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