Create Joy!

Anna Joy Tambourine 1What a handful modern life has become; it’s so easy to feel out of balance.

Taking care of our emotional health is more important than ever as the stress of every day living increases. It’s a good time for adults to get together and enjoy the pleasure and renewal of creative pursuits. Collaborative art activities, like those presented here, are an engaging and affordable way to create community, have fun, and take active steps towards regaining the balance we all crave.Anna Joy Tambourine 2Anna Joy Tambourine 3

These photographs are from a colorful workshop held last month at “A Window Between Worlds,” a resource agency for domestic violence shelters. Every year I lead a workshop at AWBW for their “Train the Trainer” series. Those who attend are therapists and staff who run therapeutic art programs at battered women’s shelters throughout Southern California. Feedback on the training was very positive and I hope you enjoy these delightful photos.Anna Joy Tambourine 4Anna Joy Tambourine 5Anna Joy Tambourine 6Working with AWBW’s program directors, we focused the training on self-renewal. Our idea was to create a safe, nurturing environment and encourage participants to re-connect to their own happiness and experience a real sense of joy. To achieve this goal, the art supplies had to be colorful, inviting and abundant. I wrote a lesson plan based on our papier mâché tambourines and some of my favorite collage materials. We called the lesson plan “Creating Joy,” and I recommend you try it for staff development (download here). The results were beautiful, the participants had loads of fun, and the process was both relaxing and energizing (one of the paradoxes of art-making).Anna Joy Tambourine 7Anna Joy Tambourine 8Anna Joy Tambourine 9My favorite part in preparing the lesson was finding “clip art quotes” to use as focal points. I found these color quotes on Sherri Bishop’s website. (download here) and also revamped my Values Clarification Worksheet. (download here). Feel free to use them both for this and other paper crafts. Remember, art and language go hand in hand.

Anna Joy Tambourine 10Anna Joy Tambourine 11Anna Joy Tambourine 12Adults relax and unwind with open-ended art activities when the instructor presents easy, success oriented art techniques. I hope you have someone on staff that truly enjoys leading art activities, and that you’ll try some ideas like these with your own staff soon.

Materials Used:
Make Your Own Tambourine Kit for 12 (JINGLEKIT)
Colorations® Washable Glitter Paints – 16 oz, Set of 11 (GLPA)
Stubby Chubby Brushes, Set of 12 (SPIFFY)
Tissue Paper Circles, 4″ – 480 pieces (TCIR)
Mini Tissue Squares – 5000 pieces (TINYTIS)
Spotted Feathers – 1 oz (SPOTTED)
Colorations® Premium Glue Sticks – Set of 12 (PRETRAY)
Colorations® Tacky Glue (GLUEIT)
Metallic Pony Beads – 1 lb (PONYMET)
400 feet of Satin Ribbon – 16 spools (SATIN)
Iridescent Fabric Shapes – 500 pieces (SHINYFAB)

* Brought to you by Discount School Supply®

Want to know more about A Window Between Worlds? 

The AWBW Program is available to any agency or organization seeking to implement art as healing tool for survivors of domestic violence. For further information on AWBW, please call (310) 396-0317, e-mail, or visit

Gazebo Park School at Esalen Institute

Photo courtesy of Esalen Institute.

Photo courtesy of Esalen Institute.

The month of May is beautiful in most parts of the US, and California is no exception.  These photos are from a recent trip up the California coast where I took an art class at Esalen Institute. A place my cousin refers to as “that famous meditation retreat.”  Followed by, “You are so lucky to be going there!”  Indeed, I did feel lucky to be going there, especially because I was going for ME – for pure, personal replenishment.  And replenishment was something I sorely needed. Have you heard the term “compassion burnout” at conferences lately? I was beginning to relate a bit too much to that expression, and I longed for relief.

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The Esalen grounds were bursting with color, and the Gazebo Park School was there to accommodate parents attending classes. Every day I walked by the nursery school on my way to class and marveled at children playing in this unique, natural environment.  There is no cell service at the retreat, and that helped me stay present. My iPhone stayed packed in my suitcase for all 5 days, imagine. That factor alone helped my eyes re-focus outward.

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After a particularly good day of painting, I stopped to take pictures of the Gazebo Park School. The children had gone home for the day. I was first taken with the overall beauty and simple aesthetics of this outdoor school. Then my eye picked up several recycling ideas that I fell in love with and thought I’d share here. Like these planters made from plastic milk jugs, hanging from nylon ropes. How can I have been in so many schools over the years, and not seen this before? My eyes must have missed it, this is such an obvious and simple idea…and it’s free!

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Or how about this empty picture frame set up in front of the garden? At first I thought this frame was abandoned or waiting to be trashed. Then I realized it was intentionally positioned in front of the garden, as a “view finder” so that children could position themselves and look through the frame from different angles, creating different garden “paintings” in their imaginations. How clever is that? It’s also free, and a good way to repurpose old picture frames.

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The music area was created from a combination of bells and kitchen pots and pans.   Are you inspired yet? I read and agreed with the school’s mission statement about the natural environment.

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Simple, cheerful artwork covered the walls of the schoolhouse buildings. Don’t think you’re not artistic enough to pull something like this off, because it’s children’s work combined with some adult organization skills. Your own outdoor playhouse could look just as nice, even if you live and work in the city.

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Last of all, how’s this for a clever recycling idea?  It’s an old rubber tire, turned inside out and used to contain a garden hose. Who thinks of these things? Ahh….creativity.  It’s so exciting to see it in action.

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I do love my iPhone, my laptop, and my other tech gadgets. They make my life easier in many ways. But the more time I spend looking at a screen, the more time I need to balance my psyche with things that inspire me on a deeper human level. I feel incredibly fortunate to have taken time for myself at Esalen this spring. Are you planning something for yourself soon?

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Graphic courtesy of Tutorials for Inky Hands.

PS – Three months internships are available at the Gazebo Park School, see website here for more information.

The Painting Experience

Materials Used:
Colorations® Simply Washable Tempera Paint, set of 15 (SWTALL)

* Brought to you by Discount School  Supply®

Extraordinary Children’s Art Display at CHSA

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I recently attended the California Head Start Conference, where extraordinary examples of children’s art were on display everywhere. I had never seen such a beautiful integration of children’s art into an event. Creative examples of painting, tissue paper art, bookmaking and 3-D collage lined each and every hallway. It was truly an impressive effort, and I hope it inspires you to capture some new ideas.

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I especially loved the large paintings from Neighborhood House Association (NHA) that came from their annual Head Start Art Fest. They were painted collaboratively, by groups of young children. Each painting included photos of the children and artwork from a famous artist that the children had studied.

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These large, collaborative paintings included documentation, highlighting learning outcomes from the Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP). The combination of oversized paintings, photos, and documentation was visually stunning and highly informative. Kudos to the staff at Neighborhood House Association Head Start, and all the other wonderful Head Start agencies that infused the conference with examples of the visual language of children.

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The wonderful reds in this large flower painting moved me. I could easily see this hanging in any major art museum. The textures and color combinations were strikingly dramatic.  It looked like it had been painted on a large (and expensive) canvas, but as I looked closer I saw it was done on plain white butcher paper.

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To my surprise, the same butcher was wrapped around a large, corrugated box to create a frame! The box made it look like an expensive “gallery style” canvas with a 2” depth. What am amazing and affordable way to simulate gallery framing….who thought of that? I am excited to pass THAT one along, thank you!

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Make & Take Art was also available for all the attendees at the conference entrance, and everyone was encouraged to engage.

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Roxanne Kilbourne, Family Literacy Specialist, led a creative Craft Bag project using Alphabet Squares and Colorations® Washable Marker Stampers…a project that was relaxing, fun and functional.

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Prany Kasem-Hendricks led Goop-Gak for people who like messy art.  I made Goop-Gak years ago, but had forgotten how much fun it was, it’s so soft, smooth and incredibly elastic!

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Prany’s recipe (print your own copy here) combines Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ , white glue and liquid starch. Liquid Watercolor™ gives it the brilliant color. Someone took delight in swirling this pink goop around to get a big lump of Gak to go. I heard it lasts several weeks if you store it in plastic. I thought back to the many times Lenette Javier had invited me to NHA to do art workshops for her staff. Now it’s my turn to learn from them.

I hope you enjoyed these ideas from California’s Head Start Conference, and find ways to use them yourself at an upcoming school event.

Materials Used:
2000 Alphabet Pasting Pieces (2000PP)
Colorations® Washable Stamper Markers Bucket (STAMPBUCK)
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor™ Paints – set of 18 (LW18)
Colorations® Washable School Glue – gallon (LCWG)
Craft Bags with Handles (CBAGS)

* Brought to you by Discount School  Supply®

Gelatin Giggles for Summer Fun!

Outdoor art is great for summer when we can enjoy time outside in the light and sunshine. If you love COLOR and gem-like quality of the Gelatin Giggles pictured here, you will want to add this simple sensory activity to your summer plan. Because we are making memories here with our summer, right? And there’s nothing much more memorable than colored gelatin slipping through your fingers on a perfect summer day. 

These photos are from Sari Abram’s 3-year-old classroom at Pressman Academy in LA where I recently a led a 30 minute Gelatin Giggles activity on a corner of the playground. I took in eight blocks of gelatin, plastic eyedroppers, five bottles of Colorations® Liquid Watercolor, and an art tray with a 1” lip to contain the mess. I volunteered for this because I’m developing a new workshop called “Messy Art with 2’s and 3’s.” I had already tried Gelatin Giggles with school-age children, but I wanted to see how very young children would respond. I learned that the best way to introduce Gelatin Giggles to a group of toddlers was to have them take turns two at a time, while I managed some semblance of control over the paint. As a firm believer in messy art, I also recognize there’s ultimately an “art” to controlling the mess while allowing children the experience of freedom with the materials.

Things were pretty clean and tidy as the first two children began playing with the eyedroppers on the white art tray. I instructed them to fill their eyedropper with the color of their choice, then stick the eyedropper into the gelatin chunk and squirt the paint inside. They learned that if they didn’t stick their eyedropper in very far, some of the color would splash back out on them, surprise!

They also learned that their eyedropper would sometimes suck up the gelatin and create a colored gelatin snake, surprise!

Before they finished their turn at the sensory table, I offered the opportunity to select a second color and inject that into the gelatin. Then they could watch the colors blend and pick up a chunk of gelatin in their hands and hold it up to the sunlight. We didn’t clean up between children, so the colors and gelatin chunks accumulated on the tray as the activity progressed.

To create Gelatin Giggles, purchase unflavored gelatin (Knox makes one and others are generally sold next to the flavored gelatins at the grocery store). Use less water than called for to make your “giggles” a bit more solid than usual. Here’s the recipe:

Knox Gelatin Mold: The ratio is 3/4 cup water to 1 packet of Knox. Take the number of cups of water your container holds and DIVIDE by .75 This is how many packets of Knox you need. In a saucepan, heat the water over low heat, add the packets of gelatin. After it dissolves pour it into your container. Let set over night. **BE SURE TO USE OIL OR SPRAY YOUR CONTAINER WITH PAM FIRST! Wait for a sunny day and unmold your gelatin onto art trays or a sand and water table.

Did I talk enough about the exciting presence of light and color? Check out how this glob of green sparkles in the sun! Does it make you think of stained glass windows or a sparkling crystal? If you own a diamond ring or anything cut from crystal, bring that to class and show children how these minerals are faceted, which means they have flat planes that refract color and light. Amazingly, clear gelatin also breaks along facets in similar fashion, which is why Gelatin Giggles look like gemstones in the light.

There’s nothing like group art experiences to bring children together and create a sense of collaboration in the summer. Gelatin Giggles is a perfect way to introduce sensory art while the weather is warm enough for outdoor play and the sun can provide a brilliant light source to enhance experiments with light and color.

If you like this art idea, you’ll probably also enjoy “Ice Tunnels” and “Sand Tray Gemstones”, two of 18 Colorations® Liquid Watercolor Activities in my book Smart Art Ideas 2. Thanks for checking in, and I look forward to reading your comments. If you would like to have your own art ideas included in a future post please send me an email at Together we can continue to build a strong art and creativity community.

Materials Used:
Colorations® Liquid Watercolor
SuperSafe Plastic Droppers (12SSD)
Brawny Large Art Tray (RECTRAY)
Smart Art Ideas 2 (MOREART)

From grocery store: Knox or other brand clear gelatin

* Brought to you by Discount School Supply®

* For more ideas, visit Art and Creativity in Early Childhood Education

“The Painting Experience” by Stuart Cubley

This week I am fulfilling the lifelong dream of taking a painting class at Esalen Institute. I am “out of my mind” excited about being here, and each day is a gift. Here’s my first painting, which I just finished yesterday. This is process oriented art, which I find is just as “developmentally appropriate” for me as it is for children. 
To be painting for five days straight in an incredible environment overlooking the ocean, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.

I am painting with 25 other adults who came here from all over the country. None of us knew each other three days ago, but we all came in search of relaxation and restoration. We come from a multitude of professions but we’re all searching for something authentic and meaningful, and we’re finding it here as we paint away in this large white canvas “yurt” by the sea. Esalen has five different workshops going on this week and most people here are steeped in gratitude for this opportunity. 

I love immersing myself in creativity with a group of adults. You can feel the sense of community as we paint together, share materials, and observe our creative process emerge. Here are a couple of my new “best friends” – one a therapist from Montana and the other a widow from Sebastopol who is reinventing her life. Isn’t creative companionship grand? And isn’t it amazing how the creative process can magically break down the barriers between us? 

Most people taking The Painting Experience are not artists, and many have never painted before. Stuart Cubley created The Painting Experience to help people find pleasure and meaning in process oriented painting. His book Life, Paint and Passion is wonderful, but there’s nothing like taking one of his hands-on workshops. Some are just a weekend long, and others are a week or ten days. The Painting Experience embodies open ended for adult “non-artists” in the same way we encourage open ended art in early childhood education. I encourage you to try it for professional development, or as a vacation treat that will make your spirit soar. Imagine walking along this pathway to your painting class every morning. That’s something to dream about for 2012. 

Find workshops and classes with Stewart Cubley at The Painting Experience (
Check the schedule at Esalen ( for more workshops!
Read Life, Paint and Passion by Michele Cassou and Stewart Cubley and learn all about creative process!