Friday, August 5, 2016

Creativity and Community: I'm Here to Make Friends

"I'm not here to make friends, I'm here to win. " 
-Project Runway contestants. 

When contestants are making their one on one interview during these reality competition shows, this is what is said  over and over again, and frankly, I'm tired of it.  

Can't you do both? Can't you win and make friends? When you are a friendly human being, isn't that winning! 

I say yes!

I know it's a competition but there is real joy and friendship in the midst of true creativity. Creativity is community, not competition. And if you notice, the winner of these shows is usually a relatively nice guy. No one wants to give awards to assholes, no matter how creative or talented they are. 

In Ink Master, The Next Food Network Star and, yes,  Project Runway,  the asshole gets voted off sooner or later. If you're going to win, you're going to win because you are good at what you do.  You don't have to step over bodies to get the prize. 

You'll win fair and square with a few friends along the way because creativity is not competition, it's community.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sensory Friendly Art Activity: Handmade Paper

July 4th was truly Independence Day for me! It was the day I decided to liberate myself from the paper clutter in my house. So I took to my file cabinet to get rid of all unnecessary past bills, documents, and paper from 2012 and down. Yes! I even had paper from from 2002 in those dang things!

But now what? I need to shred these things and my shredder broke a long time ago.  I had an AHA! moment. I remembered two things;

1) I had recently talked about an art piece at the museum I work at, where the artist used paper pulp.

It was this work by Glen Ligon titled Self Portrait at Age Eleven. It's actually inspired by the image of Stevie Wonder on his 1977 greatest hits triple LP album “Looking Back.”
Ligon enlarged the image and used a stencil to create clustered circles of black linen pulp.

That work was fresh on my mind so I know it influenced me and 

2) We also did not have a shredder growing up so my mom would simply wet all of the documents she wanted to throw away, making it easier to rip up and then she'd put it in the garbage.  Probably not the best thing for the environment but at least no one was going to steal her identity!

So there it was, I  decided to make paper with all this stuff, instead of putting it in the recycling bag. I'm all about transformation so if I can transform all this bill paying into something beautiful, I'm all for it!

This also made for a great sensory art activity for the boys especially on a hot day, so I got them involved as well!

Here's how I did it!

 I took all the paper, put it in a bin and proceeded to rip them into the smallest pieces possible. Then I put water in the bin to soften the paper so it would be easier to rip it further.

You usually need a blender to make hand made paper, I didn't want to ruin mine by putting paper in it so I researched how to do it without a blender and found this great tutorial by Jessica Tremblay.

Dan was a bit apprehensive at first

But it didn't take him long to be ALL IN, literally! He even dunked his head in the water. He just wanted to play with the paper, he didn't help me rip.

My older son had fun too! 

You also, usually, need a metal screen, or what they call a mould, to lay the wet paper out to dry. I didn't have that either, so again, I improvised and used the top of my husband's unused fish tank that was out in the yard.  That's a metal screen right? You have to use what you have to make art, that's my motto, don't let anything stop you!

I laid the paper out on top of the fish tank screen the best I could. As you can see, the edges are irregular but I didn't mind that. 

Here's a close up of the soggy paper. I love that you can still see traces of junk mail like barcodes and text.

I then put a towel and pressed, to absorb the extra water

I also used the plastic mesh thing that I use for cleaning my printing screens. M said this looked like a map, I agree. I only put a little on this one because I didn't know if this plastic mesh thing would work. Well, it did.

This is how I dried the paper, fish tanks, shopping carts and plastic screen supplies. Very non- traditional way to make paper but I did it!  I just used what I had, you can too!

I started the process at 10 AM and by 6PM the paper was dry. It helped that it was breezy, although hot day!

Here's the final product, I love it so much!

Love the traces of text and flecks of color

The other side took the form of the screen which looks cool too.

I cut it into 4 x 4 ish squares

Just to experiment, I cut a heart out of one. I could easily make collage cards with theses.

My husband sent me an "I love you" text as I was admiring the paper so I quickly wrote "I love you too" on a test piece with a sharpie and texted him this very photo in response. I thought about the irony of it all as I sent him the picture;  the art of handmade goods and technology meeting over love. I know, I'm a little corny.

I absolutely enjoyed this process so much! It had a combination of the best elements of my life. My museum practice informing my art practice, the fact that I could incorporate my boys in the process as a sensory friendly art activity, and the possibility of making collage cards with this paper and perhaps selling them on my shop. I don't know yet but who knows!

As always, let me know what you think and if you have any ideas to simplify the process, please share!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Arts Heals: Riffing Off of this Van Gogh Quote

I am about to teach another round of the NYC Craft Entrepreneurship course. These classes always get me excited as I love to share all that I have learned in my creative entrepreneurship journey. 

The best part, though, is hearing my student's stories, how they came to crafting, and what led them to take this next step in entrepreneurship. More and more I am convinced of the power of art as a tool for healing. In light of recent events, I know that it is indeed one of the weapons we can use to  offer hope. 

Last year, I posted this Van Gogh quote on Instagram (by the way, follow me there if you like, @nelescdesigns) with a caption. I'd like to share that IG vintage post with you here, now. 

"Last night, during my craft entrepreneurship class, several people shared that they came to crafting after a traumatic experience in their lives. Creating helped them through depression and pushed them to go on. 

I have been there. I started my shop seven (now eight) years ago after my youngest son was diagnosed with autism. I know what it is to run to my sewing machine in moments of brokenness, sadness, and loneliness thinking, ' if I can only make something then I have something to show for the pain.' You would never know it but some of my creations: re-constructed t-shirts, jumpsuits, fabric cuffs,etc., have a story behind them. I am so grateful to God that I have that outlet. 

What's your outlet what's your coping mechanism? Find something that re-creates you, because sex drugs, and alcohol are so overrated"

Feel free to share some of your crafting stories in the comments! 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

New Arte Sana T-shirts

I'm so excited about this new shirt design... Arte Sana

I released a limited edition of these shirts to celebrate my 8th year in creative entrepreneurship

 "Arte Sana" means "art heals" in Spanish. But if you put the two words together, "artesana" it means artisan. 

Also available in black with white letters. 

In essence, this t-shirt embodies who I am and what art does. Art heals, I have experienced that first hand. As a mom of a special needs child, art is my therapy, and as a human being living in a world, full of ups and downs, I know that art heals.

I hope this resonates with others, if it does, check out more sizes in my shop, These are a limited edition so when I run out of them, that's it, they won't be replaced.  

Have a great day! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"We Will Try Again": On Trying to Have Nice Things When you Have a Special Needs Child.

Sorry for the dark picture.

The other day, after having a blank wall for months, Jon came home with this beautiful work of art and said 
"we will try again." 

The last couple of paintings displayed in our living room were destroyed by Dan. He either broke the frames or peeled paper or paint (depending on the work's medium) off of them. As a person who works in a museum, I felt physical pain when I saw this happen and resigned to not having any art work in the house. "I work in a museum, I can see art there", I told myself. 

The other day, a friend told me, "you must be someone who loves beautiful things." Well, I do, but I know it's difficult to keep them in tact in the house with Dan running and jumping everywhere. My house is pretty plain. I have no grand displays of art,  picture frames, or beautiful objects. 

When hubby brought this work to the house, it was like he was bringing a new baby home and I was hoping and praying  my older child did not hurt it. Art IS my baby! Don't hurt my baby! Dan needs to be taught. 

I love my husband because he refuses to give up on us having a house filled with the things we love. For me it's paintings and for him, fish tanks. He constantly asserts that  we will not play down to his autism. "Autism shmautism", he says, "he has to learn." I have to learn too. With Dan, repetition is key, and I tend to give up too fast.

I'm grateful for his persistence. If art is my baby, I need it close to me. I don't want to settle for visitation rights. 

Now hubby wants us to get a dog...hold up man! One beautiful thing at a time. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

The School Bus Matron, On Being Missed when You're Gone

This has been a tough year with Dan's school bus matron. She doesn't smile and she doesn't look me in the eyes, ever. These first two, by all means,  are not deal breakers, but she also gets extremely defensive when I ask her any question about my son. If Dan comes home without his hat, or stuffed animal, or worse, with a scratch on his face, I ask her about it! I would ask anyone who was serving as matron. But she takes it personally, as if I were accusing her of something. My son has limited language and I see the matron as one more person containing information about his school life. Information he cannot give me. 

At first I thought this miscommunication was due to language, that she wasn't understanding what I was saying, but I speak Spanish (her first language) rather fluently, and after our first heated discussion, I think we were understanding each other quite well. 

My first recourse was to complain. I called the bus company supervisor and explained how the matron aggressively responds when I simply ask a question concerning Dan. Her supervisor said she would talk to her, but it didn't make a difference. 

Then I thought, "you know what? Maybe she had a rough life, let me kill her with kindness. Let me model for her what a cordial, decent human being looks like." So I started to smile at her even more, tried to meet her gaze, tried to find any little thing to compliment her on, "oh, thank you for calling me the other day telling me you would be late." She barely looked at me and said "mmhmm." 

"What's with her?" I thought. Was she raised by wolves? Is it me? Is she happy-miss-sunshine until she gets to my block? I don't understand.

I asked my husband how she interacts with him. He said she was fine. 

I asked the babysitter. She said she was okay with her. 

Then I thought of the bus driver. He is stoned faced during our interactions. He doesn't defend her but he doesn't concur with me either.  I guess he has to ride with her and it might be awkward driving back with her if he agreed with me. Again, I reflected, "am I being an overbearing, neurotic helicopter mom? Am I going crazy here? The only thing I could surmise was that she acted this way with me because I was the only one asking questions. Again, no comprendo

Then one day, a different matron came to pick up Dan, we'll call her Betty. She was delightful from the get go. She had the biggest smile, looked me in the eye as she greeted me, and then acknowledged Dan with a loving touch to the shoulder. It was love at first site for all three of us. When Betty appeared dismounting off the school bus for the third time,  I asked the bus driver what happened to the other matron. He said the switch was just temporary, that the matron with the stinky attitude (my words) took a sick leave and would be back in a month. I couldn't hold it in any longer and blurted out how much I loved this matron, what great a job she was doing, that the other one was always so sullen and had an aggressive attitude, etc. I just let it all out, all I was feeling for the past three days. And guess what? He confirmed what I was feeling! He also must have had some pent up feelings to release because he then disclosed how miserable the other matron was, what a bad attitude she had with parents, and how wonderful it was to ride with this new matron. Finally, vindication! I wasn't crazy, someone else saw it too, he saw it too. 

There is such power in bearing witness. Knowing that someone sees what you see. Just knowing you're not crazy. 

So morning and afternoon, Betty and I would work together in the hand off of Dan; we would smile and joke, she was Julie Andrews in both Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. It was divine! And get this...I would ask her questions about Dan and she would not get defensive! She would simply say she would look into it for me, or "I don't know." That really does suffice! You don't have to know the answer, just don't give me a stank attitude about it! 

I really hoped there was nothing serious going on with the old matron but I have to admit, I secretly wished she would not come back. Seth Godin, the marketing guru,  says it succinctly, "Be missed if you're gone."  I didn't miss the former matron at all. 

Although it was no surprise, I was kind of shocked to see the gloomy matron come off the bus a month later. My only consolation was that it was almost the end of the year and soon we would have a new summer school bus matron to contend with. I would just have to ride it out for a little while longer with this cheerless matron as I mourned the loss of Betty.  

This experience, however, taught me two powerful lessons.  The first; I need to value what I feel. Although I was happy for the mutual acuerdo (mutual agreement) between the bus driver and I, I need to  trust my instincts. If no one agrees with them, they are still enough. I should not need anyone to validate them. This is a constant lesson in my life. 

The second lesson is more a reminder to myself. How am I treating people? Am I living my life in such a way that people miss me when I'm gone?  How can I continuously be more like Betty? 

Maybe the challenge is in treating this matron with grace and compassion for the remainder of the school year regardless of how she behaves. Maybe she'll miss Dan and I when we're gone and she might just learn a lesson of her own. One can hope.  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Tips on Navigating a Museum/Gallery Space with a Special Needs Child

As a museum educator with a special needs child (SNC), it is no surprise that I am interested in museum access.  During winter break I usually take my boys to at least one museum; a children's museum or an art museum with programs for special needs children. This week, however, I veered off script.

For weeks I have been wanting to catch an art show at a nearby gallery. Although this art space was not ideal for my youngest son who is on the autism spectrum, I felt that my older son would benefit from this display as it was in line with what he was learning in school. But again, this was a regular gallery, a college art gallery, a gallery that has no provisions for a special needs child so do I dare take my sensory needy, touchy feely, restless child to this kind of gallery?

I bit the bullet and did it. But not without some planning. Here are my tips on how to to enjoy a "typical museum gallery" with a special needs child like mine:

1. Keep it local

It just so happened that the exhibit I wanted to view was in my borough, this worked out great for us.  If you want to spend the day looking at art with your SNC, check out local galleries and museums. The commute is shorter, and should things go south, at least you will be close to home. 

2. Call ahead of time

I was already aware of this particular gallery's space and knew it would be a good choice for us. Calling ahead and inquiring about the gallery/museum's physical layout and what they have to offer, cuts anxiety and helps you be prepared. 

3. Choose a small gallery or museum

A smaller space might provide a sense of calm for your child and help you navigate the area better with him/her.  It also gives you a sense of completion. This helped us this week during our visit. I got to see every single art work which made me feel quite accomplished.  

4.  Early is best

Arriving at your destination earlier in the day also provides a sense of calm as there will be less people, less distractions, and less sensory overload. 

5. Put something in your child's hands

My son loves to touch EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. That's who he is. So if I take him to a place where there are objects begging to be touched, I better offer something that is as equally enticing. My son loves strings so I usually give him a string when we go out to keep his hands busy and keep him from biting himself, which is another issue. But you might also consider something textured,  one of his own paintings, a sensory toy,  anything that will keep his hands off the art work.  

6. Plan to eat afterwards

If you managed to pull this off, it's time to celebrate! I knew there was a pizza place located right across the street from the gallery so the plan was to eat there afterwards. Unfortunately I didn't follow rule number three and by the time we left the gallery, it was well into lunch time and no seats available in the restaurant. If I would have followed my own advice, and left a little earlier,  this would have worked, and been the icing on the cake. Instead, we ate at a place closer to home which turned out okay, thank God! 

I hope some of these tips can help you enjoy art with your SNC even if the museum/gallery is not as accessible as you would hope. In less than ideal situations it's always about finding a solution and enjoying time together with the ones you love.