Category Archives: Arts Based Inquiry

Scar Prints

I came across this website which contains images of scar prints

The following is taken from Ted Meyer’s website “Scars mark a turning point in peoples’ lives; sometimes for good but often otherwise. Each scar comes with a story. Why is it there? Would the person have died without surgery? How did the “scaring event” effect them emotionally? Scars can mark entering into or out of a disability. Going from cancer to health, limited mobility to full movement. They freeze a moment in time, a car accident or gun shot. These mono-prints, taken directly off the skin of my model – subjects are portraits of those events that changed their lives. I accentuate the details of the scar with gouache and color pencil. My hope is to turn these lasting monuments, often thought of as unsightly, into things of beauty. ”

Reading this I am reminded of the body prints I took of my own body pre and post my breast cancer surgery . There is something powerful about painting directly onto my body and then making a printed image on paper. I describe the process below:

I cover the floor with black plastic, set out the paper and paints and start to smear the paint all over my body. Initially it feels strange. It connects to my childhood and the experience of not being allowed to make a mess; to stay clean. Then I begin to enjoy the decadence of the feeling of the paint on my naked body. “I paint to create an energy of emotion and body memory into text” (Minge, 2007, p. 259). I paint myself in blood red and lie on the paper in different poses. I have no idea how the image will come out. I just go with what I feel like doing. I then add black and blue. I keep sticking to the paper as the paint dries. I am totally in the moment as I use my body as both an object by which to apply paint and as a canvas. I relate to the Australian artist Theresa Byrnes when she says, “I was not separate from the painting. Where did I stop and it begin?” (Byrnes, 1999, p. 274).  

  I continue to smear the paint on my body. My body, and not the paper, is now the more important canvas of expression. I swirl the paint all over myself luxuriating in the feeling of immersion in the blood red and black paint. I feel the different texture as the paint starts to dry and cake on my skin. All my senses are alive and attuned to the act of painting myself, my body, every crevice and bulge. I feel my skin move as I apply the paint. My muscles contract as I shift positions. I feel alive in every fibre of my body. I am my body.

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Beauty is in my lived in skin.
The wrinkles, lines and scars
evidence of a life
lived fully.

 Beauty is in the light that
shines from within.
Beauty is in my connection to others.
n our lives entwined.

Kay Gravell
September 2008



Body Mapping

“Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes, never unfold too much, or tell the whole story.” This quote from Written on the body by Jeanette Winterson (2001) eloquently resonates with my interest in exploring the body landscape.

I facilitated a workshop at the Australian and New Zealand Art Therapy (ANZATA) national conference in November. In this workshop I described my method of immersing myself in the ‘writing on my body’ through painting my body and making body prints as a means of making meaning of my diagnosis of breast cancer and consequent surgery. The workshop  provided an overview of my own process and the opportunity to participate in an experiential activity of accessing our own stories through the marks left on our bodies.

I believe our body is a rich tapestry of our lived experience that we can read and use as an access point into an inquiry into our own life. The landscape of our bodies contain the features, of our life journey – scars, wrinkles, shape, etc.   In this workshop the participants were firstly invited to inquire into the stories written on their  hands through the marks on their hands – lines, wrinkles or scars. We often don’t spend time just looking at our hands. To really see them. Iasked people to sit and just meditate on their hands. Really look at them, turn them over, look at them as if they are totally new to you, look at the colour, the texture, the lines. Are their scars? What stories are contained in the lines and marks on your hand? Share one story of an experience that you found written on your hand.

I then invited the particpants to sit with their body – spend some time just looking at your body and noticing the different marks that are written on your body – look again at your hands, your arms and legs and feet, feel it, is it smooth/rough/warm/cold etc. Again notice the textures, marks etc. Then lie down and close your eyes. Scan over your body from the top of head to toes as if you are a camera roaming over your body. What do you see/notice what marks, shapes, scars etc. What do you feel as you move over and through your body. Try and really tune into the physical shape of your body, the texture, topography. Your camera can move over your back what do you see as you move down along the back of your head over your back, your legs.

Is there a mark on your body that is drawing your attention that you are curious to explore more? Are their feelings attached to different parts of your body? Can you start to detect stories that are written on your body.

The particpants were then invited to work with a partner and create an outline of their body shape to work on. they then created a body map by filling in the outline of their body with whatever came to them from the meditation on their body. They were then encouraged to work with another person to inquire into the narratives that were contained in their body.

The images below are photos of some of the particpants body maps who gave me permission to use their images.

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I had also come across a Chilean woman who was working with body mapping; she did a poster presentation at the International Conference on for the study of sexuality, culture and society in Madrid in July last year. I’ve put some info I got from her below.

Body Mapping Jimena Silva Segovia Dr. of
Universidad Catolica de Norte in Antofagusta Chile
Thesis “power relationships between Chilean women from two generations: forming and breaking alliances, dissidence and oppostition between mothers and daughters Beca Conicyt 2006 – 2009

Methodology of Body Mapping
1. Biographical writings – help participants to create their life trajectories – autobiographies and individual’s self interpretations
2. Narrating the written (De Villers, 1999 & Ferrareti, 1981) – horizontal, vertical, winding or circular openings into lived experience.
3. Body mapping – using collage, writing painting etc on outline of body shape.
4. Emerging body expressions – conglomerate of different expressions leading into intersubjective work where participants generate new opportunities for rebuilding themselves and recreate their body project again


Nipple Painting

The night before I go into hospital to have my nipple cut off I make a series of paintings. I cover my nipple with paint and then use it like a brush.


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Nipple Painting

Tomorrow my nipple is being cut off.
The perfect symmetry it provides my breast
will be replaced with a scar.

My nipple, a site of such strong sensation.
In response to emotion, sexual arousal, touch, temperature
it magically changes shape, colour, texture.
A barometer of my inner and outer world.

A constant reminder of my womanhood.
As I move forward
my nipples are the extremity of  my phuysical boundary
like a cat’s whiskers
they are a radar
sensing the atmosphere ahead of me.

How do I celebrate my nipple?
Commemorate it?
Connect with the emotion of its loss?

I have a desire
to somehow retain its character
to allow it to make its mark,
to feel its physicality.

Like a paint brush
I move my paint somothered nipple
across the paper
making a series of abstract marks.

I immerse myself in nipple painting.
My nipples become tender
the abrasive movement across the paper
becomes more painful.

I paint slashes of red.
The pain shooting through my nipple
feels like a knife cut.

Kay Gravell
12th November 2008



I was advised by my surgeon that to avoid the cancer spreading further I would need to have the cancerous cells removed unfortunately this meant the removal of my nipple. My surgeon described how she would delicately slice my nipple off removing the cancerous cells located behind it. She draws me a very neat diagram showing that she’ll just remove my nipple and a small area of tissue behind it.


It sounded so neat and insignificant but it didn’t feel insignificant!

Ode to my nipple

I am going to have my nipple cut off!
My nipple that nourished my three beautiful children.
The sight of my newborn baby latching onto my nipple
blissed out as the milk flows.
This incredible miracle of sustaining life
enacted through my nipple.

I am going to have my nipple cut off!
My nipple that has brought me so much sensual pleasure.
Waves of delight coursing through my body
with my lover’s touch.

I am going to have my nipple cut off!
I’ll feel unbalanced.
My left nipple that has already  survived two operations

The first when I was 20 and working at the Anti Cancer Council one summer
entering data on cancer survival rates.
I found a lump.
It was benign.
I wouldn’t be entered into the research data.

The second operation five years ago.
We’ve discovered hypophasic cells in your breast ducts.
We’ll have to go in again.
We probably won’t be able to save your nipple
said the grey haired surgeon
with all the sensitivity
as if he was discussing the loss of my toenail.

Booked in for surgery before Christmas.
My nipple was saved
by someone whose need was more urgent.
Perhaps I don’t have to do this?

 I went to the Mercy Breast Clinic.
What a difference!
From the crowded bus shelter environment of the public system.
This was like an upmarket hotel.
Beautifully groomed reception staff,
the smell of freshly brewed coffee,
a few people, mostly women, some with male partners,
quietly reading the morning papers
like tourists waiting to go on a day tour.
The waft of anxiety, the only hint.

 A dark splodge is found in my annual ultra sound.
It looks so inoffensive, just a small dark shadow.
I watch the screen as a core sample is removed.
Five times the hole puncher is fired into the dark shadow.
My breast is bruised
Amazing colours of blue and yellow surround my nipple.

 I won’t be able to save your nipple
my surgeon told me with concerned care
You have malignant cells in your breast duct.
Just behind your nipple.
Its your decision but I believe
its best to be sure  we get all the malignant cells.

 My sister went into surgery
I’m just getting a lump removed she said
Its no big deal
She awoke from surgery
without her left breast.
She died a year later.
She was only 35.

 I am going to have my nipple cut off.

Kay Gravell
16th Septemeber 2008

Breast Prints

I decide to do a series of images of my left breast. I smother it with paint and make imprints on the paper. I want to portray a sense of decay and death but it just looks beautiful. Like a joyful dance of breasts.  Full of colour. Each breast imprint is so beautiful with layers of colour. They remind me of a gang of parrots and lorikeets with their bright colours and alert eyes, formed by my nipple. It seems a great way to immortalize my nipple to have it captured in such a joyful, colourful manner.


I have created this blog to provide a space for women who have had a mastectomy and other interested family members, friends and health professionals to share ideas, information, images, emotions and opinions in relation to their experience of breast cancer. I would like to encourage discussion about the real authentic experience of women with breast cancer. I am particularly interested in how women make sense of their changed bodies following breast cancer surgery. My hope is that people will be respectful in their posts, understanding that their are different experiences and views in relation to decisions made in response to a breast cancer diagnosis.

I welcome any responses either in writing or an artistic form. If you would like to to publish a resonse please email it to me at