Deborah Koff-Chapin and the Center for Touch Drawing

Photo of Deborah Koff-Chapin
Deborah Koff-Chapin

By Cat Saunders

In the introduction to a 1991 interview with Deborah Koff-Chapin (founder of the Center for Touch Drawing), I wrote: “One of the gifts of interviewing people is that I get to meet some amazing people. Some of them are well-known; some are not. Then there are those who will be famous, given enough time for word to get out. Deborah Koff-Chapin is one of those people.”

Ten years later I’m writing this, and I’d say the word is definitely out. Although Deborah would gently protest my description of her as famous, the truth is that her extraordinary SoulCards deck has sold more than 42,000 copies worldwide, and it’s been translated into four languages since its release in 1995.

Now SoulCards has been joined by SoulCards 2, a sister deck of sixty more unique and powerful images that are offered without interpretation for the purposes of reflection, inspiration, and creative delight. These images come into the world through a process called Touch Drawing, which was given to Deborah in 1974, while she was in a state of playful revelation during a mundane cleanup task on her last day of art school at Cooper Union in New York City.

You can learn more about Deborah, Touch Drawing, and SoulCards in a second interview I did with her in late 2000, entitled “From Paper Towels to SoulCards.”

As for my personal connection with Deborah, it’s been one of my life’s sweetest gifts. It started in 1990, when Deborah called and asked if I would allow her to come meet me and do a series of “Inner Portraits” for me—and if I liked the experience, perhaps I would interview her?

What transpired was one of the most incredible afternoons of mutual creation that I’ve ever experienced with another person. After we chatted for a few minutes, Deborah set up materials to teach me how to do Touch Drawing, so I could draw simultaneously while she did inner portraits of me.

In simple detail, she showed me how to ink a plexiglass board with a roller, overlay the inked board with a large piece of semi-transparent paper, and then draw with my hands—without implements—directly on the paper. When a drawing is done, the paper is turned over and the image is revealed.

For two solid hours, Deborah and I both drew, nonstop, in silence. When we finished, I had done 22 drawings and she had created 30 different 18″X24″ framable drawings of me—drawings that were not portraits in the conventional sense of the word, but were rather expressions of various parts of my personality, psyche, and soul. In fact, one of them (shown here) so moved me that I call it “the face of my soul.”

Photo of a Touch Drawing by Cat Saunders called "The Face of My Soul"

Although I’m an artist who was already comfortable drawing with both hands, I had never drawn without implements, with both hands simultaneously, on paper that was inked on the opposite side. From the first time I did Touch Drawing, I loved how it seems to short-circuit my brain and directly access body memories and archetypal images held deep in my cells.

Images came out of me that I had never seen before, and indeed, those same images have appeared again and again in subsequent Touch Drawings done years later. Mysteriously, those particular images never seem to come through any other medium, even though I draw nearly every day. Such is the power of Touch Drawing.

Needless to say, I was so moved by my first experience with Deborah that I not only interviewed her; we also became friends. Over the years, she has played many roles with me: interview subject, comrade-in-arms, fellow artist and writer, confidante and soul sister, and most recently, the guiding light who helped me survive the brutally arduous process of independent publishing. I don’t think I could have birthed Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook on my own without the help of my “big sister,” who blazed the trail before me with her own independent publication of SoulCards.

To give you a taste of her SoulCards, I’ll share one with you (there are 119 more). It’s from her first deck, which I bought immediately upon its release years ago. Holding it in my hands with my eyes closed, I asked to be shown the card that most fully represented my soul path. I pulled a card and then opened my eyes to see a gorgeous drawing (shown here) of a woman “leaving the picture” with a butterfly behind her left shoulder. I laughed with delight, knowing that this image was a perfect symbol for my passion work with death.

Photo of a Touch Drawing by Deborah Koff-Chapin (from her deck called "SoulCards")

SoulCards are like that—always reflecting myself back to me in ways that are beautiful, awe-inspiring, and downright magical. Come to think of it, those are good words to describe my friend Deborah—this exquisite woman who is an artist, writer, singer, and teacher…and one of my favorite human beings.

Go to Deborah’s website now, if you like, where more wonders await you.

Cat Saunders, Ph.D., is a counselor in private practice in Seattle, Washington. She is also the author of Dr. Cat’s Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human (available through Amazon). Contact Cat by emailing her or by calling 206-329-0125 (24-hour voicemail).