The Broken Bowl Project


Description: The bowl represents us as an individual, we are vessels that hold many things. But sometimes we break and need to be put back together. Our brokenness changes us, makes us who we are. And so the painting on the outside of the bowl represents who we are on the outside, and the words on the inside of the bowl express all the hidden components that make us us. 

Materials: A ceramic bowl, plastic bag, spray  gesso, hammer, watercolor, permanent markers, E-6000 Quick Hold glue, hi-shine spray glaze.

Preparation Instructions: Since most ceramic bowls you have are probably already glazed you will need to spray gesso over the entire (inside & out) bowl so that the watercolor will stick. This part is time consuming so plan accordingly, you will need 2-3 coats of spray gesso.

*I suggest raiding your local thrift store for cheap cereal bowls, or if you have a bowl you don’t use anymore it can be reincarnated into a beautiful art project!

Directive: Once your bowl is ready put it in a plastic bag, tie it up, and go outside. Make sure you choose  a place outside where you wont be interrupted, because its about to get loud! Have the client place the bowl upside down on the sidewalk (still in the bag, we want to keep all the shards together) and have them hit it a few times with the hammer. Don’t pulverize the bowl, you need to be able to put it back together.

*I suggest hitting on the SIDE not on the bottom of the bowl, when the base of the bowl is shattered this makes it extremely frustrating to reassemble.

begin painting the OUTSIDE of the shards first. The inside of the bowl is reserved for words that describe what piece of you that shard represents. When each shard has been painted and written on, you may begin gluing the pieces back together. Not all the pieces will fit together perfectly, there will be some that got lost or turned to powder when the bowl was broken. Be patient, problem solve. Just as in life not everything goes the way we planned. Finally, glaze the bowl, one side at a time letting the glaze dry in between coats.

Things to Consider: This project was designed specifically for adult addicts in a bereavement group. Sometimes the most significant part of the bowl, are the gaps where the piece was too broken to be mended. For many people this represents a deep wound from their past and may be especially hard to talk about, but none the less be sure to gently bring the gap to your attention.

If you are a counselor doing this project with clients I suggest making your own bowl ahead of time so you will have already done all the problem solving, and so that you are more aware of the intimacy of this project.

16 responses to “The Broken Bowl Project

  1. Do you deglaze the bowl with the folk art glaze when assembled? what kind of watercolor paints do you use?

    • Any water colors you can get your hands on will be fine. I used basic Reeves watercolors in the tube. Once the bowl has been glued and is dry, you can glaze it, the glaze is permanent.

  2. I have done something similar with my trauma survivors. We use flowerpots and after gluing back together, have planted a seed to grow. We don’t write on the inside but this would be a great addition to the intervention- they could write secrets, private thoughts, something to be expressed and buried then fill with dirt. The inside needs to be glazed to help seal as over time watering the plant may cause leaking. There are outdoor paints. Thanks for the posting!

    • I love the flowerpot idea! The terracotta would be way easier to gesso than glazed cereal bowls. the glaze I used should be able to keep moisture out.
      I can imagine writing secrets, private thoughts on the inside would be so powerful, like a symbolic burial of the things we need to let go. And then to use that space to give life to a seed. So much growth comes from forgiving ourselves for being broken/breakable and letting go of pain to make way for beauty.

  3. I have worked similarly with clients, using a vase and working with putting the vase back together. In the process, as you mention, much symbolic meaning emerges which can be worked with at the level appropriate for each client. I found that the symbolism around inside/outside and something broken reforming in a new way emerge naturally in this work with clients.
    There is also a fascinating Japanese art, Kitsungi, of mending broken ceramics by filling with gold which honours the history of the broken piece while creating something new and beautiful. For some clients this art resonates strongly.

  4. I am not an art therapist and not really sure how I got to this page (fate) but am running a air dried pottery group for people with mental health issues. Love this idea of breaking up and re building. Thank you so much. I wish I was an therapist now…

  5. Christa, I love that you posted this! You are a great art therapist and lady. I love and miss you 💗 ~ Kamila

  6. Pingback: Art & Grief – The Broken Bowl Project·

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