"Art making is an intuitive process; that is, it does not depend on logical or rational thought, and it has no rules. When you use your intuition, you simply feel that you know what is right in a given situation…

Art making involves a sense of play. Jung noted that, without play, “no creative work has ever yet come to birth.”

Play is important to adults, too. It is behavior that enables us to feel free to explore and express without self-judgment or inhibition, to participate for the sheer joy of the experience and to think creatively, flexibly and innovatively." -Cathy A. Malchiodi


For those who feel lost, overwhelmed, or isolated, expressing it and visualizing hope on the shore would be a therapeutic and beautiful way of identifying needs, feeling hope for the future, or realizing where they are on a specific journey.

  • Visualize being lost at sea on a stormy night with a glimmer of light leading to land. If you row hard, you know you can make it. Warm food, dry clothes, and rest will be waiting at the shore.
  • Draw, color, or paint a lighthouse as a source of guidance. Depict yourself in relation to the lighthouse somewhere in the image. Add words to represent sources of guidance in your life.
Self Care Box

Affirmation and inspiration are the keys to the self-care box. It can be comforting to have something small, tangible, and beautiful in times of trouble. The box can be used as a resource and its ongoing creation can be therapeutic for the user.

  • Using a cardboard box and other art materials, decorate the box while keeping in mind that this will be the home for trinkets and small items of importance.
  • Decorate or line the box with positive affirmations. These can be self-generated, generated by group members, or found online. These can also be simply folded and put into the box to be read when needed.
  • Use the box for items that provide comfort like worry stones, pictures of friends or family, clips of quotes or poetry, pressed flowers, or treasured jewelry or things. Maybe even leave some movie vouchers or massage gift cards in the box to be used when you feel drained or low and need some self-care.
Poem Collage

Self-criticism can make the act of creation difficult, and often that difficulty in finding the words to express your feelings is because you’re self-conscious of what you’ve written and how inadequate the expressions feel. By creating a poem out of words you choose without having to draw them from your head, you can create an un-self-conscious poem that molds pre-existing words to your own feelings.

  • Collect materials like magazines, newspapers, old books, and scrap paper.
  • Cut out words that stand out to you or inspire you.
  • Collage the materials you found just as you would with a visual collage.
  • You can begin the project with a story or theme in mind, or you can allow the word choices to decide the end result.
  • If a project like this is used in a group or therapy setting, practitioners could ask the participants about their word choices, chosen themes, or interpretations of the poems.

Panic Book

People with Panic Disorder can be stirred into panic just thinking about having a panic attack. It can come on after a great deal of stress, or without warning in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. Having a Panic Book can be a way to keep yourself calm and comforted. Here’s how to make one:

  • Get a sketchbook, notebook, or even an old paperback book that you don’t want to read anymore. Collect materials like magazines, paint, markers, color pencils, stamps, and more, being sure to build a reserve of materials that will go into making something you feel satisfied with.
  • As a theme for each page, create a collage or drawing of things that you love and that make you feel calm, e.g. the beach, the library, a poem, the face of a loved one.
  • Carry this book with you, add to it, and use it when you feel anxious or on the verge of a panic attack, using it as a source of guided meditation to bring you back to a safe place.


Drawing patterns and allowing your brain to enter a peaceful flow state reduces anxiety and generally helps with a feeling of peacefulness, slowing down time and focusing moment to moment. Zentangle was created with the promise that anyone can do it, even if they didn’t think they could draw well enough to create something beautiful. Drawing Zentangles creates a feeling of accomplishment and helps to pass time in a thoughtful, healing way.

  • Before drawing, take a moment to feel gratitude and express appreciation for the materials and the opportunity to create something beautiful.
  • Draw four dots, one in each corner, so the page is no longer blank and intimidating.
  • On a square piece of paper, lightly draw a border in pencil.
  • Draw a “string” or multiple “strings” in pencil to divide the page and create an outline.
  • Using a pen, draw confident strokes in defined shapes, not worrying about what it is or what it looks like, usually keeping inside the borders and within the string outline. There is no up and down, so rotate as needed without regard to “proper” orientation.
  • Shade with a graphite pencil. Traditionally, Zentangles are done in black and white, but some unofficial sites condone use of color in the Zentangle.
  • Initial and sign your creation, stamping it with pride that you just made something unique and appealing.
  • Admire your work.
Scribbling with Your Eyes Closed

According to Malchiodi, because everyone started scribbling as kids, this is a natural place to start with art therapy. Before you begin, she suggests relaxing for a few minutes, listening to soothing music or meditating. For this activity, you’ll need an 18 by 24 inch paper and chalk pastels.

Tape your sheet of paper to the table (or wherever you’re working) so it won’t budge. Pick a chalk color that you can see. Place your chalk in the middle of the paper, close your eyes and start scribbling.

Scribble for about 30 seconds, and open your eyes. Take a close look at your picture, and find an image (“a particular shape, figure, object and so on”). Be sure to examine your picture from all sides. You can even hang it on the wall, and step back to get the whole perspective. After you find your image, color it in and add details to bring “that image into clearer focus.” Hang up your drawing, and think of a title.

Spontaneous Images Journal

“Making images on a regular basis opens up many possibilities for understanding and expressing oneself,” Malchiodi writes. In your spontaneous images journal, you not only paste or create images, but you also write down a title and a few phrases or sentences about your work. (And date each one.) You can do this daily or several times a week.

The more you do this, the more you’ll “begin to see similarities in a theme, colors or shape” and develop “your own unique way of working with materials and your own images and symbols.”

Self-Soothing Image Book

You can use images to “self-soothe and create positive sensations,” Malchiodi says in her book. For this exercise, you’ll need 10 or more sheets of 8 ½ x 11-inch paper, magazines, colored paper, collage materials, scissors and glue.

Start by thinking about pleasant sensory experiences, such as landscapes, sounds, scents, tastes, textures and anything else that makes you feel tranquil or happy; and write them down. Cut out images that match those experiences out of your magazines and other collage materials.

Then paste those images onto the paper. You can organize the images by composition or textures, the environment and other categories. Pull together all your papers, create a cover and figure out how you’d like to bind your book. (For instance, you can punch holes in the papers and put them in a binder.)

Afterward, write down your general thoughts and feelings. And specifically, think about how you felt while choosing the images. Ask yourself “Which sensory images did I favor over others? Why?” Continue adding to your book whenever you like.

More Self-Exploration

To dig even deeper with these activities, Malchiodi suggests asking yourself questions about your work and art.

  • Instead of thinking about what an image means, think about the feeling it communicates. She writes: “What are your initial impressions? Is the image happy, angry, sad, anxious and so on? Or does it have many different feelings expressed through color, line and form? How do you use color, line and form to express emotion?”
  • “If the image could talk to you, what would it say?” Look at your picture, and give each part its own voice. Malchiodi suggests speaking in first person. So if you have a tree in your collage, you’d say, “I am a tree and I feel …”
  • Pick a part of your image that’s interesting to you or that you don’t like. “Try making another drawing or painting of that section only, enlarging it and adding new details or images that come to mind.”
  • “Explore images with images.” Create another image that responds to your original. Interestingly, Malchiodi says that your images will have different meanings depending on the day. She suggests keeping an open mind and continuing to explore.

Books for Self-Guided Art Therapy

Art Therapy Sourcebook by Cathy Maldiochi

Art Therapy Techniques and Applications by Susan Buchalter and Tracylynn Navarro

The Book of Zentangle by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas

100 Magnificent Mandalas: Adult Coloring Book Vol. 1 by Jade Summer

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