Cartoons That Cure: Art Therapy with Steve Barr

A guest blog post from cartoonist, illustrator and author Steve Barr

I’m a professional cartoonist. I’ve been one for pretty much my entire life. I started drawing my own comic books and selling them to my classmates for their lunch money when I was in fifth grade. By the time I reached seventh grade, I had already begun making sales to newspapers and magazines.

I loved knowing that the art I created brought laughter and smiles to the faces of other people. But I had no idea those funny little drawings also had the power to change lives.

Steve Barr, art therapy

Image courtesy of Victory Junction Camp

Art Therapy for Children

A little over a year ago, I began visiting children in hospitals and teaching them how to draw their own cartoons. Right from the very beginning, what I watched happen was truly amazing.

I saw art help heal people! Children who had lost their appetites while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments suddenly began nibbling on food while they drew with me. Kids who hadn’t smiled in weeks began to grin and giggle.

Groups of children in isolation areas laughed so hard their masks started popping off and I thought I’d get into trouble! But the nurses assured me that it was exactly what their patients needed. Boys and girls who were undergoing a wide variety of treatments seemed to forget all about the procedures they were going through and kept drawing while the medical staff worked on them.

I witnessed a young girl who had lost the use of her right arm and was struggling to teach herself how to write with her left hand suddenly realize that she could use the same lines and shapes we were drawing cartoons with to create letters.

Youngsters who seemed to be giving up suddenly began talking about their plans for the future.

I could go on and on about all of the incredible things that have happened since I first started doing this. Other cartoonists have begun to asking about how they can do the same thing in the areas where they live. So have some children’s book illustrators.

My programs have taken me to treatment facilities in five states so far, and I’m planning to visit even more.

Together with the companies that print my art instruction books, we’ve begun building small libraries of art instruction books at every hospital and camp I go to, and even some I haven’t visited yet. Both of my publishers (IMPACT Books and Peel Productions) have generously donated large numbers of my books and some by other authors to help make that happen.

Each child I see gets a free pack of non-toxic, latex-free art supplies that they can keep. That helps them continue the creative process long after I’ve shown them the basics and headed for home.

Studies have shown that creating art can help reduce pain and anxiety in patients, but I had no idea how powerful those activities could be until I saw it firsthand. Creative activities of any kind can make magic happen!

These hospital drawing classes were originally intended to be something I did every once in a while, but I’m completely addicted at this point. But now it’s all I want to do.

Art can change lives.  And in an unexpected twist, the life these programs has changed the most has been my own.

About Steve Barr: I’m a cartoonist, author and illustrator. I’ve written and illustrated 13 books that teach adults and young children how to draw cartoons, including Draw Awesome Animals and Draw Crazy Creatures, published by IMPACT Books. I created and drew a nationally syndicated comic strip and my work has been featured in a large number of books, publications and advertisements.

I’m currently devoting almost all of my time to developing an organization that will take cartooning and art lessons to children in as many hospitals as possible and building small libraries of art activity books at every facility I visit.

Learn about the National Institute of Health research: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23699646

Visit Steve Barr’s website: http://www.stevebarrcartoons.com/#!art-heals/c4nt
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