“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”  

—Mary Lou Cook

This morning, I had the pleasure of attending the sixth and final South Bay Hands on Art (SBHOA) docent training of the year.

What is South Bay Hands on Art?

I won’t get into the history of it too much, as you can hop over to their website, but SBHOA is a volunteer arts education program in Redondo Beach. It was formed in the 1970s after art funding was cut from the schools as a way to ensure students were exposed to art. The program is led entirely by volunteers (like me!) and we attend training to learn six projects each year, which we in turn teach to classrooms from grades K-12. Each project combines an art history lesson (usually about a specific artist, but sometimes about an entire creative movement) with hands on art activity.

What’s so great about it?

What I love about the program, which I’ve been doing for the past five years, is that kids are exposed to all different types of art and art media, across time periods and genres and borders. In one year, kids may be exposed to watercolor, acrylics, drawing, sculpture, illustration, cut paper, or graphic design. Some of the art tends to be representational, while other art is abstract. I have learned so much in the process, and it is really fun to share those experiences with the kids.

What I also love about the program is that the kids are encouraged to take risks. I start every lesson reminding them how long it takes most professional artists to arrive at their skill level, encouraging them to be gentle with themselves and let the perfectionist go.

Time in art is to be used following directions, yes, but also: exploring the materials; learning how they work; figuring out how to respond to “mistakes” on their own, by working errors into the project, or having the patience to come back with layers… sometimes with a little guidance talking it out and allowing them to come to an artistic decision, but never taking the tools from them to “fix it” myself.  It is a different sort of problem solving than the kids get in math or science or literature studies, but the root of a skill set that will be used across subjects.

Judgments in SBHOA are thrown out the door, and that means positive and negative feedback about the quality of the work. As a docent, it’s obvious that I can’t tell a child that their drawing is ugly. That would be terrible! We all know that.

But I also can’t tell a child that their drawing is beautiful. Why? Because then every other child in the room wonders how they can make theirs look more like the praised child’s, and at the same time wonders why I haven’t stopped in front of their work with the same awed response. It also robs that praised child of their relationship to the art—from a place of creative self expression to a place of seeking validation.

When I first heard about the no compliments thing, it was hard for me to wrap my head around. But hearing the reasoning behind it, I was instantly converted. If I want to offer a compliment, I can compliment the behavior: “You’ve been a really good listener today.” “Great job respecting the materials and taking good care of our art space.”

There are always kids who ask, “Do you like mine? What do you think?”

And I just smile and turn the question back around. “Do you like it? What do you think?”

If they say yes, I say, “That’s wonderful. I’m so happy that you’re feeling good about what you’ve created today. If you liked this type of activity and might want to try it again at home, here are the materials we used. (List materials.)”

If they say no, I can ask what’s bothering them, and then help them brainstorm ways to solve the problem if it’s a perceived “mistake,” or remind them that we’ll use different materials next time if it’s an issue of the art medium or the specific project specifications. Or just affirm their frustration and say, “Sometimes I feel that way too about my art. The important thing is that if art it something you enjoy, keep at it. Eventually, you’ll develop more skills, or you might decide you prefer a different form of expression. Thank you for being open to trying this project today.”

Sculpture: Forms in Movement

Today’s lesson, which I’ll be teaching next week, was based on the art of Dame Barbara Hepworth, an abstract sculptor who produced 600 sculptures over a career spanning 50 years. She was intrigued by holes, and playing with positive and negative space in three dimensions.

The multimedia project involves wire and nylons, but the specifics are protected by the artist who adapted Hepworth’s work for the schools. Suffice it to say, the materials force you to embrace limitations and “mistakes” and just keep experimenting and moving forward until you find something that organically feels good. That is creativity right up my alley!

I was inspired most by Hepworth’s organic shapes involving holes and circles, so I wanted to incorporate that sense of space in sculpture.

Here are a few views of my nylon sculpture, taken with my iPhone:

For a 45 minute project, I have to say… I really liked this! It feels like a wave, appropriate for my So Cal beach town.

Every docent’s sculpture was massively different and unique. It will be interesting to see what the kids come up with!

P.S. A Happy Bonus!

I want to sincerely thank Karen of Profound Journey for including me in her post today, “Celebrating 14 Women Who Used to Be Strangers” … she highlights 14 blogging relationships made or strengthened through the A to Z Challenge, and has put together a really incredible list of insightful women. I am honored to be among those mentioned, and encourage you to visit her site and get to know all these lovely ladies!


Of Love + Light is a place for uplifting media, creative inspiration, art, nifty creative publications, and storytelling. I also offer editing, creativity coaching, and small business communications planning services. Founded by Alana Garrigues, Of Love + Light is your place to come, relax, feel inspired and loved, and share more of what’s good on this beautiful planet.

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“Nylon Sculpture: Art Mornings” was posted as part of the Daily Dose: Inspired series. 

Daily Dose: Inspired… Looking for a small something to get you inspired to take on the day? This is the place to come for a photo, a song, a pick-me-up quote, a little slice of happy. At least, these are the things that inspire me!