Art Therapy in Juvenile Detention

I am a generally calm and collected person, but sometimes I just need to escape in the soft, soothing action of a brush against watercolor paper. I always seem to overwork watercolor paintings, so I turn to tissue collage.  I love the fact that it’s almost impossible to “mess up” which, for me, makes it a sure fire way to zone out and relax. For someone who’s college painting teacher used to have me mix my palette for 30 minutes before touching my canvas, I love the fact that the colors are already “mixed” for me… all I have to do is choose my favorite ones. Completely stress-free painting.

So, that’s why, by the time spring comes around in our Juvenile Detention School, when motivation is low and everyone’s already thinking about the end of the schools year, we make Hope Vessels.  They’re always a huge hit with the students, no complaints and easy for them to experience a little independence and do completely on their own. It’s a simple concept, which might be more well-known than I realize, but it’s relaxing, fun, and appropriate for all developmental levels. Plus, you can have some interesting conversations with the kids about the vessels holding anything you want…. goals, courage, apologies, etc.

First, blow up a balloon, to any size you want (remember, the larger the bowl, the more work and more plaster!). We use plaster strips and cover the bottom half of the balloon with at least 2 layers. Let that dry overnight and then tissue collage the inside and outside. Sometimes we add collage images or ball up the tissue paper and glue it on the surface for a 3D texture. On the final day, we put a healthy layer of Modge Podge to finish it off and add a nice shine. It’s a quick, 2-day project that’s bound to reduce the tension in the studio and give everyone a finished product they can be proud of. J



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