Hardware and Tools in Kindergarten

I’m always thinking of tools I can bring in to the Makerspace for my students to experience, and learn to use. I’ve brought bread knives to use as saws (always using clear and easy to remember rules, and always supervised by an adult), carpenter pencils and pencil sharpeners, tri-squares, mechanical rulers, mechanical tape measures, and levels.

This spring, as we began our supermarket build, I decided to enrich our world with nuts, bolts, machine screws, adjustable wrenches, phillips head screwdrivers and square head screwdrivers. When my students entered the Makerspace and noticed the new things sorted into our maker-trolly, they immediately began experimenting, asking questions, and sharing thoughts.

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Not all of them knew what the wrench was, or how to use it. I quickly swore those who knew how to use the wrench, to strict secrecy. I told them they had to keep it a secret for one week. If by Friday, the others hadn’t figured it out, they could teach them. But, until then, they had to let the others use their big beautiful brains and experimentation to discover it on their own. Many figured it out, and any that didn’t were happily taught by those in the know.

They loved using the tools and the hardware. Sometimes they would put the bolts/screws, washers, and nuts together using their fingers as the tools, at other times, they used the wrenches and screwdrivers. Our first foray into using them in the build was when they realized they could plunge the bolts/screws into the foam shelf they had created.

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This required me to help them because the foam as actually a bit too thick for the size bolts/screws I had purchased. Cognizant of how impossible it was for them to succeed at this task on their own, I began thinking of specific projects that didn’t require so much help from me.

I came up with two.

The first  was an art project. I thought creating people with articulated arms and legs would be a fun way for them to learn about the nuts, bolts, and washers. It required a good bit of thinking, risking, imagining and creating as well as significant manual dexterity and work.

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We talked a bit about how to use the hardware, and what was possible because of it — movement, and tightening the arms and legs into particular positions. We also discussed the possible pitfalls — poking yourself with the pencil that you used to make a hole for the bolt, making the hole too close to the edge thereby ripping the cardboard piece, and putting the bolt on backwards which would make hanging it darn near impossible because it was too far from the wall.

They were fantabulous workers, thinkers and creators! They were careful about positioning their holes, and making them. They persisted — counting out their hardware, changing bolts if they put them on backwards, and taking the time needed to accomplish their personal visions for their people.

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And gosh, did they imagine and create! Mothers with babies, a girl in a tuxedo, Draco Malfoy, girls with 3-D curly hair, a baby sucking a binky, and designer boots are just a bit of what they did.

Here are some of their people hanging in our art gallery:
 cropped dolls

The second project was creating sturdy shelves for the supermarket. By now they were pros at using the tools and hardware. With intensity and proficiency, they worked together to secure the shelves to the boxes. One climbed inside to install the washer, and tighten the nut. Another worked from the outside, holding the bolt in place to allow it to be tightened.

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Meanwhile, the girls developed their own use for the tools and their skills. I loved all they thought of doing.

As they played with the hardware, they discovered many interesting configurations outside the normal purview of nuts and bolts. One presented me with this:

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Me: “Thanks! What is it? How do I use it?”

Student “Well, it could be jewelry … (significant thought) … or it could just be a fun              rolling toy!”

Me: “Indeed it could! I love it.”

Finally as they progressed even further in their comfort with the tools and hardware — and their belief in themselves as capable of doing anything necessary with them —  they enlarged their scope of projects. Seeing me unboxing two new sensory tables, one of my girls noticed the bolts, nuts and washers.

Student: “What’s that, Miss James?”

Me: “New sensory tables.”

Student: “What are you doing with them?”

Me: “I’m going to put them together.”

Student: “I can help!”

I love that she declared her ability to help. She didn’t ask! She knew I would accept help, so she just jumped in as my furniture building colleague! It was awesome!

I am particularly fond of this photograph as it captures the truth of the moment. The tip of the sneaker in the left hand corner is mine. I like that it indicates my presence, but the hands holding the tools are the hands of a 6 year old girl! That is one empowered girl!!!

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“Rock on with your fantabulous self, my girl. Rock on!”

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Kindergarten Creativity Does Not Disappoint!

Wow.

My girls, the process, and me — we did not disappoint. Not one single bit! Look at the creative art products they made. Creative. Beautiful. Striking. Brave.

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They followed the rules, considered the suggestions, and bravely embraced their own ability to make good creative and artistic decisions. Although they all used the same materials, rules, and suggestions, their creative and artistic choices made each work unique.

It was an amazing experience for me! I worked hard to:

  • be cognizant of my words — and their power to teach and empower.
  • breathe and allow the girls to make their own decisions.
  • trust the decisions my young artists made — even if they were different than the ones I would make.

It was hard work! Some of the girls were a bit afraid to really jump in. One said she wasn’t going to do the watercolor. I said “Oh yeah, you are. It’s part of the process. Trust yourself.” She looked at me with big eyes, and didn’t respond. A few moments later she asked if she could get a drink. I chuckled to myself, fairly certain she was trying to escape. I replied, “Sure, you can get a drink. But come right back so you can start painting. Don’t run away from me!” She chuckled and said, “Ok.”

She came back quickly, and with incredible braveness, painted like a pro.

I am so impressed with all of us. I worked to create the environment that would support creativity, critical thinking, joy, trust and bravery. And my young artists … well, they were fantabulous.

I made sure to acknowledge their bravery, and the many times they used a technique that inspired me.

My heart, and mind, are full!

Just Draw

Jojo — a friend and colleague — greeted me at the door of my classroom, “You have to come to my car. I have something for you.” She pulled a Strand bag out of the trunk of her car and handed it to me. “I was at the Strand, and realized you had to read this book. So I bought it for you.”

The book is Living Color by Natalie Goldberg.  I began reading it as soon as I got home. I’ve only read the introduction, but wow, I have to agree with Jojo. I do have to read this book!

This is from the introduction:

“But let’s get back to the feeling that you can’t draw. Don’t pay attention to your feeling. It’s giving you the wrong information. … And you’ve probably heard the rule: no erasing, no tearing up the paper. Accept the way it comes out. If you practice this acceptance, more will come out. Space and freedom will open up.  You won’t edit and crimp yourself before you begin to explore.” (Goldberg, N. (2014) Book. NY: STC Craft.)

I love that!

I have to read this passage to my kindergartners!

Yes, I know everyone says all kindergartners believe they’re artists. It’s not true. They don’t all believe that. Some do, but lots of them are really not sure they’re artists, at least not very good artists. They fret, and erase, and compare themselves with others they believe are better artists.

I wonder if I can read this to them on the first day?!?! *big smile*

No, I won’t do that.

I’ll wait — at least a day.  *wink*

Trust me, I am going to read this to them — sooner rather than later. But first I’ll let Natalie’s words inform me about my drawing, my understanding of art, and my sense of myself as an artist.

I just bought an art journal on my last trip to the art store. I didn’t have a plan for it, I just liked it, so I bought it. (I should tell you, I don’t think you can have too many art journals!)

Here it is with some of my favorite things — river rocks, and an awesome pencil and marker! It’s good to have things you love beside you as you begin to explore.

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I’m excited, and just the slightest bit daunted, to begin my exploration of drawing without erasing or tearing out the page. I’ll have to keep track of my emotions and thoughts as I draw. They will be powerful to share with my students — perhaps even more powerful than my drawings.

It’s a plan! Wish me luck.

 

Beauty

There were so many beautiful things to see at the museum. Spectacular paintings, sculpture, metal work.

This was the most beautiful.

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No, not the statue, or the paintings, or the stunning gallery — the woman and child huddled together.

They entered the gallery with quiet interest. The woman carried a folded stool which she casually opened out of the way of any traffic. I thought perhaps it was for her. I was wrong.

The girl scanned the gallery with a bit of child-like enthusiasm — notebook and pencil clutched in her hand. They whispered to one another. The woman moved the stool slightly, and the girl took a seat, opened her notebook, and began to sketch.

Their faces gazed up and down — contemplating the artwork of the gallery artists, and creating new work in the notebook.

The woman was always present — sometimes whispering, sometimes watching, sometimes gazing at something in the distance. The girl worked — her face buried in the notebook — for as long as I remained in the gallery.

For me, the beauty in that relationship far outweighed the beauty of any piece of art. I am not sure I can adequately explain why. But, I will try.

The girl was young and completely captivated by the art in the gallery and on her page. I don’t know if she was recording what she saw, or being inspired to make her own creation. It doesn’t matter so much to me. It was her joy, her passion, and her intentness that drew me.

And then the woman. She served as such a beautiful counterpart to the young artist. Everything she did appeared to encourage, empower and support the girl and her creative endeavors.

I hope to always be a beautiful counterpart to others. Might we all be!

 

 

 

Creating and Curating Their Own Creativity

We frequently visit our school art gallery. We go armed with sketch books and pencils — ready to sketch anything we can see from within the gallery. Sometimes this is art, sometimes each other, and sometimes things we notice through the windows.

Most days our conversation goes like this:

Them: “Miss James, can we take off our shoes?”

Me: “You may — as long as you understand if we have a fire drill you are going outside without your shoes.”

They always agree, and I always cross my fingers that we don’t have a fire drill! Typically, once their shoes are off, they stow them under a shelf in the gallery and happily get to work sketching.

On this particular visit, the removal of their socks and shoes fueled their imagination and provided a unique medium for their creativity.

As I walked about the gallery. I came upon this …

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Returning a few moments later, I found this …

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And, finally, a bit later, this …

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I love their creativity, collaboration and inclusion. Did you notice the number of shoes and socks increased in each photo? Each time someone asked to join, the original artists expanded their work to include their friends.

In the last photo, they are working together to collect the signatures of all the artists who contributed to their “double-flower art.”

I love that the freedom I gave them — to take off their shoes and wander the gallery in bare feet  — resulted in such beautiful, examples of their powerful and joy-filled agency and creativity! I never cease to be amazed how such simple things — though profound when you think about it — as time, space, freedom, trust, resources (bare feet, socks and shoes, pencils and sketch books) and agency, allow these young creatives to do their thing.

They are fantabulous.

 

Student Voice

This is always one of my favorite Kindergarten collaborative art pieces.

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I create some sort of stencil and we all (students, teachers, PS Director, Admin. Assistant, and Head of School)  use our hands and fingers to fill the stencil and create the piece of art.  This year I chose a flower with hearts inside.

I cropped the photo so the children’s names are not posted on the blog. The canvas is actually rectangular. The top has the year and the bottom has all the participant names.

Every other time I wrote our class rules on the canvas, and used the hand and fingerprints as a way to “sign” our promises to each other. “I will work hard. I will play fair. I will be kind.” They are super important things I want my students to remember and live.

But this time I didn’t do that! I happened to do yoga with them the day I finished the canvas. We did a relaxing yoga, finishing lying down, hands touching, saying our affirmations.

We are safe. We are sound. We are well. We are whole.

We are lucky. We are brave. We are joyful. We are fantabulous.

We are great. We are kind. We are smart. We are not the same.

We are strong. We are awesome. We are good. We are nice. 

We are joy. We make friends. We are relaxed. We like each other. 

Lovely right?

My students’ words were in my brain as I wrote their names on the canvas. As I considered how I might place the rules, I realized a more powerful statement for them to remember might be their own words of affirmation! Then they would be “signing” their own greatness. Saying “Yes!” to all the wonderful words of affirmation that they created during our yoga time.

 

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No need for my voice to always be the one speaking!

I hope, when they say the affirmations in yoga, or see them on the canvas, they feel empowered, strengthened, and joyed, by their own words and thoughts. It is a small thing, but I believe giving voice to their voice, highlighting it in my classroom,  will teach them that power, peace and affirmation reside within themselves as well as in others.

Inviting Kindergartners Into My Process and Musing

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My hands will soon be covered in paint –  like hand in this photo. YAY! I cannot wait!

It is super important for me, as a person, and as an educator, to: get inspired, try new techniques, play, and make things. The whole process – anticipating, enjoying, searching, looking, researching, talking, trying, learning, failing, fretting and succeeding – teaches and touches me as a person and an educator.

The preparation is a time of excitement, joy and anticipation!

I relish the trip to the art store! Paper, paint, stencils, cutting tools, canvases, paint brushes invite me to explore, imagine and buy. I usually end up in line with much more than my original shopping list. If I’m lucky, my cashier is an artist. We kibitz over my choices, and share our passion and ideas. On my last visit, I discovered there is 300 pound watercolor paper! 300 lbs! The clerk said it is “Delicious!” (You do know I will soon be purchasing some, don’t you?)

I love scouring bookstores for art books or magazines. It’s a treasure hunt. If I’m lucky enough to find one or two that inspire me, I’m a happy girl! Just thinking about being creative makes me happy. It doesn’t bring me as much joy as actually creating, but it is pretty awesome.

And, of course, after all the prep, I love the doing! Surrounded by supplies. In the zone. Hands covered with paint. Mind buzzing. Spirit soaring.

But, occasionally, I notice less than positive emotions. Sometimes there is a vague sense of angst. Usually it’s when I’m faced with a technique that is new, outside my wheelhouse, or that doesn’t easily mesh with my usual sensibilities. It’s always somewhat surprising to notice the less than positive emotions. I love being creative and artistic, and I’m pretty talented. And yet, I still sometimes feel apprehension, the worry of not being good enough, or the fear of messing it up.

As I notice all my experiences, thoughts and feelings, my mind turn to my students. I want them to experience it all. The positive and the less than positive emotions. I want them to struggle, to think, to fail, to learn, to succeed. I even want them to experience the angst, and the truth that angst can be overcome.

Wondering how I might do that, I am considering these questions:

  • How might we facilitate anticipation, discovery and joy?
  • How might we participate in the excitement of the treasure hunt for ideas and/or supplies?
  • How might we provide inspiration?
  • How might we find the time to allow ourselves to savor the process?
  • How might we structure our time together, to enable more conversation, as artists, regarding our passion, our work and/or our materials?
  • How might we give each other the freedom to adapt a particular technique or project to better fit our own sensibilities?
  • How might we be more aware of thoughts/feelings of angst and fear?
  • How might we better support each other in angst and fear?
  • How might we continue to encourage belief/knowledge of ourselves as capable, awesome artists?

I’m not sure, but I’m wondering ….

 

Note:

My first draft of this blog post had a list of “How might I …?” questions. As I re-read my post, the I was in glaring opposition to the we of creative teams.  Yes, I am the teacher, so, yes, much is up to me. But, we are a creative team – my kindergartners, my colleagues, and I – and it is better that I ask “How might we …?” 

My students teach me, inspire me, problem solve with me, and often see things from an insightful prospective much different than mine. Inviting them into my musing will be beneficial for us all!

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Hiking Art – Part 2 – Using the Wind

14114866_1464197210263831_6637948970428154399_oOur final hiking day in NY included a jaunt into the Ausable River across from Copperas Pond, and then a rather lovely hike to Cobble Lookout. I found a nice seat – lightly shaded, good view – and broke out the paints and paper. Much like other days, the wind was gloriously present.

I’d done art with my Kindergarteners were we supplied the breath to move the paint around the page. Inspired by that, I decided to see if I could let the rushing wind move my paint.

Much like the leaf painting, it was more difficult than I imagined. The wind was gusting at times, but seemed unable to combat the inertia in the domes of watercolor that sat on my page. I was surprised!

I tried more water in the paint, but the small domes still seemed impervious to the wind. Very interesting!

I thought it was a combination of inertia, and the small surface area of the paint. Even though the wind seemed very powerful on my skin, it didn’t push strongly on the drops of water and paint.

So, I stopped trying to control how the wind impacted the paint and paper. I did my best to give the wind full rein. I placed the watery paint onto the page, and lifted the page into the wind. Thankfully, my grasp was firm, because the wind whipped the page about like a kite! The wind won the inertia war (if that is what it truly was) and the paint moved about the page – small bits splashing onto my hands and legs.

I quickly ran out of water in my brush reservoir – as clearly I was using the brush in a much different way than anticipated! I filled it with water from my water bottle, but ended up spilling more than I got in the pen. Providentially, the water fell into a perfectly formed indentation on the rock where I sat. A natural water holder! I was able to wash my brush, and get enough water to make the paint wet and moveable.

Using that indentation in the rock really added to my experience.

  • It made me feel more immersed in, and connected to, nature.
  • It opened my eyes and mind to the possibilities that surround me – sometimes within reach – that may go unnoticed.
  • It encouraged me to embrace “what is.” There was some very fine gravel at the bottom of the indentation which transferred to my paper. The first time it happened, I gasped! Then I remembered something I had read, or heard, about Jackson Pollock. Bits of things sometimes ended up as parts of his work. That made me chuckle and helped me breathe as I thought “Oh! No worries! It’s just like Jackson Pollock!”

After letting the wind do quite a bit of work. I sat with the piece and watched it as it dried. I looked out at the view and noticed the grey rock, the green trees and the blue sky. I decided to fill in the unpainted areas with grey, green and blue – in that order – as I saw them sitting there.

When I got home I set about finishing this piece. I wanted to add some sort of detail, and words. I had been thinking of using parts of a John Muir quote that had been in my mind for days.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir)

I loved how much the painting reminded me of a map, or the view you might see from the summit of a mountain. I hesitated about adding the words, fearing I might wreck the work I had already done.

But, I decided they had to be added! I love that quote. It blesses me each time I recall it when I am out in nature. It increases my breath and my ease. Plus the wind’s freshness had actually created the painting! How could I not acknowledge it?

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” Climb mountains … peace flows … like sunshine …winds blow freshness and storms energy … cares drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir, as per me)

 

 

Hiking Art

I bought a travel watercolor set to have with me in my pack on my hikes this week. It’s a nice Sakura Pocket Field Sketch Box. I got it in an awesome little bookstore on the main drag of Lake Placid that has an amazingly nice art section! It was an impulse buy on a rainy day walk into town.

I’m not a trained painter so I looked for creative ways to translate the nature and inspiration I experienced on our hikes, using  watercolors.

We did a short hike out to Moose Pond. It’s a beautiful spot to sit, breathe, pray, eat, and relax. The water inspired me that day. I thought about wetting the entire page with pond water, but wasn’t sure what I would do next. So, I did nothing! I sat, looked, and just experienced the place. I noticed irises growing between the cracks in a rock on the water’s edge. That sparked an idea! If I used one of the leaves to put the pond water on the page, I might be able to mirror the feeling of the water – movement, sunlight, colors, and flow.

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Baxter Mountain was our next hike. The wind at the top was sensational. It was my inspiration that day. But, how to show it?

The sound and force of the wind is hard to miss. It almost constantly moves the leaves and  actually changes the way tree branches grow. I love the sound and force of the wind, and the shaking of the leaves was a visual cue, so I knew I wanted to capture that … somehow.

It’s remarkable how awe inspiring, and moving (pun intended lol) the wind is to me. I absolutely love it. So, instead of of painting, I found several spots to sit, do yoga, eat, pray, and just let the wind buffet me. I collected a few leaves before we hit the trail off the summit, stuffing them in my pack to use when I got home.

Here’s my first leaf inspired piece.

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It took form as I worked. I wasn’t happy with it at first. But, I ignored my displeasure with the product, and kept going, enjoying the process. As I did, ideas came to me. I remembered a bubble art project I did with my Kindergarteners, and let that direct me.

I really like the abstract nature of the finished piece. And, I love the accessibilty and transferability of the method! I’m contemplating how to incorporate it into my class this year. It has nice potential as an art-science integration.

Rain has interrupted my hikes but not my art. Today I worked on getting watercolor paint to adhere to the leaves I gathered yesterday. My plan was to make leaf prints.

This is much harder than it seems. Close your eyes and imagine rain hitting the leaves. What does it do? Yup, it beads up! So guess what the watercolor paint does … beads up! Ugh! But, with a bit of stubborn persistence – wearing down the leaf it seemed, and getting the paint to the right consistency – it worked. The paint stuck to the water resistant leaf!

I am super happy with the result. The colors remind me of the leaves, sky and sun. The one in the middle is that one brilliantly colored red leaf we always come upon on our hikes. The black is the large rocks that encourage thousands of nature-filled step ups and downs on our hikes, as well as the small stones that sometime weigh down my pack. Next time I may put the black around the entire edge. We’ll see. It’s a process, and I’m loving it!

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Speaking of process, clearly my process involves mess! It never feels like mess while I’m working. It feels like (and is) immersion, beauty, intentness and art!

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But, yeah, my process is messy, and I’m good with that!

 

 

 

 

Expected, and Unexpected, Process and Product

“Would you come up with something creative we can do together at our next ELA meeting?” That simple question was the beginning of what would become, for me, a fabulous process and product!

It was a crazy time of year. We were all a bit stressed, with tons to do. “Perfect!” I thought. “Let’s take all that angst and struggle, and use it to make something beautiful!”

Our tools:

  1. sharpie markers (preferably black)
  2. old gift cards or credit cards
  3. acrylic paint
  4. canvas panel
  5. old magazines
  6. white glue
  7. bravery
  8. boldness
  9. openness
  10. joy

Our process:

  1. Think of all the things that are making us crazy, or cranky or stressed. As the end of the year approaches, that list can become very long. I encouraged myself, and my colleagues, to think of things from all areas of our lives.
  2. Write them down, in permanent, bold, black ink, all over the canvas. Be free! Write them one on top of the other. Make lists. Write big. Write small. Print. Write in cursive. Cross them out. Make them bold. Add lots of exclamation points. Curse if you like. LOL!
  3. Remember this is for you, no one else. No one gets to check it before you add the next step. No one sees it unless you choose to share. Be bold. Be brave. Be honest.
  4. When done, put the cap on the pen, and set it aside. Look at the canvas. Good? Anything else you want to write? Anything else you want to add? If so, pick up that pen again, and add it. If not, move on to number 5.
  5. Choose some colors. I like to be free, but mindful, in my color choices. Some colors become mud when blended. Sometimes muddy is good, but other times, not so much, hence the mindful part.
  6. Put  small dabs of the paints on a paper plate or tray.
  7. Using one of those old cards as a palette knife, pick up some of the paint and get it on the canvas. The card allows for a thick or thin paint application. Thick application can add texture or the possibility to completely obscure your words. Thin application allows for more layering of colors, and causes the texture of the canvas and the written word to be more prominent.
  8. Be free with the paint application. Don’t fret about mixing colors. Use only one card for the entire work. If you have too much paint on it, or want another color free from any other, grab a paper towel and wipe off the card. Experiment with thick or thin. (I like a thin application so the handwriting can be seen, but when it is your art, use your own preferences.)
  9. Flip through the magazines to find words or images that are the opposite of the words you wrote on the canvas. Find ones that inspire you. Search for beauty, peace, breath, love, laughter, or whatever else makes you say, “Oh, this is good!”
  10. Tear them out of the magazine! Experiment with different angles, with how much space you leave around the words, and with tearing in different directions. You might be surprised with all the variations you can get.  (If you must, lol, you can cut them out. But, if you can live with the possibility of ripping something wanted, and the less than perfect edges of the tear, then please, tear them. I promise, the results can be beautiful, and meaningful.)
  11. Once your canvas has dried, place these images and words on the canvas. Explore varying layouts. When you find one you like, use the glue to make it permanent. Be aware, if you haven’t cleaned your hands you may end up with some unexpected color. Don’t worry if that happens, there is one more step!
  12. When the glue has dried, add one more layer. Find or make a stencil and use it. Add color with your fingers. Grab a stamp and see what you can do with it.

Here is my final product.

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Or so I thought!

This is my product, and I love it, but it turns out it was not my final product. There was more. There was the unexpected process and product, and it was fantabulous!

As I drove home, my thoughts returned to the meeting, my colleagues, our process, and our product.  So many thoughts, observations and wondering. And then, my thoughts turned to my product.

“I wonder if I can read what I wrote? Maybe if I look really closely?”

There was definitely part of me that wanted to read them again. Hold on to them. Feel them again. Experience their power. Another part of me speculated it might have been better to have completely concealed my words under a think coat of paint. I resisted any urge to pull over and examine my canvas, lol, and reminded myself that the point of the process – outside of pure creativity and joy – was to let things go!

When I got home I pulled my canvas out of my bag, and spent some time with it.

I liked it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was interesting. It wasn’t flawless, but it was beautiful. And those imperfections and flaws? They added to its interest.

I couldn’t read my words, but I could see my writing, and I loved that! The writing added depth and texture to the work.

Then I had an aha moment … my final product (at least for now).

The piece was just like my life. Multi-layered. Not perfect, but pretty fabulous. And those things that make me anxious, stressed or cranky? Endured, survived, embraced, laughed about, cranked about, talked about, prayed about, and released – even if they remain in some fashion – they make me better, more interesting, more awesome, more me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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