On 01.02.02, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Too late for surgery, I had chemotherapy, which failed. In May the chemotherapy was changed and I was soon in remission which was celebrated and welcome and lasted nine years - until October 2011. There was progression in 2011 so more treatment was indicated and I am now back in partial remission. But I'm not only a cancer patient - I also enjoy my family, walk my dogs and am learning to draw and paint. Life is good!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Circling around again and again

The girls' therapy group at Juvenile Hall has been working with circles for over a month. I showed them pictures of mandalas and asked them to draw their own.

Another week they worked with their own hands using white shading in circles on black paper. The next session they used the same white-on-black method for mandalas.

Today I introduced them to zentangles but used Sharpies on dessert plate-sized circles. Some of their repetitive patterns - the tangles - were stunning and the girls were pleased.

When I began this group about six years ago the authorities called it a self-esteem group. So while I think I'm facilitating group therapy for adolescent girls in detention the girls believe it has something to do with self-esteem. Obviously the two can and do work together but it presents one more step.

"Why do we do so many art projects in a self-esteem group?" I ask them. In the end I can see at least four advantages. 1) Art, especially art with repetitive patterns, is known to be relaxing. Learning how to relax is a tool these kids can use. 2) Whenever we learn something we become a bit larger than we were before. 3) If we are able to appreciate a completed project we have added a tiny bit of beauty to the world, a concept that delights the girls. 4) Some artwork can provide windows pointing to increased insight.

I often include some sort of teaching and skill-building page to add too, something that has nothing to do with art. They have pages of resources to take with them when they leave.

So, while they work on their projects - and I work on mine with them - we chat. Being together and just chatting in safety is probably the greatest benefit. The hour is over, another page is added to their growing art journals. "I just love to look through all the pages," one girl said recently. And that makes it all worthwhile.


  1. HI, Cynthia here. I found your blog through EDM and have eagerly returned to read it on several occasions. The zentangles fascinate me and I am trying to figure thenm out.I love to read about your impact with the girls and how art is your vehicle to connect with them. I liked your list of where "self esteem" intersections line up with your work. I think that to esteem the self, one has to by definition first know who the Self is.And what better way to know the self than through art. Since we are all creations, we are at our most true self when we create. Bravo to you for giving the girls the chance to be creative, it is powerful.

  2. You've made an excellent point, Cynthia. I absolutely agree with you. Thank you for your support and comment.

  3. Valuable lessons that we all can use. Thanks for sharing your work with the girls. Lovely zentangle too!

  4. Great zentangle. I love doing them as they are relaxing to me.

  5. There's nothing like the feeling you get when helping someone, but what's even better is that you enjoy every minute of the time spent with them. Art does so many things for both the artist and the viewer. Great work! nancy

  6. Hi There. What an interesting blog!
    The girls at Juvenile Hall are so lucky to have you as their teacher
    and vice versa.

    It sounds like the girls enjoyed the mandala project to the Max!- and benefit thoroughly from other unique and creative projects you introduce in your art class.

    Three cheers!


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