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.

 

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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!

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!

 

 

Thomas Edison and Kindergartners

They are more alike than you might think at first glance!

According to the Edison Innovation Foundation, Thomas Edison once said:

“I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Given the chance, any kindergartener would say that! Ok, perhaps they wouldn’t say “what the world needs” but they surely would say “what I need” or “what my friends need” or “what my dog needs.” They are natural problem-finders, and problem-solvers!

Like Edison, they are constantly observing, investigating, wondering, and asking questions. This, coupled with their imagination, and a rather intense desire to have things that do not yet exist, often leads them to a plethora of problem-finding. This car I just made is too long. We need a zip-line on the playground. Why don’t we have a container that holds all that stuff?

They often also share Edison’s intense confidence, boundless energy, imagination, and love of tinkering. Given the opportunity, time, resources, and a little encouragement, they create many prototypes as they engage in focused and determined problem-solving.

One of my kindergarteners recently discovered a problem she deemed worthy of her thought, time and energy. “How can you open a card without touching it?” Hmmmm …

card collage

“Add some handles!”

We might be inclined to relegate this to the “ah, isn’t that cute” category. While it is cute, it is so much more! It is sophisticated problem-finding and problem-solving. This student took her present knowledge – about cards, sticks, handles, tape, hands – and thought about it in a new way. She used that knowledge to envision something as yet non-existent – a card you can open without touching it. She then took the materials available to her, and used them in novel ways to solve her problem. She created a card with handles. And, it can even be place in an envelope.

Finding problems, thinking divergently as well as convergently, tinkering, testing, and finally, problem-solving are important skills and habits. My fingers are crossed that my students will continue in this way, and one day say, with Thomas Edison “We found out what the world needed, and we went ahead and invented it!”

Resources:

Edison Innovation Foundation http://www.thomasedison.org/