New Tools, New Mindset, New Possibilities

Phew it’s been a stressful couple of weeks, and it looks like it may be a while before things even out. Thank goodness for creativity and the opportunity to play in my studio. I love getting into some creative project, experiencing flow, learning new things, observing, trying again, and just playing. It’s really an incredible blessing for me. It brings me joy, magnifies the positive, and lightens the negative. (By the way, my studio is wherever I happen to be!)

I picked up some Caran d’Ache Neocolor II Artists’ Crayons a few weeks ago, and threw them in my bag when I headed to DF for my cancer check up. I packed a back with all sorts of art supplies figuring it would help me zen out a bit, and not fret quite as much about whatever news I got. I was right!

Ok, back to the watercolor crayons. I haven’t used them very much, but after just a couple tries, I”m super intrigued by them. I recently came upon the advice to sketch everything, everyday. It seemed like a perfect way to use the crayons. I’ve adopted the advice as part of my daily practice. Being that I can sometimes have rather high expectations for my work, and a bit of a harsh inner critic, I decided to enhance my daily practice advice. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Sketch everything.
  • Don’t sweat the results.
  • When possible give those watercolor crayons a try.
  • Notice, think, wonder.
  • Breathe, smile, nap.
  • Repeat.

So, another day, another sketch. I decided to use the crayons to sketch, and then watercolor, one of my hiking photos. It was an interesting process — the physical, as well as the mental and emotional ones.

I photographed my progress at various points — just crayon, some watercolor action, the finished product. It was fascinating — still is — to see the piece at the various stages. They each have their own feel with different things to notice, wonder, and appreciate.

As I mentioned before, I’m intrigued by the crayons and how they work. I’m always amazed by watercolor paint. It’s incredibly forgiving, yet at the same time somewhat difficult to manage. There is so much more for me to learn about watercolor — how it moves, what is possible, how to remove it, how to add it, the different possibilities that are present when the paint is wet, and when it is dry — to name just a few. Sometimes I think I need to learn more in order to better understand it and control it, at other moments I think I need to surrender more to its will and just see what happens. Both are valuable approaches.

My brother was telling me about John Marin and the number of times he would paint the same scene. Marin has some beautiful work, that I think (hopefully he would not be insulted) I might be able to aspire to doing. Not as well as he did perhaps, but with the freedom he had, and the willingness to start again, and again, with a beginners mind and heart.

Mr resistance, or perhaps reticence and mild fretting, always surprises me. It’s difficult for me to embrace a beginners mind with regard to my product. I’m working on that. I think the sketch something every day idea will help me.

It’s funny isn’t it, that I experience some fretting over the same things I ask my K girls to do everyday. Right? Every day – usually many more than once — I ask my K to take these risks, try, enjoy the process, and to not fret quite so much about the process or product. As I type this I’m realizing I need to encourage myself to respond to my own angst, and my own process and product, they way I respond to theirs. I tell them not to fret, to just try, to not worry, to see their work and process as courageous and beautiful – and I completely believe and mean that when I tell them. And then, when I look at their work, I look with eyes and mind full of love, respect, admiration, and joy-filled expectation and surprise. That is the way I must interact with my work as well.

I’m facing my art shelves as I sit here. The newest painting is there amidst many other experiments, investigations, playing, and painting. It’s nice to look at it from afar, among all the other painting. It does give me a sense of space, of growth, and of possibility.

In the spirit of John Marin, and a great book I’m reading – Living Color by Natalie Goldberg – I may have today’s sketch and watercolor be worked from the same photo. But, perhaps more action and shape oriented, with unusual colors. Might I be able to convey other feelings? Might I enjoy the process? What will I learn? No idea. But, for sure, I’m going to approach it with a new mindset, and equally sure, I will have fun.

Magenta and Naples Yellow

I took some time to breathe, and make art in my art journal today. It was pretty fabulous.

My first few tries and marks were quite uninspiring. It’s part of the angst of having an art journal — those uninspiring or downright dreadful attempts. Sometimes it keeps me from working, or, I work but resist trying new things. Thankfully, today, I was able to set my angst aside. I covered my less than pleasing attempts with a lovely layer of white gesso, and, as simple as that, I was ready to go again.

I picked medium magenta, quinacridone magenta, and naples yellow from my acrylic paint box. Definitely not my typical color palette. Magenta, yes. Shades of magenta, sure. Naples yellow? Nope. Naples yellow and magenta? Big fat nope. But today, for whatever reason, the colors spoke to me, and I listened.

Then, I sorted through my collage stash looking for colors, words, images, or texture that worked with the colors on the page. I placed papers on the page, squinted, tilted my head, rearranged, and thought.

Eventually I made my choices — a mustardy yellow-brown page with mismatched fonts spelling possibility, a pinkish lotus flower, and a quote about failing. I went through the same process with the chosen papers – placing, adjusting, tearing, squinting, looking, and thinking. After a while, I was satisfied.

I loved the darkness of the water surrounding the lotus flower. But, I definitely needed another splash of darkness to tie that water to the rest of the work, and create a bit more balance. As with my initial work, my first attempt at adding darkness was less than pleasing. No worries, add a bit more collage. Perfect!

What about abstract lines and squiggles? I’d just seen someone play with them in their art journal. I liked the look, and it seemed a good and simple way to accomplish my goal.

Turns out I was wrong. It is fabulous, and it’s a good idea, but it is not easy — at least not for me. Who knew how difficult it can be make relaxed lines and squiggles? Certainly not me.

I’m going to do some “squiggle study” so I’m more prepared in the future. But for now, I forged ahead, and hoped for good things. I decided to include words in and with my squiggles. I allowed the natural flow of handwriting to inform my squiggle practice.

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I’m not completely satisfied with the result, but I like it quite a bit. And, perhaps more importantly, I am intrigued by the process, and enjoyed all the making, thinking, creating, and reflecting involved.

What I first noticed was that the uncharacteristic choice of naples yellow opened the door for the possibility paper. Then, the lotus flower in the intensely dark water encouraged me to add the black marks. My inability to make the marks the way I wanted caused me to add words and word-like doodles. As I looked, wondered, worked and reflected, I noticed more, and had more aha moments. Here are a few of my reflections.

POSSIBILITY – Possibility, and my openness to possibility, started and sustained the process.

LOTUS – What a great image. The color was lovely – a beautiful blush pink against that intensely bold dark water. Drops of water always fascinate me, so having them on the lotus was a bonus. And, everything the lotus stands for — growing from the depths of darkness, strength, movement, beauty — is fantabulous. I’m a big fan.

LOVE – The first word I wrote in my word-like scribble was love.Funny enough it didn’t seem to matter if the word could be read. Simply having it present made everything else possible. That seems true in my life as well.

ALL THINGS — All things are possible. All things, even those that seem impossible.

FAIL. FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER. — That is just spectacular. There is so much to ponder in those three sentences. And, goodness gracious, there are so many things at which I should willingly fail, fail again, and fail better.

FEAR — As I thought about failing, and fear, my first thought was  — release fear. But, as I sat with that, I realized sometimes I really need to just embrace fear, and perhaps even be willing to simply coexist with it in peace.

CREATIVITY — My choice to be creative — to stretch beyond my comfort zone, try new things and risk failure — opened me to a myriad of experiences, joy, and realizations.

I love this stuff. It’s so very interesting. I could go round and round — possibility, love, fail, fail again, fail better, be fascinated, look, learn, see the possible, do the possible, do the impossible — and then start again at any one of those points.

Possibility is everywhere, and creativity is always an option. My plan is to seize, create, or just be peacefully open to possibility and creativity, with each breath, gaze, and thought.

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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Kids and Educators Inventing

January 17th is Kid Inventors’ Day.. It’s held on the 17th to coincide with the birth date of Benjamin Franklin — an imaginative and creative inventor. (Check out the link to find out about some of his inventions. There’s even a video of William Zeitler playing  a modern version of Franklin’s glass armonica. It’s pretty cool!)

Prior to the big day we read What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada. It’s such a great book — simple and yet profound at the same time. We talked about ideas — theirs ideas.

“Do you have ideas? Do you have good ideas? Do your ideas always work the way you plan? Do you always have ideas alone, or sometimes with others? Are you always willing to tell others about your ideas? Are you sometimes a little worried people may not like their ideas?”  I agreed with them when they said they had ideas, and I encouraged them when they said they are sometimes afraid to share or try their ideas.

Then I showed them my latest invention — an idea book I made for them!

“Yes, I know a book isn’t my invention, we already have them, but,” I said, “this one’s a little different. I wanted  to give you all sorts of places to write, sketch, and store your ideas so I changed some things about a ‘regular’ book.”

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I proceeded to show them some of the different bits of the book — skinny pages, fat pages, pages made from magazine pages, an envelope, blank white paper, blank grid paper, and accordion folded pages in the center. I told them the books were theirs to keep, and they could use them however they liked to store their ideas. The only thing they had to do was record some ideas.

“Can we put stuff on the cover, too?!”

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“Of course!!!”

I also asked them to let me know, after they used the book, if they had any tweaks I might make to make it even better. The book was so different that many immediately asked me to make changes. I asked them to try it first, and then let me know if they still wanted me to tweak things. “This way,” I said “we’ll all be part of the invention process of this Idea Book. I made it, but you’ll test it, and give me suggestions.” They seemed to like that.

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Kid Inventors Day in the classroom was great. The girls were enthusiastic and worked on their projects for hours.  Some of their creations were completely unique, others were recreations of existing items. There was a lot of creative questioning that went on that day! How would their creation be an invention — something new? What tweaks could they make to whatever they were considering to make it even better? One young inventor declared her jet pack better than the existing one because it used Daddy-power. “Because, ya know,” she told me, “my mommy won’t let me use fire and real fuel!” Can’t argue with that logic!

The day was a success, but I wanted them to concentrate on problem finding a bit more. I decided to have us work as inventors in our next science class. We would concentrate on the first 3 steps from this  Invention and Design Process Mash Up poster I put together. (The 1st 3 are in color because those were the ones I wanted to focus on in this class.)

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I had some questions and wonderings as I entered the lesson design process:

  • How might they have the best experience?
  • How might I have a record of their work to share with others?
  • Should they work in teams? In partnerships?
  • Should I give them the choice of working together or alone?
  • Should everyone have their own notebook?
  • Should we create posters of problems? Posters of brainstorms?

I was kind of plagued by the question of wether they should have their own notebook because then they would have something written down to take home. Normally I don’t really care.

I know that learning happens in the making, the doing, and the discussion, so I typically don’t do concentrate on a notebook to take home. I’m not against writing! Tons of amazing things happen with writing, but generally I don’t mind if there is nothing to send home on any one day since I document with photos, and share the photos and explanations after the fact. But for some reason this time I couldn’t shake the idea of an “Inventor’s Notebook” to take home. So, I gave it a go.

I loved our discussions. The girls were enthusiastic and worked hard to understand and express themselves.  It was a ton of  fun to watch them try to explain what brainstorming is — using great facial expressions and hand gestures to explain that the thoughts you have are like storms in your brain.

“”Yes!” I said “You do have lots of ideas in your brains, but how do they become brainstorms? What happens when it storms outside? Is there just stuff in the clouds but nothing else?” “NO!” they yelled ” It rains! Or it snows!” “YES!” I replied, with nearly equal exuberance, “And is it just one rain drop?” They looked, as though stunned, but then responded “NO! It’s lots of drops!” “YES!” I agreed, “It’s lots of drops, and when we brainstorm, we want to share LOTS of ideas.”

The inventions we looked at were awesome. They helped the girls understand that sometimes inventions are a mash up of ideas already existing, and other times they are completely new. And, perhaps most importantly it opened their minds to the truth that KIDS are inventors — with big beautiful brains and hearts — who see problems and work to solve them. We looked at the cereal serving head crane device as well as fabulous, and hilarious, children’s inventions. (Can you imagine having a spider lick your face if you don’t get up on time?! They could!)

But the notebook, and allowing the girls to mostly work alone, didn’t work as well as hoped. As the class progressed, I noticed many ways I wanted to tweak the notebook, and the process.

 

My prototype for the next try will include a notebook for work at home. It will include the mash-up poster, some information for parents, and some blank pages for sketching and note taking. But, for our time together in the lab, we will work with posters and post-it-notes.

We’ll create several Problem Posters. Then, after some brainstorming, I’ll arm each girl with a pad of post-it-notes, and a pencil. This will give them the opportunity for many casual collisions, which will oblige and allow them to interact — sharing ideas, energy, laughter, and angst. Hopefully the size of the note, and the fact that they have a pad of them, will encourage quick sketching, and many ideas. I’m excited that this method  will give us a class artifact of our work together. I’m hopeful it can then be used for further thought and engagement in the invention and design process.

Funny, even though I understand the design/invention process, and I know the girls learned and did great things, I’m unhappy with myself for not thinking  of these tweaks before I did the lesson. But really, how could I have thought of them before? It’s a new lesson, a new creation and invention, and as with all inventions, it gets better by working the process. — think, sketch, make, test, tweak, sell, repeat.

Perhaps we as educators need to share more of our failures, near misses, thought process, design process, thinking, and challenges. This way everyone will understand that everyone needs to work the process, and the process is hardly ever as easy, or mess free, as we make it seem.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes it’s magic!

Back in December 2015 I blogged about the hard fabulous work involved in the creative process of designing, burning and painting my bathroom door. I reveled in, and blogged about, the “angst, sweat and splendor” of creativity.

Fast forward to today! I’m working on the other side of that door. Same door, same creative process, same art medium, but, significantly different awareness and observations!

Today I experienced the intense magic of creativity and the creative process! I know it’s not real magic, but, wow, it sure feels like it.

My idea was to design a tree for the door. I thought it would be cool  if the tree seemed to begin, and continue, past what the eye could see. Problem was, I couldn’t quite figure out the layout. The shape of the door was too skinny to accommodate my design.

There was no way the tree I imagined was going to fit on the door. It was impossible. But for some reason, I couldn’t let go of the idea. There had to be a tree on my door. And, not some skinny, little tree, but the big bold tree of my dreams.

I wasn’t being stubborn, or trying to force my design upon the door. I was simply doing what seemed right. The tree already existed, right there, on the door, in my mind’s eye. It seemed completely inconceivable that it wouldn’t, at some point, be on my door in real life! Somehow I knew it would work out. I just had no idea how or when. So, without any real plan, I kept thinking about it, believing in it, looking for it, and frankly, often just forgetting about it, as I waited for the answer to find me!

And, today it finally did!

This afternoon I was overcome with an urgency to sit down and design my door. No matter where I turned, or what I did, I couldn’t escape the feeling. I finally just gave in.

I gathered up a large sketch book, a favorite pencil and eraser, a cup of tea, and my laptop. I did a bit more online research, and printed out a few trees and branches that struck my fancy.  I measured the door, and prepped my sketch book with some boxes of the correct ratio.

I made a few iterations of possible trees. I looked at my creations and the images I printed, from various angles. After only 3 or 4 tries, I developed a design I liked. It is both similar, and completely different from, my original idea. But, despite the differences, it is ideal in its ability to bring me joy, and fit on the door!

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Once I reached this point, I could move no further. The time of clarity, inspiration, and ease was past. For a few moments I struggled to press on, and felt the angst of being unable to do so.

So, I just sat, holding my pencil, breathing, looking and thinking. Slowly the angst dissipated. What remained was wonder and gratitude. I was amazed by the drawing before me, and even more so, by the process. That process, those moments of creative lucidity and productivity, were beautiful, and mysterious.

I want more, and I believe they will come.

Meanwhile, I trust in the process and proceed accordingly.  I think. I look. I notice. I breathe. I work, and I walk. I love the suggestion that my walks in the beautiful outdoors will help my tree to bloom on my door!

For now, my sketch waits in my bathroom … close enough to be seen, far away enough to be forgotten …

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as I await the next time of creative magic, angst, sweat and splendor!

I can’t wait!

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Possibility Thinking and Cancer

Did I mention I have cancer? Yes, lol, I thought I might have.

Anyway, I do, and because I do, I get to keep tabs on the status of my blood. Amazing thing, our blood! But, I digress.

My latest results were a cause of significant angst. Many of my results were great, but there was one number that was pretty wonky. Wonky enough to have, and I quote “clinical significance.”

“Clinical significance?”

EEEEE GADS!!!! Can you say eee gads? Yes, I’m sure you can.

Thankfully, regardless of clinical significance, I don’t need to do any medical treatment right now because I am healthy, and, it seems, managing everything quite nicely! YAY!!!!

But, wow, what do you when your doctor says 500 points higher has clinical significance (translation: your cancer is waking up and rumbling a bit) and your number is about two times that amount higher??!!! Well, if you’re me, you stress, but even while you stress, you diligently look for ways to be positive, and to (lol) beat the cancer back into submission.

Initially I was really struggling to be positive. I felt crushed by my doctor’s words, and was having a hard time embracing the goodness of the present moment.

Then I saw it, right there, on the back of my journal …

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ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!!

I felt the joy of one seeing an old friend. Possibility thinking! Ah yes, that’s the ticket!

I first encountered the idea of possibility thinking while researching for my MA. I read several articles by Anna Craft and her colleagues, and dreamed of ways to increase possibility thinking in myself, and in my students.

Here are some great quotes to give you a sense of possibility thinking.

  • Possibility thinking is thinking that moves “beyond the given, or ‘what is’, to the possible, or to ‘what could be?’  (Craft, A.)  and to,  ‘what can I, or we, do with this?'” (2012)
  • Possibility thinking “refuses to be stumped by circumstances, but uses imagination, with intention, to find a way around a problem.” ((Jeffrey and Craft 2003)
  •  Possibility thinking involves “questioning, play, immersion, making connections, imagination, innovation, risk-taking and self-determination.” (Possibility Thinking)

Fabulous, right? Moving beyond what is to what might be. Refusing to be dumbfounded, bewildered, or overwhelmed. And, I think, embracing the bewilderment, and allowing it push you forward into wondering, questioning, thinking, searching and finding!

So, I’m re-embracing relentless positivity. I’m harnassing the power of possibility thinking.

I’m imagining, and knowing, anything is possible. I’m questioning, thinking reading, talking, praying and doing …. all to move beyond what is, to what could be, right here, right now, and in the future!

A friend and I were talking about possibility thinking the other day. She asked me “What if your research and thinking proves it isn’t possible? What do you do then?” I burst out laughing. “It just means it isn’t possible with what we know now.” She hesitated for just a second, then grabbed her notebook saying, “Oh yeah! (laughter) You’re right. I have to write that down!”

Keep imagining. Keep thinking about what could be. Keep thinking what you/we can do with this. Keep believing in possibility. It’s everywhere.

 

 

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