Creating a ‘Tree of Resilience’ at Bear Cottage by Judy King

Have you ever wondered what ‘Art Therapy’ at a children’s hospice would look like? Judy King, an Art Therapist who works part time at Bear Cottage in Manly, Australia has provided us with a step-by-step, illustrated account of the creation of a stunning ‘Tree of Resilience’ – a fine example of inclusivity and creativity in practice. 

She writes:

The theme for this work was a ‘Tree of Resilience’ with the sand and seas of Manly in the background. All our children at Bear Cottage, and their families, often show inspiring resilience, despite their difficulties.

Two young siblings helped with prepping the canvas with mint green and sky blue.

They taught me how we should make the handprints to look more like leaves by grouping the fingers together and cupping the hands, rather than opening out your fingers as often happens with handprints.

This process gave the brothers the chance to build their leaves together to form the tree, the two siblings helping their mother to paint the hands of their brother who was the reason that they had come to Bear Cottage.

They appeared to enjoy the process of placing their hands next to their sick brother’s, interlacing their leaves with his, creating further bonds through the art making. Sometimes words aren’t always there (or necessary) to share: art-making in this context helping build connections between them.

Their brother enjoyed the tactile nature of the paint on his hands and smiled as his mother gently placed the paint on his palms.

Whilst the canvas background was drying on the grass in the sun Frankie, the resident Bear Cottage dog decided she wanted to make her mark by adeptly placing her muddy paw prints on the canvas and walking over it. So, we took this to mean that she would like to be a part of this group work too.

She longsufferingly allowed me to paint her paw.  Showing the way for the handprints.







And footprints.











It was obviously tiring being an artist!


We needed some handprints on the canvas itself so this adolescent chose specific shades of yellow and green. As she chose the positions for her hands I drew the branches to reach her ‘hand-print leaves’. Her condition meant that her mobility was compromised so the lightness of the canvas meant I could negotiate around this within the confines of the wheelchair, turning it upside down and around to accommodate her limited reach.

As leaves were added over subsequent days from other children, she appeared to enjoy when I pointed hers out amongst the others.

Leaves were laid out on top of the canvas trying to represent as many children that wanted to be a part of this work.


Another way for our children to make their mark in the world is with wheelchair art. With a team of willing volunteers, we fill 50ml syringes with brightly coloured paints to shoot across the patchwork of paper strewn across the garage floor. At all times remaining vigilant that it doesn’t fire across the bonnet of a staff member’s car!










The use of syringes even helped lessen the fear that one little boy had around syringes, associating them with his feeds and injections. After initial hesitancy, he embraced the idea of having some control over this ‘medical tool’ by squirting his favourite colour green up in the air.









The mixture of tyre tracks, trolley trails, foot prints and even a shuffling of bottoms makes for a colourful, tactile, sensory experience for all involved.


The feel of the paint and the joy at ‘allowing the mess’ was a treat to witness on the faces of siblings and parents watching on. This then formed the perfect inclusion for the tree roots of our Tree of Resilience canvas.

The irony not lost on the tree’s need for stability and groundedness in the wheels of the chairs that give some children their movement and ‘legs’.

Some cropped images also give a different dimension to the finished work.


I interspersed varnished autumnal leaves from the Bear Cottage garden amongst the hand/foot/paw prints to give it further depth and a natural feel.

Butterflies, bees and a Very Hungry Caterpillar were created by some other siblings aged seven and four to fly amongst the leaves.







The completed ‘Tree of Resilience’.


About the author

Judy King – Art Therapist
Judy has been an artist for many years and also works as a registered nurse intermittently, on a casual basis. She combined these two worlds by completing the Masters in Art Therapy at Western Sydney University in 2008 and has been working with a variety of different client groups since then. This includes adult palliative care and mental health, chronic pain, troubled adolescents within the school system and preschool children.
Working part time at Bear Cottage she facilitates children and their families to express themselves within a safe space, making memories creatively together or individually as part of their understanding and processing of what has connected them to the hospice.
Her passion is working with children and her clinical work was the basis for inclusion in Trans generational Trauma and the Aboriginal pre school child, Ed. Norma Tracy, 2015 and Art Therapy in the Early Years, Ed. Julia Meyerowitz-Katz and Dean Reddick 2017.


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