The Bear in the Sandbox: Art Therapy and the Museum Object

Isabel Hendley and Danny Kitchener, Art Therapy Trainees at The University of Roehampton

© The Courtauld


This ancient bronze ornament in the form of a bear was formerly owned by the influential art critic, painter and writer Roger Fry (1866 – 1934). It was part of a small group of ancient Chinese bronze pieces that he owned – mostly harnesses and small animal-shaped ornaments, and was given to The Courtauld by the Trustees of Fry’s Estate in 1935, along with his collection of modern paintings and artefacts spanning many cultures, times and geographies. 

Ornament in the form of a bear Ordos culture, Inner Mongolia or Northwestern China, 200 BC – 220 AD. Bronze with traces of red lacquer, 4.2 cm x 1.7 cm. The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust). Photo © The Courtauld


Playful encounters & self-expression in art therapy 

Art therapy is a form of psychological therapy that uses visual and tactile art media as a way of encouraging people to explore their thoughts, feelings and experiences that might otherwise be difficult to put into words. The therapeutic object can be a piece of art made during the process of therapy. It can also be an existing object or group of objects and made from any kind of material. When the object suggests or invites a strong emotion within the individual, the object becomes more fully formed, due to its personal significance. 

The practice of art therapy uses non-verbal forms of art-making and play to develop communication within the psyche of an individual, to access emotions and memories. The word ‘psyche’ means life in Greek. In English, it refers to the life of the mind and encompasses the totality of an individual’s conscious and unconscious thought processes and emotional affects. 

Non-verbal expression also supports inter-personal communication within the therapeutic relationship and in the wider context of relationships. As well as valuing the power of non-verbal processes, art therapy can be used as a place to put images and emotions into language, through reflection with a therapist and through the use of metaphor. Art therapy emphasises and cultivates our capacity to play at all stages of life. Through its symbolic potential, play can transform situations, represent conflicts and questions and develop our creativy,  resourcefulness and relationships.

The Master’s degree in Art Psychotherapy at the University of Roehampton (where both Danny see Drawing new lines in the sand and I are currently enrolled) brings together key theories in social, biological and psychological development to support clinical training with children and adults. We are excited to have the opportunity to demonstrate important elements of our discipline as part of The Courtauld’s Illuminating Objects Internship. 

Collective symbols 

This miniature bronze ornament in the form of a bear, dated to about 206 BC – 220 AD, originates from the Ordos culture, a central Asian nomadic group from Inner Mongolia or North West China. Animal motifs are prominent in the materal culture of the Ordos. The scholar Emma Bunker describes how animals depicted by the Ordos are suggestive of the larger migratory routes taken over long periods of time, beyond the seasonal migration patterns. The sense of a journey spanning generations and landscapes is embodied in this portable and mysterious bronze figure. It reflects how material culture from this time represents the animal-orientated lifestyle of this nomadic group. Their connection to the natural and supernatural worlds is strikingly captured by animal ‘images imbued with a power and vitality’ (Bunker, 2002, p.4). 

Bears are native to Inner Mongolia and North West China. In China too, during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 A.D) bears adorned daily items such as incense burners and weights for floor mats, to harmonise – following the ancient Chinese system of feng-shui – occupants with their surroundings. The bear was a totemic symbol of strength, heroism and spiritual protection. Across cultural contexts and social groups, bears have been symbols in different ways to different people: from magnificent powerful beasts, to comforting characters in children’s stories and soft toys. 

Within The Courtauld’s collection is a drawing presenting the bear as human entertainment, by the artist Jean Pierre de la Gourdaine Norblin (1745-1830) (Fig.1). An example of a bear portrayed with more affection, as a loyal companion (not unlike a child’s teddy bear), is shown at the feet of Jean, Duc de Berry, in his tomb, circa 1416 in the Sainte-Chapelle Cathedral of St Etienne, Bourges, France (Fig.2).  The sculptor Emil Wolff’s (1802-1879) marble statue ‘Winter’ features a child wrapped in bear skin for warmth, embodying the animal’s protective nature (Fig.3). For our research into the display, we explored bears as a collective symbol,  as well as reflecting on our personal relationships to symbols within the discpline of art therapy.

Personal symbols

C.G Jung, Figure 10, Snake Erupting. The Red Book, Pg. 54. image courtesy of : Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

One particular theory which informs our training is the model developed by founding psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), known as ‘analytical psychology’. This method encompasses Jung’s wide-ranging ideas about the nature of the human psyche.  Jung used art-making himself to search for meaning in his own life and, as art therapists in training, we are deeply influenced by Jung’s own personal reflection using symbolism and image-making. Jung believed that a human being’s most powerful mode of expression was in the images, signs and symbols within their dreams, their spontaneous drawings and something known in psychoanalysis as ‘active imagination’ (a kind of free association), as well as imagery from commonly shared myths and fairy tales.

Revelation in the therapeutic relationship  

Sometimes it is difficult to describe our emotions and experiences using only words. A focus on verbal communication can also become a barrier to connection with both ourselves and others. Creative activities such as art-making support expression and connection safely without the need for words. Art is a powerful way to say the unsayable. The unsayable may be a traumatic experience or complicated feelings which are hard to describe. Engaging in art and play at any age opens up a space to process or describe our personal experiences using imagery and metaphor. In this way, images and objects form a kind of symbolic speech between an individual and their art therapist.  

Jung’s ideas have developed into an approach to art therapy which is called ‘analytical art psychotherapy’. This method was first established by the prominent Jungian analyst and art psychotherapist, Joy Schaverien, in her book The Revealing Image of 1991.  

In The Revealing Image, Schaverien argued that an art object can embody a helpful perspective for its creator. She said that an object, ‘despite the fact that it is made by the artist, sometimes has the effect of giving an external perspective on an internal state. In this way the image feeds back to its maker in a way which offers a real potential for transformation’ (Schaverien, 1991, p.107).

The therapeutic relationship can be described as having two elements: the individual accessing therapy, and the therapist. Art therapy includes a third element: the object or art work. This third element creates what art therapists call a ‘triangular relationship’. The triangle is a core relational process of art therapy, and it allows for an important concept, called ‘the transference’, to take place, where an individual ‘transfers’ beliefs and emotions from their past and places them onto a present relationship or context. The process of transference is unconscious. Focusing on the art object supports feelings and sensations – whether of fear, anger or shame – to be regulated. Art therapists closely observe how the art object is being related to, and will reflect both on the transference and on their own emotional response to the art object and to the patient (this is called the ‘countertransference’.)  

The symbolic speech in an image

Externalising a difficult experience through art-making or play is often helpful, as objects can become a channel through which trust within a therapeutic relationship is developed, and intolerable feelings or events may be explored more directly. 

Schaverien argued that art created in therapy can itself receive the transference, and become imbued with unconscious meaning by its creator. Certain art objects are described by Schaverien as ‘embodied images’, as they symbolize a strong emotion unable to be expressed in an alternative way. Embodied images also indicate that objects can become animated and offer the maker or viewer a new perspective on their circumstances. Often created spontaneously, embodied images may stir feelings and conflicts from a patient’s past. Memories, sensations, and even pre-verbal experiences may resurface through the acts of both making and witnessing the art object.

Mary Bishop, Swan, 1958 gouache on paper, 55 x 45cm. With permission of the Adamson Collection/ Wellcome Trust

 How art-making relates to memory, emotion, and early experiences

The relationship between art and accessing early experiences is described in an influential article by the art psychotherapist Frances O’Brien, ‘The making of mess in Art Therapy: Attachment, Trauma and The Brain’ (O,brian, 2004, p.2-13). O’Brien illustrates how feelings are evoked through touching art materials and objects. This is because playing with paint, clay, sand and liquids activates the right hemisphere of our brains, where our early memories and experiences reside. The sensory experience of making therefore links up to the sensory-motor stage of early cognitive development. Research into the neural processes related to emotion and memory, by neuropsychologist’s such as Allan N. Schore at the UCLA Center for culture, brain and development, is critical to the discipline of art therapy as it supports the experiences art therapists have encountered through their work. Sensory, tactile engagement with art materials and objects engages right brain activity, which can support therapeutic processes of reparation and change on a physiological level.

Through this project, Danny and I have looked closely at The Courtauld’s miniature bronze bear and entered its symbolic world. With its mystery, holes and imperfections, the bear has invited us to form a personal connection with it. On these pages, we hope to open up how through a number of encounters the object has surprised us, and inspired us to play. 

Helen Greig, The Foetus / Rebirth. Credit: Adamson Collection / Wellcome Trust

Drawing new lines in the sand  

Sandtray therapy is an expressive therapy that sits within the broader discipline of art therapy. It incorporates various theoretical orientations. It features a wooden sandbox, miniature objects and liquids such as paint or water, which, combined, help to create a series of microcosms that are thought to reflect a person’s inner world, made up of their reactions, sensations, feelings and memories.


Through play, children learn about the world and their part in its unfolding narrative. Play forms a crucial part of early development as it improves social skills and physical and emotional well-being. Children learn how to communicate and collaborate with others, acquiring the skills required to resolve conflicts.

In sandtray therapy, a three-dimensional image is created by moving and placing one or more chosen objects in and around a tray; a story is created. The scholar David.T Mitchell has discussed the purpose of stories. He said that it “ Is to explain that which has stepped out of line. Understanding differences in people is one of the first things that propels the act of storytelling into existence” (Mitchell & Snyder, 2011, p. 8).

Donald Winnicott, playing. Image: with permission of the Winnicott Trust

Stories help shape and better understand the world and can understand differences.

The scene created will act as a source of reflection on the client’s life, consciously or unconsciously, reflecting the person’s experiences, paving the way to resolve conflicts safely, navigating current obstacles and, crucially, gaining acceptance and a better understanding of our behaviours, characteristics and unique abilities.

The leading children’s psychologist Donald Winnicott (1896 – 1971), suggested that play was a form of therapy and a valuable way of reaching the authentic and less guarded parts of a child’s personality. He wrote: “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual child or adult can be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self” (Winnicott, D.W. 1971, p54). He believed that inhibited free play – due to political, social, or cultural factors – could stunt the emotional development of children.

Making miniature worlds

Margaret Lowenfield (1890 – 1973), a paediatrician who became a leading figure in child psychology and psychotherapy is regarded as the first to use sand trays as a therapeutic technique. Lowenfield recognised the significance of play as an essential activity in a child’s development. She understood that talking therapies were problematic because they did not allow children to express their experiences fully. Today we know that trauma is stored not only in the brain but in the body too. As it is thought to rewire the brain, making us more reactive to stress and increasing the stress hormone cortisol, trauma could have long-term consequences on the body. Expressive techniques like sandtray therapy bypass this by allowing information to be processed in the middle and lower parts of the brain, thus helping to integrate new information and to process trauma.

Sandtray therapy involves the use of miniatures, and these should be selected purposefully as a varied collection can help provide symbolic vocabulary. They should be made from diverse materials and promote a range of tactile experiences. Miniatures include family groups, animals, buildings, transportation, vegetation, natural items, landscaping, furniture, fantasy and more. They serve as a proxy for the client to express emotions or feelings. The process empowers an object through metaphor, allowing the client to protect themselves while projecting experiences onto an inanimate object. Joy Schaverian, a Jungian analyst and psychotherapist, believes the empowering of any object results from a magical attitude that animates the object. The objects used are transformed from their material form and given character, transcending their traditional form (Schaverien, 1991, p.160).  

The symbolism of the tray

When a client handles the tray, this acts as a natural boundary for framing the work. The tray is filled with sand (wet or dry), and in the first sessions, clients are invited to ground themselves in the space by interacting with it. Sand and play naturally relate to each other. Interacting with sand can be calming: reducing anxiety and increasing mindfulness of the present moment, bringing the client into the here and now. Memories might stir. In my experience with sandtray therapy, the images that came were that of a rotunda in a now-gone seaside amusement park near a beach called Sunny Sands in Folkestone in Kent, during a period of my life when the manifestations of my then-undiagnosed dyspraxia did not yet hold me back.  This was a time when I was free to build sand castles clumsily. Though these creations were subject to the push and pull of mother nature, the processes involved in their creation were essential in developing my fine motor skills. They were, therefore, necessary to the building of more structurally sound objects that I built. 

The interior of the sandtray used in therapy is usually painted blue. Lowenfeld used the colour blue because of its association with nature: it could represent both the sky and the sea and is often associated with open spaces. Water, a core element, is full of symbolic associations. In describing moods, the colour blue is often associated with melancholy phrases like the Monday blues or feeling blue. The plaintive American music form, the blues, is named after it, and artists such as Van Gogh and Picasso famously had blue periods, using the colour to express pain or suffering. The Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky (1866- 1944) believed in the psychological effect of colour and described their attributes in his essential book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1913). Kandinsky speculated that people experienced colours physically and emotionally. His ideas about how colour affects people’s psyche and physiology have been corroborated in recent research into colour theory. He felt that blue awakened spiritual aspirations and that it had peaceful and profound qualities. The lighter it is, the more calming.

Wassily Kandinsky, Bei Starnberg – Winter, Winter 1901/02, Öl auf Leinwandkarton, 23,7 cm x 32,3 cm. Image courtesy of: Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München

With its blue base, the interior of the sandtray might transform into the sea, the sky, or a river. Even when the tray is filled with sand, the blue will remain on the edge of the sand tray, just like how the sky sits on the edge of our vision, symbolising that point on the horizon where the sky and the sea meet. This is also the edge of our consciousness. The transformative qualities of the colour blue, therefore, and its different effects on the body and the mind can be observed in the therapeutic process, as an interior painted with a darker hue of blue might help create a visual environment that is more conducive to exploring psychological depths and bring about grief responses. (Steinhardt,1997, p.459). 

Safe Games and War Games

In developing her ideas about sandtray, Lowenfeld said she was inspired by the writer H.G Wells (1866 – 1946), whose books Floor Games (1911) and Little Wars (1913) were published just before the Great War of 1914-1918. Wells wrote Floor Games after observing his children create imaginary worlds using blocks and toys, and devising a series of games using toys, which he played on the floor with his sons. While Floor Games was chiefly concerned with world-building exercises, the book Little Wars was a series of games using toy soldiers to recreate battlefield scenarios.

When he wrote these two books, Wells, a well-known pacifist, was preoccupied with the idea of war. The humanist in him hoped that his books might function as a deterrent to the real thing. He believed, “my game is just as good as their game, and saner because of its size. Here is War, done down to rational proportions, and yet out of the way of mankind” (Nordlund, 2016, p.747).

A safe place for play

Life can be uncertain and rough around the edges. To a certain extent, all humans crave security and want to feel physically and psychologically safe. To exert control over our lives. The clients taking part in sandtray outside of the space might feel stuck in other people’s stories, lacking the skills to change the narrative. When engaging in sandtray therapy, the client has the opportunity to create their own stories and challenge their role in others.

For the wounded part of ourselves to find form in the shifting sands, the inner child needs a supportive and non-shaming ally who will help validate their feelings. It matters little if the image created by the client is technically proficient or visually pleasing; the value lies in the process and the play. For play to exist, freedom of action and expression are necessary—the freedom to be authentic, to question and imagine. The art therapist must therefore create a safe therapeutic space where play is allowed and can thrive.


H. G. Wells, Little Wars, the first three images in chapter 2 or first two in chapter 3, Public Domain

Reflective art-making session: exploring relationships with the bear

As two art therapist trainees, an exercise was created to discuss The Courtauld’s Illuminating Objects internship and investigate our relationship to the chosen object using our therapeutic training. 

Date and time: 30/08/2022, 16:00 – 16:30 

Location: Windows Teams (Online)  

Themes that emerged :

  • Embodying the bear  
  • Touch and tactility  
  • Isolation 
  • Blue – colour theory – calming – the unconscious  
  • Feeling lost, finding it hard to begin 
  • Bear Archetype: Power, Survival, Nobility, embodying archetypal qualities of bear in therapeutic roles 
  • Hands – palms – how memory is stored in the body – not using restraints at work / realized through image making and reflection 
  • Emotional resonance with digital objects  
  • Being non-threatening / taking up space  
  • Protective instincts

Danny – How was the process for you?  

Isabel – Umm it took a little time to get started. What about you? 

Danny – It took me a little time too, but then I started trying to use some techniques, and it began to flow.  

Isabel – Yeah, I think I had a similar experience. I was looking at the bear on the screen in front of me for some time. That was a part of me that wanted to get an accurate outline down on the page.   

Danny – It sounded like it needed to be an accurate representation. 

Isabel – I realized we had not held it for weeks, and I missed that tactile experience. I was frustrated, so I used the art materials to remember what it was like. 

Danny – How did you start the art-making then? 

Isabel – I used a long piece of paper that began rolled up, and as I used the materials, I unravelled. As I searched for that tactile quality, it began to feel overwhelming. 

Danny – How come? 

Isabel – I think I was trying to use many materials at first and felt frustrated by how much space I had taken up.  

Danny – Could you not find what you were looking for?  
Isabel – Yeah in part. 

Danny – Maybe you needed to take up that space?  
Isabel – Part of that was trying to work through my first interaction with the material and the bear. And then I wanted to just move forward.  


Isabel – I realized that if I let go of just focusing on the bear and let my mind wander, I might find what I am looking for. 

Danny – I notice the colours change, also. 

Isabel – I noticed my instinct to bring blue into the image as the rest was brown and bronze, as I used colours and textures like the bear’s surface. Using blue felt like it would help me mark out the unknown spaces on the page. 

Danny – The unconscious?  
Isabel – Yeah, I started making direct outlines of my hand and used paint matching the tones of the bear. I imagined I was touching the surface of the bear. 

Danny – Something about the King Midas story resonates with me. Where everything he coveted and touched was turned into gold. His transformative powers. Maybe there was a transformation you hoped would happen where you became the bear’s material.  

Isabel – That’s interesting, or a desire to transform how I felt through using materials more energetically or powerfully. 

Danny – Like you’re trying to embody the bear? 

Isabel – Yeah, something like that.  

Danny – It was interesting comparing our images and seeing how we both included blue hands in the image at one stage. 

Isabel – Yeah, I thought that was striking too… how was the process for you?  

Danny – I think there was a similar process that took place. I had been thinking about the symbolism of the bear earlier today and how it’s perceived as a sign of strength, power, and notability. How they can survive in harsh conditions.  


Danny – I found myself thinking of my inpatient mental health service work. As you know, I work on the secure site with patients who demonstrate severe behaviour that challenges them. There can be violent situations in which I need to de-escalate and defend myself. 

Isabel – Go on…  

Danny – Anyway, one of the first techniques you learn in your training is the use of open palms to signify that you are not a threat and try to defuse the situation 

Isabel – Was this linked to the bear?  

Danny – I thought about how the bear will stand on two legs and raise its arms up high to ward off any threat. There are times when the threat of violence has increased dramatically, and I have had to channel my inner strength and stand tall, but not in a threatening way. 

Isabel – That sounds stressful; there must be survival instincts. 
Danny – Yes… when I started drawing my hands on the page, I used earth tones but felt I had to colour it blue. 


Danny – I think this might be linked to my recent research into colour theory, that blue is a calming colour and can help calm the body. Blue is what I try and project out of me.  

Danny – The image in the background felt almost formless to me. There were these noshing and gnashing teeth coming out of nowhere like I couldn’t read where the danger is coming from, it was all black and bleak, and all I could do is stand there with my active palms. Once I finished the palms also, I felt like I needed to include some brown and started putting these dashes on my hand, which almost resembled fur.  

Isabel – Yeah. Something I found striking about your image was the red wrapping around those fur-like hands. I wonder where this imagery arose from. 

Danny – The red I realize, was the same colour as the inside of the mouths in the background. Thinking about it I don’t think these red string-like things wrapping around me were trying to hurt or restrict me. To me, it feels like the teeth are all the psychosis externalized. The red that is gently wrapping around me feels like the patient’s true nature reaching out to me like they are trying to say ill support you if you can still see me and support me.  

Isabel – Hmm. Yeah, there is something quite I find quite calming about the red that’s wrapping around the hands, something about its flow. 

Danny – Umm yeah. 

Isabel – There’s something very alive about the hands also. Maybe that’s the fur against the blue? 

Danny – Hmm. Yeah, the blue, maybe it lights up in the dark and keeps the scary things at bay.  

Isabel – it also made me think about the bottom of the sand tray and how you’ve talked about the significance of the space. 

Danny – Yeah when looking at your image, I noticed red wrapping around the bear.  

Isabel – Yeah, brought the red into the image, and it felt like a confrontation with the bear. Something a bit bloody. I think it also helped change how I related to the bear and the image.  

Danny – There are other animals as well on the page? 

Isabel – Yeah, there were smaller bears and other animals and these tree-like shapes.  

Danny – Yeah, when I look at the image, there seem to be lots of movement. The image appears in flux with muddy colours and bursts of bright colours like blue or red. 

Isabel – Umm… 

Danny – I notice also that the most giant bear you have drawn seems to be walking away from the page.  

Isabel – Yeah, it’s like it is walking out of the scene as it is too chaotic. There’s something quite animated about everything else.  

Danny – To me, it also looks more fully formed than the other animals on the page. 

Isabel – Umm so I think the bear was the first thing I drew. Then I started filling up all the space around it. The bear looks like a solitary object. 


Isabel – Maybe I needed it to be. 

Danny – So it did not want to interact with other elements of the page?  

Isabel – I think so. 

Danny – Themes of isolation resonate with me as it seems to mirror the process and hardships in creating the display at the Courtauld. Due to the nature of the object, it’s hard to introduce other elements into the display, and the bronze bear will be isolated. Embodying the space on its own terms. 

Isabel – Exactly, given its material, we need to be mindful of the other elements of the display. 

Danny – And there’s a challenge there… 

Isabel – Yes. And something about what the bear is if it’s not in relation to something. How can I relate to it? 

Danny – Umm… 

Isabel – I wonder what might change.  

Danny – if those themes of isolation are still prevalent? 

Isabel – Yeah. Umm, when you were making your image, were you looking at any references to the bear or working from your imagination?  

Danny – I looked at some photos on my phone, then thought about my own research into the symbolism of the animal. Trying to understand the nature of the bronze bear and embody it. Maybe transform.  

Isabel – Umm. 

Danny – This is interesting. 

Isabel – Yeah, it’s got me thinking about the transformative process in the sand tray.  

Danny – Sand play is the act of transformation via animating an object, with the voice, with characteristics. Maybe the bear that I inhibited today needed to find its voice. Since I’ve transferred to my new role at the hospital, working in a different department, I haven’t had to use physical restraint techniques. I haven’t had to use active palms for nine weeks.  This is a change from my having to use it almost daily for four years.  

Isabel – I wonder what the archetype of the bronze object would be? For me, the bear is smiling – as if it is telling a joke or playing, a trickster? And I wanted to tune into that somehow. There’s this part of me that wants to inhabit that. 

Danny – Jung found that the bear was one of the most common archetypes. He spoke about the ‘mother bear’ archetype, which represents our need to transfer and project the defensive nature of the wild animal into the human mother. When trying to de-escalate those situations at work, I’m also trying to protect the other patients.  

Isabel – There’s a maternal or paternal instinct?  

Danny – That’s very interesting. I look forward to seeing the object once more.  There is something fascinating about the images we’ve created and the parallel between the isolation of the bear and the lack of other animals in its immediate environment. It feels like in this session; there is a real effort for both of us to ‘transform’  

Isabel – Mm-hmm. 


Danny – I know this session is ending, but if you look at the image now after our conversation. Does anything else come to you? I feel closer to what I have created now.  

Isabel – I am feeling more emotionally connected and closer to the image and the bear now after reflecting on it. I’m interested in seeing how it develops next week. And how our images do, in some ways, are so different and appear to have many similarities. Even with all this distance.  

Danny – Yeah. Okay then, see you next week then? 

Isabel – Yes, see you then.   


Hendley, Isabel. Mixed media on paper. 2022, London

Art-making continued: exploring relationships with the bear 

A second reflective session took place to further identify the feelings and concepts that emerged in the previous session and to see if our relationship to the object had changed.  

Date and time: 06/09/2022, 12:30-14:00

Location: Courtauld Offices, Somerset House 

Themes that emerged :

  • Holding and the developmental importance of touch
  • Natural elements such as water, the danger of corrosive elements in terms of the Bear’s preservation
  • Teeth (internal teeth, facing ourselves) rather than the external teeth of outer danger significance
    in psychotherapy.
  • Balance through integrating opposites
  • Acceptance of circumstances, both the limits and ongoing search for play
  • Bear’s acceptance of its natural form – our acceptance of self
  • Looking forward – how to approach the display of the object

Danny: Holding the object today after some time away brought up a lot. What surprised me was that I forgot how animated and visceral it was. For some reason, I forgot this or imagined it differently.

Isabel: It felt spontaneous visiting the object storage today. We hadn’t expected to go down there. Yeah, I felt excited to see it. And then holding it was like experiencing something I’ve built a relationship with now. The more I see it, the more I see different characteristics. When you pointed out its teeth and jaw, it looked fiercer.

Danny: A lot fiercer…


Danny: One of the most profound things, I think, was something which we discussed earlier, the blue in our previous images, that maybe the blue hands were the latex gloves that we are putting on in the storage rooms to interact with the object. Meaning that even though we were holding the bear in our palms, there was always a sense of distance.

Isabel: When you shared that, I thought about every time I’ve looked at the bear, or we’ve been looking at it, it’s been kind of surrounded by blue. In storage and inside the tray.

Danny: Yeah, exactly. There is a sense of loss also, loss that I can’t connect with it using my skin. Maybe it’s worth noting the developmental aspect. How important touch is growing up, how essential strokes can be, being touched by a parent and supported, and how it helps our development in terms of our physiology, our mental health, and attachment style.

Isabel: Yeah… I’m just looking at your image; there’s this feeling of movement, like swirling. The imagery swirling round and round, blue hands reaching out to us. I feel the tactile quality. And I just wonder what resonates with you about the imagery we made?

Danny: Actually, there was a sense of, sense of movement to me. The image I created has got me thinking about fountains or whirlpools, that’s it, like a whirlpool. I just started drawing circles which turned into those hands, which aren’t entirely, as I’d say, proportionate, or they’re a bit more abstract compared to the hands last week. The blue seems to trap the bear in the middle of the image. This is interesting because the bear can’t be around any moisture because of the nature of the bronze material. It’s got to stay safe against all these other elements, which might further corrode it. Maybe there is something about those difficulties we’re facing in creating this final display.


Danny: I realize that in the image, also, the bear is hidden in the sand. Just before we finished, I added these scratchy lines in the sand. Reflecting on this, I can see links to the last image I created. It reminded me of those teeth. But in that image, the threat is external, whereas the threat in this image seems internal. That…


Danny: As trainee art therapists, we know that the threat to someone’s well-being manifests internally. Sometimes we are more prone to attack ourselves than wait for others to do it.

Isabel: Looking at your image, I feel quite introspective. I feel drawn into questioning my relationship with it and the bear’s relationship with others.

Danny: Another thing I thought about is the Yin and Yang concept. The geometrics of it anyway and similar to what is created. It’s also interesting with the grey surrounding all the work in the middle. There was a real sense of rocks, potentially granite, the physical structures that serve as the foundations of life, coming into being in all this greatness. There are patches of blue that are scattered in the grey also. Half-formed ideas, maybe.


Danny: The image I created today feels softer. Maybe it’s because I have processed much of the stuff from the other week and consolidated feelings about work. So maybe this is less about me than my relationship to the object and the process.

Isabel: When image making, I was thinking about the elements, mostly water, and a stream or drops of water started appearing on the page.

Danny: I can see that.

Isabel: There was an intimacy in holding the object; I could see the gaps and the holes in its body. I started this image by outlining the shapes of empty spaces in the bear, which evolved into a kind of landscape. I wanted to picture the bear in a landscape it might be in.

Danny: In this landscape, I feel there seems like there’s lots of movement, that it’s starting to shape and reshape itself. Something parallel to those experiments we had done in the sand tray. There’s something grabby about it, like parts of the page that are almost like trying to grab something.

Isabel: I can see teeth also. Those long teeth dig into something or want to dig beneath the ground or surface. When I was making it, I could feel the image lacking a fixed point, a centre almost. It reminds me of feelings of uncertainty.

Danny: About uncertainty

Isabel: Yeah…

Danny: When you pointed out the water droplet-like objects on the page, I noticed that they loom above the bear you’ve drawn. An image in my mind popped up of a guillotine when the blade was right at the top before it was dropped. There’s a sense of suspense. So I wonder, what’s going to happen to those drops of moisture? Are they going to hit the bear?

Isabel: Yeah, they are frozen in a moment. I see them falling, but it’s making me think back to the constraints; by putting the bear on display, we must be careful about elements corroding it.

Isabel: They could do…


Danny: The teeth elements you mentioned. Do they remind you of anything else?

Isabel: They are making me think of the support that the bear stands upon, the skis. They remind me of icicles as well. Is there anything you see?

Danny: I was thinking about claws.

Isabel: Yeah, I feel some tension between those jagged, angular shapes – like claws – and then me trying to search for some softness to balance the angles out.

Danny: And the water droplet reflections, did you do those manually, or did you fold over the paper?

Isabel: I drew those manually, trying again to create some balance.

Danny: When I glance at both of our images. Again, there are similarities in the forms, the elements, the teeth, and the object itself. There’s a sense of consolidation based on what happened before and today. These pieces are asking us to accept what is possible or not possible.

Isabel: For me, speaking from the previous frustration I experienced… this image today shows me a way through. I found something by making this image and then looking at both images together. There’s something about acceptance of difference, a calmness.

Danny: Yeah, and if we think about what we know from running sessions or in our personal lives, there are some things we can’t change. And some personalities and dynamics just won’t change, but we can change how we relate to them. And that might come with boundaries or acceptance, or just awareness. There’s something about this, this acceptance of what is possible, what mirrors our process of the hardships in creating this installation.

Isabel: Yes. Paying attention to all these difficulties in a way. Integrating them by paying a deeper kind of attention to ourselves.

Danny: Oh, yeah. That is okay to turn around and say, you know what, this sucks that people can’t pick it up. And we can’t pick it up as we would like. Maybe the bear feels like that. However, what we do choose to display, I think, will embody the process.

Isabel: Completely… yeah.

Danny: Maybe it’s essential that the solitary bear speaks about what happens if we can’t play?

Isabel: Or if we don’t have someone to play with?

Danny: Yeah, the environment might affect us from playing, external constraints and restraints. But the kind of desire or the need, the need is still there.


Danny: If you could add anything else to it, would you? Does it feel like you need to add any last marks?

Isabel: The last thing I did was these little pencil dots. I don’t feel like I want to add anything else. How about you?

Danny: I feel the same way. The images helped consolidate a few things and brought my true thoughts into awareness. Which will hopefully support what happens next.

Danny: Just looking at my image, it does remind me of the Yin and Yang. Bringing into balance the opposites.

Isabel: Yes, I also see the Ouroboros snake in your blue circle. Both our images seem to be reaching for balance in different ways. I was trying through the play with composition.

Danny: A final thought, your image reminds me of work by artists like Miro, with its balancing of abstract forms.


Further reading related to art therapy 

Playful encounters and self-expression in art therapy  

Black, T. L. (1998). Bear in Human imagination and in Ritual. International Association for Bear Research and Managment. Vol 10. pp.343-347.

Bunker, C. E. (2002). Nomadic Art of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes. Yale University Press: New Haven and London.

Greig, H. (1966). The Foetus. (As titled in E. Adamson’s book ‘Art as Healing’ Ch. 22 Rebirth) Gouache on paper, 56 x 42cm. With permission of the Adamson Collection / Wellcome Collection.

Jung, G. C. (2009). The Red Book: Liber Novus. Philemon Foundation/W. & W. Norton & Co.

O’Brien, F. (2004). The making of mess in art therapy: Attachment, trauma and the brain, Inscape, 9:1, pp.2-13, DOI: 10.1080/02647140408405670. 

Schaverien, J. (1991). The Revealing Image: Analytical Art Psychotherapy in Theory and Practice. Routledge: London & New York. 

Schore, A. (1994). Affect Regulation and The Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development.  Psychology Press: New York.

Drawing new lines in the sand

Nordlund, A.M. (2016). A misfit in all times: H. G. Wells and ‘The Last War’. Modern Intellectual History, 15(3), pp.747–771.

Mitchell, D.T. and Snyder, S.L. (2011). Narrative prosthesis : disability and the dependencies of discourse. Ann Arbor: The University Of Michigan Press.

Schaverien, J. (1991) The Revealing Image: Analytical Art Psychotherapy in Theory and Practice. Routledge: London & New York.

Steinhardt, L. (1997). Beyond blue: The implications of blue as the colour of the inner surface of the sandtray in sandplay. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 24(5), pp.455–469. doi:10.1016/s0197-4556(97)00043-9.

‌Wassily Kandinsky and Sadleir, M. (2006). Concerning the spiritual in art. London: Tate.

Wells, H.G. and Sinclair, J.R. (2015). Little wars and floor games : the foundations of wargaming. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

Winnicott, D.W. (1971). Playing and reality. Taylor & Francis Ltd.


This webpage has been researched and written by Danny Kitchener and Isabel Hendley as part of the Illuminating Objects Internship. Foremost thanks to McQueens Flowers for their support. We thank Matthew Thompson and Alexandra Gerstein at The Courtauld for their abundant knowledge, time, and mentorship. Karin Kyburz for her patience and time spent sourcing images for us. John Hindmarch for his expertise and assisting us in the Photogeometry sessions during the hottest summer on record! Stephen Whitemean for his advice on the object. And thanks to Diana Kayafa at Roehampton University for her guidance and all of our other tutors and peers for helping us in this journey. 

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