Getting On Task With A Chalkboard

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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:

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  1. 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.
  2. 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.16996038_10101693858602301_1812734655181382082_n
  3. Let it dry overnight.
  4. 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.
  5. 16939205_10101693858517471_4045315626190068656_nMeasure 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Use it.

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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.16999163_10101693858357791_7465253261281917625_n

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.

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How To Get Organized (For Creatives)

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.

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My latest acrylic piece, Educating The Heart.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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    “I Can & I Will” – available in my shop now!
  3. 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!

  4. 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!)
  5. 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.
  6. how-to-get-organized-for-creatives-patrick-guindon-art-2Be 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

 

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The Playroom – How We Organized The Toys

A playroom is a playroom is a playroom.

It’s main purpose is to be used. To be played in. To be imagined in. To be learned in, without it being all learny.

So why bother organizing the room?

I will tell you why we did.

{Want the tour? Here it is! And here is the process!}

Kingsley’s favourite activity is throwing things around the room, dumping every bin and bucket and then moving on. He plays most with things that aren’t technically toys. He is a typical 19 month old.

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But, we are looking forward. We are thinking about how we can gently lead him and build skills that will help him in his life as a kid, a teenager, and an adult.

So, we organized the playroom. And we did it carefully.

We kept in mind that we have a Creative Kid, and his playroom should reflect that. We know he is a Creative Kid because all kids are creative. They stumble, bump and overcome challenges nearly every minute of every single day. So we decided to set up his playroom in a way that would challenge, encourage and open his mind up to imagination. We didn’t fill it with toys, and we even left out paints – the art corner will come in time, when he isn’t prone to eating every art supply. In the meantime, we will administer the art sessions under our watchful, but not overbearing eyes. No crafts here.

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We started by laying out all of the toys we thought we might want to include.

So here is what we did:

  1. We didn’t bring in every single toy, because:

1) He doesn’t need every single toy. People buy him so many and he really is interested in sticks, tubes and tupperware.

2) If he had everything in there, there would be no option to switch toys out when these got old.

3) It is easier to fit, store and sort what’s in the playroom if the toys are selected carefully; and …

4) We selected the most appropriate toys for his current interest, skill and challenge level.

2. We kept some of his favourite toys that he is comfortable using.

 

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3. We brought in some of the more advanced toys that would challenge him, frustrate him, and make him work with us to figure them out.

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The barn he is taking is a frustrating challenge for him. He can’t quite yet get the letters through their holes, so we help him and practice, and to him it is all play.

4. We included sets of toys – cars, blocks, instruments, balls, and bits & pieces – this way, we could easily tidy up after each play session (yes, we do, and we include him in the process … we also do this every evening before bed in the main level of the house).

5. We put those sets of toys in some sort of organizer – a bin, bucket or basket. WE DID NOT LABEL THEM! This might limit future use of said bins, buckets and baskets.

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The easiest way to organize is to lay everything out, have the amount of bins that you want to have in the space, and sort into those. Whatever is left can be given away or put into storage.

Tidying after each session means that Kingsley sees that we all participate in taking care of the toys and the environment. We teach him to take pride in his home. We show him that it is easy to do when there’s a system in place. Just enough options for collections of toys means that there aren’t 42 bins of different types of toys. It is just right for his 19 month old mind to consider and form into a routine.

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We started with 2 overflowing bins of books, and then started to take out the books we hated, loved or were tired of.

6. BOOKS: In terms of the books we wanted to include in the playroom, we kept in mind his extreme love for them. He loves them so hard that he sometimes eats, rips and loves them to pieces. To this end, we picked mostly board books, cheaper books, and books that we weren’t personally tied to. We also picked books we wouldn’t mind reading 10,000 times. We put these in 2 different baskets and left them accessible for him. We also put some favourites up on the mantle.

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My guilty pleasure in this project was setting it up as I would if I owned my dream business: a small family book shop. We’ve got some great titles here: The Monstore by Tara Lazar, Stella (A Treasury) by Canadian author/illustrator Marie-Louise Gay, The (Classic) Giving Tree, The King of Space – and some paintings by yours truly (I do custom orders – send me a message!) I also included a globe that my grandma gave me when I was 9, and a K covered in photos of Kingsley made by a very generous family member.

We left the bottom four cubbies for his Mega Blocks trucks. He loves driving these around, and he parks them when he is done. Why throw off something that is already working?

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So what should you try to include?

  1. Things that roll.
  2. Things that bounce.
  3. Things that are soft.
  4. Things to read.
  5. Various textures.
  6. Things to make them think (at a developmentally appropriate level).
  7. Things they already enjoy.
  8. A place to relax (especially important for tired parents!)
  9. Some original artwork.
  10. Somewhere to make art – right now, it is just a chalk board for our guy.
  11. SPACE to grow. (Leave room on the walls to hang art, leave room on the floor to sprawl and spread the toys out, leave room in the bins to add toys).
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He loves hanging out on the pillows, beneath the mesh curtain, and practicing how to be a big brother.
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This view mesmerizes him. We are going to make a mobile to hang in here very soon.

The moral of the story is that we know our kid, we know where he is every day because we watch and play with him, and we know what challenges to offer him next. Knowing our son has allowed us to create a space that will allow him to play, explore and learn – not just throw stuff around and leave it in a pile. Granted, that happens sometimes after a very long week. Nobody’s perfect. (Although this little boy is pretty darn close.)

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