Art Therapy and Ecology 3

January 16, 2018

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Photo: An art therapy forest studio, County Louth

A Forest Studio

A forest studio can be foraged for art materials, it can also be the site for installations, walks, photography, writing, sketching, printmaking, journaling, enactments and the making of artist books. Celebrations and gatherings also invite festivity into the forest. 

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Photos: Ravensdale Forest Land Art and Archway Blackrock Forest Garden, Co. Louth

“Sitting in a wilderness [forest] garden you can almost hear the generative power of nature. It is like watching a speeded-up film, when buds uncurl, flowers open and shrubs expand as if by magic. If we were to leave a patch of land free from human intervention – no cropping, mowing, digging or ploughing – it would quickly revert to its natural state…It is this feeling of wild, unfettered energy one seeks to create in a therapeutic garden” (Dondald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden)

Forest gardening is a practical means of cultivation, it involves low maintenance in regards to watering and weeding. The forest garden appears chaotic and dishevelled, and yet its layered design is a complex arrangement of companion planting. It is a self-regulating habitat, an ecological system, which benefits both mind and body. “If a garden is to mirror [human] nature it must be varied, irregular, random and wild” (Donald Norfolk, The Therapeutic Garden).

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Photos Top to Bottom: Willow woven hut for children, land art workshop display and willow woven seat in Blackrock Forest Garden and Ravensdale Forest, Co. Louth

A community garden can also be a habitat for art therapy, art and participation, or arts and health. Blackrock Playground Park (Blackrock, Co. Louth) has a dedicated edible forest garden. The garden was originally planted with local environmental volunteers, children and families living around the park. Working with neighbours (of all ages) to cultivate a “commons” or supportive habitat within the pathways of everyday life, an edible forest garden is an example of therapeutic gardening that embraces nature as a regenerating source of well being. Edible wild plants, hedgerow and orchard fruits, herbs, vegetables, medicinal plants and living art materials (e.g. willow for living sculptures, plants for natural dyes, and symbolic plants associated with Irish seasonal traditions) grow together as a large scale public artwork. Not only is the food plentiful, its design is self sustaining, engaging itself in its own reproduction and fertility.

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Photo: Blackrock Forest Garden, County Louth

“Many gardening words and expressions illustrate how steeped the language of cultivation is in the vocabulary of personal growth and nurture…transplanting, uprooting, flowering, blossoming, digging deep, grounded, putting down roots, cutting back, branching out, growing new shoots, shedding, weeding out…”

Quotation from Sonja Linden and Jenny Grut, The Healing Fields: Working with Psychotherapy and Nature to Rebuild Shattered Lives 

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Photo: A family artwork for Samhain, Blackrock Forest Garden, County Louth

“The range of art materials available from an outdoor art therapy studio invites perceptive stimulation and can be combined with more commonly used art therapy materials in either indoor or outdoor settings. Land-sourced art materials (e.g. soil, clay, stone, sand, seaweed, shells, weeds, charcoal, ash, water, grasses, pine cones, pine needles, roehips, seeds, flowers, ferns, nuts, lichen, [moss], mud, bark, herbs, leaves, berries, and edible plants), along with landscape-inspired fibre arts materials (e.g. wool, felt, thread, handmade paper, beeswax, fleece, and natural fabrics), and construction materials for installation spaces (e.g. wood, branches, and straw bales) all invite imaginative responses that add to the participation evoked by more traditional art therapy materials…

Land sourced art materials, fibre art materials, and construction materials can extend the textures, dimensions, and sensations gained from more frequently used art [therapy] media. For example, paint, glue, clay or melted beeswax can be combined with leaves, pine needles, grasses, seeds, rosehips, or flower petals. Paper can be marked with mud, charcoal, soil, ash, [pollen, flower pigments], and berry juices…Pinecones, dried herbs, flowers, and leaves can be strung together and suspended from an indoor ceiling or used to embellish an outdoor den, or even worn draped across the body. Mud, dirt, berry juices, and charcoal can “paint” the skin for use in art therapy enactments, with the pigments of these materials colouring the body canvas.”

(Quotation from Pamela Whitaker, “Groundswell: The Nature and Landscape of Art Therapy” in Materials and Media in Art Therapy: Critical Understandings of Diverse Artistic Vocabularies by Catherine Hyland Moon)

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Photo: Grand Canal Dock, Dublin

References for Art Therapy and Nature

Green Studio: Nature and the Arts in Therapy by Alexander Kopytin and Madeline Rugh (Editors), Nova Publishers

Nature-Based Expressive Arts Therapy: Integrating the Expressive Arts and Ecotherapy by Sally Atkins and Melia Snyder, Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Environmental Arts Therapy and the Tree of Life by Ian Siddons Heginworth

Environmental Arts Therapy Website by Ian Siddons Heginworth

“Taking Art Therapy Outdoors: The ‘Greening’ of Art Therapy Practice” by art therapists Vanessa Jones and Gary Nash, BAAT Newsbriefing, July 2017. Contact Vanessa Jones and Gary Nash at the London Art Therapy Centre, where they teach a course called Environmental Arts Therapy Training with drama therapist Ian Siddons Heginworth. They also offer introductory level courses. Courses are held on weekends in London parks and woodlands. London Art Therapy Centre

The Healing Fields: Working with Psychotherapy and Nature to Rebuild Shattered Lives by Sonja Linden and Jenny Grut

The Healing Forest in Post-Crisis Work with Children: A Nature Therapy and Expressive Arts Program for Groups Ronen Berger and Mooli Lahad, Jessica Kingsley Publishers

The Nature Therapy Centre by Ronen Berger

The Therapeutic Garden by Donald Norfolk, Bantam Press

“Groundswell: The Nature and Landscape of Art Therapy” in Materials and Media in Art Therapy: Critical Understandings of Diverse Artistic Vocabularies by Catherine Hyland Moon

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Photo: An art therapy forest studio, County Louth

Community Gardening: Cultivating an Art Therapy Studio

Benefits to Wellness

  • Skill Sharing and Learning among Peers
  • Collaboration, Mentoring, Teamwork
  • Social Interaction
  • Achievement and Self Esteem
  • Cultivating nature, Enhancing the World for Oneself and Others
  • Working with symbols of Regeneration (Growth) and Cycles of Change
  • Physical release of Tension and Stress
  • Pride of Place, Making a Difference in the World
  • Mind Wandering and Reverie in Gardening and Aesthetic Experience enhances Cognitive Flexibility for Problem Solving
  • Soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae releases Serotonin to Decrease Anxiety and improve Cognitive Functions, Enhance Mood and Coping Abilities.
  • Foraging and Harvesting assist in the release of Dopamine which may promote  Energy and Enthusiasm.

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Photo: Artist Susan O’Malley, A Healing Walk, commissioned by the Montalvo Arts Centre, Saratoga California

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