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AHN NEWS: July & August 2005
by AHN on 

In this issue I interview artist and author Deborah Koff-Chapin about her innovative healing arts technique called Touch Drawing.

There is also a review the book, Art Heals by Shaun McNiff and a featured link to the International Expressive Art Therapy Association.

I'm wishing you a summer filled with joy, creativity, and possibility,

~ Mary Daniel Hobson, Director of the Arts & Healing Network


Deborah Koff-Chapin

"Engagement with creative process is an important part of maintaining our health as human beings. Imagine expressive art studios as common as gyms are today!" ~ Deborah Koff-Chapin

Deborah Koff-Chapin is an artist, author, teacher, and founding director of the Center for Touch Drawing. Since 1974, she has been working with the healing arts technique of Touch Drawing and sharing it with many others through her books, tapes, workshops, and more. Deborah is an adjunct professor at California Institute of Integral Studies and University of Creation Spirituality. She is also the creator of Soul Cards 1&2 and the author of Drawing Out Your Soul: The Touch Drawing Handbook and The Touch Drawing Facilitator Workbook. Mary Daniel Hobson of the Arts & Healing Network interviewed Deborah in June 2005 about her work with Touch Drawing and the healing power of art.

Mary Daniel Hobson: Describe the process of Touch Drawing and how you discovered it.

Deborah Koff-Chapin: The best way to describe the process is to describe my first time doing it. On my last day of art school in 1974, I was helping a friend clean up in the print studio. In the instant before wiping a paper towel across an inked glass plate, I had the impulse to play. I moved my fingertips across the paper towel and lifted it. My touch left marks on the underside of the paper where it had been pressed into the ink... I laughed ecstatically at the experience of lines coming directly from my fingertips! I gathered up discarded paper towels and did more. At first they were organic, flowing lines. Then I realized I could form childlike faces and figures through the movements of my fingertips on the paper.

I am sure that I am not the first person to ever make an imprint on paper this way. But something more happened on that day. As I created those first drawings, the flow of energy through my fingertips blasted open a channel to a vast source of energy. With deep respect for the term, I can honestly say that it felt like a revelation. I had a profound sense something was being activated that was much larger than a personal artistic technique. I had a knowing that this was a dynamic process meant to serve many human beings as a new form of expression in future times. It was a gift from another level of being. With this gift came a responsibility. Somehow I would have to bring this process into the world. The rest of my life was to be "constellated" around this cause.

Mary Daniel: Please explain how Touch Drawing allows people to connect to such a deep part of themselves.

Deborah: In contrast to holding a drawing implement with a clenched fist, the hands are open. The movement of fingertips on paper releases the flow of energy through the body. It is also very natural to draw with both hands, though drawing with a single hand is still completely different from holding a drawing implement.

The focus is on process rather than product. There is permission to create drawings that are just scribbles scratchy releases of energy or expressions of pain. But with this freedom and release comes an ease that also allows for surprisingly graceful, articulate images to be drawn.

The speed with which a single drawing can be created allows for multiple drawings to happen in one session. As soon as one drawing is done, you lay it aside and do another. The common fear of the blank sheet of paper is more easily overcome as you move swiftly from one sheet to another. Rather than create a singular image with a single pointed, projectile tool, you give birth to multiple images that pour out of your body through your fingertips. The completed series is a progression of images that reflects transformations in your state during the drawing session. You can later reflect upon the series of drawings and explore their significance.

Mary Daniel: One of things that so impresses me about Touch Drawing is the way in which it has spread from you, the originator, out into the larger world, where others are using this tool as a healing catalyst from traumatized children in Gaza, Palestine, to nervous pregnant women in Canada. Tell me about how you made the leap from working with Touch Drawing yourself to having so many others know about it and use it for such great purposes?

Deborah: I was twenty-two years old when I began Touch Drawing. Though I knew instantly that I had received a calling to share it with others, I had no idea how this was to happen. But I trusted it would unfold as it should. First of all, I DID IT MYSELF. It was my personal lifeline. But even in my most private, primal moments I felt that I was doing it on behalf of a larger purpose.

In the early years, I thought that all I had to do was to show the process to people, they would "get it" and just start doing it on their own. But it wasn't quite that simple. People were fascinated with seeing the process, but that didn't mean they would run out to find the materials and start doing it themselves. In the later 70's I began to do Touch Drawing with friends and children in my studio.

Gradually a form of group workshop evolved. I wanted to support people going deeply into themselves while drawing without intruding on their personal experience. So I began to "hold the space" while they drew with live music. I used simple instruments like a drum and chimes along with my voice, which is my true "instrument." I began to add some non-obtrusive suggestions to help people get oriented within themselves as they drew. In the 1970's I also studied with Jean Houston and was involved with a deep improvisational ceremonial with Elizabeth Cogburn. These two teachers helped me develop a sense of the relationship between personal process and group energy. They informed my approach to teaching in more ways than I can say here, and I would like to acknowledge that.

By the 1990's, I began to realize I needed to find a way for people to begin Touch Drawing without depending on me to go give a workshop. Over the next few years, I produced several different media, including a video, an audio version of my workshop, a book, and a workbook for people who are interested in facilitating Touch Drawing. I also became more intentional about who I would offer workshops to. I began to become more focused on getting Touch Drawing into the hands of people who are skilled in their own specialties, and encouraging them to share it with others.

In 1997 I convened the first annual Touch Drawing Gathering a five-day immersion, weaving Touch Drawing with other expressive arts. The Gathering has helped me develop a sense of community around the process. It is a gift to now have others in my life who share a sense of Touch Drawing as a calling. The Gathering is truly a sacred event for me and I think, those who attend.

I have also developed relationships with several organizations and educational institutions. I am particularly connected to the International Expressive Art Therapy Association (IEATA). They welcomed me in when I felt like an outsider artist. The vision of this organization is to support the healing power of ALL art forms in a broad range of contexts. The American Art Therapy Association has been embracing Touch Drawing as well, which is truly an honor.

So as you can see it has been a long-term commitment. Very gradually, the seeds of Touch Drawing have been spreading.

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

Deborah: When you open the channels of expression, through engaging the creative processes, a clearing can happen that allows the life force to flow more fully through your body. The act of creation can redeem even the most painful experience.

One of the dysfuctions of our current popular culture is that people feel that there is no use creating if they can't be "successful" artists, but there is room for so few artists to be "successful" in mass culture. The emergence of the creative art therapies has catalyzed the reclamation of the creative process in people's lives. People are hungering for this. I would like to suggest that we, as healing artists, extend the concept beyond the use of artistic expression to heal something that is broken. Engagement with creative process is an important part of maintaining our health as human beings. Imagine expressive art studios as common as gyms are today!

Mary Daniel: What are you most excited about right now with your work?

Deborah: I am excited to sense that Touch Drawing is coming into a stronger presence in the world. I recently did a workshop for 75 hospice volunteers. I will be introducing it to a number of nurses later this summer. This strange, "chicken-scratch" process that I began doing 31 years ago is beginning to have a real presence in the world.

In terms of my own artwork, drawing in service brings me much more energy than private work in the studio. I have been working with some medical futurists who use my ability to listen to content and interpret it into images in their work with hospital executives. They have really been integrating my images into their transformational work. I also love to spend time drawing outside as a way to open to the spirit of the natural world.

Another exciting project that has been emerging in the last few weeks is a collaboration with another artist to create banners and posters of our images to benefit peace work. Our first step will be in Washington DC this September, where the images will be hung around several locations in association with a peace conference. This project is coming on really fast. We will see where it takes us!

Mary Daniel: How do you sustain the good work you are doing?

Deborah: Financially, I operate on a business model. But there are many facets of my work that could be considered in the non-profit realm, like the development of the Touch Drawing Community Network, database, e-newsletter, etc. The business aspect of Touch Drawing is product sales, educational media, and art materials. I began publishing the Soul Cards in 1995 which have become the most fulfilling way of making my own images accessible for deep use by others. Ongoing income from the sale of my Soul Cards has helped cover the endless expenses that I have running the Center for Touch Drawing.

The challenge is that there is not much left to actually pay myself. It varies from year to year. If I weren't in a supportive marriage, it would be really difficult to stay afloat. But I have been able to finance the development of Touch Drawing in the world without grants or fundraising. I do feel that in the long run, a non-profit association will come into being to support the existence of Touch Drawing beyond my personal efforts.

Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who are seeking to use their creativity to help others?

Deborah: Do what you can do, right now! Don't try to have it all figured out before you act. We are all pioneers in this. There is no path laid out, but the path will unfold before you if you take the step that is right there to take. In those first moments that I experienced Touch Drawing I could never have imagined the specifics of how it would all unfold. Trust the Great Mystery to guide you and take the next step.

For more information on on Touch Drawing, please visit which includes Deborah Koff-Chapin's teaching schedule, articles, images, stories and a complete catalog of Touch Drawing products.


Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul
By Shaun McNiff

"I have consistently discovered that the core process of healing through art involves the cultivation and release of the creative spirit. If we can liberate the creative process in our lives, it will always find the way to whatever needs attention and transformation." ~ Shaun McNiff

In Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, Shaun McNiff, a leader in the arts and healing field, brings together the "greatest hits" of Art & Healing, offering us a wide range of his essays, written over the course of his career. Each one addresses a different aspect of how art heals.

Chapters include:

Images as Angels

The Healing Powers of the Imagination

From Shamanism to Art Therapy

Letting Go in a Safe Place

Arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, they outline a path toward a deeper understanding of the healing arts from creating the space, working with groups, and interpreting the imagery, to art therapy's connection with shamanism and the work of Carl Gustav Jung, the healing energy of creativity, the use of new media, and the art of collaboration. This book is a resource whose value extends beyond traditional art therapy, providing useful insights for anyone wishing to work with creativity as a healing force.

Excerpt from the book

(Chapter 6: The Art Therapist as Artist)

As an artist committed to healing, I cannot begin to be of use to others until I am attentive to the transformations of the healing and creative process within myself. Everyday I rediscover that the things that annoy and disturb me are potential sources of creative power, and even satisfaction.

Let me offer an example from my life. In my work as a college dean during the late 1970's, I was constantly attending meetings. The time spent in meetings was taking me further and further away from my identity as an artist and therapist. I was only infrequently in my studio. My frustrations grew, and I considered doing what many had done before leaving my administrative work because it was estranging me from creativity and healing. Then it occurred to me that the cause of the estrangement was not the work, but myself. The job was a plentiful resource of energy, manifesting itself in conflict. I was not, however, responding to it creatively. I told myself that if I truly believed that art could transform tension, I should apply this principle in my own life. My "studio" could be anywhere, even a hotel conference room. If I could make art from those tedious sessions and still participate actively in them, then my theory of transformation would prove itself to be true.

I began by making drawings during the meetings representations of what I felt and saw. The drawings were then developed into paintings. The process built a bridge to my studio at home. I went there more often and began to integrate the negative energy of the meetings with art. I created hundreds of paintings and drawings in a series that continued through a two-year period. I was amazed to find that I began to enjoy the meetings and actually looked forward to them. After a summer vacation at my home by the sea, a haven for artists, I began to sharpen my pencils for the fall schedule of meetings. I was transforming a real source of conflict into art. Rather than interrupt concentration during the meetings, my drawings helped me to become even more attentive. I was focused, in a much deeper way, upon the total context, the purpose of the gathering, the nonverbal gestures, the body language, and more importantly, the people present.

In my journal writing I tried to deepen the insights that I received by transforming the meetings into art. I kept telling myself that conflict defines what needs attention in our lives; that the strongest forms are forged in the most intense heat (the alchemist's fire and furnace); that the power of conflict is one of the great continuities of human history; that I must plug into the power of my pain and anger and express them get them out!"

This book was published by Shambhala in 2004.


International Expressive Art Therapy Association (IEATA)

"They acknowledge and empower therapists, educators, consultants and artists to use multiple art forms for transformation and healing." ~ Deborah Koff-Chapin

The goal of IEATA is to inspire, stimulate, and support the creative and artistic spirit. They believe that the integrative arts combining dance, drama, music, visual arts, writing and architecture play a vital role in both individual and community development.

They encourage an evolving multi-modal approach within psychology, community arts, and education and they are committed to providing a professional guild and network for members to make connections, exchanges and collaborations.

For more information about IEATA, including their annual conference and membership requirements, please visit


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 leaving a comment. Just click on the blue "comment" link below on the right.

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