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Comprehensive studies show drawing facilitates memory,

enhances learning and promotes well-being

REYKJAVIK, Iceland, May 22, 2023Art Therapy Ottarsdottir, provider of a method where artistic expression is used for both therapy and education, today announced that its founder Dr. Unnur Ottarsdottir, a global pioneer of the art educational therapy method –  was honored to teach a seminar at Art Therapy Italiana and invited to give a keynote speech at the ninth annual Lab Talento International Conference, at the University of Pavia in Italy. Ottarsdottir covered topics such as memory drawing, emotional processing through art making, writing-images, and the importance of artistic expression in education.

A landmark study conducted by Ottarsdottir in 2000, was the first comprehensive research project that systematically compared the impact of drawing and writing on memory functions. Participants were asked to draw the content of certain words and write other words down. Results showed that people were able to remember their drawings as much as five times more than when they wrote words down, nine weeks after the original memorization. Ottarsdottir has also spent years researching art educational therapy, a method where artistic expression is used for therapeutic and educational purposes - connecting emotional processing and children's learning through drawing.

LabTalento, the Italian Laboratory of Research and Development of Potential, Talent and Intellectual Giftedness, sponsors the yearly event to share current Italian and international research for professionals working with the gifted. Ottarsdottir’s keynote lecture at the conference was attended mainly by psychologists and teachers who took part in a drawing and writing exercise to demonstrate the difference between memorization by drawing and writing. “I was pleased with the results which showed half of the participants at the keynote lecture remembered their drawings more than written words, and almost half remembered them equally. Only one remembered their written words more,” said Ottarsdottir.

Additionally, Ottarsdottir delivered the seminar "Art Therapy and Learning: Educational Art Therapy" at Art Therapy Italiana to school art therapists. Along with memory drawing, which again facilitates memory and the processing of emotions, Ottarsdottir introduced basic concepts of her art educational therapy method. The seminar and lecture also explored the possibilities of memory drawing in helping with the processing of vulnerable and complex emotions related to trauma.

“I practice art therapy daily in my private practice. I see mostly children and many of them have been traumatized, for example by the death of a parent. Some of the children also have specific learning difficulties. I also supervise both teachers and art therapists,” Ottarsdottir said. “As an art therapist, I am frequently amazed by the transformative potential inherent in artistic expression and the therapeutic relationship”.

Ottarsdottir received a doctoral degree from the University of Hertfordshire in 2006, and a Master’s in Art Therapy from the Pratt Institute in 1991, along with her B.Ed. from Iceland College of Education in 1986. She also holds a BA and Master’s in Visual Art. She founded Art Therapy Ottarsdottir in 1991 where she serves as director, art therapist, teacher and supervisor. She has also worked with a variety of institutions and organizations, including the Reykjavik Academy where she follows academic pursuits such as research and writing.

Ottarsdottir has published articles and book chapters and taught at universities internationally. An article about her research "Processing Emotions and Memorising Coursework through Memory Drawing" was published in ATOL: Art Therapy OnLine. Lastly, she serves in the steering group of the Research Committee of The European Federation of Art Therapy (EFAT).

Global Researcher Introduces New Therapeutic & Educational Method Utilizing Art in Italy

Image info, from left:

Camelia Corlatanu, medical doctor, art therapist, Italian translator at the seminar

Unnur Ottarsdottir, PhD, art therapist, artist, teacher, lecturer, researcher, tutor at the seminar

Mimma Della Cagnoletta, art therapist, psychoanalyst, artist, founder of Art Therapy Italiana

It was a pleasure to talk to Guðrún Gunnarsdóttir and Gunnar Hansson on the „Mannlega (e. Humanly) The Icelandic National Broadcasting Service last week. The introduction to the radio shows states: "Ottarsdottir’s 2000 study was the first comprehensive research project that systematically compared the impact of drawing and writing on memory functions. In short, the results showed that nine weeks later, the children generally remembered five times more drawings than words they had written. This is called memory drawing. This May, Unnur taught a seminar in Italy for art therapists working in schools The topics that were on the agenda were, for example, memory drawing, writing-images, the importance of artistic expression in education, and she was also invited to deliver a lecture in Italy. Unnur came to the radio show today."

Radio Show at the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service

Radio Show at the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service

Unnur gave the lecture "Non-verbal connection, communication, and mirroring through joint mirror drawing in art therapy and museums" at a conference in Riga that was about "Growing Together" and held at the Art Academy of Latvia by The European Federation of Art Therapy (EFAT). The lecture was about her "Reflection" artwork, which she has used in both art therapy and her artwork. Unnur discussed, among other things, how the mirroring facilitated by "Reflection" contributes to strengthening the sense of self and connection with others.

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.

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