Dr. Seuss Creative Fun

Wacky Wednesday, by Dr. Seuss, inspired our creative fun today.  — Shoes on the wall, on the ceiling and under the bed. Worms chasing birds. Hoses, while split, still watering the lawn. — My students giggled, and eagerly shared each wacky thing they noticed.

They didn’t want to stop, but I told them “We must! I want you to have plenty of time to have your own wacky Wednesday fun!”

They were not immediately convinced. But, I assured them we would keep the book in our library, and they could read it as much as they wanted. Finally, they relented and moved to the chairs I had prepared.

I reminded them of our time together in yoga, when I invite them to take off their shoes and socks. “Now,” I said, “I’m not going to invite you to take off your shoes and socks. I’m going to tell you to take them off. We cannot do our wacky Wednesday creative fun unless you take them off.” Giggles and talking increased as they hurried to their cubbies and back again — with feet bared!

Paper was taped to the floor in front of each chair. Plastic egg cartons filled with paint, rested on paper towels. I encouraged them to guess what we might be doing.

“We’re going to paint with our feet!” … “Yes,” I said, “but how?”

“We’ll stick our feet in the paint!” … “Good guess, but no. We’re actually going to use a paint brush.”

“We’ll paint our feet and put them on the paper!” …”OH! Great idea, but no.”

“We’ll paint our toe nails!” … “That would be fun, but not today.”

They continued guessing, each building on the next. They were doing a lovely job thinking divergently. They showed some fluency, flexibility, and elaboration – each idea building upon the ones that came before, informed by my responses.

Finally, nearly jumping out of her chair, R. said “I know! We’re going to hold the paintbrush in our toes!!!!!” …. “YES!”

Laughter and conversation erupted in the room – making it nearly impossible for me to speak and be heard. I encouraged their enthusiasm, but asked them to do try to stay quiet until we began. They contained themselves, as best as they could, and after some brief instruction and encouragement, they began.

Some jumped in with both feet — pun-intended, lol — and used their toes to grip their pencil, and write their name.

feet writing

When M. finished writing she said, “That was hard. And it doesn’t look very good. It’s messy.” … “No way!” I replied. “That’s fantastic! You did that with your toes! How awesome is that?”

Was it as good as she could do with her fingers? No. But did that matter? Was that the right criterion to use to evaluate it? No! Her process and product  were remarkable. She gripped the pencil with her toes. Figured out how to create each letter in her name, and wrote them in a rather straight line! Perhaps most importantly, she showed great initiative, courage, and grit, and I wanted to acknowledge that for her.

Everyone joined in the fun — even me. My students were enthusiastic and joy-filled painters — quite willing to try, and try again.

feet painting

I was surprised by my reaction to the experience. It was hard! Hard to hold the paintbrush. Hard to figure out how to dip it in the paint. Hard to guide it on the paper. Just hard!

I did it, but I didn’t enter into the experience like they did. I think their were multiple reasons why. Each is worthy of my thought, consideration and remembering as I continue to work with my students, and for my own growth as a creative and an educator.

Here are some of the things I noticed:

  1. My support of my students — in word and presence — is powerful.
  2. Time to practice and play with the tools and process before beginning is important.
  3. Embracing positive thoughts about ourselves as artists and learners is essential.
  4. Adopting the joy, freedom and openness of a beginner’s mind is helpful.

My students often return the favor and support me with their word and presence. Today I didn’t have the opportunity to allow them to support me. I also didn’t have the time to practice and experiment before beginning. But perhaps most interesting to me, unlike my students, I didn’t immediately embrace positive thoughts about myself or my process, and I didn’t adopt the the joy, freedom and openness of the beginner’s mind.

I can learn so much from my students. They are truly fantabulous!

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#Show your Work!

I’m doing final preparations for my National Coalition of Girls Schools 2016 Global Forum presentation, and I picked up Austin Kleon’s books – just to immerse myself in some good creative energy and thought. On page 44 I found this:

“3. SHARE SOMETHING SMALL EVERY DAY!”

Every day. EVERY day! Eee gads. Yup, that’s what I thought, Eee gads! Lol, how in God’s name can I do that, and not lose my mind? or my health? or both?

Then I read it again. Share something SMALL every day. Something SMALL!!!! 😀 Ah, I can do that. Well, lol, honestly, I don’t know if I can, but I can try. Maybe I will share something small some days …. or most days … or every  week. Who knows? But, I am embracing sharing something small today.

So, (along with my presentation) this is what I’ve been working on the past few days. (My plans are to do a smaller version of this journal with my Kindergarteners!)

Front outside cover…

2016-02-07 15.05.17

Front inside cover …

2016-02-07 15.02.59

Acrylic paint applied with an old credit card and my fingers, collaged with hand written papers and papers torn from magazines, embellished with paint marker writing.

I’m embracing the process, and the work — in its mess, and uncertainty, and “unfinishedness” — as an artistic representation for my life, my health, my journaling … sometimes messy, sometimes fantastic, sometimes beautiful, always in process! And, much like my life, I’m liking it!

(Btw, the back inside and outside cover remain blank canvases … white gesso … awaiting further time, inspiration, desire.)

Resources:

Show your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (Austin Kleon, 2014 Workman Publishing Co).

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!

 

 

Beyond the page with Georgia O’Keeffe

rose“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.” Georgia O’Keeffe

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and thoughts about flowers are impressive and thought provoking. Her thoughts suggest mindfulness and reflection.  Her paintings translate the small and easily overlooked, into something large that captures attention.

My students are always impressed with Georgia’s work. But, while they marvel at the size of her flowers, I  think they have a difficult time wrapping their minds around the changes she makes. In Georgia’s hands, flowers became larger than life – even larger than the canvas on which she painted.

I have done Georgia O’Keefe inspired art with my classes other years, and each time they struggled to use the whole page. They made lovely flowers but they made them small – in the center of the page – not covering the whole page. I encouraged and reminded, but still the flowers were smaller than Georgia’s. I loved watching them examine the flowers, but I hated the feeling of pushing them, and constantly having to say “Oh, can you make that bigger?” or “The whole page, use the whole page!” or thinking in my head “eee GADS, that’s not what I asked you to do.”

This year I tried a new method. I wish I could remember the lesson or book that contained the spark which led to this lesson, because I would love to thank them, and give you a great resource, but alas, I cannot. So, you will have to be satisfied with my lesson!

First we looked at her flowers and talked about what we noticed. One thing we noticed was that Georgia’s flowers often look like they go beyond the edge of her canvas. “Oh YES!” I excitedly exclaimed. “EXACTLY!” I told them I had never been able to figure out a way to help my students draw their flowers off the edges of the paper – until now! I told them I read about what other artists had done, and I found something I thought would work perfectly for us.

I explained that I had covered the tables with white craft paper so they would feel free to draw off the edges of the page. I told them their art piece would actually be the piece of watercolor paper I had taped to the white craft paper (I taped them underneath.) but I said they should imagine the whole white space as their canvas. “When you draw your flower, make it big. Make parts of it land on the white craft paper!”

They asked if they would draw a flower from memory. “No! I brought lots of flowers for you to look at!” I dropped many flowers on the carpet in front of them amidst “ooohs” and “aahs.”

“I want you to be like scientists. I want you to really look at the flower you choose and then create it on your paper.” I suggested they try to make their flower have a shape similar to the flower they chose, but told them they could be creative and change things up a bit. The most important things were to trust themselves as artists, really see the flower (like Georgia did) and to draw their flower big so others would see it too.

Armed with a sharpie marker, I chose my flower and began to  draw for them. I made the shapes simple – matching the flower in some ways and changing it in others. I commented that sometimes I changed shapes because it was a bit easier for me to draw, and sometimes I tried really hard to draw exactly what I saw.

They all wanted to know if we would add color. “Absolutely! But, we are going to use a new method.” I brought out a tray of sidewalk chalk, a cup of water and a paintbrush. I explained we would color with the chalk and then smudge it – just a bit – with our fingers. Then, we would use the paintbrush and water to create our a watercolor on the page. I cautioned them against too much water – “Squeeze the brush out like this before you use it. … There will still be plenty of water. Look!” I told them they might have to experiment with the amount of chalk they added and the amount of smudging they did. I showed them a few different possibilities and set them free – with my fingers crossed.

After carefully choosing a flower, and navigating how more than one might use the same flower, they uncapped their sharpies and began drawing. They were fantastic!!! All the girls made their drawings larger than the flower they observed, and all but one extended their flowers beyond the page. And, perhaps best of all, it was so easy for them!!!!

 GO collage5

They were incredibly engaged in every step of the process – choosing a flower, observing it, drawing it with the black sharpie, coloring with sidewalk chalk, smudging the chalk and turning the chalk into watercolor. I wish I could share photos of their faces with you. They were girls – 5 and 6 years old – transformed into intent, focused artists – easily mistaken for students well beyond their years.

GO collage3

As always I was impressed (and humbled) to be there for the “magic” that took place in that art class. Together, somehow, my students and I found that synergistic space where we were able to become more than … or perhaps just exactly … who we are.

….

Two nice Georgia O’Keeffee resources:

http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/about-georgia-okeeffe.html

http://www.nga.gov/kids/scoop-okeeffe.pdf