Printmaking: Monoprinting with eating disorder patients

Being an art therapist often means adapting already known art techniques to the current population one is working with. The specific needs of a group or a population may only become apparent while working directly with the individuals. Therefore, the art therapist must be versatile and creative in her practice, while always ensuring that her techniques are theoretically grounded.

I first learned how to monoprint while volunteering at La Rue Des Femmes with Saundra Baly in Montreal, Quebec. I adapted this technique to include both sides of the art therapy philosophical spectrum: art as therapy (product oriented) and art psychotherapy (process oriented). This technique was specifically adapted for an inpatient eating disorder population.

Part 1: Printing


  • Acrylic paint
  • Cafeteria trays
  • Paint brushes, rollers, things to make marks into the paint, such as popsicle sticks or pieces of cardboard
  • Water
  • Cloths (to clean trays between prints)
  • Paper (4″x5″s or small pieces of paper to add structure to the directive)

Mark off boundary of paper on the back of trays. Do a demonstration for the group as to how to make a print:

  • Put paint down onto the tray (within the boundary for the paper)
  • Press the paper down onto the painted area and then pull up.

Voilà! You have a print. You can wipe excess paint off with a wet cloth and begin the printmaking process again. Discuss different ways of doing prints, for exapmle, lots of paint vs. watery paint. If someone puts a lot of paint down on the tray, more than one print may be possible.

Instruct the group where they can leave their prints to dry. Discuss how this will be a two-part group, and allow the group to begin experimenting with the procedure. Mention that they probably will find that things are not coming out the way they intended, and that’s ok, it’s all a part of the process. Leave some time at the end of group to process what this directive was like: experiences, thoughts, emotions.

Part 2: Framing

Have some pre-made frames handy. Invite the group to make their own frames too, out of paper or popsicle sticks. Find the test print you made, and demonstrate to the group how to use the frame as a viewfinder to look for parts of the prints they enjoy, or find nice. Encourage the group not just to find nice parts in the prints they already like, but also in prints they didn’t think turned out well.

Leave time for a discussion at the end of group to process parts 1 and 2, and what the group thought this was about. Any new thoughts/anything change in the experience between parts 1 and 2?


  • Raise autonomy
  • Raise frustration tolerance
  • If color is equivalent to affect, this directive provides boundaries for affect/holding environment through the borders of the lunch tray and paper.
  • Getting in touch with potential space, which is essential for any creative act to take place, as well as play; allowing oneself to play and let experience flow, the ability to be in the moment without thoughts or judgment.
  • Success-oriented
  • One cannot rely on perfectionism because there is no way to control the outcome of a print.
  • Promoting individuality, positive self discovery
  • Not having control can be ok
  • It’s possible to make something out of mess.

Affective media

  • Helps promote spontaneous verbalization
  • Tactile — involving the body, which is often denied in eating disorder patients
  • Lowers the amount of control patients can have over the media


  • Finding the good/beauty in mess/chaos, even when its hard to see
  • Making something out of mess/chaos
  • Putting boundaries to the mess/chaos
  • Can take the framed prints home- both a reminder of success and a transitional object
  • This part of the directive seems to open the group up more for reflection and processing

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