Where creativity grows

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How does one celebrate a birthday during a pandemic?

Most years, my husband and I take Columbus Day weekend to head out of town for a few days to celebrate my birthday. We find a bed and breakfast or even better and AirBnB somewhere a few hours from here. With a collection of podcasts on a flash drive, we hop in the car and start our adventure. That was not an option this year. The COVID19 numbers in Wisconsin and Indiana are rising daily and it was just not worth the risk. So how does one celebrate their birthday in the middle of a pandemic? I wasn’t thinking socially distanced car parade or anything like that. I had to get creative!

Back in July our close friend, who is also my running coach, was in town due to his own pandemic-induced madness. He was turning 47 on July 5th and decided that he was going to run 47 miles along the lakefront in Chicago. Before you get all stressed out about his decision, it would help you to know that he is a semi-professional ultra-marathoner for whom 47 miles is a pretty short run. Anyhow, I loved that his birthday celebration was centered around fitness, but there was no way I was going to run 45 miles in one day. I had walked close to 30 miles in one day, but running and another even more miles was just not going to be in my cards. So my husband suggested that I come up with my own challenge.

On October 6th I turned 45 and I decided that my challenge would be to run fifteen 5Ks in fifteen days between October 1st and October 15th. I was overwhelmed by all the people who signed up to run with me. Yes, of course, most of the segments were snatched up by friends from The Dick Pond Athletics Running Club where I do most of my running. However, I had friends from work who asked to do a segment. I even had a friend who is a fast walker, but who has never run, sign up. I was humbled by everyone’s generosity with their time!

I had 5 under my belt when I took a spill during run #6. I was embarrassed , but popped back up and finished the run. The next day I was with my friend Tammy when I took an even nastier spill. I could not finish this run and I was worried that I had really hurt myself. Thankfully our athletic trainer at school checked me out and was confident I had not broken anything. Relief is the understatement of the year!

Now that I knew I was not going to be able to complete the challenge in 15 days I had to decide how I was going to pivot and still honor my goal. Would I play it safe and just say that the runs had to be completed during the month of October? I did not want to do that, because running 45 miles in one month is not totally unreasonable for me to do. Would I just give up and try it again next year with 46? Out of the question! I decided I would just pivot and be ok with getting it done in up to 20 days. That would give me a few days to heal from my falls and still push me to get back out there.

Last Friday, I woke up and my monkey brain was out of control. I was questioning why on earth I had ever decided to do this challenge. Really…what was I thinking? I knew that I was tired and I was super stressed out about work. I reminded myself that I had deliberately built in 15 days in a row of 3 things: 1) time with special friends 2) celebrating my birthday and 3) exercise. How on earth could that be viewed as anything other than awesome. As of today, I am 10 runs into my 15. I’m taking today off to catch up on life stuff, but I’ll be back out on the trails tomorrow and for the next five days. 

While the pandemic forced me to come up with a different way of celebrating my birthday, I have to be honest, I’m already kicking around ideas for what I will do next year!

Let it go

I’m about to start my 17th year of teaching, but this year is the first time I have ever started in the middle of a pandemic. I know I speak for gazillions of other teachers who are experiencing heightened anxiety and fear. This year is going to be incredibly difficult. It is going to require out of the box thinking and patience and flexibility. We will be forced to rethink everything we have held as steadfast truths and pedagogical compasses. We are going to have to learn to let things go.

Alarms have been going off in my brain for about six weeks. They started as a slight buzzing that I pushed off as a minor nuisance and have since escalated to a howling that can only be described as painful moaning. I’m not good at letting things go. I take the time to do things right the first time so that I don’t have to change things on the fly. I create a plan and I follow the plan. I never throw out a perfectly good plan and start over from scratch. This year…there is a lot of letting go on the horizon.

Enter into the picture learning to let things go…

A few months ago friends were visiting and I wanted to have a fun art activity for us to do. I picked up my first ever pour painting kit from the local craft store. Instead of spending hours on line finding the perfect kit and then researching all the best ways to do pour painting, I decided I was going to wing it…to let it go wherever it went. 

I quickly read the instructions in the kit and off we went. Mine turned out very much like the images I had seen all over Pinterest. My friend’s turned out very much not like that. I was super excited by my results and incredibly inspired by my friend and how she pivoted when her painting did not turn out as planned. 

I told everyone that I was hooked on this painting gig, because it was so fun to layer the colors and get something so cool as the result. A few weeks later I did it again, but this time I tried the colander technique. Instead of flopping a cup of paint onto your canvas, you pour your paint through a colander and let that create your pattern. I had layered a lot of colors, but when the paint dried, it had not turned out anything like I thought it might. I still loved the results, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be.

A friend reached out and asked if I could create something black and white for her daughter’s birthday. I was up for the challenge, so I layered black, white, gold, silver and then the tiniest splash of red. The result reminded me of Gustav Klimt’s famous painting “The Kiss,” which is anything but black and white. 

The next day I was back at school for meetings and I popped by to see a friend of mine in her office. She mentioned my paintings and I told her how it was so therapeutic to not know what something was going to look like when you started. This friend knows me very well and also how much of a control freak I am. She did not miss a beat when she said I need to do a lot more painting, because the practice of letting go is very good for me! I went straight home that night and created the piece that I eventually sold to my friend as a gift for her daughter. It did not turn out how I thought it might, but I loved the result regardless.

There will be much more painting in my future! 

Stay tuned for how I learned to let go by letting my friend convince me to draw with my left hand. 

Creativity Chat

Do you consider yourself to be creative? Why or why not?

Yes, because I love the act of taking a pile of nothing and making it into something. My mind is trained to see the beauty in our world and I love sharing it through a variety of mediums. As a teacher, I am forced to be creative on a daily basis. Some people might call what teachers practice daily flexibility. I call thinking on my feet and being able to pivot based on new information creativity. If anything I don’t feel flexible at all, but creativity is what allows me to accomplish my goals even when the situation has changed. 

You are cordially invited

Do you identify as a creative? Do your friends say “Wow you are so creative”? Are you a writer, photographer, crafter, engineer, mom, manager, plumber, firefighter, teacher, bellydancer, etc? Creatives take many forms. You do NOT need to be an artist.

Would you be interested in a casual conversation about creativity with me? I’ll record our conversation and then share it via my blog either in written or podcast format. 

Are you local? I would love for us to sit at my bench in The Oodlearium and chat over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Given the state of the world, we will do whatever is safe and convenient. Not local? We live in amazing technological times. We’ll figure something out. 

In a few weeks I will return to my classroom, which will relegate these chats to evenings and weekends. We’ll find time!

We have so much to learn from each other’s interests and experiences. I’m so excited to share your stories with my readers!

How do you join in on the fun? Refer yourself or a friend by filling out this form. If the person is a good match for The Oodlearium Chat with a Creative, I will reach out to set up a chat.

A Daily Haiku

I came across this article when I was doing research on creativity. The project resonated with me for a variety of reasons. 1) I am obsessed with challenges and long term projects. 2) I have been looking for a writing project and three lines every day seemed manageable. 3) The author experienced extremely positive effects from the project and I was intrigued.  4) I have wanted to dip my toes back into the poetry writing pool. Again three lines seemed doable. I posted a link to the article on Facebook to see if anyone wanted to embark on the journey with me. I was excited that a few people said yes. I haven’t missed a day since I started. You can join in here.

What I love about it so far?

  • I found a great on-line syllable counter that helps ease the burden of staying true to the 5-7-5 format. 
  • I love writing with the beautiful fountain pen my husband bought me for Christmas on the fun fancy paper. It forces me to write with intention and to think about what I want to say before actually putting pen to paper. There are no massive revisions. It’s one and done. 
  • I made the decision to only focus on positive and surprisingly the lines come easily.
  • I love using Adobe Spark to create a simple visual for sharing on social media for FREE.
  • My brain has started thinking in Haiku format. 
  • One thing the article made clear was that any topic was acceptable as long as it was positively slanted. Thus far I have written about my morning walks, a bike ride, chocolate peanut butter cookies and Memorial Day heroes. The topics come easily and the lines are conversational. 

I have no idea how long I will go. The original article was based on writing every day for a week. I hit that marker today. I can’t see stopping any time soon. It’s flexing a different part of my brain and the muscles like it. I really encourage everyone to give it a try. Or at least check out my page where I share mine. 

Oodle Doodles

When I started the journey of making my own cards, I started designing my own characters, too. My first set and the ones I have used by far the most have been these silly birds. Before I knew it, I had a regular set of around 20 different bird doodles.

Oddball Art Labs is a non-profit artist based organization in Elgin created to advance the presence of the arts our area. They work to build individual artist recognition and to create opportunities within oour community for artists to show their work. One of their most successful projects has been the Oddball Art Lab Art Machine, which repurosed a vintage cigarette machine to sell wooden blocks designed by local artists.

I had been drawing my bird doodles for a while and felt I could reproduce them, so I decided to apply to make a set for the Art Machine. It took me about two months to complete, but in late February I dropped off 18 blocks (which I named Oodle Doodles) to go into the machine. Just a few weeks later, COVID19 hit Illinois, so I have no idea if any of them have actually sold yet.

Once I finished the first set of blocks, I wanted to start branching out to other oodles. I decided to try fish and that opened up all sorts of silliness. The fish really allowed me to add my meditative doodling back into my designs. At the same time, I started playing around with using my Tombow markers as watercolors. I really want to create a second set of blocks for the Art Machine, but they have such a backlog from the Stay at Home order that I am going to hold off for now.

Fast forward to May and I was thinking about what I wanted to do for our neighbor’s daughter’s graduation card. She has such a wide range of activities and talents that I was not sure how I could accurately pay tribute to everything with the characters I already had developed. Enter into the world my Space Bird series- a ridiculously simple creation based on a few circles, a triangle and a dot. Madisen’s card featured a soccer player, a runner, a ballerina, a baker and a singer along with a set of generic space birds to accompany the life text in the card.

Who knows where I’ll go from here. Our nephew’s birthday is next week and I need to create a card for him, so anything is possible.

They don’t make a card for that…but I do

Have you ever found yourself standing in a Hallmark or in the card aisle at Target hemming and hawing between two different cards– neither of which truly expressed what you were trying to say and both of which cost some ridiculous amount of money? Approximately five years or so, I jumped off of the crazy overpriced card train. Ever since I have been creating handmade personalized cards for everything from birthdays to weddings, funerals and retirements. Goodbye trite overpriced unoriginal card- hello custom designed and personalized package of sunshine. 

I was inspired by a story my sister-in-law told me about the Easter gift bags her mother-in-law made for all of her grandkids. They were brown lunch bags hand painted with the most spectacular scenes. It was an experience to receive these precious gifts every year. My sister-in-law still puts these bags out every spring! I wanted to take the same approach with my cards. 

Initially the cards were very simple–blank cards from a local craft store with images from the internet. 80s movie quotes for our youngest nephew and Vampira for our niece. Over time the cards have become more elaborate. I started making accordion style cards with 3×5 index cards that folded into the cards. Then I found out about explosion cards. Now I exclusively use my Oodle Doodles in my cards. If I don’t have something appropriate I design something new. 

A few years ago my husband bought me a wax seal kit for Christmas, which allowed me to add a unique touch to the packaging of the cards. A friend joked that he felt like he had received mail from the Queen when he got our Thanksgiving card. My students simultaneously want to open the card, but don’t want to break the seal. The next year Tom surprised me with a return address embosser so that I could say goodbye to tacky return address labels. I don’t have the best handwriting, but I do my best with a Lettermate envelope addressing guide. I am still interested in learning hand lettering, but have not made the time to pursue it further. Last year I received a beautiful Pilot pen, so now I have reason to work on my script! For now, when you receive a card from me, it has a custom designed envelope, hand addressed, embossed return address and a wax seal enclosing a custom personalized hand created card. To be honest, I have no idea if they are cheaper than what you can find in a store when they are all said and done. The last graduation card I made took me about six hours to create. What I do know is that they are overflowing with love from me and I couldn’t say that about anything I saw at Target or Hallmark.

I buy my supplies at (these are NOT affiliate links):

Wax seals and sealing wax at Nostalgic Impressions

Tombow markers at Dick Blick

Blank note cards at Michael’s.

Address embosser- I cannot remember, but a lot of places sell them.

Pen and ink- Goulet Pen Company

Exercise- 1 Subject 10 Photos

The goal of this exercise is to work on your observation skills. Pick one subject and your goal is to make 10 different photos of it. Look at it from different angles. Pick it up. Turn it upside down. Look at it from the top of a 10 foot pole. You do not need a fancy camera for this exercise. Use the camera on your phone and you’ll be all set. Create a quickie collage of your images with your favorite app and share it on our socials.

5 minutes spent on our patio with my camera on my phone. Collage created using Adobe Spark.

Pivotal moments in my creative journey

The Broken Legged Amoeba

Do you ever look back on your life and ask yourself how on earth did you get to this point. Then when you really look you see that there were clear points that carved out the path. It was not until I was an adult that I truly recognized how much my childhood influenced my own creative mindset. My stay-at-home mom was a traditional crafter. She crocheted, did cross stich, quilled and even made nifty little butterflies out of old pantyhose. My dad was a CNC machinist. He used his creativity to solve problems all the time at the factory he and my grandfather owned. After dinner, he would head downstairs to work on his O-scale train layout. Both my parents were avid photographers. My mom focussed more on documenting the family, whereas my dad had a natural eye for beauty. My Grandmother was a master crocheter. She made thousands of baby blankets and sweater sets throughout her life— never having ever learned to read a pattern! It was this creative mindset that inspired me to find my own creative way as an adult. 

Until about ten years ago, my mediums were primarily photography and crocheting. I made baby blankets and I photographed landscapes. Of all the different social media platforms, Pinterest has always been my favorite. I remember someone saying that they were guilty of “pinning” tons of ideas, but never doing anything with them. I didn’t want to be one of those people. Looking through my pins I decided to give alcohol inking a try. I invited some gals over to try it out with me. After lunch we were sitting around admiring our work when I asked what we were going to do the next time we got together. Ann asked if I had ever tried meditative doodling. Haha, I can’t draw. She grabbed a piece of paper and pen and drew some lines on it. Then she showed me how to repeat a simple pattern within the boundaries. To say I was hooked immediately was the understatement of the year. I started out with basic patterns, but I wanted more. I found fun coloring sheets online and filled them in with patterns. Tom taught me how to digitize them and then color them using Photoshop and GIMP. While I loved how meditative the practice was, I was not creating anything original.

Tom continuously encouraged me to create my own characters, but in my head I kept saying I can’t draw. One day he came home with a book called Complete this Drawing. Each page has a partial drawing- a frog for example for you to “complete”. I never completed them as expected. I turned most of the drawings into silly characters with silly faces. The Broken Legged Amoeba was one of my first original drawings that I scanned, colored and made into a card. In the years since I have drawn countless characters and doodles. There have been faces, birds, fish, space birds, flowers and so much more. 

The doodles were a catalyst for greater creativity. I graduated from making only baby blankets to crocheting hats and even a dress for my niece. My cards went from simplistic to extremely customized. In the kitchen, I stopped strictly following recipes and started experimenting with ingredients. Instead of only using the wax seal colors I had purchased, I began mixing my own. The list goes on and on. 

I am lucky that I am married to someone who values and supports creativity as much as I do. When Tom initially told me about his idea to build out our loft to be a creative space for me all I could think about what how much work it would be for him. But as the work started and I began to picture myself in the space, a new creative light switch turned on in my head. I have the space to spread my creative wings and I could not be more excited. Everything has come full circle. 

Inspiring a Creative Mindset

Inspiring a Creative Mindset

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that they are not creative, I would have a pretty nice chunk of money. What most people are saying when they say they are not creative is that they are not artistic. EVERYONE is creative. Creative people are problem solvers. They are empathetic. They are sales people, managers, parents, teachers, coaches, janitors, bartenders and everything in between. They are everyday people trying to figure out how to navigate their way through the world. Creativity is a mindset. Whether you want to be more artistic or less stressed out when you have a problem you are trying to solve, these methods will help to inspire a creative mindset. These 10 pillars will be the foundation for our creative journey together. 

  • Listen to music. In a world of Spotify and playlists, music is the easiest way to get your creative mojo flowing. I am a fan of “louder is better.” Anything that makes you tap your foot or get your boogie on will help to shake the cobwebs out of your brain. When we built out the Oodlearium, we repurposed a shelf stereo from the basement that music could always be available.
    • My favorite Pandora stations
      • Imagine Dragons Radio
      • 80s Pop Hits
      • Arctic Monkeys Radio
      • Bruno Mars Radio
    • I am late to join the Spotify train. The cool thing about Spotify is that people can share their playlists. I found a few to try out with a quick Google search. Try one of these or develop some of your own. Or go old school and put a creativity mix-tape together.
  • Keep an idea journal. I am a bit obsessed with lists. When I discovered the Google Keep app my life changed forever! I can keep color-coded lists, pin more important lists to the top of my lists, insert pictures, videos, links and even drawings. I have lists of things I want to learn, books I want to read, places I want to visit, and of course multiple grocery lists! Because I  always have a device with me, I can add to it at any time. In addition to my Google Keep lists, I have an actual Idea Journal that is a paper journal that I keep in the Oodlearium. I use that journal to sketch out bigger ideas. And of course, I have copious Pinterest boards (crafty, journaling, crochet, and countless more!) 
  • Talk to other creatives.  Find people who fill you with creative energy— who inspire you to make/solve problems (whatever that means for you). I have a list of people both near and far. Spending even just a few minutes on the phone with them helps me to ignite creative sparks. If you don’t feel like you have those people in your life, I recommend checking out this article about  creating a creativity & camaraderie club. I hope The Oodlearium will allow people to develop these kinds of relationships as well. 
  • Embrace failure. My grandma taught me to crochet when I was little. One day my mom told me that my sisters and I were going to spend a long weekend with my Grandma’s sister. Aunt Grace said that we could work on a crochet project together. I bought some beautiful green yarn to make a scarf. I was twenty or so rows into my project when Aunt Grace pointed out that my rows were decreasing in size. She encouraged me to pull out the rows and redo them. I gave her an incredulous glance and kept going. By the end of the weekend, I had finished my scarf. It looked like a drunken sailor had made it, but I was done. If I had realized then that it was ok to make mistakes and that the first draft was seldom the final draft, I would probably still have a lovely green scarf. 
  • Show persistence/grit. Much like when I started running, creativity DOES take work. When my husband and I were first dating, I was in awe of his ability to complete major projects seemingly with one “attempt.” What I didn’t realize was that he was not melting down every time something went wrong like I would. After twenty years together I have seen him work through problems that demonstrate his incredible creativity. If he did not possess that grit, he would have quit on The Oodlearium shelves when he learned how shamefully uneven our ceiling was. 
  • Be a lifelong learner. Soap making. Alcohol inking. Beer brewing. Doodling. Digital doodle coloring. Card making. Crocheting baby blankets. Crocheting hats. Candle making. Pinecone art. Wine bottle art. Cork art. Button art. Quilling. Origami. Sewing. Gardening. Shading markers. Paper making. Book folding. Book binding. Watercoloring. Graphic design. Wood burning. This is just a short list of the different paths my creative journey has taken me on. Some have come and gone. Others are lifelong staples. Some are seedlings in my idea journal waiting for the time when I can further pursue them. The point is that I am always exploring new ideas and trying to learn something new. While the items I listed are artistic pursuits, I am also learning Spanish and how to become a minimalist. 
  • Exposure yourself to new environments. As much as I would love to have unlimited funds to explore the far reaches of our planet, this is just not most people’s reality (nor mine!). However, exploring your world to whatever extent you can is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Here are some ideas:
    • Visit local museums (check to see when they have admission free days for residents)
    • Visit a new cafe or bookshop
    • Drive a different route to work
    • Take public transportation to work if possible
    • Buy a public transit ticket and hop on and get off somewhere randomly 
    • Check out the parks and forest preserves in your area
    • Visit a community garden in your town
    • Check out a summer farmer’s market
  • Disconnect / detox from technology. So many people are admittedly addicted to their devices that we never have an opportunity to let our minds wander. That is when your brain has the opportunity to make unique connections between different ideas. If you are constantly bombarding your mind with new inputs then you never have an opportunity to actually do something with those new ideas. If the thought of going even a few hours without your device causes you to have a panic attack, you need to do this more than ever— as soon as possible. 
  • Have new experiences. Probably close to a decade ago, I did a Project 365. The goal of the project is to take and share a photo a day for a whole year. My first picture was of an anthropomorphized smile that was really our tub drain. As the weeks and months went by the act of practicing my craft every day forced me to pay closer attention to the world around me, but it also encouraged me to have new experiences so that I would have new photographs to make and to write about. I visited places that I might not have otherwise. I visited more with friends and family and made sure to document those memories. Each time I tried something new it sparked a new idea in my mind. Ooh I went to this botanic garden, I wonder if there is another here or there. If I visited a zoo, maybe I could grab my best friend and take a road trip up to this other zoo. All those experiences were filed in my brain— for a craft, an art project, a blog post or just to share a story to show someone that I understand. 
  • Begin anywhere. This morning my husband and I sat out on our patio and talked for hours about my hopes and dreams for this blog. We talked about my anxieties and insecurities as well as the reasons why I should move forward with my ideas. The conversation ended with my husband telling me how much he admires my willingness to just dive into an idea, whereas he tends to research, plan and calculate and then recalculate every move. I have a card on my shelf behind me in The Oodlearium that says “Begin Anywhere.” Start wherever you are and if tomorrow you want to restart again, then go right ahead. Don’t wait for the perfect moment- just start! 

Creativity is a way of living life that embraces originality and makes unique connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Creativity is about living life as a journey into seeing and communicating the extraordinariness of the simplest, most every day acts. (cite)

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