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Lately I’ve been reading (savoring, really) the book “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown and finding myself experiencing my art-making with a new sense of playfulness and vulnerability. Dr. Brown’s ground-breaking research focuses on shame and how we learn early in life to metaphorically and literally color inside the lines or not color at all, which keeps us from “Wholehearted living”. The past few months have felt like a time for me to re-discover for myself what that means for me.???????????????????????????????

In the many years I have facilitated art workshops for both adults and children, it is clear that creating art is a very vulnerable process, and easily shut down by even an unwitting offhand remark. I’ve nurtured others as they confessed that they, “used to love art but I’m not artistic.” I’ve never believed it when people tell me that, and I also haven’t believed in “mistakes” in art, just “discoveries.” I’ve been witness to the rebirth of countless “non-artists” into their own creative nature and it has been an honor to do so.

However, my own artistic experience has been somewhat muted. The awkward truth is that I have been so busy providing art experiences for others, I didn’t allow enough time or emotional space for my own creative growth. An astrologer warned me about this tendency years ago and every time I saw her she’d ask, “So, are you finally doing your own art now?” Hmm… Well, I’d give excuses…no time, no space. But on some deep level I also didn’t feel worthy of creating that time or space.
Then about nine months ago things shifted in my circumstances and my attitude. I decided it was time to be really disciplined about my art practice and yet make it playful. A friend said it best when she told me that like physicians who are admonished to “heal thyself”, artists need to “art thyself”. Every Tuesday and some weekends I go to the studio for my art play date with myself.

Lately those play dates have involved painting pressboard from the hardware store with unusual color combinations, then layering gorgeous Japanese papers with Lineco PVA (glue), painting over that, then adding wax over everything. I can never really tell what it will look like as I am working on it because the PVA makes everything white until it dries differently. The Japanese lace paper blends into the background in wonderfully subtle patterns allowing the underneath color to show through.

Reflective Wading
This layering of colors and textures feels very organic to me. Often I am part way into a painting and I absolutely hate it. Then I let it “rest” and dry. I come back to it another day and it has changed for me. I’m gradually realizing that part of why I hate it in the moment is that I can’t control it and I have no idea what it might look like so I feel really foolish and vulnerable. Yikers…true confessions of my inner control freak!

I am a complete novice with encaustic work and have no idea what I’m doing with the wax or what the result will be. However, I like the mystery of the wax, although I don’t always like the results. But that’s okay! I’m allowing myself to be a learner, find out what is fun for ME, and see what pleases ME. I don’t really care if anyone else sees it or finds my art pleasing. This isn’t about any of that. What I’ve discovered feels sort of raw, tender, very vulnerable but exquisitely joyful.

There are moments in that sunlit room that I forget my age, the cares of my life, or the passage of time. My head clears and I feel alive, alert, engaged in the moment. I remember this feeling from my childhood: the willingness to not know what I’m doing, make messy fun, and see what happens when I’m curious! It takes work to shut up the inner art critic. I tell myself that “this is just experimenting; it doesn’t mean it is ART”. That frees me up a bit and again I get lost in the textures, colors, and music in the background. I feel like this process is freeing up something else in me…not sure what, so stay tuned!
So, I ask you to see what could shift in your life if you gave yourself permission for regular messy creative play dates? What vulnerable, tender part of you hasn’t been allowed to breathe in years and longs to express itself if it was safe to do so? If you want a safe community of kindred souls, join me at VIA Artistica this coming Sunday, March 24th and let the discovering begin!
Register for the March 24 workshop at


Every January there is a natural push to set a fresh path for the upcoming year. Some people write resolutions while others collage vision boards of their goals. I’ve taken a different approach: a single Word of Intention as the focus for the whole year. I am still learning how deeply powerful this approach can be.

In January 2012 a group of my women friends heard Rev. Kathleen McKern Verigin speak to us about using a single word throughout the year as an “arrow of intention”. She shared an intriguing tale with us about a king who was looking for the best archer in the land. He traveled far and wide but couldn’t find anyone who could hit the center of a target exactly. Then he came across an arrow stuck in the perfect center of a bull’s-eye in the middle of the forest. He sent his messengers to ask who the archer was in the nearby villages and finally a small boy came forward. That boy explained that he shot his arrow into a tree and then painted the bull’s-eye around it. Rev. Verigin explained that when we choose a Word of Intention, our lives become the bull’s-eye we paint around the word/arrow of intention. Sometimes the ways in which the word plays out in our life may be challenging, but ideally the word should be uplifting and promote growth.

IMG_1007 Last year my women friends and I each created an arrow with a banner to celebrate our selected word and we hung our banners in prominent places in our homes or offices. My word was “Joy” and I also made a practice of writing down at least five blessings or joys each night before going to bed. As it turned out, 2012 had some tough spots so being reminded daily by my festive banner to note acts of kindness and beauty was a very useful practice. Using “Joy” as my Word of Intention was an excellent way to set my goals daily throughout the year, and reminded me there is always choice in how we see things in our life.

This January I facilitated two art workshops based on the Word of Intention concept. I invited participants to pick from a variety of intuitive cards and select words that answered the following questions. “What are my challenges for 2013?” “What are my gifts for 2013?” “What is the overall outcome for the year?” (If they didn’t like the words that came up, they could toss them back in the pile. There is no wrong way to do this.) I did this exercise prior to the workshops and found it both inspiring and a bit of a kick in the butt. My Word of Intention this year is a big one: “Illumination”. I’m being challenged to both illuminate myself and others. I’m also making note of how this word plays out for me daily.

At the beginning of January 2013 I facilitated a workshop on creating Mandalas for the New Year. As described above???????????????????????????????, participants found words that resonated for 2013 and then created mandalas to represent the next twelve months. We used iridescent watercolors, markers, and oil pastels on a large square of watercolor paper. Some participants divided their lives/mandalas into sections using artist’s tape and created a visual map of their coming year. Others created a single image representing a single Word of Intention (Examples: “Balance” and “Risk”). What was particularly gratifying to me was seeing each participant exploring more deeply what they really want this year through the process of creating a non-verbal representation of their word. It was clear that some sort of shift or integration happened in that process and lit up (illuminated) their minds and spirits to embrace their Word of Intention.

This past weekend I hosted my women’s group for an art activity to reveal and celebrate our Words of Intention. Most of us had mulled over different choices and decided upon our word beforehand, but at least a couple people were still deciding right up until it was time to create. For this year’s project we decorated small treasure boxes with acrylic paint, decoupage (using elegant Japanese paper), found objects, “jewels”, lettering and glitter. Each box was to represent their Word of Intention for 2013. Step-by-step beautiful treasure boxes emerged from brown paper mache, and grins replaced furrowed brows of anxiety. Art can seem like a foreign language to some but by the end of the workshop, everyone was in the flow and Inner Critics were dispelled. Decoupage has a way of doiIMG_2165ng that (which is why I chose it).

I also asked the participants of this workshop to make at least twelve (or more) small special pieces of paper to write messages about their experience with their word each month. The idea was to create little reminders of life events that could be seen through the lens of their Word of Intention. Those reminders are the real “treasure” of the box and will be added month by month. It was wonderful to be a witness to their delight as they discovered their latent artistic talents and bonded with each other over messy fun. I’ve written a little note about this “illuminating” afternoon (artful play is so good for the soul!) on a slip of iridescent paper and put it in my “Illumination” treasure box. In December the group plans to gather and share some of our messages about how our Word of Intention shaped our lives. We are all looking forward with anticipation to that ritual as a way to fully honor the growth this year will bring us.

In the coming months I’m excited to discover how creating art with others and alone illuminates my life and theirs. 2013 promises to be a very bright year!

Illumination Box 1_27_13

After many months of dealing with formatting and editing, I’ve finally got the Life Spiral Process℠ workbook available for the public on I’m really excited to share this work with others! The Life Spiral Process: A Workbook to Holistically Honor & Celebrate Your Life is a step-by-step workbook for people in mid-life who want to create piece of art that highlights their life’s unique experience and wisdom and helps them envision their future. There are two versions…one for people who are interested just doing the LSP for themselves and another for people who wish to become facilitators. Both are available in coil-spine and bound-spine editions.

To learn more about my upcoming LSP workshops and how to register, please go to


Last year’s nests stand empty as the bare trees await blossoms and leaves, yet the air is full of birdsong and spring will soon be here. In the weak morning sunlight tiny shoots are covered with dew that was frost. Cold nights still can burn these hopeful sprouts, so I haven’t moved the mulch back. I can feel the longing for new beginnings that spring offers, but I recognize care must be given to creating the space from which to launch those beginnings.

As Valentine’s Day approached, the word “tenderness” kept coming to me—there is just too little tenderness in the world—with each other and with ourselves.  Within me there are dueling challenges of pushing forward with a dream and allowing it to gestate and grow until it is ready to launch. Timing is everything… Taking my cue from the robins and crows, I decided to make a nest to honor and hold sacred that which feels particularly tender in my life right now. (I keep thinking of my favorite Otis Redding song Try a Little Tenderness. LOL)

Using a wire mesh frame (and some patience) I wove a 7 inch mandala with shaggy multi-colored pastel yarn. Then I collected bits of moss and lichen from my walks with the dogs in the woods, and found curly willow branches in the backyard. Using green pastel shaggy yarn I wove those items into the nest with care for their delicacy. (Construction Hint: slightly damp lichen and twigs are more pliable and easier to work with.) I wrote affirmations on handmade paper and sewed them into the interior. Like a crow I added bits of shiny beauty to my nest—bits of iridescent and gold glittery ribbon, pearls, beads, and shells. I dug in my odds-and-ends treasure chest and found a beautiful rose ribbon to add.

Finally I finished the nest with feathers and added some special stone “eggs” to represent issues of deep tenderness (painful and joyful) in my life. I found the project required patience and a light touch as each piece found its niche, and fit organically together. Creating the nest was deeply meditative for me, like a three-dimensional mandala, and I kept circling back to different areas and weaving in a few more twigs or a bit more ribbon to help it find its shape. It reminded me that starting something new requires some structure and form, but also enough elasticity to accommodate modifications and additions.

The nest is a sweet reminder to be good to myself and my care for my dreams. The new moon for me today is all about creativity honoring what most needs TLC (Tender Loving Care) so it can grow and thrive in the coming months. What in your life needs to be honored with special care as it prepares to hatch? What tender treasures do you want to give a special home?

TenderNests Playshop on Saturday, March 17, 2012 from 9-Noon, ArtSpace/TaborSpace 5441 SE Belmont, Portland, OR.

Pre-registration required. Please register early! Limited to 8 participants. Go to for more information or to register.

Mandala of Support

My mother used to say to me when I was indignant or petulant, “Life is not fair.” Amen to that. It is really not fair when one’s beautiful child is gravely and unexpectedly ill. There are so many ways in which families are challenged with an illness like childhood cancer. Mothers often spend weeks with their child in the hospital and have many sleepless nights praying, holding vigil, encouraging and comforting their child while supporting others in their family. There may be financial concerns as well, with medical bills and reduced work hours because of caretaking. All of this and more takes its toll, and mothers in particular are great at caring for others, but not themselves.

“Blissful Escapes” was created by Sharla Vellek in 2010 as a way to give a break to brave moms of children whose lives have been impacted by cancer. The weekend is free to the mothers and they are treated to time at the beach, great organic food, massages, haircuts, and art activities. Most of the services and materials are donated, including mine. This was my second year to facilitate a mandala workshop with these mothers as a way to connect more deeply with their creativity and spirit. Making mandalas is also easy and a great tool to enhance meditation and help relieve anxiety.

Mandala of Balance, Love & Grace

To start the workshop, I invited the mothers to select a “card of intention” for the weekend. I offered Angel Cards™, Grace Cards™ and Self-Care Cards™ as a way to hone into what they most needed from their time together. (I selected the Angel Card™ “Flexibility” (LOL) which was a perfect reminder because I needed that in more ways than one having hurt my back before the retreat!) To create a “sacred space” I played soft meditative music in the background and the room was filled with candles and flowers thanks to Sharla’s generous volunteers. Using Dr. Judith Cornell’s theme of “Nature as a Healer”, I asked the moms to think of a place where they feel at peace in nature.

Mandala of "Balance" & transformation

We created the mandalas on black drawing paper with colored pencils, gel pens, iridescent oil pastels, and stencils for those who wanted some help with drawing. Dr. Cornell wrote that drawing a mandala on a black background emphasizes bringing forth the light despite dark circumstances. This is a particularly powerful metaphor when facing a medical challenge like cancer. The possibilities for artistry are endless and the results are quite beautiful. Some of the moms incorporated the word from their cards into their mandalas visually or through writing their word on the border.

When the mandalas were completed, we placed them together in a sort of “gallery” on a window sill, and then gathered together to admire the mandalas and talk about their meanings. I find that it is important to give the artwork a mini-gallery setting to honor it and help participants see their artwork from a new perspective. While each mandala was very personal and a unique expression of the struggles and hopes that the mothers have faced with their children, several themes emerged: finding balance, relying on faith, and receiving support.

Mandala of Faith

As always happens with mandala workshops, I am completely amazed at how deeply thoughtful the participants were in sharing their experience. It is truly an honor to facilitate and witness, and I come away feeling like there is a deep reserve of wisdom in each person that only needs a creative outlet to emerge. Even for people who claim they aren’t creative, making a mandala can tap into that wisdom. I’ve heard from some of last year’s participants that they still have their mandalas up where they can see them every day and be inspired by them. I hope that this year’s participants will also find a place to admire their mandalas every day and find joy and peace in the months to come.

Mandala of Gratitude

(Sorry, because of the very personal nature of the LSP, no photos are available for the public.)

It has been a while since I’ve posted on my blog, but there has been a lot to process and the New Year presents new opportunities. The gift of working with others using the LSP is that I’ve rediscovered some things about myself and reclaimed some of my own creative juice. More on that after a bit of background…

These past six months I’ve written a workbook for the Life Spiral Process™ to support the work I’m doing with individual clients and small groups. The first draft of the workbook was completed in early September in time for the start of a “beta LSP group” of women who were willing to give me feedback as they used the workbook over the course of twelve weeks. (“Beta” is a technology term for “test group”.) They read about the concepts of the LSP with examples from my own life and they used the exercises and tasks in the workbook to help them complete some of the “homework” required between sessions. Between sessions we had individual conference calls to clarify any questions or concerns of each participant.

Our bi-weekly group sessions lasted about three hours and were focused on sharing with each other our life events and our Life Spirals as they were unfolding. Being a witness to other participants’ Life Spiral and stories was as powerful as sharing our own stories. We learn so much from each other through sharing and witnessing.  While each person’s life journey is unique, there are some points of similarity, too. Women in particular often tell me that after years of tending to other people’s needs or interests, middle-age feels a bit confusing because it is hard to know who the core self is. This is a wonderful re-discovery that can occur through the LSP and is an honor to facilitate and witness!

In the beta group participants were encouraged to share as much as was comfortable chronologically, but in some cases that didn’t seem to be the best approach, so flexibility was needed in my facilitation. Participants used the workbook as a guide, but sometimes their own guidance trumped whatever my workbook offered. During each of our bi-weekly sessions, we set our intentions (or asked for clarity)for our experience together through a time of selecting supportive cards, reflective writing, and meditation. What was always astounding (and moving) was how participants received exactly the message(s) that they felt they needed. Because the LSP is an intensive process requiring commitment and willingness to look deeply, setting intentions was important to feeling supported and on-track.

Even though it has been over six years since I completed my own LSP I found as the facilitator I was also re-examining what I learned by witnessing the group’s process and sharing some of my own stories. It is my experience that these discoveries keep coming, even after completion of the LSP. One of the key gifts of the LSP is finding the treasure of childhood joy in activities we may have forgotten we loved to do. Another is to discover patterns of behavior that either support or challenge our goals in life.

Case in point…A few weeks ago I wandered into a fabric store even though I haven’t sewn in over twenty-five years. I learned to sew when I was eleven and made most of my own clothes until I was about twenty-two. I’m not entirely sure why I stopped sewing except with three small children it was hard to find the quiet time. As I wandered through the fabrics I began to envision a queen-sized quilt as a Christmas gift for one of my sons and his partner. The “juice” of this idea sort of overwhelmed me but it compelled me. I have a life-time pattern of getting a creative vision for doing something which I have no idea how to even start.  Somehow I learn as I go, though, and I trust that about myself.

I began by asking questions of quilters and fabric salespeople. The people at several fabric stores laughed at me (literally) and told me there was no way I was going to complete the project by Christmas. That made me even more determined (another life-pattern—don’t ever tell me I can’t do something!) and I burned the midnight oil until Christmas Eve and it was finished. It wasn’t perfect, but the seams were mostly straight and my son and his partner were really impressed.

What I discovered was that I LOVE to sew, and I had completely forgotten this about myself! After some wobbly starts (including learning how to use my old sewing machine again) I became more confident and comfortable that I could complete it. I found the project grounding because of the concreteness of making something practical, yet also creatively satisfying. I probably will never be an expert quilter, but this experience felt like it opened a rusty door to a room of joy that I had long ago closed.  I am now planning my next quilt for my daughter’s birthday in February!

I also remembered something else about my childhood in creating the quilt: I loved to make stuff, especially as gifts. Sometimes they were successful and other times complete flops, but I didn’t care. It was great fun to create! As a kid I just wanted to have fun making and giving things away (usually making a lot of mess in my wake). When did the inner critic become so sensitive to whether or not there was appreciation for my gifts or even if they were worthy to give? The insight is that creative juice can’t be monitored for “reasonableness”—if it has passion behind it, then do it. Maybe it will work out, maybe not, but it will be an adventure and open up new worlds.

So I ask you…what fun activity door in your childhood longs to be opened in 2012?

Please let me know if you would like more information about participating in the next Life Spiral Process group. Look for the workbook to become more readily available after March.

~Testimonial from Stephanie A.~

“Kirsten is a very gifted writer, creator, and teacher. Her Life Spiral Process™class was wonderful in that it helped me to look back on my life not with fear and trepidation, but as a celebration. It showed me how to look at my life’s patterns and themes from a new perspective. I so enjoyed going through old pictures and talking with relatives about the past as well as really thinking about what I want from my future. Kirsten took time to work with me individually in helping to understand my life’s patterns. She is very patient and insightful.

I love looking at my Life Spiral board that I created and know it will be a piece that is ongoing. It has also been fun to share it with my family and creates another bond about our past and helps them think about their futures, too.

I would highly recommend a person to participate either individually or in a small group in any future Life Spiral Classes that Kirsten offers.”

The year prior to my fiftieth birthday I wrestled with my ambivalence at celebrating my upcoming half-century mark. I really felt my mortality knowing that at least half of my life was over and for sure my body would never be the same. Several friends, family members, and colleagues died that year reminding me that my own clock was ticking and I had to get on with any life dreams or changes I wanted to do. And I found I looked back with some regret at how chance and choice had diverted me from my true self or created heartache in my life or that of others. However, despite this somber introspection, I found myself looking at ways to celebrate my life instead of focusing on a sense of loss or regret. And because of art, it was the best birthday of my life (so far!)

The spring before my birthday, I took a class at my church on the opportunities and challenges to being a middle-aged woman. At forty-nine I was one of the youngest women in the class. At the beginning class we were given about an hour and asked to create a timeline of our life with major events and relationships marked on the timeline in a variety of colors (red for important relationships, orange for career choices, green for health events, and so on). We were told we could also add a photo or collage magazine pictures to the time line. While I think this was intended to be a simple way for participants to honor their life’s journey, the class facilitators really didn’t anticipate what a difficult experience it can be for some people to revisit their past and document it. For some people the past is both deeply private and painful. Several people left the class and didn’t return because the timeline was so triggering.

 I couldn’t do the project and I was really upset with trying to create a timeline in a group setting for several reasons:

  • There wasn’t enough time or thought given for the process.
  •  Creating a record of my life felt deeply personal to me, even sacred. I knew it could be both cathartic and celebratory, but to do it in a hurried way felt devaluing.
  • I also didn’t know the other participants and didn’t feel it was appropriate to share such personal information with them.
  • I don’t believe we live life linearly, so the idea of a timeline seemed like a wrong image. I’ve always thought life is more like a spiral that continues to unfold with themes, dreams and passions that continue to be revisited and retooled.

I went home that evening and brooded. Then I saw what I needed to do.  For the next several weeks I obsessively looked through old photos, made photo copies of them and other memorabilia, wrote down bits of memories and the dates they occurred, created a color scheme for documenting events,  and started to create my spiral. It took many, many hours, and yet once I started to create it, I felt I must finish it even though it felt daunting. It was both painful and sweet to revisit the various ways that challenges and relationships had shaped my life. I’ve kept journals most of my life, but this was a mostly non-verbal, visual process of accessing memory, which was quite different. I didn’t have a therapist or support person facilitating or witnessing my work on the Life Spiral, but it would have been very helpful. There were times it was very tough going and I could have used some guidance about how to proceed, or simply someone to witness the process with me and talk to me about it. So I don’t recommend doing this work without professional support.

After discerning what images and events to include (even those that were deeply private or embarrassing), I was confronted with a basic truth. My life has been mostly good and mostly full of joy! Yes, I’ve had heartache, but looking at the images from my life layered upon each other, framing the time-spiral of my life, I saw that it has been a very rich and joyful life. It was as if the Life Spiral itself was an aperture that opened my eyes to more Light, Color and Joy and diminished some of the negativity I felt about turning fifty. I could literally see I had far more to celebrate than regret!! Instead of ending the time-spiral at fifty, I added at least twenty extra years and included images of plans and dreams I still wanted to do, which was very empowering.

Then, for my actual birthday, I had a weekend-long party at the beach with friends, family and LOTS of art projects for them to do. With enough sunshine and margaritas, everyone tapped into their creative inner child and made new friends in the process! It was absolutely the best birthday of my life! But I really began celebrating when I started the Life Spiral Process and I owned the choices and challenges that had made me both resilient and grateful.

I’ve begun to facilitate the LSP with individual clients now. It is an intensive multi-session experience for those who want to look deeply at their lives and are willing to do the work involved to discover their personal journey. I provide the art materials and facilitate each session with questions and suggestions, and a lot of validation. Let me know several months in advance if you might be interested in this for your next birthday milestone.  I’m also exploring ways to make the LSP available more broadly to folks who I can’t meet with face-to-face. So, keep posted….this very well may be my next chapter’s work. I have new plans percolating…so the spiral continues!

(Sorry, because of the very personal nature of the LSP, no photos are available for the public.)


Touch Drawing of the Earth by Deborah Koff-Chapin at the 2010 Gathering on Whidbey IslandThis past week has seemed a particularly challenging period on the planet. This is an important time to focus on ways to center oneself, be of service to others, and send Light and prayers to all those who are suffering. There are many ways to use art as a tool to help move the emotions of anxiety, fear or dread out of the body, and invite compassion and spiritual awakening to replace them.  Touch Drawing™ offers a unique approach that allows the artist (and self-proclaimed non-artist) to move from one image to the next without judgment or expectation of a “finished product”, and can offer a deeply cathartic and meditative or even healing experience. It can also be a way to create “visual prayers” and messages from one’s spirit.

Deborah Koff-Chapin, the creator of Touch Drawing™, was in Japan presenting a workshop last Friday when the 9.0 earthquake struck. She and the workshop participants were safe, but they used the workshop as a way to draw inspirational and prayerful images for those who were not so fortunate. Please see more about her remarkable work at her website

In my workshops we always start with a 10 minute guided imagery meditation to help leave our daily concerns and invite deeper connection to our intuitive and spiritual side. In January I partnered with Carole Cotten-Figueiredo, LMT to offer an introductory workshop to Phoenix Rising Yoga and Touch Drawing™ which was very well received by participants. We spent the first hour guided by Carole to go inward and feel our bodies more fully through the yoga movements. With this increased awareness of ourselves we moved quietly into the Touch Drawing™ process, which I facilitated. The prompts I give in a Touch Drawing™ workshop also bring attention to how our physical and emotional bodies feel. On April 30 I will be collaborating with Cynthia Boelling, Certified Nia™ Instructor, to offer an introduction to a Nia™ Dance and Touch Drawing™ “playshop” to explore creatively moving our spirits. (See more information about this workshop below.)

The process of Touch Drawing™ is relatively simple, and that in itself makes it accessible to almost anyone. Basically, you need tissue paper, a malachite board (or other hard, smooth clean surface), water-soluble oil paint, and a brayer (roller).  Spreading the paint with the brayer can be very relaxing and feel like “wiping the slate clean” both figuratively and metaphorically. Place a piece of tissue paper over the board. Then quietly take a minute to breathe, feel your body’s wisdom, and move your fingers to create images on the surface of the tissue paper. The first few images might look like scratches or confused swirls as you move whatever emotions are stored in your body onto the paper. No need to be attached to how those emotions look; just roll the board blank, and do another picture. After several images, some of the more immediate anxiety about creating art or being in a room full of strangers melts away. Then you can start the deeper work…What is your spirit asking of you? What do you need to know, but haven’t acknowledged? What secret longing calls you? What prayers do you have for yourself or others?

Witness process

Take time after your session to look carefully at each image, ideally with another Touch Drawing™ participant, to witness the messages or gifts your right (intuitive) brain has for you. This is a powerful part of giving voice to those images. Recently I met with some of my women friends for an afternoon of Touch Drawing™ to help guide me in my current work. Each woman drew 10-15 images just for me as gifts from their loving and wise hearts. The messages of support and enthusiasm brought me to tears and I felt very blessed. They were, in a way, praying for and with me. I invite you to turn to art in these difficult times, and use it as a way to receive clarity and share your own prayers.

Introductory Nia Dance & Touch Drawing Playshop: Freeing Your Creative Spirit to Move ~ Saturday, April 30, 2011 9 AM – Noon

TaborSpace/Muir Hall 5441 SE Belmont, Portland, OR

This playshop will provide a meditative and joyful synergistic combination of dance and art in a unique format of two very special complimentary processes! Nia combines elements of yoga, tai chi, taekwondo, jazz and modern dance along with other healing, dance and martial arts– Nia reminds us to listen to our own body’s wisdom as we seek Joy within every movement. With a focus on PROCESS rather than PRODUCT, Touch Drawing offers people of all artistic and physical abilities an avenue of creative play, self-discovery, and non-verbal expression. The hands become the paint brush as images pour forth through the fingers! Participants will create dozens of drawings in this very freeing process. For Adult women & Teen girls aged 15+Limited to 14 participants. Cost: $30-45 Sliding scale

To Register: Contact or go to

On a snowy day like this one, it is hard to imagine delighting in painting outside although the winter landscape is beautiful. In thinking back to various spring and summer adventures, my inner artist has been happiest when I’m out in nature with my sketchbook, pencils or paints.  I don’t consider myself a hardy plein air artist like Monet or other impressionists (no snow-covered haystack pictures for me!), but I do find there is a playful spirit of adventure and discovery in capturing a moment outdoors that allows my “inner critic” to have a brief holiday.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to paint and draw in some amazing settings. Several years ago I spent two weeks in the Umbria region of Italy studying watercolor painting in little villages through the art school La Romita.  The La Romita grounds were themselves a works of art with plenty of plein air sketching material and bird song!

Olive oil jugs at La Romita Art School, Italy

Painting plein air in Italy with latte in hand!

After a delicious breakfast each morning we would set off for a tiny hilltop village or Roman ruins and spend the day sketching or painting. While setting up an easel sometimes felt awkward (especially with townspeople gawking or traffic concerns), keeping a sketch book handy felt very freeing. I started to get into the habit of having it with me at all times. I also felt less attached to the outcome of what I drew because I told myself it was just a quick sketch and no one had to see it! I used my sketch book as a sort of visual journal…private, uncensored, full of insights and personal metaphors. While I have a couple of paintings that I like from that trip, it is the sketch book I most cherish because it has an intimacy and immediacy that takes me right back to the richness of sitting under a 400 year old olive tree and drawing what I saw and felt.

"Empty Vessels Waiting to be Filled" at La Romita

Sometimes sketching along the way can be a great excuse to rest, enjoy the sun and soak in where you have been. One technique for doing this is to create an “Event Map” of a journey. At the top of a particularly steep hike on the Oregon Coast I paused to put on paper the experiences I had over the course of a couple hours. This wasn’t meant to be an accurate rendition of the hike or the landscape, but a visual journal of different moments along the trail that were particularly inspiring to one or all of my senses. In the Event Map is the encounter I had with a troop of Cub Scouts as well as the smell of spicy herbs underfoot. Represented on the map are all aspects of the trip, from the dark fern forest to the steep ridge at the edge of the ocean. I lay in a meadow below that ridge, ate an apple and re-created the hike on paper while it was still fresh in my mind. It was helpful that it was one of the most glorious April days I’ve ever experienced on the Oregon Coast and I wanted to linger. Having this small Event Map reminder of that day brings back to me the sweetness of the apple and the grandeur of the view in a way a photo can’t quite accomplish.

Event Map from Hike at the Oregon Coast

Last summer I went to a very special Touch Drawing™  retreat called the Gathering on Whidbey Island at the Whidbey Island Institute . The setting is spectacular (100 acres of woods, meadows and wild beauty) and we were encouraged to work outdoors whenever possible.  Touch Drawing™ requires a board, paint, tissue and brayer (roller), but a log or lap can substitute for a table. My favorite day of the week-long retreat was a trip to the beach where I spent several hours alone on a driftwood log in the sun looking over the Puget Sound to the Olympic Range and creating one Touch Drawing™ after another. There was no wind and the day was spectacular. As I tuned into the glorious environment, I felt myself shift into my own place of wildness and beauty. My drawings became freer and bolder, and I let myself fully enjoy the sensuality of the experience. It was really hard to leave that spot when I had to meet the rest of the group to get a ride back to the Whidbey Institute. Later I spent more time alone on the property at the edge of the woods and the labyrinth drawing and again found myself reluctant to go back to the studio. There was something about being out in nature that brought out my own nature in my work.

Touch Drawing at the beach

So I look forward to the next sunny day and a few hours in a lovely and secluded spot. Perhaps I will just have my sketch book with me. Perhaps I’ll have my Touch Drawing™ supplies. Perhaps I will share the experience with a friend. But wherever the spot and circumstances, I will delight in creating a visual remembrance of my special connection to the beauty of nature.  I encourage you to try this, too!

Kirsten at 2010 Touch Drawing Gathering

Hindu Mandala

My website

If you walk into any “New Age” bookstore these days there is likely to be a large selection of beautiful books on mandalas, including coloring books and instructions on making your own. Although they have been part of the human experience in every culture for thousands of years, suddenly they are all the rage! Why? Simple or complex, there is something very relaxing and meditative about creating art within a circle. And scientific studies show that creating mandalas can actually help to reduce anxiety and depression. The word “mandala” means “circle”, “unity” or “wholeness” in Sanskrit but the idea is universal.  I think the world needs more mandalas!

Christian Mandala in a cathedral

I’ve been facilitating different mandala workshops for the past thirteen years with a variety of groups, and I find it is truly an art form accessible to all regardless of “artistic ability”. What makes mandalas special is their versatility. My first mandala workshop was with an “after hours networking mixer” with a group of business women who were visiting the art school where I was the executive director. I wanted to give them a sense of what art can do for adults as well as children in a non-threatening way. (Art can seem threatening to some adults who have been traumatized by an insensitive elementary school teacher!) So I presented each of the women with a small piece of watercolor paper, provided some meditative music, and asked them to quietly use the chalk and oil pastels that I provided to create mandalas. I guided them but the instructions were pretty simple. I asked them to use their non-dominant hand to first create their circles with chalk pastel. They could then draw complex or simple shapes or patterns within that. What was remarkable was how the women began to relax and seemed to forget for a few minutes their various business networking demands. Creating mandalas gave them a mini-vacation from their hectic lives…and everyone could do it!
Some staff conference mandalas

Some staff conference mandalas

Years later I used mandalas for a theme at a university staff conference for two hundred people. Everyone from the janitors to the vice presidents was required to create a mandala at the conference, and some people were anxious or resistant at first. Again, the participants used chalk and oil pastels, pencils and markers, but they were also given a piece of black paper, which they could add to their mandala for a three-dimensional effect.  (What people did with their black paper was AMAZING!!) As soon as people started creating the first circle with their non-dominant hand, their art-anxiety seemed to melt away.  They relaxed, became quiet and went into a sort of meditative zone created when they started using their non-dominant hand. A vice president told the group later that he arrived tense but he “felt his blood pressure lower” as he created his mandala. We hung all the mandalas together in a large circular “Mandala Gallery” and it was a great hierarchical equalizer and way for the staff to learn about each other. People LOVED seeing each other’s work, and some of the staff members were so proud of their mandalas that they hung them their offices for months.

Sun Self/Shadow Self Mandala

After attending a workshop in 2002 by Dr. Judith Cornell (learn more about her pioneering work at I became impressed with the potential of mandalas to support healing. As a medical social worker facilitating cancer support groups, I have provided a series of mandala-creating workshops, each with a different theme. I always start these workshops with a guided meditation to help participants relax and connect to sources of support and healing. Two of the workshops, “Nature as a Healer” and “Return to the Center and Beyond”, came from Dr. Cornell’s body of work. For those themes we used black drawing paper, white and colored pencils, iridescent oil pastels and stencils, and we focused on uplifting imagery taken from nature or symbols from the world’s major religions. The white lines and colors are luminous against the black paper and remind participants to find hope and faith despite the darkness and difficulty of the cancer journey.  

At the end of each workshop the participants are given an opportunity to share their mandala and its meaning to them. Witnessing each other’s courage, strength and beauty is both powerful and validating. Tears and laughter both flow readily as participants share their hearts and their personal cancer journey with one another, and honor each other and their beautiful mandalas. This January I conducted a mandala workshop at the Children’s Cancer Association’s Caring Cabin for a “respite retreat” for mothers whose children have cancer. It was a simple but powerful bonding experience as the women started their weekend of relaxation and deep sharing. The retreat was organized by Sharla Vellek of Empowering Grace. To learn more about this retreat, please go to Sharla’s blog or Kacy Dressler’s blog

What I tell all of the participants in my mandala workshops is that once they create a mandala, they will start to notice them everywhere….From a flower to the sun, the shape of a circle and patterns within it call us to honor our wholeness, unity and beauty of oneness. And by creating mandalas, we find our own place of calm wholeness, too.

Idea from Dr. Cornell: Create a small (3” x 3”) mandala each day for thirty days as a form of meditation. Each day make it different and post them on your wall. Does something shift within you within that time?

Tree of Life