Sit, Sip, Breathe, Look

PART ONE:

I love to sit on my back porch. I sit, sip delicious green tea, breathe, and look.

One tree is particularly attractive to me. It stands in my neighbor’s backyard, and greets me from above their fence. I first noticed it as its leaves turned from green to brilliant gold. Its trunk and branches stood in spectacularly stark contrast to the blazing leaves.

I began to wonder if I could capture it in art. Each time I’m on the porch, I look at this tree. I study it. I admire it. I imagine how I might capture its shape and structure. I wonder what colors and techniques I might use to create the fiery leaves glistening in the sun.

Then, one day, in a remarkably unexpected turn of events, I noticed the tree was bare. All its leaves had fallen to the ground …

… and I saw the sky.

Wow!

Same tree. Same sky.

And yet, completely new.

New perspective. New information. New understanding. New love.

It’s amazing isn’t it?

I’m contemplating doing a study of this tree and sky. Can you imagine? Each day, maybe more than once a day, I would capture this tree and sky in my journal. Every page the same, and yet wildly different! Even if two pages end up being the same, I will grow in my understanding of the tree, the sky, my materials, and my process. And, who’s to say I have to make the sky blue, or the clouds white? It’s my journal, my study, my discovery, my process, my learning, my joy!

I’m excited … and a bit nervous.

PART TWO:

While I wonder if I have a watercolor journal lying around, and where it actually might be, my thoughts turn to my Kindergartners.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if I did this tree and sky study, and then shared it with them? Not as an art project, but as a way to be, and as a powerful way to learn!

I should copyright and market this as a new pedagogical practice – The Sit, Sip, Breathe and Look, Method of Learning. Sit, Sip, Breathe, and Look — Increased learning through relaxation and curiosity. For short I could call it the SSBL Method of Learning.

I started writing the paragraph above with a chuckle. I thought, typed, deleted, and thought some more as I crated a title for my learning method. My chuckles — and clarity– increased as I typed the quick explanation and abbreviation. Naming it seemed to enhance the legitimacy of this as a fantabulous pedagogical practice! Hmmm. I think there’s an article, or some coaching possibilities here.

Until then, back to my students. How would I present my study and the SSBL Method to them? What would I want to them to know?
*It’s good — and important — to sit, sip, breathe, and look.
*Our brains learn best when we, and they, are relaxed.
*Noticing, thinking, and wondering are fascinating, fantabulous, and fun.
*Be curious.
*Be open to more — more noticing, more thinking, more wondering.
*Look, and then look again.
*Even when you think you know something, look again.
*Especially when you think you know something, look again.
*Be willing to be surprised. Expect it, even!
*It’s ok to not know, yet. It’s actually kind of exciting!
*It’s ok to be a little nervous.
*Keep looking.
*Keep learning.
*Be inspired by others.
*Share your noticing, wondering, thinking, ideas, with others.
*Create a study.
*You can do it.

And, there’s no point in telling them all of this, if I don’t also help them do it.

So what might I do to help them embrace the SSBL method of learning?
*Create the infrastructure they need to be successful.
*Talk with their parents and invite them into the SSBL method and concept of learning.
*Explain some of the brain science the supports this method of learning.
*Encourage the parents to create opportunities for the children to sit, sip, breathe, and look.
*Inspire the parents to join their children in their sit, sip, breathe, and look sessions.
*Gift parents with their own study journal.
*Incorporate this form of inquiry and learning as a regular part of our school day.
*Provide time for students to sit, sip, breathe, and look — for their own interests, and curricular purposes.
*Create journals for them to use to record their studies.
*Teach them how to make journals that they can make for their studies.
*Join them in their studies, and invite them into mine.
*Model curiosity, wonder, and awe.
*Value their study and make time to let them share it with others.

I can’t wait to give this a bit more thought, and then give it a go with my girls! Oh, (wink) and market it!






Press

The 4 Ps of creativity (thanks Mel Rhodes, 1961) are person, process, product, and press. Each is important as one ponders creativity — what it means, how we might support it in ourselves and others, what it looks like, or how we might teach it.

My favorite P has always been press. I even had a paper published about managing the classroom press for creativity. It’s not that I don’t like the other 3 Ps, press just resonates with me. The other Ps exist — and flourish or not — within the press. That’s critical. Plus, I love constructing creativity, joy, possibility, and relationship enhancing press.

So, you may be wondering, what is press? Press is what presses on us. It’s the environment — inside and out — that supports us, challenges us, encourages curiosity and creative and critical thinking, helps us learn, or that makes all that quite difficult.

Recently I thought “Press is a lot like the setting of a story.” I mention that because we tell a story each time we write, or share ideas — about creativity or anything else. Thing is, we don’t always share the setting of our story. Sometimes we share about ourselves, or our process and product. Much less frequently we talk about our setting. That’s unfortunate, because, when we don’t share the setting, when we don’t talk about the things that press on us, we don’t tell the whole story, or worse, we tell a story that is less than accurate. That may make it more difficult for others to be creative because they think their press couldn’t possibly be like ours. We must have a lovely studio, or an amazing library and set of colleagues, or a fantabulous mental press. Instead of working where they are, or enhancing their particular press, they search for some elusively perfect setting instead of just sitting down, wherever they are, and getting to it.

So, to encourage you to start wherever you are — with whatever space is available — I thought I’d share a bit of my press with you.

My physical environment doesn’t always look conducive to thinking, or making. Often I’m grabbing a corner of my kitchen island, surrounded by the stuff of life. Sometimes that stuff feels like clutter — and I neaten up or find a new space. But, other times it feels like home, reminds me of who I am, and gives me the support and shelter I need to think, risk, and create. Funny, sometimes things that seem incongruous to positive press remain near me. That little pill bottle in the photo is part of my cancer meds. That’s a big press on my life these days and I try to embrace it as a normal part of my press. Thankfully, today I’m experiencing the presence of that bottle as positive and encouraging.

I think I may be the poster child for unusual creative thinking spaces. The other night, I needed a quiet, slightly dark space to manage the blechiness that I felt. At the same time I wanted to connect with art and learn some new things. That night, my press was the comfort of my floor, wrapped in a blanket, light flooding softly from my bathroom into my room. Interestingly, the connection between the two physical settings is a sense of solitude, combined with a relatively intense experience of being safe, centered, and comfortable.

Our inner press is also really important. Sometimes my inner critic rules my mental and emotional press — cranking at me about my work or ideas. I’ve been working on quieting that voice, with affirmations, acknowledging other’s positive reviews of my thought and work, and just enjoying a beginner’s mind. Consequently, and thankfully, lately my inner press has been hopeful, open, and helpful. The positive inner press, open to possibility, and learning, helps me make connections, entertain new ideas, risk, learn, and experience joy and hope in the process.

Thinking about, and sharing, my own press, encourages me to consider the press of others. What presses on my students, my colleagues, my friends and family, and the people who get on my last nerve? It’s important to be cognizant about the press others exist within, to act out of that understanding, and to do what we can to positively impact the press of others.

One quick thought on creativity and art. I just read an article in which the author lamented the many times creativity and art are linked with one another. I agree that creativity is not synonymous with art. Incredibly profound and valuable creative thinking happens outside of the art world. However, art is a part of my creative world. When I make art, I research, ponder, reflect, observe, take notes, think creatively and critically, problem solve, and often innovate.

Perspective

Looking to give my mind something interesting and positive to focus on, I grabbed my sketch book. Then, in a change of perspective, I made some of today’s medications the focus of my morning artistic play and study.

The first cylindrical container was pretty simple. But the others? Not so much. It seemed impossible to translate what I saw with my eyes into an image on the page. I saw shapes, but was unclear how to create them on the page.

Perplexed, I returned to looking, comparing, and analyzing. I realized the shapes I thought I saw, weren’t accurate. And, to my surprise, the slightest change in gaze totally changed my perspective, and hence what my eyes saw. It makes me chuckle to say I was surprised. But, I was.

At this point I abandoned my pen, and employed my blue pencil to sketch in the various shapes. That gave me the opportunity to try, re-look, and try again. I was able to have some aha moments, and finally create something that was satisfying and relatively accurate.

Then it was time to add color. I experimented with the loose watercolor technique I’ve been reading about. It’s interesting that the lack of precision — when embraced in a sort of organic, unforced way — added to my enjoyment of the process, and, I think, gave me a better product.

So, yeah, perspective. It’s remarkably important — transformative, even. How I looked at those bottles — with my eyes, and my heart and mind — made a difference in how I saw them. It was amazing how much they changed with the each change in my perspective — no matter how small. Equally remarkable was how difficult it was for me to see with accuracy, and translate that accuracy onto the page.

Rarely does the first look tell us everything. It may give us an abundance of information, but it leaves a myriad of other things yet to be discovered. Looking at things repeatedly from different perspectives opens us to new ideas, realizations, discovery, wonder, and awe. Unfortunately, we are frequently so enamored with success, knowing, and getting things right, that we forget, skip over, and devalue the incredible power of inquiry, exploration, and discovery of the more.

So, let’s grab our blue pencils, notice, think, wonder, make mistakes, be kind to ourselves and others, and learn! I’m betting our art, thinking, and world will benefit.


I Did It!

I did it!

My brother and I got out for walk in nature, and I PAINTED!!!

I sat quietly, enfolded in the sounds and sights of nature. But, something in me rejoiced loudly “YAY!!! II’m sitting by the water, and I’m painting!!! All is right with the world”

It was a remarkably beautiful, and emotional few moments. I’m not sure I can express how lovely it is to sit by a river, with my watercolors, a fresh piece of paper, a paint brush, and some water (often from the river itself).

I know creativity isn’t the same thing as art. But, sometimes art gives me the opportunity to indulge in my love for creativity and creative thinking. Art sharpens my ability to be open to possibility and think differently — How might I express with the paint what I see with my eyes? How might I use the water, or the vegetation, or the wind as part of my process? Is there something new I might try? What if I expressed it in shades of black and white rather than color?

Strangely, COVID gives me more opportunities to think creatively as well. How might I feel comfortable sitting and painting? Where can we find a place to actually sit? If I have to stand, how might I use what is around me to hold my paint and water? Might I wonder and entertain all the possible things that might go right, instead of the things that might go wrong?

We humans have a negativity bias – keeps us safe – but I think sometimes for creatives our ability to problem find and imagine possibilities works against us. Well, I’ll speak for myself. Sometimes it works against me. Remember I said the moment was emotional? It was emotional because of the beauty, joy, and peace I felt. It was emotional because it was one of the first moments I have not felt afraid being out of doors doing something normal.

Yesterday I painted by the river.

Today I knitted.

Life is good.

These artistic endeavors soothe my soul. They teach me to look, notice, and wonder. They encourage me to be in the moment, open to possibility, even when it seems elusive.

I am a creative. It is part of who I am. I think I was born with the ‘I love noticing, thinking, creating, and figuring things out’ gene. Or perhaps, I don’t have that gene, but simply was blessed with parents who raised me to notice, think, create, and figure things out. Either way, here I am.

Yes, I am a creative. Each day gifts me with opportunities to increase my understanding of creativity and creative thinking, challenges that strengthen my creative confidence, and moments that urge me to consider possibilities. As I write this I am reminded of the Mary Anne Radmacher quote ““… sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”

If I might be bold enough to allow her quote to speak to me and inspire me about creativity, I would rephrase it like this — often creativity is the quiet voice at the end of the day, that, looking at opportunities untaken, or problems as yet unsolved, says “I will sleep on it tonight and will try again tomorrow.”

May we always treasure and nurture that small voice.

Start Small

I want so much to engage in the creative, to blog and share all my thoughts, to find that space of peace and flow that creativity brings me. And yet, I am experiencing feelings of tiredness, anxiousness, and worry, and these seem to keep me from being able to do any of that. Even as I sit at the keyboard, my head hurts, and my eyes well with tears.

But, I encourage myself, as I do my students.

“Just do something. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be you.”

So I thought I’d just start small, and share my new art teaching board.

Nice right? At other times, it’s the barn door to my bathroom. Makes me chuckle, because I often joke that my bathroom — with its easily cleaned tile floor — is my art studio for messy projects.

My students haven’t finished the project. They’ve actually only received the part one video, but they are already sending me messages and photos via their parents. One mom remarked, “I love watching her. The whole time she’s working, she’s talking to you.”

My heart is full.

Tell Me More

I recently did a free-paint art project with my students. The only requirement was to paint something on the paper using the paint colors they had mixed during our color mixing activity. They love to paint, and being able to use colors they created intensified their enjoyment.

I moved around the room snapping photos, chatting with the girls, and putting finished works on the drying rack. On one of my passes I captured this.

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I was intrigued by the horizontal lines. I loved the structure and the contrast between the flowers organic shape and the horizontal lines.

After a bit of time I returned to this same artist. She was focused. She didn’t raise her head but continued to look and add, look and add.

Her work was so different than when I last saw it. I was intrigued. I loved it even more now then before. I wasn’t sure what was behind the flower, but I liked. I snapped a photo, and told her how cool I thought it was.

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She stopped painting, gave it one more look. and then with a gigantic smile and complete clarity, she looked up and said.  “It’s a flower growing in a library.”

Me: “Oh, wow … it is!!! That’s fantabulous!”

I snapped another photo, and continued the controlled chaos that art clean up sometimes is.

Afterwards I realize I missed an opportunity. I missed an opportunity to take a breath and a moment to let her tell me more.

Did she have that idea from the beginning?

Did it just happen?

Did her work remind her of a library?

Does she have a library with a flower in it?

So many questions. So many opportunities for connection, affirmation, wonder, relationship, joy, learning.

For some time, I fretted about not giving her that time.

Now I see it as a lesson and an opportunity for me to learn and grow as an educator and human being. And, I breathe easy remembering her focus, intensity, experience and smile. She was content.

Create Space

A while back I was experimenting with ideas from Joanne Fink’s book about zenspiration dangle design.

I’m not quite sure if Joanne suggested dangling a circle or if I came up with the idea. But it enjoyed playing with it. After finishing the exterior side of the circle, I decided to dangle the interior portion as well. Even now I’m intrigued by the different sense of the design on either side of the circle.

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For some reason the outer design maintains its outward flow. When I look at it, it doesn’t change. It is strong, steady, open, and ever reaching. I am attracted to the balance between white space and color, between lines, shapes, and openness, between straight lines and curved.

My relationship to the inner circle work feels much different. I am at one and the same time attracted and somewhat disturbed by it. The structures do not maintain a particular direction, but seem to move depending on where my gaze lands. I notice the same elements of line, color, and open space. But, I feel a sense of conflict as the various elements converge on the center.

As I wondered what to do, I remembered a henna design the awesome Catherine Lent did for me. In the midst of her beautifully intricate design, she had an empty circle. We chuckled about it as she worked around it. After checking with me to be sure I was ok with it, she left it empty. She said something like, “Sometimes it’s good to leave a bit of space.”

Hmmmm. Space. Yes, leave a bit of space, or create a bit of space.

I went back to my drawing and covered the tightness of the center with a small circular piece of white paper.

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I love it! I am intrigued by the space I created in the center. It is at one and the same time empty and yet full of stillness, openness, wonder, and possibility.

This speaks to me for my life as much as it does for my art.

In art, and in life it’s good to have space. Space for possibility. Space for stillness. Space for breath and being.

Space.

Sometimes it’s hard to find.

But, just like with this piece of art, I can step back, make a choice, and create space in my life, my heart, my mind.

Breath, prayer, times of sitting, a walk, are some of the small white circles that I place upon my life to create calm, still, open moments.

Sometimes it’s nice to leave a little space … or to create it.

Feeling Like A Kindergartner

Have you ever worked in an art journal? It’s an interesting experience.

There is no throwing away the pieces you don’t like. They stay there — forever — mocking you.

LOL!!!

Yes, quite dramatic. But, it does feel that way. And yes, I suppose I could just gesso the page, or collage over it, but I’d still know it was there — mocking me.

I continue my dramatics to make a point. My Kindergartners feel that way! When they make a piece of art they don’t like, the emotion they feel is often so strong as to be painful. I’m glad I’m engaging in a form of art that allows me to experience, and learn to regulate, these feelings.

Yesterday and today I experimented with a mixed-media piece. I began with watercolors and masked circles. Then I collaged in pieces of water birch bark, and torn pieces of sheet music. I was intrigued by the common color of the two. Then I used acrylic paint to add bits of bolder color, and to begin to incorporate the collage elements more fully.

I had only a vague idea where I wanted to go.

  • I wanted the circles to be my repeated marks.
  • I knew at some point in my process, I’d use gel pens or paint pens to add some lines, dots, and words.
  • I have circle stencils I thought might work to continue my repeated element and give an added depth.
  • Words salvaged from magazines would be fab if I could find ones I liked.

Here’s where I landed next.

I liked it, but I wanted to add more. True to form with this project, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to add. Makes sense, I suppose, because I began the project without a clear end, more with a desired process.

So, I repeated the stenciled elements on the right side of the piece. Then I added spirals with a light blue acrylic paint marker. I liked the spirals. They reminded me of water being hit with drops of rain, and added another element of depth.

I added lines and marks using white, silver, and gold paint pens. Several times I considered stopping. Each time I thought “Nope.” and continued.

At that moment I remembered my Kindergartners. There are moments when they are making an art piece that I think to myself. “Oh, that is good.” Do they stop? Sometimes. But other times, nope. I struggle with suggesting they might want to be finished. Perhaps they are experiencing what I was experiencing with this piece. It’s a unique combination of flow, joy, and pleasure with the process. It’s cool!

Here’s the finished page.

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It’s busy. But it was so much fun. And, even though it’s busy, I think it’s quite beautiful. The dots, lines, words, patterns, ideas, collaged pieces, and decisions are all a reflection of me and my process.

Perhaps another time I wouldn’t make it so full. But perhaps I would. Either way is fantabulous. Either way is me. That’s what I want my Kindergartners to experience. Flow. Joy. Agency. The fantabulousness of them and their art.

There is so much about this project that I’d love my girls to experience.

Now to consider — what, when, and how.

My thinking cap is on.

_______________

Btw:
The AP Stylebook tweets: Our preferred spelling is kindergartner, not kindergartener. 

 

Mark Making and Repetition

I love being inspired late at night. There is something magical about losing oneself in the creative, artistic process, without regard for time or the need to sleep.

In Paint, Play, Explore, Rae Missigman talks about mark making (she calls them art marks), repetition, and embracing whomever one is as an artist. Her thoughts jumpstarted my creative thinking and process last night. I scrambled out of bed and began a renewed exploration and experimentation of roses and leaves.

It was fun — and freeing — to work with familiar, loved shapes. I moved from color pencils to acrylic paint as I created a plethora of roses and leaves.

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I considered painting the background black but worried the intense contrast might wreck the piece. Instead I chose a rich blue color. I may experiment with black another day as I do love black and white, but for now I’m pleased with the blue.

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I appreciated the “rustic” look I achieved by painting with a bit of abandon. But, the mark making artist in me was unsettled and less than satisfied.

Clearly, the piece was unfinished. So I continued. I added lines, dots, and embellishments. My inner artist was happy with the additions. And, as I embraced my own unique marks, repetitions, and style, my inner critic was quieted.

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Today I continued my mark making and repetition.

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Nice, right? I really enjoy the mark making and repetition. It’s fun, and clearly the repetitions and art marks make the piece! I love the fullness and pop of the roses and leaves in the center. And, the white outlined roses in the sea of blue add a surprising layer of depth.

I think perhaps I tweaked Rae’s idea of mark making and repetition. I’m not sure, I’ll have to keep reading her book to find out. But, in the meantime, I’m super happy with my interpretation of her idea, and the space and possibility this has opened in me.

Thanks, Rae!

It’s All in How You Look at It!

I read to my Kindergartners everyday at lunch. It’s always an adventure in listening, laughing, noticing, discussing, wondering, and, frankly, making proclamations.

Yesterday one of the reads was Happy Dog Sizzles by Lisa Grubb. Part way through the story, the characters begin creating. Lisa used the term “junk” to describe the things used by her characters. She did not misspeak. In many ways, the items being used could be characterized as junk — a broken instrument, a broken lamp, an old hat.

As I read the word junk, one of my girls proclaimed, “That’s not junk!”

Me: “It’s not?!?!

Her: “No!” she replied emphatically. “That’s maker-stuff!”

Her voice seemed to call more of her peers to the page. All about the room there were echoes of agreement. “Yeah, that’s not junk. That’s maker-stuff!”

Me: (heart glowing with love and pride in their fantabulousness) “You know what? You’re right! It is maker-stuff!”

I read the rest of the book substituting maker-stuff for junk.

My Kindergartners are right. It’s all about how we look at it.

As I considered a photo for this post, I gathered up some things forgotten in the back of drawers, or placed in the trash/recycling bin — contact lens containers, a pebble from a walk, a bottle top, the inside roll from tape, an old marker lid, part of a security envelope, the top of a canning jar, a bent paperclip, and an old hair tie.

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With my Kindergartners words and emotions fresh in my mind, I interacted with these items, not as junk, but as items with untold potential.

I purposefully staged the photo. I considered each piece, and placed it carefully on a gold-lined dish. I created pleasant ribbon swirls. I arranged and rearranged the items several times until I was satisfied. Then I photographed and processed the image to emphasize the feeling of importance, beauty, and art.

My kindergartners were right. In our awesome hands — animated by our big beautiful brains, fantabulous imagination, and spectacular hearts — it’s not junk, it’s maker-stuff.