The Tomato Bisque Soup Club

How it came about

The Tomato Bisque Soup Club

The Tomato Bisque Soup Club

I remember my mom would fix us tomato soup when we were not feeling well, and I would sit and draw. The Tomato Bisque Soup Club is my version of that combination of comfort food and creative expression, for those who don’t feel so good and need some spiritual healing by sipping warm soup and painting life’s stories. The arts are often an expression of something that cannot be spoken, only painted, or sung, or danced, or written.

The idea of the Tomato Bisque Soup Club grew from my mother’s early example, and from painting with her in hospice near the end of her life. I set up the materials for watercolor painting and she created works of art while I asked her about memories and feelings. Through painting she participated in living while expressing her final thoughts. These 20-minute sessions with her were priceless.

My experience with my mother led me to volunteer with hospice patients, and to develop workshops for people dealing with illness, loss, or a challenging transition. We started calling this the Tomato Bisque Soup Club from my emphasis on food as a comforting element of hospitality. It has been a privilege painting with others (adults and children) as we sit on a patio or at a bedside or café. We paint simple symbols that express our hopes and dreams to the One that can bring us healing and joy.

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Cover of Painting for the Journey

Cover of Painting for the Journey (click image to download brochure)

  • Painting for the Journey: The original version of this brochure was designed for a workshop on grieving which Linda White and I taught at the 2011 Call to Action conference in Milwaukee. The participants were looking for avenues of helping people, and resources to take back to their parishioners. During the workshop we made cards, painted with watercolor and watercolor pencils, wrote sayings and folded them into sculpture. The brochure describes how “[y]ou can learn to be a healing presence using watercolor to help bring forth memories and feelings.”
    • Download: Painting for the Journey (2-page PDF, approx. 255 KB; formatted as a trifold brochure in landscape orientation)
  • Classes, workshops, and retreats can be designed to focus on the “inward journey” while teaching real artistic technique. The process is gentle and unburdened by critique or artistic expectation. We take some time to get grounded, be silent, and allow the Spirit to talk to us, reconnecting with what is important in life. We tell our stories through activities such as watercolor painting, watercolor journal making, papermaking, and fabric painting. These can take place at retreat centers, church basements, or other locations. You can find scheduled activities on the Classes and Events page, or let me know if you have a suggestion for a class or workshop to offer in your area (email

    Cover of Creative Retreats in Full Color brochure

    Creative Retreats in Full Color (revised May 2014; click image to download brochure)

    I can also work with you to develop a retreat especially for your group, whether you are facing a particular challenge or would simply like an opportunity for creative relaxation and renewal. Retreats are usually half a day or longer. Starting with your objectives for the day, we can plan how to accomplish them through art, music, and good food. I can lead a retreat myself or collaborate with my colleagues, depending on the interests and needs of the group members. The brochure (linked below) provides information on planning a retreat and some examples of activities you might include.

    • Download (revised May 2014): Creative Retreats in Full Color: Using Your Creativity to Transform Your Life (2-page PDF, approx. 481 KB; formatted as a four-panel brochure in landscape orientation, 8.5″ x 14″ — fold in half, then in half again)

    Please contact me (email if you’re interested in an event for your group.

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Important note: I’m not a professional therapist or counselor. The Tomato Bisque Soup Club is meant to help people illustrate their thoughts and express their feelings within a manageable range of normal human emotion. Although I believe art can be a conduit for spiritual healing, I would recommend for anyone in great distress to first contact their spiritual advisor or a mental health professional for assistance. Catholic Charities has been very helpful to me – their services are available to anyone, on a sliding fee scale.

Contacting Catholic Charities:

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Photos of workshops and retreats

Folks taking time out for healing reflection and laughter.

Enjoying each other's company while grieving a terminal illness

Enjoying each other’s company
while grieving a terminal illness

Co-workers on retreat, rejuvenating

Co-workers on retreat, rejuvenating so they can further give to their clients. Pictured: washing each other’s hands as a sign of caring for each other.

Spiritual retreat participants sculpting themselves in clay

Spiritual retreat participants sculpting themselves, starting from a flat figure and adding clay to develop who they want to become

Survivors celebrating life

Cancer survivors celebrating life,
wearing “bras” made from shoulder pads

Painting postcards to send their loved ones

Connecting to family and friends through art, painting postcards to send their loved ones. People can paint even with various limitations.

Painting postcards to her grandchildren

Arlene painting postcards to her grandchildren

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