Creative Challenges, Prompts

Chain Reactions

A few weeks ago, Lucy asked me what a chain reaction is so I tried to describe it in terms a 5-year old would understand, which is not always easy to do. I said, “It’s when there’s an event that causes something to happen, which makes something else happen, then something else, then something else, etc…”

She just looked at me and as I started to blurt out the dictionary version, she said, “So, like dominoes.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “exactly like that.” I had no idea that she knew how dominoes worked, so we both learned something new. But the more I thought about her question, the more I thought about this blog.

I haven’t written in a while. Quite a while. And it all started with an event – the holidays (which always seem to start off as a sweet as a gingerbread latte then all of a sudden turn into a festive beast that throws tinsel, wrapping paper and piles of gift receipts all over the place). And then I had minor surgery and was on activity/lifting restrictions for three weeks so Murphy and I quit taking walks. Then it was cold and snowy and we still weren’t walking much. And then, I had completely fallen out of my routine and started to lose all that confidence and bravery I had built up when I first launched the blog. But I never stopped collecting ideas. My hard drive is full of beautiful pictures I’ve taken. I have bins upon bins full of items I’ve collected and pages full of notes, sketches and ideas.

I just needed to do something with them. I needed to get over the fear of staring at that blank page and of beginning again. So I decided to accept challenges.

In January, I participated in the Creativebug Draw-A-Day challenge with Lisa Congdon. Drawing has always been difficult for me. I’ve put too much focus on comparing myself to others and trying to make things perfect rather than putting my interpretation of the world down on paper and accepting my own style. But I have always loved drawing and have always wanted to have a drawing routine, so I decided to accept the challenge. And to keep myself accountable, I also participated in the social media portion and posted my daily drawings to my Instagram account. The first few weeks, I felt physically ill every time I posted a drawing. But over time, it became easier. And I noticed that as I was drawing, I wasn’t worrying as much about what people would think, but was instead just enjoying the practice. I have always loved Lisa’s whimsical style so her lessons were the perfect thing to help me get over my perfectionism and learn to just enjoy exploring the world around me.

When the challenge ended at the end of the month, I took a short break and then continued with their next challenge in March led by Pam Garrison (another favorite of mine). I also started participating in the Get Messy Art Journal community challenges and even took some online art classes (my favorite is Alisa Burke, I love her style and her class format). For the months of June and July, I participated in the Index-Card-A-Day (ICAD) challenge hosted by Daisy Yellow.

And an amazing thing happened between January and July – I finally developed that daily creative routine that I had always been craving and never thought I had the time for. Each challenge was nice because it didn’t require much time so I was able to carve out a few minutes each day to complete it. And a lot of them I was able to do with Lucy, so we were able to spend time together doing something we both love. Having the accountability of posting something every day was nice, not only because it gave me a deadline, but also because I found a community of other artists online who were encouraging, supportive and also struggling with the same issues I was: finding inspiration and finding time to create.

As ICAD was coming to a close, I knew it was time to start working on this blog again. I loved the challenges and that they helped me overcome my fears and helped me grow as an artist, but I also recognized that it was time to take that strength and use it to overcome the fear of restarting a project I felt I had abandoned months before. In March, I turned the dreaded 40. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, it felt like an awakening. Maybe it was because people kept telling me I was “middle-aged” or because Lucy was saying “you’re SO old,” but I suddenly felt the urge to do all the things I kept putting off, the things I’ve always wanted to do, the things that breathe life into my heart and soul. One of the intentions I set for 2016 was to not leave things unfinished so with that in mind and my newfound creative motivation, it was time to get to work. But where to begin?

Nature has an amazing way of providing inspiration. That’s one of the things that I love so much about this project, it’s not just about the artistic inspiration I find, it also helps me to live more “in the moment” and to be open to possibility. For weeks, I had been putting so much pressure on myself to find the “perfect” thing that I could use as my comeback post and didn’t find anything. Then, one morning, as Murphy was stopping to pee for the 142nd time (I honestly think he has marked every blade of grass in that park, it is now officially all his), I just happened to look down and see the cutest little mushroom.


It looked like tissue paper and the lines were so fragile and thin. I picked it up and put it in my little collection tin with the intention of photographing it as soon as I got home. Work was busy that day and I wasn’t able to come back to it until lunchtime, but when I opened up the tin, the mushroom had shriveled into a tiny little dot with a line where the stem once was. At first, I thought it was ruined. But then I realized this was the perfect illustration of a chain reaction – and everything I wanted to accomplish with this project. So, the next day, I found another mushroom and this time, I photographed its transformation.

In every stage, the mushroom provides new inspiration and leads our minds into a chain reaction of ideas.

While it is still fresh and in the ground, it is the perfect little umbrella for tiny creatures hiding from the morning dew. The colors are pale, but bright against the green grass. The lines down the cap are bold and nearly perfectly spaced, all pointing up to the yellow circle at the top, which just happens to be the same color as the honey mustard I put on my sandwich at lunch.



Then, the umbrella begins to close. What once was stark white, is now a lovely shade of sand and the underside of the umbrella has turned black as if it were charred by fire.


As the minutes pass, it shrivels even more and begins to resemble the skin of an elephant. The perfectly straight lines now flow like waves on a lake where there is just a slight breeze.


Not long after, the color darkens to a deep brown, the waves have increased and intersected and the resemblance to the original paper-thin mushroom is completely gone.

After a few days, the mushroom is nothing more than a flat spec (and as Lucy pointed out, could be the spec on the clover from Horton Hears a Who! By Dr. Seuss).

My challenge to you is to simply observe something over time and make note of the changes. It can be something small, like picking a mushroom or flower and seeing how quickly (if at all) it changes. And in each stage of change, challenge yourself to find a new purpose for that item. What do the physical changes look like? How does it smell? What new purpose could it serve? Sketch out the item in each stage of decay. Compare it to other things (like an elephant or Whoville). And once it is done changing, rename it. Give it a new purpose and make it your own.

One of the other things I started doing in my absence was making leather journals. A friend and I began making them for ourselves, but then some other friends wanted them too. Before I knew it, we had an Etsy store and were selling them at local art festivals. One of my favorite journals that we’ve created is a mini journal. The pages are less than 2” square and it’s challenging to work in something that small, but it’s the perfect place to store a mushroom spec and all the ideas for what it could be.


I’d love to see what new things you discover! Post a comment on the blog or use the hashtag #TheFoundArtWalk on Instagram. And if you want to see the daily challenges I completed, you can follow me on Instagram at @mkranthony.

Thanks for stopping by!

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