Professional Practice

Finding Inspiration to Create (Ep. 130)

It is always difficult for teachers to find time to create their own art, but it is especially difficult this time of year. We spend all of this time developing incredible lessons and passing on our passion for art . . . but how do we keep ourselves working? In this episode, listen to some of Nic’s ideas on getting back to making and how you can go into the next few months with a clear goal and a plan for creating some of your own work. Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Nic: Most of us got into art education because we had a love of creating or of making of some sort. Do you still create on your own? Do you feed your soul with what got you here in the first place? If not, today is a perfect day to listen to the podcast because I’m going to talk to you about how to find inspiration in creating and making in your own personal life. This is Nic Hahn, and this is Everyday Art Room.

After being asked what you do for a profession and you explain you’re a visual arts teacher, how many of you receive the question, “What do you like to create on your own?” Yeah, all of us, right? That is the next question that is asked after you say that you’re an art teacher. How many of you don’t have an answer anymore?

Don’t feel bad about this. You guys, we create all day long. We create lesson plans for all the hundreds and hundreds of students that we teach. We have multiple sections. If we’re in the middle or high school, you have different departments that you have to teach to. Maybe you teach drawing one hour and pottery the next. If you’re in the elementary, you’re teaching multiple grade levels, and maybe you have adapted art that you’re teaching, or gifted and talented. We are creating constantly for many different pools of people in our life, and what we’re doing is we’re inspiring them to create. This is why we went into this profession, is because we had a passion and we wanted to share that passion with others.

Here’s the problem. Many times, as art educators, we create this passion and these amazing lessons for other people, but we forget to feed ourselves. What put us in this profession to begin with, creating on our own, gets lost. Today, I want to talk to you about how to find that inspiration again, and where and how to find that inspiration again, because if we lose that passion in ourselves, it’s going to be hard to maintain that and inspire the students of our classroom.

About 10 years ago, me and a bunch of other ladies at school were talking about how we just didn’t have the time to create in our life, and so we decided that we would create the time within our life by going on a retreat once a year. For the past 10 years or so, we have been going up north as a group of 16 women and staying at cabin that we each have our own space. This is a scrapbooking cabin. It has been converted into a scrapbooking area where each of us have our own table and chair and garbage, which is important, and we get to spread our stuff out on this table and create for an entire weekend, three to four days.

This has been a magical way to find some space in my life where I am inspired by the people around me. I can ask for a little collaboration as far as “What should I do here? What should I change here?” Not all of us scrapbook anymore. We have people that digitally scrapbook, and so they have their space with their computer on it. Others have decided to go more into the quilting realm and just do little projects that they can bring and really focus on during the weekend.

This is a great way to find space in your life to create, actually leaving your home, bringing your project, and having a plan ready to go. When you do that, all of your creative energy mentally has already been developing what you’re going to be making physically. What is also great about finding a small tribe of people to do this with is that you get to celebrate the work that we are doing as a whole. What I also like about this, and because it has become a tradition, is that we get to see growth in each other year after year after year, which has been a lot of fun. Not only do we get to see the growth in our families, but our skills and our interest.

Going on retreats is a great way for me to get started on creativity, but I discovered I needed more. Again, when my house wasn’t available to really set up shop, I started looking for classes in my physical area. Now, I know, you guys are coming from all over the world. You’re in rural areas, you’re in very urban areas, and some of you are like me and living in suburbia.

Now, if you’re suburban, you might start looking locally with just community education. Now, for me, I know that I had this idea of what community ed was and what it wasn’t to start out with. I had the snobby idea that community ed didn’t have anything for me because I was a trained artist and I can’t learn anything from someone that’s just in the community. After taking a couple of courses, I have discovered I was completely wrong.

See, if you go in with the mindset of learning, no matter what, you will always find something new that you can add into your own practice. I’ve taken watercolor classes and felting classes and fibers classes, a variety within community ed, and I have always found some way to improve my own practice because I go in with a mindset of “I’m going to learn something.” It might not be the most beautiful project by the end of it, but you’re going to learn a process or one little tip or trick that you can use either in your classroom for the future or in your own practice. That’s why I love community ed. Park and Rec is another place that might hold some classes or courses of creativity for you, as well.

Now for me, like I said, I live in a suburban area, but I often want to go downtown and discover some maybe more diverse practices. I find that if I go downtown, I might have a better opportunity of a more diverse background for the teachers, or maybe have more cultural diversity in general. I like to go downtown and just seek out different classes throughout the area. This might be found in museums.

One of my favorite places is looking at stores. I’m a fibers person. Well, I’m a lot of things, actually, but fibers is one of my very strong interests, so looking at quilt shops in the area, or knitting any kind of yarn or fibers, or felting classes. Look at where those products are being sold. My guess is you’re going to find classes, as well.

Another place that you might want to look at is just your local artists. How do you find the local artist? Well, you could just ask around, but another way is to go on social media. If you can go into Instagram and hashtag… I’m from Minnesota, so I would hashtag #Minnesotaartists. It’s amazing how many local artists you can be introduced to just by seeking out a location within an interest. I could say fiber artists in Minnesota and just find out who’s around me.

Now, by doing this, I can creep into their work. Creeping, is that… No, no, explore. Yes, I can explore their social media, and I can find something that might look of interest to me. I have found multiple artists that actually teach classes out of their home or through community ed of maybe a different community in Minnesota. I’ve been able to take some amazing courses.

One artist that I’ve taken is Jaana Mattson, and she’s a fibers artist, a felting artist that does these amazing landscapes. I’ll put her link in the notes today. When I was taking her class, what I was amazed with is that about 50% of us were actually local to the area. The rest came from all over the United States, which provoked more of an idea of where to take these classes.

You guys, you do not have to look locally. It could be your next vacation. These people that were coming to take this course and learn how to felt in the way that Yana felts, they were coming from Colorado, they were coming from Maine, they were coming from Michigan, and they were coming to take a course. That was the main event. They were staying in a hotel and they had airfare, and therefore it became a vacation, as well. Maybe seeking out the artist first, seeing if they teach any classes, and then finding their classes and their location and making it a holiday for yourself might be a way to find inspiration to create.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “These are amazing ideas, Nic, and the next time I win the lottery, I’ll be sure to go and take all the courses that you’re suggesting.” Yeah, I know, I know. I know the classes that I’ve mentioned require a location, require travel, require a fee, and probably an additional fee for all the materials. Let’s go into some more economical ways to find inspiration for your creation.

Start with YouTube. I know. YouTube is the most accessible way to find inspiration. It shows process. It shows products. It has multiple teachers. If you don’t like one, you just walk out of that classroom and find a new one, metaphorically speaking.

When you find a YouTube channel that you really connect with. Let’s say that you’re looking at watercolor. You will be amazed because you’ll find that most artists who post videos of their process have more than one video, sometimes in the hundreds. You can go back and watch multiple videos by the same artist and find out more techniques and more processes. It’s a great way to teach yourself and feed your creative needs.

Instagram is another one to use. Instagram has IGTV, which has a ton of videos on it, as well, again, focusing on process or products or projects in some way, shape, or form.

These are two very free and very accessible ways to learn about whatever you want, and they’re always available for you. If you need to rewatch it, you can watch it over and over. You can have that teacher repeat themselves over and over. You can pause it. You can fast forward it. You can watch it at 3:00 a.m. It’s always available to you.

I use YouTube and Instagram all the time for inspiration to create in my own personal life, but I actually started with online classes through The Art of Education many, many years ago. After finishing my master’s program, I decided that I just wanted to take courses that I wanted to take, and The Art of Education was perfect for that because they had studio classes. I remember taking a printmaking class many years ago. I know it’s still available because it’s very popular. It is a really, really good class, and I explored many different forms of printmaking.

I had always done linocuts, and I love doing them, but I had not really explored collagraphs very much prior to taking that class. I’ve learned how to create, and even what they were. I didn’t really understand what they were prior to taking that class. I have not only used collagraphs within my classroom quite a bit, but also within my own personal practice, and it all came from taking a class with The Art of Education.

The Art of Education University has several studio classes that you could take at your leisure. They take about a month to complete, a month or a month and a half, and they are spectacular. They do cost money, of course, but it can work towards a goal of maybe achieving your master’s plus credits to work your way up in that pay scale at work. I guarantee it will make you a better teacher, as well.

Once I completed all of my 60 credits, I didn’t have to have those accredited classes anymore, so I started seeking more classes because I have become, I guess you could say, obsessed, addicted, whatever word you want to use, with online classes, or just continuous education. Sketchbook Skool was a course that I started taking, again, maybe two or three years ago. It’s not something I do all the time, but if I find something that’s very, very interesting to me, or I see an illustrator who might be teaching through the Sketchbook Skool, I’ll take a course. They are definitely worth it.

Again, you’re working at your own pace. You’re listening to the artist explain things, and they have really good filming, so you get to see the hands really well. That’s maybe something we’re missing in YouTube and Instagram sometimes is the filming aspect because these are not professionals. They are just people taking videos, sharing what they know. When you take an online class through something like Sketchbook Skool, you’re going to have professionally filmed videos.

Sketchbook Skool is just that. You are learning how to draw. You have multiple different classes that you can take. One of my favorite ones that I took was on mapmaking. When I took the mapmaking class, it actually brought me to some free online resources and inspiration. There is something called TTAD. They Travel & Draw is the name of it. That was a resource that was given to me through Sketchbook Skool, through taking that class, and it has allowed me to have this focus and inspiration of drawing digital maps for TTAD.

Then they have a sister company that is called They Draw & Cook, I believe, and this is illustrating recipes. Same kind of format. You can draw it out, either physically on pieces of paper or digitally, and then take photographs or digitally share your images to this online community, which is a ton of fun, as well.

I’m currently taking some classes from Creativebug. Again, I’ll have all of these resources down below in the podcast notes. Creativebug has been really fun because it has drawing, it has painting, it has fibers, it has sewing, it has food, it has kid. It has all types of classes.

Over the holiday break that we recently had, I just binge-watched and created, and physically used up as many pieces of fabric as I possibly could because I can’t buy more fabric until I use some up. It’s a house rule. I get it.

Anyways, using those kinds of inspirations like classes or any online challenges, that’s another thing. You can just type in online challenges. Sometimes that just gives you the prompt or the inspiration to get going on making in your own personal life.

One thing that you don’t want to do is lose your passion for creating. Go onto YouTube. Take a class. Go find one in community ed or maybe one online. Don’t lose your passion. One way to do this is to find a focus for yourself, maybe a challenge online.

Last April, I decided to do an egg a day for the entire month. I designed and decorated an egg, and then I posted it on Instagram. It was a lot of fun, but a little overwhelming. I’m going to reduce that quite a bit this year and do it only for the first 12 days of April. April 12th is Easter, so that’s a good cutoff point for me. Plus, it’s an even dozen. I will be creating an egg for April 1st all the way through April 12th, I’m going to hashtag it #12eggs, and I’m going to be posting it on Instagram.

I would love to invite you to join me in this fun little challenge. If you want to, please create an egg a day, an even dozen, for the entire first part of April every day, one through 12, post the picture on Instagram, and hashtag it #12eggs. You would also want to let me celebrate with you, so tag me @minimatisseart and The Art of Education and we would love to celebrate your eggs that you’re creating.

Thank you for joining me today. I hope you find some inspiration, and can’t wait to see what you’re making

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.