Finger Painting: Not Just For Kids

I love to paint. I love to mix, blend and work with color. When people see my paintings, they are often surprised to learn that I do a good deal of my background painting with my fingers. This is not to say that I never use a paint brush. There are so many fantastic effects you can only get from a brush. One thing you can’t quite get from a paint brush, however, is direct connection with the art. When you use your fingers as a tool, you are connected to the paint and connected to the canvas. The work flows directly from you, with no barrier.

Recently, I demonstrated some of my finger painting techniques at a library art program. I really enjoyed showing off this method, and showing adults that they, too, can use their fingers to paint. They, too, can have fun, get messy, and act like a child again. As soon as we teach kids how to hold a pencil, we assume that they will hold a brush to paint. We assume that finger painting is only for those who lack the fine motor skills to use a more refined tool. Instead, we should look at our fingers as the ultimate tool, attached to us, free to use, and highly maneuverable.

Finger painting is a great way to reconnect with your inner child. Your inner child is holding your creative energy, keeping it safe for you. The only way to access that energy is to connect with your inner child, to let go of some of the blocks and resistance that adults hold on to, quite unintentionally, often leaving us separated from our creative selves.

Below, you’ll find a twelve-minute finger painting demonstration video that I’ve created for my Teachable course. The video shows you how I use finger painting to create some of my art. Hopefully, it will inspire you to get your hands dirty and create something uniquely you. My techniques are just examples. You can do anything with a little paint and your fingers to guide you. This is a fantastic creative exercise. Experiment with blending. Experiment with color. You don’t need canvas. You need a little paint, some paper, and your hands. That’s it. See what happens. See if you feel like a child again. See if you feel joy. See if it makes you smile.

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!

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!

The Power of Creativity For Emotional Health

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

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

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

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

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

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