This is a continuously updated post about prompts for art groups and craft activities for expressive therapy and art therapy-oriented groups. To the best of my knowledge, these are new ideas not contained in other guides or manuals. These are appropriate for art groups in all sorts of contexts- from therapeutic groups to artists’ meetups, from art classes to “paint and sip” style get-togethers. Adapt the prompt and your supplies to your participants’ skill, comfort, and age level!
ART THERAPY NOTE: While art and other creative activities are often a part of my professional work, I am not an Art Therapist. The phrase Art Therapist is reserved for those who have completed an art-therapy-specific graduate-level training rather than a traditional clinically-focused psychology program. When traditionally-trained therapists, counselors, and psychologists use art and art-making as part of treatment it is referred to as “expressive arts therapy” rather than “art therapy” (a phrase reserved for Art Therapists). The ideas in this post can be adapted for non-therapeutic OR therapeutically-oriented expressive arts groups and used by anyone, including art therapists, therapists using expressive arts in traditional therapy, and non-professionals interested in art prompts with depth.
2. ART PROMPT: Mapping My Galaxy
Questions to help participants navigate the prompt:
What moves in orbit within the galaxies you inhabit?
What are the significant constellations of your solar system?
3. ART PROMPT: Redacted: Exploring Our Edits
“Redact: (verb) to hide or remove parts of a text before publication or distribution.” Blackout poetry is a method of composing poetry that creates a new poem by blacking out existing text in a book, letter, or technical writing material. Because it’s an editing of someone else’s words rather than a new creation, creating and sharing this type of poetry can be less vulnerable and easier to start for many people.
Prompt: Where have you edited yourself this week? What has had to be removed/edited/concealed before bringing yourself into this world? Who gets to edit?
Participants are given printed literature (old books, magazines for collaging, even old letters, and encouraged to “edit”)
Letters, magazines, previously made (or thrifted) art, etc for “creative editing”
Books + Magic Markers (for backout poetry)
4. ART PROMPT: Losing Control
Fluid Acrylic is acrylic paint formulated to be more viscous than water while maintaining a high level of pigment. Dropping liquid acrylic onto wet paper creates chaotic designs. The nearly-uncontrollable flow can be an exercise in letting go. Using this media, it becomes quickly apparent that the more one tries to interfere with the painting process, the more muddled the art becomes. The effects of the fluid acrylic as it spreads across the page, merging or sometimes chasing other colors, are mesmerizing.
This can be a variation on one of D.W. Winnicott’s- the famous researcher and therapist of parents and children- favorite ways to therapeutically play with children: Drawing a squiggle or abstract image, he’d invite the child to imagine what they saw in the picture, and add details (ears, mouth, feet, etc.).
Be sure to provide enough paper for multiple paintings for each person. Plan to leave the paintings overnight to dry- fluid acrylic will remain wet and “drippy” for many hours after painting. If clothing or textiles are stained, rinse the stain and then keep the stain wet until the item can be machine washed.
- fluid acrylic paint
- low tooth (i.e. smooth, not textured) watercolor paper (or non-porous Yupo Paper for even more dramatic results)
- drop cloths to protect surfaces
- vials and droppers – fluid acrylic comes in easy to spill containers, but these vials or
- glue syringes are great for limiting spills.
NOTE: Fluid acrylic can be messy. This activity is best for small groups with members that are able to both psychologically and physically manage working with a difficult to control media.
5. ART PROMPT: Retelling My Story
All of us have been handed a story by our culture, family, and education. Self-discovery is often a process of finding out where this story actually has overwritten elements of our lived identity or narrative. In this prompt, participants each choose a discarded library book and are encouraged to consider the power they have to change how a narrative is engaged. Participants may edit the content (via blackout poetry) or the pages themselves.
Xacto Knives or Box Knives (age and context-appropriate – for at-risk groups, participants can be encouraged to create through the artistic and cathartic process of tearing)
Magic Markers (new and/or with plenty of ink!)
6. ART PROMPT: “what I actually mean when I say I’m doing ok”
This can feel like a BIG question, but to structure the prompt for participants I start the meeting by showing the examples of artist Mari Andrew’s work, who breaks questions like this down into pie charts, graphs, mind maps, or illustrated figures with well-labeled parts.
Standard Art Supplies
Make this prompt even easier by starting with a printable PDF worksheet!
7. ART PROMPT: Kintsugi “Golden Repair”
Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi, which means “golden repair”) is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with precious metals, creating reconstructed pieces with seams of gold.
In our group, each participant picked a thrifted piece of pottery, went outside and broke it into pieces, and then repaired their piece with gold epoxy (see recipe below).
Make your own super fast-setting gold glue by combining Quick Set Epoxy with Gold Mica Powder. The Quick Set Epoxy sets very quick- which is great for rebuilding, but be sure to mix very small batches (no more than 1 Tablespoon at a time) or you’ll find- as we did- your glue will set on your mixing surface before it can be transferred to the broken pottery.
It was fun to see how individuals translated this prompt. Some participants rebuilt their pot, others used pieces from other pottery to repair where theirs were too broken, and one person even built a lotus flower from a piece that had been broken beyond repair.
Quick Set Epoxy
Finger Cots (epoxy on skin can be an irritant, these finger cots can be an easy way to prevent that, although you should definitely brace yourself for the inevitable snickering as these are, functionally, finger-condoms.)
Wood Craft Sticks or Tooth Picks
Gold Mica Powder
Plastic Plates for Glue Mixing
Gloves for handling broken pottery
8. ART PROMPT: Bob Ross Paint-Along
For one art group, we recently hosted a “Paint Along with Bob Ross” night. This prompt was intended to be playful and invitational, although even prescribed art can be expressive. The soothing and non-judgmental instruction of painting along with an episode of The Joy of Painting offers a low-barrier invitation to people who struggle with the fear of a blank page/canvas.
We simply found a full-length Bob Ross video online (Netflix has dozens!), screenshotted the list of required supplies (It also shows on the screen in the first few seconds of a show), and purchased small, prepped canvases and supplies.
I was intentional, as the leader, to invite participants to follow along or not follow along, and to either paint the scene, paint the scene the way they envisioned the scene, or to not paint the scene at all.
- Bob Ross Video (Netflix or Youtube)
- Canvases (we sized down to 8×10 and 9×12 canvases to fit our 1.5 hour meeting length)
- Paint (Bob uses oil, but we used acrylic, I just took the episode’s color list to an art supply store and purchased the acrylic equivalent to the colors listed)
- Supplies (A few decent brushes, big foam brushes for backgrounds, and palette knives, which Bob loves and we found thin rulers to substitute well for)
9. ART PROMPT: The Mask We Live In
3-dimensional mask making with air dry clay creates has possibilities.
Masks have long been a staple tool of art therapists, but decorating masks can be an expressive activity that works well beyond traditional art therapy.
Simply making a paper mask, or color or painting a pre-molded mask still limits the artist dimensionally. When I experimented with adding foam-type air-dry clay to this common art prompt, I was THRILLED with the way foam air-dry clay easily adheres to a premolded mask (no glue required!) and allows participants to build in more dimensions.
SET UP AND CLEANUP – This is one of the easiest prompts on the list! This prompt requires no printing, cutting, or prepping, and can be completed without special tools (like brushes, scissors, etc)
- Air Dry Clay (I use this pack of 36 individually wrapped colors)
- Plain Paper-Mache Craft Masks (Avoid the plastic version, since the clay won’t stick)
10. ART PROMPT: Repurposed
Remember when you were a kid and all you needed was an oversized box to imagine you were flying into space or lounging behind a mansion? This prompt invites us to consider what we can imagine from what is discarded.
This is appropriate only for groups and workspaces that can safely handle knives and box cutters. My result from this art group meetup was this whale-shaped piñata, which I made extra-extra sturdy so I could use it as a whimsical shipping box for my niece’s birthday present:
Recommended reading on this topic:
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