As a teacher, I know I’m sick and tired of walking the halls and seeing the same outdated, tired, cheesy and frankly – tacky – posters in the halls and classrooms. But there aren’t many options for good ones. That’s why I’ve created some with quotes that are relevant to today’s learner and today’s teacher – and are simple, beautiful and classy.
I think that one of the biggest problems with adults is the inability to listen.
I mean, really listen.
We live in this fast-paced, texting-social-media-I’m-too-busy world, and even when we are slowing down and trying to tune in, I really think that it’s all too often an act.
Learning to shut up our own brains and listen is one of the hardest things to do. It takes effort, and focus, and it takes a lot of forgetting-your-pride.
I try (but often fail) to listen: listen to the whispers in my heart; listen to the nudges of the Universe; listen to my own responses. But most importantly, listening to my kids (biological and students) is the most important listening I think I can do.
The thing is … kids are honest. And if we slow down enough to listen – really listen – then we can dig into what is said/not said/demonstrated, and we can learn.
Imagine. A kid can teach an adult. (Insert studio-audience-canned-gasp here.)
The other morning, I was getting my two year old ready to go to his once-a-week visit to a sitter. I was buckling him in, and the conversation went:
Kingsley: “I’m goin’ to (sitters) and you’re goin’ to work, Daddy.”
Me: “Where do I work?”
Kingsley: “At school-o.”
Me: “What do I do at school?”
Kingsley: “You draw all day.”
I draw all day.
My heart stopped. I was listening.
My son, who has visited me at school but has never seen me draw there, because I don’t teach art and don’t really draw at school very often … my son had worked out what he sees, how I speak, and the pieces of his and my world, and boiled those down into my biggest wish: to draw all day.
I’m not saying the kid’s a psychic, or a mind reader. I am saying, sometimes it is clearer to a kid than it is to an adult. He’s right – I do want to draw all day. If I could afford to draw all day, I would be drawing all day.
But I’m not.
It’s time to keep listening.
This post is part “How-To” and part “Creative Life Lessons.”
I had been talking about putting this chalkboard up since my studio-office was in the last studio-office (which is now our son’s room). I have been talking about ACTUALLY doing it since the summer, and even went so far as to buy the paint I’d need in September.
But you know – life happens. I’ve been writing and making art and raising kids and being a teacher, and somehow the chalkboard just never got up onto the wall.
Until it did. And now – I can’t believe I ever waited, or didn’t have it!
Putting it together was very simple and straightforward. These are the steps I followed:
- Randomly block off a chunk of wall with masking tape, and judge it by eye, or as my
wife calls it, “Patrick-style measuring.” Note: for the purpose of having the wood ready before hand, you may wish to actually measure it all first. I was not that well organized, and sort of lucked out that it even worked.
- Paint 2-3 coats of chalk paint. The beauty behind chalk paint is that it dries very quickly, so I was able to do all of the coats I needed in one night, and each coat only took about 5 minutes to put up onto the wall. The other beautiful thing is that since it will soon be marked up with chalk, the odd line of overlapping paint really does not matter.
- Let it dry overnight.
- Find some scrap wood. Okay, you may want to be more prepared than I was. I happened to have just enough pieces of 1x4x8 hanging around in the garage, leftover from another project. This stuff is rough, and I like that about it. It’s not meant to beautifully finish anything, but with the right stain, and in the right room, it’s perfect. It also costs a few dollars a piece at almost any lumber supplier or hardware store.
- Measure the wood to size and cut. I had measured the size that I’d painted, and then cut according to that. I opted not to worry about angling the corners. I prefer the blocked look.
- Stain the wood. I used Special Walnut from Minwax. It is my all time favourite stain – we use it for almost every project. It’s light, but brings out the rich darks in the wood, and is rustic without being overbearing. It’s like a just-right plaid shirt on a fall day.
- I used a nail gun to attach it to the wall – it’s the easiest way to do it, and you don’t need to worry about finding studs! But if you don’t have a nail gun accessible, you could glue (use construction adhesive), or screw, or nail it to the wall.
- This is maybe the most important step: cover your new board in chalk! I mean rub the chalk all over it – leave no space untouched. When you’ve done this, wash it off with a damp cloth. This allows the new chalk paint to take the chalk and not leave any “burns” – a burn with chalk is when your first drawing, doodle, mark, words, whatever – the first things you put on the board are permanently there, even after you wash it off. It’s a terrible ghost that will haunt you forever, so be sure to cover and wash.
- Use it.
I’m using my chalkboard to help me with two specific areas of my work right now: my weekly accountability list, and my plotting for the second half of a novel I am working on. In the future, it may also be home to lists of clients and projects commissioned, orders made on prints, important dates, general ideas, picture book developments, and whatever else I need it for.
I love this board because of its flexibility, and because it brings importance to my ongoing work. It is a way of exploring ideas without having to save a file on a computer or track a piece of paper, and because it washes off so easily, there is a low commitment level. If I hate it, I can change it without any sweat.
I’m finding that seeing this when I walk into the space is inspiration in itself. There is a certain beauty in creative scratches on a chalkboard; in the lists and wonders and projects-in-motion. It keeps me on-task and motivated, inspired and excited. It feels importance because of its size, too.
This is really the next phase of my belief in having work ready to jump into at any time. I tend to keep lists on my phone and in a notebook on my desk, as well as in ongoing message and email format between myself and my critique partner, but this is in my face. I can’t lose it; it is the first thing I look at when I walk into the room.
I’m a highly organized and structured person. I’m also (even more) highly creative, abstract in thinking, and inspired every few minutes. I have millions – no, billions – of ideas, and I see things in pictures when I imagine them. My two year old walks around declaring, “I HAVE AN IDEA!” – I am much like him. I do the same thing. My wife even promised to listen to all of my ideas in her wedding vows.
These two sides of my brain (or maybe it’s my personality?) don’t always get along, but when they work together, future versions of myself are thankful.
As Creatives, having organization systems in place are really the only way to stay on track. Realistically, I can only complete so many projects in any given amount of time. I’m a full time teacher, a fuller time parent and husband, and I no longer have the ability to forget about sleeping. When ideas and inspiration hit, I need some way of tracking all of this so that I can actually follow through on the better ideas.
I’m not going to pretend I’ve got it figured out. I don’t. But Past Patrick has definitely found some ways of helping out Present and Future Patricks.
Here are my top ten tips for getting, and staying organized, creatively:
- Use email. Don’t delete emails to yourself! I often begin looking in my email for something that I am vaguely aware of making. I often find an image or word file that I sent to myself, and when I fall out of control on keeping up with my submission tracking for books, I check my emails (because I never delete any) for dates and notes.
- Start using a cloud-based storage system for creative work. I love Google Drive. It’s easy, I can drag and drop and I can access it anywhere. This means, if I find 10 minutes that I steal on my lunch at work, I can open it up and work. It means I can organize everything into files that work for me and not only do that when I’m at my personal computer.
- Organize as you go. It’s a pain sometimes, yes, but future you will be grateful. You might say, “Okay, this manuscript is for a picture book … it will be the first thing I put in a Picture Book Manuscripts In Progress folder.” Then, begin placing all of those types of manuscripts in that file. Put a sticky note on your computer/desk/wall/wherever you work most, so that you can recall where on earth did I save that stuff? The more you use it, the more likely it is to become a habit.I’m not an expert – my files are generally pretty wild. But I’ve been slowly working at this.
I decided to start with my 2016 Writing Files. I organized my Google Drive by making a folder called “Writing” (I know, I know, we all have 18 of those). Then, inside I had been just popping in every new version of every manuscript, it was loaded with picture book dummies and submission tracking pages and idea lists. I organized it by creating subfolders: Works in Progress, and within that, “Middle Grade,” “Young Adult,” and “Picture Books”; I also created subfolders called “Finished Manuscripts” and within that subfolder, another folder for each completed manuscript, with everything required for submitting.
The main idea was to clean up the main folder so that when I click into, I’m not overwhelmed and/or more importantly distracted by all of the files I’m working on!
- Make a gosh darned list. PRINT IT OUT. And keep an electronic copy updated. I don’t do this every day. In fact, it was August when I printed out my “master list” of current picture book ideas that are writeable/publishable (by my standards). I’ve been scribbling notes and ideas on and around it since then. I recently opened the electronic file and updated it. I’ve reprinted and now I will work from there. Because I saved it in a logical spot – on my Google Drive, in the Writing folder, in the subfolder “Works in Progress”, I will be able to find it more easily. If I can’t find it later, I can use the search option – because Google Drive syncs with my desktop app, and it is easy to search just about anywhere.(Note: Google is not paying me to amp up their Drive app. I just love it. Google has way better reach than I do!)
- Keep one “to do” notebook near your workspace. I tend to jot ideas and notes anywhere and everywhere. I try to jot those down in my To Do notebook, so that when I’m stuck or uninspired, I can just flip through the book.
- Be intentional. Name your files something you’ll remember; something that is explicit and maybe even long, using descriptive words that you know you will probably think of to describe the project. “MGWIP” is not a great file name for your untitled middle grade work in progress. “Middle Grade WIP – MG WIP – Boy Gets Lost In Woods” might be better (uh, if it’s about that).Also be intentional with your time. See tip #8.
- Sync everything to the same email account. If you’re going to use gmail, then when emailing yourself, email to that account. Sync your notes in your phone to that email. Sync your calendars so that you can schedule for yourself, and the reminder will show up everywhere. It simply takes a lot of work out of your searches.
- Take the time. It means that sometimes, you have to set aside 30 minutes to go through files. It also means that you need to make a decision about what you’re going to do and when. Sometimes, we can leave it to inspiration and that “pull” to a certain project – but when you’ve got lots of projects on the go, you need to have a plan. Maybe you wake up early to get more time in, or maybe you schedule out a few nights a week. You have to do what works for you, but you also have to do the work.
- Have a partner. This is someone who will hold you accountable. For me, it’s my art critique partner. In November, we were both feeling overwhelmed with all the things we WANTED to do, but were never getting to. We agreed to email rather than message a weekly to-do list. We send this on Sundays, usually, and then at the end of the week, we also send a little reflection. This is where we talk about how we did and how we’re feeling about it. Did we take on too much? Too little? We also make a conscious effort to keep the stories out of it. No excuses – we either did the work, or we didn’t.We decided to email because we regularly are in contact through messaging. It would be impossible to find the list at the end of the week, and there is something about the not-immediate pace of email that pushes us to pause, think, and reflect more carefully.
- Change. When your system isn’t working – when you can’t find something, or anything; when you are constantly overwhelmed; when you have nothing to show for a month of work – then it is time to change your system.
Dear Santa Claus,
How’s it going? I hope you’ve had a restful summer and that the elves let you get some sleep. I will be leaving you some treats by the stockings, assuming the dogs don’t get to them. I hope your travels are safe and that you don’t run into any issues, like kids who are awake or overprotective cats, or fire marshals claiming that sliding down a chimney is against code.
This year for Christmas, I would love some tools to help me with my writing. More specifically, I would like:
- A lot more time. I know I talk about stealing time and finding time and getting up early, but what I wouldn’t give for a few hours during the normal daytime to just get things written down.
- A vision of the novel from the tail-end – could I just skip that whole revision stage?
- An agent who gets me and all of my vision, who wishes to represent an author who writes picture books and middle grade novels, and who makes art for his own work and for others.
- A steady paycheck while writing and making art, without having to head off to a full time job every single day.
- More quiet.
- That old detached garage refinished into the finest, shabbiest-chicest studio and writing space ever. At least heated and mouse-free.
- A tribe. A real-life, in the flesh, meet up with me and keep up with me, kind of tribe.
- A quicker computer. I am so impatient.
- More time to sit and watch and play with my family. This is where the inspiration lives. And the magic and the joy.
I suppose you could bring me all of that, but what would I do with it? Sure, a quicker computer would be great, but when would I be reminded to slow down?
A steady paycheck – I have that, though I go off to work, but in that space lies so many ideas and stories that work their way into my writing and art. I’d better keep that job.
More time? I’ll probably just get roped into bringing MORE ideas to life, and then I will be asking for even MORE time. Greed leads to greed, after all.
Vision from the tail-end? I think I’d miss the magic and the journey. I care more about the process, anyway. It is more fun to be in a project, rather than trying to get it started.
More quiet? I’ve got enough of it. Maybe I need more noise.
An agent who gets all of my vision? I’m working on it. If you brought the agent, I’d be worried that they were only doing you a favour, instead of working with me for me and my vision.
The renovated studio would be awfully nice, but I already have a great space. I can wait for that one.
A tribe would be great, but right now I have all the tribe I need in my online critique friends and creative groups. I’m sure I’ll get there.
More time to sit and watch and play with my family – okay, you can bring me that.
Thanks, Santa – bring me that time with the family and I’ll have all I need.
PS: Tell Rudolph I said hi, and I am greatly concerned that his reindeer friends are using him for his nose.
I’m always thinking about, and talking about, “staying the art.” This is my tried and true method for keeping the gremlins at bay and my soul full.
There are ebbs and flows with art, as with anything, and so it is with the holiday season. It is so, so, so easy to say “Fugheddaboutit!” – drop the pencils and pens and markers and paintbrushes and notebooks and ideas, and just take in the holidays for all of their wonder.
But then … that’s too difficult.
It’s too difficult to let those things go without losing momentum, calling forth the wolves of fear and the creativity-killing gremlins. Lord knows, I am busy and it would be very easy to sleep in until 6am in order to catch up on lost sleep, to focus my time solely on family gatherings and food and fun, to channel all of my energy into these last two weeks at work before a two week vacation, and to say “Hey, I get 2 weeks off, so I will just MEGA MAKE then!”
But if I just stop because of those reasons?
- I’ll be super sad
- I’ll be very easily irritated (just ask my wife)
- I’ll have a tired soul
- The ideas bursting in my head that can’t come forth in the tangible world will make me feel excited, then sad, then mad, then guilty, then lost and uninspired
So it isn’t worth it to drop everything, but I also know that I can’t continue to work at the same pace as I do the rest of the year, without losing my mind. And I am getting close … this morning on the way to school, I looked at the passenger seat and noticed my drill sitting there. Why did I bring a drill to school?! Losing. It.
It’s now about a shift in perspective.
I am doing the following in order to feel successful, to feel growth, to honour my need and desire to create, and to stay in the art while stepping back a bit:
- I’ve focused my “to do” list on things that will bring me creative freedom: exploration, the things that have been tugging at my heart but I haven’t been fitting in (for me, right now, that is a few traditionally painted pieces over the prints I’ve been making for my shop, commissions and some writing/illustrating passion projects)
- Continue to carve out some time. It just may be less. Be okay with that. Last week, I worked from 5am-6am on my picture book dummy, and then at night, I worked on a commission. I was filling every little space with making art, and by the end of the week, I was exhausted. This week and next, I’m finding that time, acknowledging it, and then only choosing to fill it with art for some of the time. I need to remember to breathe.
- Get lost. Light a candle and play some great music. I love discovering new music with Youtube’s autoplay – I start with something that I like and a few songs in I am usually discovering something new. With the candle on the table, I’m breathing and experiencing the moment. It is a bit of a ritual, and I love getting lost in those moments.
- I’ve given myself permission to explore and fail. I always have this in the back of my mind, but I am REALLY focused on it right now. Frankly, I think I am trying to fail and rule out what isn’t working for me. While I’m painting, I keep saying to myself, “Self, if this sucks, just don’t show anyone. If this is a failure, you can paint over it.” I’m trying to remind my deepest self that it is NOT wasting time to make failed art – just making it is a success.
- I’m journalling. I always WANT to journal and talk about it, but I have yet to make this practice stick. I usually don’t know what to say or write about, and feel awkward telling things to myself, so instead I have recently been making a page per week that I add to over time. I ask myself a question and I look for answers in my every day experiences. Which brings me to the next point, because this has been the focus of my journalling …
- These last couple of weeks – which, by the way, lead up to me realizing that it was
time to step back and just make – I’ve been intentionally seeking out beauty. The little things. THAT is inspiring – when you notice the nuance of the light or the way the snow lilts in the air; the inflection of a two year old’s voice or the whole-body-smile of a ten week old human being. Finding this beauty will shift perspectives, big time.
- I don’t have a massive list of projects or goals. My list is more about being in the art, making stuff, and being present. Listening. It’s about taking some time to think about it, without a big product at the end. In essence, this is what all making is about, but of course, at some point we want to have something to show for our process. The next two weeks, though, aren’t about product, but are most certainly about process.
- Find some little fun projects that relate to the holidays. My wife and I have, for the last ten years, been making each other an ornament for Christmas. We go to the art store and we each have 5 minutes and $10, and we secretly race around the store looking for what we need and stealthily purchase the materials, then make-make-make in our alone time and give the gift on Christmas Eve. This fun activity keeps me thinking creatively, but isn’t about something I will post or share or sell.
- Make something with someone else – like a kid. I painted last night with my 2 year old, and he mostly directed me. We painted on a hardboard canvas with watercolor over crayon scribbled, and then he suggested that we add salt. The results were really quite pretty, and since I was making with him, there was no pressure – it was just about being together. But, my soul was filled.
In order to stay creative and in the art over the busy holidays, we need to focus on the art – not on skills, not on techniques, not even on the finished thing that we made, but simply being in the moment, being in the art, and being a creator.
And most importantly – remember to listen.
Call it style or call it your look or the feel or whatever you want – we are talking about Voice. Writing or art, it doesn’t matter.
Your voice is the bit of you that is scientifically undetectable, until you have found it. It’s the little curls of lines and the way you turn a phrase. It grows and shifts and evolves over time. It’s the innate YOUness that radiates through your work.
To find out what your voice is:
1. Take a selection of the pieces (words or art) you just love from the last few years and look at them together.
2. Ask: Which are the ones I’m proud of? Which excite me?
3. Look for: commonalities between 3-4 pieces (or more – you’re looking for a pattern, be it color or line work or how that line curves, or a general vibe that you can’t name but you can see; you’re looking for how you weave a sentence together and how that works with its neighbours to become a paragraph and a page or a chapter; you’re looking for how you whittle words stylistically and when it works and when it doesn’t).
4. Consider: what don’t I like and how do I address that? Remember to give it some breathing room: do not analyze the thing you made or wrote last night.
5. Forget it all and just keep working. Your youness can’t be nailed down and it shouldn’t be caged. You need to keep working and it will show itself more and more. The issue is when you focus on style or voice over the practice of writing. Just make and let the voice rise up.
6. When you have stopped trying to “find your style”, your style will somehow find you.
7. Enjoy the process.
8. Repeat every few months or years.
9. Remember to show up.
I’ve often thought about what the ultimate strategy for creating might be – you know, like it is some magic bit of alchemy. I thought that knowing this secret would mean I could just make great stuff without even trying.
I thought, if I tell everyone I’m an artist and a writer, then when I finally sit down to make said art and words, they will just flow.
But it’s not a faucet. It takes work.
I’ll let you in on THE biggest, best-kept, hiding-in-plain-sight secret to it all.
Just show up. When you show up, you’re not really just showing up. If you do it regularly enough, it becomes a practice, and that takes discipline, and that is what happily creating is all about.
You show up. You arrive with an intention: to create. Whether it is for five minutes, half an hour, an hour, or if you have the luxury of a half day (or, gasp, a day?!): you arrive intentionally and you create.
And then you do it again.
Until you can proudly, confidently say: I am creative. I make things. I make things up. I tell stories, I sing songs, I make the world beautiful and thoughtful.
Want more strategies to increase and improve your creative time? Check out these other posts:
Don’t forget to check out my new Etsy shop, too! There are 10 different prints, with more coming soon!