Expressive Art Therapy for the Traumatized Child

Providing treatment for a child who has experienced trauma means treating both the child and her family. After a traumatic experience, families have different ways of coping; Often there is chaos. Chaos in the environment makes it very difficult for a young child to feel safe to be a child. Trauma also can make it difficult for family members to emotionally connect with each other.

What happens to the child?
In my occupational therapy practice, I regularly provide therapy services to the adult victims of car accidents. Recently, I have provided expressive art therapy for a ten-year-old child who was with her mother when she was involved in a motor vehicle collision. From age 3, my client grew up in a family that is broken by trauma.

This client is not the direct victim of the car accident; nonetheless, the effects of the accident left a large impression on her childhood and continues to do so today. As service providers, we must not forget that trauma affects the victim’s spouse, child, and family members.

The child
When I first met my client, she was very sad. She was unexpressive and emotionally withdrawn. During our first meeting, she looked down, sat still and didn’t make eye contact. She couldn’t speak about her feelings and was only able to express that nothing seemed important to her. She did not volunteer a lot of information, making it difficult to assess in therapy sessions how she was doing physically and emotionally. She had no voice. After a lot of questions from me and with long pauses of silence on her part, she would occasionally talk about nightmares. She did not, however, want to elaborate – she was shut down.

So how does a therapist approach this situation?
Judith Herman has explained in her book Trauma and Recovery, that in trauma-informed art therapy we must establish safety first. Initial sessions must emphasize the development of trust and safety and focus on teaching self-regulation skills.

What are self-regulation skills?
Self-regulation is the ability to calm oneself down when upset and cheer oneself up when feeling down. In this case, my client had very few self-regulation skills. She was always very sad but not able to express her feelings. Or she would be frustrated and angry and physically lash out at her siblings instead of telling them to stop or asking her parents for help. For a child to be able to recover from trauma, she must be comfortable with self-disclosure. She must feel emotionally secure in order to be able to learn new skills.

Our rehabilitation team worked on supporting her abilities to learn self-care and self-regulation through identifying situations that create worry or anxiety (marks at school, not being prepared, nightmares), how her body reacts to stress (cold feet, upset tummy) and strategies for reducing stress when uncomfortable feelings arise (breathing, talking to an adult).

Peter Levine and Maggie Kline, in their book Trauma-Proofing Your Kids, say: “A child must experience the following in order to feel safe and to be able to self-regulate:

  1. My body is safe
  2. My feelings are safe
  3. My thoughts, words, and ideas are safe
  4. Things I make are safe.

During Art therapy sessions, we worked on safety and self-regulation through art. I asked my client about how she felt when we first met and started therapy, and what skills have changed. I asked her about how she felt at the start of therapy and how she feels now. The purpose of reflecting on past difficult times or feeling is to help the client recognize how much she has grown and the new skills she possesses. Recognizing copying skills and personal growth helps build confidence. I asked my client to write down these reflections in her journal. Then she can read them out loud to her parents to help the family form new emotional bonds.

Expressive Art Therapy
We also began to make a “Happy Mosaic Board” to create symbols of what makes her happy. She said that dancing, music, colours, sparkly things and friends made her happy. She included the symbol of a music note at the centre of her board, surrounding it with sparkly things and colours! She started her board by laying down the foundational tiles.

In Creative Interventions with Traumatized Children, Cathy Malchiodi explains that step two of trauma-informed art therapy (after establishing safety and trust) involves telling the trauma story. Children are encouraged to talk about how the trauma affected them. The overall goal is to help children heal the trauma of violent events and to begin to regain their abilities to experience and enjoy life even though bad things have happened.

When we were completing the mosaic board, I asked the client again about the changes she has been able to make in her life since I’ve met her. She has learned skills from her social work counseling sessions, like patience– learning how to wait. She has also learned to control her anger through breathing exercises and to moderate sadness by first crying and then doing something that makes her happy.

She also learned, with occupational therapy, daily living skill such as :

  • budgeting to make sure she has enough money to purchase small items from the dollar store;
  • scheduling her appointments by writing it down on her calendar;
  • researching topics and finding books at the library; and
  • using a computer and iPad.

She also experienced interactions with adults role model who listens and respects her wishes. The reflection exercise helped her to feel good about herself and to recognize her abilities. I then asked her about the nightmares again. At this point, she was ready to open up. She said that had nightmares almost 4-5 times a week before therapy, but now it is significantly less at about once a week. Without Trauma-informed Expressive Art Therapy, it would be very difficult for her to share this trauma.

Telling the trauma story doesn’t have to be long or complicated, but the child needs to feel safe enough to tell it. She feels safe about who she is and that:

  1. Her body is safe
  2. Her feelings are safe
  3. Her thoughts, words, and ideas are safe
  4. The things that she makes are safe

Right now, my client is happier.  She is in an environment that is more safe and loving. She felt like she has the freedom to be who she is. Here is her finished “Happy Board.” It is colourful, full of sparkles, creativity, and full of life. I asked her to name her board. She called is “Dream of life.”

The outcome measure from the client’s initial assessment shows that a year ago she felt like she had very little abilities to do her daily activities. She also had very little satisfaction in the things she did indicating signs of childhood sadness and depression. I reassessed her and was pleasantly surprised that most of her scores have improved.

Judith Herman explains that step three in trauma-informed art therapy involves restoring the connection between traumatized individuals and their communities. My client needed to restore connections with important people in her life: her family.

I helped the client to take the lead by encouraging her to share accomplishments and achievements with her parents by sharing her journal writing and reflections. The client felt real accomplishment through working on and finishing a  piece of art. Her parents were pleasantly surprised at her creation and framed her artwork in the living room. They were proud of her and finally recognize their little girl.

Trauma-informed art therapy assists in recovery from exposure to trauma. It reduces stress-related symptoms and enhances resilience to future crisis. I believe that the client’s “dream of life” is the beginning of the development of her abilities and capacities. These skills and abilities were buried when I first met my clients; Now they are expressed through therapy, care, and art!

Be Free

I started this painting in December. When I was in a strange mood. Painting helped me focus my attention on something positive. I enjoyed moving the brush strokes on the paper. The way the paint saturates the white surface. Playing between the dark and light blue. Then adding the details. After adding the background I wasn’t inspired anymore. So I put it away. But I didn’t forget about it. Just saved it. Waiting for new inspiration to come.

I became inspired again in March. So I added the details, added silver metallic paints. Mixed watercolour with acrylic ink. Added depth to the painting. Then finished it by naming it. It’s called “Be Free.” Can you see where I wrote that in the painting?

Published! Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA) Magazine

This story was written by one of my clients. It was chosen for publication by the Ontario Brain Injury Association (OBIA Review) Magazine.

“I am sitting with a few people in the Orchard Library on Thursday afternoon. The room is half the size of a basketball court covered with grey carpet. There is a central island formed by four rectangular tables. Close to the entrance, several juice bottles and two baskets of energy bars are waiting on the welcome table. The room looks quite empty with five big windows overlooking the busy Yonge-and-Eglinton intersection. We all look “normal” or at least most of us do not look like we have a disability. One person is in a wheelchair, and another has a twisted hand….” Click here (OBIA-Review-24-3-online-with-links) for the rest of the story.

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Mindful Art & Concussion/Traumatic brain injury

Mindful Art & Concussion/Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Prints from my clients.

1) A young aspiring writer/editor who cannot read or write after her concussion due to persistent severe headaches. She made the purple and pink prints.

2) A young student aspiring to start her graduate studies. Her severe TBI limits her abilities to read, study, memorize due to headaches, nerve pain and fatigue. She made the green print.

My clients are learning how to control the symptoms through Mindful Biofeedback and improve mood through Mindful Art. Both clients are re-discovering that despite their severe symptoms, they can create beautiful prints and this helps them to cope with severe depression and anxiety associated with the concussion/TBI.

Mindful Art & Concussion/TBI

Spring 2017 Workshop @ the BIAYR

We started our spring workshop last week. Often, survivors with a traumatic brain injuries have a sudden and abrupt change to their life. One moment they are on one path and suddenly the next moment, their life is flipped upside down. Group gathering allows survivors to come together to connect and share their experiences. This helps people to feel less alone and isolated. It also helps people to gain insights into their struggles and difficulties and come out with new perspectives and tools to cope with the difficult moments.

Dr. Joseph DeSouza, a neuroscientist at York University came to the workshop to gain insights about how to use meditation and art in a group setting. His research on the Neural Mechanisms behind Dance Therapy for Parkinson’s Disease hopes to improve the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s. The outcomes from this dance therapy aspire to give people with Parkinson’s hope as participants gather on a weekly basis to dance, move, connect and share. Here is what Joe had to say about Mindful Art Workshop.

“Amee – thanks for sharing the picture – AND SHARING YOUR COMBINED PASSIONS.  I loved it and so did everyone else.
Dr. Joseph DeSouza  — www.joeLAB.com, Neuroscientist at York University”
Circuit by Joe
Circuit by Joe
After the workshop, a participant wrote to me and shared the following kind words:

“Dear Amee,

It was a very well-led, blessed and blissful Mindful Arts session on this morning of the 7th of April, 2017.
 
I had the tremendous opportunity of meeting new people and accommodate newer insights about my life.
 
I have some remaining challenges with my sleep, motivation and thinking processes. This workshop made me feel revived and revitalized.”
Mindful Art Workshop @ the BIAYR
Next Workshop in June. Register today!

Creative Spirit Award with Cristina Martin MPP

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Creative Spirit Award with Ellen Anderson Founding Director of Creative Spirit Art Centre & Cristina Martin MPP for Davenport

Creative Spirit Art Centre (CSAC) is proud to present Amee Le, with a Creative Spirit Award on the United Nations Day for Disabled Persons, December 3, 2015. CSAC recognizes Amee’s work to create a new program to help persons with head injuries and their disabilities, access art as a means of recovery in the rehabilitation process.

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Gilles Arseneault, Artist & Amee Le, Occupational Therapist

The art by CSAC artist, Gilles Arseneault is a token of our gratitude to you, for creating art programming for persons with head injuries. We look forward to a continuing relationship with you in order to help make Ontario a better place for people living with disabilities.

On behalf of the artists at Creative Spirit Art Centre,

Ellen Anderson,
Founding Director

The adventures of the Headway T-Shirt in Toronto!

Recently I’ve had a chance to visit England and walked through the doors of Headway Essex, an organization that provides brain injury care and support. I came in contact with Headway East through discovering their art studio website. I discovered Headway Essex through Dr. Carolyn Lemsky, Clinical Director at CHIRS introduced me to Steve Shears, Trainer and Psychotherapist at Headway Essex. Steve kindly showed me the agency and I had a chance to visit and meet the people at Headway.

Headway Essex
Headway Essex – 58b Head Street, Colchester, Essex

During my day visit, I had the opportunity to visit BounceAbility – Special Needs Trampoline Centre. Watching people of all physical abilities getting out of their wheelchairs and working on balance, coordination and stretching. There was also added “stealth benefits” (according to Andy Plowright, Service Manager) such as allowing another person to help you with your balance and relying on another person to support you on a moving surface can build trust and re-establish physical and emotional connections with another person. This supportive and trusting relationship is especially important for a person who have experienced physical trauma that have resulted in the head injury.

BounceAbility – Special Needs Trampoline Centre

Visiting the day program and meeting people at Headway was heartwarming. One person showed me his ankle foot orthosis (AFO) brace that is very well made and seems to be protective of sensitive skin areas in the lower extremities. The brace was red and the owner of this brace is proud to be a Manchester United Fan; in Toronto, our AFO brace are uniformly white.

Ankle Foot Orthosis
A Manchester United Ankle Foot Orthosis

I had a chance to talk about my meditation and art program which hopefully generated some interest in developing meditation and art programming for people at Headway. When it was time to part, I was given several information guides, newsletter and a large Headway T-Shirt. Andy Plowright, Service Manager at Headway Essex was apologetic that the T-shirt would not fit me but generous in his giving spirit and gesture of appreciation.

When I came back to Toronto, I wanted to do something special and carry on the momentum of giving. I was speaking with my colleague Amanda Muise, Behavioural Therapist about my excitement and ideas. I thought it would be cool for CHIRS and Headway to connect and a T-shirt could be a good catalyst.  We talked about who could wear this T-shirt and she suggested Mr. Rob Ashe.

Rob ordering a burger
Rob ordering a burger

When I told Rob about my idea and showed him the picture, newsletter and T-shirt, he was very excited about the idea. He eagerly put the Tshirt safely away in his backpack. When I saw Rob two days later, he had taken pictures of himself around the city with the help of his friend James.

Welcome to Toronto, Canada!
Welcome to Toronto, Canada!
Rob in front of Tim Hortons - a Canadian favourite for coffee lovers
Rob in front of Tim Hortons – a Canadian favourite for coffee lovers

Rob and I know each other through his participation in Mindful Art Workshop – Winter 2014. During the workshop, Rob learnt to meditate and try to do an art activity that was new to him. He made new friends whom he tries to keep in touch with. Rob was able to complete his art activity quickly and was ready to move on to the next task. So sitting still and waiting and listening was new to him. He is very articulate and easily shares his stories, successes and difficulties but this ability to articulate could overshadow others who had a harder time sharing their voices. As the workshop progressed, Rob learnt to sit back and listen. To reflect quietly, then use his articulate voice to deeply appreciate other people’s talents and gifts. He talked more about others and less about his stories and came to appreciate this new way of being. Below is a sample of his art work. He called this piece – Anointed.

Anointed by Rob Ashe
Anointed by Rob Ashe – art work from Mindful Art Workshop 2014
Rob in front of CHIRS - Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto
Rob in front of CHIRS – Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto

After taking a series of photographs, Rob and I sat down and I helped to upload the photographs from his phone. During the summer months in Toronto, there are several festivals and celebrations. Below are the places that Rob visited with his friends from CHIRS.

Rob at Hockey Night - a CHIRS program for persons of all abilities to have fun playing floor hockey in teams
Rob at Hockey Night – a CHIRS program for persons of all abilities to have fun playing floor hockey in teams
Rob taking the Subway Train in Toronto
Rob taking the Subway Train in Toronto
Rob with a street performer in front of Yonge/Dundas Square
Rob with a street performer at buskerfest in front of Yonge/Dundas Square
Rob with a street performer on Yonge Street in Toronto
Rob with a street performer at buskerfest
Rob in front one of his favourite places - HMV a store that sells music and movies
Rob in front one of his favourite places – HMV a store that sells music and movies

 

Rob with volunteers collecting funds to support Epilepsy Toronto
Rob with volunteers collecting funds to support Epilepsy Toronto
Rob in front of Yonge/Dundas Square holding purple balloons to support Epilepsy Awareness - a cause that is close to his heart
Rob in front of Yonge/Dundas Square holding purple balloons to support Epilepsy Awareness – a cause that is close to his heart
Rob and David Slonim, Mentor's Coordinator in front of Pape Subway Station
Rob and David Slonim, (Mentor’s Coordinator) in front of Pape Subway Station
Rob and his friend sitting outside her childhood school
Rob and his friend Jen, sitting outside her childhood school – a private school for girls
Rob at Spadina Subway Station in Toronto
Rob at Spadina Subway Station in Toronto “This shows the humanistic side to us. He was playing guitar and I waited for him to finish and I gave him some money and asked if he would like to take a picture together and he said sure”
Rob in front of the Old Mills. This is an important place as it is where he received his 25 years watch for working with the city.
Rob in front of the Old Mills. This is an important place as it is where he received his 25 years watch for working with the city.
Rob in front of David's Tea a popular place for tea drinkers to enjoy many types of teas
Rob in front of David’s Tea a popular place for tea drinkers to enjoy many types of teas
Rob taking a picture for his wife who is originally from the United Kingdom
Rob taking a picture for his wife who is originally from the United Kingdom because she loves Union Jacks or anything to do with England

When I arrived at work on Monday morning, I found a treasure inside my mailbox. When Rob and I were sharing stories and photographs, he had tears in his eyes. He said that “you couldn’t have asked for a more perfect person to do this task” as he loves to connect with people and especially people of all abilities. Rob understands that people with a brain injury may not have the same physical abilities as they did prior to the injury. Through his travels he wanted to share with people the places and events that he has access to and hopefully through these images, all persons may have access to these places and events.

Rob's Message
Rob’s Message
Rob's message
Rob’s message

This is Rob’s Message

Hi!! My name is Rob Ashe and I am a client at CHIRS (Community Head Injury Resource Services) in Toronto. When I was asked to have pictures wearing your group shirt, I took on the task because I feel strongly that groups wherever and whoever need to make contact and then we have a better understanding of each other and That is Great!!!!

I want to thank you for this opportunity and let you know that I believe that having a brain injury should not hold us back as we have much to say, much to experience and above all, much TO GIVE

Rob and his wife Amanda. “We’ve been married 19 years and she helps me a lot”
Rob and his wife Amanda. “We’ve been married 19 years and she helps me a lot”

I can’t begin to tell you how much this has touched my heart. Sometimes the work that we do can feel like work and there are good days and challenging days.  Some days are full of beautiful moments and some days are problem solving days. My motivation for doing this work is to help others, whoever comes to my door. Knowing that we can touch each other’s lives and share in meaningful moments is a good reminder for me of the goodness inside each person that I’ve met. I am sure many therapists, helpers, teachers out there will share in my experience that the work that we do is relational and it takes two to form a relationship. The support and encouragement I give to the clients that have come into my life are reciprocated in so many ways that surprises me when I need it the most. It is these moments that helps me to remember what is important to me. To help others knowing that we all have an important part in each others lives.

What happens during Mindful Art Workshop?

“So what is it that you do during the workshop?”

I’ve been asked this question several times so I’ve decided to give everyone a glimpse into what happens during the workshop.

Step 1. Meditate

Colour Outline Meditation

Step 2. Design your Print

Tobi desigining his print
Tobi desigining his print
Don designing his print
Don designing his print
Giovanni & Nicola
Giovanni & Nicola

Step 3. Start Carving

Giovanni Carving
Giovanni Carving
Giovanni Carving
Giovanni Carving

Step 4. Wash your Stamp

Tobi Washing his Stamp
Tobi Washing his Stamp

Step 5. Start Stamping

Tobi Printing his Stamp

Don using a Stamp Pad
Don using a Stamp Pad
Don printing his stamp in his journal
Don printing his stamp in his journal
Mary Ellen stamping her print
Mary Ellen stamping her print
Nicola stamping her print
Nicola stamping her print

Step 6. Ta-daa!

All Roads Lead to Him by Tobi
All Roads Lead to Him by Tobi
Striving in Life by Giovanni
Striving in Life by Giovanni
Together by Amee Le
Together by Amee Le
Move Forward, Never Backwards by Nicola
Move Forward, Never Backwards by Nicola
Love by Don
Love by Don

Step 7. Gratitude Exercise

Week 8 – Last Session: Art Exchange

Don listening to the Reflection Exercise
Don listening to the Reflection Exercise
Reflection Exercise
Reflection Exercise
Art Exchange!
Art Exchange!
Art Exchange
Art Exchange
Giovanni contemplating
Giovanni contemplating
Mary Ellen viewing the slideshow
Mary Ellen viewing the slideshow

Our First Art Commission – the Twillingate Commission!

I am very happy to announce that Mindful Art Workshop has received its first art commission! This week, I will be shipping our gift tags from Toronto to Twillingate Newfoundland. You may be asking yourself, umm, where is Twillingate and how did you end up connecting to a small town of 2,269 people located off the northeastern shore of the island of Newfoundland?

Welcome to Twillingate
Welcome to Twillingate – Picture by Melodee McPherson

The story begins with Nancy Morin, an Occupational Therapist (OT) from Fredericton New Brunswick. She was reading the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapist magazine, called CAOTNow, and saw a very practical article called Exploring Mindfulness Meditation in Occupational Therapy: An introduction to Basic Practice, written by Nina Elliot, an Occupational Therapist from Newfoundland. Thanks to technology and the good hearts of OTs, it is several months later and we have all grown new project together!

Amazing is the power of the internet and social media to connect like minded people working towards the same goals. Nina, Nancy, and I have exchanged thoughts, ideas, and inspiration. We are three OTs interested in meditation and art and wanting to create a positive change in the work spaces we occupy.

Recently, I received a hand-written letter in the mail. I like getting things in the mail; it feels like a gift. Most of the time, it is bills or advertisements; this time the letter was a precious gift of kindness. Nina sent a cheque, a note, and her quirky inspiration!

Letter from Twillingate
Letter from Twillingate

So who is Nina? She is an OT and a person who is passionate about meditation, art, and craftivism (Activism through Art and Craft). She writes has a blog called Rock Vandals, in which “the aim is to surprise and delight through creative acts in otherwise neglected spaces.” She has recently created a campaign call Old Manolis and the Sea to bring awareness to the effects of oil spills on the fragile marine ecosystem. She wrote about Craftivism, which

“uses craft as a form of expression and political action and is often referred to as gentle, loving activism. The form is familiar and designed to encourage viewers to explore the issue and draw conclusions for themselves.”

To bring awareness to this issue, Nina gathered knitters and crocheters; “nine knitters and two crocheters answered the call, generously donating their wool, expertise, and artistic talent to create over 40 unique starfish for the exhibit”.

I used to knit, but had given it up many years ago because I was bored of knitting in a straight line and did not have the inspiration to follow a pattern to knit a sweater. Viewing Nina’s display of starfish on the rocks has inspired me to start knitting again. And Nina’s offer of a downloadable pattern for the starfish on her website was further inspiration. If you are a knitter or crocheter perhaps you would like to join Nina and her Rock Vandals!

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http://www.rockvandals.com

I was sharing with Nina my excitement about visiting England for a summer meditation festival and retreat. Prior to the festival, I will be going to London and visiting an organization call Headway, which provides services to people with a brain injury. Headway East London has an art studio full of beautiful art pieces created by persons with head injuries; the studio has regular art shows and exhibits.

Headway East London - Art Studio
Headway East London – Art Studio
Headway East London - Art Studio
Headway East London – Art Studio

 

Headway East London - Mosaic Sculpture
Headway East London – Mosaic Sculpture
Headway East London - Mosaic Sculpture
Headway East London – Mosaic Sculpture

Seeing the studio inspires me to have the intension to learn to create sculpture. Viewing the studio has planted images in my mind of the possibilities of an art program for persons with a head injury. I will also be visiting Headway in Essex to explore the day program and share ideas on how meditation can be modified for persons with a head injury.

Coincidentally, Nina informed me that she used to volunteer for Headway. Her inspiration for Rock Vandals comes from Knit the City in London, England. So what is Knit the City? They describe themselves as “Operating from a secret underground wool-lined bunker in the heart of the busy metropolis of London, Knit the City’s Yarn Corps spend most of their lives operating under assumed names and living their lives like every day people”.

What is it that they do? The group engages in “Guerilla knitting or ‘yarnstorming’ is the art of conjuring up a piece of knitting or crochet, taking out out in the world, releasing it into the wild, and running away like a mad thing.” The picture below is an example of their creation.

I had to laugh while looking at this picture. It certainly left an impression in my mind. Seeing the squid and the beautiful starfish, I decided to purchase knitting needles and orange yarn; perhaps a fun project will emerge from this! A while ago, I had given away my knitting needles and yarn to a friend, who then kindly knitted a dish cloth and cute pouch for me. Perhaps it’s time to once again pick up the knitting needles and see what I can create. Although I cannot knit a giant squid, I can definitely try to knit a starfish.

As one therapist inspires another to start knitting, I hope that the art work from our workshop will inspire someone in Newfoundland to start meditating, carving, and stamping!

The Twillingate Commission
The Twillingate Commission
Mindful Art Workshop - The Twillingate Commission
Mindful Art Workshop – The Twillingate Commission
Don designing his print
Don designing his print
Tobi designing his print
Tobi designing his print
iovanni designing his print
Giovanni designing his print
Nicola stamping her print
Nicola stamping her print
Mary Ellen stamping her print
Mary Ellen stamping her print

The Many Hearts of OT: a Toronto Rehab Retreat!

I was kindly invited by Natalie Paananen, Occupational Therapist (OT) and OT Clinical Educator to give a presentation and lead a meditation and creative arts activity for the therapists at Toronto Rehab Institute. I was delighted for the opportunity to share my love for meditation and art with fellow Occupational Therapists.

Natalie and I prepared for the workshop by gathering all the materials necessary for a creative arts activity. We dedicated our time and efforts into this activity, in hopes that each person who attend the retreat would be able to walk away with practical tools to incorporate in their clinical work and other areas of their life. Luckily we were supported by Clinical Educator Debbie Hébert, who arranged for us to receive a budget to purchase carving tools, linoleum, and stamp pads.

Preparing for the retreat, I decided to lead a meditation on Patient Acceptance so that we could develop a calm and peaceful mind to help ourselves and others. My inspiration for this medication came from a book called How to Solve our Human Problems: the Four Noble Truths by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and, on what Shantideva says on page 34 of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

If something can be remedied Why be unhappy about it? And if there is no remedy for it, There is still no point in being unhappy.

On the day of the retreat, my student Nicola John, Occupational Therapy Assistant student, and I arrived at the auditorium to give a presentation and lead the art activity. Unfortunately, there were technical difficulties and the laptop that was supposed to be used to upload the PowerPoint presentation was crashing. There were several people involved in trying to fix this problem. Strategies to ensure that the retreat would flow smoothly included:

1) Restarting the computer
2) Taking out the batteries
3) Ctrl + Alt + Delete
4) Pushing the power button repeatedly
5) Waiting, hoping, and praying
6) Repeat

7) Asking strangers if they had a laptop that we could borrow
8) Asking the staff at the YMCA for a laptop
9) Asking anybody that was close by if they had a laptop
10) Looking at the laptop and sending it positive motivation so that it would reboot

11) Offering to drive back to the university to grab another laptop from some department
12) Waiting

While this was happening, I was smiling to myself because the meditation I was going to lead was on being able to Patiently Accept problems and difficulties with a happy mind while trying to actively solve the problem without becoming upset. When our minds are calm and peaceful we can more easily solve problems in a rational and wise manner. There is no point in developing an unhappy mind, as that will rob us of our logical reasoning and good sense and we will be less able to help ourselves or others.

It is funny how these events come together. As I was about to deliver a teaching, I was receiving a teaching as well. In that moment, I had to ask myself, “are you practicing what you are teaching?” I had to smile at the situation, knowing that I would be okay if I just kept a happy mind. I also knew that everyone around me was trying their best to resolve the problem. I reminded myself that I had the ability to be flexible, to change with the circumstances, and to do what was necessary for the best outcome.

Happily, just before we were going to skip the presentation and move forward with the art activity, the laptop came to life, the presentation was uploaded, and my time to speak had arrived! We were all very relieved and the presentation was delivered smoothly!

Then it was time to lead a guided meditation. Everyone was open to learning to meditate. After the meditation there was a noticeable calmness on the faces of those in the room. The energy was at a calmer level than before. When I had asked that everyone open their art kit, prepared by Natalie, there was noticeable excitement amongst the therapists. After one more movement meditation, involving gentle seated movements paired with a focus on the meaning of giving and receiving, we were ready for the next stage.

As Occupational Therapists, we give a lot to our clients and team members. It is part of this job and most of us who have chosen this profession did so because of our wish to help people. There are times when we may feel overburdened and the flow of giving has become stuck. To symbolize this relationship, I asked everyone to focus on continuing to give to others while receiving the things they need to feel love, supported, and nourished, thus enabling us to keep giving to others. This activity was paired with a mantra by Asa Bennett & Kelsang Yangchan called “Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Soha” in the album From the Heart. There was a wonderful flow of movements during this meditation; afterwards everyone was excited to start designing, carving, and printing their art work. The pictures below show the focus and determination of the therapists as each person interacted with their linoleum block.

Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015

Then it was time to print. You can see the diversity of the images uniquely generated by each person. In each picture you can see the messiness and neatness of each workstation as each person used the tools to create a meaningful art print. Each print is designed and stamped differently, reflecting the diversity in our experiences, skills, and abilities.

Mindful at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
Mindful at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
Toronto Rehab Retreat - June 2015
Toronto Rehab Retreat – June 2015
Fiddleheads and Summerlicious at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
Fiddleheads and Summerlicious at the Toronto Rehab Retreat

When each person printed their images, I asked everyone to give a name to their art work. I was thrilled to see “The Many Hearts of OT” expressed on printed images.

The Many Hearts of OT at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
The Many Hearts of OT at the Toronto Rehab Retreat

At the end of the workshop, while we were tidying the tables, I wanted to see all the printed flags from the therapists. I arranged the flags and Nicola photographed them. When I was reviewing these images the next day, I was blown away by the beauty and meaning of each print. This was such a special experience for me to be able to share my love for meditation and art and receive many positive comments and feedback, as well as seeing the excitment and joy on everyone’s faces. Exploring meditation and art as therapeutic tools can have immeasurable benefits to one’s health and wellbeing.

A Mandala at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
A Mandala at the Toronto Rehab Retreat

Natalie and I hope that this workshop will have a positive effect on participant’s view of using meditation and art as treatment modalities. We also wanted to ensure that this was not a one-time experience, isolated to the retreat. By giving each group a physical tool box of goodies and the mental tool box of skills and direct experiences, we hope that the seeds were planted for this experience to benefit both the therapists and the clients, staff, friends and family that are within their circles.

If you are reading this and were a participant, please leave any comments about your experiences from the time that we spent together!

For a full gallery of the beautiful prints please [click here.]

A Mandala at the Toronto Rehab Retreat
A Mandala at the Toronto Rehab Retreat

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month

My name is Amee and I am an occupational therapist (OT) working with persons diagnosed with a serious head injury in a community setting.  I’ve had the opportunity to be part of the lives of those affected by a sudden and serious event that resulted in irrevocable damage to the brain.

The truth is, accidents do not discriminate based on age, gender, ethnicity, income, education, nor geography. Meaning – anyone is at risk of having an acquired brain injury (ABI).  In a moment, your life can change forever. Acquired brain injury may be an organic and irreversible change to your brain but there is hope. There are information, research, and services for those with a head injuries. There are organizations and people who care for those who have been injured. One of those organization is CHIRS – Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto and the Brain Injury Society of Toronto who is talking about this important topic through their #areyouaware campaign.

  • #areyouaware iPad mini contest –  Visit www.areyouaware.ca for your chance to win an iPad mini – we’ll be giving one away each week in June and the contest starts today! You can also help us spread awareness by letting all your friends, family, and co-workers know about brain injury awareness month and the contest.

#areyouaware

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month and to bring a spot light on this important issue, my Occupational Therapy Assistant Student Nicola John and I decided to transform the ordinary space of an elevator into an exhibition space to display the art work of those whose lives have been affected by an acquired brain injury. We involved survivors, staff, and students in creating individual letters for the banner as each person is unique, each injury is unique and every one is important.

Brain Injury Awareness Month in Toronto
Brain Injury Awareness Month in Toronto

The art displayed on the boards represents the effort and artistic abilities of people whose lives have been shaped by an acquired brain injury. This includes survivors, students, and therapists.

Images can be less threatening than words and talking, so using visual art may make it easier to express difficult emotions. This method of communication allows people to feel free to reflect, and to express themselves and connect with others to gain personal insights and awareness.

Brain Injury Awareness Toronto

Most people in the group do not describe themselves as artists or identify as having any artistic abilities. Many of the people have never used a carving tool before. The workshop is often their first attempt at learning to meditate and carve and stamp their own individualized images.

Some people carve with two hands, while others carve with one hand. Some people have double vision, while others have partial paralysis in half of their body. Some have shaky hands and others have weak legs needing to use a cane to walk. Regardless of physically abilities, all persons are free to make their own decisions to experiment and test out ideas.

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

The images represent the resilience of each person to cope with adversities, search for meaning from difficult circumstances, remember what was lost, connect with feelings of love and inner peace, and rediscover a new self. Themes of spirituality arise, as does connection with memories that remain and memories that were lost. The creative process involves meditation and relaxation, which provide stress relief and connection with a person’s inner essence. When minds are calm, creativity can more freely emerge.

Each person who participates in the group created, sketched, designed, and printed their own images from their own hearts and minds. Through engaging in the creative process, each person builds confidence and receives validation from seeing their artwork and from group members. Each person feels nourished and supported by other members of the group and this allows a person to be genuine and sincere. This insight allows a person to explore hidden abilities and realize their potential. The result is the feeling of accomplishment from creating something personally meaningful. This allows a person to grow emotionally thus creating an imprint of a new memory and way of being.

Brain Injury Awarenss in Toronto

We also featured the art work from the Art Exchange with Nancy Morin, Occupational Therapist from Horizon Health Network in Fredericton and asked people to write their comments. Here are a few…

Brain Injury Awareness TorontoBrain Injury Awareness in TorontoBrain Injury Awarenss in TorontoBrain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in TorontoBrain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

Brain Injury Awareness in Toronto

From Toronto to Fredericton with Love

Spring is finally here and the warm sun rays have returned to kiss our faces. It’s about time because this past February had been the coldest month in recorded history of Toronto. The East Coast also had record snow fall this year and cars had been buried in the snow.

This February I was also contacted my Nancy Morin, Occupational Therapist in Fredericton. I met Nancy through a lunch and learn session held in June 2014 hosted by the Canadian Association of Occupation Therapists. We’ve exchanged emails and talked about program development to connect our clients to meaningful occupation and artistic expression. At the time, Nancy had been interested in starting a creative expression group and was putting together the bits and pieces to combine Occupational Therapy with creative expression and even mindfulness. We exchanged ideas and encouragement and several months later Nancy had started her creative expression group and was wondering if I would be interested in participating in an Art Exchange with her group. I happily accepted!

I introduced this idea of an art exchange to the artists in my Winter 2015 workshop. Most people had not heard of an art exchange and did not know what it was all about. There was some hesitation as I explained the concept to the group. With encouragement several clients came forward to have their art work featured in the art exchange. Some people were unsure if they were ready to share their art work with others. Our group worked on putting together a collection of gift tags. I also contacted past participants and asked if they would be interested in adding their beautiful art work to this collection. Three weeks later we had a completed collection from the artists at Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto (for further information on CHIRS click here). This was mailed out with love to Fredericton.

From Toronto to Fredericton with Love
From Toronto to Fredericton with Love

On the last day of my winter workshop when I was feeling distracted and consumed by emails. I walked down the hall feeling a bit defeated by my to-do list and scheduled appointments, I checked my mail box and saw a brown paper envelope. The art collection from Fredericton had arrived and opening each paper envelope brought a smile to my face. By the time I finished opening all the envelopes, my mood had changed from exhaustion to delight and inspiration. Here is the collection of art from Fredericton to Toronto with Love.

The art you see below was sent to CHIRS as part of an art exchange with the Horizon Health Network of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Five artists in the Addiction and Mental Health Services program in New Brunswick contributed their art. They are: Sam, Sunayna, Lynn, Vicki, and Amanda.

In exchange, the artists in Mindfulness Art Workshop at CHIRS sent a collection of their art to Fredericton. The artists from CHIRS are: Orlando, Roxanne, RB, Chris, Scott, Ali, Cathy, Elisheva (Rehabilitation Student) and Amee (Occupational Therapist).

So where did where did this art work come from? Nancy kindly wrote the following explanation:

The Recovery Art Studio creative expression group was founded in September 2014 by Occupational Therapist Nancy Morin and Visual Artist Marsha Clark. The Studio is open to adult clients of Horizon Health Network Addictions and Mental Health Services, Fredericton Region. We also work in partnership with the Capital Region Mental Health and Addictions Association (CRMHAA) and their R.E.A.C.H. Centre (Resources, Education, Activities, Connections & Help Centre). The approach in the Studio is to fully integrate healing based on the principles of Recovery, Occupational Therapy, mental health care, visual arts, mindfulness and vocational counseling. Members are supported on their own recovery journey to self discovery and expression through art, greater self-esteem, skill building and improved confidence.

From Fredericton to Toronto with Love
From Fredericton to Toronto with Love

As Nancy said “members are supported on their own recovery journey to self discovery and expression through art, greater self-esteem, skill building and improved confidence” and that is the power of art contributing to positive health outcomes. The power of art to connect groups of people from one province to another is a testament to our ability  to form new social connections with one another. Through creative expression we can connect with a part of our self suppressed but longing to speak. Sharing art and stories improves self efficacy and boosts self esteem.  When we can push through the barriers of judgmental thinking social pressures, we may be surprised at the results and once we create we should share this genuine inspiration with others.

My teacher at the Kadampa Meditation Centre in Toronto  told me that after Buddha attained enlightenment he was unsure if he could share his experience and knowledge to the world. What he had attained was so great that he was uncertain if the world could understand these teachings. He waited two months and with a special request from Indra and Brahma he was asked to turn the Dharma wheel (teach the path to widsom) and he did. Imagine if he had never shared his experiences to his disciples and pass on his knowledge and wisdom. There would be no Buddhist concepts of: meditation, mindfulness, loving-kindness, and compassion in the world. There would be no path, no teachings, no guidance, no ways to change your mind to cope with difficulties. This gives all of us the encouragement we need to start sharing. We will never know how much our life can touch another’s. The only thing we can do is try our best everyday to put effort in being kind to others and being true to our inner voice and share these moments. Knowing this we can slowly learn to appreciate the preciousness of this human life.

Dappled Empire

The name of this print is Charity. I asked RB “So why charity?”

He answered ‘I’ve always thought of flowers as charitable, as a charitable thing to do.’

“As an act of giving?” I said

And he agreed.

Charity by RB
Charity by RB

Print and poetry were created by RB. Photograph by Elisheva, rehabilitation student. Graphic design and layout by Amee Le.

Spring Flowers

After a long and dark winter, spring has arrived in Toronto. The flowers have arrived and we are blooming with inspiration from our new group of participants. All photographs below were artfully arranged by Fiona, our new mentor for the group. I officially would like to welcome all new participants to the group and look forward to our time together meditating, creating art, sharing stories and finding meaning.

Mindful Art Workshop - Spring 2014
Mindful Art Workshop – Spring 2014

 

Can't Stop Tomorrow by Fiona
Can’t Stop Tomorrow by Fiona

“I’m thankful for getting the opportunity to meet everyone here, it’s always a pleasure to be able to meet other people who know about brain injury and who are generous enough to share their story. Thankful to the community I have around me, my friends, family, and colleagues. I’m just thankful to be here today.” Fiona

Dedication to Amee
Dedication to Amee

“Thankful to Amee for letting me be here and attend this session and letting me get to know two other very nice people. Also thankful to the god for giving me two legs to stand on and two arms for holding other people’s hands. 2 meals a day and a roof over my head and family and friends. For everything despite the head injury I have, I’m still able to breathe and walk and talk and do many things which millions of other people are not able to do.” Inder

LIfe 5
Life by Neil

“I’m thankful this group is very, very, very relaxing, I like doing the art which I get frustrated over, it was very relaxing this group, this group is a very good group, and I am thankful I joined it. Thank you all to the leaders and the two people I met here. Thank you for such a relaxing and good group.” Neil

Storms, Strength & Wisdom

New year and we have a new group! This is our second week and the theme of the class is: storms, strength and wisdom. In Toronto, we have had a series of ice storms that have caused electrical blackouts and icy conditions. Many living in the city, especially those with a disability have had to live through days without electricity. This means limited access or no access to elevators, hot water, assistive devices that depends on electricity. So our theme for the week starts with the storm – both the ice storm and personal, emotional, traumatic storms of our lives. I read the following message of resilience to our group:

“The earth has a heartbeat. In between each beat is silence. That silence is when the life force gathers strength for the next beat. You must learn to do the same. Use the silence to gather yourself. Life can give you strength. Life gives and life takes. As it is teaching you even now. Life takes our time and everyday is one day closer to the end of our journey on this. It takes our efforts our sweat, our best intentions, our noble ideas, our dreams and sacrifices. And often demands more. Then it gives us obstacles, surprises, disappointment, indifference, confusion, doubt and heartache. Yet life does give us much more than the obvious. If we can look back on the difficulties we have know, whether old or new, then we have moved past them at least in time. That we are looking back on a tough experience from the perspective of the present moment means we have survived it. The experience may have taken a toll, as difficulties do. But whatever our losses have been, we have survived. Survival is victory, because we know or we are reminded that is it possible. Survival is victory because life has given us something along with the difficulty.”

“The experience the difficulty has taught us or reminded us that we can be strong.” by Joseph Marshall III – Keep Going from Soundstrue

I would also like to add, that through hard times, we also gain wisdom that comes from the enduring the difficulties. This can open our hearts further so we surface with more love and compassion for others who have also endured this journey. I am proud to share art work from this theme.

Remember - Forward by Micky
Remember – Forward by Micky
The Beautiful Sunshine by Maria
The Beautiful Sunshine by Maria
Storm by Roxanne
Storm by Roxanne
Break Time by Stella
Break Time by Stella
Walking on the Earth by James
Walking on the Earth by James
Rebirth by Robert
Rebirth by Robert
Ancient by Dr. L. Longo
Ancient by Dr. L. Longo
The Five Directions by Amee Le
The Five Directions by Amee Le

Mindful Art at the Holiday Party

We had our first Mindful Art Display at the CHIRS’ (cheers) holiday party (Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto). It was a wonderful night to celebrate this special events with friends and family and our community of persons whose lives have all been shaped by an acquired brain injury.

Mindful Art Display
Mindful Art Display by Amee Le & Dr. Carolyn Lemsky
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Mindful Art Display at the CHIRS Holiday Party 2013
Chris and Amanda at the Art Sale
Chris and Amanda at the Art Sale
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A proud artist smiling by his art!

Black & White

Sometimes we need the darkness to see the light. Through the storms and dark nights, the sun rises and a new day begins. Keep going – through the dark for it can make our light even brighter.

What a better way to illustrate this than by using black textured card stock and printing with white ink.

Here are a few gratitude expressions from the Artists:

Today I am really thankful for you guys. For doing this group with me. You guys teach me something new every time I do this and it makes me very happy. So I want to thank each and every one of you for showing up.” Amee Le

I am thankful for being able to be here. Thankful for my parents. Thankful for all the people in this room and this building.” MSW

Thanks for the work did today.” Orlando

I am grateful for a lot of things. The time that we have to work on art, and the openness that you guys share while we are here.” Amanda Muise

I am thankful for the different activities we do here. Especially the meditation, I find it’s a good way to relax so when I leave and go home because I would like to carry it on, when I am lying in my bed, when it’s dark and it’s quiet and it helps me to fall asleep.” Paul

I am thankful for my friends here. I am thankful for CHIRS. I am very thankful that I went to the kitchen today for the first time – I prepared spaghetti. I am thankful for so many things, words can’t explain – thank you!” Roxanne

I am thankful that I’ll be getting a ride half way so that I don’t have to walk in the dark. Also for people who have taught me different techniques and things that I need for everyday life.” Micky

I am most thankful for never being alone, because of CHIRS and because of these kind of activities, I get to experience joy and share it with other people.” Chris

One Fish, Two Fish by Orlando
One Fish, Two Fish by Orlando
Bugs Bunny or a Fox? by Micky
Bugs Bunny or a Fox? by Micky
Three Wishes by Chris
Three Wishes by Chris
Clover by MSW
Clover by MSW
Love by Roxanne
Love by Roxanne

Halloweeen Wishes & Release

This week, our group celebrated Halloween with ginger cookies, apple cider! We read a story by Louise Mathewson about: New Year resolution versus Making a Wish. We contemplated these ideas and were reminded that when making a wish and inviting something new into our lives, we must also release something old, stale and way past its expiration date – to make room for the freshness of new growth. It is Halloween so we are reminded that there is a place for death and welcome new life.

Here are the wishes from our group:

I wish for a peace of mind and I let go of worry.”

I wish for a healthy heart and let go of stress.”

I wish to bring positive energy and release negative energy.”

Hats off to less stress and I wish for a peaceful move.”

I wish for happiness and fulfillment and release aggression.”

I wish to take second chances to be wiser and more caring towards someone I care about and I release judgment of my physical abilities.”

I wish for the courage to live from my heart and be guided by my intuition and inner voice and I release shame about myself, where I am at in life and societal expectations about my life’s journey.”

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SONY DSC

SONY DSC

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SONY DSC

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SONY DSC

Prints and Patterns

This week our group started working with Prints & Patterns. We had a lot of fun carving small and mighty 1.5″ x 3/4″ erasers.

Here are a few gratitude expressions from the Artists:

I am thankful for all the helped I’ve received in my life, all those who have thought about me and have gone out of their way to help me because that has helped me to be who I am.” Amee Le

I am thankful for all the people in this group.” WSM

I am thankful for the change in the season and inspiration from the autumn and getting ready for winter.” Amanda Muise

I am thankful for everything that we made today.” Orlando

I am thankful for having two hands. I do art with my left and work with my right and pulled a muscle with my left arm and I can still do art with my right. I am thankful for this call, and the sacrifices that I’ve made to get to where I am and the people who have helped me.” Chris

I am thankful for to share the creativity that I can make and print out to the rest of the group.” Mickey

I am thankful for my life, for being alive, thankful for all the wonderful people who have helped me, and continue to help me. I am thankful for my family and thankful that I’ve met all of you guys here. I look forward every Thursday to come here.” Roxanne

I am thankful for my new friends here and my nice home that I’ve moved to here in Toronto.” Paul Scott

Inspiration for this week:

Tents & Time by Amee Le
Tents & Time by Amee Le
Moons and Stars by Amee Le
Moons and Stars by Amee Le
Woman/Man, Man/Woman by Amee Le
Woman/Man, Man/Woman by Amee Le
My Little Blue Dress by Roxanne
My Little Blue Dress by Roxanne
Triangle by Orlando
Triangle by Orlando
Fall by Chris
Fall by Chris
Moon Set by Micky
Moon Set by Micky
Breath of Fresh Air by Amanda Muise
Breath of Fresh Air by Amanda Muise
Christmas Tree by Paul Scott
Christmas Tree by Paul Scott
Washroom Sign Looking for Donor by WSM
Washroom Sign Looking for Donor by WSM

Kihelakayo – Keep Going

The theme for this week’s Mindful Art Workshop is Kihelakayo – Keep Going

“A young man asked his Lakota grandfather what the answer was to life’s difficulties. Kihelakayo said the old man – we must keep going.”  Joseph M Marshall III

Keep Going by Amanda Muise
Keep Going by Amanda Muise
“I am thankful for a safe place to express.”
Leaves by Orlando “I am thankful for this group. I am thankful for friends.”
Leaves by Orlando
“I am thankful for this group. I am thankful for friends.”
Mauley by WSM “I am thankful for being alive.”
Mauley by WSM
“I am thankful for being alive.”
An apple a day keeps the doctor away by Roxanne “I am thankful for life. I am thankful for my tooth feeling better. I am thankful for my granddaughter coming over to dance, I am dancing even with a cane!”
An apple a day keeps the doctor away by Roxanne
“I am thankful for life. I am thankful for my tooth feeling better. I am thankful for my granddaughter coming over to dance. I am dancing even with a cane!”
Five Keys by Chris “I am thankful for being here and taking this class.”
Five Keys by Chris
“I am thankful for being here and taking this class.”
Acorns by Mickey “I am thankful for being here with people to have fun with.”
Acorns by Mickey
“I am thankful for being here with people to have fun with.”
Blanca by Orlando
Blanca by Orlando

Fall Art!

October is here and there is a new group of Artists joining Mindful Art Workshop at Community Head Injury Resource Services of Toronto. Here are a few gratitude expressions from the Artists:

I am thankful for the past two hours because I forgot all about my tooth ache” RW

I am thankful for a carving that is supposed to be a dog that turned into a raptor” WSM

I am thankful for a space to be creative” Micky

My mindfulness creation by RW
My mindfulness creation by RW
Toronto Raptor by WSM
Toronto Raptor by WSM
Fall is Here by Chris
Fall is Here by Chris
Snoop Dog by Micky
Snoop Dog by Micky
Motherhood by Amanda Muise
Motherhood by Amanda Muise