubes are easier to remove from the tray. To avoid a mess, lay down an old towel or drop cloth where you plan to work. Lay out your watercolor paper, pop out your frozen cubes, and let the ice-painting begin! 

Vision Boards for MLK Day

Martin Luther King knew what he believed in. He envisioned the world as a better place and consistently spoke about his dreams for the future.  What better time than his birthday to focus in on your own hopes and dreams. To assist in this process, try creating a vision board, manifesting your aspirations and desires for the future.  

For anyone who's not familiar with this exercise, a vision board is a way to visually represent what you'd like to create in your future. This is done through a collaging technique, using a mix of images from magazines, personal photographs, text, and anything else you'd like to incorporate. The process is meant to support you in considering what you'd like to manifest, suggesting that visualizing can help with the actualization of goals (law of attraction).

Before beginning, take some time to sit quietly, envisioning what you want to create in your life, clarifying your goals, and imagining how you want to feel. I encourage you to focus on both your personal goals, as well as what you'd like to create in your community, and on a larger world scale. Next, gather some glue, a piece of poster board or cardboard for the background, and whatever materials you need for collaging. Start looking for images that resonate with these aspects. Trust your gut...not everything that catches your eye will be tangible. Let your intuition guide you...




Staying grounded in the New Year

Many start the New Year full of conviction, determined to turn over a fresh leaf, take-up new hobbies, kick bad know the drill. Often, by this time in January, that motivation starts to slowly subside. The once strong and solid resolutions are replaced with excuses, avoidance, and guilt. It's just so much pressure! Instead of focusing on the end result, try to be in the present moment. Check out the following article, with 9 creative art therapy directives for the New Year. These will help you be in the moment and authentically transform! 


Holiday Art Projects - De-stressing through artistic process

The holiday season is officially here. The breeze is filled with hints of pine and twinkling lights add warmth to city blocks. It can be magical. But then there’s the expensive gifts, long lines, family stress, unexpected snow-storms…the list goes on and on. Although we often enter the holidays with the best of intentions, aiming to be more present and not sweat the small stuff, before we know it, we find that we’ve veered off and allowed the external stress to take over. Here are some holiday-themed art directives I wrote for my friend’s blog Mom Dishes it Out, including sensory dough, homemade wrapping paper and ornaments, New Year’s flower pots, and gratitude paper chains. Channeling some of that anxiety into the artistic process can be a great way to release stress and reground. So give it a try! click here to view the original post