Four Creative Thinkers to Follow

Since I started this blog I’ve been following a lot of cultural thinkers through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, and I’ve come across some incredible leaders who have changed the way that I look at the world. This list is a small sampling of who I’m paying attention to (mainly the result of time limitations…babies can only play by themselves for so long) so I welcome you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and see more of the people that I follow.

I’d also love to know…who do you think should be on this list?

Happy reading!


Gever Tulley, Tinkering School:!/gever

His Twitter Page: i make stuff – http://gevertulley.com

Why you should follow him: Tulley is the visionary behind Tinkering School, a place where “children can build anything, and through building, learn anything.” He’s opening a new school this fall in San Francisco called Brightworks, where “students explore an idea from multiple perspectives with the help of real-world experts, tools, and experiences, collaborate on projects driven by their curiosity, and share their findings with the world.” If I could justify the drive, I would be over-the-moon if my kids attended this school. He also wrote a book called Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). What’s not to like? Tulley explains Tinkering School here in about four minutes.


Maria Popova, Brain Picker:!/brainpicker

Her Twitter Page: Maria Popova, Brooklyn, NY. Interestingness curator and semi-secret geek obsessed combinatorial creativity. Editor of Brain Pickings. Bylines for @WiredUK @TheAtlantic @DesignObserver

Why you should follow her: Brain Pickings is a well-curated blog of all sorts of interesting ideas from the worlds of design, science, psychology, art, you name it! From her blog (because it’s hard to classify this one): “Brain Pickings is a discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.” You just never know what you’ll find there, but you know it will always be good. Maria also writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and tweets all the gosh darned time. Just look at her profile picture — she’s out there, finding the best of the best for you and me to devour. For example, check out this recent article from The Atlantic:A round-the-world tour of children’s bedrooms. So freakin’ interesting! She also has a popular Facebook page.


Sir Ken Robinson, Author:!/SirKenRobinson

His Twitter Page: Sir Ken Robinson, Los Angeles, CA.

Why you should follow him: Sir Ken comes from the world of arts education, and has grown to become one of the most forward-thinking leaders in the realm of creativity. He wrote Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative and The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, which I’m reading right now. Not only is his writing friendly and approachable, but he’s also a riot to listen to. The word “brilliant” barely begins to describe him, and you’ll want to know what he knows. If you haven’t already heard of Sir Ken Robinson, watch this video and you’re sure to become his newest fan.


Nina Simon, Museum Director:!/ninaksimon

Her Twitter Page: I design participatory, interactive, slightly strange museum exhibits all over the place.
Why you should follow her: Nina runs a blog called Museum 2.0, where she talks about participatory museum experiences and making cultural institutions more relevant (and less stodgy) spaces. She wrote a book on the same topic called The Participatory Museum. In a world full of buttoned up museums, Nina’s voice stands out as controversial. She’s been bucking the system as a consultant to museums, and now she’s running her own show as the ED of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. In this recent post, Nina writes about a newly installed Creativity Lounge where visitors can look at art WHILE assembling a jigsaw puzzle. This leaves the artist feeling like her work is compromised, but the museum’s visitors love it. Follow her for big thinking on breaking down traditions that may be holding on for the wrong reasons.


Who would you like to see added to this list, and why?

Taped Trees from Observation

My older daughter, 3 year old N, likes to look through my library or “read” blogs with me and pick out activities for us to work on. I love it when this happens because then she’s self-motivated to work on a project, it supports my philosophy of educating children through an emergent curriculum, and cuts back on those “failed” activities. I was doing some research for a project I’m working on and stumbled upon a British early childhood education site when N spotted this activity (I want to give credit, but the link was lost). This is a wonderful exercise in observation and it doesn’t require a lot of materials or set-up…my kind of project!


We began by looking at a tree outside the window to observe and discuss the lines and scale of the trunk and branches. I loved how N’s eyes continuously darted back and forth between the tree and her paper. I suggested that she start with the trunk, so she chose black tape to make two vertical lines. I thought she might be representing the width of the trunk in relation to the branches, but I asked her about it before jumping to conclusions.

She responded that there were actually *three* trunks and still had one more tape stripe to make. Our little tree is propped up with support posts — she was so observant!

Her eyes moved back to the tree so she could take in the branches and leaves. At this point we went outside to get a closer look before returning indoors.

She added leaves in a bounty of colors, saying, “I bet you’ve never seen PURPLE leaves before!” As an aside, we went to the plant store later that week and bought a plant with purple leaves. She was impressed.

This project worked especially well with my daughter because she was able to articulate an image of a tree without having to draw one (something she’s not yet able to do). And it would be an appropriate project for older children as well.

Do your kids like to play with tape too? What kind of tape do you like to use?

Slide Drawing

My daughter loooooves going to the park and we’re blessed to live in a place that’s teeming with them! So it didn’t take much convincing or prodding to get her excited about setting up this high-energy mark-making activity with me. The juxtaposition of art materials on playground equipment made for a rich, memorable experience, and prompted her to see things from our everyday experiences in a new light.

We gathered our materials — roll of paper ($5 at IKEA, I also spotted this Melissa & Doug Easel Paper Roll for $6.95), crayons, and masking tape — and moseyed over to the park for some Slide Drawing!

There were a couple of other kids at the park, and we waited for them to move toward the sandbox before I covered a slide in a long sheet of paper. N took her crayons to the top and tested them out…a crayon in each hand. I have to admit that I was nervous about monopolizing a slide, so I tried to work quickly and keep a low profile. It reminded me of a when I helped a street artist on a very fun, clandestine night, way back when, with a bucket, brush, wheat paste, and large stack of posters in hand.

The children in the park were curious about what we were up to, so we invited them to join us. It turned out they were more interested in chit-chatting and provoking us than drawing, but having an audience is also an experience. Yay for performance art!

My daughter could have done this all afternoon, but the other kids wanted to use the slide so we wrapped up shop and we’ll return again for more soon. Maybe tomorrow!

Would you try slide drawing?

This post is shared on It’s Playtime

Face Collage for Scribblers

When I was an art teacher, the youngest age group I worked with was Kindergarten so I rarely had the chance to witness a child’s transition from scribbling to representational drawing. My three year old daughter is at the precipice of representational drawing and it’s an exciting place to be, but she can get frustrated that she can’t create what she imagines (which is often!) and frequently asks me to draw things for her. This can be tricky because it goes against my belief that children should find their own way with visual representation and I’m often reluctant to draw things for her.

This project was born from a need to manifest her vision while also matching her abilities, and would be appropriate for children on the verge of creating representational drawings as well as those who draw realistically. Links to information about stages of artistic development at the end of this post.

I cut circles, rectangles, half circles, and some organic shapes from colorful recycled pantry boxes and spread them out on the table for my daughter to choose from. N chose a light blue oval for the face shape (also pre-cut), glued it to a 9 x 12 sheet of paper, and selected pieces to represent the parts of the face.

Facilitating and Asking Questions

I acted as a facilitator and if she seemed stumped I would ask questions such as, “What part of the face is next to the eyes?” “Ears? Okay, can you find a shape that could be an ear?”

I tried not to guide her decision-making and made room for her to adhere the pieces in the way she envisioned it, even if I didn’t think it was “accurate.”

She added the eyes (on top), nose, ears, orange cheeks, a mouth, and an aluminum foil philtrum (the area between the mouth and nose!). Did you know it’s called a philtrum? I didn’t!! I thought she was adding a mustache on top, but she explained that it was just a ribbon! Always ask before making assumptions!

She wanted to make curl the ribbon into a circle and I helped her glue it together. I enjoyed watching her vacillate between reality and imagination in one sitting.

When she finished the first picture she moved on to the next one (after a costume change, of course!), and this time it was all about the imagination — no faces involved!


  • For more on the developmental stages of children’s drawings, Viktor Lowenfeld is the last word on this topic and you’ll learn a lot about it here.
  • For even more from Viktor Lowenfeld, you could read this seminal book from him: Creative and Mental Growth. I just bought a used copy for myself for just $7!

How did your children make the transition from scribbles to representational drawing?

Drawing Under the Table

I placed a large sheet of paper and a bucket of markers under my daughter’s art table, and left it there with the hope that she’d discover it and fall in love with the idea of drawing in this unlikely art-making location. In reality, I had to lure her to the spot, provoke her with all sorts of silly comments such as, “I wonder what’s under your table?” and then suggest that she could actually draw in this spot if she wanted to.

As you can see, she humored me, but for only a handful of seconds. While this was still a good exercise in creative thinking, it wasn’t the lasting activity that I’d imagined. Well, come to think of it, most of our projects don’t sort out in the way I imagine them!

This seemed like a good provocation, but my thought is that the timing wasn’t right, I could have done a better job setting the stage, or it wasn’t her cup of tea. What do you think?

Related Activity

Here’s a fun factoid and extension for children older than mine (N is almost 3). Michelangelo spent four years on his back painting the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Four Years!! Show children pictures of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and then invite them to draw angels or any image of their choice on paper mounted underneath a table.

And please let me know how it goes — I’d love to try this again one of these days!

Glittery Cotton Ball Collage

My very active almost 3-year old hopped off her bike just long enough to work on a collage. The weather has been so nice, and I can’t really blame her.


  • Cardstock: 8.5 x 11, from a fat ream I picked up at the office supply store
  • White glue in a jar
  • Glitter
  • Scissors
  • Short-handled artist brushes
  • Collage Materials: Cotton balls, tissue paper, pasta, paint chips

She mixed the glitter and glue with a brush. Now that N’s fine motor skills are more refined, I really like these short-handled artist brushes because they enable her to paint marks as she imagines them. I think I picked them up as part of a set in the art supply section of JoAnn Fabrics. We also have a stash of fat toddler-friendly brushes, which cover large surfaces quickly in case that’s what she’s after.

She painted the glitter-glue onto the card stock.

And then she added do-dads to the glue.

A few pieces of pasta and tissue paper later and we had ourselves a beautiful child-designed glittery cotton ball collage.

Do you have a favorite collage technique?

Drawing Shadows

Today was an on-and-off sunny day, but in those brief moments of sunshine we squeezed in a quick little chalk drawing project that’s a great way to help children look at things from a new perspective, which is a key ingredient in creative thinking.

I talked to N about a plan to draw our shadows earlier in the day, and lamented that it was too cloudy to try it out. When she spotted a break in the weather she was excited to head out and unpack the shadow drawing mystery. And her butterfly wings and bike, which were all her doing, were dynamic props for the activity.

What you need

  • Sidewalk Chalk
  • A sunny Day with a low sun. 2-3 hours before or after noon would probably be a good time to try this out.

We found a good spot with relatively smooth asphalt, and I asked N to choose a color for the drawing. What is it with this child and pink?! She watched closely as I traced around her shadow, and made every effort to hold her bike steady while I captured her image. It reminded me of those wonderful old daguerreotypes, or photos, of people who sat for their portraits for 15-25 seconds! I invited N to try her hand at tracing, but she wasn’t at all interested. I think it was a bit too challenging for her (she’s 34 months). Plus, she was busy being butterfly girl on a bike. Ya know?

Other Ideas

  • Take turns drawing shadows and being traced.
  • Invite your child to dream up props as shadow enhancements (akin to N’s wings and bike).
  • Draw shadows of inanimate objects: chairs, toys, tables, etc.
  • Distort reality by tracing part of a shadow literally, and other parts abstractly.

What else could you do with Shadow Drawings?

This post was shared with Childhood 101

Art Dice

Art Dice from Tinkerlab

I’ve been saving these wooden cubes for the just the right project, and it recently occurred to me that they could be repurposed into Art Dice: a fun tool for creating some randomly generated art. Every flip of a dice becomes an opportunity to explore art vocabulary, drawing skills, color recognition, and shape identification, to name a few. If you have any spare blocks lying around, you might want to consider repurposing them into a new life as tool for art making!

For children older than mine and/or adults, these could be used to chase away writer’s or artist’s block: Simply roll the dice and draw or write about what pops up. Combine a few dice together and rise to the challenge of combining disparate ideas into a cohesive whole.

While this project comes a bit premature for my daughter, I made three dice based on the Elements of Art for us to play with: Shapes, Colors, and Lines. You could easily replace these themes with characters, places, textures, moods, architectural elements, etc.

We started with the line dice and I shared that after rolling the dice I would draw the line that randomly appeared on top . My daughter watching me do this for a few rounds of polka dots, spirals, and circles, but she didn’t make a move to jump in. Instead, she scribbled on my drawings, picked up her trusty scissors, cut the drawings into a handful of pieces, and collaged them into a picture. But this was wonderful — the dice sparked a game that led us in a new, fun direction!

She finally picked up the dice and kept rolling it until the circle showed up on top, which was what she REALLY wanted to draw all along, I suppose. And she proceeded to draw a page full of circles. Awesome!

Ideas for Game Rules:

  1. Each player has a piece of paper. Players take turns rolling the dice, and each player draws what they see after the dice roll. Decide how many times you’ll roll the dice before sharing your pictures with each other. Marvel at the similarities and differences between artworks.
  2. Players share one piece of paper. The player who rolls the dice draws their interpretation of the shape/line/color on the paper. They pass the dice to the other player who does the same. This continues for a set number of turns.
  3. Try either of the above games with more than one dice.
  4. Any other ideas? Please share!

If you like this idea, then you might also enjoy Keri Smith’s Dice walking game, as explored on The Artful Parent

Buy Art Dice

You can buy TinkerLab’s popular hand-painted art dice here.