My sketchbooks are like diaries…they capture the situation, mood, mental state, ideas, blind spots, fears, humor, defenses and subjects of importance that I may have be experiencing at the moment I chose to draw. I also sometimes use my sketchbooks for planning more than upcoming art projects. I use them to write to do lists, reminders to myself, thoughts and random phrases. My sketchbooks help me organize my life, while at the same time they are holding environments for private concepts that I may not be ready to release to the public.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that while completing my Masters degree, Drexel University’s Art Therapy Faculty encouraged their students to use sketchbooks as ways to capture the dynamics of discovery, which were inevitable throughout our academic and experiential learning.
The experience of using sketch books as a way of containing and reviewing emotions, ideas, learning, and probably way more than can be described in words, has allowed me to introduce the concept of a sketchbook/diary to the clients I work with.
Because many of the clients I work with have difficulties with dexterity in their hands, and because many of them refuse to use scissors for fear they might hurt themselves, introducing traditional book binding techniques using a needle and floss did not seem appropriate. Instead, I opted for a simpler approach, stapling the spine in order to create a book.
– Stapler and staples. I purposefully made sure that there were only 3 staplers in my group of 10, in order to promote client interaction and sharing.
– Colored paper, 12″ x 18″
– White paper, 12″ x 18″
– Materials for decoration: markers, oil pastels, foam shapes, glitter glue, etc…
Before group begins, make an example of a sketchbook to show the group. This can help to structure the group and allow them to visualize what the outcome of the group may be. Pre-making a book can also allow you to know the limits of your stapler- how many pages it can staple through. This can help avoid client frustration with the directive- that is, if one of the group’s goals is success orientation, which is common when working with people with developmental disabilities. However, if the goal of the art therapy group is to increase frustration tolerance, you may want to allow the clients to discover the limits of the stapler for themselves.
After introducing the example sketchbook, ask the group if anyone can explain what a sketchbook is, what it can be used for. In addition to their responses, explain times when one may want to use their sketch book, for example when they are upset or sad, when they are having a feeling that they are having difficulty putting into words, when something good happens, etc. Also explain that what they are making is theirs. Emphasize that the contents of a sketchbook can be kept private, or they can share their books with people that they trust, like their therapist, a family member, etc. Encourage the clients to keep their books in a safe place.
Ask each client what color they would like to have on the outside of their sketchbooks. Once each client has what will be their cover, ask them to fold the paper in half. Then hand out approx 6 pieces of white paper (this may vary depending on the capability of your stapler), and ask the clients to fold those papers as well. Demonstrate placing the white papers inside the colored paper, fold-to-fold. Then, demonstrate stapling- how to hold the paper while you staple, trying to staple as close to the fold as possible. Some clients may need help with stapling. I like to encourage some of the higher functioning clients to help clients who ask.
Once the books have been assembled, place other art media on the table so that the clients can decorate the covers of their sketchbooks and make it their own. The purpose of introducing other art media at this point is to help avoid some clients from feeling overwhelmed with the amount of stimuli in the group. The art therapist can further structure the group by limiting the types of art media available to the clients.
In terms of closure, I find it useful to have each client take turns sharing their sketchbooks with the group. This helps to promote socialization, group interaction, and is often self-esteem building since clients often recieve positive feedback for their products.
Every group member was able to construct and decorate their books, some independently and some with help.
Some clients seemed to be taken aback by the concept that these books were for them, and they had the choice whether to share its contents with anyone. One client in particular repeated this concept to every staff member present within the art therapy group. This made me wonder how little privacy some clients with developmental disabilities are afforded in their lives. Some clients need help dressing, toileting, showering and cleaning their rooms. What then is for them and them alone?
Since the books did not contain very many pages, I suggested that once their sketchbooks were filled up, they could request to make another one. Several clients have taken me up on this offer, as they have been consistently writing and drawing in their sketchbooks.
As the first art therapist to be working within the facility, it is very gratifying to introduce new ways of self-expression to the clients. As with all techniques for self-expression, some things work for some people but not for others. For this reason, I try to encourage each client to remain open minded to new experiences, while remebering that rigidity is common amongst adults in general, people who suffer from mental illness, and people who have been diagnosed with a developmental disability.