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.

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School can be amazing!

I’m reading Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros aka the Principal of Change. I resisted buying it and reading it for quite some time now because, whew, I am one busy girl. But, then I discovered the #IMMOOC – an Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course!

I was hooked!! Yes, I know, you are wondering, “Hmmm, Molly, perhaps I’m mistaken, but didn’t you just say you didn’t have time to READ the book? Isn’t a MOOC more work than just reading? Have you, by chance, lost your mind?”

What a great question! I do feel in some ways, that I have fallen over the edge into some sort of madness, lol. But, I know that feeling is not exactly accurate. My decision feels a bit mad because it will mean I get less sleep, more struggle, and more work.

However, feelings aren’t always truth. In reality the decision to be part of #IMMOOC is actually quite sane and wonderful. I get to be part of, and interact with, a huge network of people invested in their own personal learning, and passionate about impacting education (and the world) for the better!  How could anyone, much less me, pass that up?!?!!!!

So, here I am, in the midst of the #IMMOOC, unsure of where exactly we are supposed to be in the book and our blogging, but loving where I am! I’ve read some of the book, reflected, engaged in the twitter chat (And might I just say, the #IMMOOC twitter chat people had incredible energy and passion. It started at 9pm my time. By 9:40 my eyes were bleary and my head was exploding. I took the gems I had read so far, reveled in the excitement for a moment longer, toyed with the idea of staying, but decided discretion is the better part of valor, and quietly left the chat for some much needed sleep.) and now have begun blogging about the Innovator’s Mindset. So, with that said, let me get to it.

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My first “You go, man!” came in the publishers forward, when I read “School can be amazing.” Before I continue, I’d like to suggest an edit. I think it should read, “School can be amazing!” Or, even, “School can be AMAZING!”

All too often I hear people comment — in support of school NOT being amazing — “It is school after all.” Eee gads, people. School can, and should be, amazing! If it isn’t, we are doing something wrong. Learning is awesome. Exploration is amazing. Discovery is exciting. How do we go from that to “It is school after all?”

I heard Ken Robinson speak at the NAIS conference on Friday. (Magnificent as always!) He mentioned a horrifying statistic. He said “According to the World Health Organization, unipolar depressive disorders were ranked as the third leading cause of the global burden of disease in 2004 and will move into the first place by 2030.” I thought of that as I read the introduction to George’s book. George says:

“Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s kids. … our responsibility isn’t solely to teach memorization or the mechanics of a task but to spark curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own.  To wonder. To explore. To become leaders.” (Innovator’s Mindset p. 4)

I would add to that list, if I may be so bold:

To struggle. To fail – and  through the failure, to learn and thrive. To consider possibilities. To find new answers and new questions. To know the joy of learning. To inspire, challenge, and teach each other, and us.

I believe in the profound work we do as educators, and the (to quote my El Sistema and Reggio friends) transformative power of education. It is not, in my humble opinion, that schools can be amazing. It is that schools should, and must be, amazing.

We have the power to positively impact the future of our youth and our world. The transformative power of education, in the hands of innovative educators who believe in the incredible beauty, goodness, power, and ability of all our students, can change the future, and cause the WHO to have to reassess and change their prediction for 2030.

A girl can hope!

 

 

 

Engaging in the Hard, Fabulous Work of Creativity

My bathroom has two sliding doors. I designed the bathroom with these doors as canvases for some sort of artwork. Finally, one side of one of the doors is finished!!! Well, to be specific, the artwork is finished,but the door remains perched on two saw horses in my bedroom/studio, waiting for a few coats of polyurethane before it is hung again on its slider.

.door on saw horses

It is remarkable how much thought, research, doodling, re-thinking, kibitizing, talking, looking, and physical work, are involved in being creative! I love the process, but for some reason, this project really encouraged me to notice the time, effort, thought and work of creativity.

My process:

  1. I spent days thinking about the project. I imagined what I wanted. I thought about how I might achieve what I wanted. I changed my mind numerous times. I decided I wanted to — somehow — stay true to the architectural design of my arts and craft bungalow home.
  2. This sent me on a long path of research – looking up arts and craft fonts, flipping through a plethora of arts and craft design and art books, and googling various people and pieces I was particularly drawn towards.
  3. I found two fonts, and many designs I liked. Now I had to see if I could actually use them. Could I learn how to draw them and make them my own?
  4. Next came the doodling and sketching. Funny as it may sound, I experience joy when I find and use a pencil that feels good in my hand, moves smoothly across the paper, makes great marks and erases easily. And speaking of erasing, the number of iterations I went through in order to come up with the final design, was amazing! I wish I hadn’t thrown away all my sketches. It would be good for my students to see and know that the work that looks so easy, and causes them to say, “Wow, you are so good at that, Miss James!”  is actually informed and supported by many other tries! I’ll be sure to keep the next batch.
  5. My final design is the result of being open to possibilities wherever I found them, and mashing together ideas from many different arenas – arts and craft designs, zen-tangling sensibilities, yoga, mandalas, nature, botany, math, color theory, and I’m sure many more that I’m currently forgetting!

door collage

But that wasn’t the end! The work, thinking, experimenting, ideating and iterating continued.

  1. Now I had to take my idea  – drawn on an 8.5 x 11 piece of paper – and transpose it into something beautiful on the actual door. Rulers, yardsticks, lovely pencils and erasers, compasses, and scratch pieces of paper were purposefully strewn across the door. I measured, sketched, thought, looked, breathed …. and did it all again for some time. It was fabulous! Finally the design was sketched onto the door.
  2. Next was the wood-burning stage which would create the dark lines of the design on my door. I should mention that this stage was also preceded by many hours of practice. The burner comes with many different tips. I experimented with each one to see what type of line it created, which heat worked best for it, and how easily I could manipulate it to create the lines I wanted. I experimented on various types of wood – they all seem to burn differently – and then explored the different areas of the clear pine I was using. The grain caused different burning rates and necessitated changes in speed and heat.
  3. Finally, time for color! I loved the look of the design burned into the wood. I’m sure it would have been fine to polyurethane it in its natural form, but I had created it with color in my mind and knew it would seem unfinished if I left it uncolored. So, once again, I risked “wrecking it” in order to make it what I knew it could be.
    1. I laid the colors out on the design – playing with different combinations.
    2. I painted the colors onto a similar piece of wood. I was amazed by the difference in the colors out of the paint tube versus on the tube.
    3. I thought, looked and waited. Mostly the waiting was because I was working during the day and coaching in the evenings, leaving me little time to create. But, that waiting was important, because I had time to look, and look some more, and allow my brain to play with the colors.
    4. I couldn’t decide on all the color combinations so I started with one color combination – the leaves – and as I painted, the other colors combinations coalesced for me.

The color and painting process was fascinating! I tried to figure out the entire color scheme, but failed time and time again. When I stopped trying and began painting, I – for lack of a better phrase – began to see better. It was as though the process of immersing myself in the medium – the paint and the painting – increased my clarity.

I can’t explain it — many ways it was magical! As I painted the leaves, with the tubes of paint lying about me, and I would notice myself thinking “Oh! That might work.” I’d continue painting, and notice another thought “Hmm, perhaps that is too much. I think this might be better.”

Often I’d run my ideas past my brother (another creative, learned soul) for clarification and validation. I wouldn’t always use his ideas, but somehow his ideas fed mine and helped them become more “perfect.”

door closeup

Each step in the process involved risk, flow, joy, time and triumph. It was all fabulous, but the time was really important. Time to think, to do, to wonder, to mess up, to re-think, and to experience the process, the product, the materials. I would often just stand at my work – leaning on the door, examining it with my eyes. Other times, I would run my palm over the work. The tactile experience of touching my work in its various stages of completeness was incredibly important, necessary and satisfying.

It makes me think about school and my students. How can I help them have this experience of creativity — in all its angst, sweat and splendor? How can I give them the time and opportunity to experience — in their own creative work and thought — what I experienced in mine?

I’m not completely sure, but rest assured I’ll be thinking about it, and letting the question, and any possible answers, inform my teaching practice!

 

 

Bubbles Art, Science, Math and Language Arts!

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers, and adults. ~Loris Malaguzzi, Hundred Languages of Children

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Bubbles are fascinating and afforded us several challenging and fun ways to explore and experience science, art, math, and language arts. There was a plethora of things to notice, marvel at, wonder about, investigate and enjoy!

… The variety of sizes. The delicate and yet strong nature of soap film walls. The colors and reflections that are captured in the bubbles. The many things that can be used as a bubble wand. Do heart-shaped wands make heart-shaped bubbles? The ways we feel when we blow bubbles. Should we blow slowly or quickly? Does that make a difference? Can we fill the room with bubbles if we use a window fan? The joy and sorrow felt as bubbles pop. The way the wind takes the bubbles as they leave the wand. The way the bubble solution feels, and sometimes tastes, as the bubbles pop close to our lips. Can we create bubbles from things other than store-bought bubble solution? How could we create bubbles in art? What colors are bubbles? Which words best describe bubbles and our experience? 

Prior to starting I told the girls we would be scientists, authors, readers and artists, and that the process would take us several days. We experienced bubbles through our eyes, our ears, our brains and our bodies!

  • We did several read alouds.
  • I blew bubbles and the girls experienced them only with their eyes. What did the bubbles look like? How did they move?
  • They blew bubbles. Again, as scientists they tried to observe things about the bubbles, the process and each other.
  • We all blew bubbles, and just experienced the joy of bubbles – much laughing, movement and even some screaming!
  • We created bubble wands using various materials: pipe cleaners, plastic plant mesh, plastic water bottles, straws and string. We tested and observed each – Was it easy to make bubbles with them? Did they make big bubbles? Small bubbles? What shape were the bubbles? Did the bubbles mirror the shape of the wand?
  • After each experience the girls shared words and feelings, which I scribed onto a large piece of chart paper.
  • We ended up with three lists of words. We observed the lists: How many are in each? Which list has the most words? Which the fewest? Why? (We noticed that the words increased as we engaged more fully in each experience and grew in comfort with the process.) We used math strategies to add the lists together and come up with the grand total. We marveled at our abilities to describe our experiences. We used these lists to create our list poems.

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I brainstormed many ways to create a frame for the list poems and finally decided (for ease and aesthetic reasons) to cut a frame to place over the girls paper as they stamped. The frame allowed them to stamp freely while maintaining a clear border for their list poem. I held the frame in place, as the girls used the cardboard tubes and ink pads to create their bubbles.

I was amazed and impressed with the thoughtfulness with which they approached their work. Each girl had her own particular process, but each was purposeful in her choice of tubes (various diameters) and placement of bubbles. My only instructions were to be sure to press straight down so as to get a good print (and not to fret if it was less than perfect, as that added to the uniqueness of each piece) to consider overlapping the bubbles at least a bit, and to not be afraid to overlap the frame.

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I brought in some artist quality pencils to share with the girls. I talked about why I liked the pencils – great colors, nice feel in my hand, beautiful movement across the paper – and why I chose to share them with the girls – they are artists too and I thought they would enjoy using them. I asked them to take care of the pencils as they were special to me. The girls were fantastic with the pencils! They carefully chose the colors, replaced them in rainbow order, only sharpened them as much as necessary, shared them with each other, and really seemed to empowered by using them. (We ended up using them in free choice as well as other projects.)

After the ink dried, the girls worked diligently to fill in each full shape (not the partial bubbles around the edges). We discovered that the ink, though dry, sometimes transferred around the paper, so we used a paper towel to minimize movement. Thankfully any transferred ink erased easily.

bubble words

Once finished with their art piece, the girls moved on to their list poems. The goal was to create a list poem and encircle the bubbles with the poem. (We read, observed and discussed poems from Falling Down the Page by Georgia Heard prior to this project, and emulated the freedom Georgia showed in placing words on the page.) Each girl began by choosing 12 words from the class lists and writing them in the frame of her paper. If needed, she chose more words.

When everyone was finished – and it took some girls many days to do so – we shared our poems and art pieces with each other. Finally, we displayed them on the hall bulletin board, with black and white photos of each of us blowing bubbles as the border.

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