Creating a Gratitude Banner from Found Materials

I am always looking for new ways to use or reuse household items. This has rubbed off on my daughter Lucy. She never throws anything away, instead she hands it to me and says, “here, this is for art projects.” One of my favorite techniques is dipping an empty toilet paper roll in paint and using it as a stamp on journal pages. They make great circles, but are also easy to reshape so that you can create other unique stamps on your page. But the cardboard tubes are really durable and will last quite some time so I am constantly thinking of other ways to re-purpose them.

One day I was holding an empty roll while I was doing something else and began to mindlessly unravel the cardboard. Then I folded it half and realized that it made two perfect triangles that could be used for pieces in a banner.

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The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday gave me an idea for a banner that would combine Lucy’s love of giving me things for art projects with a lesson in gratitude for my kids. So I gave Lucy the assignment of helping me collect empty toilet paper rolls, a job she was very happy to accept (hopefully she’ll be as excited about cleaning up her room someday).

In order to create a banner, you only need a few simple materials:

  • Toilet paper rolls (each one either makes two triangular banner pieces if you cut it in half, or if you prefer to have a slightly thicker piece, you can simply fold it over and glue, staple or tape the two halves together to make one piece).
  • Twine or ribbon to connect the banner pieces
  • Scissors
  • Materials to decorate your pieces (paint, markers, collage materials, glue, stickers, stamps, stencils and ink, glitter, etc… The sky is the limit, you can make your banner as fancy or as simple as you desire)
  • A hole punch or awl

Begin by deciding how many banner pieces you’ll need. I wanted my banner to say “Give Thanks” so I cut 10 pieces.

Since the tube was round, the edges of your pieces will turn up a bit when you cut them. You can either place them under a stack of books overnight or iron them (I placed a thin cloth between the cardboard and the iron). If you iron them, you must do this before you add paint and/or ephemera.

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Once you have the correct number of flattened pieces, you can begin to decorate them. I kept my design relatively simple and chose a few of my favorite colors of paint, collage materials, a stencil and rubber stamps for the letters. You will need to punch holes in the corners of your pieces so that they can be strung together. You can either do this before you apply your design or after, it’s really up to you.

When you are happy with your design and you’ve allowed enough time for materials to dry (if necessary), you are ready to string the pieces together. Cut a piece of string, twine or ribbon to your desired length. Thread your twine through the front hole of your first banner piece (depending on what type of twine or string you use, you may need to tie knots around the holes to keep the banner pieces in place). Run the twine behind the piece then through the next hole and out the front. Tie another knot if necessary. Repeat this sequence for the remaining pieces, but be sure to allow some space between them on the banner and enough space on the ends to hang it up.

Once you’re done, clip the twine and hang your banner!

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I am working on teaching my kids about gratitude and how important it is to be thankful not only for the big things in our lives, but the little things too. So once our banner was hung on the wall, I grabbed a stack of sticky notes and a Sharpie and asked my kids (ages 2 and 5) what they are thankful for. Very quickly the wall was filled with amazing, heartwarming thoughts of gratitude and love (including Becca’s love for bananas). It’s on a wall in a hallway that gets a lot of traffic in our house so we will constantly be reminded of all the things we have to be thankful for. And I left the stack of sticky notes and Sharpie out so that we can continue to add to it all season long.

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I’d love to see the banners you create! If you post pictures to Instagram, be sure to use #TheFoundArtWalkGratitudeBanner

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The Little Lost Pen (and friends)

I love pens. It’s somewhat of an addiction really. I can’t go into an art supply store or even Target without perusing the pen section. There’s always a need for a new pen: the perfect white pen to write on top of a dark-colored paint, the perfect fine tip black pen to sketch on mixed media or drawing paper, the perfect shade of [insert color here]. The list is never-ending. But that’s the problem, it’s always the search for that “perfect” pen. And the search for “perfect” often times leaves us doing only that –  searching and never creating.

A few weeks ago, as I was walking into the local library, I noticed a ballpoint pen on the sidewalk. So I stopped to pick it up.

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I used to use ballpoint pens all the time when I consistently wrote in a journal. I carried a notebook with me everywhere. I wrote down everything. I had notes on napkins and scrap pieces of paper tucked into pockets and clipped onto pages with binder clips. And I always used a blue ballpoint pen. This ballpoint pen was blue, just like the ones I used to use. As I cradled this little lost pen between my fingers and gently swiped it across a piece of scratch paper to see if it still worked, I felt a sudden pang as if I had just been reunited with a best friend who I hadn’t seen in many years. I tucked the pen into my purse and promised it that we would embark on a long-overdue journey together.

I began taking pictures of the Little Lost Pen’s adventures on my Instagram account (follow the adventure using #littlelostpen). Our most notable adventure so far has been to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival where we met the owner of E & L Bindery who helped us choose a special handmade journal just for the Little Lost Pen.

It even made a guest appearance in a blog post I wrote for Artorium Emporium.

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We’ve also gone to an antique show,

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Lucy and I sketched out ideas for carving pumpkins and dressed the pen up in a washi tape costume for Halloween,

it has helped me with pages I’ve created for Get Messy Art Journal prompts,

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and most importantly, has helped me jot down ideas for this blog.

Although it has been fun to play with the idea of taking this pen on adventures, it has actually served a much greater purpose – it helped me step away from the idea of the “perfect” pen and just have fun creating. Sometimes we need to break our routine and use materials that we normally wouldn’t choose or haven’t used in a long time. For me, it was a ballpoint pen, but it could also mean using watercolors instead of acrylics or even changing the type of paper you are using. As my 5-year old daughter and I were putting away groceries one day, I mentioned to her that you can make a journal out of a paper grocery bag. She didn’t believe me. So I made us each one.

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I’ve been using mine for the NaNoJouMo art journaling challenge hosted by Dawn DeVries Sokol. I don’t typically use brown paper so it has been fun to work on the kraft paper. And I didn’t spend a ton of money of the journal so I don’t have to worry about ruining a precious book, which allows me to be a little freer with my creativity. And honestly, I’ve fallen in love with my scrappy little journal and have been collecting bags to make more once this one is complete (my favorite so far is a colorful, heavy-stock bag from Paper Source).

So my challenge to you is to find a material that you don’t typically use and try it out. Since finding the Little Lost Pen, I’ve also found a black ballpoint pen and two pencils that will begin to join our artistic adventures. I keep all of them tucked into one of my favorite little Orla Kiely cosmetic bags (I love these bags, I have a bunch of them and they are ALL full of art supplies, never makeup) in my purse along with some blank index cards and a small journal so that no matter where I am, I have supplies and a close friend to join me on my journey and keep me motivated and inspired.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Splatter

Our snowfall last week was a heavy, wet snow. Not good for anyone who had to shovel, but as it dripped from the trees, it left beautiful splatter patterns in the blanket of wet snow below.

Making splatters can be a fun and easy way to tackle a blank page. You don’t need anything fancy to create a splatter design and there are a few simple ways to do it. The easiest one is with paint, a brush and a piece of paper. It works with both watercolors and acrylics so choose whichever you prefer (you’ll need to add a little water to the acrylics to get a nice, fluid splatter).

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And you’ll want to make sure you put some paper or plastic beneath your sketchbook or journal to protect your workspace (this technique can get a little messy).

Load up your brush with paint.

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Then tap or flick the brush above the paper.

Play around with how much water you add to your paint, the distance between the brush and the paper and how hard you tap the brush because each of these will change the effect of the splatter pattern. You can use one color or mix a bunch of colorful dots across your page – keep trying different variations to see what you like the best.

Another easy way to make splatters is with spray inks. You can purchase pre-mixed paints from most art or craft stores in a variety of colors and styles (plain colors, metallic, neon, etc.).

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Or you can mix your own with tubes of either watercolor or acrylic paints (I’ve used the cheap Artist Loft tubes from Michael’s), water and a small spray bottle. I’ve seen several different recipes for the spray inks online so look around and find the one you like best. Note – if you mix your own, try a few different bottles because I’ve discovered that they all have a different spray (some are thick and gloppy and some are a fine mist).

Once you have your ink, prepare your workspace the same way you did for the brush splatters then spray your page with the ink. Again, you’ll need to play around with how far away you hold the bottle when you spray and mixing colors. But just keep spraying and have fun with it!

If you want to add another visual element to the page, place a stencil or mask on the page before you spray the ink or paint. This is a great technique if you want to create a card for a friend or just add a space to journal on your page.

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Don’t worry if you don’t have a “fancy” stencil, anything will work. Raid your desk drawer or kitchen and look for anything with holes in it that you don’t mind spraying with paint or ink (this is one of my favorite things to do and something I’ll talk about a lot).

You can even make your own by cutting out shapes from a piece of paper or cardstock. For this piece below, I simply cut out a circle from white cardstock and stuck it in place with a piece of painters tape just so that it wouldn’t move while I sprayed gold ink onto the paper.

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Then I handwrote the word “joy” into the circle with pencil and painted over it in gold acrylic paint.

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Have fun making a colorful “mess” and remember I’d love to see your creations so be sure to tag them with #TheFoundArtWalk if you post them to Instagram!

A Blank Canvas

Starting something, anything can be scary and hard – training for a race, the first day at a new school or job, or even writing an art blog. We can find a million reasons why we shouldn’t do it or find a million other things to do instead of taking that first step. Fear can be a hard thing to conquer. For months, I’ve been taking pictures, writing notes, making a spreadsheet of all the ideas I want to share and working on examples for each idea. And during that time, I’ve also talked myself out of launching the site each and every day because no one will read it, I’ll run out of ideas, it’s not unique enough, blah, blah, blah. But every time I pressed pause on my plans, I’d have a serendipitous encounter that would reignite my passion and convince me that I needed to go down this path. Sometimes I’d come across a quote that perfectly fit how I was feeling. Or I’d have a conversation with someone who was also feeling stuck and needed something to help them get going and it reminded me all over again of why I wanted to start this project in the first place.

So I found it perfectly fitting that on the day I launched the blog, we received our first real snowfall of the year and the park where Murphy and I walk was completely covered in white, transforming it into a blank canvas. It literally became that blank white page that everyone is so afraid of.

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I had been going through my list of ideas and colorful photos from this summer and fall trying to decide where to start and as soon as I walked outside, I knew exactly what to do. In fact, Murphy was my inspiration. As he happily pranced across the slushy white sidewalk, he left a perfect trail of paw prints in the snow.

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And I realized it’s as easy as that – to begin, you simply need to make a mark.

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So today, grab a piece of paper, any paper. Don’t waste time trying to find the “perfect” piece. Grab an envelope from the recycling bin and a pencil or pen (whatever is closest) and just make a mark. Any mark. Scribble in a big circle with all of your might. Or doodle a tiny flower. Pick the first shape that comes to mind and sketch it across the top of your scrap piece of paper. Just draw something, anything. Then put it down and pat yourself on the back. You’ve done it! You started! Doesn’t that feel good? Don’t let go of that feeling, we’re just getting started.

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Let’s create a collection of first marks! Use #TheFoundArtWalk when you post your work on Instagram so that we can help encourage others to take that daring first step.

Welcome to The Found Art Walk

The idea for this site began with a class I started teaching a couple of years ago through a local art group called The Artful Nook in Minneapolis, MN. The class, also called The Found Art Walk, stemmed from the idea of being stuck or not knowing where to start with an artistic project and the premise was simple – we literally walked out the door of the building and began to look for inspiration. I had prepared a sample list of things to look for, but the beauty of the class was that the more we walked, the more we pointed out to each other, and the more we stopped to listen…the more we saw. We took notes, jotted down sketches and snapped pictures and when we returned to the building, I led a series of demonstrations to show ways to incorporate all of these discoveries into our work.

The excitement was infectious and it was so inspiring to see the ideas literally bounce around the room from person to person. By the end of the class, I had another huge list of ideas to bring to the next class. Every time I prepared for the class, I realized there was always something new to see and there were always new ways to use those ideas with different materials in my art journals. I also realized, both from my own experience and through the stories from fellow creatives, that there will always be a need for tools to help us get “unstuck.”

A little bit about me

I guess I’ve always been creative/artistic, but I haven’t always “owned” those talents. As a child, I was always writing, drawing, and inventing things, but like so many others, as I got older I lost confidence in my skills and let them fall to the wayside. When I was in high school, my mom pushed me to take an art class. I will always be grateful to her for doing that because it was my first step down a very long and winding road to living a more creative life. I took many art classes while in high school, but was always frustrated with my inability to draw things “perfectly.” When I entered college, I decided on a biology major, but after two years of organic chemistry and calculus, I decided it was time to focus on something that I actually loved doing and changed my major to Writing Intensive English with a minor in fine arts.

I took photography classes because I figured you couldn’t get more “perfect” than with a photograph of something. But I quickly learned that wasn’t the case and found myself feeling stuck again. Then, for the second time in my life, my mom provided the inspiration and encouragement I needed. During a visit home one weekend, she gave me a book called “The Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon.” It changed everything for me. The book is a collection of pages from the journals of the photojournalist, Dan Eldon, who was killed alongside three other journalists in 1993 while covering the famine and unrest in Somalia. He was only 22. Dan’s story was heartbreaking, but it was also incredibly inspiring. Not only was he extremely compassionate and driven, but the pages of his journals opened my eyes to a completely new way to approach art. He tore pictures, threw ink on pages, pasted found materials all over the place and wrote on top of all of it. I had never seen anything like it. And I immediately knew I had finally found my calling as an artist. Ironically, it was the complete opposite of the “perfection” I had always wanted to attain through my art.

Not long after discovering Dan’s work, I received an emulation assignment for one of my photography classes. We were to complete a project in the style of a photographer whose work we admired. I chose Dan. For the first time, I truly felt connected to my art. I felt free, inspired and brave. And it was also the first time during a class critique that I received high praise from my classmates. I’d love to say that this experience gave me all the self-confidence and courage I needed to follow my artistic dreams and after graduation, I lived happily ever after as a successful and thriving artist. It didn’t. But sometimes we need those bumps in the road to teach us lessons that will eventually make us stronger.

After graduation, I got a job in marketing so that I could still use my creative talents, but also start to make some money. I still pursued art and writing in my free time and had a long list of ideas for creative projects that I would complete “Someday.”

Fast forward several years and a few jobs later to 2009. I was working in employment advertising and we were in a recession – not a good place to be. Inevitably, I lost my job. I knew it could happen, I just wasn’t prepared for it to happen when it did. So I began the full-time job of looking for a job. I updated my resume, started networking, applied for jobs daily and felt hopeful. After several weeks, I tweaked my resume, expanded my networking circle, and tried different search options when looking for jobs.

Nothing.

Weeks turned into months. I had a few leads, but they all fell through and my optimism began to wane. I stayed busy so that I would feel productive and useful. But as I rounded the corner into one-year of unemployment, my self-confidence began to plummet. So I turned to an old friend for help – art.

I needed a project and I had been tossing around the idea of starting a blog. In my heart, I knew I wanted to create an art blog, but during the course of my unemployment, my inner critic had grown from a nasty heckler to a menacing, snarling beast pulled straight from the scariest mythological land I could imagine. So I shoved the idea to the back of my mind and went on a walk in search of inspiration. That walk led me to a local antique show where I came across a recipe box full of old recipes, most of them handwritten. The idea of someone’s family recipes being sold off at an antique show broke my heart because they reminded me of grandmother’s recipe boxes (she had 17 of them). So I bought the box and brought it home.

As I read through all the cards, I was reminded of my own family recipes and the stories behind each one. So I started writing. I gathered ideas, jotted down notes and before I knew it, I was launching a blog named The Found Recipe Box. I shared the orphaned cards, pictures of the prepared food, and my own stories that were now attached to each recipe. The irony of this is that I was so scared to start an art blog and share my art with the world because I felt that it was not good enough, yet I started a blog based on cooking, something that is WAY outside of my comfort zone and, quite honestly, I’m not very good at. But with each recipe, I got a little better, I learned a little more and I gradually became a lot more confident. Through that project, I met some amazing people and had some incredible experiences that I never would have had had I not started the blog.

Eventually I found a job. Then I had a baby. Then I got a different job and had a second baby so I had to take a brief sabbatical from that project.  I will finish it, I am dedicated to completing every recipe in that box. But something else amazing happened during this period of turbulent change. I reconnected with my artistic side. I finally admitted to myself that I AM an artist and that I absolutely need art and creativity in my life. For me, it is an essential part of my being and one that I have denied for too long. I find it sad and ironic that we can be instilled with such an amazing and powerful gift, yet at the same time possess something as destructive as an inner critic that squashes and silences our gifts. And recently, I have had many conversations with people who have had these very same experiences and have either given up their craft entirely or are trying to hold on, but are worn down from the fight with that cruel inner voice. And so, because of my experiences, because of those conversations, because I know there are so many others out there like me who need art, but don’t know where to start, I am mustering up all the courage I have to silence my own inner critic and start the art blog I began dreaming of many years ago. But, like I said, sometimes we need those bumps in the road and I know that I wouldn’t be who I am today and this blog wouldn’t be what I hope it will become without those years of uncertainty and change.

And with that, I say welcome to The Found Art Walk! I am so excited that you are here. My goals for this project are simple:

  1. Provide inspiration for a place to start with your art
  2. Inspire you to see the hidden beauty in the world around us – even in the most unsuspecting places
  3. Provide support for recovering perfectionists like myself
  4. Share some of my favorite tools and sources of inspiration
  5. Create a creative community based on support, encouragement and inspiration

Every weekday morning, after I drop my girls off at daycare, my dog, Murphy, and I take a walk. And every morning we find the most incredible things – simple things – that inspire me to doodle, collage, paint, or write. I have been collecting pictures, sketches and prompts from our adventures and from the classes I have taught, and I will share those here with you. I typically work in an art journal or I write, but I hope that these ideas inspire you no matter what artistic medium you use to create your art. So put on your shoes, grab a journal or a  sketchbook and let’s take a walk in search of inspiration!

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