The Joy and Power of Making

The girls and I worked on making banners this past week. We each worked on our own creation, sharing space, materials, tools, and energy.

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It was a choice based activity — join me for the project if you like, don’t join me if something else brings you more joy. The choices continued as we worked on the project.

  • What color shall I use?
  • Do I want one hole or two in each triangle? Will they be right-side-up or up-side-down?
  • Which yarn will I use?
  • Do I want to use washi tape? What color? How much? Where?
  • Will I decorate them? Add words? Images? What will I use for that?
  • How many triangular shapes do I need for my banner?

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A friend gave me three plastic mason jars of washi tape for my birthday. She hoped my girls and I would create something beautiful together. I shared the tape and information with my girls. I told them my friend was curious and excited to see our process and final product. They seemed energized by the information and my sharing of my gift with them.

The makerspace was blazing with creativity, bravery (trying all sorts of things), negotiation (Can I borrow your scissors? Can someone start this washi tape for me? I want that tape too, can we share?), imagination, collaboration, (I can do that! Do you want me to help you?), thinking, sharing of ideas, physical work, laughter, and joy!

At one point, one of the girls brought me her tray and banner.

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“Nice. Did you just want to show it to me?” I asked.

“Would you string it for me?” she asked.

“I can.” I replied. “What are you going to do?”

 

“I’m going to invent another project! Can I do that? Invent another project!”

Invent another project?! How fantabulous is that?!?!!! I made a split second decision to lend her my hands to string her banner, so that she could use her hands to do something more important.

I responded with a big smile, and a good deal of enthusiasm. “ABSOLUTELY!”

She responded with a small smile. Her eyes locked with mine for just a second. Then she moved off to begin her invention.

I love that the gift of washi tape to me, and then to my girls, combined with freedom and joy produced such beauty! Beautiful banners. Awesome experiences. Desire and empowerment to invent new projects!

YAY!

 

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Wow! What an Experience!

Sometime tired, rainy days hold untold treasures! I was on vacation a couple weeks ago, deep into a tired and rainy day. Lazing about, and looking for something to do, I discovered the LPCA was offering a 3 hour watercolor class. I hoped for good things and secured my spot.

Sarah Yoeman — one of four artists featured in the LPCA The World Through Watercolor exhibit was the instructor. She is a talented watercolorist, and a superb teacher.

The workshop was filled with instruction, experimenting, playing, painting, conversation, laughter, and lots of learning. I learned about paint, paper, brushes, gravity, erasing, taking risks, value, shapes, moving paint, using water, and being in the moment. I took photos and notes. I experimented, kibitzed, taped, painted, and created watercolors I enjoy.

My brother joined me for the workshop. We spent a lot of time looking at Sarah’s art, and our own. We discussed the things we noticed. We talked about value and shape, and how she created various images.

It was a great afternoon. I left with increased skill, confidence and joy.

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When I looked at my notes that evening, I discovered I had inadvertently skipped a few pages in my journal. Eee gads. I wasn’t loving that mistake. I stared at the blank pages, wondering what to do. After a few moments, inspiration hit. Why not fill them with my reflections about the experience?!

My thoughts quickly filled those pages, and overflowed onto others. I was struck by my level of enjoyment, motivation, and ability to engage deeply with the process. It felt like I had experienced 3 hours of an optimal teaching-learning relationship.

With that thought, I excitedly thought of my paper — Managing the Classroom for Creativity. I wondered if I might find all the elements of my amended KEYS classroom management system in Sarah’s workshop. I pulled up the paper to remind myself of all 8 points in the system and compared them to my experience in the workshop.

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Freedom

Our goal for the workshop was to explore the world of watercolors and  let Sarah guide us in creating your own watercolor work or art.

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Even the goal offers a great deal of freedom — a watercolor work or art. Sarah shared information, made suggestions, and demonstrated technique. Then she set us free to explore and experiment.

We were free to use one sheet of paper or more. We could section the paper into multiple sections, or keep it as one. If we didn’t like our piece we could try again on the back. She suggested we stand as we paint — giving us her reasons for doing so — but she allowed us to explore and choose what worked best for us. While she demonstrated various techniques, she didn’t require us to use any one in particular.  She encouraged us to experiment, be bold, and take risks.

Positive Challenge

The ideal level of challenge is one that engages without overwhelming. Sarah helped maintain this level of challenge by affording me the freedom to choose my challenge. But, interestingly enough, I found it was her presence and interaction with me that helped me maintain the optimal level of challenge. As I became overwhelmed, she offered help in the form of a thought, a suggestion, or simple encouragement. If I took too easy a route, she encouraged boldness. And, she normalized the struggle inherent in positive challenge by freely sharing her angst with her process and product.

Supervisory Encouragement

Right off the bat, Sarah shared The Three Laws of Art:

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They cracked everyone up and helped to establish an environment free from fear and worry. The laws suggested failure was to be expected, and helped us to accept it with a modicum of grace and ease.

Although Sarah was far more accomplished than us, she interacted with us as equals. It was clear she had more experience, expertise, talent, and knowledge. It was clear she was the teacher. But, or perhaps, because that was true, treating me as a colleague, a fellow artist, helped elevate my own sense of self, and consequently my thought, process, and product!

Sarah wandered about the room, observing, noticing, and commenting on our technique and product. She found things in everyone’s work to notice, praise, or share with the group. She pointed out the beauty she saw in entire paintings, color choice, shapes, expression of depth, or small portions of our work. Sometimes she encouraged new points of view by physically turning, or moving our paintings farther from us. By doing these things, she showed us the value of our work.

Work Group Support

Our group was diverse in experience and ability. Sarah’s banter and sharing of our work helped me to feel at ease. I began to appreciate my fellow painters expertise, courage, risk taking, and ideas. I was challenged by some of them, but always felt safe and secure.

Sufficient Resources

The materials we used in this workshop were excellent. We had unlimited access to lovely paper, juicy, pigment-rich paint, and professional level brushes of various sizes. This spoke to the importance of our work, and elevated us to the level of “real” artists. I appreciated that tremendously!

20180821_150037-01Access to these quality resources helped us succeed and accomplish our goals.  At one point I was having a tough time. Sarah happened by me, and suggested I use a different size paintbrush. Then looking at the paint I was using, she went and got her own palette to share with me! She brought several of her own palettes and brushes to share with us, and did so with a great generosity, and zero sense of indebtedness or worry on our part.

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Some of the best resources Sarah shared with us were her artistic-eye, her brain, her experience, and her hands and skills. These were invaluable.

Organizational Support

While just a short workshop, Sarah established great organizational support for us. She shared her vision of creativity available to all of us. She constantly suggested problem-solving strategies to help us succeed. Risk taking, boldness, and fresh ideas were welcomed and encouraged.

Profound image of child/student

Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia) knew children are “strong, rich, and powerful.” He would have loved Sarah. She saw each of us this way, and she helped us to see it as well.

Profound purpose and possibility of education/learning:

It’s clear Sarah loves to paint, and experiences something profound when she does so. She shared that love with us, and invited us to enter into the depth of the experience. And, I think, she gets the value of what she is doing when she teaches and shares with others.

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Every single one of the components of the modified KEYS approach to classroom management had been present and employed in Sarah’s workshop! WOW!!!

My research had been about other people — those in literature I had read, as well as my own students. This was the first time I experienced the Amended KEYS Classroom as a learner. Let me tell you, it was powerful!

Having experienced them myself, increases my desire to intentionally and deliberately incorporate them into my learning environment and management practice. It also makes me wonder how I might share this information on a grander scale?

 

POST SCRIPT: 

I blogged about my angst as I painted a few days after the workshop. At first I was incredibly surprised by the intensity of my angst, and my seeming lack of any learning and ability!

Taking a break, I sunned myself on a rock, feet dangling into the freezing river water. I took a moment to breathe and assess the situation. Certainly I didn’t lose all my learning and ability. But clearly something had changed.

I realized the change was that I was painting by myself. I no longer had the resource of Sarah and her skill and expertise right beside me. That is huge! Huge as a learner, and huge as an educator.

I didn’t enjoy the angst, but I’m glad I experienced it. And, I’m super glad I took a moment to reflect and had that epiphany.  Now to remember it, allow it to inform my practice, and look for opportunities to share it with my students.

 

 

 

My Watercolor Process

I’ve spent a good bit of time watercoloring these past few weeks.  Today, I decided to share my process with you.

Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting you adopt my process in its entirety. Just saying you might learn something from it!

  1. Take a 3 hour watercolor class.
  2. Learn some cool things.
  3. Fall in love all over again with watercolors.
  4. Head out for a hike and some plein air painting.
  5. Forget I am a beginner.
  6. Fail to remind myself — “”Bad art happens to good artists!”
  7. Experience angst — lots of angst.
  8. Nearly fall out of love with watercolors.
  9. Resist throwing everything in the river.
  10. Drive 5 hours.
  11. Sleep 8 hours.
  12. Go to church.
  13. Breathe.
  14. Eat.
  15. Nap.
  16. Do things that have nothing to do with watercolors.
  17. Catch sight of an unfinished painting.
  18. Give in to the allure, and bring the paints out of hiding.
  19. Paint with more wonder, and less judgement.
  20. Experience the joy of process and product again.

 

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Be The Revolution!

I just read the Genius of Play’s report on “Fostering innovation and Creativity through Play,” cohosted with the Smithsonian Lemelson Center at the National Museum of American History, April 25, 2018.

I love the questions, ideas, hopes, and dreams they express in their event press release, and their event report.

Their plan was to “explore how play serves as a catalyst for creativity and innovation.” What a great plan! Remarkably, they didn’t just explore on their own, for their own information. They invited experts (including me!)  to collaborate with them, and hosted a free event to share our thoughts. They even extended invitations to members of Congress, congressional staff, and staff at the Department of Education.

If you get a chance, read the report  and check out the Genius of Play website. Until then, I hope you are inspired by our definitions of play, and the conclusion to the Genius of Play report.

“What is play?”

“Play is joy – doing things that you love to do. And I think play changes over the periods of your lifetime. I also would say for young children, play is the work in how they live their lives.” (Jeri Robinson, Boston Children’s Museum)

“If it makes you happy … It can’t be anything but play.” (James McLurkin, Google)

“Play is a way of interacting with the world that is both fun and powerful. What makes play powerful is it allows our brains to be open and to explore possibility, entertain new ideas, learn and take risks, and learn that failing isn’t the end, but it’s really the beginning to start a new game, stronger and smarter.” (Molly James, Kent Place School)

“Play is anything that we see as open-ended and unconstrained in the hands of a child. And the tools can be anything: they could be toys; they could be robots; they could be books; they could be nothing; they could be out in the garden, but that’s all play.” (Vikas Gupta, Wonder Workshop)

Genius of Play Report Conclusion:

“The connection between play and invention is real but in order to see a correlation, children need to be allowed to flex their creativity through play. By bringing more play to the school curriculum, giving parents the confidence to play with their children, and helping our society understand and value the benefits of play, we can help children develop the qualities they need to become the next generation of inventors.”

Good stuff, right? It was an incredible evening, and the ability to reflect a bit more about it through the report is pretty awesome.

I’m not sure if the members of Congress, congressional staff, or staff at the Department of Education attended. At first that bothered me. But, now, not so much, because I think the most important people made it to the event.

Parents, educators, toy inventors, and others invested in creativity, innovation, and learning, filled the room. We are the people in the classrooms, museums, after school programs, and homes. In some ways it’s most important for us to hear the ideas, read the reports, and believe in the power and purpose of play and creativity in learning and innovation.

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I read a recent Ron Clark tweet which stated “As we start a new school year, I hope every teacher will take a moment to reimagine what education can and should be for every child. Be magical! Make possibilities a reality! #betherevolution”

I agree, let’s be the revolution our kids, and our world, need and deserve!  Let’s make play, creativity, joy, inventiveness, and innovation possible. We can do it. We can make them a reality in our learning spaces. We can give our students the opportunity to “flex their creativity in play.” We can help others experience and understand the value of play — for all of us.

Let’s stand in our power. Let’s be the magical creatures we are. Let’s be the revolution!

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A link to the report can be found on the Genius of Play website, along with a ton of great information and resources. Or, if you prefer, you can download a pdf of the report – Raising a Generation of Inventors: How Play Fosters Creativity and Innovative Thinking in Children.   

 

We Are All Beginners

I had grand plans, this summer. I would create art, progress on the ukulele, nap, travel, read, learn, and refresh my body, mind, and spirit. I haven’t done nearly as much of any of those things as I might have liked, but I have done some, and it’s been wonderful!

Lately, I’ve developed a love for watercolors. I’m no pro, but I enjoy dabbling. I think my love affair started when, on a rainy day, unable to hike, I wandered into a local bookstore in search of a literary diversion. Instead, of a good book, I discovered a wall of art supplies — real, professional grade art supplies. Paint, paper, watercolors, pencils, pens, rulers, paint brushes, and more! No lie, for a moment, my knees went weak! I adore creating art, and all the tools and supplies connected to it. It brings me great joy to simply touch beautiful art tools and materials. I left the store with a simple watercolor travel kit, and a watercolor paper block. I was hooked.

The other day I discovered these beauties. 37635898_10217065659493192_6164546794509303808_o

If it were appropriate to describe watercolor as delicious, these would be the ones! Of course, perhaps there are other, more expensive, more professional ones that are even more delicious, but for me, I was satisfied.

I enjoyed looking at, and admiring them for a few days. Then, as luck would have it, I found this wonderful artist online — Watercolor Wednesdays. She has some fabulous videos on youtube.

I watched a few, and was impressed by her process and product, as well as the spirit she brought to the table. I decided to break out my supplies and give it a go. Here are my products from today.

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Nice, right? Not perfect by any means, but I think I am beginning to understand more of the essence of watercolors. By that I mean, I am beginning to understand a bit more about how they work, and what they are meant to do, as well as how I might work with them.

It was a fascinating experience to take a breath and jump in. Don’t get me wrong, it was mildly daunting. But, it was fun!

In one of the first lessons I watched, she said she doesn’t worry about the end result.  “Really?” I thought. “You aren’t concerned about the end result?!!!” I decided to set aside my skepticism, embrace her point of view, and not worry about the product. Instead, I would just paint. Removing my focus and feelings from the final product, I was more able to be in the moment. Existing more fully in each moment as it happened, I was more able to experiment, observe, notice, learn, and do.

It was fun, but not particularly easy. It’s tough sometimes, to allow myself to be a beginner. As a beginner, I’m vulnerable. I must embrace my foibles as well as my less than perfect products. I have to be brave, and not fret about what others may think about me, my process, or my product. Perhaps most difficult, I must not be hard on myself as I experience all of the difficulty of learning something new. If I can manage to do all that, or at least some of it, I am more able to enter into the joy of discovery, and the exquisite, child-like joy of one who is discovering something new and fantabulous!

As I sat and looked at my finished paintings, I had an epiphany!

This is what I ask my students to do — every moment of every school day. Try new things. Embrace being a beginner. Be brave. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Don’t worry what others think. Don’t fret. Be kind to yourself. Keep trying. Be in the moment. Experience the joy!

Wow, right?!

It makes me think differently about the work educators and students do every day. It’s profound. Learning to read, doing math, writing stories, interacting with each other. It’s all like my experience with the watercolors. We are often beginners, and that can be intimidating. But it is also powerful. There is joy and incredible potential in being a beginner. Perhaps even more joy and potential than in being an expert.

I have a lot to think about!

I want to take this epiphany and let it help me grow as an educator and lead learner in my learning space. For now, I am going to think about how I might give my girls more time and opportunities to experience the joy and potential of being a beginner. I want to think how I might shine the light more brightly on the ways I learn, struggle, try, persevere, find joy in little things, and embrace me as me.  And, I want to find time for them to be in the moment — able to explore and try, without fretting about the product. Hopefully this will enable them to more fully understand and experience the essence of whatever it is they are exploring.

I’m excited to see where this light will lead me — and you!

Comments, thoughts, and stories of your own journey are always welcome!

The Currency of Hope and Beauty

Artist Ekua Holmes is planting 10,000 sunflowers, and changing her part of the world.

“Artists deal in the currency of hope,” Holmes said. “We deal in the currency of beauty, and our job is to reflect back to society what we see.” (Boston Globe, July 11, 2018)

Oh my gosh! YES!

As creatives — artists, thinkers, possibilitarians, musicians, writers, makers – we are about beauty.

We look for beauty. We find beauty. And when we cannot find it, we create it. We live in the realm of possibility — perhaps because of our belief in beauty and hope  — and we invite others join us there.

I love that idea! Beauty, hope, and possibility are my currency!

Then I thought: Isn’t this true of us as educators as well? Or, perhaps shouldn’t this be true of us as educators? Shouldn’t beauty, hope, and possibility be our currency as well?

Isn’t it our job to recognize the beauty, hope and possibility that exists in our students, our admins, our parents, and our selves? Don’t we, everyday, endeavor to find and illuminate the beauty, hope and possibility inherent in learning, struggling, wondering, failing, falling, persisting, discovering, collaborating, and simply being?

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Yes! Yes, we do.

Beauty, hope, and possibility. It’s part of us as educators. It’s our currency. It’s our strength.

Let’s embrace it, live it, and offer it to all those around us.

Cancer? Yes, and …

Each summer I head to Boston for my yearly Dana Farber visit. I’m happy and grateful to have these remarkable people on my healing team. At the same time, as my appointment approaches,  I experience a relatively serious amount of stress and anxiety. Even looking up the website to share as a link sent waves of nausea crashing over me!

The nausea isn’t about them — it’s about the cancer and my relationship to it. I’m relentlessly positive, and do  many really wonderful things to strengthen myself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But, my positivity, and all my other good work, is sometimes overshadowed by my angst.

I needed a bit of a jolt to amp up my game. So, I buzzed off to see Catherine — a beautifully creative and awesome human being — for some henna and positive vibes.

She knew I wanted something powerful that could speak to me, and others. She didn’t disappoint.

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How fantabulous is it?!! In case you’re not sure, the correct answer is “Awesomely fantabulous!!!”

Beyond the artistry, it’s fantabulous for the power it holds. It’s a philosophy of open acceptance of what is, and what can be.

Look …

Yes, I have to go to Dana Farber each summer, and frequently have blood drawn, and that is a great privilege and opportunity.

Yes, I am experiencing angst and stress, and I am happy and blessed.

Yes, I have cancer, and I have incredible health.

Yes

and, I am happy.

and, I am loved.

and, my body is working for optimal health, my mind is working for optimal learning, my spirit is working for optimal awesomeness.

and, there are untold possibilities. Possibilities that I know, and ones I have yet to discover or imagine.

As I write my yes, and thoughts, I realize there is a better, more creative way to look at my yes, and lists. I can be creative, re-think, re-cognize.

Often my and, is actually my yes. 

I have cancer. Yes.

It feels huge, overpowering and all encompassing. It is a yes in my life, but absolutely, positively, not the essential yes of my life.

The essential yesses of my life are:

Yes, I am blessed, and … 

Yes, I am happy, and … 

Yes, I am loved, and … 

Yes, I am healthy,  and … 

Yes, my body, mind, and spirit are working for optimal health, learning, and awesomeness, and … 

Yes, the world is full of possibility, and … 

Yes, I am, and am surrounded by, incredible abundance, and … 

I’m digging the space that surrounds the yes, and in Catherine’s design.  It speaks of the space we take as we hear, say and wonder about yes, and.  It is a space waiting to be filled with breath, thoughts, conversation, prayer, openness, insight, creativity, being, and possibility.

Yes, and.

I embrace the power and possibility, and wait with curious and hopeful joy.

 

A Conversation with Frank Gehry

I first heard of Frank Gehry, several years ago, when I visited the EMP (Experience Music Project — now know as the Museum of Pop Culture) in Seattle, Washington. It’s a remarkable building! It features Gehry’s folds, and some awesome finishes that reflect light, images, and shadows in fascinating ways.

It’s wild, and so unlike other buildings I had experienced. I was fascinated by how it interacted with the things around it – including me. I could have taken photographs for days!

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I was reminded of Gehry and his building, the other day when I noticed Master Class, offered a class of Gehry teaching design and architecture! How cool is that? I haven’t finished the class yet, but I’ve already been inspired.

Now, to be clear. Frank and I didn’t sit down over a cup of tea, and converse. Our conversation began when I experienced his building, and picked up again with his master class. As I think, talk with others, and allow his words and ideas — as well as my thoughts and responses — to impact me as a creative and an educator, our conversation continues.

Two thoughts really struck me.

“My advice is forgot about creative block. Assume you’re always blocked. Just keep trying. Creative block is an excuse out of fear. I don’t think it’s relevant, and I think you should forget about it.”

Interesting, right? Instead of being bothered if you feel blocked, just let it be. Recognize it as a natural state of being as a creative, and keep doing your thing.

I’m reminded of Uri Alon’s idea of the cloud,  and think Gehry’s idea can have similar power in the classroom. Much like our thinking, sometimes our creating appears to happen easily, almost magically. Often my girls ask me, with voices filled with awe and disbelief, “Wow. How did you do that, Miss James?” They only see what I can do after hours of struggling with my own blocks. Even the blocks that I may be experiencing at the time they query me, are invisible to them, because like Gehry, I just accept them and move forward.

What an amazing concept to share with my students.  Being blocked is  a natural state for creatives. It would be fabulous to help lessen the power of their own blocks and worries. It’d be amazing to help them get to the point where they felt the blocks, even acknowledged they were feeling them, and then dismissed them, with a “No worries!”

Perhaps I need to think of a Gehry mini lesson. Maybe I should include other artists as well. Or, it could be that it’s not a mini lesson at all. It could be I just live a bit more transparently — sharing my own process of blocks, fretting, noticing, breathing (with an eye-roll in the general direction of my blocks), and moving on.

The second quote follows nicely after the first.

“Trust it, don’t force it, don’t leave it. Take a risk even if you know it doesn’t work … Where’s the line and what can you do with that information? If you’re relentless you can make the fly that stops the train.”

I love the idea of balance — trust, without force and without abandonment. Take a risk. See what innovative, creative, outlandishly wild, and fabulous ideas you can hatch. Then, see how far forward you can take your ideas.

And his question is power-packed. “What can you do with that information?” You don’t just create something, or fail, no matter how spectacularly you do either. You notice, you learn, and you do something with the information.

Thanks for the conversation, Frank! I have so many great thoughts and truths to share with my students.

Now to integrate these understandings  more deeply into my life and being, so I can bring them into my practice and classroom with ease. I’m looking forward to the conversations, provocations, questions, learning , risks, successes and failures …. and things I have yet to imagine.

 

Seized by Curiosity

I was just reading a great book, and laughed out loud — with surprise and delight — when I read this line:

… but then, curiosity seizes me: How is it possible ...”

Say it to yourself again. “But then, curiosity seizes me!” Isn’t that a remarkable thought — to be seized by curiosity? Lots of images of curiosity seizing me flooded my mind  — images of what it might look like in reality, and what it might look like with curiosity anthropomorphized! At first I just chuckled and thought, ” I love that!”

But then, struck by the power and pleasure that comes when one is seized by curiosity, I thought. “Geez, how often do I make space for curiosity in my life, and in my classroom?”

So much is wound up with curiosity:

  • surprise
  • wonder
  • dreaming
  • questioning
  • thinking
  • trying
  • searching
  • being immersed
  • intensity
  • freedom
  • agency
  • interest
  • desire
  • a beginner’s mind
  • possibility
  • joy
  • inspiration
  • awe
  • time
  • opportunity
  • learning
  • discovery

I like it all — curiosity and all of its richness, needs, characteristics, and possible outcomes.

I want more of it — in my life, and in my classroom!

 

Feeding My Creative Soul

“Feeding my creative soul.”

Just saying those words makes me breathe deep, and experience a wave of peace and enthusiastic child-like joy. Summer break, is the perfect time to engage in the many creative things that nourish me. Yesterday I took five online ukulele lessons. It was fabulous. I learned a lot, laughed at myself, enjoyed playing and singing, and discovered it is quite easy to trip up my brain and fingers. But, no worries, the laughter and enjoyment had me taking notes, and jotting down exercises to practice in order to increase my proficiency.

Today I’m in Princeton waiting to take a fencing lesson with my brother, Harry (He’s a fantabulous coach, by the way). Knowing that I would have a long wait, I packed a bag with yoga magazines, a mindfulness book, my laptop, and my traveling watercolor set.  Settling at the table, I didn’t even consider the many things I brought. I immediately grabbed the watercolor set. I chuckled to myself thinking “Why did you even bring the other things. You knew you would paint if given the chance.”

So, a little background. For months now, I’ve been thinking about a leaf painting I’ve promised a friend. A few nights ago I sat down with the paper determined to begin to work on it, instead of just think about it.

It sat there, looking at me. I sat there, looking at it.  I loved the leaf shapes I had traced — from real leaves found on the trail. I loved the black and white starkness, and if I may continue speaking of the paper as though it were a living, breathing, thinking being, so did it. But, we both wanted to see it come alive with color. More sitting, looking and thinking ensued. Then, it seemed we reached a decision together —  I would start, not with paint, but with ideas and inspiration.

I googled “watercolor leaf painting.”Wow! A plethora of fantabulous videos popped up. I was enthralled, and watched videos until my eyes were closing.  I had to do more exploring and practicing before I painted the leaves, but I had to paint something. So, instead of the leaves, I painted the background a black watercolor. I set the painting on my desk to inspire me when I awoke.

I mentioned my evening of study to the friend who will someday have the painting. She said “Molly, don’t spend so much time on it. It’s ok. Just enjoy your summer.” What she didn’t immediately understand was the joy I find in the process of watching someone create, and in learning how I might do the same.

Today I came prepared to move from simply watching, to watching and playing. I once more googled watercolor leaves, and found this video by Yashima Creates.

Her ideas and sensibilities resonated with me — experiment, try, be ok with my lack of expertise, and just paint. I enjoyed discovering the benefits and deficits of my brushes and my hand. I embraced the process, and enjoyed playing and seeing what emerged.

I have so much to learn, explore, master, and enjoy. But, for now I’m happy with this process and product. The color, and the composition that grew from the practice marks on the page rather than a plan are very pleasing to me. I know there is a lesson beyond watercolors that I am learning. For now I cannot express it in words, but it is there none-the-less.

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As I painted, and cleaned my brush on the towel next to me, I thought about my students. They would “ooh” and “ahh” about my painting, and tell me I am the best painter in the world. They would love my cleaning towel, and declare it a work of art, or a paper suitable for other creative pursuits.

It is lovely to have them encourage me even while they are not with me. I hope they hear my voice in their heads, over the summer and in years to come, encouraging them, affirming them, and calling them on to even greater things.