When in doubt: Use clay


The picture shows 1) modeling clay and pen caps 2) An elephant, 3) a meteor, and 4) a molecule.

Materials: modeling clay. Specifically grey Roma Plastilina. This is the clay I use with my clients, it holds incredible detail and has a good density so it can maintain complicated shapes without slumping over. I use grey, not just because its my favorite color 🙂 but because its neutral and even after years of use dirt doesn’t contaminate the color.

Directive: No directive.

Don’t get me wrong, Iv’e got lots of directives for clay, but sometimes the best directive is the one the client comes up with themselves. In the pictures above you see a ball of clay and pen caps. Pen caps believe it or not actually make great sculpting tools, especially on a slim budget!

What I actually said to my clients was, “I want you to focus on how you feel today in this moment. Look at the clay as you soften it with your hands and try to find an image emerge. Let the clay tell you what it wants to be. It doesn’t have to be anything, it cold be an abstract shape”. So after about 20 minutes of working time, these images emerged. I included the elephant because I have noticed a phenomenon that almost every time I use clay, someone makes an elephant. So keep an eye out for them and let me know if you spot one!

The client who made the meteor said, “The dents in the rock are scars and bruises, the meteor is on a journey, a long journey. The meteor represents me and the emotional scars from my past, and I feel like I’m on a journey, and even though I have scars I’m strong like the rock”.

Finally, the client who made the molecule has paranoid Schizophrenia and is cognitively limited. His hands constantly shake making most art projects frustrating for him. But when given clay he blossoms.  This is what he said about his sculpture, ” It’s a molecule…its a molecule that will help cure lots of diseases”. Unfortunately, he was not able to describe it more, but I would bet that he was feeling hopeful that day, hopeful that maybe one day there would be a medication that could subdue the hallucinations that plague him.

This is just to show that given an opportunity, our subconscious will supply us with all the inspiration we need when making art (therapy).  So, if you have a mixed crowd in your groups I would suggest using this “directive”. It also works really well with resistant populations.

2 responses to “When in doubt: Use clay

  1. I loved reading this activity because I could feel the relief that the participants might feel as a result of being given “space” to let the image emerge. All too often we are time restricted, whether it be in a class, a therapy session or even attending seminars and conferences. Giving 20 mins to work the clay sounds perfect. I bought myself some clay a few months ago and haven’t opened it because I don’t know what to “do”! I’m going to do this with myself now. Thanks, bette

    • I’m so glad you were encouraged to use that clay! I always keep a chunk of modeling clay on my desk for my clients to squeeze when they meet with me. But I use it when I’m stressed too lol. Iv’e always found a blank sheet of paper to be intimidating and kinda bossy. I feel limited by the borders of the four corners. But clay is different, clay offers itself up to us, and in doing so allows us to define the space. We get to be the boss!

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