Using Pictures to Find Words

A game that encourages two players who know each other well to talk succinctly about shared experience. The trigger for that communication is two-fold: a set of pictures and a box of multi-colored stones.

• The pictures connect players to experience

• The stones draw out words and meaning

• The wall gives time

The goal is a natural exchange of talk and understanding with the people that matter most:

Friends, parents, spouses, children, bosses, lovers, colleagues, and siblings.

Catch the Baby Sheet

How to Play the Game

… to learn more.

  • To familiarize players with a spectrum of emotional responses in ordinary human-to-human interactions and to promote a comfortable everyday use of language for communicating those states of mind.
  • To exercise creative thinking by engaging the player’s pictorial imagination and personal memory to call up storylines using the scenarios depicted in the cards.
  • To facilitate an opportunity for two players to experience the mind of the ‘other’ in relation to past or ongoing events brought forward by both players.
  • To provide a controlled setting (defined by the rules of the game) with a multiphase approach toward slowing down reflexive thinking.
  • To provide a setting that allows a player time to consider the other player (a person whom the player knows well); sort through aspects of the relationship; and, crucially, to learn to build more and more complex levels of insight into one’s own and the other’s experience.
  • To improve language skills at the sentence level by asking players to build spoken sentences and paragraphs around the feeling words and scenarios they select.
  • To improve language skills by asking players to begin to write down what promises to become a more structured, logical and detail-oriented thought process when describing human interactions.
  • To gradually apply improved language skills and increased ‘awareness of other’ to more imaginative uses of the game, such as story writing, dramatic enactments of psychological behavior as players imagine the motivations of their own made-up characters and characters in books and movies.
(Detailed rules of play in booklet.) Note that the method of play is infinitely adaptable to many levels of experience and emotional sophistication.

  • The pictures on the cards trigger each player to recall a personal memory or ongoing interaction with the other player.
  • The glass keystones are each color-coded to represent a range of responses. The players place the pieces singularly or grouped in multi-colored clusters on each image to create a visual representation of thoughts and feelings associated with each picture.
  • Each card with its groupings of keystones on them now provides a basis for the spoken exchange that follows.

Example: Card image of seated figure fending off a standing figure.

Boy, 14: 1 orange stone, 1 black stone. This is me having confusion. Sometimes I get the feeling you get mad if I want to be with you in certain places, like at school. You don’t even act like you know me. And sometimes you like are all into me. And that’s just weird to me. There was no stone for weird, so black one.

Girl, 14: 1 dark blue stone, 2 light blue stones. This picture reminds me of when you get kind of moody. It’s like you don’t care about me. I don’t know what to do with that so I get kind of, in a way like I don’t care about you either. I guess two light blue stones for concerned, and one dark blue for sad.

(Complete transcripts in booklet)

Catch the Baby© uses some basic psychological techniques of projective testing, the most common of which was the Thematic Apperception Test. TAT was developed in the 1930’s and used by psychiatrists to elicit subconscious emotional themes from their patients. Popularly known as the picture interpretation technique, the TAT used 31 black and white drawings of realistically drawn, gender specific characters in ambiguous settings about which the subject was asked to tell a story. But where TAT was intended as a projective “test” to be administered by a psychiatrist, Catch the Baby© relies on a playful interactive game structure that allows two people to ‘self-administer’ the game together, with or without professional guidance. Unlike the TAT images, the colorful figures in CTB© have been designed to make no reference to gender, age, or mood (facial expression) to make it easier for participants to project a personal story.

Unlike a classic projective test, participants in Catch the Baby© are entirely in control of the card selection as well as the forward and backward momentum of discussion generated by the selection of those cards. CTB© does not require monitoring or interpretation by a professional third party, although that variation will prove to be useful in its application where children are concerned.

There are many relationship combinations and circumstances that could benefit from this method, both in a school or home environment: friends, siblings, couples, parent and child, teacher and student, professional peers.

  • Players who are in a successful relationship but want to clarify what is working and not working in their relationship.
  • Players who have never been invited to explore feelings in a safe, structured environment.
  • Players who are friends, sometimes fight and need help understanding why.
  • Players in authority roles who wish to resolve tensions with students or their children or employees.
  • Players who are starting a relationship and wish to communicate expectations or patterns of behavior about one another.
  • Players who have underdeveloped emotional language skills.
  • (Untested) Players who are high-functioning autistic children who need practice bringing feelings in line with experience using a structured presentation of people interacting with each other.
  • The cognitive step required to substitute a colored keystone for a feeling builds in a pause, a slowing of attention around those feelings. It can be said that the stones and their placement provide an absorptive barrier between the unexamined feeling response to the card and the verbal expression of those feelings. By slowing the time between reacting to a remembered incident and speaking about it, a player becomes a witness as well as a protagonist. A witness has time to ‘observe’ the collection of feelings that surrounds the incident, giving rise to a measured but accurate expression of those feelings, promoting a more concise communication.
  • The Keystones operate like a new language. Once a new set of symbols (stones) has been substituted for an emotional reaction, the player’s task is to translate back out of the stone language, into intelligible spoken conversation, the exact meaning of those stones. This task is usually performed with the Keystone guide as a reference and results in “marking” or stating emotions, with the ancillary effect of minimizing too much emotional affect. As a result, the spoken delivery tends to sound quietly conversational, increasing the comfort level of both parties.
  • The collection of stones becomes a precise abstract or diagram that results in speech that is clear, concise and factual. And because each picture is designed to pull for a wide range of interpretations, the story lines that result are sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, always illuminating and never the same.

A word about the name, Catch the Baby ©: When two people play a game of ‘catch’, the object is to catch (not drop) the ball, and to throw (not hurl) it back. The point isn’t so much to win the game, but to practice it. Catch the Baby© is a back and forth method of play with simple rules of practice; but the object in play is ‘ourselves’. The goal is to foster soft landings.

Video produced by Diane Bloom

Catch the Baby Keystones




Catch the Baby Father and Son

Father and Son

2011 installation at Chroma Projects Gallery, Charlottesville, VA

Game kits available
Contact the artist

Catch the Baby Game Bag

Game Bag

Catch the Baby Husband and Wife

Husband and Wife