Playing = Praying in Junk Cathedral

September 24th, 2012

I am in love with the Junk King,  Austin, Texas resident Vince Hannemann. Since 1989 he has been collecting thousands of discarded objects and turning them into a giant cathedral of junk. In this video, Hannemann talks about sharing the magic of his installation  and what we lost when the city made him take it down. The artist himself says, “I think playing is like praying. It is the ultimate reverence for life.” Fortunately, the public recognized the importance of the structure and the cathedral has been reinstated, making the junk cathedral a shining example of creativity and community.

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Visual Note-Talking Goes Musical

September 12th, 2012

I am completely in love with this Video! Just watch how artist Alice Ninni adds musical notation to her visual note-taking. Don’t you think her illustrations add depth to the music? Enjoy!

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Visual Note-Taking for the Soul

September 10th, 2012

A passionate painting communicates feeling directly to the viewer's heart.

As a facilitator of Brush Fire Painting Workshops, I’ve probably worked with 3,000 children and youth over the years. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ones who take to process painting as the proverbial duck to water. I was certainly like that: the first time I painted it was as if I had discovered my native language. I immediately recognized myself in the painting colors and I have seen some of my students do the same.

One reason I’ve always thought this might be true is that SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE gave these students some shred of SOMETHING (Self-confidence? Vision?) that they can call upon when faced with the creative void. More recently I’ve been thinking about the ways in which learning styles might account for an affinity for painting. My hypothesis is that visual learners feel more kinship with color and form as a means to express themselves.

In her TED Talk about the importance of doodling, Sunni Brown says that we have four modes of learning: visual, verbal, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. She says that learning happens best when two of these modes are engaged at the same time. One is also effective if it is coupled with a strong emotion.  Sunni praises doodling because it engages all four modalities along with emotion, allowing for maximum information retention. Here is her video:

Related to Sunni’s research is the practice of visual note-taking. Essentially, visual note-taking is illustrating spoken language with pictures, text and structure that illustrate the lesson. Here is a great video from Sketcho Frenzy explaining the basics:

One of the main points Sketcho Frenzy makes is that visual note-taking allows the sketcher to take control of the information, highlighting important concepts in a way that makes the most sense to the person taking the notes. It makes information gathering an active rather than passive act. Perhaps that just what process painting does; rather than dealing with external information, we are gathering internal data on any given subject, actively engaging it with visual, kinesthetic, and emotional learning centers, and coming to a new understanding of who we are.

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Creative Something

September 3rd, 2012

Have you been to Creative Something? This site provides a wealth of inspiration and insight for everyone interested in creativity. There are articles on the scientific research into creativity, how to motivate your personal creative expression, and sweet illustrations like this one:

Check it out and let me know what you think!


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Art to Inspire Joy

August 29th, 2012

Jericha Senyak is a dancer & visual artist using expression to explore the human condition.

I met the amazing Jericha Senyak while looking online for like-minded folks & I knew I found a kindred spirit immediately! Jericha  is pursuing a life as an artist and writer despite all advice and economic theorizing to the contrary, although she has memorized the Dance of the Chartered Accountant just in case it turns out she actually needs to choose between starvation and life as an office slave in later years. She cares a lot about creativity and joy and has many Strong Opinions about things like beauty, art, and good coffee, which she writes about with much enthusiasm and only a little bit of snark on her blog, The Museum of Joy. You can also follow her on Twitter @JerichaSenyak  for bite-size remarks on writing, thinking, and other awesome magical stuff.

 Making art is how I work out for myself the incomprehensible nature of the universe. As Patrick Rosal says in his poem “A Tradition of Pianos”:

…I don’t meant one must suffer

in order to make Great Art, only that we all,

at one time or another, suffer terribly anyway,

so we have music.

Suffering happens to us. It can’t be put off, or magically avoided. And yet, somehow – music still moves us, when we hear it. There’s the awfulness of the evening news, and there’s the morning light on our lover’s shoulder. Your mother dies, and the sunset is still beautiful. What’s the true face of the world? Essential beauty or essential ugliness? It’s a question that runs through the entire history of art, sometimes even through the works of a single artist.

Me, I don’t believe it’s one or the other. I believe the world is both. There’s joy and there’s pain. Not necessarily in equal measure; not necessarily in balance. But both of them there, neither more true than the other. Both kind of incomprehensible. Why do we suffer? isn’t any more answerable than why do we feel wonder, or delight, or exultance over the smell of the rain.

Exlporing essential questions while painting.

Since I don’t get to know why anything, I might as well explore the one thing as the other. We have this stuff called joy that makes us feel like being alive is a good thing.How does it work? Where does it come from? Can I make it happen? Can I give you some?

I make things in order to play with the questions. Here’s a good one: one of the answers to where does it come from seems to be from spaces– strange, beautiful, unexpected spaces, from the majesty of a cathedral to the quiet of the redwoods.

Joy comes from spaces: Abundance Alter

I made my living room into a painted forest. Everyone who stepped into it said something marvelous: I feel like a child again. I’m in my mother’s womb. I think I’m in dreamland. I’ve been transported somewhere magical.

Just a room, some papier mâché, some paint, some cloth. Glorious!


I’m still asking that one.

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It’s Never Too Late

August 27th, 2012

Happy Monday! I hope you had a great weekend & you are ready to face this week with creativity. I’ve got so much to do that I’m spinning my wheels a bit, so rather than bore you with some half-baked notions, I offer you a quote from writer F. Scott Fitzgerald:

For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again. ~ F.  Scott Fitzgerald

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Creative in Clay: Guest Blogger Amelia

August 23rd, 2012

Many thanks to  Amelia Sandy for sharing her creative process for this blog post! Amelia is a recent graduate of SF State with a B.A. in Art & Psychology and is interested in becoming an expressive arts therapist. She currently works with autistic teens and adults at Autistry Studios in San Rafael,CA, and is rediscovering what warm weather really is like, along with other new adventures like gardening and cycling in Santa Rosa.

I love clay because of how tactile it is, and the infinite possibilities of its eventual form. It also blends two-dimensional and three-dimensional expression together: form and surface, clay and glaze.

This piece was the inspiration for my experiment.

I wanted to make an abstract piece that explored a few things: a vertical axis, layers, repetition, the removal and addition of touch, a process of making that took conscious control and manipulation out of the equation. I wanted to follow a formula and see what came out of it! A visual rhythm from a set of actions-  cut a piece, slice the sides, drop it, cut another, drop it.

I started by experimenting and playing with clay, trying different textures, sizes, angles, and methods of cutting and stacking. Here, I tried many little pieces of clay, but the delicateness would make it difficult to scale up into a larger work.

The first experiment was too delicate.

With this one, I tried larger slices, but it looked too stiff…

This one was too stiff.

So I used wetter, softer clay and got gravity on my side by dropping each slice from a height.

Adding gravity into the mix was satisfying.

Yes! By dropping them, they flattened and molded into each other as weight fell onto them from above. This also meant I couldn’t control how or where they fell exactly, making each layer a random addition. The dowel in place helped them fall vertically on top of each other, and offered structural support to the work in progress, making it safer to move around until it was time to fire.

This was fun, but it was just a one-sided conversation…until the reintroduction of touch. Now, two elements, two different things are present: no touch, and touch; unconscious rhythm, and conscious, disruptive manipulation.

Everything ready to go to the kiln for bisque firing.

After the initial firing, it’s time to glaze! Since these are going to be soda fired, I’m only putting mineral oxides in powder form on the surface. In the kiln, they’ll interact and mix with sodium bicarbonate in the hot atmosphere to create a wet, juicy glaze that I can’t predict.

The minerals I used here are rutile and ilmenite, related titanium oxides.

Into the soda kiln they go! When it reaches 2100 degrees, we spray a mixture of baking soda and water into the kiln through these ports- hence the name soda firing! It vaporizes in the heat and settles on the surfaces of the glowing hot pieces inside.  Here is a picture of the final pieces:

The experiment completed!


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Engaging Kids in Play

August 20th, 2012

I am back from my crazy summer commitments helping kids pursue open ended play opportunities and ready to resume our regularly scheduled blog posts. I know I promised posts by guest bloggers, and one will be coming on Wednesday, but I wanted to share some thoughts about play while they are fresh in my mind.

This is a painting about how much I want a puppy! - 3rd grader, Tenderloin Community School

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the best ways to encourage shy, tentative children to engage in open-ended play activities. As part of the Brush Fire process, we create maximum safety by ensuring there will be no comments made on any painting along with unconditional support for creative risk-taking and authentic expression rather than praise for the final product. The art created by our young painters is honest, moving and represents the reality experienced by each artist.

The current exhibition at New York MOMA, Century of the Child: Growing by Design,  considers how art impacted children (and how children have impacted art) in the 20th century. The exhibition brings together areas underrepresented in design history and often considered separately, including school architecture, clothing, playgrounds, toys and games, children’s hospitals and safety equipment, nurseries, furniture, and books.

In looking at the exhibition’s interactive timeline, I could not help but wonder if the thoughtful design of child-centered spaces serves the purposes of the creators rather than the children. Do you think that kids play differently with blocks painted with modernist graphics than they do with other play materials? Does designing play spaces for children make designers feel more playful themselves? What are the necessary ingredients for even the quietest kids to engage in play? Check out the MOMA timeline here and let me know what you think.


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Mosaic at Metaphor

July 18th, 2012

Rachel with one of her amazing creations.

Rachel Kadner is a good friend of Brush Fire Painting Workshops and we are thrilled to feature her as this week’s guest blogger. Rachel’s stories of using the healing power of art are a great reminder of what can happen when we give ourselves over to creative process and chose to create something new out of what might appear at first glance to be broken.

I am a self-taught mosaic artist who has been fortunate enough to show and sell my work widely.  I began making mosaics on a whim as a way to pass the days during a time of unemployment.  What I quickly discovered is that there is there can be profound catharsis in shattering something whole into tiny pieces then painstakingly putting those pieces back together into a new, different whole.  For me, the process has become a meditation on feelings I usually didn’t even know I needed to express.

I once made a mosaic to help me deal with the heartbreak I was going through after a failed relationship.  Though I sell almost all of my work, I carried this particular piece around with me as I moved from house to house, finding a nice place to hang it in each new home.  One day it simply disappeared and I realized that it was gone because my heartbreak was over.

Another time I made a piece with a young homeless girl I knew in mind.  I brought that piece to the shelter she was living in, but said nothing of the inspiration behind it.  While others looked at it kindly for a moment or two, this little girl got lost in it.  She created imaginary stories of herself playing inside the art and imagined what surprises were hiding behind the parts that could be seen.

The piece I made with a young homeless girl in mind.

My most recent creation is a fist in the air, inspired by my time spent at the Occupy protests.  I have found that externalizing my feelings of frustration and disempowerment have helped release me from them.  When I look at that piece, I feel stronger and more in charge of myself and my world.

These stories show me the power of art: to connect, to heal, to inspire, and to enjoy the magic of not knowing will come next.

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A bit of news & Guest Blogger Britt Bravo

July 11th, 2012

Hello again! I hope you have been feeling the creative spark while I was away. Right before I left, I got some wonderful news I would like to share: The Art and Healing Network gifted Brush Fire Painting Workshops an AHN Award! We are honored by the recognition and appreciate the $5,000 that will go toward providing our workshops to children and youth in need of creative expression. Click here for a link to interview with me and meet the three other spectacular healing artists who also won this year’s award!

And now, as promised, here is the first in a series of guest blog posts. Each of the bloggers will be writing about their creative process in a wide variety of endeavors. Our first contributor is Britt Bravo (see Britt’s bio at the end of her post), who shares tips on how to keep your blog creative.

 5 Creative Blogging Practices

After almost seven years of blogging, I definitely have times when I feel like I have nothing to say. Below are five things I do to keep my blogging juicy and creative:

1. Morning routine

Every morning, I try to do some combination of reading, journaling, yoga, and meditation to feel grounded and be open to percolating ideas.

Blog Cards

2. Blog Cards

Each of these cards has a type of blog post written on it (e.g. how-to, personal story, opinion, video). When I’m having bloggers’ block, I pick a card and use it as a prompt for my post.

Intuitive Collage

3. Collage

When I’m having trouble accessing what I’m really feeling and thinking through words, I’ll pull out a bunch of magazines and create a collage. Sometimes I have an idea that I want to explore, but most of the time, I choose the images and layout intuitively.

Move! Play! Reflect!

4. Move, play, reflect, connect

For the 40 days before my 40th birthday, I spent every day moving (e.g. walking), playing (e.g. collage), reflecting (e.g. journaling), and connecting (e.g. writing a letter). At the end of the 40 days, I felt terrific and super creative. My husband made this beautiful Move, Play Reflect, Connect Reminder Board to help me remember to do these four things that keep me happy and creative.

5. Sabbatical

Sometimes the best way for me to access my creativity is to do nothing. After taking a break from blogging for a week, or two I usually come back itching to post!

What daily practices do you do to keep your creative juices flowing? How do you move through creative blocks?

Britt Bravo is a blogger, podcaster, and blog coach for artists, writers, entrepreneurs and do-gooders. She’s also a big vision consultant who loves to help people find and express their calling. You can learn more about her work at, read her blog, Have Fun * Do Good, at, and connect with her on Twitter at @BBravo.

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