Parent Workshops: Spreading the Word on Creative Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Creative Outlets: A Nearly Infinite Variety

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

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

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

  • web or graphic design

  • fashion design

  • knitting

  • sewing

  • scrapbooking

  • drama

  • architecture

  • hand lettering

  • movie making

  • sculpture

  • photography

  • cooking/food design

  • engineering/inventing

  • ceramics

  • gardening/floral arrangement

  • dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Out in the World: My Time Beyond the Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!