Art Hugs - DuPage Children's Museum
April 7, 2020

Art Hugs

By: Angela Lyonsmith, Artist-In-Residence

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

As I sit down to write this, I am gearing up for a day of e-learning with my daughters. It is a hectic schedule between their three different formats, zoom meetings for work, trying to plan a few virtual meet ups with friends and family and other bright spots in our day. Before I even think about all that though, I just want to pause and be thankful.

I am thankful for the incredible technology that allows us to connect to each other. I am thankful for the helpers. As Fred Rodgers famously told young children in times of crisis to “look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.” There are so many helpers in our midst: teachers, nurses, doctors, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, social workers, government employees, custodians, postal workers, garbage collectors, hospital staff, clergy, and everyone who is doing their best to be kind, calm, and extend care to others. I am thankful for my family and each of us trying our best to navigate this strange time together. I am also so thankful for art.     

Back in February in The Studio, I had the honor to create “art hugs” with young makers and their families. At the time, this project was offered as a way of expanding how we can use art to build connections. This project, which begins with tracing your hands and measuring your “wing span” in order to insure you are creating a hug of the appropriate length, serves as a special reminder of your child at this point in their growth. It also allows for fine motor skill building, planning and problem solving as you bead your “hug line” with all sorts of wonderful things. Importantly, it allows you to create a hug which can be worn, shared, or even sent in the mail as a symbol of care to family or friends who live far away. In recent weeks this project has taken on new meaning for me and my family.

Art, across cultures and generations, has been a way to communicate, make special (Dissanayake, 1995) and maintain connection and hope. As we are all figuring out how to balance prolonged social distance and social cohesion, it is important to consider how we talk and play with our children in ways that are thoughtful and purposeful. Art making with the children in our care offers us many meaningful opportunities for this.

Creating an art hug offers a tangible way to explore personal space and connection with even very young makers. Please follow these steps together to create your own.

  1. Trace your child’s hands on card stock or thin cardboard (cereal boxes work great).
  2. Cut out the hands. Tall assistants this is a perfect time for you to support your young maker’s process either by cutting out the hands for very young artists or assisting your maker to build their scissor skills.
  3. Decorate the hands with markers or oil pastels for rich, bright colors.
  4. Punch a hole in both hands.
  5. Cut a string as long as their arms outstretched.
  6. Tie one hand to the end of the string.
  7. Bead all kinds of wonderful things on the “hug line.” Think broadly here and use items you have on hand. You can turn many things into a “bead” by punching a hole in cardboard cut outs, plastic lid caps, etc. Straws, pipe cleaners, and even other yarns can create wonderful embellishments around the string too.
  8. When you are done beading, tie the other hand to the other end of the string. Your art hug is complete!

As you work, you can discuss the range of extending care to ourselves and others by washing our hands, maintaining personal space, using alternate ways to greet each other, connecting on one of the many meeting platforms online or sending a hug in the mail to someone who needs it.

This project provides an opportunity to bring current events, safety, and care into our play and art making. Intentional art making has the capacity to hold heaviness and complexity while also allowing for creativity, simplicity, and joy. This is the magic and work of play. It has been such a privilege to be part of the programming at DuPage Children’s Museum over the last three months and an honor to make art with so many young people and their families. Thank you for this precious opportunity.

Again, thank you to the many helpers in our communities who are caring for the sick, keeping stores stocked with essential items, and maintaining our neighborhoods for the safety and health of all. And importantly, thank you parents. Thank you for modeling resiliency for your children, for being brave and calm, and for savoring the sweetness of an hour you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to spend together. Thank you for hugs. There are moments when our patience will be challenged, when our own fears loom large, and our ability to give care is stretched to new limits… but this is the challenge and opportunity of being a parent today. Please be gentle with yourself when it doesn’t quite work out, find grace to extend to your children when their behavior is really communicating that they are scared too, and remember to hug.

Wishing you health, calm, and care,
Angela Lyonsmith ATR-BC, LCPC

Dissanayake, Ellen (1995). Homo Aestheticus; Where Art Comes From and Why.

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About Angela

Hello, I’m Angela Lyonsmith, a mom of three amazing humans, an artist and art therapist. I have worked as an art therapist for two decades and taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the graduate art therapy program for over 10 years. I am thrilled to be the Artist-In-Residence at DuPage Children’s Museum for January – March 2020. On Instagram, follow @artwithpeople.


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