Creativity, Collaboration and Control

Anyone who  teaches art at the elementary level,  knows that working with young children on a group art piece is a little (ok, a lot) like herding cats. It's taxing, but it's not impossible. And, If it goes even close to plan, the takeaway can be an incredibly enriching and valuable experience, on so many levels!
Eric Carle Inspired Paper Quilt / Kindergarten Collaborative Project  - Colors of Long Island Exhibit 2008
I did quite a few group projects during my time teaching. My policy was always to just give them some parameters to work with, but never do it for them. I'm proud to say that the children's work you see here (minus drawing a large 20 x20 some odd inch rectangle for the kindergartners to glue their quilt blocks in and laminating the 2nd and 3rd graders pattern shapes after they made them)  is totally kid designed, arranged and assembled! 

3D Pattern Sculpture / 2nd and 3rd Grade Collaborative Project - Colors of Long Island Exhibit 2009

Once we got past some of the bigger personalities wanting to control the ENTIRE outcome, the kids eventually realized that working together could actually be fun and result in beautiful art. But more importantly, most of them experienced a personal growth and creative evolution, that could not have taken place without having participated in that type of exercise. If you're open to the experience, the same thing can happen as an adult.

Chihuly Inspired Sculpture / 4th and 5th grade Collaborative Project - Colors of Long Island Exhibit 2010

  In my own artistic journey, I find myself constantly  trying to prevent creative brain-drain,  from juggling my home and family obligations, with my somewhat reclusive work life of art deadlines, proposals, submissions, marketing and keeping an active social media presence (still working on that part!).  I do try to step outside my little box of isolation to re-charge from time to time, temporarily removing my self-imposed boundaries and release a bit of control over the way I normally experience my day.

Time for Another Cup of Tea! - A sketchbook sneak-peek - watercolor/micron botanical and gel pen/white and black ink doodling

I try to sketch, play with different  media, participate in workshops and go to creative events as much as time (and my pocketbook ) will allow.  One medium I love to play around with, is fabric... and I even sew some of it together occasionally too! (my fellow textile "aficionados" will appreciate that statement)

My Stash - A Little Tula Love - Tula Pink/ Free Spirit Fabrics

In a recent effort to stretch my creative self, I signed up for a quilting "round robin" through a local fabric shop.  In a nutshell, each participant provides a large, pre-sewn  block design and a few yards of coordinating fabric. The package gets passed around to three random people over the course of three or four months, who then put their own creative stamp on your project, by adding a new border to it each time. 

My Very First Improv Block - Workshop with Sherri Lynne Wood - Quilt-Con 2015

Now...handing over a sizable (and fairly expensive) pile of treasured textiles to strangers, that may not share your quilting aesthetic  and you have no say in what they do to your initial contribution, is not all that easy...BUT, once you hand in your package, like it or not, you are forced give up any control you might have had on the outcome. While I like to look at fabric as another medium to create art with, most of the participants were more traditional quilters. I made peace with that, took a page from my former students collaborative experience and "Let it go"(sorry, had to)!

Round Robin Quilting - Addition of 1st Border

 I handed over my very first attempt at improvisational piecing, to three ladies that had never done improv either and the results were actually kind of great! They each seemed to be inspired by my first block, embraced the challenge, took a creative leap of faith and jumped right in. They also had to give up controlling every size, shape, placement and color that you normally do in traditional quilting, but they learned something new that they might never have tried otherwise, and most importantly, they said they had fun because, they allowed themselves the freedom to just play!

Round Robin Quilting - Addition of 2nd  Border

For me, giving up control of the outcome and seeing what was returned, left me inspired by their creative fearlessness and gave me a tremendous amount of creative information to take forward (not to mention a pretty neat quilt top!). I'm certain what I learned, will show up in future fabric projects and maybe even inform my illustrative work as never know. 

Round Robin Quilting - Addition of 3rd Border then returned to me

What I do know for sure, is that occasionally working on a collaborative project and learning to give over that control (whether it's internal, external or both), is a great way to shake things up and keep the creative flames burning.  You never know what amazing creation one of  those new, little sparks will ignite! 


  1. Were the school project all ones you did with your students? Quite an interesting mini-journey.

  2. Yes, these were just a sampling. I did a lot of collaborative projects and group installations to get them used to working with others. I really miss teaching, but I love creating for a living too! Doing both affords me the opportunity to experience things from both sides of the desk and that will help me learn to be better at both!

  3. Wonderful blog! Those are very cool installations. What great ideas for kids you have!

  4. Thanks Pat! The kids seemed to really enjoy them and I really enjoyed watching them create. I learned from their very organic approach to what they were creating. Best part...nobody taught them to be afraid of creating yet! As I said...I really do miss teaching.

  5. Really inspirational post! Loved the works the students created, wow! and the amazing work that can be created when a collaborative project takes off. thanks ! (Diana's neighbor across the street)

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    2. Hi Lisa, thanks for commenting! I do love coordinating collaborative projects and participating in them as well. I really enjoy being witness to the very organic process of creatives bouncing ideas off of each other. It's very inspiring!