Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Time to Find a Box...

I  decided that today was a good excuse to go box hunting.  Not all of my Creativity explorations are going to fit in a sketchbook.  There are some that will need a safe place to be stored until this year long adventure is up.  In one of those cool moments of Serendipity that seem to be happening a lot lately,  Erin’s Grade 9 English teacher assigned them a project for next Wednesday where they have to create a “Box About Me”.  Erin will need to box up at least a dozen items that represent something about herself, her likes and her personality.

Michael’s was having a sale on photo boxes, which are a great size for stuff like this.  I’d cleaned out all of our empty shoe boxes after our expedition to Maine to buy sneakers this summer, so there were no plain boxes anywhere in our house.

So we both went box hunting, and we both had to adjust our expectations.

It was one of those days when most of the boxes on sale were just a little bit... well... ugly!
I’d been dreaming of a plain white photo box that I could decorate, decoupage and doodle on.  Instead, there were wild, loud patterns that didn’t do anything for either of us.  There were colour combinations that made me want to cringe and that got me thinking about why I react negatively to certain colours.  I almost challenged myself to take the colour I hated the most to see if I could work through that or turn it into something I liked... and then I found this box at the very bottom of the bin.

Remember those doodle posters that were around in the late 70s and early 80s?  I know I am dating myself, but they are making a comeback.  You get a huge poster with lots of black and then white spaces you can colour in. LOTS of white spaces and tiny little markers.  I loved them, but I don’t think I ever got more than halfway through a poster before it got crushed by the mess in my closet.

This pattern reminded me of those posters, so of course I grabbed it.  Erin found a marbled one in her favourite colour (red) and so the hunters returned home with their boxes.

I have dozens of markers.  I have entire marker sets filled with luscious colours that make me want to drool... but when I started to colour in my photo box shapes, I discovered a little problem...the colour was all rubbing off onto ME!

The only thing that would colour through the odd finish of the box were sharpie markers.  I only had 5 colours on hand, so I started a little bit but then decided I need to go find a sharpie marker set with a wider variety of colours.

This is going to be so much fun to work on!

INHALE:  We all need safe places to tuck our treasures.  Most of us have never lost that childhood love of picking up treasures to keep.  I could SO identify with Laura Ingalls when her pocket ripped out of her dress because she’d gathered too many pebbles!  Having a safe place to keep treasures only becomes a problem when the treasures overflow everywhere.  I am sure NONE of you have EVER had that happen with yarn, fabric, beads or anything else... right? We all have hiding spots for things, but now it’s time to make a treasure chest!

EXHALE:  Time to make a treasure chest... or at least start.  Find an empty box, basket, container or anything that speaks to you creatively.  Over the next few weeks, decorate it with paint, fabric, buttons, ribbons, paper scraps or anything else that suits your fancy.  I think I have some 3D fabric paint in a drawer somewhere that I may dig out to use on the black lid.  You don’t have to rush this experiment.  Just start out slow and see what happens.  The most important thing is to create a place to store your treasures and experiments that you will be making on this journey.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Taking the Leap...

Creativity is NOT safe.  It is not the easy choice or the tame one or the one that won’t ruffle any feathers.

I stayed home Monday to get over the worst cold I’ve had in a few years but then the antibiotics kicked in and I began to feel semi-human again.  I’d been pre-booked for today, so I headed in to cover for some computer classes today while the administrators were out at meetings.  Two of the classes were starting a new assignment where they get to make up a comic strip.  It was in the middle of explaining the parameters of the assignment and watching the expressions on the student’s faces that I began to understand their panic.

To be really creative, to come up with something original instead of following a step-by-step pattern or set of instructions requires that you take a leap.  It requires that you throw yourself away from the safe and predictable into the risky and unknown, that you take a chance.  It demands that you try, even though you may not succeed.

In many ways, that is the very essence of Creativity... inviting more RISK into your life by taking CHANCES.

INHALE:  Being Creative challenges us to try something new, to look beyond the ordinary and to begin to see things in new ways.  It also means carving out time in an already overfilled and over scheduled day,  No wonder it is far easier to sit down on the couch, put your feet up and vegetate! The most amazing thing about Creativity is that when we give ourselves the time, it ends up recharging us more than draining.  When you take the leap, sometimes you get those moments where you discover you can fly!

EXHALE:  Set a timer for 15 minutes.  That’s less time than it takes for a frozen pizza to cook.  Find a cozy spot where you won’t be interrupted and jot down TWO responses for each of these questions/statements.  Try not to think too long and hard about the answers, just take a leap and scribble down the first things that come to mind.

1) Would you rather be able to fly or breathe underwater?

2) Which two people in your life make you feel like a BETTER person when you spend
     time with them?

3) Who was the first famous person that you admired?

4) What toy did you play with most as a child?

5) What is the first joke that comes to mind?

     Sometimes Creativity has nothing to do with what we produce, but rather what state of mind we allow ourselves to be in.  Small children live there wholeheartedly, but by high school, I can see the hesitation.  They are afraid of looking foolish instead of just taking a chance.  Go back to thinking like a little child.

    Don’t be afraid. There are no right or wrong answers.  Just new steps on the journey.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Time For Everything...

There’s nothing Creative about being sick.

What started as a sore throat and tickle exploded into a raging sore throat Saturday morning that sent me to the weekend Medical Clinic.  One glance at my tonsils had the doctor writing out a prescription on a little pad for some antibiotics.  Apparently the virus that Erin had last weekend (and gave me so much supply work at her school last week) falls somewhere in between the standard rhino virus and an influenza, but in some people it is going to their throat or lungs.  My body’s battleground has always been my tonsils, but this time the dry cough that goes with this bug is making them feel more raw than ever.

So I kept myself home this weekend, sooked and slept and drank lots of liquids.  Eating just hurt too much.

Creativity still found a way to make our family marvel at how differently everyone can see things.  It started out with this interesting pepper that came in a batch we bought at a local produce stand.  My girls forbid me to chop it up with the rest because it had a face.  The interesting thing was, two of us in the family saw the face THIS way...

and the other two saw the face here...

Like one of those reversible optical illusions of the two vases and the profiles or the old woman and the young one, each of us saw one face stronger  at first until the others pointed out where they saw it... and then we could see both.

Creativity is pretty unstoppable once you start looking for ways that it creeps into your life.

I, on the other hand, felt very stoppable as I honked and snorted my way through an entire box of kleenex.  I moped around the house in my big fluffy bathrobe and fuzzy slippers and even Nick admitted I looked pretty pathetic.  The only thing that seemed remotely creative were the wild dreams last night when I broke down and had a swig of cold and flu drink to clear my nose enough to breathe.

Breathing really is about each INHALE and EXHALE...

INHALE: This past week has been a huge lesson in how you cannot plan for what Life may suddenly throw at you. It has also taught me that you can’t always live on a Creative high.  Despite a sudden burst of warmer temperatures and sunshine, I can tell that my gardens are winding down for the season.  Fighting the cold this weekend, feeling so miserable and unproductive compared to just a week ago, reminds me that every Creative period must also have a time to lie dormant or fallow.  Everything needs a chance to rest now and then to recharge.

EXHALE:  Create a comfort plan, even if you are feeling at the top of your game.  I opened my sketchbook after supper tonight as I curled up on the couch Create a comfort plan, even if you are feeling at the top of your game.  I opened my sketchbook after supper tonight as I curled up on the couch and wrote out a list of all the things that brought me comfort... from clothing and food to music and activities.  You can write this, collage it, photograph it, doodle it... but think of how you would create a comfort NEST for the next time you have to just take time to recharge and be still.  Knowing what brings you comfort can be an important part of  taking care of yourself on a deeper level.  Think of it as Vitamin C or echinacea for your soul.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Contagious Creativity

I kept thinking about my experience at the Toyota dealership so many people started conversations with me as I sat there stitching.  They either asked what I was doing, shared stories about people they knew who did cross stitch or told me which crafts they loved to do.  It made me start to wonder if being creative could be contagious.

Oddly enough, Nick came home after a really rough day at school and wanted to show me a link he’d found on you tube from Oprah’s 24th season kickoff featuring the Black Eyed Peas .  Watch how the one person they had dancing sets off the entire crowd.  Even Oprah was astounded! Now my girls like this song even more than before!

Sometimes Creativity can also be a way of making your point or getting even.  If you’ve never seen this astounding video shot by Halifax native Dave Carroll, you really need to check it out.  After almost a year of trying to get United Airlines to admit that they’d mishandled his luggage and broken his guitar, he wrote this song as a Creative way of showing his side of the story. He posted it to You Tube and after 3 days, it had over a million hits!  Needless to say, United began to notice the negative publicity buzz.  There is even a second song that almost rivals this first one, but I will let you go hunting for that one on your own if you want to.

Both of these video clips show that when faced with apathy, indifference or injustice, Creativity will always triumph!

INHALE:  We cannot control what life throws at us.  We can choose, however, to try to react as Creatively as possible.  Today, a bunch of football players tried to play computer games in Office Tech class because all their work was done and the typing tutorial was too boring. I went over to the bookcase, grabbed a few dictionaries, opened it to the page with the word FOOTBALL on it and told each one of them to type in the entire page as practice if their typing skills were so advanced.  All of them were back working on their projects within a few minutes.  The next time you are confronted with a problem, take a deep breath and try to find a Creative solution.

EXHALE:  When the going gets tough, we all need a little inspiration.  Today’s exhalation is to sit down with old magazines, fabric swatches,  paper scraps, stickers or anything else FLAT that inspires you.  Collage them down in your book in a random or orderly fashion (depending on which soothes your creative soul today) so that the next time you are feeling down, you can open your book to this page.  As the weather grows a bit colder, I already feel the urge to put in pictures from this summer or colours that will make me feel warmer on a blustery winter night.  If you are a knitter, beader or more tactile Creative soul, don’t worry... there are lots of three-dimensional challenges rattling around in my brain for later.  Just get in the habit of working flat for now...

By the way, if you’ve been enjoying this blog or find it WAY off base, please feel free to comment or share.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Learning to Wait, Sharing the Joy and Encouraging the Dance.

When I started this journey, I thought I would be the one mapping out the topics and that Life would just fall into place.  I imagined that I would be the one imposing my new Creative order on the world around me.

Go ahead and laugh!

I am now discovering that Life offers me topics to muse about all the time, sometimes so many of them in a single day that I am torn between which one to focus on first.

The van had to go in for servicing today and since I’d booked the day off, we agreed that I would take it down to our Toyota dealership.  Once the girls got on the bus, I drove down and told them that I would WAIT while the 32,000 km servicing was being done.  Stitching in hand, I headed for the large, comfy couches in the waiting area then settled in to get some work done.  It was amazing to see how many people came over to see what I was working on!  Knitters and quilters, stitchers or people who knew someone who crafted struck up conversations about what I was working on.  This gave me the perfect opportunity to ask some of them what crafts they enjoyed, creating a cascade of stories about fabric stashes, the feel of yarn in your hands, hiding places for craft supplies and the number of stitches per inch in a quilt.  These conversations just confirmed my philosophy that Creativity lies within us all and that sharing that Joy binds us all together as human beings.

The time flew by and I got lots of stitching done.  I plan to volunteer to take the van down again... those are great, comfy seats to stitch in!

Bethany also headed off to her first Middle school dance tonight, full of enthusiasm and excitement.  My two girls are so different.  Erin hated going to dances but Bethany just loved dancing to the music tonight.  She pointed out that it isn’t so much about who is the best dancer, but who is able to just let go and have fun.  She’s absolutely right!  It isn’t always about how much talent we have, but how well we are willing to give ourselves over to the moment and the act of being Creative, whatever it may be.

It also makes long waits infinitely more bearable...

INHALE:  Most of us have very little patience for waiting.  We grumble when we have to wait in lines, children wiggle and whine when the service at a restaurant is slow, some honk at people in front of them who do not move quickly enough etc.  Today, I discovered that waiting can actually be very peaceful and productive.  Dozens of other people were dropping off their vehicles and complaining that the shuttles weren’t running often enough to get them to work.  Each time a harried driver appeared to ask who was waiting for a ride, eight or nine people surged forward.  I sat there, stitching contentedly for an hour and a half until the van was ready. Having something creative to do instead of reading a magazine or glancing at my watch made the time fly by instead of drag.

EXHALE:  Go through your favourite craft stashes. See if there are any tiny projects that could travel with you the next time you have to go to a meeting, to the doctor’s office or anywhere you might have to wait.  Ziplock freezer bags are sturdy enough to keep your projects safe and even let you label them on the outside. Many crafters are already experts at taking stuff with them.  I’ve seen them knitting and stitching in airports and hospital waiting rooms.  But taking the time to sort and prepare means that creativity will be at your fingertips the next time you need something to make the waiting a joy instead of an annoyance.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Patterns In Nature... and Presents In Mailbox!

The last two days were absolute blurs of teaching, meetings, Explorers starting up for Bethany, more volleyball for Erin and Nick recovering from being kicked in the jaw while trying to calm a student.  I think that a few of the kids at the high school thought it was odd that their substitute teacher kept looking at ceiling tiles or floor tile patterns while they were writing an assignment down, but that’s OK.  Have you ever noticed that, once you start being aware of something, you see it everywhere?  That’s how I feel about finding images in random patterns now.

The next step was then to go looking for patterns in the great outdoors... and it helps that it has been absolutely beautiful weather here.  I doubt I will get this urge in January when it is below zero!

Take a good look at Mother Nature and you will find an infinite variety of colours and textures, even in something as plain as rocks.

Flowers become studies in mystical, mandala-like patterns...

or studies in exotic shapes and rich colours.

We miss so much beauty all around us when we’re rushing to cross things off our to do lists.  I feel as if I have suddenly given myself permission to slow down a tiny bit and really look at what magic and creativity exists around me already.  How overloaded will my brain feel in another 50 weeks?

Just when I felt as if I was hitting sensory overload, I came home to discover a delightful surprise in my mailbox.  My birthday present from my sister had finally made it through customs!

Look at how beautifully it was wrapped once I got it out of the padded envelope!  Creativity, Elegance and Inspiration combined.  My fingers were just itching to rip everything open in a frenzy, but the blogger in me remembered to take a photo!

Inside lay the coolest present...

Jennifer Lee is an artist who also does Life Coaching.  Her ArtiZen website is full of incredibly cool stuff like this Unfolding Your Life Vision Kit.  Oh my gosh! I can’t wait to start playing, but I am going to use this as a reward for geting all of my Toronto stuff done and ready to take with me to the CreativFestival in 21 days.  At least that’s what I tell myself right now!

INHALE:  When we rush through everything, we end up feeling more frazzled than fulfilled.  The Amish saying captures this chaos perfectly when they say “The hurrier I get, the behinder I be!”  In our instant messaging society, where we expect replies to e-mails and phone calls almost right away, taking things at a reasonable pace is becoming a lost Art.  There are so many moments of wonder that can slip by if all we are doing is racing from one task or meeting to the next.  Searching for Creativity in my life is already causing me to discover other truths.  My SuperMom, Type A personality is having trouble adjusting to this need to give myself time, but the sense of peace and deeper energy that this Creative adventure seems to be releasing is well worth it.  I am sleeping better and I’ve been more aware of my dreams during these past 13 days. Only 352 to go!

EXHALE:  Take time to go for a walk with your digital camera and hunt for patterns or textures in your neighbourhood.  Don’t worry if all you have is an urban jungle to explore, I shot some really cool pictures of wall textures in France.  Just practice LOOKING through the viewfinder for a second or two before you push the button.  These aren’t forever photos to tuck in an album, they are just meant for play.  I am going to print my favourites out on photo paper at home and collage them into my black sketchbook, but you can leave them in their digital world if you want.  Just get out there and go for a walk to see what you find. You’ll even get some exercise in the process!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Looking Deeper...

Mondays often feel full of potential until the first disaster of the week hits and then we feel like this photo that I shot a few years ago...

One of my favourite stories about not giving up is the example of accidentally dropping one egg out of the container.  Just because that one breaks... do you smash the other eleven?

Today was filled with the joyful chaos of substitute teaching all day, coming home to a house that smelled wonderful thanks to the chili ingredients I’d tucked in the slow cooker this morning and then watching the girls get homework done before volleyball practice for Erin.

She showed up at the first practice of the new team after last week's tryouts to find out that  some of her new team members had jumped to another club in town without telling anyone until the last minute.

No, life does not always go as planned.

So I dug out this picture instead of the one I’d shot earlier today of floor tile.  This week, I am challenging myself to look DEEPER...  to really see what might lie hiding in shapes and shadows when you look beyond the obvious images.

When I look at this photo, I see a dragon’s wing, a dog’s head, a snail, a bull frog, a square pig and a treasure trove of other things.  What do you see?

INHALE:  We tend to just books by their covers, success by how much money someone makes and hundreds of other SURFACE things.  Creative wonders are waiting all around us if we just take the time to really LOOK at them.  Stop. Look beneath the surface. Look deeper than you usually do.  Part of becoming more creative is taking the time to see with more than just your eyes!

EXHALE:  Find something with a pattern in it.  Tile flooring works well as do wood grain patterns.  Crumple some tinfoil then spread it out again.  Stare at the clouds.  If you have a digital camera then try to capture the image you see so that you can look at it more closely.  What images do you see to sketch?  What stories d o they conjure in your head?  Follow where they lead and see what you can find when you look deeper at the world already around you.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Not What I'd Planned To Learn...

Today, Creativity taught me a lesson without me looking for a theme.

Creativity = Adaptability = Creativity

My day was full of times when I had to suddenly spin on a dime and change plans:

• Sunday School began again today at church and our kick off had kids in rather high spirits, so Nick came up with the idea to do a few parachute games with them to wear off some steam and gradually calm them down to focus.  It meant we had to adapt the rest of the lesson on the spot, but the kids were in a much better space to listen and then move to the craft than they would have been otherwise.

• Back at home, we cut up the bag of older potatoes to make 2 recipes, one for supper today and another one for later in the week.  We had enough sliced that I needed to make a 3rd dish or let the potatoes go bad, so I threw together my very first potato scallop (as they say here instead of scalloped potatoes) to reheat for yet another meal this week if I am teaching.

• I had a meeting to attend tonight that hadn’t made it on to the Master Calendar and I’d planned to work on something else tonight, so I took one of my extra props for the Hoarding Your Creativity class I am teaching at the CreativFestival in Toronto next month and added to that while I was listening and taking part in the discussions.

All of these prompted today’s Inhale and Exhale...

INHALE: Take a very deep breath.  It is Sunday night and you are about to head into another week.  No matter how well you think you have things planned out, you will NEVER be able to control or predict everything that can happen to you.  Instead of panicking when things have to turn on a dime, try to remember that by nurturing your inner creativity, you will be better equipped to handle that chaos and turn it into something creative, to come up with solutions to problems, to find the humour in the moment or joy that will keep you going.  If nothing else, you know you can stop and find a can of play-doh to squish out your frustrations on later!  Move gently into the week ahead and just keep taking it one breath at a time.

EXHALE:  Creativity does not have to happen at a specific time. This first week and a bit, I was trying to carve out certain times  of the day when I would be creative.  Today taught me that when I try to live in a state of Creative awareness, I am much more flexible and less panicky when things don’t go according to some inner plan.  So.... set the timer for 10 minutes.  In your book, write down 3 things about the week ahead that are worrying you and space them far apart on the paper.  Beside each one, write down as many ways to confront those worries and find solutions for them, ideas on how to change them, people you could lean on for support, delegate tasks to etc.  When the timer beeps... STOP.  Slam the book closed with a resounding thud and leave your worries where they are.  Then go do something fun like have a hot bath or read a good book!

NOTE FOR THE WEEK AHEAD - See if you can find a digital camera to keep near you (if you are lucky enough to have a cell phone that takes pictures, then this will be easy) I’ve been noticing things around me the more I go looking, so some of the things I am going to try this week to Inhale Creativity may involve snapping pictures.  If you are following along on this adventure, you may want to try your own explorations of the themes.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Taking The Time...

Another Saturday morning of sneaking out with my husband to do groceries while the kids relax at home.  Up until 2 years ago, groceries meant bribing the kids with dinner out after a busy day to shop as a family or one of us sneaking off by themselves to do groceries while the other did childcare.  A dozen years of buying food that way and suddenly, we are back to being able to have conversations as we find items on our list and come home to happy children... well... almost.  Erin is sick today with a horrid head cold, so Bethany left her alone and went bug-hunting in Animal Crossing City Folk while we were out.

Since the sky was grey and the wind was blustery, Nick decided to go up to work for the afternoon and I took over the kitchen.  I had muffins to bake for Sunday School tomorrow and a new recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution to try. Local new potatoes had been on sale at the supermarket today and Nick found some leeks as well, so I decided to try the Potato and Leek soup from the book.

The leeks were lovely!  Thank goodness Jamie explained about washing them under running water lengthwise though... there does tend to be a lot of silt and dirt that gets into those tight layers.  Getting it out before chopping was essential.

Carrots and celery also got chopped on my boards and added to the saucepan while the broth came to a boil in the bigger pot.

By this point, I had taken over most of the counter and had Josh Groban playing in the background interspersed with the odd John Tesh instrumental from my drawing playlist.  The afternoon sun was streaming in through my kitchen windows and I totally gave myself over to the act of being Creative with food.

New recipes are scary.  There is the urge to stick with the tried and true that we know to be safe.  I felt WAY more pressure after last Saturday’s disaster, the last half of which went in the garbage bag tonight.  After 2 days of leftovers, even I gave up on it!

Yet as I held the potatoes in my hand to peel them, I became aware of how the gritty brown peel gave way to the slippery white flesh as I peeled them.  How the smell of the garlic, leeks and other veggies simmering in the olive oil in the pan was beginning to waft its way through the house.  How, instead of feeling rushed the way I do on weeknights when there are meetings or activities to race off to, I was able to enjoy the act of preparing a meal.

So here’s the thing.  I think I am a closet “foodie”.  With this huge bag of carrots on the counter, I had a sudden urge to replicate the delicious carrotes rapées that we’d enjoyed this summer in France.  What did people ever do before they could look things up on the Internet?  Not only did I find a fabulous guide to follow, I fell in love with a whole new blog to follow!  David Lebovitz writes about France and food in a way that not only makes me smile, it takes me back to the very streets  I wandered this summer and the foods that my taste buds still dream of.  The beautiful pictures on the web site and in his blog were inspirational! (Look up some of the posts that deal with Chocolate!)

So, the soup simmered, I shredded carrots without losing any bits of finger or nail like I usually do, the rolls got warmed in the oven (no, I cheated and bought those at the bakery 3 blocks away) and by supper time, I had mastered not one but TWO delicious recipes.  A meal that was not only vegetarian, it qualified for the 100 mile diet if you discounted the olive oil that came back from France with me (at least it shared my plane).

Erin crawled out of her room to join us at the table and make appreciative croaking noises before being re-banished to her room.  Bethany declared the soup to now be on her top 10 favourite foods list as she went back for a 3rd bowl.  I was feeling Creative and pretty proud of myself right up until Nick looked at the girls with a grin and said  “Well, this certainly proves that our kitchen is a great place to take a leek!”

Hmmmm... I guess I have to let him live.  After 20 years, it would be just too hard to break in a new husband.

INHALE:  Trying new recipes can be terrifying.  We tend to be SO hard on ourselves about wanting everything to be perfect that we forget... new recipes have to be tried and tested before they ever make it into cookbooks.  Someone, somewhere had to be brave enough to try a food combination for the first time.  Everyone is going to have different tastes and sensibilities anyway... how else could you explain haggis?  Stop worrying about perfection in your Creativity.  Try instead to find the TIME to be Creative when cooking so that you don’t have to rush things.

EXHALE:  Think back to a food that you remember from a favourite trip, a childhood meal or some other special time in your life.  Memories can be linked to sound, smell, taste and texture, so being more Creative involves nurturing all your senses.  Give yourself half an hour to wander the Internet, browse through your existing cookbooks or even check out the cooking section at your local bookstore.  Pick out a recipe that excites you, that makes you feel like exploring your Creativity more... then plan where and when you can give yourself the time to try it. It just may become a new family favourite!

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Does Creativity Sound Like To You?

I have been at this experiment for just over a week now, 51 weeks left to go in the adventure.

The minute I heard the morning news announcing the death of Mary Travers of Peter, Paul & Mary fame, the idea for this drawing popped into my head.  It took me until today to get the image scanned in and coloured, but the idea for today’s post stemmed from yesterday’s sad news.  I am sure that Puff is crying indeed.

Music has an incredible ability to move us.  There are 3 songs and that will make me cry within minutes and two hymns that I always struggle with at church.  You Are My Sunshine and The Unicorn by the Irish Rovers are two of the songs, but my first experience with music that made me cry was with the song Puff the Magic Dragon.

I can’t have been more than 3 at the time and memories from that age can be tricky, but I vividly remember our house on Pine Avenue in Montreal and my father hooking up a reel to reel recording machine.  I was fascinated by how the brown tape fit into all the places before it wound onto the other reel.  Then the song began to play and for the first time in my life, the words spoke to me and made sense.  By the last verse when Puff hung his head and sadly slipped into his cave, I was beside myself in tears.  I later drew a book so that the song could have a happier ending and when a picture book came out a few years ago, I was thrilled to discover that I was not the only one who had wished for continuity in the story or that Puff could have another friend.  Perhaps this is why I fell in love with the manuscript for Owen & The Dinosaur and knew that I had to bring an equally charming story to life with my drawings.

Music touches us on a deep inner level. Even now, as I am typing this and thinking back to those childhood memories, an incredible aching sense of sadness washes over me and the tears stream down my face yet again.

Such is the power of music to touch our souls...

INHALE: From humming to whistling, singing to playing all kinds or instruments, we human beings are musical creatures.  Most of us can hear songs that take us back to specific times in our lives, songs that comfort or exhilarate us, songs that make us tap our toes or give into a good cry.  We also associate music with certain people in our lives.  I can remember my grandfather whistling as he puttered around and hearing a banjo takes me back to the banjo rallies that used to be held at their house.  Barbershop quartet music and solid four part harmony make me think of my Dad and how he taught us to sing in harmony on long car trips before ipods and Nintendo DS game consoles existed.  I have also heard friend complain about the music that their parents made them listen to on those kinds of cars trips and yet those same songs can be such comfort once their parents are gone. Dick Clark was right when he proclaimed that “music is the soundtrack of our lives”.

EXHALE:  What type of music do you listen to when you are being creative?  I’ve decided that I need a new play list in iTunes just for Creativity.  I have one called drawing faves that is made up of instrumental music, classical and other songs that make nice background music while I am drawing or painting.  They are chosen because they are good to listen to but don’t really break my concentration.  Josh Groban’s first album was wonderful music to listen to while working on the first children’s book I illustrated Just Nanny and Me & Fun Things To Paint.  Most of it was in other languages, but that man could sing a phone book and I would listen!  Start thinking about which songs inspire you to be Creative and put together a play list on your computer.  Just be sure that they are LEGAL downloads so that you aren’t stealing someone else’s Creativity to fuel your own!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What's In A Name?

I was supposed to substitute teach this afternoon at my daughter’s high school, but I got a frantic call about 10 minutes before the 1st bell rang asking if I could come in early.  As I began the day, the Art teacher’s chid got sick at daycare and she had to leave, so I ended up going in to be the Art teacher for the rest of the day.  I almost felt guilty about getting paid to encourage kids to get excited about art ... even when they thought they couldn't draw!
So... today’s Inhalation is going to be easy and fun.  I wore a new pair of shoes in the morning to try breaking them in before teaching and ended up spending the whole day in them.  OUCH!  As soon as I post this, I am going to pack lunches and run a nice, warm bath to soak them in!
INHALE:  In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet...”  Most of us don’t get to pick our own names, they are chosen for us.  By adulthood, we have made peace with our names and how oddly or plainly they may be spelled.  I didn’t like Jennifer as much as Jennie until I got older because I only heard it along with my middle name when I was in really big trouble!  Do you know the ancestry of your name?  What the name itself means and who, if anyone, you were named for?  Sometimes there is a rich family heritage being celebrated or a name that held special meaning for one of your parents.  Sometime parents just have really twisted senses of humour.  My own grandmother was called Jet Black.  As a teacher and now a school principal, my husband, Nick, has seen his share of interesting names.  Today is all about celebrating the name you bear.  If you go by your middle name or have a special name you prefer, you may use it for the exhalation below.
EXHALE:  Turn on your computer.  If you have programs like Paint or Photoshop, you can get really creative with this activity, but all you really need is a simple word document program and some interesting fonts.  The kids at high school swear by , but I haven’t yet downloaded anything from them to our home computers.  The idea of the activity is to find a DIFFERENT font for each letter of your name.  Pick shapes and styles that appeal to you and show off your personality.  Are you formal and elegant?  Fun and funky? Mysterious and exotic?  Solid and dependable?  Try to find fonts in your list that really resonate with your view of yourself.  I made another layer in photoshop of colours that I liked and placed it behind my chosen fonts before merging them into a .jpg file.  Have fun, play and then print out a copy of your name to stick into your book. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back To Creativity Basics...

          Doodling certainly took me back to my childhood roots and sparked ideas for yesterday and today’s creative explorations.  It made me think about WHY I was being drawn back to these comforting, simple ways to bring more Creativity into my day. I realized that this first week of exploring, I am taking baby steps out into a big, scary, exciting new adventure.  I always pictured myself as a leap out into space kind of person, but this time, it feels more like I am building a foundation of sorts on which to ground myself for this yearlong experience.
    Yesterday, I discovered the cans of play-doh while cleaning out our craft cupboard looking for something I’d misplaced.  Most of them had dried out (my kids are now 14 and 10) but a few cans were still nice and squishy.  There is something incredibly unique about the smell and texture of play-doh that can make you feel like a kid again.  The first shape most of us ever learned to make was probably a snake. We rolled out a long uneven coil and then poked eyes into it with a pencil or toothpick.  I strongly recommend buying a can to keep on hand for when the going gets tough.  Pounding a piece of play-doh into a pancake can help get rid of a lot of pent-up frustration!!
     Today, I took out some crayons to play with. Once again, the texture and smells took me back to when I first discovered crayons drew better than they tasted.  Every birthday or Christmas held the possibility of getting a new box of sharp, pointed crayons to colour with.  We sometimes belittle the importance of PLAY as we grow older.  Today, I rediscovered how much fun it is to draw without a plan and just make marks...
INHALE:  The unexpected does not have to be something to fear.  Not everything has to have a plan in our lives.  Sometimes, it is possible to just play and enjoy the process... the ACT of being creative; rolling dough between fingers, humming a tune under our breath, moving our bodies to music, letting words flow onto a page unhindered in free verse.  There is so much in your day that is structured, scheduled, demanded.  Today, claim back a bit of time from your childhood today and remember to live in the NOW.
EXHALE:  Find some play-doh to squish around and shape or try this activity that so captivated me today.  You will need a firm piece of watercolour paper, manilla paper or card stock to draw on.  Find some crayons. If you have kids, there should be plenty of pieces lying about the house.  If you don’t, treat yourself to a basic package somewhere... or splurge and rediscover the childhood delight of having 96 colours and a built-in sharpener!  Make some marks on the paper.  You don’t have to draw a picture - you can just make some of the doodle patterns from yesterday in a variety of wax colours.  Be sure to press fairly hard as you draw.  I found it both frustrating and liberating that the white crayon was so hard to see on the white paper.  At first I panicked about making the “right” lines... then I just gave up and had fun.  Once you are done, take a big brush and some watercolour or acrylic paint (raid your kids’ supplies if you have to) in your favourite colour(s). Swirl your brush around in plain water before picking up any of the pigment and wash it across your drawing so that the paint beads off the wax crayons marks.  Don’t over paint areas to much.  Just go quickly to cover all the white space and live with what happens.  This type of wax-resist painting never loses its magic...
I called mine “DANCE”...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Doodling Rocks!

When you fall off a horse or a bicycle, you are supposed to get right back on again.  Small children certainly pick themselves right back up when they fall down while learning to walk.  They don’t become afraid of looking foolish the way adults do.  That tends to hold us back more often than we realize.
I did manage to make our favourite recipe from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution cookbook, the Ground Beef Wellington for supper on Sunday night which restored my family’s faith in my ability to be creative in the kitchen... but the fear I felt about blogging on the Saturday night of the Creativity disaster did make me aware of the time lag between when I explore a topic BEFORE I share it with you or do if AFTER I propose the idea.  I’m sure it will all work out in the end.  While I am planning to explore something every day in my sketchbook, they may not all be worthy of sharing.  Life may also interfere as I have seen it happen to so many people from Yarn Harlot to Burghild Nina Holzer the author of A Walk Between Heaven and Earth.
But to bolster my sense of self-esteem, I went back to one of the very first activities I remember doing. It was also one of the things I used to get in trouble for at school!  Doodling is probably the most Universal form of drawing or making marks that exists.  I have lost track of how many people tell me they cannot draw at all only to turn into the most amazing doodlers during boring meetings or phone calls!  Doodling has no rules, it can happen on almost any surface from beach sand and snow to odd bits of paper found lying within reach.  So today’s topic celebrates the doodler in all of us...
INHALE: The best thing about doodling is that your hands are kept busy making patterns while your brain gets to move into a more detached form of awareness.  Doodling can nurture many different personalities from precise to playful.  There is a childlike sense of play when we make random marks on a surface that evolve into patterns, textures or even pictures.  We should also treasure the fact that it is while we are doodling that many people experience those “Aha!” moments of creative intuition, solving problems or getting great ideas.  Those who think they can’t draw often produce the best doodles because they aren’t trying to turn every mark into something recognizable or worry if each shape is perfect.  Only machines can repeat shapes or letters exactly all the time... and where would be the fun in that?
EXHALE:  Take a blank page in your book and a big marker (preferably one that won’t bleed through onto the next page).  Write your name, a word or a statement in bigger, bolder letters that you will then doodle around.  Think about what colours to use, what thickness of pens or markers you could explore with and then just begin.  It wasn’t until I went to scan or photograph this page in my book that I discovered metallic gel pens for some of the patterns, especially the pale silver, might not have been the best choices, but I found them in a drawer and wanted to use them before they dried up completely.  Don’t obsess about pattern placement or exactness of shape.  In fact, if you find yourself getting too caught up in making things “perfect”, turn on some music or the television so that your brain has some interference.  Have fun playing with different patterns, letters or shapes until the page is full. Then stand way back and marvel how something cool came out of chaos!
If you can’t think of any patterns to start with, here are a few ideas.
This is the first pattern a teacher showed me how to do on a drawing of a basket in art class to make it look woven.  To this day, it tends to be the first doodle pattern that springs forth from my hands.
Spirals can be a magical shape.  They seem to be popping up a lot in my life right now, so I am trying to remain open to what that could mean.  Think of them as overachieving 6s or 9s...
A last little mishmash of ideas to try... now DOODLE!