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We are so incredibly busy as teachers. it is difficult to find the time to make your own art, and it is difficult to keep our creativity going. But how do we solve those problems? And how do we find the time to create our own work? Cassie has some ideas she wants to share–join her as she discusses how it’s tough to get your creativity in motion (4:00), why creativity is easier–and more fun–than you think (8:00), and gives everyone a challenge to get back to your love of creating (16:45). Full episode transcript below.
Several years ago, I went out to San Francisco, to visit my high school buddy, Ian. He and I spent, gosh, almost every day, it felt like, in high-school, together. Even though we went to two separate high schools, we made a point to either hang out, or chat on the phone, non-stop. Our common bond, aside from music, was art. He loved architecture. I loved any kind of art that included drawing, painting, and you name it. so that was our common bond.
When I went out to visit him, in San Francisco, where he’s now an interior designer, we were sitting down chatting. Of course, reminiscing, having a great time. He said, “So what are you making now. What are you creating.” I didn’t really understand the question. “What do you mean? I teach art. I’m doing art teacher stuff. What are you talking about?” He just looked at me, blankly, and said, “Yeah, but what are you doing? What are you painting, right now? What are you really passionate about? What are you into?”
I didn’t have a response. I gave him some excuse about, you know, “Well, you know, I’m really busy with school, and just lesson planning, and all the things that go along with that.” Which is true, but he dug a little deeper and said, “Cassie, you need to be creating. You need to be making stuff. That’s what you do. That’s why you got into art.” He was right. It really stung. In fact, I was a little bit angry with him, for a while, for bringing that up, for kind of like, I don’t know, waking me up to this wound, or this thing, that had been bothering me.
That I had just kind of been pushing back, and making excuses, because of all the things that I was busy with at school, which, you know, we are. Time is limited, but he was exactly right. I needed to get back in touch with what brought me to this place, but how do you do that? How do you get yourself out of a creative slump, when you have been there for so long, as I had? Let’s talk about it today.
Especially now, when you’re relaxing and you’re on your winter break. What better time is there to think about ways to break yourself out of your creative slump, if you find yourself in one? I’m Cassie Stephens and this is Everyday Art Room.
After having that chat with Ian, he would go off, during the day, to go to work, and I think I was on summer vacation. I seemed to have plenty of time on my hands, and so I would just explore San Francisco. Sometimes with his mom, Mary Ann, whose absolutely delightful, and other times I just kind of went off on my own. I remember walking down Haight-Ashbury, popping in and out of all the fun vintage clothing stores. I was just really trying so hard not to think about what Ian had said to me.
About how I needed to be creating, that that’s like a deficiency, a vitamin, something that I needed to be fulfilled as a person, that I’d been neglectful of. I, for some reason, thought of Newton’s first law of motion. For me, sometimes, I have to get a little fruity and weird about things, when I’m thinking about them. I have to come up with a goofy theory. Something that helps something make sense in my mind, and also to help make it stick.
I remember exactly where I was when I had this thought. This thought of Newton’s first law of motion. Objects that are at rest, stay at rest. That’s where I was, at that point. I was a creative object that was at rest, that was not creating, that was not doing. Therefore, I was staying at rest. I had to think of a way to be an object in motion, because an object in motion, it stays in motion. I needed to get myself in creative motion and stay in motion.
Another goofy little visual, that I came up with, is this, I was this ball that wasn’t moving, there was no momentum there. But in order to get myself to that point, was going to be a struggle. I was going to have to do a little bit of soul searching, because I didn’t know what I wanted to be creating. I didn’t any longer know what I was interested in, in making, and doing. I’d kind of let my well dry up.
So this object, that was at rest, was really going to need a strong push, to stay in motion, or just to actually get in motion. So I thought of it like a ball, at the base of a tall hill. I was going to have to push that ball to the top of a hill. Once it hit the top of the hill, when I really had some ideas in my head, and some creative juices flowing, then, hopefully, I would be able to push it over the crest of the hill, and it would be in motion. It would just keep going and stay in motion.
Yeah, I know. I told you I like to come up with these little, goofy visuals, but for me, it was really helpful. I remember, that evening, when Ian had come back from work, and I had finished my day of exploring, I sat down, and I told him my idea. He was just like, “Yes. Whatever it takes to get you creating again.” That was, like I said, many years ago. That was before I even started blogging.
I know, a lot of you might be in that same place. Where you get so immersed in teaching, because it’s such a wonderful job, and it’s a job that we want to be so good at, that you really neglect what kind of brought you to this point in the first place. Your love creating. How do you get that ball rolling again? If you are currently a creative object at rest, how do you get yourself to be a creative object in motion, so that you can stay in motion? Well, let’s talk about it.
My best way to answer that, is just to kind of share with you my story. When I got home from that trip, from San Francisco, I really wanted to get myself rolling, get my self creating, but I noticed there were certain things that were really holding me back. The biggest thing, that was holding me back, was negative thoughts, self-doubt, that have been trapped in my head. Everything that I was ever told about creating, and I was just caught up in all those thoughts. I was frozen, almost, with a creative fear.
If you remember, I chatted about the biggest lie I was ever told, a couple of podcasts ago. That was told me in college, or not told me in words so much, as just like, I was led to believe, in college, that I had to choose between being an artist and being a teacher. I really felt like I was taught that I couldn’t be both. So that was really still, something strong in my head. I would get tangled up in that self-doubt, that I had to pick one or the other. You don’t.
If you want to hear more about my chat, about that, you’ll have to go back and listen to that podcast and let me share that story with you. But letting go of that self-doubt, those, gosh, those thoughts that were kind of led to believe by other people, let it go. Trust in yourself. Go with your guy. Most of all, have fun. For me, that was the biggest thing. I, for some reason, I had it in my head that creating had to be this like torturous, tormented experience. That everything that I painted had to be me putting all of my feelings onto a canvas. Y’all know it does not.
It can be something fun. It can be something that elevates you, that makes you feel lighter. Have fun with it. That’s one thing, I feel like, I was not taught in art school. That art school’s this torturous … Creating is this torturous thing, that you have do. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you feel that like, I don’t know, for me, it was this almost tightening in my stomach muscles. If you feel that, take a deep breath and just let it go. If you’re not enjoying yourself, step away from it and find something else that is fun.
So that’s thing number one, let go of that negative talk and that self doubt. Take a deep breath, relax, enjoy yourself. Thing number two is, if you’re stuck, like I was, thinking, what is it that I want to do, maybe you need to go back and think back to your childhood. Think back to what you enjoyed. I went to college to be a painter. I got my BFA in painting, of all things, and I rarely paint, unless it’s just something really fun, now. I don’t sit down and paint these big, giant, ornate, narrative canvases, like I used to. Because, honestly, that’s just not something I enjoy doing anymore.
When I decided to kind of get my creative ball back in motion again, I though, “You know what? I’m not gonna paint, because that doesn’t bring me joy anymore. What did I use to enjoy? What did bring me joy?” I remember really enjoying sitting on my grandmothers porch, learning how to cross-stitch, so I took up embroidery again. I remember really loving going to vacation Bible school, and learning how to weave, so I started weave. I bought a weaving kit, a kids weaving kit. I even bought a kids knitting kit, just because I had a lot of fond, and happy, memories toward all things fibrous, growing up.
I then, even taught myself how to sew, which was something I had also talked myself out of, because I thought, “I’m 30.” Well, I was at that time. I’m not anymore. What business do I have learning how to sew? Y’all, what business do I not have? And same with you. If there’s something that brought you joy as a child, and you’re trying to figure out what kind of creative outlet you can find, think back to those things. Because that’s, if it brought you joy then, I have a feeling it’s still going to do the same now. Side note, those things that you loved doing as a kid, consider bringing those projects into your art room.
In fifth grade, my 5th grade teacher, taught me how to do string art. I loved string art. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s very hard to describe, but Google it. It’s amazing. Not too long ago, I altered that lesson, and brought it down to my 3rd and 4th graders level, and it’s one of the most popular lessons on my blog, and with my students. Not only will you be able to get your creative juices flowing, but you’ll also be able to bring that passion, and that Joy of what, you know, brought you happiness, into your art room.
Try to think about what brought you happiness in your childhood, if you’re stuck coming up with a creative outlet. Like I said before, it’s never too late to learn. I, for as long as I can remember, I had always wanted to learn how to sew. It goes back to my passion for all things fibrous, as a kid. You know, growing up, I think my mom thought I was just full of beans when I was begging for a sewing machine, back in the 80s. I never got one, but she kind of felt guilty. So, in my 30s, for Christmas, she bought me one. That thing literally sat in the box for probably six months to a year.
I was afraid of it. I didn’t know how to sew. Like I said, I had this idea that, well, I don’t know how to do this, and now I’m too old to learn how. You’re not. You’re never too old. I mean, we’re teachers. We’re all about education. Just because we spend our days teaching, doesn’t mean that we can’t in turn spend our days learning. Learning something new. Learning something we’ve always wanted to learn how to do. Why not?
I started learning how to sew at 30. I taught myself how to sew. I’ve taken several classes. But really, you can find anything online. YouTube is the most magical thing, when it comes to wanting to learn something new, so why not? But I know what you’re thinking, “Okay Cassie, you’ve got me a little bit inspired.” I hope I have anyway. “And I want to go back to my childhood, and kind of come up with what things were interesting to me, and let go of negative talk, and take a class. But girl, where am I gonna find the time for that?”
Time, that’s the biggest thing. That’s actually something I get a lot of questions on. Cassie, how do you find time to do all of these side projects and things that you come up with? Well, I’m gonna be really honest with you. I have more time in my life, because I don’t have children. I don’t have a clean house, and I never will, and I’m okay with that, and thankfully, so is the hubs. I also don’t have things like cable. I don’t have those distractions that I allow to take myself away from my creative outlets. I also consume a lot of coffee, so there’s that.
But I feel like, sometimes, we put up barriers for ourselves. I think, sometimes, people use lack of time as kind of a little barrier, to keep them from doing other things. I know it might be tough to get up a little bit earlier, or stay up a little later, or turn off the TV, when all you want to do is sit and relax. But you guys, I’m telling you, I have been so much happier since I set my creative ball in motion. I’m telling you, I had the hardest time coming up with just even crafts, or things to do.
I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. But now that this ball is in motion, there’s not enough time in my day for all of the things I want to sew, and the pictures I want to paint, and the things I want to create. For myself, for my art room. Just for me to have time to sit and do those things. I think Ian would be proud. In fact, I’m sure that is, that I’m actually back to creating. It was so nice to be able to share that experience with him. For him to kind of push me, so I hope to be that Ian in your life.
If you are in a little bit of a slump, a creative slump, at a standstill, I’m going to encourage you to try to think of ways to get out of that state of rest, and get your creative self back into that state of motion. Because that’s what brought you to teaching, your love of creating, so you should be doing it. All right. I challenge you, over your winter break, to do a little bit more of creating and spending time doing that just for the sake of doing it. Just for you. You deserve it. thank you guys so much for letting me share that journey with you, because it really is so difficult to find yourself in that slump. It’s tough to pull yourself out of it, but it is so stinking worth it.
Tim Bogatz: If you find yourself nodding your head to everything Cassie has to say in this episode, I want to encourage you to take a look at AOE’s Creativity in Crisis graduate course. So many art teachers find that the standardized world works against our own creative impulses and really threatens to bog our classrooms, and our lives, down in routine and convention. Creativity in Crisis helps you find the ways to ensure that your creative spark stays lit and so does your students.
Creativity in Crisis is a three credit hour course, that will have new sections beginning in February, March, and April. You can find more information about all of AOE’s courses at theartofed.com/courses. Now, let’s get Cassie back on the show as she opens up the mailbag.
Cassie Stephens: All right and now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. This question comes from Viv. She says, “My question is this. Today we did a clay project, in second grade, and I’d like to color it the way you color your birds, with wax crayons, and ink. What kind of ink do you use? And can I do this with acrylic paint instead? How do you apply the ink and do you use any kind of final fixative?” These are great questions Viv. If you’re not familiar of the project she’s talking about, I, not too long ago, did a clay project, kiln fired, clay project, with my kindergarten students.
We used a lot of texture by pounding the clay onto a textured surface, like burlap, and lace, peeled the clay from that textured surface. With a skewer stick we cut the clay into a circle, cut that in half, which became the bird’s body. The other half, of that circle, became the birds wing. Because the clay had a lot of texture, once it was fired, a bisque fire, it was great for doing this method. If you don’t have access to glaze, or have the time to fire clay projects twice, then this method of using crayons and India ink, or acrylic, actually tempura paint is what we’ve used, works great.
So let me explain it to you. What you want to do is make sure, like I said, you’ve fired the clay project once, so it’s a bisque fire. Then, you can use crayons, but what I prefer to use is either construction paper crayons or neon, or fluorescent, oil pastels. Those are actually my favorite. It’s Sargent brand, fluorescent pastels, that are my absolute jam. But what the kids do is they simply color on top of that textured surfaces. It’s perfectly fine if they don’t do the neatest job. Their goal, basically, is to color the raised surface.
The India ink, or tempura paint, that you use, will actually go into any of the crevices that they don’t color. Once they’re finished coloring, what I usually do is have the kids bring their project to me. I have a little, shallow container of India ink. Make sure you wear gloves. Or I have used water down tempera paint. Both work great. Of course, do a test piece, if you’re going to use the watered down tempura paint, just to make sure that your paint isn’t too watered down.
Here’s what you do. Once the child has brought you their project, or, if you run out of time, you can simply do this when they’re not around, dip it in the ink. Then, do this next to a sink, while the water is running, just gently, put the clay project, for just a moment. Not even a moment, a second, underneath that running water. Here’s what will happen. The India ink will pool into to the crevices of the textured clay, but the water will rinse it from the raised surface.
The wax also helps to resist. What this will do is give the clay project a really great, antiqued kind of look. I’ve even done this with different colors of acrylic paint. So that way, it doesn’t necessarily have that dark, antiqued look, but it has more of a bright, bold look in the background. When you’re finished, to really seal it, you could either spray it with a fixative, always do that outside. Not necessarily a fixative, I’m sorry. With a spray varnish. Spray varnish works great. You can do it really quickly. Another alternative is Mod Podge. That is a little bit more time consuming, however, because you’ve gotta paint that on.
So if you just prop open a door, or if you simply take the projects outside, hit them with spray varnish. What that does is give it a little bit of a shine. Also, if you’re going to use oil pastels, or your crayons, just know that, that surface, the textured surface, will really chew up your oil pastels. Probably going with a crayon might be better, but I just love the look of those bright, fluorescent, oil pastels with that antiqued dark background. Viv, that was a great question. Thank you so much. If y’all have any questions for me, please feel free to send them my way, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, how about it? How are you going to get that ball set in motion? Maybe you’re one of those people who are great about setting up designated times a day, and you can make sure that every morning, when you’re having your cup of coffee, you do little bit of sketching, or a little bit of drawing, or painting, whatever it takes. Me, personally, my routine is, after we’ve had dinner at the house and things are starting to settle down, my husband likes to go for his evening walk, and I like to go off, by myself, in the bonus room, and just paint, or draw, or sculpt, or whatever strikes my fancy.
It’s funny, to me, to think that 10 plus years ago, I would have just sat and stared at a blank canvas in torture. With, seriously, a tightened stomach muscles, and just not having any fun at all. Now, I just enjoy it so much. I’ve let go of all those goofy things that I was told in college, about being an artist, and having to come up with some torturous thing to create, or paint, and tell a story. It’s making my hands sweat, just thinking about it. Enjoy yourself.
Like I said, the joy of what you did in your childhood is what brought you to this place. So if you’re stuck, think back to what, and get that creative ball in motion guys. Thank you so much for joining me today. Have an awesome winter break.