A message in hands

A creative journey through art and story telling 

I am your servant,
I am your slave,
I obey your command.
And never once do I question your demand.

Food I bring and drink I serve
Often more than you deserve.

Like a clock I can change with time,
Yet unlike a clock I am able to mime.
Though words I can’t speak
I can say a lot.
Things I can feel,
Though feelings I have not!

What am I?

IMG_0385

This was the riddle I showed my class of 28 on the Monday of our school art & storytelling week.

It took a lot of logical thinking from one particular girl to finally answer the riddle correctly. She analysed every part of the riddle and justified her answer in such a beautiful and reasonable way and to everyone’s astonishment her answer of ‘a hand’ was entirely correct.

Our theme was hands and over the week I took the class on a whistle stop tour of some famous paintings, sayings and stories of hands. We began with a pair of the most famous and unfortunately commercialized hands throughout history. Albrecht Durer’s ‘Praying hands’. I story-told the famous, but untrue story of Albrecht and his brother Albert’s almost unobtainable dream to become artists and study at art school. Read here for a version of the story.

Albrecht Durer Hands or ‘The Praying Hands’

On day two we looked at our own hands and then grabbed ipads between pairs and went out into the sunny spring garden of our school and shot some gorgeous photos of our hands. The children had two tasks, first to find an intriguing natural object and photograph their partner holding that object. The second task was to get together into groups of 6 or 7 and put all their hands into interesting positions and take photographs of them. Here are just a few of the photographs the children took.

IMG_0499 IMG_0506 IMG_0497 IMG_0492 IMG_0469IMG_0373  IMG_0382 IMG_0441 IMG_0462 IMG_0308

IMG_0390

Before we looked at any art works we discussed how hands could have meaning. The children thought together in pairs and groups of all the ways they could think of that hands convey meaning. They thought of mime and sign language but strangely did not link the communication they do with their own hands on a day to day basis as part of hands having meaning. So we did some drama and acted in silence short scenarios that use hands to communicate something to someone else. The sudden upward shot of hands when something or someone is about to hit us, the outstretched hand when we want someone to give us something or help us and shaking someones hands to say hello were just some of the situations we explored.

Shaking Hands: My children,son and daughter, shaking hands, used for a buddy program for school age kids. Comments Welcome :)

I taught the children how to do what I call ‘scribble drawings’. A sure way to free anybody feeling constrained by having to get everything right. The children have not been trained in observational drawing and as a result have quite negative attitudes towards their work. Scribble drawings in pen are so free and fun that they forget the tiny details and look for the big shapes and shadows. Here are a few of their ‘scribble’ hand drawings and some foreshortened fingers.

???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????

Encouraging children to annotate their drawings, saying how they would change them what they don’t like discourages pessimism and them crossing out work. It get’s them to think in a practical way how they could improve it. The drawing below shows my favourite annotation ever! Having drawn a hand that she wasn’t too happy with, this young lady commented quite accurately that it resembled a turkey!

???????????????????????????????

We discussed the work of Kate MacDowell, in particular her sculpture titled ‘in the hand’ and we story told another beautiful folk tale from India called The answer is in your hand. The children were amazed that Kate MacDowell’s sculpture linked so much with this Indian tale and they listened entranced as I told it. Kate MacDowell ‘s sculpture is so delicate, detailed and yet sparse with it’s crisp white porcelain finish and the children found it really interesting.

Having viewed images of many artworks involving hands we discussed together what the different artists might be saying through their art works. We learnt that some artists have a hidden message behind their art work and some have a message that is more obvious (like this Sudarsan Pattnaik sand sculpture). The children talked with each other about what was important to them and decided on their own title or message that they wanted to convey through their art work. They all created punchy titles that help their message to come across. By this stage they knew that they would be creating a 3D hand sculpture later on in the week and their message would need to be reflected in their sculpture.

Two particular titles I thought were brilliant. One was ‘Nature’s Hand’, the girl whose title this was, wanted to convey her love of nature and her desire for people to help conserve and look after nature. The other was ‘Soft, gentle Mom’, this was a boy who was stuck for any ideas, yet when asked: ‘What is important to you?’ he immediately answered, ‘My mom’. He described his mom’s hands as soft and gentle and so this evolved into his title.

???????????????????????????????

Nature’s Hand

???????????????????????????????

The children have completed their 2D designs and the plaster of paris hand casts have been created. Liquid plaster of paris was poured (by adults) into gloves that the children bought in, the top was then securely sealed with a rubber band. Then we then bent the fingers very sightly and pressed into the palm of the glove to give it a realistic feel. Quickly the plaster set into the new positions and then children were able to peel the gloves off and sand off any lumps and bumps. More information about how to do this. For health and safety risk assessment. You can also make balloon sculptures in this way.

??????????????????????????????? ??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????

Below are some of our 2D designs, some children have also written about why their message is so important to them.

???????????????????????????????

Be Happy

???????????????????????????????

???????????????????????????????

Save Tigers

???????????????????????????????

Stop Pollution

???????????????????????????????

The Nature Hand

???????????????????????????????

Racism & Violence Don’t Belong in Football

???????????????????????????????

For children who have little experience drawing and sculpting, this is a nice way to bridge the gap between 2D and 3D work. The plaster hands can then be scratched into with different objects in order to create the creases and details of the hand. This must be done in a ventilated area because of the dust and goggles should be worn just as a precaution.

Our next task is to paint our 2D designs onto the plaster of paris glove/hand casts. I will post more photos of these as we get them painted. And of course, use some E600 glue to stick a couple of broke fingers back on!

Here are the some of the completed hands. We added PVA over the top of the paint to give a soft sheen and protect them a bit.

Be Happy

Be Happy

Nature's Hand

Nature’s Hand

Save the World

Save the World

Violence and Racism Don't Belong in Football

Violence and Racism Don’t Belong in Football

Help Snow Leopards

Help Snow Leopards

Soft Gentle Mum

Soft Gentle Mum

Save Animals

Save Animals

Mindful Creativity – an exploration

True creativity does not merely take the form of art, drawing, dance and all the other general creative activities that we associate with the word. In fact I have discovered that true creativity and creative thinking can happen daily to every person at any time regardless of their activity. Most activities in life can be a creative act provided that we are living at that moment in the present and not in the past or the future.

I should have been absolutely relaxed and at my full creative potential during this two week Christmas break, but instead I spent it in quiet turmoil worrying about my first day back at work, my up coming interview, what I would cook for the family tomorrow, what uniforms I should buy for the children, how short my holiday was, how I would definitely do absolutely nothing tomorrow so I’d feel like I was on holiday, and so much more. I spent much time in the future and actually missed most of the present. As a result the holiday flashed by, I hardly enjoyed it, and I feel no more prepared for my first day at work or my interview than if I had actually really done nothing but at least enjoyed it.

On top of this I have realized that this holiday was an opportunity to give my two boys some  special attention, some mindful attention, and yet that rarely happened at all. Mindful parenting, I have discovered is where a parent practices living in the present moment whilst dealing with the child in front of them. Being present at that moment with the child (without the previous ideas and criticisms held), and sustaining that attention in the present will then allow the necessary creativity to come through and the parent to deal with the situation in the best way possible.

Creativity and parenting definitely go hand in hand, I know this through experience as I think back to the few times when I was actually present in the moment. Times when I  suggested a tantalizing distraction to engage my fighting sons, or when I’ve been aware enough to sense that their excitable energies were leading to destruction and mayhem and found a creative outlet for that energy through music/percussion/art.  But the big challenge is to uphold this creative parenting and therefore this living in the present through the more stressful and tired days of my life.  I’ve come across an amazing piece of writing about mindful parenting and it suggests twelve top tips. These are taken from an interview where ‘Sarah van Gelder talks with Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn about how the Buddhist concept of mindfulness can help us to see the wholeness and beauty of our children in each moment.’

Twelve Exercises for Mindful Parenting

  1. Try to imagine the world from your child’s point of view, purposefully letting go of your own. Do this every day for at least a few moments to remind you of who this child is and what he or she faces in the world.

  2. Imagine how you appear and sound from your child’s point of view; imagine having you as a parent today, in this moment. How might this modify how you carry yourself in your body and in space, how you speak, what you say? How do you want to relate to your child in this moment?

  3. Practice seeing your children as perfect just the way they are. Work at accepting them as they are when it is hardest for you to do so.

  4. Be mindful of your expectations of your children, and consider whether they are truly in your children’s best interests. Also, be aware of how you communicate those expectations and how they affect your children.

  5. Practice altruism, putting the needs of your children above your own whenever possible. Then see if there isn’t some common ground where your needs can also be met. You may be surprised at how much overlap is possible, especially if you are patient and strive for balance.

  6. When you feel lost, or at a loss, remember to stand still. Meditate on the whole by bringing your full attention to the situation, to your child, to yourself, to the family. In doing so, you may go beyond thinking and perceive intuitively, with the whole of your being, what really needs to be done.

  7. Try embodying silent presence. Listen carefully.

  8. Learn to live with tension without losing your own balance. Practice moving into any moment, however difficult, without trying to change anything and without having to have a particular outcome occur. See what is “workable” if you are willing to trust your intuition and best instincts.

  9. Apologize to your child when you have betrayed a trust in even a little way. Apologies are healing, and they demonstrate that you see a situation more clearly, or more from your child’s point of view. But “I’m sorry” loses its meaning if we are always saying it, or if we make regret a habit.

  10. Every child is special, and every child has special needs. Each sees in an entirely unique way. Hold an image of each child in your heart. Drink in their being, wishing them well.

  11. There are very important times when we need to practice being clear and strong and unequivocal with our children. Let this come as much as possible out of awareness and generosity and discernment, rather than out of fear, self-righteousness, or the desire to control. Mindful parenting does not mean being overindulgent, neglectful, or weak; nor does it mean being rigid and controlling.

  12. The greatest gift you can give your child is your self. This means that part of your work as a parent is to keep growing in self-knowledge and in awareness. We have to be grounded in the present moment to share what is deepest and best in ourselves.

The above twelve steps are taken from here, they were written by Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn and are part of their book called Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting.

Well I’ve spent the last day of my holiday practicing mindfulness, really listening to my children instead of hearing their words but with my mind on other things. It was not always easy to break the habit but it was made easier by the energy of the strong intention I made to practice it. And despite an ill child with a roaring temperature, preparation of school uniforms, making packed lunches, the prospect of the school run and an early morning start I did actually enjoy the day and am not suffering from Sunday blues.

Living in the moment allowed me the space to see certain negative things that I do with the children which I was previously unaware of, I also saw how I treat them differently and how in this particular case it put a lot of pressure upon one of their little shoulders.  To see this and create a new behavior pattern within myself is an important aspect of True creativity. I have come to understand that the urge to create has many more positive uses than simply to make a piece of art work. The creative force can be used throughout every day life whether it be making and presenting beautiful food, redecorating the house, creative parenting, creativity with one’s partner, creativity at work, or creating new and better behaviors.

So why do I avoid living in the now, the present moment. Fear of boredom, the idea that if I don’t think about all the things I need to do then I will forget them, resentment at having to do something constantly for others-where’s time for ME? The idea that I’ll do this thing for you physically but at least I’ve still got my mind to think about whatever I want. Weather all these ideas are foolish I have yet to explore but I’m determined to find out over the next few months. Exactly how I will improve my terrible memory I do not know but perhaps being mindful will help, a big challenge will be to combat boredom.  As for ‘Me’ time, well Exercise no 5 ( above) has put me in my place!

The re discovery of mindfulness is quite exciting for me as it puts creativity at the centre of everything I do resulting in less resentfulness at all the other daily chores and activities that take me away from my art work. How easy will it be to be mindful when the exhaustion of the school term is at its hight I cannot say but I can only try to me mindful even if it is of my own tiredness.

A painting, dance, sculpture, music are all evidence of a creative act but they are only part of the process of creativity. True Creativity has infinite expressions and can be used and expressed at any moment in a person’s life and is accessible when they are living in the moment. Therefore Mindful Creativity is a way of life, a way of being and doing that is far beyond the small remit of a visual or performing artist. I wish to conclude with my favorite  quote, the words of the wise old tortoise in Kung Fu Panda who says

‘You are too concerned about what was and what will be. There is a saying: yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the “present.” Share this quote

Writings on the source of creativity

Inspirations

Snippets from the Radio, sound waves with meaning,

A smell and the memory of some past feeling.

The heart rate quickens, thoughts start racing,

Images and flashes from the depths come rushing.

Parts of your voice come filtering through, a tapestry of threads,

The warp and weft of your voice and my Muse weaving in and between,

This energy, a force from the deep unseen.

I cannot escape these creative jaws,

Like the mouse in a cat’s playful paws,

I am taken and captured,

Tossed, yet enraptured

At this beauteous state, so instinctive and free

A drop from the ocean of True creativity.

What then will become of it when the moment is gone?

Will it become sullied, tainted with ego?

Who’s idea was it? Not mine, I’m sure

As it was I who waited and watched it mature.

From inspiration to imagination,

Thought form to manifestation,

The process changes as I now take part

In the physical making of what they call Art.

But in fact it is all and act,

A masquerade acted by a fool

Who’s caught up by artistic drool.

A creator who has lost their purpose

And remains trapped upon the surface.

Snippets from the radio, sound waves with meaning

A smell, and the memory of some past feeling.

The heart rate quickens, thoughts start racing

Images and flashes from the depths come rushing.

Anonymous

Sonnet XXXVIII

How can my Muse want subject to invent,

While thou dost breathe, that pour’st into my verse

Thine own sweet argument, too excellent

For every vulgar paper to rehearse?

O! give thyself the thanks, if aught in me

Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;

For who’s so dumb that cannot write to thee,

When thou thyself dost give invention light?

Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth

Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;

And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth

Eternal numbers to outlive long date.

If my slight Muse do please these curious days,

The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.

William Shakespeare