Take It to the Streets

I love the PEM. It always has at least one exhibit that inspires me. I take photographs, get ideas for art with my Kindergartners, and gather lots of creative fodder.

This time, it was a solo visit, so I contemplated all the things I might do once I got there. For sure there would be photographing, noticing, thinking, wondering, and of course visiting the gift store. As an aside, it’s funny how I always visit museum gift stores even though I continue to be disappointed by their lack of connection with the museums, and their overall — in my humble opinion — lack of creativity.

I had been playing with the “don’t look away from what you’re drawing” sketching method in the morning. And, I had recently come upon this thought.

As I work at my drawings, day after day, what seemed unattainable before, is now gradually becoming possible.

Vincent Van Gogh

My mini watercolor journal sat next to the paper with my sketching. There’s so much that intrigues me with that method, and the loose sketching and painting school of thought. The PEM would surely have something I could sketch. There’s much I want to learn about the empty page, and its relationship to what I’m sketching.

Did I have the nerve to take it to the streets? Could I silence my own inner worrier? Could I put aside anything others might think of me or my work? Could I invite my inner artist to come out and play, and actually accept the invitation? Turns out, I can. But, I get ahead of myself.

I spoke to myself. “Maybe it’ll be fun. You like fun! Be like van Gogh and work on your drawings day after day. Just like for him, new things will gradually become possible.”

And then the kicker.

“How can you ask your Kindergartners to do something you’re unwilling to do?”

As I said that, I recalled my Kindergartners and all our affirmations, as well as my unwillingness to accept their reticence or resistance to trying something new or daunting. I took a deep breath in and out, and reminded myself of our affirmations: I have a big beautiful brain. I have an awesome heart. I can do hard things. I am brave. I am kind. I am a fantabulous artist. With another deep breath, I put my mini watercolor journal and permanent art marker in my bag, and set off for the museum.

You have to take some chances in order to grow.

Arriving at the PEM, I asked one of the museum staff what was the one exhibit to see if I were only going to see one. Without hesitation they suggested I check out the fashion exhibit. Here’s an arted-up photo of my first stop.

I spent time sketching here and at another part of the exhibit. In this one, I stood to the side, out of the way of any museum traffic. For my second sketching session I sat in the seats placed in the middle of the space. Sitting in the seats felt like a big win, and it felt good! I spoke the truth to myself. What anyone else thinks really doesn’t matter, and if they have questions or anything to say, I can explain what I’m doing.

This morning I found time to add watercolor to my sketches. As I did, I experienced worry about possibly messing it up. I chuckled and reminded myself it’s hard to mess something up that already is quite messy just by virtue of what it is. I realized my real worry was how I would manage having to see something I was unhappy with each time I opened my journal. Curiosity, love of making art, and the prospect of fun and learning won me over.

I sat on my couch with a cup of tea — careful not to dip my brush into the tea instead of the rinse cup — and painted. It was fun, and I like the result.

I thought about all sorts of detail I might add. My inner worrier, and my inner artist declined. One because she didn’t want to mess it up. The other because she thought it might not go with the otherwise loose look of the piece.

As I cooked my breakfast I thought, “Hmmm. Might I mask most of the image, leaving only the one figure that had a good bit of detail in the exhibit, and add some dots and detail with splatters of paint?” I grabbed some scrap paper out of the junk draw and did a really relaxed masking, followed by some splattering of paint.

I like how the splatters add detail without clashing too much with the sketching method.

There’s a lot reflect upon as a teacher.

  • It’s not always easy to go against your inner worrier, or accept an invitation to play — even when you’d really like to do so.
  • Breathing helps.
  • Affirmations helps.
  • Van Gogh’s quote is true for much more than drawing.
  • It’s valuable to know you aren’t the only one feeling the way you are feeling.
  • It’s valuable to know that others have succeeded.
  • It’s good to have time to circle back — after you’ve had time to think — and work a bit more.
  • It’s important to have many opportunities to work and grow your art, understanding, and confidence.

I’m going to think about this — not just for art, but certainly for art. I’m excited to see what possibilities will make themselves known.

The Woods and the River

The cool air kisses our cheeks
welcoming us back 
to the beauty and joy 
of the woods and the river

We pause 
to capture photographs
of leaves suspended above the ground
by trees that didn’t hold them in life

We stop
to free a witch hazel
trapped beneath a massive birch
felled by a recent storm

We walk
deep into the woods
through pockets of coolness
and dappled areas of sunlight

At the river’s edge
I breathe the air
with every fiber of my being
and remember a Nhat Hanh mantra

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Living in the present moment
What a wonderful moment.

Smiling
I sit
and slide my unshod feet 
into the cold, rushing water of the river

I exist
in the epitome of mindfulness
body and mind together
in the woods by the river

I relish this time and space
so ordinary 
and yet 
so very extraordinary

The sights and sounds
of woods and river
flow over me
like water over the rocks

My jagged edges are smoothed
and the disquieting din of life
is drowned by the pleasantly deafening 
song of the river

Refreshed
and renewed
We walk again
amidst the trees

The moon greets us as we
emerge from the canopy of green
even now planning our return
to walk in the woods and sit by the river

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.


Painting Today

There will be painting today!

I got these beauties in the mail a few days ago, but they had to sit in quarantine before I opened them, so for all intents and purposes, I got them today!

I staged the photo as I did because it pleased me aesthetically, but also because it hints at a message. The brush is supported by hope and courage. The combination of the three make the image complete, and somehow — in my heart today — increases the possibility of my being open to the many miracles that are gifted to me each moment.

That brush is fantabulous. I cannot wait to see how much water and paint it is able to soak up, and how it moves across the page.

Yes, there will be painting today.

Perhaps on my porch, or — gasp — dare I hope, at the edge of a stream on a walk? Mask and glasses on, but heart blissfully open to the blessings that will surely come my way. And, if tears come, it will be alright. They will mingle with the watercolors bringing unexpected beauty.

Water is the Upside Down Sky

Hiking always refreshes, and challenges my watercolor practice. I love looking and gazing and wondering how I might adequately capture with watercolor, what I see with my eyes.

This year I was super curious and delighted by the sky and water. If you have a moment, give the sky and water around you more of your attention. They are amazing gifts.

Here they are in three different, yet equally beautiful scenarios. (Just looking at the photos transports me back, and makes my breath deepen and lengthen. Sigh.)

Then, and now, as I look at them, and endeavor to paint them, I realize my brother is right.

“Water is just the upside down sky!”

Wow! What an Experience!

Sometime tired, rainy days hold untold treasures! I was on vacation a couple weeks ago, deep into a tired and rainy day. Lazing about, and looking for something to do, I discovered the LPCA was offering a 3 hour watercolor class. I hoped for good things and secured my spot.

Sarah Yoeman — one of four artists featured in the LPCA The World Through Watercolor exhibit was the instructor. She is a talented watercolorist, and a superb teacher.

The workshop was filled with instruction, experimenting, playing, painting, conversation, laughter, and lots of learning. I learned about paint, paper, brushes, gravity, erasing, taking risks, value, shapes, moving paint, using water, and being in the moment. I took photos and notes. I experimented, kibitzed, taped, painted, and created watercolors I enjoy.

My brother joined me for the workshop. We spent a lot of time looking at Sarah’s art, and our own. We discussed the things we noticed. We talked about value and shape, and how she created various images.

It was a great afternoon. I left with increased skill, confidence and joy.

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When I looked at my notes that evening, I discovered I had inadvertently skipped a few pages in my journal. Eee gads. I wasn’t loving that mistake. I stared at the blank pages, wondering what to do. After a few moments, inspiration hit. Why not fill them with my reflections about the experience?!

My thoughts quickly filled those pages, and overflowed onto others. I was struck by my level of enjoyment, motivation, and ability to engage deeply with the process. It felt like I had experienced 3 hours of an optimal teaching-learning relationship.

With that thought, I excitedly thought of my paper — Managing the Classroom for Creativity. I wondered if I might find all the elements of my amended KEYS classroom management system in Sarah’s workshop. I pulled up the paper to remind myself of all 8 points in the system and compared them to my experience in the workshop.

—–

Freedom

Our goal for the workshop was to explore the world of watercolors and  let Sarah guide us in creating your own watercolor work or art.

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Even the goal offers a great deal of freedom — a watercolor work or art. Sarah shared information, made suggestions, and demonstrated technique. Then she set us free to explore and experiment.

We were free to use one sheet of paper or more. We could section the paper into multiple sections, or keep it as one. If we didn’t like our piece we could try again on the back. She suggested we stand as we paint — giving us her reasons for doing so — but she allowed us to explore and choose what worked best for us. While she demonstrated various techniques, she didn’t require us to use any one in particular.  She encouraged us to experiment, be bold, and take risks.

Positive Challenge

The ideal level of challenge is one that engages without overwhelming. Sarah helped maintain this level of challenge by affording me the freedom to choose my challenge. But, interestingly enough, I found it was her presence and interaction with me that helped me maintain the optimal level of challenge. As I became overwhelmed, she offered help in the form of a thought, a suggestion, or simple encouragement. If I took too easy a route, she encouraged boldness. And, she normalized the struggle inherent in positive challenge by freely sharing her angst with her process and product.

Supervisory Encouragement

Right off the bat, Sarah shared The Three Laws of Art:

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They cracked everyone up and helped to establish an environment free from fear and worry. The laws suggested failure was to be expected, and helped us to accept it with a modicum of grace and ease.

Although Sarah was far more accomplished than us, she interacted with us as equals. It was clear she had more experience, expertise, talent, and knowledge. It was clear she was the teacher. But, or perhaps, because that was true, treating me as a colleague, a fellow artist, helped elevate my own sense of self, and consequently my thought, process, and product!

Sarah wandered about the room, observing, noticing, and commenting on our technique and product. She found things in everyone’s work to notice, praise, or share with the group. She pointed out the beauty she saw in entire paintings, color choice, shapes, expression of depth, or small portions of our work. Sometimes she encouraged new points of view by physically turning, or moving our paintings farther from us. By doing these things, she showed us the value of our work.

Work Group Support

Our group was diverse in experience and ability. Sarah’s banter and sharing of our work helped me to feel at ease. I began to appreciate my fellow painters expertise, courage, risk taking, and ideas. I was challenged by some of them, but always felt safe and secure.

Sufficient Resources

The materials we used in this workshop were excellent. We had unlimited access to lovely paper, juicy, pigment-rich paint, and professional level brushes of various sizes. This spoke to the importance of our work, and elevated us to the level of “real” artists. I appreciated that tremendously!

20180821_150037-01Access to these quality resources helped us succeed and accomplish our goals.  At one point I was having a tough time. Sarah happened by me, and suggested I use a different size paintbrush. Then looking at the paint I was using, she went and got her own palette to share with me! She brought several of her own palettes and brushes to share with us, and did so with a great generosity, and zero sense of indebtedness or worry on our part.

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Some of the best resources Sarah shared with us were her artistic-eye, her brain, her experience, and her hands and skills. These were invaluable.

Organizational Support

While just a short workshop, Sarah established great organizational support for us. She shared her vision of creativity available to all of us. She constantly suggested problem-solving strategies to help us succeed. Risk taking, boldness, and fresh ideas were welcomed and encouraged.

Profound image of child/student

Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia) knew children are “strong, rich, and powerful.” He would have loved Sarah. She saw each of us this way, and she helped us to see it as well.

Profound purpose and possibility of education/learning:

It’s clear Sarah loves to paint, and experiences something profound when she does so. She shared that love with us, and invited us to enter into the depth of the experience. And, I think, she gets the value of what she is doing when she teaches and shares with others.

——

Every single one of the components of the modified KEYS approach to classroom management had been present and employed in Sarah’s workshop! WOW!!!

My research had been about other people — those in literature I had read, as well as my own students. This was the first time I experienced the Amended KEYS Classroom as a learner. Let me tell you, it was powerful!

Having experienced them myself, increases my desire to intentionally and deliberately incorporate them into my learning environment and management practice. It also makes me wonder how I might share this information on a grander scale?

—–

POST SCRIPT: 

I blogged about my angst as I painted a few days after the workshop. At first I was incredibly surprised by the intensity of my angst, and my seeming lack of any learning and ability!

Taking a break, I sunned myself on a rock, feet dangling into the freezing river water. I took a moment to breathe and assess the situation. Certainly I didn’t lose all my learning and ability. But clearly something had changed.

I realized the change was that I was painting by myself. I no longer had the resource of Sarah and her skill and expertise right beside me. That is huge! Huge as a learner, and huge as an educator.

I didn’t enjoy the angst, but I’m glad I experienced it. And, I’m super glad I took a moment to reflect and had that epiphany.  Now to remember it, allow it to inform my practice, and look for opportunities to share it with my students.

 

 

 






My Watercolor Process

I’ve spent a good bit of time watercoloring these past few weeks.  Today, I decided to share my process with you.

Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting you adopt my process in its entirety. Just saying you might learn something from it!

  1. Take a 3 hour watercolor class.
  2. Learn some cool things.
  3. Fall in love all over again with watercolors.
  4. Head out for a hike and some plein air painting.
  5. Forget I am a beginner.
  6. Fail to remind myself — “”Bad art happens to good artists!”
  7. Experience angst — lots of angst.
  8. Nearly fall out of love with watercolors.
  9. Resist throwing everything in the river.
  10. Drive 5 hours.
  11. Sleep 8 hours.
  12. Go to church.
  13. Breathe.
  14. Eat.
  15. Nap.
  16. Do things that have nothing to do with watercolors.
  17. Catch sight of an unfinished painting.
  18. Give in to the allure, and bring the paints out of hiding.
  19. Paint with more wonder, and less judgement.
  20. Experience the joy of process and product again.

 

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We Are All Beginners

I had grand plans, this summer. I would create art, progress on the ukulele, nap, travel, read, learn, and refresh my body, mind, and spirit. I haven’t done nearly as much of any of those things as I might have liked, but I have done some, and it’s been wonderful!

Lately, I’ve developed a love for watercolors. I’m no pro, but I enjoy dabbling. I think my love affair started when, on a rainy day, unable to hike, I wandered into a local bookstore in search of a literary diversion. Instead, of a good book, I discovered a wall of art supplies — real, professional grade art supplies. Paint, paper, watercolors, pencils, pens, rulers, paint brushes, and more! No lie, for a moment, my knees went weak! I adore creating art, and all the tools and supplies connected to it. It brings me great joy to simply touch beautiful art tools and materials. I left the store with a simple watercolor travel kit, and a watercolor paper block. I was hooked.

The other day I discovered these beauties. 37635898_10217065659493192_6164546794509303808_o

If it were appropriate to describe watercolor as delicious, these would be the ones! Of course, perhaps there are other, more expensive, more professional ones that are even more delicious, but for me, I was satisfied.

I enjoyed looking at, and admiring them for a few days. Then, as luck would have it, I found this wonderful artist online — Watercolor Wednesdays. She has some fabulous videos on youtube.

I watched a few, and was impressed by her process and product, as well as the spirit she brought to the table. I decided to break out my supplies and give it a go. Here are my products from today.

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Nice, right? Not perfect by any means, but I think I am beginning to understand more of the essence of watercolors. By that I mean, I am beginning to understand a bit more about how they work, and what they are meant to do, as well as how I might work with them.

It was a fascinating experience to take a breath and jump in. Don’t get me wrong, it was mildly daunting. But, it was fun!

In one of the first lessons I watched, she said she doesn’t worry about the end result.  “Really?” I thought. “You aren’t concerned about the end result?!!!” I decided to set aside my skepticism, embrace her point of view, and not worry about the product. Instead, I would just paint. Removing my focus and feelings from the final product, I was more able to be in the moment. Existing more fully in each moment as it happened, I was more able to experiment, observe, notice, learn, and do.

It was fun, but not particularly easy. It’s tough sometimes, to allow myself to be a beginner. As a beginner, I’m vulnerable. I must embrace my foibles as well as my less than perfect products. I have to be brave, and not fret about what others may think about me, my process, or my product. Perhaps most difficult, I must not be hard on myself as I experience all of the difficulty of learning something new. If I can manage to do all that, or at least some of it, I am more able to enter into the joy of discovery, and the exquisite, child-like joy of one who is discovering something new and fantabulous!

As I sat and looked at my finished paintings, I had an epiphany!

This is what I ask my students to do — every moment of every school day. Try new things. Embrace being a beginner. Be brave. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Don’t worry what others think. Don’t fret. Be kind to yourself. Keep trying. Be in the moment. Experience the joy!

Wow, right?!

It makes me think differently about the work educators and students do every day. It’s profound. Learning to read, doing math, writing stories, interacting with each other. It’s all like my experience with the watercolors. We are often beginners, and that can be intimidating. But it is also powerful. There is joy and incredible potential in being a beginner. Perhaps even more joy and potential than in being an expert.

I have a lot to think about!

I want to take this epiphany and let it help me grow as an educator and lead learner in my learning space. For now, I am going to think about how I might give my girls more time and opportunities to experience the joy and potential of being a beginner. I want to think how I might shine the light more brightly on the ways I learn, struggle, try, persevere, find joy in little things, and embrace me as me.  And, I want to find time for them to be in the moment — able to explore and try, without fretting about the product. Hopefully this will enable them to more fully understand and experience the essence of whatever it is they are exploring.

I’m excited to see where this light will lead me — and you!

Comments, thoughts, and stories of your own journey are always welcome!

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.

I Wonder …

…what my Kindergarten artists will think, do, and feel when we work on this art process and product.

I am super hopeful …

  • their big beautiful brains will be filled with ideas and wonder.
  • they will jump in with confident hope.
  • they will experience the joy and excitement I feel when I create art.
  • they will know they are artists who can make decisions about their art.

 

These are my practice, and inspiration pieces.

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After making the first piece, I tried another using the new stamp pads I bought for my Kindergarten artists. As I prepped the page, I wondered what it would look like if I added a piece of tape down the middle.

I like it, and am adding it as an option for my Kindergarten artists.

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The boarders are created using frog tape. It creates a nice sharp edge, and even more importantly, can be removed without harming the paper. The circles are stamps created from some tubes one of the students brought in. I cut them on our bandsaw so I’d have enough to give each artist a small stamper and a large stamper.

My rules for the project will be:

  • Everyone needs a boarder.
  • Circles are colored with crayons.
  • The background is filled with watercolor.
  • Sign your work! (Which, by the way, involves many artistic decisions.)

My suggestions will be:

  • Consider overlapping the circles and letting the circles extend beyond the boarder.
  • Practice stamping on a scrap paper so you feel comfortable working on your piece.

My artists’ options and decisions will be:

  • What colors will I make the circles?
  • What color will I make the background?
  • Will my background be one color, or many?
  • Do I want a piece of tape to intersect my paper – creating two pieces?
  • Where will I put that piece of tape? (The options are endless!)

My jobs will be many:

  • To show the artists that unexpected things (tubes from shoes, painters tape) can be used to create art.
  • To expose them to the idea of combining various mediums into one project.
  • To encourage them to think.
  • To empower them to make decisions about their art.
  • To explain the rules … and the options.
  • To enjoy my artists, their process, and their products.
  • To document their process and work.
  • To be open to their interpretation of the process.
  • To be willing to allow them to modify the process … depending on their interpretation, desires, and/or needs.

All my jobs are important, but those last two, they are paramount.

If I want my students to know they are artists, and to actually BE artists, I need to give them the freedom and respect artists need, crave, and deserve. If I want them to learn to make decisions, problem solve, wonder, and create, I have to give them the space, empowerment, and opportunity to actually DO IT!