Fearless Creativity

Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO, has presented a terrific TED Talk on the topic of creativity and play. He opens his presentation with an exercise from Bob McKim, creativity researcher and leader of the Stanford Design Program. Tim asks his audience to pick up their pen and paper and sketch the person sitting next to them. There are giggles from the audience before they even start to draw.

When he tells them to put their paper down after thirty seconds, the audience reacts just as we would expect. They laugh. They are embarrassed.  And they apologize for themselves! Every time he’s had an audience perform that exercise they reacted the same way.

As adults many of us fear the judgement of our peers. When I did my Go Play Project in 2012, the most common comment I heard from friends was “I could never do anything like that.”

My goal was to learn and perform as many pieces in one year as I could. Once I got over the fear of posting these recordings “in the raw” I became more adventurous in my choice of repertoire. I learned new pieces quickly, sometimes only hours before turning on the recorder.

But, surprisingly, the real benefit of that Project, was finally finding the courage to step away from the piano bench and explore avenues of creativity – writing and drawing.

Tim talks about how many businesses are beginning to realize the importance of play, trust, and friendship in the workplace. A sense of trust and relaxation in the workplace encourages the employees to think creatively without fear of judgement.

Let’s use our Go Play Projects to create fearlessly and find out what happens when that creativity spills out into other areas of our lives. I’d love to hear from you about your next Go Play Project!


Risk and Play

As a kid I remember how much fun I had exploring the partially built houses in our development. After the construction workers left for the day my best friend and I would climb over boards and cinder blocks to play house. Around that time my younger brothers and their friends would go on “hikes” through the fields and and along the railroad tracks next to the river. They were just little kids but they came home with stories of snakes and such. My husband tells me about the how he wandered the city at age ten, alone.

The Land is a playground unlike any other. Located in North Wales, this patch of land looks like it could be a trash heap. With piles of tires, old mattresses, puddles, and wooden pallets it is heaven to the exploring child. How things have changed that in this day of micromanaging our children, we have to build such a lot where children are free to engage in risky play.

Peter Gray, author of the blog “Freedom to Learn” has written extensively about risky play. He says we adults do a great disservice to children by managing their play.

We deprive children of free, risky play, ostensibly to protect them from danger, but in the process we set them up for mental breakdowns.  Children are designed by nature to teach themselves emotional resilience by playing in risky, emotion-inducing ways.  In the long run, we endanger them far more by preventing such play than by allowing it. And, we deprive them of fun.

Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education at Queen Maud University College in Trondheim identifies the most important element of risky play is “exploring alone.” As adults we can recapture that sense of adventure by taking on our own projects.

I don’t think I’ll be exploring any construction sites, but I can pick out a new box of charcoal and a big pad of newsprint. I can scribble or copy or draw from life. It can get messy. Is it risky? Sure it is…. but that’s the topic of another blog post.

Go Play Then and Now (Day 9)

The original “Go Play Project” was meant to be taken literally:

As in Go Play the piano.

My intention was to get over my fear of “not being good enough” and get rid of a sort of self-indulgent perfectionism that comes from years of being told that your work is never done. There would always be that finger that thumped a little to loudly at the end of a phrase or that introspective moment that wasn’t quite ethereal enough, or the octave passage that was ever so slightly labored. By recording one piece a week for a year I was determined to just “put it out there” warts and all. Some pieces were more polished but others were fresh and less than perfect. I suppose I was trying to capture the spontaneity that comes naturally to those lucky enough to be comfortable with the art of improvisation. .

One of the unexpected consequences was that I began to feel a little bit braver about other creative endeavors.

The idea for this month’s Go Play Project came to me out of the blue. I am not an artist. I’ve never doodled. I’m not crafty. As a kid I don’t remember coloring books. So of course I was surprised that I found myself drooling over paper and charcoal at A.C. Moore. I really don’t know what made me turn the corner on this and declare that this August was the month I’d start drawing, but whatever it was, it’s working and I’m having a blast.

With some coaching from my kids (two of them are art students) and some paper and charcoal  from A.C. Moore, I’m starting to feel at home with getting messy and drawing quickly to meet the daily deadline.

So here is Day 9: my first attempt at 15-second gesture drawing.  I captured my daughter in this pose.

Gesture Drawing

Gesture Drawing

Go Play Drawing Project

I’ve been doing my sketches in the evening… tonight I just started drawing the lamp that was in my line of site. It was tricky because every time I changed position I got a slightly different view of the lamp shade.

Here’s a photo from the angle I drew it:



And here’s my sketch:

lamp2Tonight I decided I’d rather draw portraits. Not that they’re easier…just more interesting.

Go Play Drawing Project

It’s only Day 4 of my foray into drawing and I can already feel old habits starting to crumble. I tried an exercise my daughter learned in her art lessons and by the third sketch I started really seeing what was in front of me and not just what was in my mind’s eye. I suppose this is similar to playing the piano when you’re really “listening” to your music rather than just assuming that you’re producing the sounds you hear in your head.

Using my daughter as a model… I first did this quick (30 second) sketch of her with charcoal pencil.

Quick Sketch

Quick Sketch

Then I drew her in the same position without lifting my pencil from the paper. For this sketch I was looking back and forth from her to my drawing pad.

One line drawing

One line drawing

Finally I took the plunge and tried a blind contour drawing. I put the drawing pad behind my back and very slowly concentrated on drawing exactly what I saw. For that couple of minutes I was able to concentrate on all the details of her face and hand, moving my pencil as my eyes followed the line of her fingers and the shape of her mouth without looking at my drawing.

Blind Contour

Blind Contour


Care to join in? Comment below and let me know if you have any ideas for your own “Go Play Project. I guarantee you’ll be in for a surprise!

Go Play Project Day 3

Yesterday I had a lesson in perspective from my kids who are both artists. Hard to believe I made to my fifth decade without a clue about horizon line and vanishing points. I spent today’s drawing session practicing all sorts of boxes, viewing them head-on, from above and from below. I think I might be ready to draw my printer tomorrow!

Here’s a sketch from my pad for Day 3.


practicing perspective and vanishing points

Although I had some trouble understanding perspective in the abstract, I was surprised at how easy these concepts were once I put pencil to paper and I’m anxious to put this lesson into practice when I start drawing from observation.

Day 3 and I’m hooked. Part of the appeal of drawing has always been the vast assortment of art supplies to choose from. Maybe I’ll reward myself with a set of Prismacolor colored pencils when this project is finished.