Wire Sculpture for Clients with Substance Use Disorder in Recovery - Week 2 of 3

12” x 12” x 24” wire sculpture with rice paper exterior

Purpose: The purpose of this exercise is to allow each participant time to focus on creating something that symbolizes something abstract that most people don’t fully understand, which is the flow of electrical current. The participant builds a piece that cannot be powered by them, it must be powered by something greater than them. They are creating sculpture that can be lit up from the inside, using something that is not them. (This was taken from the AA idea that you are on your way to believing in a higher power as soon as you know that there is a higher power and you aren’t it).

Goal: The goal of this exercise is for each participant to spend time working on a sculpture that is can be plugged in and serve as a reminder of their powerlessness. In Step 2, “A power greater than you can restore you to sanity.” The power greater than them is the electricity, they cannot light up the sculpture, but something else can. The goal of handing out the article is to add to their growing set of tools, empowering them with information. When an addict feels overwhelmed, they are taught to look to specific tools for support (meetings, fellowship, sponsor, new healthy activities for enjoyment, etc.).

Therapeutic Properties of the Media:
Sculpture helps clients flesh ideas out in 3 dimensions. Through internal discovery and/or outer discussion, participants can look at problems from many different angles, just as they are trying to solve the problems of sculpture activities from different angles and perspectives. It helps contribute to a feeling of control over one’s environment. The activity that we are doing in this directive includes working with an internal and external space. The client is creating her/his own container and gets to decide how to fill it and how to cover/leave open the exterior.
It’s important to try to fill the toolbox for addicts and alcoholics so that they have a go-to for stress relief. Dr. Kaimal at Drexel University did a study on the effects of art making on cortisol levels, “researchers found that 75 percent of the participants’ cortisol levels lowered during their 45 minutes of making art. And while there was some variation in how much cortisol levels lowered, there was no correlation between past art experiences and lower levels” (Kaimal & Muniz, 2016).
Clay and sculpture share qualities of dimension and tactile accessibility. According to an article by Sholt & Gavron (2006), the following are therapeutic qualities of clay:
• Facilitating expression of emotions
• Facilitating catharsis
• Revealing unconscious materials
• Facilitating rich and deep expressions
• Facilitating verbal communication
• Concretization and symbolization: The embodiment of inner representations in visual images
Supervised sculpting activities with patients with dementia are connected to an increase in attributes such as, “mental state, attention, corporeal memory, self-reliance, self-esteem and physicality,” and last for approximately 6 hours after the activity. (Seifert, Spottke, & Fliessbach, 2017).


Kaimal, G., Ray, K., & Muniz, J. (2016). Reduction of cortisol levels and participants' responses following art making. Art Therapy, 33(2), 74-80.
Seifert, K., Spottke, A., & Fliessbach, K. (2017). Effects of sculpture based art therapy in dementia patients—A pilot study. Heliyon, 3(11), e00460
Sholt, M., & Gavron, T. (2006). Therapeutic qualities of clay-work in art therapy and psychotherapy: A review. Art Therapy, 23(2), 66-72.

  • Adaptations: This can be a challenging project for someone who is shaking due to meds. In that case, it may make sense to have some pre-built sides done so that they can be assembled easily. This way, someone who is struggling can focus on the rice paper portion, using the glue stick and the colored rice paper to create colorful side panels for the piece.  
  • Creative Options: Offer black pens (Sharpie Permanent Ultra-Fine Point Markers, Black, Pack Of 12) for drawing on the rice paper before or after the sides and the full piece is built. If the full piece is built, this works for drawing on separate pieces of rice paper then adding it the piece. If the piece isn’t built, the pens can be used to mark the sides easily without bleeding if the paper is placed against a hard work surface. The designs that can be created with black pen on the white paper (once lit up with the bulb) and plugged in can look striking.
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