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AHN NEWS: Winter/Spring 2015
by Arts & Healing Network on 

Writing To Connect with Nature

This issue of AHN News is dedicated to using writing to connect with the natural world.

It begins with an interview with Tina Welling, author of Writing Wild: Forming A Creative Partnership with Nature about spirit walks, overcoming resistance and more.

This is followed by a book review of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  

This issue concludes with a link to an Orion Magazine article about teaching writing in prisons as a way to connect inmates to the natural world they have been separated from by incarceration.

You can find additional writing inspiration, on the Arts & Healing Network’s Book List - please use the pull down menu to sort by writing and poetry.

May this issue inspire your creativity and sense of wonder.
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Executive Director, Arts & Healing Network

Tina Welling

“What we really want is to experience aliveness, and we find that vitality in creative expression and being in the midst of that boundless energy in nature.” ~ Tina Welling

the author, Tina WellingTina Welling is the author of Writing Wild: Forming A Creative Partnership with Nature and three other novels. Her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of anthologies. As she explains, “If anything defines my life it is the intention to become fully aware and participating in the exchange of creative energy all about me. That includes writing, of course, but also includes my relationships, the outdoors and spiritual practice.”

Mary Daniel Hobson: Tell me a little bit about your creative journey, and how you began to use writing as a way to connect with nature.

Tina Welling: I began journaling and writing creatively as an urge to know myself. And that resulted in an expanded sense of awareness.  I experienced changes that opened me to my body and to my greater body, the earth. I became more connected to who I truly was, while also engaging in a deepened relationship with the mountains, meadows and forests around me. Writing down what I was experiencing enhanced my relationship with the outdoors, while being outdoors supported my creative energy.  

Mary Daniel: In your book, Writing Wild: Forming A Creative Partnership with Nature, you describe a wonderful practice called Spirit Walking. Can you share a little bit about that practice and describe its three steps?

Tina: I wanted to sort out exactly how this relationship between my creative energy and that of the natural world worked. It felt, at first, like a big soup – a whole bunch of ingredients simmering in one pot.  I felt nourished, but a bit confused about what was happening. Eventually, I realized that it all came down to the quality of attention.  In order to break that down, I came up with three simple steps. I called it a Spirit Walk, and it can take place outdoors in your backyard or far into the wilderness. You need only paper and pen.  

  • Step 1 is NAMING
    List what your senses bring you, using all five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.

  • Step 2 is DETAILING
    Deepen your experience by selecting one thing in the natural world – for example a pine cone – and describe it in detail, again using your senses. Become aware of body sensations and comfort levels.

  • Step 3 is INTERACTING
    You have created a relationship with your surroundings and opened your unconscious to arising memories, emotions, dreams and fears. Write whatever occurs to you. Trust it. This is your unique material.
Writing Wild by Tina WellingMary Daniel: Many people want to write and they want to connect to the natural world, yet when it comes to actually doing it, they meet resistance. Do you have any advice for getting started and overcoming resistance?

Tina: I experienced huge resistance in connecting with my creative energy and nature most of my life. I came from a family who valued business careers and intelligence. The physical, emotional, creative parts of life were considered unimportant. Yet all along I felt such longing to express myself in language and to be comfortable outdoors.

I began by taking baby steps. I first wrote in a journal, then short poems, and then moved into book-length manuscripts. From my doorway, I walked two blocks away, then three, and eventually I packed my lunch and headed out all day hiking into the mountains. I love feeling at home surrounded by trees and hills. Winter or summer, I stuff a delicious lunch, my notebook and my knitting into my backpack and head out to make a day camp someplace I think is beautiful.

Mary Daniel: Why do you think that writing in connection with nature can be such a healing catalyst?

Tina: Nature and our personal creative energy are one thing, governed by the same rules and rhythms. When we align ourselves with the energies of the natural world, we expand into greater aliveness. When I’m outdoors in a safe place, I can open myself to stillness, connect with my essential self and be nurtured by all the life throbbing above, below and around me.

Lessons and patterns for living well are everywhere in nature. We are reminded that like the earth, we live with seasons of producing and rest, and that we must attend our inner lives just as the trees and plants grow their root systems. We know we must act out of our authentic selves, just as each species of bird and animal life do and we enjoy a sense of healing when we experience oneness with all of life about us.

Mary Daniel: Would you be willing to share an example of how you have been healed by writing?

Tina: I was a dependent wife and mother. My plan was to make everyone in my family happy, and then I’d make myself happy. I found out that I didn’t know myself well enough to know one thing about what made me happy. Writing "constellated" my thoughts and emotions, and step by step I uncovered my authentic self. I fell in love with creative energy and for the first time wanted something just for me. It took a while but eventually I learned to take the time and space I needed to do my work. I wrote three novels and now Writing Wild: Forming A Creative Partnership with Nature. In the book I tell the story of my individuation process – as Jung would call it – and it wasn’t always an easy ride; people around me had a hard time with my changes. Happily it all ended well.

the author on a Spirit Walk with her dogMary Daniel: What is inspiring you most these days in your own creative practice?

Tina: For me right now, it’s a season for taking in rather than putting out. It’s wintertime where I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming [USA]. The trees are being nourished by their own fallen leaves, the mountains are covered in ice and snow, and bears are hibernating and birthing young. It’s a time for being nourished by the wonderful exchanges my new book has stirred – hibernating, growing inwardly and birthing new ideas. Engaging in creative energy leads directly to a spiritual deepening. So I’m reading, watching, daydreaming and doodling.  And one tiny confession: I have to work a bit to remind myself that being a creative person isn’t all about output – times of input are necessary.  

Mary Daniel: Do you have anything else you would like to share?

Just a dash of cheerleading to encourage engagement with creative energy in any form and for finding solace, companionship and even instruction in the natural world.  Nature is the macrocosm and our creative energy is the microcosm. As the old spiritual law states: As above, so below. We can learn about the smaller by learning about the larger... and vice-versa. What we really want is to experience aliveness, and we find that vitality in creative expression and being in the midst of that boundless energy in nature.

To learn more about Tina Welling and her books, please visit her


Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
by Robin Wall Kimmerer“I offer... a braid of stories meant to heal our relationship with the world. This braid is woven of three strands: indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and the story of an Anishinabekwe scientist trying to bring them together in service to what matters most. It is an intertwining of science, spirit, and story – old stories and new ones that can be medicine for our broken relationship with the earth, a pharmacopoeia of healing stories that allow us to imagine a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other.” ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. In this beautifully written book, she shares many stories – of indigenous wisdom, of harvesting with intention, of improving a pond for her children, of making baskets, of using science to track and prove what native people have always known and so much more. It is a richly woven collection of essays, each one bringing the reader into greater sympathy with the natural world. By reading these stories, one is comforted and also challenged to pay more attention to the interconnected and reciprocal fabric of the world around us.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants was published as a 390-page paperback in July 2014 by Milkweed Editions, and you can hear the author read excerpts of her book here. You could also here a TED talk with the author here.


How Long Has It Been Since You Smelled a Flower?
by Richard Shelton in Orion Magazine

Gathering Storm by Thom E. Irving, as featured in Orion MagazineIn this article, poet
Richard Shelton describes his experience teaching writing to the incarcerated. As he explains, most prisons are designed to keep inmates separate from each other and from the natural world, and so inmates are deprived of one of the greatest healing forces – nature. However through writing, they can invoke coyotes, apple trees, storms, cicadas and night hawks, and thereby stay connected with the organic growing world outside the prison walls.

This article concludes with several pieces of writing by prison inmates, with an introduction by Richard Shelton: “ they are with all their warts and calluses and their enormous creative drive — a drive that has helped keep them alive, saved them from 'psychic death.'”

This article was published in the
January/February 2015 issue of Orion Magazine. You can also listen to a three-way discussion about prison writing with Orion Magazine Editor-in-Chief Chip Blake, Richard Shelton and author Ken Lamberton here.



Did you enjoy this issue? Do you have a story or resources you'd like to share on this topic? Please share your thoughts and feedback by e-mailing us at or posting in our Facebook Community Group page.

And don't miss a single issue of AHN News. Sign up for our e-newsletter and be among the first to know when a new issue of AHN News has been published.

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AHN NEWS: Fall 2014
by AHN on 

Taking Your Own Picture: The Healing Power of Self-Portraiture
A self-portrait by Vivienne McMaster with a motivational theme.
This issue of AHN News is dedicated to the healing power of photographic self-portraiture.

I begin with an interview with Vivienne McMaster who recounts her own healing experience with self-portraiture and how she has shared this process with many others through her Be Your Own Beloved courses.

I also feature the book, This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart by Susannah Conway, which includes a section on how she used photography to heal after the death of her partner.

I conclude with a link to an interview with artist Patti Levey about her 30-year career of making transformative self-portraits.

May this issue inspire you to find the beauty and grace within you.
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Executive Director, Arts & Healing Network


Vivienne McMaster

"I deeply feel that so much of the healing potential of art happens in the playfulness. In taking self-portraits in particular, it is so easy to take one and look at it with judgment (and old stories of how we see ourselves) and put our cameras away. But what if we played? What if we gave ourselves permission to keep going and to let go of expectations of what the outcome needs to be. That is truly when I think we most gift ourselves with the healing potential of art, when we push past the fear or the old stories and say 'I'm just going to go for it and see what happens.'"  ~Vivienne McMaster

Photographer & Workshop-Leader, Vivienne McMaster

Vivienne McMaster is a Vancouver, Canada photographer and workshop leader who helps people around the world see themselves with compassion through their own camera lens. She discovered her love of photography in her late 20's while going through a rough patch in her life and is now on a mission to share self-portraiture as a tool for cultivating self-love. Her photographs have been seen in such places as, The Huffington Post, and magazines such as Somerset Life, Mingle and Amulet Magazine. She was interviewed in the summer of 2014 by Arts & Healing Network Director, Mary Daniel Hobson.

Mary Daniel Hobson: Tell me a little bit about your creative journey. How did you get started in the arts and photography?

Vivienne McMaster: I’ve always been a creative person, trying pretty much everything in my youth from pottery to theatre and more. I got quite into making music and writing songs in my twenties, which was so therapeutic and helped me gain creative confidence. Yet nothing quite felt like a fit.  

Then in my late twenties I went through a rough patch (aka a depression). When I came out the other side of it, it so happened that cell phones were starting to have cameras on them, and I just started to go out for short photo walks every day to seek out something around me that felt like a little bit of beauty. These photo walks felt like they were helping me fill up my own well again, and I really fell head over heels for photography (and quickly upgraded to a nice camera). It felt like home and like something I could truly enjoy every day for the rest of my life. I have taken some photography classes, but my skill mostly developed from just getting out there on my photo walks and learning as I went!

Mary Daniel: When did you realize that taking a self-portrait could be such a transformative act?

Vivienne: Soon after I found photography, I started adding a little bit of myself into the photos – be it my hand or feet. Having just come out of a depression, I was feeling like I didn’t know who I was anymore and wanted to find her again and taking self-portraits helped me travel the path from feeling like an absolute stranger to myself to feeling like I was befriending myself again. That was honestly my goal, but what happened along the way amazed me, as it felt like self-portraiture could be a tool to not just get to know myself again, but that it was also helping me heal a lifetime of deeply negative body image.

A self-portrait by Vivienne McMaster

For the first time I felt in control of how I saw myself, and that felt like something I hadn’t felt could ever happen. After sharing what was happening for me, I realized this was something that anyone could do and that the one tool that most of us felt was an enemy to our relationship to our self-image could actually be an ally.

Mary Daniel: You offer classes in self-portraiture called Be Your Own Beloved. I love how a big part of this course is using photography to see oneself with kindness and compassion. Can you share a tip or two about how to do that?

Vivienne: So many of us have deeply entrenched hurt or shame around our bodies and how we see ourselves. We feel like we aren’t enough. While photos have been a place where many of us have probably seen "proof" of our negative self-talk, they can also be the place to change those stories too and to see ourselves with compassion. One of the tips I love giving people to experiment with is movement.  It has been one of the biggest healing tools for me in terms of self-portraiture, plus it is a whole lot of fun. I especially encourage people to play around with setting their camera down and using the timer and just letting themselves play and move. This might be doing a stretch or taking a deep breath or shaking out our nervousness before taking the photo or it might be moving during the photo like jumping or moving our arms. This brings us back into our bodies and often we can see ourselves with so much more kindness both because we remember how much fun we had taking the photo and value that. But also we aren’t posing or standing uncomfortably waiting for the photo to be taken, but rather we are playing and having fun, and that joy is often a doorway to seeing ourselves with kindness in our photos.

My other biggest tip is to take LOTS of photos – even if that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. Because if we judge ourselves by only that first couple photos we try, we aren’t making room for self-compassion. We are in fact closing the door to the potential of seeing ourselves with kindness in a photo. I’ve been doing this work for many years now, and it always takes me a number of photos to get that one I love. It’s just part of the process, but it is easy to forget it is the case for everyone when all we see of other people's images is the one curated final choice. So take lots of photos!

Mary Daniel: You also offer "beloved" portrait sessions that are about empowering the person being photographed. Can you tell me more about this?

Vivienne: Sure! As I mentioned, a big part of taking self-portraits as a healing tool is realizing that we have control over our own self-image and that we get to decide how we want to see ourselves. Yet for many of us, even if we have been taking self-portraits, being in front of someone else's camera is still deeply vulnerable and can often make us forget all the things we may have learned about taking self-portraits we love. Many of the tools I use to help women see themselves with kindness through their own camera can absolutely be used in front of other people's cameras too. I know for me it took a long time to remember that I didn’t need to pose but in fact I could pause and ground or move a little to help myself feel more in my body in that family photo!

A self-portrait by Vivienne McMaster

So these "beloved sessions" are part self-portrait photo walk and part portrait session, and my goal with them is to help women feel more empowered in front of their own camera and also in front of someone else's camera. I love to do these sessions as we open the door to them seeing themselves with kindness through their own eyes, and then I get to gift them with the portraits in which I most see their radiance. They get to see themselves with kindness through their own eyes and through mine.  

Mary Daniel: Could you share some of the books that have been particularly helpful to you in your creative journey?

Vivienne: One of the books is Spilling Open by Sabrina Ward Harrison – it is a gorgeous mixed media journal of hers. Her photography has been a big inspiration to me but in those pages there was just such creative freedom, and it really opened the door to me giving myself that freedom too.

Lately I’m so deeply inspired by the book Creative Block by Danielle Krysa (aka the Jealous Curator), which interviews 50 successful artists about their creative blocks. It is so powerful to hear that everyone faces these blocks (even people we perceive might not), and get some tips on how they get through it.

I also most definitely recommend Inner Excavation by Liz Lamoreux, which explores connecting with ourselves through poetry, photography and mixed media.

Mary Daniel: What advice would you have for someone who wants to use art as a self-healing tool?

Vivienne: Play! I know it is simple, but I deeply feel that so much of the healing potential of art happens in the playfulness. In taking self-portraits in particular, it is so easy to take one and look at it with judgment (and old stories of how we see ourselves) and put our cameras away. But what if we played? What if we gave ourselves permission to keep going and to let go of expectations of what the outcome needed to be. That is truly when I think we most gift ourselves with the healing potential of art, when we push past the fear or the old stories and say "I'm just going to go for it and see what happens."    

A self-portrait by Vivienne McMaster

Mary Daniel: What are you most excited or inspired by in your work right now?

Vivienne: I’m so inspired by the changes I’m seeing women make in their relationship to their self-image. Inspiring women to give themselves permission to stop the path of self-hate and choose another inspires me to no end.

I’d also have to say another part that is inspiring me most these days is teaching in person more. I’ve been teaching Be Your Own Beloved online for a few years and will continue to, but I’m getting my introvert self out there more to do a lot more teaching in person. Getting to hear people’s stories in person and helping them make that brave step to start getting playful in front of the camera is truly an honor!

Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Vivienne: I’d also love to share that exploring photography as a healing tool can be done with any kind of a camera, even the camera on your phone. One of the reasons I didn’t explore photography for a long time was that I had this preconceived notion that there was so much technical information one needed to know to even begin. Especially these days, that isn’t the case. So I really encourage folks to use any camera and to not just hide behind the camera but to bravely step in front of it too!   

All photographs in this interview are copyright Vivienne McMaster. To learn more about Vivienne’s work, please visit her website.



This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart

by Susannah Conway

"This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart" by Susannah conway

In this book, Susannah Conway shares the very personal, poignant and powerful experience of recovering from the death of her partner. One of the techniques she used was to take self-portraits. Below is a Reflection exercise she offers in the book:

"It’s time to see ourselves with kinder eyes and remember that the miles we walked and the battles we have fought brought us to this point… right now.

This is who we are today.

Pick up your camera and take a photograph of yourself in whatever way feels most comfortable to you: it could be your feet, your face, your reflection. Take as many shots as you need to get the one you truly like. Take hundreds if necessary and remember to delete with abandon! Using either a professional lab or your home printer, make a hard copy of the photo so you can write a note to yourself on the back, jotting down a few words of encouragement, a short love letter, a gratitude list of the blessings in your life right now… If the words do not come easily try writing just three: 'I. Am. Unique.' Let the words dance between your fingertips – there is only one of you in the entire cosmos. Only one! Keep your love-letter photo in your wallet or journal, or frame and display it where you will see it everyday."

This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart was published in 2012 by Skirt! Books and can be ordered here. To learn more about Susannah Conway, visit her website, and be sure to listen to her Arts & Healing Podcast interview from July 2011 or subscribe to the Arts & Healing Podcast I-Tunes station and listen to all our wonderful interviews with Healing Artists.



Photographer, Patti Levey on Self-Portraiture and Healing

"The Awakening" a self-portrait by Patti Levey

"I have always been a self-oriented, introspective person, so it seemed quite natural for me to take pictures of myself, to focus inward, revealing the most intimate and painful aspects of myself. I was initially responding to the incredible amount of denial in my family about their problems and the pressure to maintain the status quo, the family image, at any cost, even at the price of my own sanity. My self-portraits were an attempt to reclaim my feelings, my identity, my body and my sense of personal power, while actually reconstructing my own photographic history.

Initially the self-portraits documented my pain more than my process of healing. My original need to photograph myself was not only to see myself, but to have others see me and validate my pain. Showing my photographs, whether to individuals, friends, family, strangers, in a private or public context, has always been an integral part of my process even though exposing myself in this way has made me feel incredibly vulnerable and has, at times, been a painful experience…

The process of photographic self-portraiture enables women to create their own personal set of metaphors and symbols of the self. Ultimately, the goal of self-portrait phototherapy is to generate self-awareness and acceptance as well as a greater capacity for self-empathy." ~ Patti Levey

Read more of this feature on the photo-eye BLOG, where Patti Levey shares her 30-year journey pursuing self-portraiture as a means of reclamation, metamorphosis and healing.



Did you enjoy this issue? Do you have a story or resources you'd like to share on this topic? Please share your thoughts and feedback by e-mailing us at or posting in our Facebook Community Group page.

And don't miss a single issue of AHN News. Sign up for our e-newsletter and be among the first to know when a new issue of AHN News has been published.

Please note that our comments have been turned off. We invite you to share your thoughts on our Facebook Community Group Page.

<Back to the AHN News Home


AHN NEWS: Winter & Spring 2014
by AHN on 


Reverence for the Earth

Eco-Artist Karen Macher, during one of her ocean performances. 

This issue of AHN News is dedicated to art making as an expression of reverence and care for the earth.


I begin with an interview with artist Karen Macher, who creates works in collaboration with nature that are about awakening the senses and connecting us more deeply to the natural world.


Next I review two books. David Abram's The Spell of the Sensuous is a poetic treatise on re-building our connection to the earth through language. Art In Action: Nature, Creativity and Our Collective Future offers an inspiring selection of seventy-nine environmental artists.


One of the best ways to respect the earth is to use art materials that do not denigrate the environment, and so I offer a link the Green Your Art Blog which offers many resources on this topic.


May this issue inspire you to create connection with the natural world,

~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Director of Arts & Healing Network



Karen Macher

"I walk, see, smell and feel. I become conscious that I am part of nature, and that I don’t have to build my works on it, but with it. Our energy must flow together. In my work I try to use natural materials, and these works don’t usually last long. My work is ephemeral as we are as well. I find it beautiful how they change in time, as we human beings change. Time is precious in nature. I can start my work my way, but after some time nature takes it as hers, transforming it in appearance and meaning. In working with nature I accept that I never have the last word on my work. I learn from it and work with it." ~ Karen Macher

The artist, Karen Macher, working on one of her environmental projects.

Born and living today in Lima, Peru, Karen Macher is an artist who works with installation, performance, sculpture and other media as a means to connect in a poetic way with the natural world. International in her focus, Karen holds a Masters in Art & Technology from Valencia, Spain, and she has represented her country in several international symposiums in Europe, South America and Asia. She was interviewed below in January 2014 by Arts & Healing Network Director, Mary Daniel Hobson.


Mary Daniel Hobson: Why do you think art can be such a powerful tool for healing and transformation?


Karen Macher: Because it works for me, and I believe for other people as well. Every time I work with or in nature I feel I am at peace with myself and happier. Some years ago I learned a discipline that changed my perspective and my life, which says the only way to make things around you work the way you want is to breathe deeply, let the energy flow through you and move forward. If you block that energy from flowing through you it makes you feel stressed and sick. That is why I decided, in any means possible, to spend as much time as I could in contact with nature doing what I like, what makes me feel good and in harmony with myself. The mixture of nature and art has that power – the power to relax and heal.


Mary Daniel: When did you start making art about the environment?


Karen: I discovered nature and art, which I felt immediately connected to, by chance, when I was selected for a project in Belgium in 2007. I had to work on an installation with natural materials taken only from the forest. I was immersed in the forest for one week. That was my first project in contact with nature, and I totally fell in love with the feeling. When I came back home, I decided I wanted to work like that forever. Little by little I got more involved in these kinds of international events, met more people from all over the world related to it, and I learned it was a whole movement I had no idea existed. I was, and I am, delighted about all the artists joining and working with nature.


I feel my relation to the earth and to the environment very much related to poetry – looking for the beauty of the ephemeral. I don’t feel myself to be an activist – I mean a politically-related activist. My work is more about a nature-person relationship, which involves healing through showing respect for each other.


Mary Daniel: How has making this art changed your relationship with the natural world?


Karen: This kind of work really changed my life practices. Meeting so many environmental artists in the international events I participated in and listening to their concerns about nature made me become more responsible in my every day routine. Even though here in Peru, there is almost no education for recycling, we (at home) make an effort to separate trash and recycle what we can, or carry our own fabric bags to the supermarket (lots of plastic bags are given in every supermarket for free). When I go to the beach I pick up empty plastic bottles when I see them lying next to the seashore, even though they are not mine. I walk more and drive less. I am also more aware about the use of water at home.

 "Habitat," Oranki Nature Art Symposium, Finland, 2013, Karen Macher - These flower-shaped sculptures, made of native clay and soil have open spaces in the center where seeds and plants can take root and grow.

When I am in an open air space I like to walk barefooted to feel in contact with the ground. What I like the most is that this kind of work made all of my senses wake up and enjoy smelling, listening, feeling, etc. All of those things are mostly not taken into consideration because of the rushed pace of our everyday life.


Mary Daniel: Tell me about the materials you work with. How do you choose your materials? When you do an installation, are the materials left in the land to decompose? Or do you collect them later? Do these materials hold special meaning for you?


Karen: When I think of a new project I always take in consideration the materials I will work with and where is it going to be installed. I usually pick materials which are responsible within the environment, and I try not to use plastic or materials that would remain there after I am gone. Even though I have that in mind all the time, sometimes, because of weather conditions or other facts I had to add little amounts of materials I was refusing to use in the beginning to make the project work. Mostly when I work on big scale installations in open air spaces I am invited by organizations that take care of the installation when the artists leave. Some materials are left on site for some time until they decompose, others have to be discarded by them. The materials per se don’t have a special meaning for me, I pick what works best for the projects in the most efficient way possible.


Mary Daniel: Could you tell me the story behind one of your pieces? How did you create the piece, and what was the impact?

 "Floating Garden," Cheng Long Environmental Art Project, Taiwan, 2011, Karen MacherKaren: Every project is special but I remember one particular conversation in Taiwan. I was invited to make an artwork that would float on the wetlands’ surface. I made a kind of wheel that was eight meters in diameter, with bamboo (some recycled and some new) and put pots on it with local water plants that were supposed to grow there when I had left. I say it was supposed to grow because just two weeks after we left the place a typhoon passed by and destroyed it. When we made it, we were working with more artists and the children of a local school in a very small town, and I had the feeling local people didn’t understand much why we where doing what we were doing there, but they were eager to help. When I finished my work I found out there was a current of water in the wetlands that made the wheel turn constantly, slowly and beautifully. One of the local people told me that that had a meaning for Taiwanese people. The wheel turning was for them a sign that something good is coming, because you could see the water is flowing under it. And when the water flows it is clean and fresh, and that meant good fortune. I was not expecting them to like it so much, but they did. I was happy to learn my work had a hidden meaning I had not read into it. For me it was rewarding, because I could leave an artwork for them they could really enjoy every time they passed by the road on their bicycles.


Mary Daniel: Where do you get the inspiration for your work?


Karen: Everything is a source of inspiration for me. Reading, watching science documentaries on TV, or just walking on the streets is useful. When I see something that captures my interest and triggers my inspiration I take it, whenever and wherever it comes. I believe if your senses are in constant alert it is easy to find new shapes and ideas everywhere, but also while working. Sometimes I just start working small formats, without a plan. I just feel I want to work with a particular material and I start. Sometimes from there I get interesting ideas, which become bigger projects later.


Mary Daniel: What do you hope the impact of your work will be on others?

 Karen Macher, during one of her ocean performances.

Karen: I guess I want others to stop for a moment and breathe. I got tired of life getting busier – of not having time to enjoy the little and simple things, which are for me the most beautiful and inspiring. I live in a noisy, populated city. It is very difficult to stop in this era when everything is expected to be done fast and you are expected to answer the phone in the first ring. But I think it is necessary to stop to make sure the path you are following is the right one, or at least the one you want to follow. And it is always important to be in contact with yourself and with the ground that hosts you, wherever you are.


Mary Daniel: What excites you most right now about your work?


Karen: What excites me about my work is to always be learning and being surprised by new forms my work can take. Traveling to beautiful places to make my projects is also very inspiring, and to see people’s reactions too. I never imagined, when I was a student, that art could take me to so many different countries to meet new people and cultures. I keep on reinventing myself. It has taught me a lot about ways of working with nature that I keep on discovering even today.


Mary Daniel: Do you have any advice for other artists who would like to make work that is about healing our relationship with the earth?


Karen: Keep on doing what they feel is good for them and for the environment, and teach it to others. Never give up, and never get tired of sending a message through nature and art, because more people than we think are getting the messages we are sending. The best way to improve our relationship with nature is to awaken our senses and work with them.


To learn more about Karen Macher’s work, please visit her web site and her blog.



The Spell of the Sensuous

by David Abram

reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson


"To return to our senses is to renew our bond with this wider life, to feel the soil beneath the pavement, to sense – even when indoors – the moon’s gaze upon our roof." ~ David Abram

Book cover for "The Spell of the Sensuous" by David Abram

This is a beautifully written and philosophical examination of humankind's relationship with the natural world, or lack thereof. David Abram studied "magic" with the indigenous peoples of Indonesia and learned ultimately that the "shaman/magician" was really a person who had their senses deeply open to all of nature and all creatures. He/she knew how to make subtle adjustments to create balance in the natural world, which then created healing. In the Western world, we have lost much of this "magic." Abrams reveals how much of this disconnection is due to the origins of our language, and he offers a rigorous analysis of how the development of our alphabet and writing caused man to separate from nature. Abram ultimately proposes that by working with language in a new way, we might rediscover the reciprocity necessary for healing our relationship with the earth. As he writes:


"The story sketched out herein suggests that the written word carries a pivotal magic – the same magic that once sparkled in the eyes of an owl and the glide of an otter…. Our task, is that of taking up the written word, with all its potency, and patiently, carefully writing language back into the land…. Planting words, like seeds, under rocks and fallen logs – letting language take root, once again, in the earthen silence of shadow and bone and leaf."

Although this is not a book about art per se – it is a book about poetic expression and a call to awaken the senses and reexamine the way we think, speak, talk and move in the world. Therefore, it is a book that offers the environmental artist inspiration and affirmation to continue making art that rebuilds our connection with and reverence for nature.


Published in 1996 by Vintage Books, a subset of Random House, The Spell of the Sensuous can be purchased here. To learn more about the work of David Abram, please visit his web site.




Art in Action: Nature, Creativity and Our Collective Future

edited by the staff of the Natural World Museum (NWM)

reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson


"Artists can help awaken us. They can recall to us our place on this planet, remind us that we breath the same air the hummingbird breathes, the same air that contains oxygen released by our trees and the same air the dolphin inhales before traveling the deep seas. The sacred aspect of our relationship to nature has to be accessed, enriched and expressed, enlivening our sense and intellect. Artists help change the way we see." ~ Mia Hanak, Founding Executive Director, Natural World Museum

book cover of "Art in Action," edited by the Natural World Museum (NWM)

Art in Action brings together the work of seventy-nine artists, and by doing so, this book showcase the incredible diversity of creative responses to environmental issues. Divided into four key sections called Celebrate, Reflect, Interact and Protect, this book ranges from glorifying nature to offering political critiques to exploring contemporary issues such as pollution, endangered species, global warming or sustainable energy. The section that inspired me most was the Protect section which included Jackie Brookner’s water-purifying sculptures, Marjetica Potrč's ecologically-safe toilet project in Venezuela, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison's compassionate re-mapping of the world, and Mierle Ukeles’ performance work honoring sanitation workers. Each artist is given one to three pages of space, which includes a large color illustration and a text about the artist’s creative process and environmental concerns. This format makes this book a nice introduction to an artist’s work, and if you are interested in more depth you could look beyond these pages.


Published by Earth Aware Editions in 2007, Art in Action can be purchased here.




Green Your Art Blog


This blog was created by Janet Botes and Chelsea Amor Lotz to encourage and supports artists in using green materials. The blog highlights information, inspiration and opportunities for environmental artists. The site also includes A Guide To Greening Your Materials and an extensive list of links to eco-art organizations and resources.




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AHN NEWS: Fall 2013
by AHN on 

Transforming Illness with Creativity
"Valentine," solarplate etching of a cornoal MRI view of the artist, Elizabeth Jameson's brain.
This issue of AHN News is dedicated to using creativity to heal and transform illness.

I begin with an interview with artist Elizabeth Jameson, who has used art as an empowering process in her journey with Multiple Sclerosis.

I review Dr. Bernie Siegel’s new book, The Art of Healing, which explores how to use crayon drawing, dreams and visualization to assist in the healing process.

Finally I offer a link to the Foundation for Art & Healing, which offers terrific resources on using art to heal illnesses like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Heart Disease.

May this issue inspire you to use art-making as part of your healing journey,
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Director of Arts & Healing Network


Elizabeth Jameson

“By transforming my brain scans, I reclaim ownership of my brain and no longer feel like a victim or a patient: I am a person. My identity is no longer defined by my disease.”  ~ Elizabeth Jameson

The artist, Elizabeth Jameson
Elizabeth Jameson  is an artist whose work  explores the beauty and complexity of the brain. Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1992, she turned from a career in law to one in art – using her  illness, specifically her brain scans, as a source of inspiration. She often exhibits her work in medical and healthcare settings, hoping that it will “remind viewers that this grey tissue and the body that shelters it represent far more than illness and human imperfection.”

Mary Daniel Hobson: Elizabeth, please tell me a little bit about  how your journey as an artist began.

Elizabeth Jameson: My journey to become an artist was a roundabout one. I graduated from Stanford University with a BA in 1973 and received a law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law in 1976. Following that, I completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Health Policy at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine (UCSF) from 1984-86, where I studied under the direction of Dr. Philip Lee, former HHS Assistant Secretary for Health and Chancellor of the UCSF medical school. Prior to becoming an artist, I worked both as a health policy analyst and as a lawyer specialized in health law. My specialization was on policy regarding children with disabilities and chronic illness.

During the Clinton Administration, I consulted with members of Congress on the legal definition of “medically necessary” healthcare for children under managed care contract plans. In addition, I taught public health courses for sixteen years at the School of Public Health, University of California at Berkeley. So from the beginning, I had an interest in health and healing. However, my life was to change profoundly in 1992 when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). This happened after an episode where I lost my ability to speak and underwent brain surgery, which ended my legal career. Prior to my episode, I had been an extremely verbal person. As I was regaining my speech, I turned to art as a means of expression. It led me to enroll at California College of the Arts, where I studied painting and drawing.

Mary Daniel: How has art been a healing catalyst for you?
"Emerging," solarplate etching of an MRI of the artist, Elizabeth Jameson's brain.
Elizabeth: When I first became an artist, I was working traditionally, painting subjects such as flowers and portraits. However, I was still unsatisfied. Since I was young, I wanted to contribute to making the world a better place, and as a public health lawyer, I felt like I was achieving this goal. Now, as an artist, I wanted to find a course that led in a similar direction. Neurologists track MS through magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) of the brain. They are one of the universal symbols of MS. Nowadays all these scans are digital, but when I was first diagnosed MRIs were still printed on film. Patients like myself often had whole stacks of these scans. Having a brain scan is not a neutral act - a patient lies as still as possible in a narrow, coffin-like space, while having the intimacies and naked structure of their brain revealed to others. The results of these scans were frightening, yet mesmerizing. I realized that I wanted to reinterpret these scans, to imbue them with color and emotion, and express a sense of wonder at this remarkable organ. I aim to capture the frailties, humor, and idiosyncrasies that make us human.

As my MS has developed into the progressive stage, I have become confined to a wheelchair. My continuing progression informs my studio practice providing me with new images, in the form of MRIs and new brain scan technologies. More importantly, by transforming my brain scans, I reclaim ownership of my brain, and no longer feel like a victim or a patient: I am a person. My identity is no longer defined by my disease. Through the making of my art, I redefine myself as an activist rather than a passive victim. I find my disease fascinating. For better or worse, as a person who has a progressive disease, I have a body that keeps on giving me news sources of inspiration for my art. I love my life, despite the progression of my disease, largely because I’ve taken this progression and made it part of my art.

More importantly, I am taking my art places where it can be seen by patients, as well as of medical professionals, all in the attempt to add to the narrative of chronic illness.

Mary Daniel: What impact would you most like your work to have on the world?

Elizabeth: I have two goals. The first is to have patients view the brain as fascinating and beautiful, so that they do not feel forced to look away from the stark reality of brain disease. Secondly, I want healthcare providers to acknowledge patients as being fascinating people who have their own individual narratives of illness. I want to make people with chronic illness be visible and be seen as individuals - not victims.

The narrative of illness in society is that of acute, not chronic illness. The stories told about acute illness generally have an arc; they are not a continual, lifelong experience. Those with a chronic illness are confined by their bodies, and deal with feelings of invisibility, inadequacy, and physical disconnection; and the notion that their bodies belong more to their doctors than themselves. As an artist with a disease of the brain, I hope my work allows those with a disease of the brain to see themselves as more than their illness, and to reclaim their bodies. Through my work, those with disabilities can see their bodies, not as sources of embarrassment, pain, or suffering; instead, they can perceive the exquisite color and intricate dimensionality of their anatomy.

The artist, Elizabeth Jameson at the opening of her show at Harvard's Center for the Mind & Brain in 2011Mary Daniel: Could you share one piece of art and the story behind it?

Elizabeth: I'd like to share two, one is my silk wall hanging Circuit breaker Narrative, and the other is my digital collage, Kaleidoscope. I was working on these two pieces simultaneously, and they influenced one another. Circuit breaker Narrative represents fragmentation of the individual within the context of medicine and chronic illness. It is comprised of pieces of silk sewn onto a larger piece of silk.

The pieces are all individual, and sewn on so as to flutter with air movement. The pieces are printed with details from a dizzying array of medical journals documenting the complexity of my disease, as well as financial reports that reveal the profits being made by the pharmaceutical industry. There are also details of my brain scans, medication labels, radiology reports and other medical records. I was trying to encapsulate the entirety of being an individual with a chronic illness within Western medicine.

Kaleidoscope, on the other hand, represents the fragments of the body. When a patient is diagnosed with a chronic illness, they must create a new life out of the fragments of their former life within emotional upheavals, medications and side effects, and medical appointments. It's like suddenly finding yourself in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, and don't have a map. You have to adapt and re-assemble your life. Visually, Kaleidoscope is a digital collage of my hand-pulled prints. I conceived of Kaleidoscope as shards of glass, making up a new whole. I wanted it to be full of bright colors, to suggest finding joy and leading a productive life, synthesized from the pieces.

Mary Daniel: Could you share some of your sources of inspiration?

Elizabeth: I'm most inspired by my neuroscience and artistic colleagues. I have frequently collaborated with Dr. Silvia Bunge of UC Berkeley, whose ground-breaking research on the brains of children in need inspired me to create the pieces, Silvia's Boy I and Silvia's Boy II.

My Art of the Brain series was partially inspired by my mentor, master printmaker Sherry Smith Bell. She was the person who initially taught me to print, and introduced me to solarplate etching. In solarplate etching, an artist uses a metal plate that has been coated with a photosensitive gelatin, which, when exposed to UV light through either sunlight or a light box, can be developed into an image. Sherry taught me this technique when I expressed my need to incorporate my MRIs, and helped me become the artist I am today.
"Celebration," solarplate etching of an angiogram by Elizabeth Jameson
Visually, I'm inspired by pattern: the works of Wosene Worke Kosrof, who integrates texture, script, and color in his paintings, is very exciting to me. Another who inspires me is Laura Ferguson, an artist who combines texture with anatomical imagery. My good friend Cheryl Bowlan, constantly inspires me, challenges me, and pushes me to become the best artist I can be. Finally, I am inspired by my studio assistant, Michelle Wilson, who introduces me to new possibilities and ideas. I continue to be active and ambitious because I have the support of my family. Without that, I literally couldn't do anything. My family and community of neuroscience, medical professionals and artist colleagues drive me to be the best artist I can be.

Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work right now?

Elizabeth: I'm very excited about the idea of lecturing in medical schools on the narratives of chronic illness. I recently returned from lecturing and completing a permanent installation at the new MS Clinic at Yale University. What was so thrilling to me was that I could actually display my art to patients, family members, and providers, in the hopes that it will communicate the beauty and complexity of the disease.

In addition, I'm excited about my recent and upcoming exhibitions. This past June, I did an installation that was part of the exhibition, "Neuro-Cartographies," that was part of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping (OHBM)'s 2013 conference. For the installation, I presented seven images based on MRI slices of the brain in a sequence. In addition, for the first time I incorporated sound into the space where my pieces were hung. Now, I am gearing up for a solo exhibition, "Testament to the Mind and Brain," at UCSF's Sandler Neuroscience Building's Memory and Aging Center.

The more disabled I become, the more ambitious I am to share my vision of the beauty of the brain in numerous materials and media. Because I have a body that "keeps on giving," in terms of the progression of my disease, I have neverending supply of ideas and imagery.

Mary Daniel: Could you offer some advice to others who would like to use their creativity to help them as they navigate disease and illness?

Elizabeth: For thirty years I've had a progressive disease. I've gone from being extremely active, to now, being in a wheelchair and recently, losing the use of my hands. I've gone from being bipedal to paraplegic to quadriplegic. I'm still actively involved in my artwork. The more disabled I become, the more ambitious I am. But I sure do not have wisdom to share with others, or even myself. What keeps me going is knowing that I have to keep giving and doing things for other people. I've always wanted to change the world, and I'm still trying.

To learn more about Elizabeth Jameson’s work please visit her website.



The Art of Healing: Uncovering Your Inner Wisdom and Potential for Self Healing

by Bernie Siegel with Cynthia J. Hurn

reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson

Book cover of "The Art of Healing: Uncovering Your Inner Wisdom & Potential for Self-Healing" by Bernie S. Siegel, MD

Medical doctor and spiritual teacher Bernie Siegel has just published a new book exploring how the body’s potential for healing can be accessed through creative processes like drawing, visualization and more. After studying the use of crayon drawings by patients facing life-threatening disease, Bernie was inspired to incorporate this practice into his medical practice. He quickly saw how the body’s innate propensity to heal can be enhanced through what are currently seen as unconventional practices, including drawing, visualization, dreams, love and laughter. Readers of The Art of Healing will learn how to use these practices to help with everything from diagnosing and understanding their illness to making the correct treatment decisions to sharing experiences with loved ones and caregivers.


The books thirteen chapters cover topics such  as “Source, Significance and Validity of Symbols,” “The Power of Visualization,” and “Dreams: The Brains Creative Workshop.” He devotes two chapters to drawing in which he teaches a basic, yet profound process of using drawing to access inner wisdom, especially when facing health challenges. He offers myriad examples of how the simple act of drawing helped a patient allay fears, clarify their wishes, heal their relationships and more. His detailed instructions include an entire chapter in which he shares the drawings of his patients, and the interpretation of these drawings. The entire book is written in a very warm, accessible tone and is full of life-affirming stories. The Art of Healing is a terrific resource for anyone going through illness, or any other major life transition.


Published by New World Library in September 2013, The Art of Healing is available for purchase here. To learn more about the work of Dr. Bernie Siegel, please visit his website .




The Foundation for Art & Healing
Foundation for Art & Healing

The mission of the Foundation for Art & Healing is to “explore the fundamental connection between art and the healing process, while providing active, ongoing support to communities and individuals.” They have produced wonderful videos including Can Art Be Medicine? In addition, they offer specific tools (as downloadable PDFs) to help people cope with diseases like Post-Tramautic Stress and Heart Disease.

To learn more about the Foundation for Art & Healing, visit their website.



Did you enjoy this issue? Do you have a story or resources you'd like to share on this topic? Please share your thoughts and feedback by e-mailing us at or posting in our Facebook Community Group page.

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AHN NEWS: Winter & Spring 2013
by AHN on 

Loss & Remembrance
"Motif" by Lisa Kokin (2012)
This issue of AHN News is dedicated to Loss & Remembrance and using the creative process to help grieve and honor those who have passed away. Whether working in stitching, mixed media, journaling or photography, the artists featured here have all found solace in art making after the death of a loved one.

I begin with an interview with artist Lisa Kokin whose series, Raveling, was created after the loss of her mother. I also review two books – My Dakota by Rebecca Norris Webb which features photographs taken while grieving the untimely death of her brother; and A Kiss Before You Go, Danny Gregory’s visual journal chronicling the first year after his wife’s tragic death. Lastly, I include a link to artist Sherri Lynn Wood’s Passage Quilting, a practice of transforming the deceased’s clothing into new objects of warmth and comfort.

May this issue inspire you to use creativity to help navigate loss and reconcile grief.

Wishing you much grace,
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Director of Arts & Healing Network



Lisa Kokin

“When I look back on the process, I think that making the work was the way I processed my grief... I believe that the creative process is a great vehicle for healing.” ~ Lisa Kokin

Lisa Kokin with her studio assistant, Bindi.

Lisa Kokin is an artist who creates mixed-media sculpture, installations, assemblage and artist’s books that address memory, history and social commentary. When her mother passed away in 2011, Lisa turned to art as a way to process that loss and honor her mother’s death. Working with thread and stabilizer, she created a series of delicate and intricate wall pieces called Raveling, that express the fragility and beauty of the end of life. Lisa is also a teacher and mentor, and she lives and works in San Francisco Bay Area, California (USA).

Mary Daniel Hobson: First of all, I want to say that I am so sorry for your loss. I can only imagine the challenge in losing your mother. My first question is really about how you found your way to art after she died. Was it an immediate thing or did it take some time to incubate? And what piece emerged first?

Lisa Kokin: Thanks, Danny. My mother was five months’ short of her hundredth birthday when she died. She had been living in a skilled nursing facility for the past seven and a half years. (Incidentally, I teach art one day a week in the facility and my mother came to my classes and made amazing, obsessive Giacometti-like drawings up until a few years before her death.)

She entered the facility with mild dementia and a variety of physical ailments. As the years passed, her dementia got more advanced and, of course, her physical situation deteriorated as well. All this is to say that the process was a long one and there were no surprises. Many times along the way I thought she was dying. She had pneumonia several times, she fell, she stopped eating for several days at a time; each time I was convinced that was "it". Despite her diminishing strength, she survived each of those incidents until finally she wasn’t able to survive the last bout of pneumonia.

She was a very strong person with a forceful personality. I am her only child, and she was very attached to me, as I was to her. Watching her slow and steady decline was very difficult for me, and many times I returned home feeling sad and wondering whether she had any quality of life left.

People say that when a loved one has dementia, you start losing them before they actually physically go. The grieving process began long before my mother died. That is why I literally started working on the Raveling series right after my mom’s death. It’s as though it was all percolating during the years of witnessing her decline, and once she actually physically left, all of my pent-up grief and sadness found an outlet in my work.

Two days before my mother died, she started saying (yelling, really), "Take me home now!" She repeated this over and over again, more and more vociferously. I think even the hospice nurse was surprised by the intensity of her demand. It was an incredibly powerful experience to witness my mother’s readiness, and I felt that she had done her time and deserved to not have to suffer anymore.

The day before my mother died we had what was to be our last conversation. I had started bringing a notebook with me once I knew that it really was the end. I jotted down things she said, and I wrote down our last conversation in its entirety. I knew that I would use it, although I didn’t know exactly how. That conversation found its way into a piece called
Transcript (Kaddish), in which I wrote the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, in Hebrew, and then superimposed the last conversation over it.

The first piece I did was Take Me Home Now #1. The sound of my mothers repeated command reverberated inside my head and I needed to externalize it in some way. By repeatedly sewing the phrase over and over again, in an almost ritualistic way, I made my mother’s wish into a tangible form while also processing the experience. For the next nine months I worked very intensively on the Raveling series, which I exhibited at Seager Gray Gallery in October 2012.

Mary Daniel: How did making this work help you process your grief? Do you feel differently about your mother's death since creating this work?

Lisa: When I look back on the process, I think that making the work was the way I processed my grief, which, as I mentioned, had begun years before. I had a visceral need to make the work and make it I did, day after day, doing not much socializing or other activities, other than being with my partner Lia, seeing a few friends, going to work, teaching in my studio, walking the dogs. I allowed myself this time because I needed it, and I also knew that I had a show coming up. Once my mother died, I knew that her death would be the subject of my show.

I don’t mean to imply at all that losing my mother was in any way easy, but the fact is that when someone has had such an extraordinarily long life and has deteriorated over a period of years, the loss is somewhat easier to deal with than if someone dies prematurely or suddenly. At least that has been my experience.

I don’t really feel any differently about my mother’s death after making the work. I just feel that I have made a small tribute to her, and really only to a small part of who she was at the very end of her very long life.

Mary Daniel: In this series, most of the pieces are beautiful, lace-like, stitched works. I wondered if you could talk about the tactile process of sewing and what you find so appealing about working in this medium?

Lisa: I have been a sewer since the age of nine when my uncle gave me my first sewing machine, which I still have and which I used to make some of the work. My mother’s mother, an immigrant from Romania, worked in a tie factory in New York, like many eastern European Jewish immigrants at the beginning of the last century. My parents had a small upholstery shop, and I spent time there after school. So, I’ve always been surrounded by fabric and sewing and have used it for many years in my work in a variety of ways. Sewing is also a way that I feel connected to my ancestors and my heritage. It is an anchor to my personal history which gives me comfort.

I began using thread as my primary medium several years ago after learning how to work with Solvy, a stabilizer that allows one to make weblike thread drawings. The repetitive process of sewing is meditative; I get lost in the process and I like that. The other part of it is that the process is very labor-intensive and the meditativeness sometimes transforms itself into monotony! In order to achieve the effect I want, I have to do what I sometimes call "extreme sewing" – sewing over and over and over again, back and forth and sideways to build up the kind of layered surface I like to have in my work.

Mary Daniel: Could you pick one piece from the series and share the story behind it?

Lisa: Ninety-Nine Leaves #1 is a piece that I made after the Take Me Home pieces. On the day that my mother died, December 12, 2011, I stayed with her for awhile in her room with my partner and my two closest friends until I was ready to let the crematorium people come to get her body. It was a blustery winter day, and the four of us went for a walk around the neighborhood. There were lots of leaves falling and many were on the ground. I gathered a bunch of them, of different kinds and sizes, and when I returned to my studio, I pressed them between the pages of some big dictionaries. Again, I knew that I would use them in some way. In fact, I even knew that I would use ninety-nine of them, since that was my mother’s age.

Months later, when I was emotionally ready, I took the leaves out, traced their forms on the stabilizer and sewed them. I based the palette on my small collection of leaf skeletons, which I had gathered on walks in the woods near my home. I loved the beauty and fragility of the skeletons which seemed to be not unlike the way my mother was at the very end. Something dead which is also beautiful – these are seemingly contradictory things, but they can exist simultaneously.

I took liberties with the color of the leaves, using a mostly neutral palette with touches of yellows, reds and oranges. Embedded in each leaf are fragments from a Hebrew prayer book which I had found years before at a secondhand store. The book was in a state of major disrepair; that is how I rationalized taking it apart even further.

Mary Daniel: Can you speak about the texts you are using in this series and how they create meaning in the work?

Lisa: Text, whether found or heard, plays a major role in this work. The text is actually the image in the Take Me Home and Transcript (Kaddish) pieces. The other way that I have used text in this series is in recreating in thread four pages of my mother’s journal. I had given my mother a notebook several years before she died, but I hadn’t looked at what she had written until I was packing up her room. She wrote on ten of the pages. She wrote down her memories of growing up in Brooklyn [New York, USA] and of her philosophy of life. One memorable sentence reads, "Maybe when I’m 100 yrs. old I will feel a little old. But not now." As she got older and more demented and visually-impaired, she wrote lines of words on top of each other. I recreated four of the ten pages, staying true to her handwriting, which in its spidery illegibility, was beautiful and evocative.

Mary Daniel: How have people responded to the work?

Lisa: The response has been very positive. It was the most difficult body of work to put out in the world because of its highly personal nature. I was apprehensive once it was time to hang the show. But people came up to me at the opening and at the closing talk to share their stories of losing parents. Somehow I knew that even though it was my own personal story, it had a quality of universality that would hopefully transcend the strictly personal.

Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for anyone who is interested in using the creative process to heal from the loss of a loved one?

Lisa: I believe that the creative process is a great vehicle for healing, processing and working through feelings, thoughts and ideas. My advice is to do whatever creative process seems like a good fit, either one that one has done already or one that is new and unfamiliar.

Mary Daniel: Are you continuing to grow this series, or is it complete? What are you working on now?

Lisa: I have made four small pieces based on the mother and child motif that I used in the piece Motif. The image is from a photo taken of me with my mother when I was about six. My mother towers over me and we are leaning into each other almost as though we are one person. That photo has become kind of iconic to me, a visual representation of our emotional relationship.

I recently completed another piece for a show at Santa Clara University called Dialoguing with Sacred Text: An Exhibit of Sacred Texts Past, Present and Future. The piece is a long vertical one with the text of my last conversation with my mother sewn in variegated shades of blue-green on the top and the Kaddish text stitched on torn fragments of gauzy white fabric on the bottom. The two texts are basted together with orange thread. The piece is called The Sacred and the Mundane, and it is purposely vague on which text is sacred and which mundane.

At the moment I am working on some thread "pages" from my grandfather’s Yiddish edition of Das Kapital by Karl Marx. I inherited boxes of my grandfather’s English and Yiddish books. My parents brought the books to California when they moved here in the 1990s, and I brought them to my home when my mother went to live in the skilled nursing facility. I had thought to work with them as I have with other old books but I can’t bring myself to cut into them. They are my intellectual and cultural inheritance. Early on, when I went through them I noticed that Das Kapital was among them. I love that my grandfather had that book in Yiddish. I read it in my youth in a study group trying to make sense of the inequities I saw in the world. I can read the Yiddish letters because they are the same as Hebrew letters, and I went to Hebrew school as a child. I can pick out some of the words, because my parents spoke Yiddish to each other when they didn’t want me to understand. I have enlarged random pages and traced over the words, and as I do so, I feel like some sort of scribe mining my personal history. I have sewn the words onto a frayed linen-like fabric.

I don’t know where this work is leading. I am just following my instinct to make it and trying to trust that it will lead me to my next body of work. I never know in advance what might turn up in my work. I try to pay attention to signs and cues in my surroundings, letting them influence me. Sooner or later something starts to take shape.

To learn more about Lisa’s work, process, and upcoming events and workshops, please visit her website.



My Dakota

by Rebecca Norris Webb

reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson

“There is a silent world, there is a crack, where the dead are smuggled over the border.” ~ Tomas Transformer (quoted in My Dakota)

My Dakota combines strong imagery with a poetic, handwritten text to create an honest and true response to death and loss. As Rebecca Norris Webb writes in the afterword, she began photographing her home state of South Dakota in 2005, and then a year later, her brother died unexpectedly of heart failure. As she writes, "For months, one of the few things that eased my unsettled heart was the landscape of South Dakota. It seemed all I could do was drive and photograph. I began to wonder – does loss have its own geography?" This book of forty-three photographs eloquently answers that question. So many of the images seem to be wrestling with the divide between two kinds of reality – the solid, in-focus world and the dreamy, reflective, otherworldliness beyond. This book is a fine example of how using the creative process in response to powerful emotion manifests work that not only can heal the maker but also deeply enriches the viewer.

My Dakota was published by Radius Books in 2012 and can be purchased by clicking here. You can learn more about Rebecca Norris Webb and view a selection of the photographs from My Dakota on her website (shared with photographer Alex Webb).



A Kiss Before You Go: An Illustrated Memoir of Love and Loss

by Danny Gregory

reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson

"I'd love to chat on the phone with you as I walk to work, Pat – just once. I’d like you to reach out in the dark and stroke what’s left of my hair. But failing that, I will remember as well as I can what it was like to put my arm around you and I will treasure every day I have left, rather than lying worried in the night. My new life will be bright because you light it.” ~ Danny Gregory (from the last journal entry in A Kiss Before You Go)

In this illustrated journal created in the year following the tragic death of his wife Patty, Danny Gregory shares his challenges and insights in the midst of grieving. He records the story of their life together and the pain of losing Patty – rendering it all visible and accessible with bright color and bold drawing. It is by turns honest, dark, uplifting, raw and beautiful. You feel the true love and deep appreciation he had for his wife. Even more, you see how the act of drawing and writing this story allows him to recover and heal and move more fully into life again.

A Kiss Before You Go was published by Chronicle Books in 2012 and can be purchased here. To learn more about this book and the art of Danny Gregory, please visit his website.



Passage Quilting

by Sherri Lynn Wood

Sherri Lynn Wood is an artist who specializes in creating and helping others create Passage Quilts, sewn from the clothing left behind after death. Rather than packing the clothes up for storage, sale or donation, instead these items can be transformed into an object of warmth and comfort. As she explains herself, “It is my role as a quilt maker to help you make your quilt and to be present with you as you attend to your outer and inner work. Often people express a fear that they may be overwhelmed by grief, and I remind them that they are simply, always making a quilt. This process provides a safe yet active container, which will enable you to literally touch your grief and stay present to the task at hand... The resulting quilts reflect the relationship of the maker to the materials, retain a sense of the body, and in the case of bereavement, carry the consoling essence of the beloved."

To learn more about Passage Quilting, visit the website here, and to learn more about Sherri Lynn Wood and her other work, visit her main art website here.



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AHN NEWS: Fall 2012
by AHN on 

Honoring the End of Life

This issue of AHN News is dedicated to Honoring the End of Life. Whether working with stitching, song or photography, the artists featured here demonstrate how creativity can offer comfort at the end of life and open an important dialogue about the nature of dying.

Here you will find an interview with artist Deidre Scherer about her thread on fabric works that both honor the end of life and spark conversation about the nature of  death. Also I feature the project/book, Presence and Absence, in which art students collaborated with Zen Hospice to crochet pillows of meaning and comfort. In addition there is a link to the Threshold Choir which offers the free service of singing at the bedside of the dying, and a link to the photographs of Kristen Zellmer who is examining the beauty that can be found in death.

May this issue inspire you to approach endings and transitions with creativity and grace.
-Mary Daniel Hobson, Executive Director, Arts & Healing Network



Deidre Scherer

“Doing this work has made me more open to the incredible mystery of life.” ~ Deidre Scherer

Deidre Scherer is a fabric artist who uses needle and thread to create portraits with amazing depth and detail. Recently she completed two series of work – The Last Year and Surrounded by Family and Friends – with the intention of opening a dialogue about the often avoided topic of death and dying. She also offers workshops that help people uncover their feelings and beliefs about the end of life.

Mary Daniel Hobson: I am very moved by your project, The Last Year. Can you tell me a little bit about what inspired this project and how you came to know the woman depicted?

Deidre Scherer: While creating a series of "Tarot Queens" in my medium of thread-on-fabric, I decided to give them more psychological depth, so I began visiting a nursing home to find models. After being introduced to a number of people and drawing many portrait studies, one particular woman caught my attention. She‘d been a knitter and self-taught artist, gave me feedback about my work and shared stories – we developed a special bond during which I realized that I was getting a wonderful mentor and model and she was getting my pure attention during the many hours that I drew her.

During the course of that year, I slowly developed the work – each evolved very organically. She saw and responded to the early drawings before she died. After her death, feeling very strongly about keeping these works together, I bought back two of the pieces that I’d sold. This group of nine works that depicted her final months became
The Last Year. The project seemed to demand public access so I began to travel the show.

As a result of this work, I enrolled in a course for hospice volunteers. You could say that my art grabbed me and turned me in this direction. Personally, I think everyone could benefit from learning more about hospice work.

Mary Daniel: You have also done a project called Surrounded by Family and Friends. What was the origin and impact of this project?

Deidre: Surrounded by Family and Friends was my response to witnessing death not only as the personal death, but also as the death’s impact on the community. We don’t die in a vacuum – we die out of a community. This was the kernel I wanted to reveal which grew out of focusing on the individual. While finishing the first tableau and doing research about caregivers and the people who were dying, I was awarded a grant from the Open Society Foundation’s Project on Death in America which allowed me to complete six life-sized tableaux. I knew ahead of time that these pieces would stay together and I wouldn’t have to break up the series.

Mary Daniel: You write on your web site of wanting your work to open dialogue about the end of life. What has surprised and/or inspired you in the conversations that have been sparked by this work?

Deidre: To this day I am stunned by the ongoing flow of emails, letters and calls that I receive thanking me for both series. I still remember one man’s response to
The Last Year. After solemnly viewing each piece, he told me that he got to see his grandmother, his mother, then himself and even his own daughter, seeing each death proceed through each generation. He had never considered death as a natural evolution of life.

I developed a workshop that grew out of responses to
Surrounded by Family and Friends where participants are encouraged to sit in front of a piece of their choice to write and share their reactions. Memories of deaths that they have experienced come up and there is an opportunity for contemplation and completion. They discover how this experience is a key to a personal foundation of how they look at life and death.

Mary Daniel: Has making this work changed your feelings toward aging and dying?

I am becoming my work. Doing this work has made me more open to the incredible mystery of life. I still approach the invitation to be present and draw with great trepidation, feeling there is no way I can effectively witness the core of our lives. Slowly I am aware of a transition from that initial fear, to a sense of participating in a miracle.

Mary Daniel: There is such amazing technical skill in your work. Can you share a little about your process, and what it is you love about working in fabric and thread?

Deidre: I love the odd technical approach of drawing with a pair of scissors. My line occurs between the blades in the course of free cutting. It feels as if I am sculpting as much as drawing. The same can be said about my machine-stitch that occurs between both hands moving and turning the fabric. Most drawing tools are applied in direct line with the hand.

Without projecting or making patterns, I prefer to eyeball directly from my sketches and photo studies as I translate and cut freely into the material. After years of consideration, I name my medium "thread on fabric" (as in "paint on canvas" or "pastel on paper"). Fabric is a beguiling medium that resonates with our sense of touch, pulling us in closely with its familiar and intimate texture. What I really love is the magic that comes through a work and gives presence as a living truth in the final piece.

Mary Daniel: Do you believe your art can be a catalyst for healing and if so, how?

Deidre: The public discourse has amazed me. People have used it in conjunction with policy-making, discussions about how to handle aging populations and providing care. Many of my exhibition venues have set up panels that look at the medical, legal and religious issues, and the very structure of public guidelines. They are more able to talk openly about the very difficult issues of aging, dying and death.

One group wanted to figure out how to deal with a dying homeless population and determine lines of responsibility and action. Initiated by encountering
The Last Year, participants could move through their personal processes and come to an agreement. My workshops deal with medical narrative, writing groups and drawing as a means to develop empathy and give attention.

If the work is on display for a while, I can sense the city's/region's reaction and re-assessment of their own programs. Public access to the work feels like an essential part of the mission of these exhibitions. These collections belong in a public setting rather than in a private home.

I am so moved that my art could receive such an enormous response. People have used and responded to my work for social and personal change. It is miraculous that art has that power. The visual can pass through the conceptual and verbal boundaries.

Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work these days?

Deidre: After focusing on narrative, figurative work for most of my career, I am delighted to include a current abstract series. Abstraction seems to be the basis of every narrative work and now as I am letting go of the figurative associations, this is a real opening for me creatively. Recent road trips to the southwest and to the Canadian Maritime provinces have fed my creative well through the abstractions of nature.

I am collaborating on a commission for the lobby of an assisted living home and I think they are determined to portray how they care for their residents at the end of life. This will be a new way to open conversations. I am also working on several direct portraits – without drawing studies or photo preparation.

Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who would like to make work that honors the end of life?

Deidre: Do not be afraid to be courageous by recording, writing, and drawing what you see and feel throughout the process. Stay open and present without preconceived answers. Don’t judge your work. In sitting with your truth, use your art as a way to navigate your feelings and emotions and discoveries. Ask and take support from others who are empathetic to your project, whether peers or mentors.

To learn more about Deidre Scherer's work including information about her upcoming events and traveling exhibitions, please visit her website.



Presence and Absence

In the Fall of 2010, nine students from the California College of the Arts collaborated with the Zen Hospice Project for a course entitled Presence and Absence led by artist and professor Anne Wolf. The students learned about end-of-life care as they worked together to create crocheted pillows for the Zen Hospice’s newly renovated Guest House. The pillow imagery was created using a "free-form knit and crochet" technique in which small handmade pieces are brought together to form larger designs.

The image for the first pillow was inspired the shape of the calligraphic brush circle called the
Enso, which has many symbolic meanings including the idea of wholeness. Other students' pillow designs incorporated reflections on the beauty of all of life's phases, the uniqueness of each life while still being connected to others, and how a life grows and develops outward from its core. As they spent more time in the Guest House, a wide range of new insights and observations came into the pillow designs. These included themes like: external and internal environments; the tension between chaos and calm in daily life; trying to meditate; light and sound from outside the windows; non-visual "seeing"; and feeling rooted in one's home.

The pillows once completed, became interactive objects that embody the qualities of touch, memory, intimacy and comfort.
A lovely book was also produced to commemorate this project and includes the students' words, poetry and insights.

To learn more about this project and see more photographs, please visit the website. You can also view and purchase the book online via Blurb.



Threshold Choir

Founded in 2000 by Kate Munger, the Threshold Choir is a network of a cappella choirs who use music to "bring ease and comfort to those at the thresholds of living and dying." When called to a bedside they offer songs that suit the taste of the patient. Often family members will join in with the singing. Their service is free of charge – as they say on their website, "We offer our singing as gentle blessings. Families have said that our presence helps them to 'be' with their loved one after the 'doing' is done."

To learn more about the wonderful service that the Threshold Choir provides, please visit their
website. Also, in July 2012, The New School at Commonweal recorded a podcast interview with Threshold Choir founder, Kate Munger and you can listen to it here.



The Art of Kristen Zellmer

“I try to find the beauty that can be found in death.” -Kristen Zellmer

This beautiful mandala created from bones, teeth and quail eggs is from Kristen Zellmer's series A Still Life. As she explains this series is about "honoring the simple beauty found in nature. By creating these vanitas [a 17th-century Dutch genre containing symbols of death or change as a reminder of their inevitability] – often using bones, wilting plants, and dead animals – I was trying to represent the new life given to the remains of discarded creatures.... I try to find the beauty that can be found in death."

To see more images in this series, please visit the artist's
Flickr pageThis photograph can also be found on the cover of the November 2012 issue of Orion Magazine.



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AHN NEWS: Summer 2012
by AHN on 

Cultivating Prosperity: Funding Art & Healing Projects, Part Two
(Read Part One here)

One of our primary goals, here at the Arts & Healing Network, is to offer support and encouragement to healing artists. Because one of the most frequently asked questions we receive is about raising money, we are dedicating this issue of AHN News to Cultivating Prosperity. This issue includes an article & interview with Ken Rosenthal on how to use the internet to generate funding. In addition, there are words of advice from the recipients of the first round of the 2012 AHN Awards - Caroline Lovell, Daniel McCormick, Drew Cameron, and Naomi Rifkin. Finally, you will find book reviews of Gigi Rosenberg’s Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing and Julia Cameron’s The Prosperous Heart, as well as a list of additional resources about funding.

This issue of AHN News is the second part to an earlier issue on the same theme, which included an article on
11 Tips for Funding Healing Arts Projects. In addition, please don’t miss the extensive list of art grants that can be found on our site.

I hope these resources will support you in generating artistic support, so that the world can experience more of the powerful healing catalyst that art can be.
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Executive Director, Arts & Healing Network



Raising Funds Online with Kickstarter and More

In the past few years, an exciting new route for getting art & healing projects funded has emerged. In addition to the traditional route of applying for grants from big institutions, artists can now easily invite everyday people to support their projects through web resources like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, Pledge Page, Donors Choose and more. The basic premise is that an artist (or anyone) could sign up with one of these web sites, craft a campaign (the story about what is needed and why), and then promote the campaign via his/her social network. The web site hosting the campaign usually collects the funds via contributors' credit cards, which are not charged until the project is funded in full. Once funding is complete, then the artist receives the money and can create the project.

In addition to receiving financial support, there is also something very satisfying about getting the collective support of so many people. Along with the money comes appreciation and an expanded sense of community. For example, writer Dutty Bookman used IndieGoGo to raise $2,750 to self-publish his memoir about promoting social justice. He describes how it was not just the money he received, but also a boost in confidence knowing that so many people valued what he was doing. And another IndieGogo user said, "I found supporters for my film from around the globe. People who have not only become new collaborators, but new friends."

Artist Ken Rosenthal recently used Kickstarter to raise over $14,000 from 161 backers to support the self-publication of a book of his lyrical photographs. I was so impressed by his campaign, that I asked to interview him, to learn some of his experience:

Mary Daniel Hobson: What inspired you to use Kickstarter?

Ken Rosenthal: I had been talking with creative consultant
Mary Virginia Swanson about where to go next, career-wise, with my work. We talked about a show that was upcoming in Southern California, and without hesitation she told me I needed to produce a catalog. And as she was telling me this I knew she was right, but I just didn’t have the funds to produce a catalog, even a relatively modest one. Late one night while lying in bed and stressing out about aforementioned lack of funds, I remembered having heard about Kickstarter, and went onto the site to take a look. There were a few photo projects on the site, including one by a friend, and it seemed like as feasible way as any I could think of to come up with the finances. After I extensively researched past and active campaigns, I believed I could craft a successful campaign.

Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for someone using Kickstarter for the first time?

Ken: Spend a good amount of time on the site before you put your campaign together. Research campaigns similar to the one you are proposing, and try to determine why campaigns that were funded succeeded, and why campaigns that were not funded failed. Definitely make a video. Clearly and concisely state in writing and in the video what you are raising funds for, why it is important, what the rewards are, and how the funds raised will be used.

Mary Daniel: What was the biggest challenge in using Kickstarter?

Ken: The time commitment. It was almost like a full-time job for a few weeks. I chose to send personalized e-mails to all of my friends, family, and colleagues rather than do one e-mail blast. But it is essential to engage your "social network," as that is where the majority of your funds will come from (unless you are funding a product with mass appeal or have an existing name/product recognition). Fulfilling the rewards was also very time consuming, but was incredibly satisfying.

Mary Daniel: What do you think helped make your project so successful on Kickstarter?

Ken: I did my research before I launched it; I offered rewards that had appeal to my target audience and were good values for their pledge levels; I have a large "social network," and many of my friends on
Facebook and Twitter shared/tweeted information on my campaign.

Mary Daniel: Would you use Kickstarter again to raise funds for a project? If so, what would you do differently if anything?

Ken: Yes, I am planning on launching another campaign, possibly later this year, to publish a book of a new body of work. I will probably do a few e-mail blasts in addition to a more personal, initial e-mail, as a number of people told me after the campaign was over that they had intended to pledge money but forgot to before the campaign ended.

To find out more about Ken and his projects, visit his
Kickstarter page, and to learn more about Ken’s photography visit his web site at



Advice on Funding Healing Arts Projects from the 2012 AHN Awardees

We recently asked the recipients of the first round of the 2012 AHN Awards to share their wisdom and advice about fundraising for healing arts projects. Below you will find insight from Caroline Lovell, Daniel McCormick, Drew Cameron, and Naomi Rifkin. To learn more about each of their outstanding work and also about future award opportunities, please visit our AHN Award Page.

Each artist responded to the question: "What advice would you offer another healing artist who was seeking to fund creative work?"

Caroline Lovell (artist and founder of Traveling Postcards):
"My advice is multi-tiered... First I would get very clear on what you are offering and how it works. A business plan is a good idea. Be able to explain it to anyone, especially someone who has no experience in the art world! Secondly, do your homework. How much funding does your project need to be sustainable and why? Have very real numbers – it costs more than you think (your ideas are also worth more than you think!), and don’t forget to include funding for yourself! Thirdly, get help. No one can work alone, and everyone has different expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Just make sure you partner with integrity. Lastly, be persistent, find organizations that share your vision and contact them. Don’t be afraid of rejection and look everywhere you can –
social media, community groups, corporations, private donors, fundraising events... try everything!" To find out more about Caroline and her work, visit her AHN Award page.

Daniel McCormick  (environmental artist):
"Put your creative talents to good use when it comes to funding sources. I don’t rely solely on art funding sources to get my projects completed. Some of my successful projects came together with a little bit of funding from a lot of different sources, including my own personal funds. Commit to your projects and others will come along." To find out more about Daniel and his work, visit his
AHN Award page.

Drew Cameron (artist & founder of the Combat Paper Project):
"The way we approached developing [our project] was to first practice and engage the process without a real concern for funding sources. There have been so many people who have and continue to volunteer their talents towards this project, it would not have been realized any other way. We were quite wary at first of how it would be perceived so we wanted the artwork and growing base of participants to be the voice. Developing an approach for funding came through the ideas of the group. It was project based in that we would realize short-term goals, such as an edition or traveling tour and scrape together whatever we could to make it happen, then reinvest into the next project. If the funding didn’t come through then we would change our course. Practicing the process, doing the work is the most important thing that I can stress. Through the work, a community may develop. A community that leverages ownership and a process they can teach others can really build momentum.
I have found that if you believe in the process, and carry it always, the outcome will present itself." To find out more about Drew and his work, visit his AHN Award page.

Naomi Rifkin (artist & founder of Brush Fire Painting Workshops):
"Follow your passion. I really think we are hardwired to heal and to share our healing with others. Talk with everyone you know and everyone they know about what you want to do. Then don’t be scared to try it. I did my first workshop with a bunch of kids at the local Boys & Girls Club
. That blossomed into having our program at 14 schools, community centers, & locked facilities. If you are passionate, create a clear vision and make it real!" To find out more about Naomi and her work, visit her AHN Award page.



The Artist’s Guide To Grant Writing: How to Find Funds & Write Foolproof Proposals for the Visual, Literary, and Performing Artist
By Gigi Rosenberg
Reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson

“This book is the book I wish I’d had when I didn’t know whether I was an artist, and even when I did know and I wanted to have both the money and the validation that winning a grant provides. I hope that it will help you to realize all you already know about grant writing and help ensure that every hour you spend writing proposals boosts your career. Let grant writing push your art into the world.” ~ Gigi Rosenberg

In The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing, Gigi Rosenberg offers a no-nonsense, very readable book packed with great advice about how to approach the grant writing process. Amid all the advice about clarifying your vision, researching, crafting your application, and more, what stood out most for me were two things. First, the importance of having at least one other person read your application before you send it out, and second, understanding that you write a grant proposal not just because you might get funding, but also more importantly because the process helps you clarify your own vision and dreams.

Gigi openly shares her own experience as a film maker and writer applying for grants – from her very first grant as a teenager (from her parents) to her later failed attempts and what they taught her, and how she evolved and grew into taking charge of the grant writing process from an empowered place and teaching other artists how to do so too.

The introduction to this helpful book offers Eight Key Tips for Writing Grants, and it is a nice summation of the key points of her book:

  1. Apply for grants. You can’t win if you don’t apply.
  2. Don’t be bitter or demanding in the application. Even if you’re feeling that way, edit it out in the revising process.
  3. Use the grant-writing process to clarify where you want to go, so that if even one grant application doesn’t succeed, you gain something very valuable – your action plan.
  4. Ask for help. Don’t write your applications and assemble work samples in isolation.
  5. Follow directions even when the rules seem like Kafka dreamed them up.
  6. Research the funder so that you match what you want with the needs and interests of the people who signed the checks.
  7. Ask questions. If anything is unclear, call the funder well ahead of the deadline or ask another artist who has won the grant before.
  8. Write and rewrite. Have conversations, let the application sit, edit, and edit again, until you wring out the words that describe the who, what, when, where, why, and how of your project. Don’t give up until it is clear and concise without jargon, lingo, or attitude.

This book was published in 2010 by
Watson Guptill (a division of Random House, Inc.). The paperback version of this book has 206 pages and can be purchased through a variety of sources here. You can also read an excerpt of the book via a free downloadable PDF, and you can learn more about Gigi Rosenberg at her website.



The Prosperous Heart: Creating A Life of Enough
By Julia Cameron

Reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson

“For twenty-five years, I have taught a course in creative unblocking called The Artist’s Way. Time and again, I have run up against the cultural belief that artists are broke. Fear of financial hardship keeps many people from exploring their creativity, imprisoning them in jobs they don’t like, working for paychecks they tell themselves they are lucky to have. And yet, as people do the work of unblocking, they often find themselves more solvent, not less. Doing something they love can be financially rewarding, much to people’s surprise.” ~ Julia Cameron

The Prosperous Heart is a refreshing resource for artists seeking financial abundance. Many excellent books have been written about how to run a better art business, apply for artist grants, etc – but leave it to Julia Cameron, celebrated author of The Artist’s Way, to deliver a book that gets underneath the surface of the practicalities of how to succeed, and into the psychology and spirituality that can generate true wealth as an artist. As she writes, "Prosperity is a spiritual matter. It is the amount of faith we have, not the cash, that determines our feelings of abundance."

For a book so inspired by spirit,
The Prosperous Heart is also very grounded in specifics. It opens with a discussion of the five tools Julia asks readers to practice regularly – Morning Pages (just as in The Artist’s Way), Walking, Abstinence, Counting, and Time-outs. Each of the twelve chapters includes insights, anecdotes, and exercises that help explore themes like Having Enough, Cleaning House, Forgiveness, and Generosity. I really appreciate how she balances the message of having faith, with the practice of being very conscious about one’s financial habits and the tools to shape shift those in a healthier direction. Overall, what it is that makes all of her books so powerful is that they help shift perspective profoundly, allowing new possibilities to emerge

I was also deeply touched by the many anecdotes Julia shares in this book. An example is the story of Rodrigo, who took a summer office job out of financial necessity between high school and college. On the first day, he realized how much he hated it. He was able to turn this bad situation around by remembering an assignment from his comedy class to take a "plain experience and find humor in every corner of the situation." And so we used his terrible work experience for creative fodder, writing a one-man show – a comedy set in an office from the perspective of an intern. When he got to college, he performed it at an open-mike night to great response. A student producer offered to produce the show in a coffee house, and from there in a large theater. Today, Rodrigo has written and performed many of his own pieces, and his story aptly illustrates Julia’s point: "We always have the opportunity to move ahead."

This 224-page hardback book was published in 2011 by Jeremy P. Tarcher. It can be purchased through a variety of sources
here. You might also enjoy the AHN Podcast interview with Julia Cameron in 2009. You can listen directly on your computer, or download it via iTunes.




Blue Earth’s Free PDF booklet: Shooting from the Heart
free pdf booklet offers very thorough and pragmatic advice about seeking funding for projects. Although it was created for photographers, artists of any media will benefit from the insights offered. The booklet details information about budgeting, grant forms, book publishing and more. It also clearly outlines the four main sources of funding (individuals, foundations, corporations, and government agencies) and emphasizes that no matter the source "people give to their friends." So their very prescient advice is to build human connections with potential funders by writing thank you notes, inviting funders to events, etc.

The New York Foundation for the Arts videos Finding Funds & Resources for Your Art and Essential Tools for Grantwriting
These videos offer great advice. Although both videos are geared towards "immigrant artists," the information is applicable to all artists seeking funding for their work.

The Arts & Healing Network's
Artist Support section
Arts & Healing Network has a whole section dedicated to
Artist Support, including books, links and more, as well as an extensive list of Grants for Artists. In addition, these past issues of AHN News, may be of interest to you as well:



Did you enjoy this issue? Do you have a story or resources you'd like to share on this topic? Please share your thoughts and feedback by e-mailing us at or posting in our Facebook Community Group page.

And don't miss a single issue of AHN News. Sign up for our e-newsletter and be among the first to know when a new issue of AHN News has been published (about 4 times a year).

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AHN NEWS: Winter & Spring 2012
by AHN on 

Community, Healing & Art Postcards


This issue is dedicated to the practice of exchanging handmade postcards and how that exchange can produce healing, connection, and community. I interview Caroline Lovell, founder of Traveling Postcard, feature a link to the Create Peace Project, and review Frank Warren’s book PostSecret and Sarah Cress’ two books on Artist Postcards.


May this issue inspire you to communicate in healing ways and rediscover the magic of mailing art.


~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Executive Director, Arts & Healing Network




Caroline Lovell


“The idea grew and I intuitively knew that the intimate knowledge women pass down between female relatives, and between close friends, is a wisdom that comes from the heart and has the possibility to heal and transform lives and need not be limited to geographical or cultural boundaries…. I imagined a woman who received a card might keep it in a place in her home, whether in a drawer or on a shelf that would always remind her that she was cared for, and that she was a part of a much larger global community.” ~ Caroline Lovell


Caroline Lovell is the founder of Traveling Postcards, a healing arts project in which women create handmade postcards that are then delivered around the world to other women who are suffering from violence, isolation, or other challenges. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California (USA), Caroline is also a photographic artist, and as she explains, "My life as an artist is about using the creative process as a healing tool for personal growth and community awareness." In January 2012, Mary Daniel Hobson, Executive Director of the Arts & Healing Network, interviewed Caroline about Traveling Postcards – its origins, growth, impact and ability to foster connection and transformation.


Mary Daniel Hobson: Tell me about Traveling Postcards. How does the process work?


Caroline Lovell: Traveling Postcards is a humanitarian organization founded on the premise that art has the ability to heal, feed and transform our lives. Hundreds of unique, hand-made art postcards, containing words of compassion and solidarity are hand-delivered to individuals and communities all over the world, bringing awareness, hope, visibility and voice to women and girls whose lives have suffered from isolation, violence or repression.


We offer workshops both locally and internationally that are easily accessible and offer anyone an opportunity to discover their unique voice through simple, intuitive art making. You do not need to be an "artist" to make a postcard, but each participant is surprised and delighted by their creativity and to see that their cards contain colors, words and images that reflect their strongest selves. Our cards are then hand-delivered to individuals who will benefit from the knowledge that they are not alone, and they too can add their voices to the growing collection of wisdom across borders.


Thus far Traveling Postcards has collected over 700 handmade cards carrying voices to and from the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Costa Rica, Niger, Namibia, America, Haiti and Afghanistan. Traveling Postcards are never mailed and instead are carried in suitcases, backpacks and on foot to communities of women who are given hope that their struggles are not going unnoticed. Our grassroots campaign involves all ages from middle schoolers to seniors. This year we have our first Traveling Postcards High School club!

Mary Daniel: What inspired you to start Traveling Postcards?


Caroline: A colleague was taking a group of women with her to Malawi to hold writing workshops and to record women’s stories. She asked me to come, and I was eager to photograph the women and possibly record their personal stories. It was a huge opportunity for me as I was finally beginning to realize a dream of combining my interest in art with my interest in working with women. In order to go on the trip I was faced with having to raise $5,000. I was terrified but committed and thought about having a community fundraiser. The only thing I felt competent to offer was a photographic portrait, and that is when the idea of Traveling Postcards occurred.


As a photographer I was already interested in the beauty of old postcards and the stories they held. I thought of making postcards that contained portraits of women from my home and included a written story on the back of the card. I thought of the old fashioned sewing circles where women used to gather to make something beautiful for someone else in the community. I saw it as a way for all of us to "travel" without leaving home. The idea grew and I intuitively knew that the intimate knowledge women pass down between female relatives, and between close friends, is a wisdom that comes from the heart and has the possibility to heal and transform lives and need not be limited to geographical or cultural boundaries.


I asked each participant to share her hard earned wisdom on the card, and not to worry about what their personal photograph looked like so much. Each woman was being offered an opportunity to speak about an important knowing that would be shared with a woman they would most likely never meet, but could still impact with their story. I found that we hold some of our most precious wisdom close to our hearts and by engaging with creativity it frees our fears about letting go and we are able to share our knowledge. This was not a pen pal exchange, but an exchange of heart - a giving of yourself without expecting anything back in return.


Later I learned that even without a photographic picture on the card, portraits of individual resiliency and compassion were being created anyway. Each card was a piece of art in my mind. I imagined a woman who received a card might keep it in a place in her home, whether in a drawer or on a shelf that would always remind her that she was cared for, and that she was a part of a much larger global community. I feel that art is able to translate beyond language and communicate a much larger vision of personal connection.


Mary Daniel: What attracted you to using postcards as the format?


Caroline: I have always found refuge in thrift stores, estate sales, and anywhere that old items are left behind and contain essences of the past. One day when I was returning from dropping my son off at college, and feeling a little sad, I pulled off the road to explore an old town. I stopped at an antique store and started looking at the images on old postcards which were 50 to 100 years old. I found it amazing that by just reading the back of a card, I had access into a life that had long since past. I think my favorite part was filling in the blanks... being given small clues such as the state, a date, a person’s name or even their handwriting. I was drawn into a life that I was not present for, but was here staring me in the face! My imagination could then extrapolate and create whatever else I could imagine. It felt like the beginning of a story that I could add to, imprint on, and change for a moment in time.


Mary Daniel:  I am so impressed by how global this project is. How did you connect up with other women in countries like Costa Rica, Haiti, Afghanistan, etc.?


Caroline: I mentioned that I was invited to go to Malawi... well that never happened! Life has the ability to change quickly and instead of going, the cards traveled for me. I personally have not traveled as much as I would like, but it seems easy for the cards! So I seek out other organizations that are already working in some of the worst areas of the world to be a woman and ask for their help. I attended a lecture about Afghanistan and later asked if Traveling Postcards could be a part of their next trip. A project in Haiti came to me through word of mouth. Sometimes women just ask me if they can bring postcards with them on a trip as a way to more deeply connect with women they meet.


Mary Daniel: Could you share a story about the positive impact of Traveling Postcards?


Caroline: This fall I held several Traveling Postcards workshops with the STAND! community - an organization with a holistic, client-centered approach to keeping women and families free from violence. They provide treatment programs, intervention and a large array of legal and educational benefits to the community they serve. I was lucky enough to meet the CEO of STAND! in the women’s bathroom at the East Bay Women’s Conference and asked if I could bring Traveling Postcards to the women who live in their transitional housing center.


She agreed, and I met with one group of women over a six month period. We made cards for women in Afghanistan and for women in other local shelters in Antioch and in Marin County, California (USA). I saw over and over again how resilient they were, and how willing they were to share their pain and joy on their cards. They told me that no one had ever brought them such an abundance of art materials before. They always had the much needed lessons about budgeting, childcare, etc. -  but they enjoyed a different type of learning that creativity afforded. We talked about their children, their dreams, their suffering and the suffering of women around the world, but mostly we were silent and engaged in a quiet process of choosing colors, shapes and textures that told our stories. Afterwards one woman told me that she had not felt anything for so long, and that today she felt happy.


They were excited to give their cards away, and I asked them to write: "If you could hear what the woman who receives your postcard is thinking, what would she say?" So many women spoke of wanting her to feel peaceful, safe, happy or inspired. One woman wrote, "This card represents what I have to do for myself, my family, my future. Everything is going to be okay. There is hope." I also asked, "After seeing your card, how can you imagine using your voice to effect change in your family, or in your local or global community?" One woman wrote, "I hope this card will have beyond my understanding an effect on a beautiful person and make them realize that they are special and unique and loved."


Mary Daniel: Collaboration seems to be such a big component to this project -- collaborating with other women to make the postcards, and deliver them by hand, and also collaboration with non-profits. Could you talk a little about how you found your collaborators?


Caroline: Sometimes I find them, sometimes they find me! It is always a collaboration made with a mutual intention of bringing voice and visibility to women and to women’s issues and a knowledge that art making has the ability to help make that connection.


For example, I am an Admissions Counselor at John F. Kennedy University, and I meet and talk to many different people all day long. One day I met a woman from Uganda who was interested in our Transformative Arts Program. We soon learned that we shared many interests, and she immediately wanted to participate in the Traveling Postcards project. She knew of an organization in Uganda called In Movement, Art for Social Change and asked if she could make cards with the children in their community. She is a wonderful artist and teacher and made a big commitment to move to California to attend school. One day she came into my office carrying all the beautiful Traveling Postcards that were made, all still covered in glitter and wrapped in newspaper!


Sometimes it is difficult for me to get the attention of larger NGOs [non-governmental organizations] working in some of the areas I am interested in facilitating card-making workshops. So often, the arts are not seen as necessary in our results driven world. But I find that most projects that are based in integrity, wisdom, compassion and creativity are the ones that work out the best for everyone!

Mary Daniel: Do you believe art can be a catalyst for healing and if so, how?


Caroline: Absolutely! Creativity is a bridge to our authentic wisdom and to our ability to heal ourselves. It is available to everyone. It is a universal language that cannot be restricted due to ethnicity, education, or economics. Art provides a much needed opportunity to see that we are not limited by our immediate circumstances and that by accessing and seeing our unique wisdom, we can choose to be fully expressed in our own communities and create a better life for ourselves and for those around us. I see art as a healing tool not to "fix" someone but to engage with them clearly and without judgment as they walk in their own process. Our stories can become guidance and wisdom for one another as we are faced with new challenges. Often I see a letting go process that stops self-blame and instead engages us in the present and to what is possible.

Mary Daniel: What excites you most about work right now?


Caroline: I am really excited about the possibility of tracking postcards that have already been made and finding out what has happened to them! Where do people keep them and what lasting effect have they had? I would like to start recording voices and adding them to the website. I imagine clicking on a card and then hearing a woman read or talk about her postcard. I would like to deepen the personal connection of our postcards and have the universality of our experiences be available for all to learn from.


I am excited about the possibility of traveling to Peru and holding workshops with women who live in a very remote part of the Sacred Valley. My son is living and working there now, and I have just recently met an artist who is working within this community teaching the children art and making a documentary about tourism and the effect it has on indigenous cultures. I am excited to collaborate!


Mary Daniel: What have been the biggest challenges?


The challenge I have right now is how to grow Traveling Postcards so that it is a sustainable organization on all levels and maintains a core commitment to creativity and integrity. I have had to become quite adept at business, marketing and repeatedly asking for what I want... a necessary part of my work that is sometimes a personal challenge as I would rather focus on the creative aspects of the project! I need facilitators on the ground who are willing to take on Traveling Postcards and add the workshops to their existing programs, and I need an intern here at home! I scan and archive all the cards that are made before they travel to their destinations and I need help with that and a lot more!


I am hoping to create additional leadership curriculum that educates through art and I would like to make an educational video about Traveling Postcards, art and human rights. I would love to collaborate with other artists who are doing creative work in the women’s movement and of course I would love to keep photographing women’s stories.


Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for others who would like to do artwork for collective healing?


Caroline: I encourage you to follow your instincts, find people who are doing similar work and learn all you can. Don’t give up on your vision and don’t be afraid of failing. Please know that it is the small things we do with great commitment and love that can make lasting positive change for both you and your community.


Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?


Caroline: First of all, you can make a postcard! Traveling Postcards workshops are easy and fun for everyone. Anyone can become a facilitator and host a workshop in their community, and we encourage everyone to get involved - men too!  We have directions and guidelines on the website and lots of good ideas about art materials and how to get started. We also love individual cards that our "artists" make, sometimes anonymously, that often just arrive, beautifully wrapped in the mail!

All the cards we receive are scanned and archived and placed in our virtual galleries. We often see that once you make a card, you fall in love with it and it is hard to give it away. But it is the act of service that is so powerful and we will always keep a record of your card so that it will continue its magic even after it has traveled on to another woman.

Please tell your friends and "like" us on Facebook. The more people who know about Traveling Postcards the better! Please join our Forum online and add your voice to the conversation. Tell us what you are doing to make positive change in your community.

We are also funding very special after school art classes in Afghanistan through our partnership with Trust in Education. We know that creativity and freedom of expression go a long way in educating children to be tolerant and open minded. We must raise $ 1,000 to keep our classes going for another year. I am passionate about helping women and girls in Afghanistan to be fully independent and self expressed, and I am looking for opportunities to bring a Traveling Postcards workshop to women who are currently living in Afghan shelters. If you want to support Afghan women and girls, make a Traveling Postcard and send it to us.

Lastly, take time for yourself, slow down if you can and open your heart to share your wonderful wisdom with the world! We need you.

To learn more about Traveling Postcards, please visit, find Traveling Postcards on Facebook, and connect with Traveling Postcards on Twitter.





PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives

By Frank Warren

Reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson


"I believe that each of us has the ability to discover, share, and grow our dark secrets into something meaningful and beautiful." ~ Frank Warren


In 2004, Frank Warren began inviting people to mail him a postcard with a secret written on it – a secret never told to anyone else. The project took off and continues to this day. PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives is the first of several books published featuring a selection of the handmade cards that Frank has received. Some secrets are light and even humorous - "I used to fertilize a ring in our lawn every time I mowed it. My parents still think it was Aliens." – while others are quite dark – "Sometimes I hope the drugs will take me away before the loneliness ever gets its chance." Presented all together in the pages of this book, the postcards feel like a collective confessional. The reader can almost hear the postcard author’s sigh of relief from sharing what had been held so tightly inside.


Frank emphasizes the transformational power of this project in his introduction as well as in divider pages, which are black with quotes in large white letters. For example, one of these pages reads, "Sometimes just the act of sharing a painful secret can relieve some of the pain." And on another page is written, "Dear Frank, After I created my postcard, I didn’t want to be the person with the secret any longer. I ripped up the postcard and I decided it was time to start making some changes in my life." One of my favorites reads, "Dear Frank, I have made six postcards with secrets that I was afraid to tell the one person I tell everything to, my boyfriend. This morning I planned to mail them, but instead I left them on the pillow next to his head while he was sleeping. Ten minutes ago he arrived at my office and asked me to marry him. I said yes."  The book concludes with an invitation to mail your secret, as well as this message from Frank: "I like to believe that whenever a painful secret ends its trip to my mailbox, a much longer personal journey of healing is beginning – for all of us."


Published by William Morrow in 2005, this hardback book has 288 pages. Click here to order a copy.


Frank Warren has also created a blog where he adds postcards as they come to him. It’s a great way to get a sense of the wide array of secrets being shared. Pictured here is a card he posted on February 18, 2012. You can also follow him on Twitter at @postsecret and join him on Facebook.




Artist Postcards

Two Books by Sarah Cress

Reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson


High school photography teacher Sarah Cress was struck by her students’ predominant use of online social networks. This inspired her to offer something more tactile, the postcard, as a tool for slowing down in today’s fast paced world and creating something of meaning by hand intended for someone her students did not know. Based in Streamwood, Illinois (USA), Cress partnered with another school teacher in Illinois, and the students began to create and send each other cards. As she explains, "my students learned about themselves, the process of communication, and the power of the visual image."


The success of this project inspired Cress to create a curriculum guide, which took the form of two self-published books - Artist Postcards: Creating & Communicating Through the Arts (2008), and Artist Postcards: The Continuation of an Artistic Adventure (2009). Both books offer an introductory story of how the project began, followed by a curriculum outline. Cress then provides detailed descriptions of specific postcard-making assignments, using photographic processes including everything from digital to cyanotypes and exploring themes such as "photographic montage," "loneliness," and "reflections." This is followed by examples of postcards made by Cress and her students. The second book expands upon the first by offering more postcard-making assignments and a fresh set of postcard reproductions. One or the other would be enough to get started on using this curriculum. As self-published books, they are a little rough in terms of design, but the content is useful for anyone wanting to explore the power of postcards as a medium for working with teenagers.


To learn more or to order one of these books, please visit,





Peace Exchange

by the Create Peace Project

The Peace Exchange is a cross-cultural exchange of "peacecards" – artworks created on 6 x 8 inch cards by students around the world. This year the Peace Exchange hopes to exchange 24,000 cards promoting the practices of peace and inspiring creativity. The project is carried out through classroom settings. Once cards are created, they are given to the Create Peace Project to be distributed to classrooms around the world. The vision is to create connection, foster self expression, and demonstrate how the power of being peaceful and sharing oneself with another can create a ripple of kindness, love, and possibility felt by young people around the world.

Teachers of children 8-18 years old who are interested in participating are invited to contact Ross Holzmann by e-mail or visit the Create Peace Project web site for more information, including an inspiring slide show of peacecards already created.




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AHN NEWS: Summer & Fall 2011
by Arts & Healing Network on 


This issue is dedicated to integrating the practices of yoga and art-making for personal and collective transformation. I interview Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa, an artist dedicated to healing through yoga and art, and author of Art & Yoga: Kundalini Awakening in Everyday Life, which I also review in this issue. In addition, I offer links to the Art for Yoga Project and Art Asana.

May this issue inspire you to stretch in new ways with your creative practice.

~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Director, Arts & Healing Network


Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa

“The soul, the source of our art, is ageless and limitless. Every disease has a solution, from your stiff neck to world hunger. Through the creative process solutions can be discovered. Every week I personally witness art as a key element of healing.” ~ Hari Kirin


Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa is an artist and teacher dedicated to healing through yoga and art. She is the author of Art & Yoga: Kundalini Awakening in Everyday Life. She teaches Art & Yoga at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, the Antrim Girls Shelter, and the Omega Institute for Holistic Health. In her home town of  Peterborough, New Hampshire, USA, she leads Yoga Alliance- and Kundalini Research Institute (KRI)-approved Kundalini Yoga Teacher Trainings and runs an Art & Yoga Center.

Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director, Mary Daniel Hobson with
Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa from October 2011:


Mary Daniel Hobson: Please share some of your art and yoga journey, including how you first begin to connect the two together.


Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa: I majored in art in a Catholic high school in New York City [New York, USA]. There, Christian monks introduced me to eastern meditation and social activism. Thanks to that liberal and intelligent environment, art was always related to spirituality and healing (personal and collective). This was the 1970’s, a time similar to the one we are in now – a time of change – with the opportunities and stress that change brings. In college I experimented with narcissism, drugs and sex rather than yoga and meditation to motivate my creative life, but I discovered it did not work as well. After finishing my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, I met my spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan, a White Tantric Yoga master. He gave me the name Hari Kirin, meaning “the light of the creative feminine God.” This was one way he let me know that there is no separation between spiritual practice and creativity.


I went on to graduate school for Creative Art Therapy at Lesley University, and took a Kundalini Yoga teacher training. I began art and yoga groups and individual sessions at our yoga center and at treatment facilities where I interned. My emphasis has always been on the art, rather than using it to serve a psychological process, so I continued on and got an Masters of Fine Art with a concentration in Public Art.


Mary Daniel: How do you weave together art and yoga into one practice?


Hari Kirin: In my workshops and classes we move from yoga to painting and back again. We blend breathing exercises and chanting with dance and poetry. I also prescribe particular practices for creative blocks, fears and anxieties around the creative process. A relaxed mind is a creative mind.

In my own artistic production, the yoga is sometimes literally present, like my performance piece Axis Mundi — a 40 day sitting meditation on a toxic waste site. In this collaborative project, the community was invited to meditate and local teens created site-specific art installations.


Sometimes yoga is the subject matter, as in the Junk Mail Buddha series – images of meditation made from junk mail and wax. I was disturbed by the waste of all the catalogs arriving in my mail each day, and tried to stop them, but still they kept coming. In Buddhism there is a beautiful thought that we all have buddha consciousness, so I cut up advertisements in the shape of the Buddha and made art putting together some of our crasser impulses with images of our innate consciousness and our divine nature.


And then there is work where the process enacts yogic principles, like Wherever You Are is the Center of the World. Through use of the Internet, specifically Google Maps, the artist Susan Q. Brown and I explored the planet visually and painted the earth.  We used methods of chance to chart these “maps,” reflecting the way in which a chance email, news story, or hyperlink will sometimes transport us to unexpected corners of the globe. As we painted, the chance operations occasionally forced us to obliterate images we cherished, just as one might occasionally go somewhere she did not intend. In other words, these paintings attempt to imitate the very ways in which we navigate our world today.

Mary Daniel: Could you offer an example of an art & yoga exercise?


Hari Kirin: Any yoga and meditation practice will help you relax, and that will increase your creativity. It will strengthen your body and increase vitality, which is also important — art takes stamina. I work within a tradition, Kundalini Yoga, as taught by my teacher Yogi Bhajan. It takes training to facilitate this yoga, but I find it most effective in supporting a healthy body, creative mind and strong nervous system. There are over a thousand meditations and series of exercises in this yoga – each for a specific effect.

Here’s a simple practice you can try to free up before a creative activity or to use in the studio when you feel tired or stuck:


 Movement Relaxation Kriya

(reprinted with permission from the the Kundalini Research Institute)


  1. Begin by chanting Om Namo Guru Dev Namo three times.

  2. Stand with arms relaxed.
    Close your eyes.
    Begin to sway and move every part of your body.
    Dance gracefully, sensing the easy movement of your body.
    Play music or dance to the silence.
    Continue 3 to 11 minutes, or longer, if you like.

  3. Mentally scan your body and release any tension.
    Inhale, filling your body with energy.
    Exhale, releasing any unnecessary tension into the feet and then into the floor.
    Inhale vitality up through the feet, filling the legs and pelvis.
    Exhale and let it release into the floor, deep into the Earth.
    Inhale, filling the spine with energy and color.
    Exhale, letting the spine relax and lengthen.
    Inhale, filling the lungs and letting the Fourth Chakra heart energy fill the cavities of the shoulders, out through the arms to the fingertips.
    On the exhale, let the arms totally relax.
    Inhale and let the collarbone lift and extend with the breath, which fills the throat and head.
    Exhale, softening the eyes.
    Release the jaw and soften the tongue and mouth.

  4. Stand straight with the eyes still closed.
    Feel each part of the body with both hands and don’t leave anything out.
    Touch sensitively with both palms.
    Continue for 3 to 5 minutes.

  5. Come into a forward bend with the arms hanging completely relaxed.
    Let the breath be normal.
    Consciously relax any muscle you do not need to safely hold the pose.
    Continue for 3 to 11 minutes.

  6. While standing, plant your feet on the floor and lift the heart to the ceiling, slowly leaning backward with the arms hanging loosely down.
    Relax your breath.
    Hold for 1 minute.

  7. Relax deeply, lying on your back.


Mary Daniel: Do you believe that creative expression and art can heal, and if so, how?


Hari Kirin: Yes. The soul – the source of our art – is ageless and limitless. Every disease has a solution – from your stiff neck to world hunger. Through the creative process, solutions can be discovered. Every week I personally witness art as a key element of healing.


Mary Daniel: How has practicing art and yoga been healing and transformative for you?


Hari Kirin: The silence, relaxation and intuition that come from this yoga help me connect to the world around me. They have allowed me to have a happy marriage, family, friends and to excel in the work I love. Every day I heal myself with my practice. I forgive and explore my mistakes and discover my vitality and intuition. It helps me to become myself rather than just a reaction to whatever is happening around me.


Mary Daniel: I loved learning about the work you are doing with art and yoga at Antrim Girls Shelter. Please share how you got started with that, what the impact of your work has been,  and what inspires you most about working there.


Hari Kirin: Someone referred me to the director who knew of my work with teens. She wanted something in addition to medication to help the girls cope with stress and anxiety. This is a locked, court-ordered shelter for girls 13- to 17-years old, moving through the legal system. They are all awaiting court, which is a difficult time. It’s a short-term facility where the average stay is 3 weeks, and the maximum is 3 months. This works for me, as I get to see so many young women at a time of intense crisis. I also work with the staff who tell me that the Yoga & Art group does indeed effect the overall level of anxiety [in the girls I work with]. They note improvement in the way they relate to each other, and have told me “When they come back up on the day of yoga & art they’re a lot more relaxed. I wish we had it more than once a week...they are less likely to snap at each other...” and, “...they seem to interact differently with each other, the other clients, they seem to be more relaxed around each other.”


Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work right now?


Hari Kirin: I have been immersed in art & yoga most of my life. Now is the time, with this book and training programs, to share what I have learned. I know there are those out there who will take what I have done and go in new directions, going further than I can go on my own. I am excited about all that we can do together with this synergistic combination.


It is a fantastic time to practice. Everything is changing. The changes are difficult even for us artists and healers, but we have solutions within our work and ways to refresh ourselves. Everyone doesn’t have those skills, so we are needed to share our experience and knowledge. My teacher Yogi Bhajan, commenting on the era beginning in 2011, said “Our creativity will be our sensory system.” Too much is shifting for us to find our way with instinct or rational understanding. It takes a strong and lively imagination to deal effectively with this fluid, changing reality.


This past summer [2011] I had a major museum exhibition about healing ourselves through art – expanding imagination and our experience of oneness. I spent many years finding this opening in the “art world.” What seemed impossible 25 years ago — to bring together spirituality, healing and art in a smart venue — is now possible. Now is the time.


Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?


Hari Kirin: I’d like to say to people reading this that I am grateful for all of your efforts. I’d love to hear from you and support you on your own journey in any way I can. My prayer for you is that you may have the time and space to practice your art and find your dharma there so that you may have the deep joy of manifesting it in the world. That will be healing for all.


To find out more about Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa's workshops, paintings, public art events, or to read her blog, please visit For more information on her latest museum exhibition, please visit



Art & Yoga: Kundalini Awakening in Everyday Life

By Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa

Foreword by Thomas Moore
Reviewed by Mary Daniel Hobson

“If art is going to reach to the into the deepest strata of our souls and climb to spiritual heights, it requires a spiritual and soulful context. One good way to achieve this, one I’ve witnessed for many years in my home is through the union of art and yoga....I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time. It represents a shift that I hope will become more evident as our new century progresses; a shift from separating matters of soul and spirit – images and practice, the poetic and the well defined, the intuitive and the carefully reasoned – to uniting them.” ~ Thomas Moore

This book is a wonderful resource for anyone seeking to integrate yoga and art practices together for personal and collective transformation. Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa offers specific art & yoga practices for enhancing creativity, tuning into one’s body, balancing the chakras, and engaging nature. There are also guidelines for leading art & yoga groups and the author shares her experience leading art & yoga practice with at-risk teenagers. It is well illustrated, sharing artwork as well as pictures of yoga poses. As Hari Kirin says herself, “The complementary practices of yoga and art create a place where both the rational and the mystical can work together.”

To learn more about this book and order it online please visit


Art of Yoga Project: Healing At-Risk Girls with Art & Yoga


From The Art of Yoga Project’s website: The "Yoga & Creative Arts Curriculum for at-risk teen women offers a multi-dimensional approach to building the self-awareness, self-esteem and self-respect necessary for young women to make healthy lifestyle choices.” Their curriculum includes breathing, meditation, and yoga practice followed by art-making as tools to build self-esteem, empathy, positive relationships, self-control and accountability to self, others and community.

To learn more about this Palo Alto, California, USA-based organization, please visit


Art Asana

Please visit yoga teacher, writer and artist, Eliza Lynn Tobin's web site and blog to learn more about her yoga-inspired art process. She also offers an e-course called Dancing in the Fire: Ignite Your Creativity Through Yoga & Art. As Eliza says on her web site, “Come along with me as I explore the unique connection between art and yoga. I’m a yoga teacher, writer and artist inspired by the life-affirming practice of yoga. Here on Art Asana, I will help you uncover the beautiful and creative being that you truly are through yoga-inspired art, words and teachings.



Art Saves: An interview with Jenny Doh

Jenny Doh is the author of Art Saves: Stories, Inspiration & Prompts, Sharing the Power of Art.  Jenny is the Founder and President of CRESCENDOh, a company that inspires creative passion, authentic community, and focused compassion. She also works with publishers to create books about art, crafting, and inspiration.  She is also the author of Creative Pilgrimage, Signature Styles, and she co-authored Where Women Create: A Book of Inspiration in the Studio & Behind the Scenes with Extraordinary Women.  Prior to her current work, she was Editor-in-Chief of Somerset Studio Magazine for six years.

You can learn more about Jenny and her work at and follow her on Twitter at @crescendoh and @jennydoh.

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Did you enjoy this issue? Do you have a story or resources you'd like to share on this topic? Please share your thoughts and feedback by e-mailing us at or posting in our Facebook Community Group page.

And don't miss a single issue of AHN News. Be one of the first people to read our dynamic and rich newsletter. When you sign up for our e-newsletter you will receive every issue (about four a year) directly by e-mail. We always keep your e-mail address completely private.

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AHN NEWS: Winter & Spring 2011
by AHN on 

This issue includes two interviews: one with Vijali Hamilton, founder of the World Wheel Project, and the other with Dominique Mazeaud, a self-described “ceremonialist, peacemaker, and heartist.” Both of these artists were recipients of the annual Arts & Healing Network Award. I also spotlight three books about using the art of ritual to create greater meaning in your life.

There is also a wonderful new podcast with Sam Bower and Anne Veh from To honor the new year of 2011, greenmuseum has created a beautiful calendar of environmental artwork - see more details below.

I'm wishing you a new year full of joy, creativity, and possibility,
~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Director of the Arts & Healing Network


Vijali Hamilton

"Healing art ceremonies have the power of healing on a very deep level because they bring communities together and form community where none existed before. In a resonant community, powerful healing is possible." ~ Vijali Hamilton

Vijali Hamilton is a visionary sculptor, poet, musician, performance artist, and author. She is also the originator of The World Wheel: Global Peace Through the Arts Project, which combines sacred sculptures, community ritual-based theater, and wisdom centers. This project has spanned more than 20 years and taken place in over 18 locations around the globe - from Japan to India to the United States - addressing the local indigenous problems, identifying aspirations, and helping to preserve the needs of the culture of each population.

Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director, Mary Daniel Hobson with Vijali Hamilton from October 2010, when she received the
2010 Arts & Healing Network Award:

Mary Daniel Hobson: Vijali, you have traveled the globe for many years now working in such diverse communities, and using art in such a powerful way to create connection and healing. What have you learned in your journey about the healing power of art?

Vijali Hamilton: I have experienced art as a catalyst for healing over and over on my World Wheel Project, now in 18 countries. I have seen that art goes through political, religious and cultural barriers. It connects people and situations, bridging understanding. This understanding is a healing of prejudice and racism. This understanding brings peace through global awareness, forming a global community.

Mary Daniel: The World Wheel Project has such a far-reaching, global and big vision. What inspired you to start it?

Vijali: The motivation for the World Wheel Project came from an experience in the mid-1970’s when my perception of the world shifted, and the unity of life stood revealed. The next few years were a search for a way to live within this web that connects all life. Specific ideas for the World Wheel Project came to me in a dream. I saw myself carving sculptures out of the living rock and involving people from many cultures in a process of ritual in a giant circle around the world. The circle itself represented Unity, in the sense that each spoke of the wheel has a quality that is unique and distinct from every other spoke of the wheel, and yet it is from these differences that harmony arises and from these differences that the whole is created.

Throughout the World Wheel experience, I ask each person I meet three questions:

  1. What is our essence?
  2. What is our sickness, our imbalance - personally, communally and globally?
  3. What can heal this sickness? What can bring us into balance?

Their responses to these questions form the ritual performance. Each earth sculpture serves as the performance space and is left as a gift and permanent installation to be used by the community, continuing to connect them to the concept of Unity within the World Wheel.

Mary Daniel: Please share your thoughts on ceremonial art – why is it such a powerful medium for change and transformation?

Vijali: Using art as ceremony gives us a new form of spirituality. Many of us don’t respond to the traditional church format, but still long for a way of communion with spirit. Art ceremonies allow people from any ethnic or religious or non-religious background to gather together with the same intent creating a universal bond. Also many of us don’t find the mainstream medical professions supporting our health needs. Healing art ceremonies have the power of healing on a very deep level because they bring communities together and form community where none existed before. In a resonant community, powerful healing is possible.

Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who are walking this path of art and healing?

Vijali: My advice is for artists to use their art to first heal themselves, and then to address the needs of others and our planet through whatever medium or skill they have. Be confident in the knowledge that art is effective and creates change and healing, and step forward with your own dreams.

To learn more about Vijali's outstanding work, please visit her web site at


Dominique Mazeaud

“Ritual and pilgrimages reflect the spiritual in art. Private prayers... public rituals express love for the world.” ~ Dominique Mazeaud

Dominique Mazeaud is a "ceremonialist," cultural peacemaker, and "heartist." She weaves together these three roles in artworks and performances, such as The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande, in which she walked the Rio Grande River monthly, doing literal and symbolic cleaning over a period of seven years. As she describes, "My performances are pilgrimages."

Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director, Mary Daniel Hobson with Dominique Mazeaud, from October 2010, when she received the 2010 Arts & Healing Network Award:

Mary Daniel Hobson: Do you believe art can be a catalyst for healing?

Dominique Mazeaud: Art is the voice of the heart. Art brings us to a place of inspiration, of greater understanding and compassion. I'd even say of love and unity through beauty. Art is the treasure chest of humanity. It's not just a matter of looking at art, it's the participation of the individual and community that makes art a catalyst for healing. You have to enter into it. Art heals us from isolation. As we face our own suffering and that of our planet, our hearts break open. There is nothing left to do but to let our hearts speak. In speaking or doing from this peace of heart, we heal and are healed.

Mary Daniel: You have written that "My medium of choice is listening. I dream middle-way solutions, but mostly I create space for a deep listening to the heart." You also describe yourself as a "heartist." Could you talk a little bit about what that means?

Dominique: My work as a "heartist" is about creating a quiet, tender space - a sacred space. In the ritual performances, people create the container within which the ritual is happening by forming a circle around the space. Whatever the ritual involves - spoken words, being present to silence or allowing sounds of nature and life to penetrate that silence - the audience focuses on me. They listen to my listening, and maybe they'll listen more deeply. In the silent object they can focus on what evokes memories - pain as well as joy. The listening is internal but also external.

Dreaming "middle-way solutions" comes from an older statement when I still did not understand that the main thing I can do is sharing my heart - to celebrate creation or feel the pain. For heartists of all paths (be it art, or life, or life as art), the heart - a receptive station where body, mind and spirit meet - is the ultimate guide and provider of feedback. Being a heartist is to be concerned with the moment. Being in the moment is not some vague, new-age pronouncement. It is being deeply aware on a micro/personal as well as on a macro/historical level - seeing the patterns that rule us, whether we are a family or a country at war.

Mary Daniel: Could you please share your thoughts about why ceremonial art is such a powerful medium?

Dominique: My calling is to search for the spiritual in art. Ceremonial art is a means to access the dimension of oneness between worlds as well as to reach a place of interconnectedness between all beings. Ceremony is ancient. It reaches to the past while occurring in the present and yearns for a certain future. I love ceremonial art because it allows a synthesis of art and of the spiritual along with the political. Ceremony is also open to constant exploration of form. "The whole being larger than the sum of its parts" invites collaboration and inclusion of many voices around a theme.

Common ingredients of all ceremonies, whether of art or of life, are intention and attention. With this in mind, every moment can be a mini-ceremony. This feeds the great continuum that art and life really are all about - a fact which we sadly have forgotten. For example, the main gesture of a home ritual I have done for years takes place right at my kitchen sink where a pitcher is always on guard to save the water I would otherwise waste before getting warm water. It's been spawned by an awareness of my drought-prone New Mexico USA home. In art, it continues the tradition of many celebrated works of women with pitchers. This private ritual inspired the main gesture of 60 Water Weaving Women, a series of performances about water, the first of which was held in September 2008.

Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your creative work right now?

Dominique: I can say that what excites me most about my creative work right now is the level of intimacy it has reached, along with a level of synchronicity. By carefully noticing so-called "coincidences and connections," - it's as if some mysterious dimension is "doing" it for me. Besides installations with great centering/ healing mandalas, my current work is devoted to rituals for the river. Again nothing new for me since my first The Great Cleansing of the Rio Grande in 1987-1994, but I am increasingly collaborating and inviting other women to participate.

Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who are walking this path of art and healing and ceremony?

Dominique: Listen. Pay attention to your own experience and synchronicity. Involve other people. Don't be afraid of coming out of the studio. Life and art are one.  Every moment has a potential ritual. When you do things with intention, then it's ceremony. Repetition is like the movement of a shuttle. To create a tapestry there is the need for many goings back and forth, there is beauty in every gesture, and in every row there is the promise of the finished weaving. Don't be afraid to copy the method. If you go inside and listen to your own heart, your ritual or ceremony will be unique.

To learn more about Dominique’s work, please visit


On the Art of Ritual

These three books are valuable guides for weaving ritual and ceremony into everyday life:

  • Rituals for Life’s Milestones by Sandra Hobson

    This book contains 15 rituals that have grown out of Sandra Hobson’s study of the wisdom practices of shamans and indigenous cultures around the world. They offer simple, yet deeply meaningful ways to deepen key life experiences such as birthing a baby, getting married, celebrating a birthday, moving house, and more. Elegantly designed by Charles Hobson, this book has been published in a limited edition of 500, and each book features an actual stone adhered to the cover. Sandra Hobson was interviewed about the healing art of ritual for the Arts & Healing Podcast in January 2010 – click here to listen to her podcast online, or click here to download it via iTunes.

  • Altars & Icons: Sacred Spaces in Everyday Life by Jean McMann

    This book demonstrates how arranging objects of private symbolism can create and enhance meaning in one’s life. Jean McMann showcases over 40 individual, personal shrines or altars created for diverse purposes from honoring the death of a loved one to empowering one’s creative journey. This book offers such a rich array of examples that it makes creating a shrine or altar accessible and appealing. As Jean says in her introduction, "To make a shrine, no matter how simple, is to make art – not for profit, but a gift… These things represent our triumphs, our epiphanies, our tragic losses; we cherish them, display them, and endow them with magic."

  • Real Life Ritual by Karyl Huntley

    As Rev. Karyl Huntley describes in the introduction, this book is "for those of you who wish to deepen your experience of ritual and to enhance your relationship to the sacred, to the seasons, and to life passages, and to each other." Karyl offers a very thorough and detailed look at the elements of ritual and how to apply them to celebrating the seasons of the year, life transitions and archetypal experiences. The book is packed with instructions for specific rituals - including scripts of what to say, lists of materials needed and guidelines for how meaning can be best generated by each ritual.


Sam Bower & Anne Veh of

Since 2001, has been helping people create, present and appreciate art that heals our relationship with the natural world.  This online museum offers a wealth of information about artists who are doing exciting and innovative work that directly speaks to the environmental issues of our time. In this podcast, Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson interviews Sam Bower & Anne Veh, core team members of, about the environmental art movement, "giftivism," generosity and advice for artists wanting to engage the natural world. Recently, has begun pioneering a new approach to sustainability as an organization by adopting a gift economy model, and so their entire organization is now run by volunteers.

Click here to listen online.

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Listen to more Podcasts on the AHN Podcast page.

Greenmuseum has also produced a beautiful calendar for 2011:

This calendar includes 15 examples of environmental art from around the world. For example, the cover features an underwater sculpture garden by Jason deCaires Taylor that helps support ocean reef sustainability. The artwork in this wonderful calendar reveals a sampling of some of the latest developments in environmental art to stimulate the imagination and promote the role of art in the creation of a more sustainable world culture. To learn more about the calendar and order a copy, please click here.


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