The Work of Peter H. Reynolds: Part 1

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I love to read. I always have a stack of books waiting on the table next to the couch. And another stack on my bedside table. I get excited to dive into a story or learn something new from a great piece of non-fiction. I spend way too much time at the library (I even volunteer there). Books, literature and art are my creative comfort zone. I’ll be trying to stretch out of that comfort zone, just as you probably will, but you’ll have to bear with me at the beginning. I’m going to start with a lot of activities that center on books. It’s what I know best. It’s my creative instinct.

This week and next, I’m going to highlight the work of Peter H. Reynolds, and I’m so excited! He has a series of absolutely amazing picture books that center around creative confidence. Many of his characters have lost their creative confidence, for one reason or another. They must seek out that confidence and work to grow it. Peter Reynolds’ books are beautifully illustrated. You may find the artistry alone enough to inspire you, but make sure that you stay for the story!


Some of you are likely already familiar with the books, particularly if you have children. If you’ve never read them, you’re in for a treat. They are amazing books to inspire kids, but I think they may be even more important for adults, with messages we all need to hear. Think you’ve lost your creativity? Think you never had any in the first place? Take a journey with Marisol, Vashti, Ramon and Jerome. You may change your mind. It’s never too late to learn from the experiences of the characters in these books.

I’m going to feature four of Peter Reynolds’ books over the course of two posts. Today, let’s take a look at The Dot and Ish.

In the following video, I’ll introduce you to the concepts and characters that fill the pages of these two beautiful books on finding and taking ownership of your creativity. Brevity is not a strength of mine (something else to work on)! If you have a few minutes, watch the video below:

 The Dot is a story about a girl who believes she cannot draw and refuses to complete her art project. Vashti is a great representation of the many kids and adults who feel they are incapable of expressing themselves through art. The teacher asks Vashti to make a mark, so she does. The turning point for Vashti is her acknowledgment that she does indeed have something to say, even if that something is a small dot. After signing the artwork, taking ownership of it, and seeing it framed and validated by her teacher, Vashti realizes that she has done something special and she challenges herself to do it better. She creates dot after dot, eventually filling a gallery with them, just like a bonafide artist.

The takeaway here, for me, is the importance of validation. Going back to my post on ensuring a safe emotional space for creativity, creative confidence grows when effort is acknowledged and celebrated. If a child thinks no one is paying attention, that no one cares about what they have to say or what they can create, they will stop wanting to create at all. Everyone needs to feel heard, needs someone to lift them up, to kickstart their confidence by validating their effort.


 Now, let’s take a look at another book in Peter Reynolds’ collection, Ish. Perhaps, you feel like your art, your writing, your photography, your…whatever, isn’t good enough. If so, it may be time to consider what standard you’re trying to live up to. Ish will make you think about what happens when we abandon the quest for perfection. What if we appreciate what we can do, rather than always looking at what we lack?

Ish is the story of a boy name Ramon. Ramon is a big fan of drawing and he thinks he’s quite good at it, until is confidence is completely knocked down by a few simple words from his brother. As we’ve already noted, confidence is very fragile. Ramon tries and tries to make his drawings look perfect and he’s about to give up on art altogether, when he realizes he has a fan in his little sister. She’s been taking his art, the pieces he’s rejected, thrown on the floor, and she’s been hanging them in her room. It is in this moment, when once again we see a character validated, that he realizes perfection isn’t the goal. His own interpretation of an object, a person, a feeling, is enough. Ish is enough. And in that feeling of ‘good enough’, he finds his freedom.

I love this story. It shows how easily creative confidence can be torn away, but it also shows the flip-side. It shows that confidence can be built back up. It can be built by one person showing an interest. It can be built by simply changing the bar. What if our own style, our own interpretation is just as good as someone else’s? What if that perfection we’re always striving for is actually preventing us from hearing our own voice?


 Now it’s time for our Gently Guided Activities. I’ve got a few for today. Let’s start with The Dot.

The Dot Activity #1: I’m going to start with a fairly simple activity to go along with The Dot, and it’s exactly what you think it’s going to be. Draw a dot. Paint a dot. Get a dot down on the page any way that you want. Now, look at your dot and ask yourself if you can do it better. How? Would bigger be better? More colorful? Should you use your hands? A pencil? What if you didn’t use a dot at all? Maybe dots aren’t your thing. Maybe your dot is actually a square. Or a triangle. Whatever simple shape you choose, make a few of them. Sign them. This is a beginning. Own it.

The Dot Activity #2: Let’s try turning a dot, a line, a squiggle, a series of shapes into something more. This was one of my favorite activities to do with my daughter when she was younger. She’d mark up a page with wavy lines and then find the picture in the lines. She’d add to it, make it something more than a squiggle. It’s like finding shapes in the clouds. Below is an example. Can you see the random lines that became the painting? Can you see what was added later, to bring it alive?


The Dot Activity # 3: Check out a book about art from the library or do a quick internet search to find artists who used shapes in their artwork. The work of Wassily Kandinsky is a great example. Check out the pointillism movement and look at how Georges Seurat created entire scenes from small dots. Look at the way that an artist may start with something as simple as a dot and end up with something so much more. Try out one of these styles for yourself.

Ish Activity #1: Get a notebook or a sketchbook for your child. Better yet, get one for yourself, too! If you don’t have a notebook, staple together a small stack of plain paper. Let’s call this your Ish journal. Learn to draw, doodle or write like Ramon. Pick objects around your house or neighborhood and draw. Don’t strive for perfection. Sign each drawing and give it a name. Did you draw a cup? Name your art ‘Cup-ish’. Feel like writing a poem or a short story? Go for it. Just let it be -ish. Don’t over-think what you’re doing. Consider decorating the cover of your journal with a nice -ish drawing. Add color. Don’t add color. Use paint. Whatever you want, go for it!

I took an Ish activity to a local co-working spot and had a blast watching the adults in the room draw. It’s amazing how much harder it is for adults to accept -ish.

 Ish Activity #2: A big part of both stories is the validation of the young artist. Hang up some art or writing. Frame it and hang it on the wall. Use clothespins to hang art from a string. Use a magnetic surface or cork board. You can even create a portable gallery out of a cardboard box. We used this box that I had turned into a puppet theatre when my daughter was small. She turned the backside into her own gallery. We could fold it up and put it away when we needed the space or leave it out so that she could proudly display her latest creations.


I hope you have fun exploring the creative concepts of these books. Take ownership. Validate. Let perfection go. As Miss Frizzle would say, ‘Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy!’

Interested in a few of my mistakes? Watch the video below for some outtakes. Video-making is new for me! There’s always room to grow.

Tell me a story: Exercise your storytelling mind

I had planned to center my first activity post around some of my favorite creativity-themed books. A sick kiddo put a monkey wrench in that plan and I haven’t been able to pull it all together. That post will have to wait. Instead, I’m going to start with the concept of storytelling.   

As long as I can remember, we’ve had a pretty set bedtime routine for our daughter. It hasn’t changed much over the last eight years or so, since she was old enough to engage in the storytelling process. We alternate nights, my husband going through the routine one night, me the next. The routine looks something like this…she gets all comfy in her PJs, teeth and hair brushed, and she crawls into bed. We read books together and then we turn off the light. That’s when the books are put away and the real fun begins. That’s when she tells us a story.


She doesn’t just pull a story out of thin air. That’s tough. Most people, even the most creatively-inclined, would have difficulty doing that every single night. We all have ideas floating around in our heads, but to pull them out on command is a challenge. Instead of leaving her to her own devices, we each give her one thing to add to her story. Nightly storytelling at our house goes a little something like this:

“Tell me a story about an elephant and cotton candy.”

It’s a prompt. A very simple prompt, with lots of room to grow. From there, she weaves her story, which almost always starts like this:

“Once upon a time, there was a little donkey named Eeyore and he lived with his best friend M. One day, M and Eeyore were playing with their friend Ellie, the elephant.”

M, Eeyore and their friend of the day are usually off to the beach, M’s happy place, though the location does change from time to time. As they hang out at the beach, the other story element will get thrown in to the mix:

“They decided to sell cotton candy. They made all kinds of flavors.”

And she’ll go through all the different possible colors and flavors, painting a beautiful rainbow of cotton candy and a bright-colored booth along the beach selling their creations.


Other nights, there may be a castle involved, or a dragon. The dragons are always friendly. Even though there is a theme to her stories and certain things don’t change from night to night, she’s always coming up with something new, some way to connect the two ideas that she’s been given. The variety is in the details. She’s been doing this for so long, that she has no trouble telling these stories. They can go on rather long some nights…especially on nights when I’m tired and ready for bed myself!

Now that you know a little bit out our storytelling routine, I’m going to introduce the Gently Guided Activity. This is what I’m calling the mental exercises I’m setting forth for our creative brains. These are activities with parameters, but nothing that inhibits the flow of creativity, nothing that forces you into a box. There will often be many ways of achieving the goal of a Gently Guided Activity, allowing you to choose the medium or outlet that appeals to you or your child most. I’m not throwing you into the deep end of the creative pool. I’m giving you water wings and helping you float until you can swim through these amazing waters on your own.

A Gently Guided Activity for Storytelling: Find a time during the day to introduce your child to storytelling. It doesn’t have to be bedtime. Maybe you’re looking for good dinnertime conversation. Maybe it’s a fun idea to add to your morning routine. Pick a time and give your child two things to throw into a story. Listen. See what they come up with. Write it down, if you’d like. Do this a few times. It doesn’t have to be daily but give them practice. Storytelling gets easier, the more you do it. Flex that muscle.

Adults, this is a great one for you, too! Give yourself a prompt (or work on the same one as your child). Two things that don’t necessarily go together. Think of a story in your mind or write it down. It can be anything from a few sentences to a few pages. Just let the ideas flow, whether you think they’re good or not. Don’t judge, just practice.

If you feel up to it, you could always add sketches to your story. Or maybe you’d rather not tell a story at all. Maybe you’d rather use the prompt to write a poem or a song. Feel free to take the ideas from any Gently Guided Activity and adapt them to your own interests.

I’ll give a few prompts to get you started:

A turtle and pizza

A lion and a paint brush

A castle and a penguin

A lizard and a book

A caterpillar and ballet

A chest full of gold and a dog

A surf board and a piano

A train and a microscope

A box and an elephant

A hand print and a map

A tire swing and a stained-glass window

Have fun telling stories and let me know how it goes!

A Safe Space to Create: Building Your Environment

Let’s assume, for a moment, that you’ve started with some basic supplies, or already had supplies sitting around your house. Perhaps you don’t quite know what to do with them. Perhaps they’re sitting around collecting dust. In order for your supplies to get some decent use, you’re going to need a space to use them.


I realize that not everyone is going to have a dedicated space in their home set aside simply for creative exploits. I’m an artist, and lucky enough to have a small bedroom in our house that serves as my studio. With big windows providing plenty of natural light, it’s a fantastic space meant only for art, writing and waiting around for inspiration. As such, I don’t mind if it’s a mess and I have long since given up worrying about the state of the carpet. If you can’t have a space like this, dedicated and completely open to experiments and mess-making, what do you do?


Look around your home. Do you have a small corner of a room that could take a table or desk meant for art or writing? If you can’t set aside part of a room, could you use a room at certain times of the day, or when inspiration strikes? Could you turn your kitchen table into an art studio for an hour or two? What about the mess? Do you balk at using paint because you fear for the safety of your table, floor or wall? It’s very important to find a space that can get a little messy. Mess goes with the territory of art and creation. There isn’t much getting around that, though I have a couple of suggestions that might help.

If you are looking to create a nook or corner of your space to leave open for art and other creative pursuits, think about getting a small table or surface from a thrift store, something that you don’t spend much money on, don’t care much about and don’t mind getting a little messy. Put the table in the corner that you’ve set aside and consider getting a small area rug to go beneath the table to protect the floor from spills. You could cover the wall above the table with something inspirational, like a cork board filled with your kids’ art, pieces of interesting pattered fabric, or quotes from your favorite books. If you prefer a cleaner look, hang some framed art, either your own, your kids’ or your favorite artist.


If you can’t dedicate a space and would rather set up temporary art zones, I highly recommend investing in a drop cloth. These are readily available at paint and hardware stores. There are all kinds and they range in price. If you can afford it, I would suggest going for a canvas drop cloth. They will last…forever. They roll out and roll back up easily, and can be quite compact to store. I have two of them. I have used them for about eight years. They are a mess and they are beautiful. Every mark on them is a record of what we’ve done over the years. If I’m worried about the floor, I’ll lay these out. If I’m worried about a tabletop, I’ll lay them over the surface. If you want something less expensive or waterproof (which canvas is not), you can go for a plastic or plastic-lined cloth. These will really protect against spills, though they may not last as long. Whatever type you go for, putting down a little protection for your floors and surfaces will make you less uptight as your children experiment with form and color.


Weather-permitting, you can really keep the mess out of your house by using any available outdoor space. Be it a garage, a patio, or a sidewalk, creating outside can be very freeing, opening up your creative mind to different possibilities. We love to color with sidewalk chalk and have painted our white vinyl fence with washable paint. A clipboard, sketchbook or journal can be brought outside easily and an easel can allow for painting the landscape around you, whatever it may be. Just the act of being outdoors, with or without creative material, will impact your muse, as you take in the sights and sounds.


Make sure that your children are aware of the appropriate space(s) you’ve opened to creativity and then keep those supplies handy. Depending on the age of your child, you’ll want certain, but perhaps not all, supplies within reach. That way, your child can seek out the supplies when they feel inspired, giving them agency in their own creative endeavors. You know your child best and you’ll have a pretty good sense of what you feel comfortable allowing access to.

Now, I’m going to shift gears. There is another aspect to establishing a safe creative space in your home, and it’s just as important as the physical location I’ve talked about above. You will need to hold a safe emotional space for children to create. (This is just as important for adults. Be kind to yourselves. Allow yourselves room to grow, without judgement). Creative confidence is tenuous and extremely easily lost. It needs to be built up and encouraged. Parents, often with the best of intentions, can derail that confidence. Let me show you how.

I have spent countless hours over the years attending artistic and creative programs with my daughter. I have witnessed parent after parent cringe at their child’s creation, make loving, though misguided suggestions for how to fix it, even taking the project from their child and ‘improving’ it or micromanaging each detail from the sideline. I have seen children look to their parents before making creative decisions or look to them after making a decision, awaiting final approval. The result of this parental intervention is obvious when children are removed from the influence of their parents. I have witnessed an entire room full of elementary-aged children balk at a creative challenge, asking as a group for something easier, less thought-provoking. I have worked with children as young as three on basic creative writing skills who have insisted that they can’t imagine a character to build a story around. That they are not creative. And I find it shocking every time. These same children, with a little encouragement, almost always come up with something interesting. Whether they believe it or not, they are creative.


In order to grow and nurture creative confidence in children, we must stop judging their creativity. Unless we are teaching them a specific skill or technique (which obviously necessitates a degree of involvement and guided improvement), we must stop making suggestions and taking over their projects. I’m not going to say this is easy. I’m not going to tell you that I’ve never made a suggestion to my daughter, that I’ve never cringed or had to literally bite my tongue to stop myself from telling her that mixing all the paint together and slathering it on a canvas looks…terrible. Nobody is perfect and allowing your children to create without judgment is truly a challenge. But it’s a necessary challenge. It’s how they grow. They are proud of what they create, even if we can’t see the visual merit. They need a safe emotional space to experiment, to grow, to find their own voices. What they see as beautiful may not be the same as what we see. It may grow and evolve, or we may never see eye to eye. What’s important is that they feel safe enough in their home environment to express themselves. Allow this expression to be free.


Now, go forth and find that safe creative space for yourselves. Determine what it looks like for your family. Invite yourselves to the table.

Building a Creative Toolbox: The Essential Elements

When we’re ready to get started growing creative confidence in our kids and ourselves, access to creative supplies is crucial. The only way to flex that creative muscle is to exercise it. As with our bodies, where it’s easy to go overboard and spend too much money on physical fitness classes and equipment, you may think that collecting creative supplies will be expensive and out of your budget. It doesn’t have to be.

Opening a creative space in your life doesn’t have to break the bank. You can start, and indeed continue, with just some basic supplies.

What does a basic creative tool chest look like? Let’s compile a list of those starting supplies.

1.       Pencils. You probably already have these at home. Most of us, especially those with kids, keep pencils in the house for schoolwork. The amazing thing about the unassuming pencil is its multi-functionality. This is a basic tool for writing and drawing. Think you need special pencils for sketching and drawing? You don’t. I did all of my early sketching and learning to draw with a simple #2 pencil that I used for school. You can certainly buy nice, and relatively inexpensive sketching pencils, but they aren’t necessary. You can get great results with the most basic pencil. Use this same versatile pencil for writing stories or poetry. So many great ideas can form on the tip of a pencil.


2.       Paper. This is an obvious extension from the pencil. You can’t do much with a pencil unless you have some paper. This can be anything from notebook paper to a small journal for writing, jotting down ideas, creating epic stories. Computer paper or a sketchpad will work great for drawing, sketching, painting, making collages, whatever strikes your fancy. Construction paper is an inexpensive way to throw color into the mix and works great for practicing cutting and gluing skills with younger children. Generally speaking, paper is a small investment and you can probably keep a variety available to work with.


3.       Crayons, markers or colored pencils. It’s always great to be able to add some color to a work of art. Starting with one of these simple, yet colorful, supplies will add another dimension to your creative space. What you decide to start with will depend on who’s using it. Small children work well with crayons. Markers add bold color. I personally love colored pencils, the way they blend and add varied texture.


4.       Scissors. You’ll definitely want to be able to cut and you may already have this essential tool lying around your home. As a bonus, practicing with scissors is a great way for small children to develop fine motor skills. This is another tool that is inexpensive, but imperative. Unless you’ve got a very young child, be sure to get a pair of scissors with decent cutting power, to avoid the frustration of having a tool that can’t get the job done.

5.       Glue and tape. Both are necessary tools for creation. Glue is great for everything from making a collage to building a recycled contraption. Again, the type of the glue you decide to keep in stock will depend on the age of who is using it. If you’re afraid of a mess, a glue stick is a good start, though limited in its application. There are great washable glues, as a bridge between a glue stick and a more permanent glue solution. Tape is also great for sticking things down. Clear tape, masking tape and double-sided tape all have their uses.


6.       Paint. I suppose this one is debatable as a necessity, but it’s fun to have around and opens the door to a lot of experimentation and creation. I can’t imagine my creative toolbox without it. Paint not only adds color, but it introduces blending, mixing, swirling, dripping. Paint adds a dimension that you can’t get from the other supplies I’ve listed. Worried about the mess? I understand. Start with washable paints for small children. They are inexpensive and less of a risk, for the mess-averse. When you think your family is ready, get some cheap acrylic craft paint to add to the mix. They aren’t washable, but come in pretty much any amazing color you could want.


7. Books. I find books an essential toolbox element. This doesn’t mean that you have to invest a lot of money in a collection of creative references. There are many resources available at the library (a place where I spend a lot of time), or online if you don’t have access to a library. These books can cover any subject you desire. I get most of my inspiration from art books, poetry collections and well-written literature. Maybe you will find inspiration in books about interior design, architecture, music or photography.


8. Time. Yes, I know. This one isn’t really a tool at all, but I’m adding it to the list. There isn’t any point in keeping creative supplies around the house if you don’t have time to use them. So many of us lead busy lives. It’s hard to get everything done from day to day. Still, if you want to grow creative confidence, you have to find ways to set aside time to create. Whether a child or an adult, we all need time to devote ourselves to a project, to see it to a satisfying conclusion. Having the flexibility in your schedule to create when inspiration strikes is ideal. If that won’t work for you, schedule some creative time. Make it a priority.

This is just a quick list of the first items you should keep around the house to encourage creation. If you start with these supplies, you’ll have a basic toolbox to get started. You can go forward from there, adding pieces to your own toolbox that inspire you and your family. I’ll talk about additional supplies in a later post, as well as how to maximize your creative toolbox with minimal financial investment. For now, you’ve got a place to start.

Check out the video below to see some of the supplies we keep around our house, including a few that go beyond the basic. This will give you a feel for how you might expand, once you’re ready to dive in further.

What is creative confidence...and why should we care?

Okay, so I laid it out in my first post. I want to teach creative confidence. But what is creative confidence? And why is it important?

Creative confidence, as I see it, is the understanding within ourselves that we are capable of creativity. It is the ability to take that understanding and transform it into any number of creative pursuits and thinking. It’s the power to recognize that we have something unique to offer, that we can approach a problem or a project from a new perspective.

If we were to ask the average child at the end of elementary school whether they consider themselves creative, I suspect most would say no. The number of adults who believe themselves lacking in creativity is most definitely higher. Somewhere along the way, from early childhood to adulthood, creative confidence erodes. In some cases, it disappears entirely.


To illustrate this point, let me tell you a little about myself and my creative journey. A typically introverted child, I had friends, but I could easily spend hours alone in my room. I enjoyed writing and drawing pictures. Though I had no special talent, I loved to create. I have fond memories of pouring white glue out onto my desk, mixing food coloring into it and creating fantastic colored-glue sculptures and paintings.

By high school, though, I had largely lost touch with my creativity. I tried to sketch, never managing to produce a decent likeness of the subject. My lack of technical skill began to eat away at my confidence. For years, I shied away from creative pursuits, believing I had nothing to offer.

In my twenties, while studying for a degree in political science, I began quilting and I allowed myself to put pencil to paper and draw again. These creative outlets helped me escape from the drudgery of my academic pursuits. My drawing instinct had improved, my output much better than the last time I had tried. I designed my own quilts, mixing and matching colors and shapes. Still, if someone had asked, I would have insisted that I lacked basic creativity.


When I met my husband, not long after graduating from university and heading out into the workplace, he noted my framed sketches, my sewing and my penchant for photography. He called me creative. I scoffed. Where’s the creativity in snapping a few photographs, I’d argue, or sketching from a photo that already exists? Nothing original came from my own mind, I’d say. Undeterred, he’d smile and call me creative once more.

I didn’t start believing in my creative power until after my daughter was born and thirty years of my life had passed. I began to work on mosaics and paintings, finally creating original designs and realizing that my creativity had lived within me throughout my life. In fact, everything that I had done previously had been creative, despite my insistence otherwise. The ability to look through a camera lens and see what needs to be captured, the nerve to study someone’s face, a picture snapped during a fleeting moment, and recreate it with the delicate or strong strokes of a pencil, the vision to see a bunch of fabric and turn it into something warm and beautiful. All of this takes creative energy, creative nerve.

My own creative confidence had eroded over time, worn down by the minimal attention given to creative outlets in school, the feeling that creativity could not lead to a proper career path, and the idea that an absence of technical and learned skill must equate to a lack of creativity. I had always been creative. I think my husband smiled when he insisted on it, over and over, knowing that one day, in my own time, I’d realize he’d been right.


So, I rediscovered my creative spark, but what’s the point? Why should we care about creative confidence? What can it give to us, to our children, to the world? Why bother?

Creativity is not just about the creation of art, music, stories or poetry. Creativity is thinking independently. It is problem-solving and innovation. It is the aspect of human nature that has allowed us to advance and evolve as a society. Creativity is invention. Creativity is expression. Creativity is freedom.

In disciplines not typically described as creative, such as the sciences, creative thought is critically important in leading to innovations and breakthroughs. Someone’s got to be thinking outside the box to cure a disease or imagine a theoretical multi-verse. Science largely deals in facts, but sometimes it takes a creative thinker to guide the way toward new facts. If we want to raise the next generation of inventors, innovators and change-makers, we must allow them to think independently and access their creative energy. From that energy flows change.

If that isn’t enough, consider the impact of creative expression on our understanding of human history. Art and artifacts from our past give us insight into historical events, belief systems and psychology. Architecture shows us how others lived and what they valued. History is not just the study of the past, it is ongoing, happening now. What will we leave for generations ahead of us to discover?


Beyond a living history, how can creative expression, words or images that illustrate a worldview or experience, shape our interactions today? Music, art and writing can help us understand one another in ways that basic facts cannot. These forms of expression can transcend language and cultural barriers, speaking directly to the heart. They connect us, show us the ways in which we are different, as well as the ways in which we are the same. This connection is vital, in a world increasingly intertwined.  

That all seems like enough, but is there more? Are there any other reasons to value creativity, to nurture it and help it grow? What if creativity contributes nothing to the world at large, but increases our own happiness, sense of well-being and calm? Many of us live busy, hectic lives. Some have found that pulling out a notebook and journaling, coloring meditatively or doodling can bring a small sense of peace into that busy lifestyle. Tapping into creativity doesn’t have to change the world to be important.

It only has to change one person.


A Brand New Project: Bonnythings Creative Gets Its Start

So, I’m starting something new. I’m calling it Bonnythings Creative…a kind of extension of Bonnythings Studio.

What’s it all about, my exciting new endeavor, these words I’ve written and hope others will read?

I’ve had an idea swimming around in my head for nearly a year. A beautiful, but daunting, idea. It’s a course…or a blog…or a series of activities. I’m still a little fuzzy on the details. One thing is for sure, it’s a journey, and I’m about to embark. Here’s my mission:

I want to teach, build and grow creative confidence.


Let me elaborate. I want to encourage children and adults to tap into their creative side, to realize their potential. Think you don’t have a creative side? I beg to differ. I want to prove that creativity is innate in nearly everyone, it just gets worn down, hard to access and atrophied from disuse. I want to inspire people to stand up, stretch their creative muscle and get it moving again.

I mulled the idea over, I wrote mini-lessons and activities, I jotted down notes and made a few videos. Still, I continued to balk at getting going.

“I don’t know where to start,” I’d say.

“It’s not quite ready,” I’d mumble.

“It’s not good enough,” I’d whisper.

I watched my own confidence falter. I fell into the trap. The idea that if you can’t do something just right, it’s not worth doing at all. The notion that we must present a finished product, rather than growing with our audience, learning as we all go.


I lolled around in this trap for months, letting my ideas wilt, letting pages of notes collect dust in the closet, wondering why I had even bothered in the first place. Until my daughter nudged my ideas back out into the light. Until she unknowingly set me back on my path with four simple words.

“I hate art class.”

Now, I’ve heard these words before, but somehow, as we were walking home from school the other day, these four words lit a fire under me. She hates art class. My talented, creative, art-loving kid hates art class. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense, but her complaints shed light on her dissatisfaction. These are the same complaints she’s had since starting her public-school career nearly five years ago. The art teacher tells them they’re not doing it right (What??). She tells them not to add their personal stamp to a piece (Why not??). She tells them something is too big, too small, or not the right color (Seriously??). And every time I hear these stories, I cringe. They’re not teaching art, they’re teaching students to follow instructions and stick to the rules. If you’re going to tell children what color they can use for a leaf, or a flower, or a castle, you might as well just plunk them down in front of a paint-by-numbers set and call it a day. That’s how you kill creativity.

Art is a form of self-expression. It’s a way of putting forth your own personal world-view, experiences, dreams, pain, or vision for the future. It is not meant to be uniform. It is meant to be unique. That beautiful self-expression that should be nurtured and grown is being stymied in my daughter’s art classroom, and spaces just like it around the world. Some of her fellow students already believe that they are not good at art, that they are not creative…at nine or ten years old. Some may have felt that way for a while.

By telling a child that they are doing art ‘wrong’, they learn to believe that their self-expression is not valued, that the way they see the world is not valid, and that they are not creative. The already muddy waters between artistic talent and creativity are even muddier when one is young and can’t see the difference between wielding creativity and displaying artistic technique. Because, let’s be clear, the two are not the same. It is very possible to be extremely creative, but lack intrinsic artistic talent, impressive writing skills, or an ear for music. Sure, there are people who are born with a natural aptitude for a creative outlet, but most of us have to learn. Like anything else, you can learn technique with time and practice. The same can be said for creativity itself. With time, practice, and a safe space to explore, creativity flourishes.


Though I consider myself an artist, I could never hope to teach artistic technique. I don’t have the skills. But creative confidence, I can teach. The nerve to put pen to paper, I can teach. The belief that we all have something to say, and can say it creatively, I can teach. I can help children discover their creative voices, exercise their creative minds, hold on to their natural creative curiosity. I can help parents nurture the creative voice within their children, and perhaps discover some of their own lost creativity along the way. I haven’t got it all figured out yet. I don’t have an outline. I never finished the plan. If I keep telling myself I’ll work on it tomorrow, if I keep saying I’ll wait until I’ve got it all together, it’ll never happen. I just need to dive in, and so do you. Let’s sink or swim together. Let’s get creative!