Comics and Graphic Novels: Alternative Storytelling

My husband loves to read graphic novels. These days, he almost exclusively chooses books from the graphic novel section of the library. I’ll admit, I’ve never really gotten into the medium. I used to love reading Garfield comic strips as a kid, but as I got older, I never quite managed to follow an entire story that mixed words with pictures. I think it has something to do with the way my brain processes words and images. It’s two different parts of my brain and they don’t work in sync. They fight with one another for my attention. Though I find graphic novels visually appealing, I have a harder time following the story than if I’m simply reading text.

Given that I don’t know all that much about graphic storytelling, I figured that I’d take an introductory dive into the subject. There are so many different ways to tell a story. We’ve already discussed a few of those ways. Most often we get our stories through the written word or words brought dramatically to life via television or movies. Graphic novels bring us our stories in a unique way, by combining the written word with two-dimensional images.

FullSizeRender+%2835%29.jpg

I decided to approach this topic by gaining some knowledge first. I read Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud, at the recommendation of my husband, graphic novel enthusiast and niche-market comic illustrator. It was a fascinating read. The book touches on the history and definition of the comic, why we respond to cartoon images, and the universal nature of some of these images. It looks at how comics can show the passage of time or emphasize an important detail or event. It covers a lot of ground in an engaging comic format. If you’re interested in learning more about comics, or want to write/illustrate your own comics, I’d definitely recommend this read.

FullSizeRender+%2833%29.jpg

After I read the book, I wanted to know a little bit more about why my husband chooses graphic novels over traditional novels and non-fiction books. He will read even the longest graphic novels, but he never gets very far when he picks up a book without pictures. Why is that? He told me that without the images to ground him, his mind wanders…and not necessarily off-topic. In fact, the more interesting the book or thought-provoking the topic, the more his mind drifts, thinking over what he’s reading, forming his own pictures in his mind. As a result, he reads quite slowly, caught up in his thoughts. When he reads a graphic novel, the pictures put his thoughts into context. The translation of words to pictures that naturally occurs in his mind is already done for him, increasing the speed and depth of his reading.

Fascinating. This is so different from the way my own mind works.

My husband has found that graphic novels are particularly suited to memoirs. The pictures bring you along on a journey into someone’s life, taking you right into the time period without the guesswork that might come from imagining a time and place you’ve never seen. Description, even the best description, can’t necessarily make a life feel as real.

A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes.

FullSizeRender+%2834%29.jpg

Graphic novels are also great at conveying feelings and introspective moments, those moments when no one is speaking, when even getting into the head of a character is less clear than the expression on their face. Words can distract from this raw emotion and a good artist can tap into that.

Illustrations, even without words, will often lead to discussion and a deeper understanding of a topic. And if you ask my husband, we all need a break from reading from time to time.

Me? I’ll read a book any day of the week. But, armed with some basic graphic novel knowledge, I began reading some graphic novels myself. I started with Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani. This one is a juvenile graphic novel, just the right level for my daughter. I enjoyed the narrative and found the use of color stunning, as the story moved back and forth between reality and mystical memories. As it was written for children, I found it easier to connect the words and the pictures. My tendency is to gloss over the pictures in favor of the words, but I managed to absorb both.

FullSizeRender+%2838%29.jpg

I tried an adult graphic novel, Thoreau, by A. Dan and Maximilien LeRoy. The visuals really brought Thoreau’s life alive for me. I almost wish there had been no words, as I found the visuals so engaging. Of course, I wouldn’t have had a clue what was going on. Even with the words, I think that if I had known a bit more about Thoreau’s life before reading the graphic novel, I would have appreciated it more.

Next, I took a look at a couple of Neil Gaiman works, which gave me the perfect opportunity to compare storytelling mediums, as the graphic novels were adapted from his original novels. How do they compare and which would I prefer?

I started with The Graveyard Book. The graphic novel adaptation that I read was split into two volumes and had numerous illustrators. In all honesty, I didn’t finish it. I found the jump from illustrator to illustrator jarring. As much as I enjoyed The Graveyard Book when I read it in novel form, I found that the words and pictures fought against each other in my mind. For this one, I much preferred to form my own images than have them drawn out for me.

For me, Coraline worked much better as a graphic novel. Though the novel is well-written, many of the original words are retained in the graphic novel, so not much is lost. The pictures really add something to the story. They amp up the creepy factor, which I think is a plus for a story like this one. Some of the pictures easily take the place of descriptive paragraphs and there are numerous instances where the pictures alone tell the story. This made my brain work a little less hard, but I do love the way Neil Gaiman uses words, so I’m a bit torn. Interestingly, the movie version (yet another great way to tell a story) made the story much less creepy and little too cute. These kinds of comparisons are always interesting.

So, what’s the point? What did I learn by dipping a toe into the deep pool of the graphic novel? While they may not always be my preferred method of receiving a story, they work really well for visual thinkers and they tell stories in a unique way. They allow us to really see the story, immerse ourselves in it. Graphic novels and comics allow us to take a different approach, to not have to choose between art and writing. What a great way to get a reluctant writer to share the stories that they have inside. What a great way to see the world as someone else does, without the need for lengthy descriptive passages.

Why don’t we give it a try? Perhaps, this method of storytelling is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Gently Guided Activity #1 Before you begin creating cartoons or graphic novels of your own, take some time to familiarize yourself with the genre, if you aren’t already. I’d suggest heading to the library and checking out their selection of graphic novels. You’ll find great titles for all ages and interests. We’ve got one out now that is all about cooking! Flip through a few. Take note of the pictures, the use (or non-use) of color, the way time or emotion is represented. Use these as examples to help you get started with your own attempts.

Gently Guided Activity #2 Why not try turning yourself into a comic character? If you take a look at the first image that I posted from inside Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, you’ll see a spectrum of comic faces, ranging from extremely detailed to more cartoon-like. You can choose to make yourself into any kind of comic character you’d like. Feel free to embellish, adding a little fantasy to the mix. Do you want your cartoon self to be just like you or would you prefer to have special powers or talents? Think about what you’d like to do before you get started. Once you have an idea, draw out your new cartoon self!

Gently Guided Activity #3 Once you’ve created a cartoon version of yourself, try coming up with a short story that involves your new character. Can you put your new character into a graphic novel or comic setting? Try using one of the following templates to draw a story in graphic format. If you don’t feel like using the cartoon version of yourself that you created above, feel free to come up with a completely new story and characters. Stick figures are OK! Draw whatever story comes to mind. If you’re too intimidated to write and draw your story, feel free to create a visual story without any words or a written story without any images…for now.

Gently Guided Activity #4 Graphic novels move in interesting ways through time. We can use different visuals to express the passage of time. Create a multi-panel comic. The first panel should take place in the past. The last panel should take place in the future. Use the middle few panels (however many you want) to show how we got from the beginning to the end. Play around with different ways of representing time. It doesn’t always have to be linear.

Use the templates that I’ve provided above or create your own with any variety of shapes and sizes to work with. Try your hand at telling a story by mixing your words and your images. If you really hate drawing, you can try using images that you photograph instead. Whatever approach you take, have some fun experimenting with this form of storytelling.

We are all storytellers. We just have to find the format that moves us.

The 30-Day Challenge: Starting a Creative Habit

I am a huge fan of creative challenges. A couple of months ago, I started one on Instagram, known as the 100 Day Project. I made a commitment of sorts to create something everyday for 100 days. I felt I needed to jump start my own creativity. In all of my efforts to spread creative confidence, I’ve lost a little of my own, neglected my own creative expression. I thought this 100 Day Project sounded like a great idea. And for a while, it was.

The only trouble is, I don’t have the time to commit to doing the kind of art I’d like to do each and every day. For me, I think 100 days is a little too long. I understand that the idea is to really cement a habit, to keep us creating long after the challenge has ended. I love that idea. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep my creative energy flowing daily for that length of time. I didn’t finish. I’m not even sure I made it past a few weeks. Personally, I prefer a shorter challenge. Give me 30 days and I’ll try anything. This seems like a more manageable goal and I’m much more likely not to give up. When the end is easier to see, I’m more likely to keep my momentum going.

A 30-day challenge can work just as well as longer challenges to jump start your creative habit and get you working on creative exercise. You’ll find that if you spend 30 days working on something creative, your brain will be primed to continue, ready to take on more creative projects or think more creatively in your daily life. Not only that, taking on a shorter challenge means that you can change it up. Finished with your first challenge? Keep going with the same theme or try something brand new!

I’d like you to think about trying a 30-day challenge. This challenge can really be anything that you’d like. If you’re interested in stretching yourself through visual art, make a commitment to create something visual every day for 30 days. Just one month. It’s achievable. Maybe you’d prefer to knit every day, or cook something new, or take a picture. Maybe you’d like to write poetry, sew something, or whittle. It truly doesn’t matter what you choose to do. A 30-day challenge can be completely unique to you.

FullSizeRender+%2832%29.jpg

Obviously, if you really want to set yourself up for success, it’s best to start easy, with small projects that don’t take too much time, especially if your life is busy and hectic. It’s also best to choose a 30-day stretch that doesn’t happen to be your busiest time of the year. When I embarked on the 100 Day Project, I found myself trying to create something every day while suddenly homeschooling at the end of a school year. For me, that was not the best time to hope for success. I think I knew I would fail when I started. Though, even a failed challenge has rewards and boosts creativity. There is more than one path to success here.

My absolute favorite 30-day challenge is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. This takes place every November and there is a fantastic online community, so you can take on this challenge at the same time as thousands of people from around the world. Basically, the challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s an average of 1,667 words per day. Depending on how quickly your ideas flow, this can seem like a whole lot of words each day or a reasonable amount.

nanowrimo.jpg

I have participated in NaNoWriMo several times over the last ten years or so. I have enjoyed the experience each time. What I love about the frantic nature of the challenge is that it doesn’t allow time to stop and think too much. It doesn’t allow time to sit and ponder too long over word choice. It forces you to write quickly and move your story along, whether you’re happy with the results or not. Sometimes, we need this kind of push to get our creative juices flowing. We need to remember that nothing needs to be perfect when we first get started. That’s what revision is for! If you think you might like to try a novel writing challenge, I highly recommend NaNoWriMo. I’ll post a reminder about the challenge when we get closer to November.

If writing really isn’t your thing, the same concept can be applied to many other creative disciplines. You can create your own challenge or join an online community of like-minded souls, of which there are many. If you’re interested in visual art and you try creating a piece of art every day for a month, it doesn’t have to be a completed work of art. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a quick sketch, just something to get your pencil and your mind moving. If you want to try for something larger, make an attempt at creating a piece of visual art that you add to, day by day, over the 30 days. I actually like that idea. I might give that one a go.

What kind of 30-day challenge could get you interested? What would you like to learn? What do you wish you were doing more of? Decide on a creative outlet and pick a time. Embark on a 30-day journey. Let me know how it goes and get in touch if you need encouragement!

Confessions of a Creative Mom Turned Homeschooler

So, I’ve mentioned this on the Facebook page, but I recently started homeschooling my daughter. She just finished up the fourth grade, and we did the last two months of the school year at home. We’re planning on doing this for at least one more year, if not longer. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. In the meantime, I’ve been working on juggling my blog, personal aspirations, and my newfound role as a teacher. Unfortunately, my blog has suffered. My aspirations have suffered. I haven’t yet found the balance.

But that’s not the confession that I’m here to talk about. My big confession is about art. It’s about the fact that this creatively confident Mama and her creatively confident kiddo did absolutely no art, no crafts, no creative projects during our seven weeks of homeschooling. None. I covered the basics. Plenty of math and language arts, some interesting science and history, and lots of exercise for P.E. Her violin lessons covered music. But art? We did nothing. I don’t even know how that’s possible. How did art fall so far down my priority list? Did I not decide to homeschool partly to give my daughter more time to engage in her interests and strengths? Did I not want her to have the freedom to create without all the rules and guidelines that public school threw her way?

I have no real explanation for this, except for the pressure of keeping up with the school ‘Joneses’. I’m pretty sure I was so focused on making sure that I caught her up, making sure that I filled the gaps I felt had started forming in her public school education, that missed something important. I missed something that I’m telling other people to prioritize, to make time for. The last thing I want, while my daughter is home, is to stifle her creativity, allow it to stagnate. And the truth is, we’re stagnating together. I’m not creating much myself.

FullSizeRender+%2827%29.jpg

So, that’s my confession. I’m not practicing what I preach. When I did my presentation for preschool parents on cultivating creativity at home, I stressed several important ingredients for creative success. One of those ingredients is time. We all need time to devote to creativity. If we aren’t willing to set aside a little time to create, in whatever fashion we choose, we will never grow that creativity and we will never increase our confidence. Time. It’s essential. It’s something I should have had in abundance, with M at home full-time, but I didn’t set it aside. I didn’t make it a priority. I didn’t listen to my own advice.

What’s the solution? Now that I’ve identified the problem, what can I do, going forward, to stop this downward slide of creativity in my own home?

I need to start setting aside the time. If that means that I have to start scheduling art time during our week, that’s what I’ll do. I’d rather not be so rigid, but if I’m going to sit around being rigid about math and language arts, I might have to approach art the same way…at least until I figure out how to relax about those other pesky subjects. I might decide to make one day per week an art day, where art becomes the focus. I can even build lessons around the art, folding in our other subjects.

The good news is that it’s summer. I’ve got time to figure things out. I’ve got the warm summer months to come up with a plan for the fall. I’ve got lazy days to sit around in the art room, creating and remembering. Remembering how good it feels to dabble, to paint, to drip, to smear colors along a canvas with our fingers. Remembering how exhilarating it is to experiment, try something new, prize the successes and satisfyingly crumple up the failures.

FullSizeRender+%2828%29.jpg

If you are having trouble making time for creativity in your home, you’re not alone. Join me on a quest to set aside more time for exploration, more time for creation. Look at your own schedule, figure out how you can fit a little time, here and there, to create. It’s possible. We can do it. Let’s do it together!

Music and the Visual Arts: Creating to a Different Tune

At this point in my life, I consider myself to have a fairly high level of creative confidence. Even so, I can hear the doubt in my mind. Sometimes, when writing or drawing, there’s a voice that says, “It’s just not good enough.” Drawing and writing are my strengths. They are the areas where my most of my confidence rests. What happens when I sit down to discuss creative subjects that I’m not so comfortable with? Eventually, I may have to outsource, if I get a large enough audience. I may have to call in reinforcements, people who can encourage and talk with confidence about topics that leave me cowering in a corner. In the meantime, we’ll take a more superficial look at these kinds of topics…just enough to get us started.

This week, that topic is music. Music is a fantastic creative outlet that many people engage in. They sing, compose, play instruments, pour their emotions into sounds and words. I do not. I never have. I took about three weeks of flute lessons in elementary school, I dreamed of learning drums, and I’ve got a guitar that sits decoratively in a corner. I take my daughter to violin lessons, and my eyes glaze over as her teacher explains what they’re doing. She talks, and it’s like a foreign language to me. Like, I honestly have no clue what she’s saying.

I am, however, a great appreciator of music. I love to listen to music. It feeds my soul.

With that information divulged, let’s take a look at some ways to add music to your creative brain exercises. Simple, basic ways, that satisfy those of us with little to no musical knowledge. If you find yourself like me, if you’ve never shown an aptitude or interest in engaging in music yourself, there are still ways to weave music into our creative lives.

One of my favorite ways to bring music along on my creative journey is by listening to tunes while I paint. I have never been able to write while listening to music (though I know many people who can). For me, that uses two parts of my brain that fight against each other. Art and music, however, can co-exist peacefully in my mind. Music can inspire my work, make my brush move in ways I hadn’t thought. It can bring out the best in me. I almost never work on art without music. Think about the emotions that music can stir and the effect those emotions can have on a piece of art, or really any creative venture. It’s powerful.

(These pieces were created while making the video you’ll find below).

I created this piece years ago, while listening to ‘Third Eye’ by Florence + The Machine. Much of my other art was influenced by the music I listened to while creating, though less obviously.

IMG_3669.jpg

When my daughter was younger, you might have found me dabbling in the instrument bin, pulling out a tambourine or the maracas and playing along to the music. I like to create a rhythm, add a little something to a piece of music, but I don’t create my own. When I was in my twenties, I owned a drum set. I had big dreams of tapping into my hidden musical side, but I was intimidated. I never played them. I lived in an apartment and was afraid of annoying the neighbors. I occasionally tried tapping out a beat on my practice pad, but never got further than that. Still, I don’t discount these little experiments with music as it relates to my overall growth in creative confidence. It’s brain exercise, whether I progressed at it or not.

What about singing? I love to sing, and will belt out a tune at the top of my voice…as long as only my loved ones are listening. I could probably be convinced to sing ‘Walking in Memphis’, the Cher version only, in front of just about anyone, but the truth is…I don’t sing very well. I never learned the technical skill. It’s always been a dream of mine to learn, but I’ll settle for singing poorly, giving my creative brain a workout in the process.

My most recent musical dream is to learn to play the cello. And you know what? I think I just might do it. Tapping into a little music could help my art. It could help my writing. It could help my brain in ways I can’t even comprehend. Pushing myself into new territory is a good thing. Being intimidated shouldn’t stop me. The more creative outlets I try, the more I stretch my creative muscles.

Are you a musical person. or do you struggle with music like I do? If music is a stretch, try these Gently Guided Activities:

Gently Guided Activity #1 Try doing some art while listening to music. If art is a stretch for you, if you haven’t grown your confidence yet, you may find that music loosens you up, tugs on your emotions or lowers your self-consciousness. Try out different types of music. Do you create differently if you’re listening to classical music versus rock or pop? If you are able to write while listening to music, try writing a short story or a poem inspired by your favorite music.

Check out the video below to see our process of creating while listening to music:

Gently Guided Activity #2 Have you ever dreamed of learning an instrument or learning to sing? If so, and you have the means, maybe the time is now. When we’re not confident in our abilities, we put up a lot of mental blocks. Knock them down and give yourself permission to try. Give yourself permission to be terrible at it. Just do it for fun. Give it a try! If lessons are beyond your means (I’m pretty sure they’re beyond mine right now), try getting an inexpensive instrument to start with. Watch YouTube videos to get you going. There’s a lot of internet content that can get you making music without a huge financial investment.

FullSizeRender+%2833%29.jpg

Gently Guided Activity #3 Maybe you’re not ready to learn an instrument, start singing, or composing your own tunes. If you have kids, you probably have a few noise-makers lying around. Add your own sounds to music that you love. No instruments? No problem. Create your own beat, or mimic the beats of your favorite song by clapping your hands, banging on the kitchen counter or stomping your feet. Dance while you’re cooking. Move your body to the music. Do whatever you can to connect yourself with music. You’ll be using part of your brain that might be a little rusty, and you’ll feel better for it.

If you try any of the activities, let me know in the comments. If you give the art activity a try, feel free to post your results on the Bonnythings Creative Facebook Page!

Reading Aloud: Encouraging Dramatic Performance

I’m a huge fan of reading aloud. I didn’t stop reading to my daughter once she learned to read on her own. Actually, I read to my daughter and my husband together almost every morning. I’m like a living audio book. There is something about reading a book aloud that really let’s you immerse yourself in the story, become embroiled in the emotions of the characters. Reading aloud allows us to practice drama without getting onto a stage and pouring our hearts into a performance, without the vulnerability of standing in front of a crowd, playing a role. It models to children what language should sound like, what good writing should sound like. It’s a fantastic way to teach the art of writing, hearing the words spoken aloud, the rhythm, the natural dialogue.

There is much more to reading aloud than simply reading as your kids listen (or don’t listen, as the case may be). When they are young, you are modeling a behavior, the act of adding drama and performance to a written piece. As they get older, and are capable of reading aloud themselves, they will have the tools to bring their own emotion to the piece that they are reading. They will be able to connect with the characters, bring them to life, learn a little about humorous delivery and much more.

Below, you can watch me read the end of The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. I chose this one because I remember so clearly the first time I heard it read aloud. It was 7th grade English class. My teacher read it with enthusiasm and emotion that increased as the story progressed. I was enthralled. I heard it read aloud again, more recently, with little emotion or feeling. The difference to the story was amazing. So, I figured I’d give it a try. Take a look:

I highly recommend reading aloud as a bridge to the dramatic arts. In the safety of your own home, in front of a mirror or your family, you can experiment with acting. You can amp up the inflection, make the story come alive. As a family, you can take turns reading. Even better, choose a play to read, taking on different roles. We have been particularly enjoying William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher, in our household. It’s a fantastic read, allowing us to take on different characters and act out scenes. I’m especially keen on the idea that we are introducing Shakespearean language in a story format that my daughter can understand. I think this will be particularly valuable in later years, when she studies actual Shakespeare plays. Watch below to see us give it a try:

But, I digress. The point is, reading aloud, whether a book or a play, allows us to experiment with the spoken word, with drama, with characterization. Even if we never have an ambition to stand in front of an audience and act in a play, this is a creative exercise that gets our minds moving. It’s also valuable in developing a comfort level with public speaking. Another example of how growing our creative confidence can help us in many aspects of our lives.

If you haven’t read aloud in a while, it may seem strange to do so. It may take some time to move from reading in a rather deadpan manner to reading with feeling and emotion. It may take time to develop the ability to read different characters in different voices. If you’re nervous, I highly recommend spending a little time listening to an audio book or two. Finding good narrators for audio books can be challenging. You may need to try out to a few to find someone that really brings the story alive. Once you do, you’ll have a better idea of how to do that very thing yourself.

Here, M and I do a little more reading aloud from some of our favorite books. Take a listen:

You don’t have to start with something as daunting as a novel. Take a poetry book out of the library and practice reading a few pieces. See if the tone of poem changes as you change your speed or inflection. Experiment with the different ways you can use your voice to add interest to the reading. Like anything else, this is something that takes practice.

Gently Guided Activities:

Activity #1 As I mentioned above, I would start with listening to a few audio books, if you are intimidated. If audio books aren’t your thing, try comparing a book to a movie version of the same story. Harry Potter is always a fun one to use for an exercise like this. Listen to the way that the actors deliver their lines. Then, have a look at the book and try to replicate what you hear.

Activity #2 Find a poem or a short passage from a story or novel that you particularly like. Practice reading it aloud until you’ve got it memorized. Perform it in front of the mirror. When you’re comfortable, debut your performance for family or friends. They key is to pick something that you really enjoy, something that can stir your emotions or make you laugh. Don’t make it too long, so that it’s easier to memorize and become comfortable with. This is great practice for anything from public speaking to theatre and works your memory muscles as well as your creative ones. If memorization is daunting, feel free to read from the book, as we did above.

Activity #3 Once you’ve mastered a short passage and you feel that you can add depth and emotion to your reading, you’re ready to take on a longer book. This is a great activity for both kids and adults. Take turns reading to each other. Get immersed in the story. I love to read, as I have mentioned before, and I love to read silently in a corner, wrapped up in the story. Still, when I read aloud, the story truly takes on new life. I understand the characters better. Their feelings become my own.

Parent Workshops: Spreading the Word on Creative Confidence

I had the pleasure of doing my first parent workshop this past weekend at a local preschool. While turnout may have been a bit low, as it’s the end of the school year, the parents who came out were fun and engaged. I learned a lot about the process and had a blast sharing my passion for creativity and encouraging creative confidence.

If someone had told me, even a year ago, that I would be hosting creative breaks at the co-working space and standing at the front of a room giving a presentation to parents on growing creative confidence in their kids…I would have laughed. I’m one of the biggest introverts you’ll ever meet. I’ve never been comfortable talking to a crowd…heck, sometimes I’m barely comfortable talking at all. But apparently, passion for a topic can push you beyond the boundaries you thought you had. And I am passionate about creativity.

I consider this the model for my ‘base’ presentation, the introduction to creative confidence and how to encourage creativity at home. I’ve got material and ideas for future presentations, but this is the one I think I could start giving around town. I had positive feedback and I think the overall presentation flowed fairly well. If you’re interested in a general overview of what I talked about, see my presentation slides below:

I’m not going to say that I wasn’t nervous. Getting up in front of people will probably always make me nervous. But once I got started, once I hit my stride with my topic, the nervousness melted away. I made sure to add interactive elements to the presentation, not only talking to the room about creative confidence and making suggestions for how to grow it at home, but walking the crowd through a couple of hands-on activities. This was certainly the most fun part…hopefully for everyone!

I want to show people that bringing creativity into your home doesn’t have to be intimidating. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Activities that encourage creativity and creative confidence can be simple, can start early, and can grow with your child. I want to show that these same activities work just as well for adults, that these simple acts of creativity can stretch grown-up minds as well.

I certainly hope that I can find more opportunities to bring my message and my passion out into my community. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I love brainstorming, coming up with activities and writing blog posts, but nothing is more fun than getting out and actually talking with people, inspiring creativity face-to-face.

I got a great email yesterday about my presentation. It included some pictures of the parent and child trying out my ‘drawing together’ activity. It’s wonderful for me to see my ideas in action!

If you’d like to hear a few excerpts from my presentation, take a look at the video below. M took the video, so it’s a bit choppy, but I’m grateful that she managed to capture the presentation in action.

If you are local and know of any schools or groups that might benefit from a presentation on creative confidence, let me know, or let them know about me!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: When Words and Pictures Collide

Do your kids like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney? My daughter most definitely does. She’s enjoyed them for years. They are not the kind of middle-grade fiction that I would pick up and read myself (I’m not really the target audience), but I have truly enjoyed listening as M has read several of them aloud to me. She thinks they are hilarious and will gladly read them any day of the week. I’d love a little more variety in her reading choice, but she’s reading, so I’m happy.

To me, these books are an awesome bridge between a novel and a graphic novel. This is important, as I’ll be discussing comics and graphic novels in a couple of weeks. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid books seem like a great way to start the conversation about the power of storytelling using pictures. Though these books still rely heavily on words to move the story along, the pictures are an extremely important part of the finished product. They help to set the scene and the tone of the books. Without them, the books wouldn’t be nearly as popular or fun to read.

So, lets talk about the illustrations in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. They are one of the things I love about this series of books. The pictures are meant to be drawn by Greg himself, a middle-school-aged boy. These drawings are part of the journals that he keeps. They are simple. Nothing fancy, but they add so much to the story. They show us that drawings don’t have to be complicated or incredibly detailed to be worthwhile. We don’t need amazing technical drawing skills to tell our stories through images. Even the simplest pictures in the books have the power to convey so much of what’s going on or how the main characters feel about the action. Take a look at how Jeff Kinney can create simple characters, but show so much emotion on their faces, with little detail.

Quite apart from the illustrations, which I find inspiring in their simplicity, another thing that I enjoy about the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is how the author pulled from his own life experience to create the character of Greg Heffley. He used some of his own history to come up with the crazy situations that Greg often finds himself in. Much of the storytelling begins with fairly average day-to-day events in the life of a middle-schooler and his family. Things may go a little out-of-control from there, but we all have these little moments and stories to draw from in our own lives. These books show that even the most mundane parts of our day can be turned into a story, can be made interesting. This is because we can relate. We have those times in our lives, in our days, and we can see ourselves in the characters.

There are many times when I shake my head at Greg’s questionable decision-making. There are many times when I roll my eyes as my daughter cracks up. There are also times when I genuinely laugh, times when I remember how awkward and challenging and funny it was to be a child. I can’t help but like a series of books that can get my daughter interested in reading. I can’t help but appreciate the creativity involved and the inspiration it provides. I also appreciate the vulnerability of sharing one’s own childhood hijinx and mistakes for a laugh.

If you have a reluctant reader, these books are great. If you’re interested in learning how to tell a story using both words and pictures, something longer than a picture book, these are a fantastic starting point. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to turn my attention to graphic novels and comics, a form of storytelling that often relies even more heavily on pictures. So, let’s take a look at how Diary of a Wimpy Kid can get us started, can help us get comfortable using our pictures to add to our stories. Take a look at the books and remind yourself, the pictures don’t have to be anything more than stick figures to get your point across.

Gently Guided Activities:

Activity #1 Let’s try drawing our families or close friends using the simple style of Jeff Kinney as inspiration. Your drawings won’t look quite like his. You’ll have a style all your own. Just remember to keep it simple. What features of your family members most stand out? What little thing can you add so that others will know who you’ve drawn. Is it a hairstyle? A pair of glasses? After you’ve got your cast of characters, draw them all together in a scene. What’s going on? Is it dinner? An argument? A fun trip to the amusement park? Just draw one simple scene with multiple characters. Add words underneath. These words can tell us a little more about what’s going on in your picture.

Activity #2 Most of the events that occur in Diary of Wimpy Kid are simple and every day moments. Using the characters that you’ve created in the activity above, write a short story about a funny thing that happened in school or a simple moment from your life at home. Use both words and pictures to tell your story. You may not think your life or your family are interesting enough to write about, but everyone’s is. Think of a moment that made you laugh or a moment that you rolled your eyes or thought something was ridiculous. Think of a moment you felt happy or loved. Bring those moments to life with words and simple pictures.

An Introduction to Photography: Looking at Life Through a Lens

I’ve been an amateur photographer for years. When I was a teenager, I got this awesome camera that could take panoramic pictures. I would stand on my hill in my backyard every evening in the summer, waiting to capture that perfect panoramic sunset. I loved the idea that I could imagine the world within a box, that I could see the box when I looked around, even without the camera. I could envision a photograph, point my camera, and hope for a great end-result. This was back when I had to get pictures developed. No instant gratification for me. No realizing that I had taken a terrible picture, deleting it and trying again.

20160821-IMG_6311.jpg

Photography is a fantastic form of creative expression. It can be used to document life, allow others to see a new perspective, express feelings and desires, capture a moment in time, or act simply as art, beautiful, illuminating or haunting.

Photography can seem like an intimidating hobby to take up. You can spend an absolute fortune on photography equipment. If you do, you’ll probably manage to take some brilliant photos. The thing is, brilliant photos are as much about composition as they are about gear. You don’t need the latest digital SLR camera with amazing lenses to take amazing pictures. All you need is the camera on your phone, or a cheap digital camera. Taking photos is accessible to nearly everyone, and I think everyone should give it a try. You will look at the world differently once you start taking pictures. You see things you never noticed were there, your world will open up, and so will your creative confidence. If you’re intimidated by photography, I hope I can take some of the fear away. It’s a fun way to express yourself and show the world how you view yourself and your surroundings.

Let’s dive in.

I’m not really going to get into a course on photography. I’m not going to spend time on theory and technique here. I just want to get you out into the world taking some pictures. The first thing you can do is start to observe your surroundings on a daily basis. What do you find interesting? What shapes strike your eye? What colors? Do you see interesting shadows? Does the sunlight come through your window at a certain time of day, leaving a magical quality in the air?

After you’ve started observing, you can start constructing a box in your mind. Imagine that your eyes are the viewfinder of your camera (or for those who only use phones, imagine your eyes are the screen on your phone). Box in what you see. Give boundaries to the scene. Ignore your periphery. Once you start taking pictures, this will come naturally. You will start to look at the world as though it were a rectangle. You can see the edges of the picture before you even set up the shot. Don’t worry, this amazing feature of a photographic mind is not permanent. You can turn it off and call it back up when you need it.

Once you’re ready to start taking pictures, I’m going to offer just a few pieces of advice to get you started. First, is the rule of thirds. This has to do with the composition of your photos, the way your subject will be presented within the frame. The rule of thirds is best explained using a visual. In the picture below, you can see the frame broken into a grid. Your main subject will often look best if it is centered on one of the intersecting lines. The middle of the photo is almost never where you want your subject. I promise, this will make a big difference to the quality of your photos.

thirds.jpg

Aside from the rule of thirds, I’d recommend getting in closer than you think you might need. I see so many people taking pictures from way too far away. The interest in the subject is lost if there is too much competing background. Don’t be afraid to get up close and personal. And don’t be afraid to try different distances and angles. Experimentation leads to discovery…and great photography. Make sure you’ve got the focus on your subject, unless you’re intentionally trying to create a blurred effect. And don’t be afraid to edit your photos using a program on your computer or the basic editing tools on a phone. Play around with the settings and see what you can create.

Now, let’s get to those Gently Guided Activities:

Activity #1 Find a few subjects that interest you. It may be a flower, a stuffed animal, a piece of food. It doesn’t matter at all. Set your subject up where there is interesting lighting. Nothing too dark and nothing blindingly bright. Try looking with your eyes first, setting up a box in your mind. Then grab your camera and set up a shot. Now, try the same subject, but move closer. Move closer again. Try another angle. Get down low and shoot up at the subject. Try getting above it and looking down. What if you change what’s in the background? Take a series of photos, making small changes between them. See what you like the best. Which images catch your eye. What do you think makes them more interesting than the others. Can you replicate that technique with another subject? Or does another subject call out for a different method entirely?

Activity #2 After you’ve taken some pictures around the house, get outside and experiment with what nature or your city surroundings have to offer. Don’t forget to be observant. Look for things you might normally pass by. Take a series of pictures that represent your home, your town, your favorite spot to hang out.

Activity #3 Now that you’ve got a few pictures under your belt, are there any stories behind the pictures that you took? Is there one shot that’s just begging to have its story told? This can be a true story, based on events surrounding the picture, or a fictional story, inspired by the image itself. Consider using your picture as inspiration to write a short story. It doesn’t have to be any more than a paragraph or two. Look beyond the photograph and see what more there is to tell.

Activity #4 If you’re not in the mood to write, consider telling a story using pictures alone. Take a series of pictures that illustrate a story when looked at in a specific order. Maybe it’s as simple as the story of your day, a photo taken once every hour. Maybe it’s something straight from your imagination, inspired by what you see around you. The possibilities for visual storytelling are endless and it can be great fun to experiment with different ways to present a story, or different stories that can be told from the same series of pictures.

For this one, my husband put together a little photo story featuring a set of separated Matryoshka dolls:

Activity #5 What is your favorite subject? Is there something you enjoy learning about? What are your passions? Can you think of a way to capture those interests in pictures? Can you take a series of photographs that represent who you are? What about a series that represents a member of your family? Could you surprise them with a photo collage all about them?

Here, I asked M to take some pictures that represent her, or things that she loves:

Activity # 6 If you could hang an image on your wall, what would it be? Is there any way you could capture a similar image yourself? Interested in cars? Try shooting a series of tires, headlights and details. Get close. Make the images look abstract. Look for cool colors and interesting features. What about magic or wizardry? Get a little dry ice and some food coloring and whip up a smoking potion to photograph. Do you love to read, like I do? Take pictures of books. Go to a used book store and take pictures of the spines of old books. Snap a picture or two of text from your favorite books. These are just a few examples of ways that you can create your own decoration for your space, using your newfound photography skills. You’ll love having something that you made yourself decorating your walls.

If you take any pictures, let me know.

Share your favorites on the Bonnythings Creative Facebook page! I’d love to see them!

Creative Outlets: A Nearly Infinite Variety

So far, I’ve centered my creative discussion on limited outlets and mediums for growing confidence. I’ve done several posts on storytelling, poetry and visual arts. I’ve focused on the gaining of supplies for pursuits in these specific endeavors. The thing is, and I’ve mentioned this before, writing and visual art are the two forms of creativity that I’m most comfortable with. They are the obvious starting point for me, and they work well as an introduction to creativity and creative confidence for those who feel disconnected from creativity in general, as there are many ways to approach both art and writing. However, there are so many ways in which creativity can manifest and so many forms of creativity to explore. This exploration will help you find the outlets that best work for you, that bring you the most joy and give you the most confidence.

Let’s take a look at some other ways that your creative confidence may prefer to be nurtured. I found this image while reading Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud, and it really got me thinking about the nearly endless variety of ways to be creative and express oneself.

FullSizeRender+%289%29.jpg

If you haven’t been inspired yet to try anything creative, perhaps you might consider trying one of these options:

  • web or graphic design

  • fashion design

  • knitting

  • sewing

  • scrapbooking

  • drama

  • architecture

  • hand lettering

  • movie making

  • sculpture

  • photography

  • cooking/food design

  • engineering/inventing

  • ceramics

  • gardening/floral arrangement

  • dance

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. I could go on. If there’s something you think might intrigue you, but you wonder if it’s creative enough, it is! Give it a try.

Most tasks require some level of creativity or creative thought to complete. Sometimes, it’s simply harder to see than others. Engaging in creative exercise, even if unrelated to your own field of study or interest, can still grow your creative brain and improve the work that you are already doing. Everything is interconnected.

Personally, I would love to dabble in many of these creative outlets. I know the exploration would improve my other creative work. I probably will try a bunch of new things, and blog about it along the way, hoping to inspire others to give something new a try. However, I can’t possibly try, nor can I appreciate every option that exists for creative expression. If I’m not spending time and blog posts talking about a specific medium or outlet, don’t let that stop you from giving it a try. If you don’t feel creative, if you can’t get your confidence flowing, it may be because you haven’t found the right avenue yet. Keep up with creative exercise. It’s having an impact, even if you can’t see it. But don’t limit yourself. Don’t be afraid to try something intimidating. You never know what might spark that creativity just waiting to burst free.

Last summer, I decided to teach myself to knit. I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t trying to expand my creative horizons. I was trying to knit a scarf based on Doctor Who, since my entire family was obsessed with the show at the time. I learned two basic stitches and got knitting. I wanted a scarf for the fall. I picked out some yarn with lovely fall colors. Fall 2018. That scarf is only half finished. Knitting, it turned out, was not a newfound passion. But that’s okay. It was time spent creating, exercising my mind, letting my brain grow as much as relax. It was a foray into something new. That is never a waste. And…I’m determined I’ll have that scarf done. Look for it…Fall 2019!

FullSizeRender+%2810%29.jpg

In the coming weeks, I’ll be taking on a few of the creative outlets on the list I made above. I’ll be showing you how to get started with photography, looking at how cooking can be creative, and giving hand lettering a try, just for some self-exploration. Eventually, I’ll cover more topics and more ways to express creativity. If I haven’t gotten to the expression that’s right for you, hopefully I will. But don’t wait for me. Try finding it for yourself.

Here’s a brief video of me talking about trying new things. If you try something new, let me know in the comments.

The Power of Creativity For Emotional Health

When I first started writing about creativity and creative confidence, I talked myself through all of the benefits that come from an increase in creative confidence. I wrote an entire post on the reasons why I think creative confidence is important to both society and the individual. I’d like to explore some of those reasons in more depth. I thought I’d start with emotional health.

When we are in touch with our own creative power, when we use that power to create, we contribute to our emotional well-being. Expressing ourselves creatively, thinking creatively, exercises our brain in the same way that a treadmill can exercise our muscles. No one argues with the fact that physical exercise is beneficial to our health. We should look at mental exercise, including creative mental exercise, the same way. In order to be healthy, our brains need a workout.

IMG_4673.jpg

Our minds are full of thoughts and feelings. Oftentimes, it is difficult for children to unpack or express all of those emotions. Let’s be honest…it’s not easy for adults either. There are tons of strategies out there to help children and adults handle their emotions and work through their racing thoughts. In our crazy and busy world, we need these strategies more than ever. Though I’m no expert in emotional health, I’ve noticed that a lot of strategies used by professionals involve tapping into creative energy. Doodling, journaling, art, music, poetry and storytelling are all great examples. They are all fantastic ways to express the feelings that are often swirling around in our minds. Getting those feelings from inside of us and down on a page can have a therapeutic effect. We can even access our subconscious thoughts by looking at what we create and thinking about why we created it.

IMG_4674.jpg

There are entire areas of therapy and research devoted to the efficacy of art and music therapy. For myself, struggling with anxiety throughout the majority of my adult life, I have seen first-hand the benefits of expressing myself creatively. There is something very cathartic about showing my emotions through art or through writing. It makes me feel less alone in my thinking, less bottled up. There is also something remarkably relaxing about swirling colors along a canvas or coloring meditatively. As long as I’m not working on a deadline, or wracking my brain to find creative inspiration, the act of creating can be one of the most relaxing activities in my life. Just allowing the art or writing to take place, without worrying about where it’s going or what it looks like can be just as beneficial as yoga, mindfulness practice or meditation.

FullSizeRender+%288%29.jpg

Music is another therapeutic creative avenue. There are many people who find solace in their music, who express their deepest emotions when they play, sing or compose. Personally, I have never played an instrument, so I don’t know much about that feeling, but I can absolutely believe it. I use music as therapy, but it’s tied to my visual art, rather than the creation of music itself. I find it most relaxing to paint or draw while listening to music. It can certainly be inspirational, affecting the art that I create, but it’s more than that. The music takes me away, it allows my mind to be free of my daily concerns, drawing me further into my creative world, blocking out my worries and the concerns that may be weighing on my mind.

IMG_2831.JPG

When we encourage creativity in ourselves, we allow ourselves to breathe, to cope, to exist as an emotional being in the world. When we encourage creativity in children, we help them navigate the world that they are just beginning to explore. When we grow their confidence, show them that they are capable of using their creativity to express their feelings, we give them tools to handle difficulties they may face later in life. When we show children how to harness their creativity, we give them the ability to express their fears, frustrations, pain and joy in a way that they may not be able to communicate otherwise. We show them how to explain themselves and who they are. We give ourselves a glimpse into their minds, allowing us to further understand and help them navigate. We give them coping skills, a way to relax, to let go of the stress of the day and simply make something. It’s a gift we can give to our children. It’s also a gift we can give to ourselves.

Getting Out in the World: My Time Beyond the Blog

Though I love writing this blog and getting my ideas out of my head and down in writing, I absolutely love having the chance to share my creative confidence message with people in my community. It’s so much fun to talk with people about creative confidence and to inspire those around me to give creative projects a try. For most people, the types of projects I put in front of them are out of their comfort zone. It’s a joy to see people willing to try, willing to be vulnerable. Because if you’re not confident in your creativity or your ability to do a specific type of creative work, that’s how you feel, vulnerable. It’s so uplifting to know that people are willing to wade into that vulnerability, even to take the smallest step, allowing me to guide them forward.

FullSizeRender+%2817%29.jpg

Last Friday, I set myself up at one of our local co-working spots (for the second time) to host a ‘creativity break’. This is a great chance for me to see what kinds of activities inspire people to step outside of their comfort zones and work with me on building confidence. It’s also a fantastic chance for a group of hardworking folks to get a break, to benefit from the relaxation that can come from dipping a brush into a pot of paint and smearing it across the page, or walking through the office with a notepad, writing down random thoughts and observations.

Last time, I had fantastic success with my activity based on Peter H. Reynolds’ Sky Color, which involved asking the participants to paint a sky without using the color blue. I brought that activity for a second time. Only one person participated this time, but he found the activity to be relaxing and I think he did a great job!

FullSizeRender+%2812%29.jpg

Since it’s National Poetry Month, I thought I would feature a poetry activity this time around. People are quite intimidated by poetry, but I did manage to get a number of folks to grab a little notebook and a pencil and go jabberwalking. If you don’t know what that means, refer to my previous poetry post, wherein I highlighted the fantastic book Jabberwalking, by Juan Felipe Herrara.

I was so excited to see people walking around the floor of the co-working space, pencils drifting across the page, observing their environment. One even came back, poem in hand and exclaimed, “This is so fun!” I managed to convince another very reluctant poet to give it a try. Will he write more poetry in the future? Maybe not, but he certainly left his comfort zone, and that made me so happy.

Lastly, I presented a scribble drawing activity. My daughter provided most of the scribbles, though at least one participant wanted to draw her own. I loved seeing what everyone drew from the nondescript squiggles. It’s like looking at the clouds and finding a picture. It was a fun and simple activity that provided a short creative break. Though most turned the scribbles into something recognizable, my personal favorite submission was a fantastic abstract work.

These ventures out into my community really make me smile. I’m an introverted person. My comfort zone is writing, safely behind a computer screen, but I come a little bit alive when I talk about creativity, when I can stand face to face with people and help them face their fears, help them realize, even just a little, that they’ve got the ability within them.

I’d like to make this visit to the co-working spot a monthly event. I’ll just have to make sure I’ve got plenty of new material to help inspire creativity!

Next month, I’m presenting my very first creative confidence workshop to parents a local preschool. I’ve had a blast putting that presentation together and I can’t wait to share it with the parents. Hopefully I can get a conversation going on the importance of creative confidence and the opportunities that parents have to build that confidence in their kids…and have a great time doing it!

There is much to be gained from blogging and putting my ideas and resources all in one place, a creative confidence reference of sorts. But there is also something incredibly valuable in getting out from behind my computer and working with people face-to-face. That’s when I get the most out of my work. That’s when I find my joy.

Creative Screen Time: A World Of Warcraft Case Study

These days, our children are bombarded by bright colors, flashing images and the constant draw of the screen. It’s hard to get away from. It’s hard to avoid. Children are spending more and more time in front of a television, tablet or computer screen. It’s very easy to dismiss this screen time as a waste, as not adding anything of value to the people we are hoping to raise, the adults we’d like them to become. When my daughter asks me to play a video game, I often balk, thinking of gaming as the ultimate waste of time. This is coming from someone who used to spend hours playing World of Warcraft in my twenties. Bit hypocritical of me, no?

At least, that’s how I used to feel. Lately, I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot more going on in her mind while she’s gaming than I thought. I had completely underestimated the value of this kind of play.

wow3.jpg

When she was a toddler, and I still played World of Warcraft from time to time, she would sit on my lap and hit the space bar to make the characters jump. As she got older, she liked to play around with the horses and dragons that you could ride around on, exploring the geography and giggling as she dropped a character from an insane height and watched them fall harmlessly into the water.

These days, my daughter is almost 10. She has started playing the game legitimately, making her own characters and taking them on quests. She likes creating new characters more than she enjoys the questing and leveling up and she’s got quite the collection. She enjoys the process of choosing their features, giving them a name, getting to know them.

I sat down with her one day when she was sick. She showed me her characters and proceeded to explain their family histories in great detail. Several of the characters were related. She took me on a tour of the town and showed me all the in-game characters that related to her own. One had left his son and wife in the big city because he needed a job. Another had learned a skill well enough to train others. She was a role model to the rest of her family, including M’s character. She spent ages telling me all about them, stories she had concocted out of her own imagination. How amazing, to see beyond the screen and realize that there’s real creation going on underneath.

Not long after that sick day, M pulled out her writing notebook and started working on a story. Her story, it turned out, was based on her World of Warcraft characters. She had come up with a fascinating cast, each with unique names and detailed backstories. There is a depth to the story that has me wanting to know more. She hasn’t finished writing it yet. Maybe she never will, but I’d love to see where she takes her story, what happens to her characters, and what her imagination can design after being inspired by a video game.

FullSizeRender+%2812%29.jpg

Just the other day, M decided to throw an impromptu World of Warcraft party for the family on a Saturday night. I had no idea what to expect, what ideas she had swimming around in her head. I actually thought we might just spend the evening playing the game together, but she had other plans. She dragged Dad out to the store and created a menu based on food in the game (sticking well to the budget I had laid out, I might add). She designed games for us to play, based on the different races, cultures and quests in World of Warcraft. By the end of the evening, we were shooting toy arrows at a Dark Iron Dwarf, crawling around on the floor to see who could find the most ‘apples’ and searching for a lost Hippogriff to take to Exodar. I was so impressed with the ideas she came up with in a relatively short amount of time. We had a yummy array of food, creatively chosen, and a lineup of fun games, none of which actually involved a screen. She had taken her screen inspiration and turned it into something we could all do together in our living room.

World of Warcraft has given M so much more than a game to mindlessly play (although I also believe in the benefit of disconnecting for a bit and relaxing into a game world). It has given her inspirations, characters, stories and artwork. In an imaginary world like this one, with vibrant colors, defined cultures and lush landscapes, it’s easy to branch off and start creating ideas of your own. The next time your child is really into a video game or tv show, try to look a little beyond the screen. See if anything else is going on. Maybe you can even encourage them to create within the theme, within the thing they love.

Field Trip: Using Museums To Inspire Our Creative Brains

A few weeks ago, I profiled the creative confidence picture books of Peter H. Reynolds. Did you know that in addition to writing and illustrating his own books, Peter H. Reynolds also illustrates for other authors? He has done the illustrations for multiple picture books written by Susan Verde. One of those books is called The Museum. It’s a fantastic book that follows a young girl through her visit to an art museum. We see the way she feels as she moves from exhibit to exhibit, allowing the different art to change her moods, her thoughts, and even the way she moves her body.

FullSizeRender+%2828%29.jpg

A visit to a museum can be a powerful lift for our creative confidence, providing ample inspiration and opportunities to exercise the creative centers of our brain. The obvious choice is an art museum, which allows us to study different forms of art, from ancient to modern, from two-dimensional to three-dimensional. An art museum surrounds us with color, emotion and scenes from the past. It’s bound to get your sketching fingers itching to grasp a pencil and work those muscles.

You may find the visuals enticing, but prefer to express the thoughts and feelings that are evoked through your words, rather than images. In that case, you can try jotting down words as you walk through the museum. This can be much like jabberwalking, which I discussed in my post on poetry. Writing down your observations and emotions while walking through an art museum can lead to fantastic poetry…or at the very least, some interesting introspection.

We are lucky enough to have an outdoor sculpture garden and walking path as part of our local art museum. This means that we get the chance to interact with the art. This can make for a fun experience that brings art out of the stuffy museum and right into the playground.

Art museums are not the only museums that can lead to creative exercise. Pretty much any kind of museum, from history to science, can inspire and lead to creative expression. We took a trip to a local science museum to see what kind of creative mischief we could get into. While exploring rooms filled with science and nature, we found plenty of opportunities to practice drawing, write poetry, brainstorm story ideas and work on photography. All of this in one museum!

When we came home from our museum day, we had new sketches to admire, inspiration for future art, a great brainstorm for a story idea about a turtle, fun photos and the beginnings of a poem or two. Not bad for an afternoon on the town.

Below, you’ll find our video all about our museum visits and the creative fun we had:

Don’t have a museum near you? Don’t despair! You can create a museum-like atmosphere right in your home. Dig through your book collection for drawing or writing inspiration. Check out some books from the library on famous paintings, sculpture, dinosaurs…anything you want. Lay the books out like a museum display and have fun looking through the pictures.

The internet is also a fantastic resource. Many museums offer views of some or all of their collections online. My daughter really enjoyed this virtual tour of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. It makes you feel like you’re right there in the museum. You can take a look at some of the Louvre collection online, as well at the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These are just a few examples. The internet is full of resources to help provide that museum experience when a museum might be hard to come by.

An Intro to the Work of Neil Gaiman: Fortunately, the Milk

It’s time to take a look at another creatively inspirational author. Over the course of time and several posts, I’m going to highlight a few books written by Neil Gaiman. If you are already familiar with Neil Gaiman, you know that he is an author who deftly uses language, tells unique stories and challenges genre norms. He has written a wide variety of books, in theme, tone and audience. He is an author that one can follow from childhood into adulthood. His books are original and exceptionally creative. They are bound to provide great inspiration to those on a creative journey. Pick one…any one…and pay attention to the way he weaves a story, creates characters, and forms expectations, only to turn them upside down.

Since I have already written a few posts on storytelling, I figured I’d begin my look at Neil Gaiman’s writing by focusing on Fortunately, the Milk. This is a middle-grade chapter book that is perfect for elementary-aged kids. It is a ‘then-what-happened?’ kind of story that follows the crazy adventures of a dad who went out to get milk, and it’s a good thing he did. That milk saves the world.

FullSizeRender+%287%29.jpg

Fortunately, the Milk is not only a fun read, and an even better read-aloud, it is a great example of storytelling. The book models the storytelling methods of ‘then what?’ and ‘action-reaction’. (I made those terms up. They just sound right to me).

When the dad in the story finds himself on an alien spaceship, he chooses to open a door that says, ‘DO NOT OPEN FOR ANY REASON’. The choice to open the door is an action. The reaction is our ‘then what?’ moment. What happens when he opens that door? It could be anything. Whatever we can imagine, can happen. In this case, the dad falls into the sea and is rescued by pirates. But the question is…then what happens??

This is a fantastic type of storytelling to get anyone started. It focuses on the action, on the next thing to happen, rather than on character development. It’s great for kids to let their imaginations run wild, to focus more on the happenings in the story. Character development doesn’t have to take center stage. Storytelling can start with an idea and follow through with action.

FullSizeRender%2B%25289%2529.jpg

In Fortunately, the Milk, the children interrupt their father’s storytelling to ask questions, to ponder whether or not their dad actually encountered these crazy circumstances or if, perhaps, he’s just making it all up. The children want their dad’s story to make sense and sometimes, it just doesn’t. That’s another thing I love about this book, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t have to. It shows that the stories that flow from our imaginations can do just that…flow. We can allow whatever comes up to just be. We have the freedom to follow where the story leads us. Sometimes, we control the story. Sometimes, the story controls us. When the story is in control, it’s magic. Let it take over. See what happens.

In the end, the children in the story look around their kitchen and see inspiration for all the elements of their dad’s story. There’s a book, toys, a calendar on the wall, all related to ideas that popped up in the story. Was the story true? You decide. But don’t forget…inspiration is always around you. Be observant. Look for the story that’s right there in the room with you.


I highly recommend getting your hands on Fortunately, the Milk and reading it with your kids. Adults will likely enjoy the hilarity as well. I sure did, and so did my husband. After you’ve read it (or before, if you’d prefer) give these Gently Guided Activities, inspired by the book, a try:

Activity #1 Let’s give ‘then what?’ storytelling a try! We’ll try telling this story aloud. Start with a simple premise. For example, a boy walked down the street and saw his neighbor’s dog flying. Then what? What does the boy do? What does the dog do? Is anything else strange happening? After each new element, ask the question ‘Then what?’ or ‘What happens next?’ See how far your story can take you. Try looking around your own space or out your own window for inspiration. Ideas are everywhere!

Activity #2 For this one, let’s write a story down. Try writing about yourself from the first-person perspective (I did this.. I did that…). Start with a normal event and then make it extraordinary. ‘My ball rolled down the street. I ran to get it. On my way back, you’ll never guess what happened…’ Make it crazy and unbelievable. Let your imagination go wild. It can be short and sweet or an epic adventure. Don’t forget to ask yourself ‘Then what?’ whenever you get stuck.

Activity #3 If you find it too hard to start from scratch, take a few elements from Fortunately, the Milk and weave your own story. Throw your own character into the mix and see what happens. Maybe you’d like your character to encounter aliens in a hot air balloon or dinosaurs on a pirate ship. What would happen in your version of the story?

Activity #4 Don’t feel like storytelling or writing? Take one of the fantastical ideas from the book or imagine a crazy scenario of your own. Sketch it out. Rather than telling the story through words, tell it using a picture, or a series of pictures. Words are only one way to tell a story. Have fun and let your story colorfully come to life.

If you’re interested, watch me and my daughter give ‘Then What?’ storytelling a try in the video below:

If you read the book or try the activities, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear about your creative adventures!

Collaborative Creation: Coloring and Doodle Pages

One aspect of creative confidence that I think is very important is collaboration. For kids to dive into creativity and to put their efforts out into the world, it is helpful for them to have a partner in their pursuits, to see someone else face their own creative vulnerability. When a child sees a parent or older sibling willing to create, accepting of mistakes, taking chances…they are more likely to do so themselves.

This concept works just as well for adults. When embarking on the journey to strengthen your creative confidence, see if you can find a friend, co-worker, significant other or family member to join you on the adventure. You can encourage one another, work together, and draw each other out of your shell. Having someone to cheer you on can make the process so much easier.

Collaboration can take many forms. You can paint a picture together, work to create characters and stories, write or improvise a play. You can go back and forth writing verses of poetry or design a mural for the wall.

Today, I’m going to look at two types of collaborative art that work especially well for children. We have had great success with these activities in our home. They foster a sense of teamwork and grow creative confidence.

The first is the coloring page swap. This has been a favorite of my husband and daughter for years. They each start with a blank piece of paper and a pencil. On that sheet of paper, they draw a picture, something that would be fun to color in. Maybe it’s a plane or a rocket ship. Maybe it’s a bouquet of flowers or a hot air balloon. I find it’s best to each draw something different, to avoid comparison. When they’ve finished drawing, when they’ve added all the detail they’d like, they swap pages. Now it’s time to break out the crayons. M colors Dad’s drawing and Dad colors M’s. When they’re finished, they’ve got two masterpieces that they’ve worked on together. It’s both a confidence building and bonding experience.

The second activity is a collaborative doodle book page. Have you seen doodle books at your local bookstore? They are filled with partly drawn pages and prompts to finish the picture. A page may look something like this:

FullSizeRender+%2812%29.jpg

The idea is to finish the drawing based on the prompt.

When M was younger, she would blow through those kids menus/drawing pages at restaurants. Trying to avoid a bored child waiting for food, Dad decided to use the back of the page to create doodle book prompts. This soon became and activity they both enjoyed, making doodle prompts for each other, even outside of a restaurant. Here are some examples:

You may think you need to be an artist to create such prompts, but there’s no need. Stick figures are more than enough to provide the necessary inspiration. You can personalize your prompts to make them more fun, adding family members, friends or pets into the mix. Here are some examples:

Working together on creative exercises with a friend or family member can make the process more fun and less intimidating. You’ll create something together, rooting each other on, inspiring each other to create. You’ll grow your confidence and make memories, too.

Still not sure what this process might look like? Check out the video below to see my husband and daughter in action:

The Gently Guided Activities for this post are to try the creative exercises described above. Find a partner and create and swap coloring pages. Create doodle book prompts for each other and see what you each design. Have fun with it. Laugh together.

If you try either of these activities, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or head over to the Facebook page linked on the side to post a picture to the Bonnythings Creative page.

Getting Comfortable With Poetry: Fun With Words

Let’s be honest. Poetry can be intimidating. Most of us might appreciate listening to a good poem or reading a poetry anthology, but how many of us feel comfortable enough to call our own words ‘poetry’? If the idea of writing poetry makes you balk, shiver or want to cry, stick with me. Together, we’ll get you writing some poetry. Will it be good enough for that local poetry slam? Who cares?! Will it represent you and your thoughts, feelings and observations? Absolutely!

I am by no means an accomplished poet. I’m not even a good poet. Most of my poetry lives inside birthday cards given to family and friends. Here is a fine example:

Roses are red.

Daffodils are yellow.

Happy Birthday to you.

You’re a very fine fellow.

Seriously. That’s the kind of poetry I usually write. That doesn’t stop me from loving the idea of poetry, the potential of my words if I don’t criticize, if I just write. My words can illuminate and share my inner feelings. They can cast a light on my joy, contentment, pain and heartache. My words can paint a picture in the mind of what I see, touch, hear and smell. My words can bring to life my experiences, help others understand what it’s like to be me. My words are powerful, and so are yours.

When I taught my daughter to write poetry, I started by reading some of my favorite poetry books. I almost always start anything with a book. One of the books that we read together was Out of Wonder, by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth. Out of Wonder is a fantastic poetry anthology featuring poems about poets.

Watch the video below to hear my thoughts on this book and listen to me recite (probably badly) my favorite poem in the collection:

After getting our start reading poetry, my daughter and I felt ready to try our hand at writing our own poems. I asked M to try mixing her usual words and phrases with what I call ‘poetic language’. These are words that are descriptive, beautiful, colorful. They are words that use language to paint a picture, just as surely as a brush can. Here’s a bit of what she came up with (click to enlarge):

M did really well with poetry. I hesitated. I’ll be honest, I’m still not all that comfortable with poetry, but our attempts, our poetic experiments, really took off when we read Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 21st United States Poet Laureate. This book is fantastic and so unique. I’ve honestly never read anything like it.

Jabberwalking covers a lot of ground, including autobiographical prose. The main premise, however, is that we can all write. We can all be poets. Herrera suggests having a Jabber journal. This is a handy notebook that you carry with you as you walk, jotting down what you see, hear and feel. You can write however you wish, single words, descriptions, or sketches.

“Your burbles are going to become a Seismic & Crazy Epic Poem!” he writes.

Herrera tells us not to worry about where we’re walking or what we’re looking for. “{T}he Poem, the burble, does not want to know were it’s going or even what it is saying.” And don’t worry about legibility or misspellings. You won’t be able to read everything you wrote. That’s okay! When you get home, decipher what you can. Play around with your words and pictures. You can move things around, like Ramon did in The Word Collector. You can add new words. This is how poetry happens. Have fun with it!

“Give your burbles SHAPE (simply move the words around into fun groups)”

“A Jabberwalking poem […] loves to […] BE FREE”

Obviously, I’m messing with Herrera’s words here. I’m cutting things and paraphrasing. There is no real way to replicate what he’s written, so you just need to read it for yourself. The style and content are totally worth the read (read it aloud, I’d suggest). Everything, from the illustrations to the typography, influences the feel of the book. I think you’ll be inspired to try Jabber journaling and poetry writing for yourself. M keeps a Jabber journal in her backpack and one at home, though she hasn’t been using them as much lately. Time to read the book again, I think!

In the video below, you’ll hear my brief thoughts on Jabberwalking, then go on a Jabberwalk with us. Be prepared…it was windy…and we are not professionals!

Gently Guided Activities

Poetry Activity #1 Check out a few poetry books from the library. Try the two I’ve suggested, or choose whatever strikes your fancy. Read the poems, preferably aloud. Take note of the kinds of words that jump out at you. Jot down words or passages that you particularly like or that inspire you. Could you make a poem by using a series of words that you collect from different poems or books? Write a list of your favorite words from a few different books. Rearrange these words until they sound interesting to you.

Poetry Activity #2 Inspired by the poem I shared from Out of Wonder in the first video, try to write a poem about a normal moment in your day. Observe first and take notes. What do you see, hear and smell when you’re brushing your teeth? What about when you’re eating lunch, out for a walk, waiting for the bus or watching tv? Tell us about it through your words. Write it into a poem. Not happy with what you’ve got? Try moving the words around. Does it sound better or worse? Keep trying.

Poetry Activity #3 Start your own Jabber journal. A small notebook that is easy to carry with you would be best. Start walking and writing. Do this alone, with a friend, or with your child. Don’t worry or think too much. Just write down what stands out, what you notice. Learning to be observant is hugely beneficial as we learn to harness our creativity. The words that you write can be turned into poetry or saved for inspiration. It’s up to you. As Juan Felipe Herrera reminds us in Jabberwalking, it doesn’t matter if you can read every word, it doesn’t matter if you’ve spelled everything correctly, it doesn’t matter if you have words or pictures. Just get your observations down, get them down quickly, before you have time to question your own thought process.

How confident are you with poetry? Share a poem in the comments or on my Bonnythings Creative Facebook page. If you try the activities, I’d love to hear how they go!

More For Even Less: Keeping Your Recyclables

In the last post, I talked about the value of thrifting to build up your creative toolbox. This time, I’m going to take a look at what happens when we keep some of the things we might normally toss into the trash or the recycle bin. I’m going to show you the value of having your own creative recycle bin.

There are a few things you might be thinking. First, why would I want to keep trash? Second, where am I supposed to store this trash? Well, the possibilities for creative projects are nearly endless when it comes to recyclables and trash. And as they say, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. How much space these things take up is entirely up to you. We have one small cube container filled with recyclables. This gets filled up, used and re-filled. M is never allowed to have more recyclables in the house than can fit in the container. She and I have a somewhat different definition of what fits, but that’s another story.

Check out this video tour of M’s recycle bin:

The addition of recyclables to your toolbox will allow for more three-dimensional exploration, building sculptures, creatures and contraptions. If you have any engineering kits at home, you can mix those with cardboard or plastic to bring these experiments to life. Check out this claw machine that M and her dad made a few years ago. They made this using an engineering kit, an old moving box and a fishing rod.

What else can you do with recycled materials? Pretty much anything. M loves to make spaceships from boxes. They vary in size. She makes them for her stuffed animals, for herself, and even sometimes for her friends. Moving and shipping boxes do take up a lot of room. We have a garage, so we have a place to keep a few boxes at a time. If you don’t have much space, boxes can be collapsed and tucked behind furniture until you’re ready to use them. Last summer, she made a parade float for her stuffed animals to ride on for the Fourth of July.

M has also uses recyclables to make cute creatures and habitats for animals, like her toy T. Rex. Through the years, we’ve saved money on toys by making our own, like this play stove and microwave using an old box and some paper, or a climbing wall for a doll. Some of these creations are large and take up a bit of space. We don’t keep them forever. Most of them end up in the real recycling bin eventually, after we’ve taken a picture to document the work.

These are just a few examples of what can happen when you keep recycled materials in your home. Your creations will likely look nothing like ours. What you choose to keep and how you choose to use what you’ve got will influence what your child creates. Obviously, we use a lot of boxes. M loves boxes. She just brought a random Amazon box home from school with her the other day, for no apparent reason. You and your child may prefer making towers out of yogurt cups or vases out of glass jars. The possibilities really are endless. Try holding on to a few things and see what happens. Mix these recyclables with your basic toolbox supplies, like markers, paint and glue. See what you come up with.

Have you or your child made something cool with reclaimed or recycled materials? Let me know in the comments or post pictures on my Facebook page.