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1. 3 reasons why making art is good for you!

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“Art washes away from the soul the dusts of everyday life” – Pablo Picasso

 

Believe it or not making art for your own enjoyment actually has its benefits to both your mind and body. We often spend our weeks rushing around focusing on our everyday commitments whether its your job, looking after kids, school or ticking off daily errands, that we never really get the chance to relax.

When you’re overwhelmed with the stresses of a busy lifestyle, actually embracing your creativity can actually reduce anxieties and stresses to clear your mind making you feel better. So art itself is extremely theraputic and to fill you in abit more as to why doodling, colouring or painting should become apart of your weekly schedule here’s 3 reasons why art is good for you!

1. Helps you to slow down - During the week we’re all on the go and so being a little creative whether it’s drawing, colouring, painting or snapping a photo with your camera actually helps you to physically and mentally slow down. Rushing around doesn’t do our bodies internally any good and so making time to do something artistic that you enjoy is healthy to both your body and mind.

2. You embrace a side of yourself you might not usually - Not all of us work a creative job but this doesn’t mean if you’re an accountant for example you can get inky and doodle away! You may even surprise yourself with the things you create and through that feel a sense of achievement in the things you make which builds up your positivity in mind.

3. Self expression and letting out your emotions – Much like music and drama making art in whichever form, helps you to express a side of yourself you might find hard to do otherwise. Like musicians who infuse emotion into the music they write, you can place emotions into the art pieces you make. In turn this helps you to acknowledge your inner feelings and let out things you might not find the words to say which you are can through a brush or ink for example.

Featured illustration is by Oana Befort and you can find out more about her work here.

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2. the yeeha of‏ inspiration

Post by Alice Palace

Alice Palace has been going now for nearly 11 years and the most common question I get asked is where do I find my inspiration – so I have been thinking of the answer, and have 11 yeeha’s to help…

 

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1. Going horse riding is the best thing to help me with my creativity because it gets me outside – the fresh air always helps and my mind is free to wander. It’s about occupying one part of my brain, so the the other part is clear to be creative. It makes me feel happy and the more happy I am, the more creative ideas I have.
- So spend time doing the things you love most in life.
2. The same thing happens when I’m in the car driving by myself and listening/singing along to music. I find it’s a good time to tune out and spend some time inside my own head with my own thoughts. The same thing happens when I wash up – which is why we don’t have a dishwasher!
- So spend some time alone to daydream – your brain needs time for inactivity.
3. If I start work on any illustration idea, then more ideas will follow, and from those ideas there will be even more ideas – it’s just the way it works – but I need to get started in the first place. My main problem is not the lack of ideas, but making myself physically get started with them. Creativity is like a tap and needs to be used to keep it flowing.
- So do whatever you need to do to get started, draw up a timetable, make up some deadlines, pretend the Queen is over for a visit… and then start drawing.
4.  I find I have to do every pointless job there is, before I can start my illustration work – but having a good tidy up of my work area does really help – and then I just have to be super strict. But if I’m having one of those days when the drawings just aren’t right, then I’ll do something completely different for a while as I know that on another day I will do the whole thing much quicker and better.
- So stop if your hearts not in it (and return to it later/the next day).
5. Spending time with inspiring and inquisitive people is great for my own inspiration – anyone that I look up to for whatever reason – can really help with my own ideas.
- So spend time with friends and family (and strangers) that make you tick.
6. I find that walking to work with the dogs is a great start to the day and I love taking photos along the way. I like to look at the world in detail – seeing everything that looks beautiful to me, seeing colours and shapes, changes in the day, that might otherwise be missed.
- So start the day well and you’re more likely to create.
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7. Watching films and reading books also helps to feed my inspiration. I get a monthly magazine subscription to ‘Red’ which is not only a nice surprise every month, but also helps to keep me up to date with fashion, homes and trends. I like ‘The simple things’ magazine too.
- So ask all your inspiring people about their favourites, and make a list, and get watching/reading.
8. Exhibiting at shows really helps me to stay inspired as I see them as an opportunity to show off my illustrations & products, and to get feedback – without these dates in the diary it would be easy to float along without any set deadlines. It’s also a time when I see impressive work by other people, and that inspires me to come up with something equally impressive next time.
- So get yourself out there.
9. Keeping a notebook really helps me – as I seek inspiration from all sorts of sources and I can write down ideas/words and keep them all safe. I’m always on the lookout for the little everyday things, observing people, watching films, dreams I have, reading books, conversations I have, a sentence I read/hear. If I’m really stuck for ideas, then I can look through and see drawings, doodles, scribbles about the weather, the mood I am in, the last time I laughed etc.
- So keep a sketchbook/notebook.
10. It’s good for me to have a routine and I try to have set working hours. I have to be disciplined because there are so many distractions these days with email, mobile, twitter, facebook, instagram, pinterest etc – not to mention the everyday life stuff like cooking, cleaning, looking after the dogs and my small child. The other day one of my friends asked me how I make myself go to work everyday and I found it a hard question to answer on the spot, but after thinking about it, I realised that I must just be pretty disciplined, and enjoy my work! It doesn’t seem like an option to me to not go.
- It’s so easy to let your life get filled up with other stuff, so a routine is really important.
11. If I’m not enjoying an illustration I’m working on, then generally it doesn’t work as well and I need to find a different approach, or just start something new. The BIGGEST thing of all is to enjoy the creation and trust your instinct. I find that the illustrations that work best are the ones that I enjoy doing most.
- To be truly inspired you need to trust your instinct and enjoy what you are creating, and it will show.
alicepalace_EnjoyTheCreation
See more Alice Palace illustrations here

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3. Lament of an educator/parent

My seventeen-year-old son has just completed fifteen examinations in the course of two weeks. They varied in length – some in excess of three hours, with a half hour break before the next exam – and we are still feeling the fallout from this veritable onslaught.

The post Lament of an educator/parent appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. Elephant and Piggie Wow the Crowd



We have long been offering continuing education opportunities on a monthly basis for our day care providers. Because we are registered instructors, providers who take our free hour-long classes are able to gain credits for continued certification in our state's certification program. Libraries place such importance on early literacy that it makes sense to give providers the knowledge and encouragement to do just that through these workshops!

We recently did a workshop demonstrating how to create story extension activities using a book and one's own imagination. Activities that extend a story help children play with characters, plots and situations in the just-read book and more firmly embrace and enjoy the story and the concepts inside it. These extensions can be craft-based; sensory-based; pretend-play exploratory; art-based and more. The point is finding the kernel(s) of the book and extend them into the activity. Since we wanted to explore this in a simple fun way, what better books than Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie (aka E&P in this post!) series to do the job?

Here's how it went down:

I read There's a Bird on My Head and demonstrated a fun nest hat the children could make. This was followed with I Will Surprise My Friend and a demonstration on how paper bag E&P puppets could help kids understand the situation of the rock hiding the characters (you can find the extensions used in this post).

Providers then picked a Willems' E&P book, and were given 10-12 minutes to read it and either working as a team or alone, come up with an idea for an extension idea or two that might work. The crowd was enthusiastic and came up with some great ideas. Here's a few they shared when we re-gathered and book-talked their selection and made their suggestions. Look what great stuff they came up with in just a few minutes:

Watch Me Throw the Ball - have the kids toss a ball and comment on all the different ways they throw (best throw to the left; highest; softest; kindest to the ball; best ball that went to the left; etc. Important to focus not on far the ball is thrown but how fun throwing the ball, no matter the result is!)

I Broke My Trunk - using paper towel rolls, let kids hold them to their noses. Talk about what might break their nose. Let the kids wrap their broken noses in toilet paper as a bandage.

Elephants Cannot Dance - have kids practice the dance moves Elephant does. Then ask them to try a new dance move (depending on the group, they may come up with plenty of their own). Add music and have a dance party!

Let's Go For a Drive - let kids pack and unpack a suitcase with clothes. Show them maps. Make a map of a walk around the block and walk with the kids showing them how a map works. Let the kids draw a map. Ask kids what they want to pack for a trip to the store; to the woods; to the beach; to a very cold place with snow.

My New Friend is So Fun! - Have kids draw a picture of their favorite friend.

I'm a Frog - have kids pretend to be frogs and cows. Ask them what other animals they would like to pretend to be. Use pictures of real animals to extend the idea.

Many of the providers had never heard of these books and realized that an early reader could work great with the kids in their care. It also stimulated alot of conversation of other books they love to use with the kids and how they could use the story extension concept to enhance the kids' enjoyment. Mission accomplished!




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5. Danny Gregory interviewed me about one of my favorite subjects: making art with kids

Sketchbook Skool Q&Art video interview

Well, this was quite a treat. My recent post on ways to encourage a family art habit caught the eye of folks at Sketchbook Skool, which led to my being interviewed by Danny Gregory for a Q&Art video. As an eager viewer of this excellent video series, I was delighted to find myself chatting with an artist whose books and classes (I mean klasses) have been a tremendous source of inspiration and education for me. What a joy. Danny asked me for advice on encouraging creativity in children—one of my pet topics, as you know!

(Not included in the video: the two minutes of Rilla bouncing up and down in her overwhelming glee at meeting Danny, one of her heroes, via Skype just before we began the recording. She was absolutely starstruck. :) )

(direct link)

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6. How to chose and use your art materials wisely

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If you’re anything like the thousands of creatives out there, you’ll no doubt have something called “GotToHaveEveryArtSupply-itis”and its incurable. We get so excited and enthusiastic when the glorious sound of the art supply shop opens like an unknown force pulling us in against our will (not really), to when there’s a sale online we just have to get them all.Although with this vast growing collection of art supplies, in which we think deep down will bestow upon us great creative talent, comes being practical and responsible to.

 Each art material has its advantages and disadvantages, however its actually how you use them that will help you to produce great work.So here’s a few tips to really help  you choose your creative weapons of choice wisely and wield them like a true creative warrior!

1.  Combine materials that compliment each other – Just because you have an artbox filled with yummy supplies, doesn’t mean you have to throw everything into the mix to make the perfect receipe. Experimenting is key to know what works for you and your style to build your creative process. Look closely at the textures, contrasts and effects each material gives you and which would compliment each other nicely to create the perfect creative dish.  For example watercolours and coloured pencil work great together to create colour washes with beautiful tone work.

2. He’s got it so I need to have it to - No doubt you’ve done this to where your inspirational creative idol uses a specific art supply and  you feel the urge to possess it to achieve greatness. Although this isn’t to say its not the quality of product that gives them great results, bear in mind they’ve been honing their skills and processes with it for countless hours through “practice“. Not every art supply works the same with every creatives style and process, but experiment with different materials to see if introducing it to your creative making steps will benefit the pieces you create.

3. Invest within your budget- Last but not least investing and budgeting, understandably art supplies often aren’t cheap as they come in so many different brands, qualities and quantities at different prices. There’s also artist and student grade materials, however the key is be wise and stick to your budget. Test materials out and if you feel they have a permanent place in how you make your art then this gives you the option to invest in them further.

Good luck creatives and have fun wielding those art supplies!

Featured image by Amy Van Luijk  you can find out more about her work here.

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7. Advice on your adventure into the realm of a creative career

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Armed with your sword ( pencil) and shield (sketchbook) there maybe many of you who are soon to leave school education to venture forth into the big wide world. Although like a hero with your map and compass in hand, you now need to start to plot the path you want to take in life and especially if you want to pursue a creative career.

It’s a tough decision to make but there are lots of options out there for you if you’re driven and passionate enough to want to be creative. You could be an illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, fine artist, fashion designer, pattern designer, ceramist and much more.  Although many people will assume that the career path as a creative can be a pennyless one, this isn’t the case if you’re determined and clever in the plans you’re making.

Though these options may differ slightly for each country, university, internships and apprenticeships are some ways in which you can pursue you’re creative aspirations. Each have their benefits and disadvantages, so its important you choose a path that’s best for you. For example university can be expensive but it gives you time, facilities and expertise to hone your creatice practice. Internships and apprenticeships give you hands on workplace experience, but you may not have lots of time to experiment creatively.

These aren’t the only paths to choose, but they’ll hopefully give you food for thought on what to do next. Remember though you can write your creative story however you wish. If you’re not happy with the decisions you make there’s always the option to change the course you’ve set moving towards your aspirations and creative success.

Featured image is by illustrator Arian Armstrong and you can find out more about her work here.

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8. The Room In My Head - revisited - Linda Strachan

In January 2009 I wrote a blog on ABBA about the  Room in my Head.  It went something like this -

The Room In My Head


As the new year begins I look inside my head to find that room where inspiration might be hiding….   


In the middle of the room there is space, empty of life or furniture.   Walls, accustomed to colour and pattern, stand bereft waiting for design - perhaps imprints of flowers, pattern or activity.



Underfoot boards made of wood and nails move to mark my passage and where the light floods though glass no curtains block its passage. 


And yet the room is full of hope and joy because the sun is shining, casting summer against the emptiness.  
Sounds fill the space with anticipation - strains of mystery that fill my ears and delight my senses, holding me captive - wondering - what I will discover?



This year, many years and stories later, I find my year starting with the Room in My Head well populated by the book I am currently writing.  There is still space in the room although it is well furnished with characters and places, ideas, textures and much activity.



Underfoot  ideas are scattered on the boards like so many sparkling jewels - tempting and clamouring for attention. 

Terrified they might be discarded, their brilliance allowed to fade, dissipate and be condemned to become mere pebbles abandoned on the path to the finale.


Light flooding through the glass varies with each passing day, dependent on the story's progress, from dreary grey rain-clouds...







to breezy sunshine over water.




At the moment the Room in my Head is packed with a tapestry of thoughts, emotions, wrong turns and epiphanies.


It changes daily and fills to bursting with the noise of those who inhabit the story, each with their own goals and intentions, duplicitous or discernible,

but always fascinating.




What fills the Room in your Head?



---------------------------------------------
Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children.
Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me  
she is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby

website:  www.lindastrachan.com
blog:  Bookwords 




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9. My Altered Book, Post-NaNoWriMo


Four Girls and Six; Altered Book Page

Sometimes I just like to write a book for fun, and usually it's for NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month). No big deal, no serious thought of publication, but worth it's weight in writing practice and who knows? Maybe there are some characters, scenes, or settings that will be used one day--maybe even the majority of what I wrote. But while I'm at work on these "just for fun" books, I don't like to think about anything as daunting or real as editing, commonsense, or marketing. Instead, I just freewrite every wild and crazy thing that comes into my head and let the plot chips fall where they may.

For the last three NaNoWriMo years, three of these "for fun"manuscripts have turned into a  connected series, all based on the altered book project I started four (!) years ago and that I titled, Four Girls and Six Colleges. The title is derived from the actual book I'm altering, a collection of architectural drawings of six historic Australian college campuses. The four girls (featured above) who became the main characters of both the altered book and the 2012 NaNoWriMo manuscript, were amongst the first photos I pasted into the book. I was so intrigued with their stories that for NaNoWriMo 2013 I wrote Six Girls and Four Colleges (about their daughters), followed by last year's effort, Homecoming which featured their granddaughters.

But now that the manuscripts have been written and put away for a rainy day, it's time to get back to my original inspiration, the altered book itself. One of the reasons I'm still working on it is because when I embarked on the project I didn't realize that most people gesso or glue together several pages of their chosen book to make very thick single pages. After that it's fairly simple to collage, paint or enhance the resulting 12 or so backgrounds. In my case, however, I thought you were supposed to work on EVERY page--as in all 96 of them, back and front.

So here I am, several years later, still slogging away with the watercolor crayons and glue sticks. Some of the pages are pretty complete, maybe even finished; others have a long way to go. The good news is none of them are blank, as in, white-page-staring-me-in-the-face. Take a peek:











There are many, many more pages, LOL, but as they say, that's all for now, folks! Hope you enjoyed the show! As for me, it's back to the crayons and glue sticks. Sigh.

Tip of the Day: When's the last time you wrote or made something "just for fun"? If it's been a while, brainstorm a list of projects you'd love to try no matter the outcome. Pick one and start playing today! (P.S. Keep in mind that this is all about the sheer pleasure of personal creativity--you may want to take a page from my own experience and go for quick-and-easy rather than " 'till death do us part.")





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10. Freddy the Frogcaster and the Big Blizzard, by Janice Dean | Book Review

Freddy the Frogcaster and the Big Blizzard does an excellent job of creating a creative way to get kids interested in learning about the science of weather.

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11. a print designer named Aless Baylis

Post by Alice Palace

Aless has just set up her own studio label called ‘This is gold’. Based in London, she is available for freelance surface pattern, illustration and childrenswear graphics. I love her characters…

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See her New Website

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12. The Spring of Ideas - Liz Kessler


A while ago, I wrote a blog about the Seasons of Writing. It was an idea that my good friend Jen Alexander shared with me, and I’ve loved it and referred to it on countless occasions ever since. The idea is that the process of writing a book is very much like the calendar of seasons in a year.

Well, if that’s the case, it is definitely spring right now.

I’m at the very start of working on a new book. It’s an idea that has been patiently waiting underground for quite a few years, and its time has now come. Just as I’m beginning to see snowdrops appearing in the countryside, and tiny shoots starting to come through the ground in my own garden, my new story is beginning to show its head. Little tiny shoots coming up, one by one, all pretty and fresh and exciting.


For over a decade, writing has been my job, and there are times when I’m very aware of that. I make myself sit at my desk for a certain length of time; I set targets that involve writing a set number of words; I organize events, I attend book festivals, I do publicity, I write emails, blogs, articles; I reply to lovely letters from readers. All of these things are wonderful, and all make me feel glad that this is how I make my living. But a lot of the time, my job doesn’t feel especially creative.

But it does now.

A couple of months ago, I attended a writers’ retreat that I run with my author buddy Elen Caldecott. Four days where eighteen children’s authors come together to share thoughts, ideas, inspiration and workshops all about writing and creativity, set in beautiful countryside.

(I made a kind of slideshow of my photos while I was there. You can watch it here if you want to see why it’s such a lovely place.)

This was the fourth time we’ve run this retreat, and I have to say I think it was the best yet – especially in terms of creativity. But the point of this blog is to share what was, for me, the best thing to come out of this year’s retreat. And that was that my new book started to open up – yes, like a beautiful new crocus slowly unfurling its petals.

Part of the way that this happened was to do with my surroundings. Each morning of the retreat, I got up early and went out for a walk with my camera. The mornings were so quiet and the light was so soft, as a mist gradually lifted from the fields and trees. Something about the mornings felt right for my book, and started leading me towards the background mood and setting.

Then one evening, another writer buddy, Kelly McCain, and I had an amazing couple of hours sharing music and downloading each other’s favourite songs. So on the final morning when I went out for my walk, I took my headphones and listened to these new songs at the same time – and the most amazing thing happened. As I walked, and watched the mist and the dew, and listened to the songs, I started almost seeing my book begin to take shape in front of me. I almost heard my characters singing lines from the songs as I listened to them. Almost felt their moods and their emotions, as I felt the mist rising on a storyline that was starting to take shape after five years of waiting in the shadows.


And it’s carried on like that for the months following the retreat. I’ve added more tunes and now have a playlist of about thirty songs. I play them when I walk the dog, trudging along a muddy coast path and hearing the characters singing the words. I play them in my study, writing away in my lovely new notebook, as I try to capture the feelings, the moods, the words and the moments in the same way as I saw them out on the cliff path.

I have written about fifteen books, and I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything quite like the process that is taking place with this book. It feels so creative, and such a journey of exploration. It’s intense, emotional, exciting and kind of magical. It reminds me that, after all, this isn’t just my job. It is my passion; it is one of the things that is at the heart of who I am, how I see the world and how I live my life.

The book is due to be delivered in September this year. I have two books coming out before then and a busy year ahead – but for now, I’m enjoying taking the time to nurture these seedlings of ideas that are popping up every day. 

So yes, this is work, and yes, sometimes it’s hard. But right here, right now, it feels like a privilege that I get to do such a magical, wonderful, creative thing and get to call it my day job. I hope that over the coming months, I can do my characters justice. I look forward to the rest of the spring, and am hoping for a summer filled with bright colours, delightful scents and a beautiful, blossoming story.

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13. Believing You Can Make an Amazing Creative Portfolio

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Just another day at the art desk I hear you say, starting your sunday with a chipper smile and creative heart filled with enthusiasm, you believe everything will be absolutely fine. That is however until you sit down to start working on that creative portfolio you aspire to make.Suddenly you’re faced with an extremely sweaty brow and a blank canvas that’s been sitting there for the best part of an hour.

You may start to hear a small voice quoting in the back of your head how you can do this! However this then propels into a downward swirl beating yourself up over your lack of progress, whilst creating a rather larger  pile of screwed up sketchbook pages behind you. In all you just don’t know where to start and have an idea of a project’s “end” with no “beginning”.

Generating ideas for portfolio pieces can be tough if you don’t plan and prepare in advance what you aim to create.  Every creative person I believe though has the potential to create some amazing self-initiated projects to really blow the socks off those creative directors.  If that’s what you wanna do then here’s a few ways to help reel back your line to the beginning , generate ideas and get started creating portfolio pieces that will help promote what you can do!

1.  Understand what kind of work you want to be doing : Think about the kind of work you want to produce whether children’s book illustration , portrait photography , commercial design and more. By knowing where you want to go creatively this will help you understand the type of work you need to create.

2. Generate project ideas around your chosen work: Now that you’ve chosen your type of work the next step is to generate your own project idea. For example this could be illustrating a page from your favourite children’s book if your aim is a children’s illustration. Create a pattern design collection if your aim is to work within commercial product, licensing and more.

3. Hone your skills and think outside the box : No doubt you’ll have your collection of favoured art materials that you turn to when you create a piece. However be sure to hone your skills will other materials , softwares and processes to as this will help show how versatile you can create pieces and how diverse they can be. Last but not least though think outside the box, take inspiration from other creative is one thing but then take a little inspiration from it and create something unique to you.

Image by Matt Adrian you can find out more about his work here.

 

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14. To Drive The Cold Winter Away by Tess Berry-Hart

It's still winter! The bone-shaking chill of a new January with its winds, ice storms, broken healthy resolutions and humourless deadlines (tax payments, school applications, etc) can make even the bravest of us want to curl up in a cave next to a blazing fire and hibernate until spring arrives.

And to some of us who suffer from depression (episodes of persistent sadness or low mood, marked loss of interest and pleasure) either constant or intermittent, winter can be one of the hardest times. Depression being a multi-headed hydra ranging from many states of unipolar to bipolar, I'm not suggesting that there is one single type of depression; for instance not all of us are affected by the winter or weather, while some people who don't even have depression in the clinical sense might be experiencing a mild case of the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Creativity is like a fire that we can stoke to drive away the cold winter (whether physical or psychological, internal or external). So I'm deep in my cave trying to work out ways that I can stoke my creativity without resorting to biscuits!

Bibliotherapy's been around for a while now, and is the literary prescription of books and poems against a range of "modern ailments" - including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. A form of guided self-help, it's not exactly a new idea - the ancient Greeks spoke of "catharsis" - the process of purification or cleansing, in which the observer of a work of theatre could purge themselves of emotions such as pity and fear through watching and identifying with the characters in a play. All of us in the modern world can attest to the feeling of connection and joy when an author so precisely describes a state that we are ourselves experiencing, and the nail-biting, cliff-hanging state of knowing exactly what our heroine or hero is going through. We root for him or her because s/he represents ourselves battling our own demons in an idealised meta-state.

But how does bibliotherapy work? According to the various proponents, it helps perpetuate a shift in thinking, so that things are not so inflexible (black and white thinking, for all you cognitive-behavioural depressives out there!) which is crucial to tackling depression. Being able to gain distance and perspective by viewing problems through the lens of fictional characters means that in real life our fixed thought-patterns which contribute to our problems can start to become unpicked.

And of course, identification isn't the only joy to be found in books; good old-fashioned escapism is surely the reason why many of us read so avidly. A new world, a new family, a new life, perhaps even new biology or physics, takes us away momentarily from the mundane world so we can return refreshed, hopefully to see our lives with new eyes.

I've obviously been self-medicating for a long time, but I always called it comfort-reading. By comfort-reading I mean a well-known book that you can plunge into at will like a warm bath or a pair of slippers. At school when I was anxious about exams or bullies I would find solace in re-reading the heroic adventures of Biggles or the magical quest of Lord of the Rings; at university it was in the dreamy memories of Brideshead and the vicissitudes of Billy Liar or Lucky Jim. When I started my first office jobs I would read 1984 or Brave New World (odd choices for comfort-reads but I think it was to remind myself that things could actually be worse!) but when I started writing my own books, I ...er ... stopped reading for some years. I think my tiny little brain could only take so much exercise!

I started comfort-reading again when we first had our children; during long and frequently painful breast-feeding sessions my husband would read my childhood favourites Charlotte's Web and Danny the Champion Of The World to me as distraction and encouragement. And these days my prospective comfort list numbers hundreds of books; for me, reading is re-reading.

So what could I take to bolster myself against the winter chill? I've written myself a prescription but I'd be interested in hearing yours!

1) A dose of James Herriot's short animal stories, to be administered when needed (they are nice and short so you're not left hanging after a few pages) or chapters from Jerome K Jerome's Three Men In A Boat, or virtually anything by PG Wodehouse;

2) A daily dose of half an hour "joy-writing" - half an hour in the morning when I can sit down and let ideas spill out onto the page. (If it ends up with me writing about what happened last night then so be it. It can often lead to something more ...)

3) A small creative project on the horizon, easily identifiable and manageable, that I can look forward to; in this case getting a small group of actors together to read through a new draft of a play that I've written (there'll be a blog post on this soon so stay tuned!)

4) Connection with others - I'm a member of a local book group, which not only makes me keep on top of what new books are coming out, but also participating in the joy of discussion; there's nothing more frustrating than reading a good book only to realise that nobody you know has read it!)

So I think that's enough to start barricading myself up against the January snows!

But what about you? What kind of comfort-reads do you enjoy to drive the cold winter away?


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15. Using Illustration Friday in the Classroom

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Attention teachers!

Illustration Friday was recently featured on The Art of Ed, a super useful and inspiring blog for art teachers all over the world! We’re very excited about this because we hear from educators all the time that they regularly use IFriday as a teaching tool in their classrooms.

The best part of The Art of Ed’s post is that they offer a variety of ideas on just how you too can use Illustration Friday’s weekly topic challenge as a creative prompt for your students, no matter the age or skill level.

We’re all about inspiring people to create, so please do check out their post if you’re a teacher looking for some creative ideas on bringing Illustration Friday to your classroom as well!

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16. Happy Boxing (and Beading) Day!

Vintage Czech crystal beads, freshwater pearls, 
silver rosettes.
Season's Greetings, everyone--and Happy Boxing Day, aka as the day after Christmas, a holiday I grew to love while I was living in New Zealand and the UK. If anyone is confused about the term "boxing" let me assure you it has nothing to do with Queen's Rules and fisticuffs, but rather it's a traditional day to give a "box" of gifts or cash to the people who help us throughout the year, the people who make our lives that little bit easier. Think Downton's Abbey or Upstairs, Downstairs. Although we technically don't celebrate the day here in the US, it's still a great way to say "thank you" to co-workers, charities, or the service industries we rely upon.

For me, it's also a day off, one I'm using to play with my Christmas presents which this year were all about: beading! Tools, supplies, free rein at the bead store . . . I'm having more fun than a kid with a new coloring book. My interest in beads and bling began three years ago with the beading class I took from Continuing Ed. Before that I couldn't have told you the difference between an awl and a crimper, but now I've even got my own pair of diagonal wire cutters and I'm not afraid to use 'em. Watch out, craft shows.

Starting the minute I got my hands on my chain nose pliers, I got down to business. Shown here (above and below) are my first efforts of the day, necklaces I made in between serious holiday cake-eating and movie-watching. (My kind of hobby, I can tell you.)

Recycled: glass beads with gold accents.
More reasons I love beading:

  • Instant gratification. What a change from writing or drawing, LOL!
  • Good excuse for an artist's date: bead stores, hobby stores, thrift stores (yes, thrift stores--some of the best places on the planet to find vintage and unusual beads, pendants, and clasps).
  • New jewelry! For me, my friends--even for sale!
  • It's something I can do while watching TV or listening to the radio. I get antsy just sitting around.
  • It's a good way to experiment with color palettes and combinations for visual art work.
  • Working with my hands seems to help me think of character, plot, setting . . . all the necessaries for writing.
  • I could even add a few chosen pieces to my main character's wardrobe. How fun is that?
  • Designing the strands and placing the beads in various combinations on the bead board is ultra-calming and stress-reducing. It's so peaceful.
  • It's a great jump-starter for lagging imagination. Just like working with found poetry or pottery, each piece can be based on a randomly chosen theme or title.
  • It's a quick fill-in for the days when my energy levels are low yet I still want to do something fun and creative.
  • The possibilities are endless: so many beads. SO MANY BEADS! 
  • And when I get bored with a piece, I can cut the cord and start all over--recycling it into new designs and patterns. 

I think this is going to be a very restful and meditative hobby for the New Year, something I'm going to need with all my plans to start submitting manuscripts next month. Until then, though, I think it's time for another piece of cake. 

Tip of the Day: Is there some creative pursuit you've put on hold for a while, waiting for the "perfect" time to start? How about starting right now by making a list of dreams and intentions? Choose one item on the list--just one--and gather whatever supplies, books, or information you need to make your dream a reality. (Hint: Youtube.com is an excellent place to find free classes and demonstrations on just about any subject you have in mind.). Plan to start working on your new project on January 1, 2015 and make it a daily or weekly habit. Good luck, enjoy the season, and remember to think outside of the box!

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17. How to add a creative touch to your presents at christmas

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The christmas season is here and ofcourse the stores are full of beautiful things , there’s so much to look at and endless potential for presents to gift your friends and family. However you’re a very talented creative person and something you can give to make christmas even more special to your loved ones is something with your own creative touch. Ofcourse there are lovely gifts for giving that you can acquire instore, but there are also one of a kind creative touches you can add  that’s even more special.

1. Make your own christmas tags : This can be paper or ceramic based if you’re a dab hand with clay or porcelaine.  Really think outside the box and  personalise each tag for the person you’re giving to , adding their name and favourite things to it . In the spirit of recycling though why not adapt the tag so that once its taken off your loved ones present, it can find a place upon the christmas tree.

2. Hand design your own paper : Perfect for inky doodlers, painters or print makers why not make your own hand designed wrapping paper. Grab a roll of kraft brown paper and create your own hand drawn designs to really make it your own. Get experimental with coloured metallic markers or  block printing to add different creative effects and touchs to each present you wrap.

3.  Inky prints and wall art : Making a unique one of a kind print finished off in a frame is sure to be a gift anyone would proudly place on their wall. This is one project where you can just really be your creative self regardless of what kind of creative practice you’re in. If you’re a graphic design make a typography piece with personalised elements, photographer add your favourite photo or as an illustrator add a doodle. Valerie Mckeehan got creative with a black board , some chalk and her creative imagination so why don’t you?

The possiblities are endless really, go where your imagination takes you as no one knows the person you’re giving to better than you to make their christmas merry.

Image was created by illustrator Valerie McKeehan and you can find out more about her work here .

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18. Remembering Artist Gary R Sanchez

Morning Coffee; Oil Pastel and Watercolor Crayon on Gessoed Paper

I'm feeling sad today. Two nights ago I learned that one of my continuing ed. art teachers, Gary Sanchez, passed away suddenly on Thanksgiving from a heart attack. It's hard to believe--I was just about to choose which of his classes I was going to take next year. He was only 53. Kind, generous, and a remarkably gifted teacher; he will be sorely missed by so many.

I took both watercolor and oil pastel classes from Gary. Watercolor was not a new medium to me, but oil pastel certainly was. In fact, I wasn't even sure I would like it very much--I only took the class because I knew he was a good teacher and I thought I should expand my horizons. What I didn't expect is that I would enjoy oil pastel so much it would become one of my main drawing/painting mediums. 

The above painting was one of my first homework assignments in that same class. Looking at it now I'm reminded of the fun our class had together, and Gary was funny, constantly keeping us entertained. I realize now that was a great way to keep us relaxed and light: we would sketch while Gary chatted, worked on his own pictures, and somehow managed to walk around the room giving us individual pep talks all at the same time. I can still hear him using the terms "hot dog"and "hamburger" in place of "portrait" and "landscape" to describe which way we should turn our paper (the same way he described it for the children's classes he taught, which of course was the perfect way for me to learn), or reminding us that Van Gogh ate his paints--a demonstration of how passionate we should be about our materials! (Or hungry.) Gary's website is still up and I encourage you to visit while it's there: Garyrsanchez.com

Some of the reasons Gary helped me to love oil pastels include:
  • There are no limits: I can use my fingers to paint. I'm also a ceramic artist, and being able to use my hands and fingers as tools on the paper fits me to a T.
  • Oil pastel color is rich. The colors blend like butter.
  • You can use a wide variety of interesting backgrounds, from sand paper to canvas, so it never gets dull.
  • It's a fast medium with quick results--and I'm a very impatient artist.
  • Oil pastels are a good choice for creating sell-able, frame-able work. And who doesn't want to go professional one day?
  • You don't need a lot of excess "stuff" to work with oil pastel--especially if you paint with your fingers! But seriously, they are a minimalist's dream: a selection of colors, something to draw upon, a few paper towels.
  • And you don't need to break the bank to get started. Even a cheap set is good--much better than you'd think. Great for the budget-minded.
  • It's a a very expressive medium--you can draw straight from the heart, right away--no experience needed. Really.
  • It's also a very forgiving medium--if you don't like the results you can pretty much just scrape it away and start over. Better yet, you can look for "happy accidents" and work with those in new and creative ways. It all turns out fine.
  • Oil pastels can be used in so many different ways: on their own, in collage or mixed media, applied thick and strong, or thinned with either water or solvent for a "watercolor" look. The possibilities are endless.
Going over this list makes me want to get out my paper and Sennelier pastels (the terribly expensive ones!) and draw something special. I often think the very best way we can honor our teachers and mentors, past and present, is to never give up on our dreams, no matter what. I'm so glad I got to be one of Gary's students, and I'm so glad I let him know when I could how much I appreciated his art and teaching. May his legacy live on.

Tip of the Day: My art journals are full of Gary's advice and tips, but one of my favorites is from the first watercolor class I took from him. We were each given a picture of a sunflower to paint. When we were finished (and praised--Gary always made sure we got tons of positive feedback before he offered any other type of critique) he said, "Okay, now that you've painted one sunflower, don't stop. Never paint just one. Paint a hundred. Paint a thousand sunflowers. Become an expert!" It's good advice for any type of creative pursuit: e.g., don't just write one poem or screenplay, write a hundred, write a thousand! Become an expert--and never give up. See you next time.

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19. Do you make time to draw?

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Do you make enough time to draw? Some of us doodle at any opportunity we get. Yet there are also times when we get so swept up in daily doings that we don’t quite draw as much as we’d like to for fun and enjoyment.  Taking more time to doodle will not only keep your creative idea’s flowing , fill your sketchbooks with beautiful things but also make drawing fun feeling less like work.  So here are afew places you can sketch with ease, seize the opportunity  pick up that pencil and draw!

Places you can draw:

  • On the bus
  • On the train
  • In the car
  • On a rainy day
  • On the phone
  • In bed
  • At the park
  • In the garden
  • On your lunch break

Remeber, you should draw because the more you do draw the more those amazing ideas in your creative mind will meet the page for all to see.

Image by Illustrator Chuck Groenink you can find out more about his work here .

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20. Rules of BRAINSTORM

I love the posts over at Tara Lazar's site every November during PiBoIdMo! Some inspire me by presenting a new way to look at creativity, and some are reminders of things that I already knew, but seem to forget about when trying to create!

The last few on not censoring yourself inspired me to write this post. Back in the days when I was a graphic designer in the advertising/communications field, we would have brainstorming sessions for new projects. We would have to repeat the rules about 10 times each session because someone would say, "that's stupid," or "don't write that one down!" That breaks the first rule – anything goes – no censoring! You gotta get the bad ideas out somehow!

Here's a quote from the great Chuck Jones about creating art:

 

Switch out ‘drawings’ with ‘ideas’, or any creative endeavor.

Here is my list of Brainstorming Rules written in deference to the Movie Fight Club, and the Rules of Fight Club:

Rules of BRAINSTORM
  • 1st RULE:  You do not censor ANY ideas in BRAINSTORM.
  • 2nd RULE: EVERY IDEA gets written down in BRAINSTORM.
  • 3rd RULE: No Judgey Judgersons! If someone says 'that's stupid' or 'don't write that down' BRAINSTORM is over for them, and escort them out of the room. (This includes your inner voices!)
  • 4th RULE: Only 15 minutes for each BRAINSTORM. (If nothing comes out of it, take and break and come back to it.)
  • 5th RULE: In BRAINSTORM, quantity trumps quality. The more ideas, the better.
  • 6th RULE: Build upon other ideas. Take an idea you wrote down and add to it.
  • 7th RULE: Sketch you ideas out. If you just thought 'but I can't draw' please leave the BRAINSTORM. (Back to 3rd RULE of BRAINSTORM!)
  • 8th RULE: Wild ideas are welcome. This is the time to think of the wildest ideas you can imagine! Having toys and puzzles around may help get your juices flowing.

Good luck with your ideas!

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21. Living in my Illustrations

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Being an illustrator is great fun.  Why?  Because you can use your imagination to go places you’ve never been and do things you’ve never done. For instance, I have always wanted a log cabin up in the mountains.  As a teen, I used to imagine having a studio up a flight of wooden steps to a big room. It would have rafter ceilings and a window seat for me to look out of.  It would be warm and cozy and I could sit and do my art all day long near a roaring fire in the wood stove.

When I began thinking of places for my character Burl the bear to live in, I made it just like “I” wanted it!  Warm and inviting!  When you walk through the doorway of my story, you will find a home that lives in my imagination. It will be a place that I love and I will revisit it many times as the story progresses. I must be passionate about what I draw or it becomes listless and boring. This process is what makes a story believable.

My experience tells me that children notice the tiniest of details.  I did a school visit after Peepsqueak was published by Harper Collins Publisher.  I read the book to the children and then we talked.  Through out the story there was another story going on in the book. It was a little tiny mouse who appeared on many of the pages.  The children did not miss it. They even commented on the mouse as I read to them.  I let them in on a little secret.  I named the mouse Elliot.  When I told them his name they all squealed with delight and pointed to the cutest little boy in their classroom who was named Elliot!   He was beaming.  Suddenly he became part of the story. He was so happy!

These are the things that make a story magical in the eyes of children and adults alike.  Its also why I continue creating images.  I love seeing characters develop.   I love finding their voices. .. what they are like… what they like to do.  It does not stop when I leave the studio.  I think about them all the time, until I finally know how they would react in any given situation. That way they become very believable creations and loved by all.

Stay posted,  Burl and Briley are growing on my heart daily.  I can hardly wait to illustrate the books that are in my mind!


Filed under: how to write, My Characters

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22. WINTER LIGHT

It's getting colder in Rhode Island and each day seems to pass in the blink of an eye. I've been keeping busy in my free time, spending it either reading books (currently Bill Nye's newest), comics (Bravest Warriors is a new fun favorite), or watching documentaries and educational programing via PBS, Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube while I work on new doodle paintings.

I have one more small craft show coming up on December 6th (Blackstone River Theatre's Holiday Fair). It's the last show I have lined up at the moment so it seems a nice time to wrap up the doodles for a while so I can dive back into developing (and perhaps writing) my story idea.

Generally, during the cold months I tend to go into a hibernation mode, wanting very little to leave the house after sundown except for occasional trips to the movies. I've seen Interstellar [twice], and Big Hero Six---both excellent. Interstellar was just about everything I imagined and hoped it would be, namely epic and beautiful and emotionally moving and ambitious and mind bending, while at the same time different (enough) in plot from my own. There are many components of the story that overlap but thankfully there's still enough unexplored in my idea that continues to push me forward conceiving my own epic space odyssey.

I certainly haven't been able to get enough of space related stuff since I began this project a year and a half ago and I'm fairly certain the obsession won't let up any time soon. I'm also fairly confident that there's room for yet another space exploration story in the world...

Anyway, as I mentioned, I don't want to leave the house when it's cold which has a nice bi-product of increased productivity. Staying in = working longer = getting more done. I'm quite content to "work" until late each night since there isn't much else happening to distract me. This has resulted in several new doodles in progress, including this one just finished this evening.

"Winter Light" is the final installment in my "Four Seasons" series.




I really do love the doodle painting process, and while it will always be part of me, I suspect I'm using it now more as a diversion from tackling the things that scare me most---and that truly matter to me and my ambitions. I don't so much miss illustrating but I miss the idea of actively pursuing a career I want. When I close my eyes and imagine my dream job, it's working in a studio writing and illustrating my own picture books. So why is it that I'm not working towards this every day?

Perhaps it's time to really consider my priorities and find a way to tend to all the branches of my creative tree---including pruning those that aren't what and where I truly want to be growing...

All in all, I am extremely grateful to be in a position where I have the luxury of contemplating what I want to be when I grow up. I just don't want to miss my chance to make something of myself.

No better day than today, no better time than now. The winter light is fading. Better get to work.

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23. Creative ways to think outside the box

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It’s easy to presume that your doodles, illustrations, paintings and creative thoughts should make their way straight to paper or canvas although just for a minute why not think outside the box.  Break the rules and do something creatively different that sets your doodles apart , not to abandon your sketchbook for to long but challenge yourself to something different. To help get you started heres just a few creative ways you can do that and truly think outside the box to show others just how creative you can be.

  • Remember that rather dull phone or tablet case you bought thats lacking a certain creative omph, well grab yourself some paint or a paint based marker and create your own custom case design.  Add your own style and choose your own theme to make a stylish creative case you’d want to show off and not hide.
  • Mugs are great because they often get filled with heart warming teas or beverages although a plain little old mug is some what sad and gloomy. However with some ceramic paint or markers you  could give it an unique handdrawn design of its own that is sure to make your tea breaks even better.
  • For fellow lovers of fabric the dream is no doubt to create your own and you can even without a huge fabric printer. With some acrylic paints and fabric medium you can paint your own designs onto calico, making reams of your own one of a kind design to embellish any type of project from home furnishings to wallart and more.
  • That little pair of converse you happen to have sitting in the hallway could use a splash of ink wouldn’t you say? Grab yourself some pens and markers ( ones that work well on canvas fabric and will not run) and create yourself a fashion piece that will set you apart from everyone else.

Image by artist  Jaco Haasbroek  you can find out more about their work here.

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24. Hushing and Holding - Heather Dyer


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I’ve been reading a book called Fearless Creating: a step-by-stepguide to starting and completing your work of art, by Eric Maisel. Like Dorothea Brande’s classic book Becoming a Writer, this is less a ‘craft’ guidebook, and more a ‘process’ guidebook. It’s the sort of book that describes the creative mind set and shows you how to develop it.

One of the exercises that Maisel says is the most important in the whole book is the ability to ‘hush’ your mind. ‘Hushing’ says Maisel, ‘is what we do when we go into a museum and sit in front of one painting for fifteen minutes.’ Hushing is a ‘quieting and an opening’ – and there is no creative life without this ability to hush.

Hushing sounds a lot like the open, receptive state of mind that is associated with ‘right-brain’ awareness, and is also the state of ‘choiceless awareness’ that meditation aspires to. When the mind is quiet and receptive – and not busy with mental chatter – ideas can rise to the surface.
Some writers achieve this state of mind by walking, swimming, doing yoga or washing the dishes. Others know it when they wake up in the middle of the night to write something in the notepad beside their bed. Maisel suggests that it’s only when the conscious, busy, ‘thinking’ mind has grown quiet that insights and ideas can surface.
Maisel also explains that ‘hushing’ needs to be practiced in conjunction with ‘holding’, if any real work is to be done. 'Holding' is the ability to carry an idea for a book or a painting (or any other project )loosely in the back of your mind as you go about your day. By holding the project in the periphery of your vision you allow the ideas and stimuli that you encounter during the day (or during your working practice) to enter it and inform it. I’ve also heard this process called ‘being in the grist’, when almost everything you experience seems to somehow relate to, or feed into, the container of your novel.

Have you experienced the processes of ‘hushing’ and ‘holding’? If so, how do you achieve them?
 
Heather Dyer's latest book is The Flying Bedroom.
www.heatherdyer.co.uk
 

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25. How to have fun making that to do list!

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Making a to do list is pretty easy and though some of us love making them, others may find them boring beyond tears. If like me you often find yourself saying:

 

” Hurray I’ll write this to do list and get everything done no problem!”

To then find you’re half way through the day and your to do list remains untouched then there’s something not quite right with that to do list you’ve got there. Although to do lists or making them doesn’t have to be boring, being creative we love to add a doodle here, a splash of colour there with some photos or fanciful fonts it just makes our day more forfilling.

So why not try this approach with your to do list? Staring a rather plain lined page of text is no creative feast for the eyes, however  lorie at Elvie studio seems to have right idea with making that to do list fun ! So add your own style, favourite colours and really jazz up that to do list that will not only make it fun create but fun to tick off as you go about your day.

This image is by Lorie Vliegen and you can find out more about her creative work here .

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