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I had a great time in Vilnius last week where I attended the conference "MEMORY: Shaping Connections in the Arts Therapies". A variety of interesting topics were revealed at the conference, like how women e.g. in Africa, who have been abused, come together to embroider and tell their stories which empowers them so that they can move from being victims to continuing with their lives and participating in society (tutor: Tally Tripp from the US). I gave the lecture "Processing Emotions and Memorising Coursework through Memory Drawing" where I discussed how children can express deep and difficult memories through drawings and how extremely effective drawing is for memorizing.

Vilnius is a beautiful city; the people are friendly and the food is good. It was a pleasure to be there last week with about 200 arts therapists from all over the world.


This morning I gave the lecture "Art therapy and memory drawing for children who have specific learning difficulties and have been traumatized and/or experienced high stress" at Landspitali- The National University Hospital of Iceland, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (BUGL). Some of the participants were present and others took part online. It was really rewarding to talk about my research and therapeutic work with the hospital staff who seemed to have a good understanding of the topic.

I also had the opportunity to look at the art therapists studio who work at BUGL, they are Íris Ingvarsdóttir, Katín Erna Gunnarsdóttir and Carolina Kindler.


Rán Jónsdóttir and Ólöf Benediktsdóttir and I opened the exhibition “Colourohm” in The Icelandic Printmakers Association gallery today. The topics of the exhibition are sound, colours and emotions. It was a pleasure to share my work “Coloured feelings“ with the audience, who added to the work through their participation, which included sharing feelings in colours. Thank you all for coming and participating.

The exhibition runs until August 20. All welcome.


Dr. Arthur Robbins passed away

With gratitude and sadness, I would like to report that my dear teacher, tutor and supervisor, Dr. Arthur Robbins, has passed away.

Art was one of the pioneers of art therapy and he was a professor at the Pratt Institute where I completed a master's degree in art therapy. For over 30 years, he played an important role in my studies, art therapy practice, research and emotion processing. He supervised me through my doctoral dissertation when I sent him countless faxes with drawings and text from Reykjavik and London to New York. He patiently read my text, observed and interpreted the drawings, provided comments, and discussed both the logical and the emotional aspects.

Art was warm, good-hearted, intelligent, well-read and had a deep insight into the soul and symbolic artistic creation of each individual. His brown eyes saw beyond the gaze of most people and he had a unique way of understanding the depth of the oral and symbolic meaning of people's expressions. Much of Art’s teaching is still alive within me and will always be, for example the importance of mirroring in treatment. Another thing I learned from Art was how it is possible to form a connection with individuals who lack other trusting relationships and that the willingness to make amends for mistakes is one of the cornerstones of human relations. And that the spirit of those with whom we associate lives within us although the connection is broken for some reason, as has now happened with Art when he is no longer with us. I am grateful for the contact and communication I had with Art and the wisdom he brought me over the years in various contexts. Art wrote numerous books on treatment and his spirit lives in the words of his books that we inherit.

Many thanks to Art for all he has given me with his existence. Heartfelt condolences to Art´s lovely wife Sandy, dancer and director of the Shadow Box Theater, as well as their children and grandchildren. Rest in peace Art.

Art and cooperation: finding creativity and well-being


Wednesday 16 March, 12 pm: free and open live stream with subtitles/interpretation followed by online discussion. Live stream

The event is part of the collaborative project COMMON GOOD which is held by the Reykjavik Academy in conjunction with the Iceland University of the Arts, Reykjavik City Theatre, the City of Reykjavik and Art Without Borders. The series of events is intended to shed light on the power of community and participatory art in empowerment and inclusion.

In the summer of 2021, the Iceland University of the Arts completed the Erasmus + project Social Inclusion and Well-being through the Arts and Interdisciplinary Practices (SWAIP), which was carried out in collaboration with six other universities in Europe. The result of the project is a new study programme at master’s level, which is expected to launch in autumn 2023 at the art education department of the Iceland University of the Arts. The course is aimed at artists, art pedagogues and health professionals with a background in the arts.

The steering group members of the SWAIP project were Dr Kristín Valsdóttir, Dean of the education department; Dr Halldóra Arnardóttir; and Dr Unnur Óttarsdóttir. Halldóra is an art historian and project manager of Arts and Culture as Treatment. Halldóra has led numerous projects that work with the arts and culture with the aim of improving the quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients. Unnur, who is an art therapist and visual artist, has worked as a therapist and researcher at the Reykjavík Academy, as well as being a practising artist. Unnur’s research has mainly focused on the use of drawings to both process memories and memorize.

The SWAIP study line will be introduced at the event and Unnur and Halldóra will present their methods and research which contributed to forming the basis of the theories and methods of the course.

The musician Sigrún Sævarsdóttir Griffiths will also give a talk on her work. She runs the company Metamorphonics, where methods of creative music collaboration are used to empower both professional and nonprofessional musicians around the world.


Sigrún Sævarsdóttir Griffiths, musician and instructor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the IUA:
Music’s ability to connect and empower.

Dr. Halldóra Arnardóttir, art historian and project manager:
Art and culturestimulate the mind  for those who suffer the Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Unnur Óttarsdóttir, art therapist and visual artist:
Co-drawing and memory research in light of art therapy. 

Dr. Kristín Valsdóttir, Dean of Art Education at the IUA:
Art and Inclusion: A new field of study.

Host: Magnea Tómasdóttir, singer and tutor at the IUA.

More about COMMON GOOD and SWAIP

The Reykjavik Academy:

The Iceland University of the Arts

Resource website:

Art therapy, writing-images and memory drawing

This course is intended for qualified art therapists, art therapy students, and other qualified creative therapists from around the world.

Through art making, sharing, supervision, discussions, reading, studying, and lectures the participants will gain knowledge about methods and theories of art educational therapy which includes the application of writing-images and memory-drawing. The course is for those who wish to include memory drawing and writing-images into their art therapy practices.

Timing (Greenwich Mean Time):

11 November kl 11.00 - 14.00
25 November kl 11.00 - 14.00
9 December kl 11.00 - 14.00
6 January kl 11.00 - 14.00
20 January kl 11.00 - 14.00
3 February kl 11.00 - 14.00

Art therapy and memory drawing

This course is open to qualified Art Therapists and Art Therapy Trainees. Participants will gain knowledge about the basis of the methods and theories of memory drawing, which aids individuals in better memorising various facts related to their coursework learning. Memory drawing also facilitates processing of emotions in the same way as the art-making process functions within art therapy.

Quantitative research which shows that memory drawing is an effective long-term memory aid will be introduced at the course, along with a qualitative case study that demonstrates the way in which memory drawing can simultaneously facilitate coursework learning and processing of emotions. The way in which memory drawing can be applied has implications and recommendations for professionals working in education, including art therapists who work in educational settings, as therapy and education are integrated within such memory drawing.

Through art making, sharing, discussions and lectures, the participants will gain knowledge about the basis of the methods and theories of Memory Drawing. Such drawing aids individuals in better memorising various facts related to their studies. Quantitative research conducted by Ottarsdottir showed that over long time periods, it is generally five times easier to recall drawn images of word content than written words. Along with aiding memory retention, memory drawing facilitates processing of emotions and difficult experiences in a similar way as the art-making process functions within art therapy which will be explained in the course.

Reference image: Ottarsdottir, U. (2019) Ethical Concern when Applying Drawing for Memory: Research Conducted in Iceland. In: Audrey Di Maria (Ed.). Exploring Ethical Dilemmas in Art Therapy (pp. 266-272). New York: Routledge.

Art Exhibition

Memory. Unnur Ottarsdottir, 2020. (Photograph by Ottar Yngvason).

Unnur Óttarsdóttir opens her exhibition Memory at tre Grafiksalur, Tryggvagata 17, Reykjavik, entrance at harbor side. The opening reception is on January 16th, 2-5pm. The exhibition runs until January 24th. The gallery is open from 2-5pm, Thursday–Sunday.

Memory, memories and how fragile, abstract and unspoken memory can be, is observed in the artworks at the show. Through paintings, photographs, videos and printed matter, a light is shed at the nature of memory and how non-verbal it can be. Emotional memory flows in colors and shapes. Photographs contains memories and tell stories. A life story is told through works of art.

During the exhibition, free workshops will be offered where memory and memories will be worked with by viewing works of art, conducting memory exercises, studying, participating in art making and discussions.

The workshops will take place on 19, 20 and 22 January at 19.00-22.00.

he maximum number of participants in each workshop is 6 individuals. Please register here:

Guests are reminded to follow the current infection control guidance. Hand sanitizer is available at the entrance, guests must wear masks and respect the two meter rule as much as possible.

Do you want to unleash the creativity within you and your clients? Do you want to understand how thoughts and emotions are expressed through art making? Do you want to know how you can increase strength and facilitate well-being through the process of making art? Do you want to increase your understanding of imagery and symbolism of art?

Who is the course for?

The course is intended for everyone interested in art therapy, including those who seek to study and work with art therapy professionally. The course is also useful for professionals who are searching for a better understanding of the art-making process in order to facilitate well-being and personal development of their clients and students.

Course Content

Insight into the basic concepts and methods of art therapy is offered in the course by means of lectures, reading, written assignments, discussions and workshops, whereby students take part in the creative process and experience the opportunities facilitated. Knowledge of one’s own art making increases self-awareness and gives participants the tools to help others who might find themselves in trouble. A number of ways to create artwork will be introduced in the course, with the aim of increasing creativity, strengthening identity, fostering communication, facilitating self-awareness and improving well-being. Prior knowledge or experience of art is not required for participation.

Further Information

One of the course locations is the Continuing Education Department at the University of Akureyri. For further information please contact us via email: or

Basic concepts and methods of art therapy


Sixteen years ago, art teacher and compulsory school teacher Ásta Þórisdóttir attended the Introductory Course I – What is Art Therapy? She says:

“The knowledge I gained from attending the course has been of great use to me throughout my career of working with children and adolescents, and it still is. I learned to understand that the art created by the children and teenagers who I work with has important underlying meanings. What I learned in the course has proved useful for understanding a wide variety of symbols and signs in the artwork.

My understanding of the art has in some cases opened up a dialogue with the students which I have then been able to share with other professionals. For example, I have managed to present difficulties which the children express in their artwork at team meetings with other professionals.

Sometimes the message in the children’s artwork is quite clear. Art teachers and other staff are in a perfect position for developing an understanding of an individual’s condition and overall well-being through the images they create. I think the course should be part of the core of teacher education programmes. I would be the first person to attend a continuing art therapy foundation course for professionals.”

Sonný Hilma Þorbjörnsdóttir, teacher and artist:

“What you offered to us who participated in the course was an opportunity to stop, look, review and rethink. Your presence allowed us a certain freedom to be, just be present there and then in the moment, which can only be created through respect for the individual and belief in the individual's abilities. You gave us a framework and I think we all adjusted to it without fear of being judged. What we learned about art therapy and the insight you provided into that world was immeasurably valuable for me. Giving keys to that world to someone who is ready to open up will increase our possibilities to work on and support ourselves and others. You are a great teacher, Unnur, and hopefully I will get the chance of meeting you again soon and experience and learn more and more and more.”

Webinars on Memory drawing

Dr Unnur Ottarsdottir, art therapist, teacher and artist, will be hosting free webinars on “Processing Emotions and Memorising Coursework through Memory Drawing”, in which research findings about drawing and memory will be introduced. The webinars are open to everyone interested.

The research was conducted by Ottarsdottir in two related parts. One hundred and thirty-four subjects participated in the part of the study where they were asked to draw the content of certain words and write other words down. Some subjects were asked to remember after three weeks what they had written and drawn, and others after nine weeks. In both cases, words that were drawn were generally recalled much more successfully than words that were written. Drawing was generally as much as five times more effective then writing when recalled nine weeks after the original memorisation. To the best of knowledge, research regarding such long-term memory of drawings has not been conducted worldwide, prior to now.

In the other related part of the research, Ottarsdottir conducted a qualitative study with five children who had experienced stress or trauma and had specific learning difficulties. The children drew pictures partly to memorise coursework material. Indications were found that such drawing could facilitate processing of emotions associated with difficult or traumatic experiences.

Art therapy theories and methods were found to be important in order to understand the memory drawing process. It appears that drawing, in art therapy, provides sufficient safety so that the children often manage to express vulnerable and complex feelings more easily through drawing than they do through speaking. The memory drawing research is contextualised within the literature on related research studies, methods and theories.

Participants in the webinar will be invited to take part in a drawing/writing exercise which explains the way in which the quantitative part of the research was conducted. The exercise provides insight into the functions of memorising through drawing and writing.

Ottarsdottir is available for giving lectures on demand, about the memory drawing. To schedule a lecture, contact her through email or by phone at 00354 8670277. The full paper on the research, “Processing Emotions and Memorising Coursework through Memory Drawing”, was published in ATOL: Art Therapy OnLine, and can be viewed here.

Ottarsdottir will be hosting webinars.

Timing of the webinars will be announced later.

Attendance to the webinars is free and open to everyone.


Björg Stefánsdóttir, student in Museology at the University of Iceland, art professional and former director of the Icelandic Art Center.

"I was spellbound after Unnur‘s webinar on art therapy and her account of her research, I found it very impressive and interesting to partake in the experiment we did during the lecture, and my own results really came as a surprise to me. As the lecture is two hours long, I found it good to get a ten minutes break after one hour, as you don‘t need to be stressful that you might miss something if you need to use the bathroom or just grab a cup of coffee. Thank you so much, Unnur, for the information and for a good time."

Izik Dery, philosopher/poet.

"Unnur facilitates her webinar gracefully, is exceptionally well organized, and shares knowledge that can immediately inform one's life personally and professionally. It was to me an intellectual coming home - a rarely struck harmony of theory and practice."

Höfundaréttur © 2022 · Allur réttur áskilin · Óheimilt er að nota efni síðunnar án leyfis.
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