I heard the call of creativity early in life. My preferred creative mediums were Play-Doh, sheets and blankets to construct indoor forts, and producing plays in the living room. I didn’t find the same creative freedom in public school.
It was December in kindergarten. The Santa project was intended to build skills with scissors, glue, and crayons. The coloring page with Santa’s face might have sported a rainbow of non-holiday colors if the five-year-old artists were not limited to the traditional red and white as directed by the teacher.
Below Santa’s mouth, the shape of his beard was somewhat oval. The scissor lesson was to cut the paper into vertical strips from the bottom of the beard towards Santa’s chin to allow the paper to move if you were to blow on it, perhaps like beard hair.
At the age of five years old, I remember the teacher telling me I had cut Santa’s beard incorrectly. I made diagonal cuts instead of vertical cuts in the beard. Maybe I thought this looked more like Santa’s beard blowing in the night air as his sleigh flew through the Christmas Eve sky.
In any regard, my Santa beard was “wrong.” I didn’t follow the instructions, undoubtedly an important lesson for five-year-olds to learn. However, I would later label this lesson as learning to “fit in the box.”
The Santa experience was not an isolated incident. I experienced several moments during my public school education when my creativity was called into question. Although I certainly didn’t recognize it as such when I was a student, as an adult looking back, I consider these moments to have directly contributed to my lack of confidence about my own creativity.
In 4th grade, we used yarn to create the mane on our papier-mache horse. The mane I created fell on both sides of the horse’s neck. The teacher pointed out that horses manes only fall on one side of the horse’s neck. I knew at the age of nine how a horse’s mane looked, as I grew up riding horses.
The teacher was not curious about why I created the mane as I did. I was simply told it was “wrong,” but I knew this was not the case. In fact, it’s called a double mane and while not common, it certainly exists in the world of horses.
By high school, I found myself butting heads with the art teacher over design ideas as well as educational philosophy. I was not receptive to his “enhancing” my pottery design sketches by drawing over them. He was not receptive to my questioning his ideas about how to foster creativity in the classroom.
Did I connect all of these dots at a young age? Of course not. In fact, it would be many years after I earned a college degree in art before I would dig into how these childhood experiences influenced my thoughts about my own creativity.
Learning Creative Confidence
The saving grace during my K-12 public school art education was my junior high art teacher. She was a younger teacher, not many years older than her students, and she treated us like college art majors.
I was President of the 8th-grade art club. Surprise! As such, I was involved in the Junior High Art Show which featured work from most (if not all) of this teacher’s art students.
The gymnasium was converted into a huge art gallery and two-sided panels standing from one end of the room to the other were covered with the masterpieces created by young artists. She made this event a community celebration, inviting business leaders and elected officials, and it was promoted in the local newspaper and on the local radio station.
Visitors to the show were dressed as if they were going to the theatre: suits and ties, dresses and heels. The young artists were identified with name badges and their artwork was labeled with their names.
This teacher made our creativity a BIG DEAL. She reinforced our belief in ourselves and our creative gifts. She was one of the strongest influences in my life that encouraged my belief in my own creativity and to honor its calling.
Because of her, I decided to become an art teacher to help children build the kind of creative confidence that she helped me identify in myself.
It’s likely that she had students who were unsure of their creative abilities. Even more unfortunate were the students who never gave themselves a chance in her classroom because they told themselves “I’m not creative.”
Are you creative?
Do you have a “story” that has led you to believe you are not creative? How is it influencing your thoughts about your own creativity today?
We are less likely to question a message about creativity that came from well-intentioned adults and teachers, including our parents.
While my parents encouraged my path to obtain my art degree, they also strongly recommended that I have a “backup plan,” which became secondary level teaching certification.
When I landed in Fort Collins, Colorado, I worked for the Parks and Recreation department, selling tickets for the swimming pool, and managing the Pottery Studio that still operates in City Park. I taught pottery classes, formulated the glazes, and fired the kilns.
I spent one school year substitute teaching with the Poudre School District and was encouraged to continue for a second year in order to improve my prospects of being offered an art teaching position.
In a brave move, I met with a local jewelry artist with the hope he might consider me as an employee in his studio. We met on a sunny afternoon outside his gallery space in Downtown Fort Collins. I had my jewelry “portfolio” in a case on my lap. He was kind and interested and told me about his business. When he asked to see my portfolio, I discovered the box was locked and I did not have the key.
I felt brave pursuing part-time pottery studio work, part-time substitute teaching, and taking action to explore creative opportunities but the universe seemed to be redirecting me.
Creative Dead End
Instead, I detoured away from teaching art and stepped into the world of banking and real estate. My creativity emerged in projects with my own children, making Halloween costumes, and decorating for Christmas. I did not pick up a paintbrush or a drawing pencil for almost 25 years, and my camera was focused only on family photos.
The death of both of my parents prompted questions about life that I had not explored in depth. After my father died, I began to draw with colored markers, using some recent landscape photos as a reference. Perhaps this was a self-directed grief therapy of sorts as I felt called to create, and soothed by its calming effect.
Around this time, I began using a small camera to capture intriguing scenes. I recall standing in a historic building in Washington DC, enamored by the light on a circular stairway. That shot is still a favorite today.
I also expressed my creative connection through my real estate marketing. Early in my career, I gathered artwork from my clients’ children and featured it in a kids art show at my annual client parties.
My monthly calendar mailed to my clients has featured children’s art ever since.
A kids activity book kept children entertained while I met with their parents to discuss real estate.
I arranged quarterly art exhibits at the Fort Collins Board of Realtor’s office to share the creative work of our members and their children.
Just like water finding a path, my creativity continued to surface, one way or another.
In 2015, I attended a seminar presented by Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. This was an opportunity to revisit those childhood messages about “doing art wrong.” I came away both acknowledging and embracing a desire to help others connect with their own creativity, especially when they had decided it doesn’t even exist.
Creativity was calling, texting, and sending smoke signals.
Time to Play
I left the Cameron workshop with the idea of presenting Playshops to give adults the opportunity to reconnect with their own creativity. I could no longer disregard the expression of my creativity.
When we limit or avoid creative experiences, we may be hearing an insidious subtle voice that tells us we are not creative. We may sense frustration or a feeling that something is missing.
We can hear creativity call to us if we allow ourselves to listen for it.
The Oxford dictionary defines creativity as the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of artistic work. Creativity seems to imply art!
The word “creativity” becomes attached to being “artistic,” which becomes equated to “real art,” such as painting, pottery, interior design, sculpture, and similar pursuits.
Instead, think about activities that you enjoy when you lose track of time. Think about quilting, cooking, gardening, arranging furniture, or staging a child’s birthday party. We may not see the connection between these activities and the creative realm which further reinforces our belief around not being creative.
The Look and Feel of Creativity
My barometer for identifying my creative moments includes these elements:
Did I lose track of time? This is flow.
Did I make something that didn’t exist before? This is creativity.
Was I present in the moment? This is focus.
Albert Einstein played the violin or the piano when he had a problem that he could not solve. Stepping away from the problem and focusing on the creative activity of music would often help him reset. He would later return to the problem and find a solution that had not been apparent previously.
The same principle occurs when we take a walk and set aside thoughts about a problem that may be troubling us. Shifting our focus to the present moment of walking opens up creative channels to allow solutions that seem to present themselves out of nowhere. Problem solving = creativity!
We can experience flow when our creativity allows us to find a sense of calm, to focus on the moment, and to release our thoughts that seem to seesaw between the past and the future.
Broadly defined, “creativity” can include tweaking a recipe, choosing paint colors for a home remodel, planning a vacation, or organizing a closet!
These are all creative, problem-solving activities. What projects and routines do you recognize as creative activities?
What is your favorite creative activity that uses your imagination and fosters original ideas?
Do you enjoy this activity as often as you would like? If not, how can you schedule time to make that happen?
If you could try a creative hobby or activity that you’ve never experienced, what would it be? What would it take to explore this? What creative activities can you arrange to share with family and friends?
Let’s Get Creative!
Here’s a fun exercise you can do alone or with someone else, young or old:
Find an object that you can trace around, such as a cookie-cutter, a paperweight on your desk, a household item like a key or cooking utensil, or a child’s toy. You can even use your hand as the object for this exercise.
You’ll need these tools:
A piece of blank paper.
A pen, pencil or marker to trace around the object.
Markers, crayons, colored pencils, or paint to add color.
Place the object on the paper and trace around it. Then move the object and trace around it again.
Repeat this process and play with these ideas:
Place the object so that it overlaps with a shape you’ve already drawn.
Move the shape on the page so the edge extends off the page.
Place the object so the edges of two or more shapes connect.
Continue this process until the page feels complete to you. Grab your markers or paints, and add colors. You might leave some spaces uncolored. Experiment by overlapping shapes of the same color and create a new shape.
You have created your own coloring page, and you can create more!
This is your creativity calling. Will you answer?
“Every child is born an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up.”
~ Pablo Picasso