Thursday, December 17, 2009

New altered books workshops in the new year!

I am very excited to be given the opportunity to lead two art therapy altered book workshops in early 2010!

The first one is for adults on Saturday, January 16,from 10am -3pm. I'm co-leading with Rebecca Wilkinson, ATR-BC, in Washington, DC, at Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts and we'll be focusing on using Altered Books to explore creativity and identify strengths. See sidebar or for details-sign up quick though, if you'd like to come because it's filling up. I'm so looking forward to it as we'll be using our altered books to record and capture positive emotions as we identify our strengths. This work is very inspirational..

The other event is a series of four Saturday morning workshops for teens ages 12 to 16 who have experienced adoption. The focus will be on creating books about “our story –where we have been and where we are going, and who we have become on the way." We all could benefit from making a book like this, I think! I'm co-leading with Patty Pearson, MA who is the UMFS Adoptive Parent Liaison. If you are interested in this workshop and live near Alexandria, VA contact Patty at pattylpearson at yahoo dot com. I'm really excited about this opportunity because in '07 I wrote an article on using altered books in art therapy with adolescents which was published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. The article was inspired by the altered books young people in foster care made during art therapy with me at the Adolescent and Family Growth Center in Springfield, Virginia. I worked there for seven years, and really miss the amazing people there. So I'm really grateful for Patty's interest in art therapy with teens who are adopted to help to me return to this work.

Altering books provides a symbolically rich means of exploring reflection and transformation, especially when we make art intentionally for healing and to engage in growth and change. Jenny Navarro, ATR-BC presented about their use in art therapy supervision at the recent American Art Therapy Association conference in Dallas She titled it Altered Art/Altered Perspectives, which I thought was very apt title. Thanks, Jenny! You reminded me there are lots of ideas and new directions to come using this art form.

I'm anticipating some positively altered perspectives in 2010!

Enjoy the New Year!


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Presents that will transform your life

This year I'm giving and giving these two books by the outstanding women leaders in the feild of Positive Psychology, both are awsome and fun to read:

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007) The How of Happiness. London: Penguin Books.
Fredrickson, B. L. (2009). Positivity. New York: Crown Publishers.

Creating Original Artwork on Computers

Hey, we have smart boards at work and this email was sent around with amazing computer art sites - very cool! If you don't hve a smart board, your computer will work just fine also!

Enjoy! Gioia

SMARTBoards and Creating Original Artwork
Posted: 14 Sep 2009 08:51 AM PDT
Here are five of my favorite websites for creating original artwork. These sites go way beyond just drawing a picture on the computer and they all work great on the SMART Board. Enjoy!
This is one of my favorite sites for creating original artwork. In addition, you can do various things with your artwork like playback the drawing, include the drawing in a gallery of other paintings, and view and modify other drawings in the gallery. The interface is fantastic and it works great on the SMART Board.
This is a very unique painting site that uses abstract paint brushes to create extremely imaginative and beautiful artwork. One of the things I like best about this site is the ability to save your artwork directly to a "jpg" file.
Mr. Picassohead
Believe it or not, the name of this says it all. You create your own Mr. Picassohead using various "picasso-like" features for face, hair, eyes, nose, etc. It's really quite engaging and definitely a lot of fun.
I'm really addicted to this site that allows you to use your own images to create patterns. This site is very easy to use and the patterns you create can be used as backgrounds. The site has a short video that shows you how easy it is to use Repper and take the pattern that you create and share them or use them in various ways.
This is sand. Yes it is. To use this site, you touch on the SMART Board and sand will begin pouring from where you are touching. You can change colors of the sand and you can drop the sand from anywhere on the screen. Click on the small box in the upper-left corner of the screen for instructions. One of the neatest things to do on this site is look at the gallery of images other people have created. Some of them are simply amazing.
Sharing is Caring!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Next week, celebrate AATA's 40th with me in Dallas!

Made this artwork recently as I'm learning to Zentangle, a doodleing process which is very relaxing. This is Zentagleing on top of liquid watercolor. I learned about liquid watercolors as the New Orleans American Art Therapy Association Conference. This year, the conference is in Dallas and is going to be amazing. Rebecca Wilkinson, MA, ATR-BC and I were selected to present on Innovations in Happiness: Positive Psychology and Art Therapy; teaching about what makes people happier, who is happy, why be happy, what is happiness anyhow and how do creative endeavors contribute to happiness. This one day advance pratice course will explore the connection between Positive Psychology and Art Therapy and outline strategies for incorporating the principles of Positive Psychology into our practice to promote happiness in ourselves and our clients.

We were so excited to have our paper, Positive Art Therapy: Envisioning the intersection of Art Therapy and Positive Psychology, published recently in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Art Therapy, 4 (1) 27-35. Pop me a note if you'd like a copy!

It makes me happy just thinking about it! See you in Dallas!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Journal page from 1-20-2009

I'm reading -or re-reading, really, as it's too dense to read all at once-True Vision: Authentic Art Journaling by L.K. Ludwig. In it, she quotes artist Katie Kendrick:
"...I journal to connect with the dynamic flow of the universe, to try and understand the life force, the energy with my particular fingerprints, that is streaming through me every moment I'm alive. The process of creating, not the outcome, is what takes me to the source, although the end result, like a mirror, does reflect that creative energy."

I thought I'd post a page from my journal..which I do while "watching" my muse Rachel(at 9, on MSNBC) sometimes at night.. often these girls end up looking horrified at what they hear..this one drawn soon after recent US presidential election looks more hopeful & me, anyway! I'm deliberately trying to hold on to the hope and optimism I felt then, as if anything were possible and the world's story could be re-written. We can beleive and change and grow and things will be better. Yes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I'm grateful for my students!

These are my awesome positive psychology & art therapy students -at our last class that had performance art, altruistic gifts, a justice awareness play, & temperate art making. It was amazing--they are laughing because Rebbecca is doing the very goofy gratitude dance they taught us behind me--

check out "The grateful Dance" here for an idea of what she looked like: are you grateful for today?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"So, like a forgotten fire, childhood can always flare up again within us" -Gaston Bachelard

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Recyled Art

I thought I'd post some of my faverite artwork that makes me happy, as art therapy pratice is so enriched by our work as artists. These are purses and handbags I made from ironing plastic bags to make a new, thicker plastic material, which was then painted and stiched. My sewing machine is still recovering, but I loved how the printmaking turned out on these!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Save the date for Altered Books-Exploring Creativity and Identifying Strengths

Altered Books-Exploring Creativity and Identifying StrengthsGioia Chilton, MA, ATR-BC and Rebecca Wilkinson, MA, ATR-BC
Saturday, January 16, 2010 10:00 AM-3:00 PM $45

(4.5 CEC's available $15 administrative fee*)
Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts
1632 U Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
202 483 8600

All healing can be perceived as a creative transformation of one thing into something else.
Healing and art are a single process.” Shawn McNiff

Come explore the world of altered books, an art form where old books are recycled into new works of art. In altering a book, we might draw or paint on the pages or cover of the book (gasp!), or add magazine images, stamps, or stickers. Using mixed media collage--books can be adorned with fabric, leather, beads, wire or found objects. Techniques such as cutting out niches, making pockets and doors, transfers, texture building can be used. Inspiration may strike when the artist finds a word, letter, or image that becomes an interesting background or focal point that generates a personal artistic response.

Altering books provide a symbolically rich means of exploring reflection and transformation, especially when we make art intentionally for healing and to engage in growth and change. Creative endeavors often increase a sense of engagement, of being in the “Here and Now,” which in turn increases positive emotions—expansiveness, acceptance, and hope. We will use our altered books to record and capture some of these positive emotions as we identify our strengths and participate in a positively life-altering day!

Objectives 1) Attendees will be able to list three ways that altering books can be used to explore therapeutic concerns.

Objectives 2) Attendees will be able to list three strategies for using creative endeavors for increasing positive emotions.

Snacks will be provided. Lunch is available from healthy, reasonably priced restaurants in the neighborhood.

Contact Smith Farm Center
To register or for more information call 202-483-8600 or visit
1632 U Street NW | Washington DC | 20009
Metro accessible | Red & Green Lines | FREE Parking available

NBCC Provider #6327
*Smith Farm is an NBCC Approved Continuing Education Provider an may offer NBCC approved clock hours for events and programs that meet NBCC requirements. Events and programs for which NBCC approved clock hours will be awarded are identified in the Smith Farm calendar. Smith Farm is solely responsible for all aspects of the program.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Binding Together

"By Hand"-Artwork in Shaped Book Swap, 14 Secrets Moderator's Group, Lani's book, art by Gioia & Annabel

Joining Creative Communities through Art Therapy

Lately I've been trying to define the pieces of my art therapy practice I am most passionate about. Questions about how we can use non-traditional materials, collaborative projects and innovative practices to enable creative communities excite me! I love leading and participating in collaborative projects such as altered book round robins, book arts projects, artist trading cards, swaps and exchanges, and other studio community building practices. In my recent article about the 14 Secrets art exchange group, I led a group of writers who looked at the important features of building studio cultures that reflect the values of inclusion, empowerment, and the promotion of creativity. I wonder what part of my own personal strengths were used in that process? Or what strengths do I use when I help build positive studio cultures? If I can get really clear on that, I will really be moving forward! Because I think it is through using those strengths I can best increase love and justice in the world, in a way that might increase our communal happiness.


Chilton, G., Gerity, L., LaVorgna-Smith, M., & MacMichael, H. (2009). An on-line art exchange group: 14 secrets for a happy artist’s life. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 26 (2) 66-72.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Today my blog honors September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, by posting this letter from them that I got today:

To All Our Friends and Loyal Supporters,
Today marks another solemn anniversary for the members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. Yet we recall how even as the swords of injustice and violence pierced our hearts, some found the strength to say "NO!" to the powers moving to respond with savage revenge. Today we ask for your continued support to end the wars that have been carried out in our loved ones' names and restore the rule of law in the U.S.
We are deeply troubled by arguments that the war in Afghanistan is "the good war." In response, Peaceful Tomorrows published the report, "Afghanistan: Ending a Failed Military Strategy." With your help, we will continue to raise the voices of 9/11 family members to oppose military action that causes tragically high numbers of civilian casualties, and support diplomacy and humanitarian aid.
Nonviolence in Iraq
As Peaceful Tomorrows continues to work for the end of war and occupation in Iraq, we are honored to help spread the hopeful message of La'Onf, ("No Violence," in Arabic) the growing network of Iraqi organizations dedicated to nonviolence.
Guantanamo Prison and the Office of Military Commissions
Peaceful Tomorrows' Guantanamo Committee is working hard for a just conclusion to the prison closing, to ensure legal and fair trials for those charged, and to see that our nation rejects all forms of torture and complies with international law regarding the treatment of prisoners.
The International Network for Peace
All of us have been inspired by our friends in the International Network for Peace [INP], a partnership of 17 organizations founded by individuals directly affected by political violence and war who, like the members of Peaceful Tomorrows, have chosen to work for nonviolent solutions to conflict.

Thank you for the support you have given us over the last eight years. We will continue to work for Peaceful Tomorrows for all.
September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows
Nominated Twice for a Nobel Peace Prize
To send a contribution by check, write to:
Peaceful Tomorrows P.O. Box 1818 Peter Stuyvesant Station New York, NY 10009

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Some of my favorite ATCs

ATCs, Artist Trading Cards, are small pieces of artwork created to trade with other artists. The dimensions of the ATC must be 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches, but otherwise, there are not a lot of rules about how they should look-though they are always traded, never sold. The initial ATC project, was initiated in 1997 by Zurich, Switzerland artist m.vänçi stirnemann, and ATCs are now traded globally. Just Google it for swap groups! It's a lot of fun, and you can even give your ATCs away without anyone knowing... Some of my positive psychology and art therapy students did so when we had them do a Secret Good Deed. This exercise was adapted from Christopher Peterson’s work at the University of Michigan. Students were asked to do something kind for someone else without attracting any attention to themselves or taking any credit whatsoever. Art therapy students were been encouraged to use their artistic skills if possible in the completion of the good deed....they had a lot of fun with this, and learned a lot, too.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I am a visonary artist/art therapist (some days)

I'm making stamps for the Land of 14 Secrets, my art exchange virtual studio, and am drawn to the image of a giraffe. One Christmas my husband gave me a necklace with a giraffe charm--I thought, "Oh, he really understands me, he knows and honors that I'm a visionary...." He said instead, "I got it because you like to take the kids to the zoo." I thought this was very funny at the time...but over the years the giraffe has stayed with me as a symbol of the kind of visionary I am... who imagines possibilities for myself, my family and the globe....

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Finding your strenghs

A few years back, cabinet cards, those old pictures of people taken in the 19th century, were very popular in altered art circles. Lots of folk enjoyed putting wings or hats on the incongruous figures.

But when I found this first lady so bold and strong, I know she’d exemplified something about leadership and, I thought perhaps, being a mother. The kind of leadership moms grow into, over time. I want to lead as a mom, as a person, as an art therapist. I have her image hung up near my workplace, and she inspires me with her strength. Who inspires you?

We all have strengths, and the latest positive psychology research suggests that if you want to make positive change, it’s better to focus on strengths than problems. You can go to or to take the Values in Action Survey, and find out your “signature” strengths. Riddle and riddle (sic 2007) researched strengths among male art therapists using this survey. The results revealed that male art therapists have the highest scores in curiosity and interest in the world, and appreciation of beauty and excellence. My top three are appreciation of beauty and excellence, the capacity to love and be loved and curiosity and interest in the world. I wonder what other art therapists’ strengths are. I also wonder where the apostrophe goes in that sentence.

What are your strengths? You could take the survey, or just think about it. Or take the survey and make an art shrine to your strengths, like we will ask our Art Therapy & Positive Psychology students to do this fall. Lani Gerity thought this one up in her Artist’s Happiness Challenge (she might run that class again, do check out we website & blog for more). Only as I remember, she phrased it, make a shrine that is in gratitude to your strengths….In Massachusetts, Fialkov & Haddad are having their students tell and write about the story of their strengths, wondering about where their strengths are rooted in family of origin, culture, & gender, and then place their strengths in a story or image or enactment…


Chilton, G, & Wilkinson, R. A. (2009) Positive Art Therapy: Envisioning the Intersection of Art Therapy and Positive Psychology. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Fialkov, C. & Haddad, D. (2009) Appreciative Inquiry, self-reflection and the cultivation of strengths in teaching supervision. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Riddle, J. & riddle, h.m. (sic) (2007). Men and art therapy: A connection through
strengths. Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 24 (1), 10-15.

Love & Joy Mandalas

So, when I went to the First World Congress on Positive Psychology in Philadelphia, PA, USA in June, I learned about some cool researchers at Texas A&M University. Henderson, Rosen, Sotirova-Kohli, and Stephenson did a study about people who created mandalas, and found out that those who were drew a mandala with the instruction to focus on “love and joy” experienced more positive affect. That means it made them happier! So I thought I’d try it out. I’ve been drawing lots of hearts lately, but was a bit stumped about how to portray joy…pretty fun “problem” to solve!! I made another little book—just because I have this super awesome silk ribbon to bind my place cards into little books, that’s why!

What would your take on love & joy mandalas look like? Find a piece of paper, draw a circle (or grab something round, like a plate, or role of tape to trace,) and think about love & joy….use lines, shapes, colors and see what happens….


Chilton, G, & Wilkinson, R. A. (2009) Positive Art Therapy: Envisioning the Intersection of Art Therapy and Positive Psychology. Manuscript submitted for publication

Henderson, P. G., Rosen, D., Sotirova-Kohli, M., & Stephenson, K. (2009, June). Expression of positive emotions of love & joy through creating mandalas: A therapeutic intervention. Poster session presented at the First World Congress on Positive Psychology, Philadelphia, PA.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sometimes a butterfly lands on your head....

So, there you are, trying to live your best possible life, and sometimes a butterfly lands on your head….what are you going to do? Here Annie is holding her breath, proud! and she sure knows she is blessed—

What else can we do, but try to notice the moment-this very moment in our lives?

Lately, I have been trying to realize how grateful I am for my parents, in-laws & aunt & uncle who have always been so generous with both all the material things they have and their love, time & attention. I thought, if I hadn’t done something fantastic with all the gifts, education, and love I was given, something would have been very wrong. I am proud of the ways I’m trying to give back to the world and am also trying to realize –to just be here now, as Ekart Tole says, each moment of my life.

Each moment we are alive is extraordinary.

Be awake to the butterflies that land on you. Sometimes you know when it happens, but sometimes, they are invisible. (& sometimes, they tickle).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Visualizing best possible selves

Hi and welcome to my new blog, Joyful Art Therapy. That’s going to the subject of this blog, how to use art to increase joy and happiness in your life. Or at least in my life, as I’ll share the art project and activities I come up with along the way. I am a registered and certified art therapist, but if you think you might need to see a therapist of any kind, please do so in person and not just on-line, as it’s not the same thing at all, and I want you to be sure and get care if you need it.

I’ve been an art therapist since 1994, and worked with all kinds of interesting people, like folks with mental illness, young people in foster care, and children with autism and ADHD. In the last few years, I’ve been studying art therapy and positive psychology-the science of happiness. I learned about it first by my friend Lani (check out her cool blog here but have since gone on to teach courses in the subject (here and here, start a Yahoo! Group about it

and now I'm even writing a paper about it with my friend Rebecca.

Someday I’d love to write a book about it, too, the fun kind, with juicy pictures of art and lots of how-tos. So I thought I’d practice that here on this blog. (after all, we don’t need no stinkin’ publisher-it’s the internet age!) I’ll post every once in a while, and see how it goes. Let me know what you think-like most us, I thrive on positive feedback.

Well, today I thought I start with living your best possible life. I read a super article on “How to increase and Sustain positive emotions: the effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves” by Kennon Sheldon and Sonja Lyobmirsky ( As those of us studying positive psychology now know, practicing gratitude has been scientifically proven to actually make you happier! And in this article, they prove the following 2-minute writing exercise improves mood even more:

Think about your best possible self, imagine that in the future, after everything has gone as well as it possible could…you worked hard and succeeded in accomplishing all of your life goals…realized all your life dreams, and your own best potentials, identifying the best possible way things could have turned out in your life, in order to help guide your decisions now. Outline your ideal life in the future as much detail as you can.

This was researched as a writing exercise, but as you know, I’d rather art-ify it (and the positive psychologists are indeed figuring out that doing activities that are a good “fit,” that people find interesting, challenging and fun work even better,) so this is what I did and you can too:

Find or make a safe and calm spot for yourself.

Maybe it looks like this:

or maybe this:

or maybe just this: then you could do the writing part next, but I always start with the art. Make a little book cover. I used Papersource’s place cards, because when folded they are ATC size (2.5x3.5 inches), and Ph. Martin’s radiant concentrated water colors, but you do it however you want to do it.

Then make the inside…Write about your best possible self, from the perspective of looking back over your life, adding as much detail as you can…however you do it is fine, there is no right or wrong. Have fun with your handwriting, or print your text out with color ink, nestle your pages together and bind with a ribbon or what have you to make it special.

I’m going to tuck mine in my purse to remind me what I’m doing on this planet when I get confused (which happens less often these days, thankfully)…Enjoy the process!

Ribbon Cutting of the Institute for Continuing Education of the American Art Therapy Association!

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Gioia Chilton is a registered and board certified art therapist.


Gioia Chilton, MA, ATR-BC

Gioia Chilton, MA, ATR-BC