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!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Color me happy

For several months I've been trying to figure out a way to justify teaching myself some manga basics. Manga (also called anime), the Japanese style of drawing comic book characters, is widely popular internationally, especially among kids. There are divisions and subdivisions of characterization. Chibis, for example, are the ultra cute, child-like images of large-eyed children and round full bellies. Others are more popular with boys because of their heroic actions and fighting skills. Girl characters tend to have dramatic expressions showing intense emotion.

Part of the appeal of manga, for me, was that basic principles of drawing are included in all the instruction books. Shape, shading, form, highlights, line - it's all there and it's all skills that I need to practice. While formal figure drawing classes don't have the stylized characterization of manga, everything else, at the beginning level, is usually offered in exactly the same way as what I see in manga tutorials.

I finally figured out a rationale for myself! (Why I feel I need to justify this interest is another story....) But, but, but -- the girls at Juvenile Hall would love it! I facilitate a weekly therapy group and am always looking for ways to introduce new materials and ways to consider important therapeutic concepts. You have to understand, teenage girls locked in detention are not the sort who will circle up in a typical therapy group and consider their deepest understandings of themselves and others. They are not known for insight and introspection. No, and in fact, the greatest risk is that they will use the time to tell war stories of their misdeeds and how they ran from the cops, violated probation, lived on the streets and were misunderstood by their probation officer and the judge. Even after setting some group norms of appropriate behavioral standards, it's easy to squander a precious hour in policing poor group conduct. To complicate matters even more, kids move in and out of Juvenile Hall so I never know beforehand how many new girls will be present and if I'll ever see them again. Each session, therefore, must be concise and self-contained.

Of all the ideas I've come up with so far, the one I began about two years ago has been the most successful. Each week I arrive prepared with a general theme, something to discuss and consider, and then I connect it to an art project that will end up as a new page in their art journals. Girls who have been in the group for several months have fat books full of resources, teaching aids, short written responses on a variety of topics, short journaling prompts and pages and pages of collage and drawings. The journals are kept in a locked room (because they are full of the contraband I bring in) and the girls must remember to ask for them when they leave Juvenile Hall. Most of them do, in fact, which leads me to believe that their art journals are important to them and something they want to save, if not continue.

Back to manga. Recently I began a series of sessions on body language. Too often I hear statements like, "I didn't even say a word and I was the one who got arrested." So we talked about the power of standing too close, standing high over a seated person, glaring or eye rolling, crossing arms, foot tapping and the many ways we communicate without ever opening our mouths. I gave them a hand-out to consider, a page of suggestions how tensions can be reduced simply by changing one's posture, or sitting down, or unclenching fists or softening one's gaze. Not every encounter need escalate into a fight.

We talked about behaviors learned at home, how mom might react in a similar situation, or how dad would approach mom or siblings.

And then came the fun part, the manga. I had tutorials to offer the traditional outlines - the small noses and pointed chins, the shiny, jagged hair. There was one entire page on how to draw large manga eyes. There were three more pages of facial expressions drawn manga style. The assignment was simple: Practice drawing manga faces from the tutorials. Then, think of one time when you were feeling some kind of intense emotion, or notice what you are feeling right this moment, or consider when someone else was obviously overwhelmed with one strong feeling. Draw that, paying particular attention to the eyes. Afterwards the girls held up their work and told us the story that went with the drawing.

When I was in graduate school, if an instructor had told me that I'd be drawing Japanese comic book characters under the guise of my precious license, I would have figured said instructor was in great need of personal therapy.....


  1. This was a very interesting post!

  2. It sounds like you are really making a difference in these girls lives. I am so happy there are people in the world to help those who need it, but are hard to reach. I am not surprised most girls ask for their journals. My hat off to you, Barbara! You are doing a wonderful thing.

  3. Manga really is everywhere. I just saw that Alex (of EDM) got his catechism pictures of Jesus accepted for inclusion in the new book and his Jesus is Manga style. I'm sure the kids will connect!

    I am so glad they take their journals with them. That means you are touching a chord with the girls.

  4. Thank you both for checking in. The girls' therapy group is one of my favorite hours of the week!

  5. Sounds like you're on to something. I hope the girls appreciate your dedication and concern. They're lucky to have you.


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