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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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:

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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!

Now what? Creating an inspiration journal

Several years ago, my husband gave my daughter and me each a binder filled with notebook paper, graphing paper, plastic dividers and no instructions. On the front of the binders, he had drawn a little figure and the words ‘Inspiration Keeper’. At the time, I had no inspiration to speak of and no idea what to do with this empty binder full of paper. To be honest, it was intimidating.

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I may have been lost among the blank pages, but my daughter wasn’t. She knew exactly what to do with her ‘Inspiration Keeper’. M loves bright colors, rainbows and cute things…so many cute things. These are the things that inspire her, the things that get her excited, bring her to her happy place and stir her creativity. For a while, she had been asking us to take pictures of random things she wanted to remember. A cute stuffed animal at the store. A cute mascot in an ad for frozen ice pops. An interesting pattern on a pair of pants or a design on a t-shirt. We had been collecting these pictures on our phones, not realizing that they were more than a waste of space. They were her inspiration. After my husband bought her the binder, she realized she now had a place to store all of these pictures. She had a place to hold her inspiration. We printed out a bunch of these pictures and she started carefully gluing them onto the blank pages.

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Unlike my daughter, I found a less visual approach for my inspiration keeper. I used the blank pages to write. I went further than inspiration, I started writing whole chapters of my novels, using the notebook as a place to store my most recent writing, before transferring it to the computer. Even though we went in different directions, the journals have still led to inspired creation and allowed us to store little gems for later.

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An inspiration journal is a great idea for both kids and adults. The best part is, there is no right way to keep one. A binder, like my daughter’s, with pictures pasted to the pages is one way. This allows my very visual child to keep all the images she can’t fit inside her head close at hand. If you’re more inclined to writing, keeping a lined journal, perhaps small enough to fit in your pocket, is great for jotting down words and ideas when they pop into your head. You could put up a bulletin board filled with inspiring pictures, shapes, textures or words. Perhaps you’d rather have a playlist of music that inspires you. A folder on your phone or computer can hold visual inspiration that doesn’t even require you to have a physical journal. These are all different ways of achieving the same thing, keeping inspiration at your fingertips and helping you remember the things that bring you joy or spark your creativity.

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Don’t just save inspiration that you think you can replicate. Save a picture that you know you’ll never be able to draw, but you think is gorgeous. Save those quotes you love from authors you know you’ll never be able to match. The idea is to gather together the things that move you.

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I think you can guess what the Gently Guided Activity will be for this one. Put together your own inspiration collection. It doesn’t matter where you keep it, what it looks like or what you put in it. Start collecting slowly. There’s no need to fill an entire inspiration journal, or fill your phone with inspiring pictures from Google, in one day. Just take some time to look around your environment. Notice the things that make you smile or capture your attention. Notice colors, patterns or particular words that you like. Take pictures of video game scenes or write quotes from the latest novel you’re devouring. Whatever inspires you, keep it, jot it down, hold it close. Don’t judge. From this inspiration, your creativity can flow. When you don’t know what to do, when you don’t have any ideas, look to your inspiration journal to give you a little push.

The Work of Peter H. Reynolds: Part 2

Last week, I introduced you to the creativity-themed picture books of Peter H. Reynolds. I discussed The Dot and Ish, looking at how they relate to creative confidence and providing a few activities based on those books.

Today, I’m finishing up my look at this series. I’ll be talking about two more in this collection, Sky Color and The Word Collector.

Check out the video below to see my take on these beautiful books:

First, we’ll take a look at Sky Color. You guys, this is my favorite of all of the books in Peter Reynolds’ collection. I can’t quite put my finger on why. It could be the gorgeous and inspiring illustrations, it could be the theme of looking beyond the ordinary. Whatever the reason, I love this book and I hope that you will, too.

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This one is about Marisol, a confident little artist. She’s so confident, she actually shares her artwork with those around her, supporting what she believes in and spreading happiness. She even encourages her friends to do the same, to get in touch with their own creativity.

Marisol is so excited to work on a mural with her classmates. She enthusiastically volunteers to paint the sky, only to realize that there is no blue paint. What’s a girl to do? How can she paint the sky without blue?

In the end, Marisol realizes that blue is not the only sky color. There are so many ways to paint the sky. She breaks out of the box, looking at things from a new perspective. This is something that we all need to do, from time to time. Even the most creative among us need to look through a new lens, think beyond the ordinary or expected way of doing things. Marisol shows us how to break free from convention and trust ourselves to create.

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I absolutely love The Word Collector because it takes a step away from art as a creative medium and focuses on words. It takes a look at how we use them, how we can create with them, and how to harness their power. In The Word Collector, we follow a little boy named Jerome. Unlike his peers, who collect things like stamps or comic books, Jerome collects words. He finds them in books, in conversation, everywhere he looks. He collects them in notebooks and boxes and carefully organizes them. He loves his words.

Everything changes when Jerome is carrying his word collection and he trips. His words go flying, landing completely out of order. This could be a disaster, but it reveals something amazing! Jerome realizes he can put his words together. He can use them to make sentences, poetry, stories. He sees the power of his words when directed toward others. His love of words grows once he realizes their versatility. One day, he climbs to the top of a hill and lets his words go. He shares them with the world, which makes him happier than he can imagine.

Words are powerful things. They can express our innermost thoughts. They can describe our feelings and experiences. They can help others to understand our point of view. Words can hurt. Words can heal. They are a powerful way to express yourself. Stringing them together, whether to tell a story, speak a truth, describe beauty or pull on the heart strings, gives us creative power. Our words are meant to be shared. It’s important for children to know that we are interested in their words. Start a conversation. Ask questions. Find out what words inspire them. Listen.


This week, I have a number of Gently Guided Activities for Sky Color and just a few for The Word Collector. If words are more your thing, don’t despair! I have more word-based activities coming up in future posts. Those activities will connect right back to the themes touched upon in The Word Collector.

Sky Color Activity #1 When I brought my activities to the co-working space, this one was the most popular. Can you make the sky without the color blue? I have put together a template that you can print out. Color the sky any way you want. Crayons, colored pencils, paint … but don’t use blue! Think about the many ways you can color a sky without blue. Will you choose something realistic, like a sunset or a cloudy day? Or, will you use your imagination, coming up with something we’ve never seen?

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Sky Color Activity #2 At the beginning of the book, Marisol uses her creativity to make others happy. She shares her work, knowing the power it can have. Try making a card or writing a poem to brighten someone’s day. Think about what images or words might make someone happy.

Sky Color Activity #3 Draw a picture that deliberately changes an important color. What about making the sun blue? Or the grass pink? Does changing the color change how the picture makes you feel?

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Sky Color Activity #4 It’s not all about art. Write a poem about the sky. Take several days to jot down ideas as the sky changes over different times of the day and different weather conditions. What colors do you see? How do you feel? Are there shapes in the clouds? What does the sky make you think about? Write down whole sentences or just a few words at time. After you’ve been at it for a few days, take your favorite lines or words and string them together to create a poem.

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Sky Color Activity #5 Let’s give collaborative art a try. This would work well for groups as small as two and as large as you’ve got. Get a big piece or a roll of paper. Sketch a design and create a mural. Everyone gets to draw and color part of it. How do your individual styles go together? How do their differences add to the overall look? Need ideas? Perhaps a jungle or savanna scene with lots of animals. You could go under the sea or up into space. Pick a theme and let everyone come up with something to add.

The Word Collector Activity #1 Jerome creates poetry by stringing together his words. Get a notebook to jot down words that you like, interesting words that you hear, words to describe your feelings or your observations of the world around you. Try stringing some words together, even if they don’t make sense. Don’t like what you’ve got? Try moving them around. Put the end at the beginning and the beginning at the end. Keep moving and changing the words until you’re satisfied.

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The Word Collector Activity #2 Create a list of some of your favorite words. Draw them. Some will be harder than others. Is it a feeling? You can still draw it. What color does it make you think of? Smooth lines or jagged? If your word is abstract, your drawing might be, too! Remember the lessons from last week and try to be satisfied with -ish.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments. If you try any of the activities, I’d love to hear about it. Head on over to the Bonnythings Creative Facebook page to post pictures of your creations!

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!

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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.

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 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?

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 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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!