Friday, April 22, 2011

Paper Strip Collages, Part 1

Today's project is a collage made using strips of scrapbook paper but really it can be any kind of paper, not just scrapbooking paper. Colorful magazine photos and wrapping paper are great to use and it's a good way to recycle/upcycle.

So here's what you'll need:

Frame mats
Scissors/Paper Cutter
Templates/Cut outs
Tag board or posterboard
Sharpie or other pen

Comments on materials and supplies:

Frame mats- I got mine at the Dollar Tree. They come two in a package for $1.00. These are standard size 8x10 with a 5x7 opening. Going with the standard sizes makes it easier to find frames if you plan to frame the finished collage.

Paper- We've already discussed, in the first paragraph, that it can be any kind of paper. Watch Michael's for sales on their scrapbook paper or ask staff, friends to bring in magazines with colorful photos (Martha Stewart, National Geographic, etc) or leftover wrapping paper.

Glue- Big fan of glue sticks. If you get purple glue sticks, which is nice because it is easy to see where the glue is applied, make sure that you get the kind that is labeled disappearing purple glue. There are some kinds that will not disappear and your project will have purple-ish smugs on it if things get messy. And when I'm doing a project, things do get messy.

Scissors- I'm just going to say it- there's a good bit of cutting in this project.
Templates/Cutouts- These are used for accent details on the outside of the mat. They are not necessary but do add a nice touch. Have your volunteers cut out basic shapes (or cut them out in the evening while watching TV, like we've all been known to do) or look for pre-cut shapes at the dollar store, craft store, teacher store. If you have a cutting machine such as a Silhouette, Cri-Cut, or Sizzix that's great too. If you have the funds, you can purchase stickers or scrapbooking embellishments but I tend not to have the budget for that sort of thing. Why are they so expensive?

Tag board/posterboard- You'll need this as the base for your project. I've been saving the tag board from our printer paper reams for years but you can also buy tagboard. Poster board is cheaper. Consider pre-cutting you tag board to the outside dimensions of your mat.

Ribbon- You can buy the narrow rolls of ribbon at Wal-Mart for 97 cents each.

A note about choices-

Over the years, I have found that sometimes, especially with folks new to crafting or with cognitive impairment, offering too many choices is not necessarily a good thing. I would suggest limiting how many choices your participants have to make. That sounds contradictory to fostering creativity doesn't it? Of course you may have craft veterans who can handle alot of choices and who have good filters for dealing with many choices, in which case go at it! But do be aware that too many choices can make it really hard to actually make a choice. We've all been there: you get the dessert menu and everything looks so delectable that you simply don't know which one would be best or right. As we get into the process of this craft, I've included some suggestions on directing choices.

OK- let's get started!

To avoid mass mayhem at the beginning of this project, consider pre-cutting your strips of paper. Get your volunteers in on this or put in a good movie at home to watch in the evening while you're cutting away. The measurements below are based upon a mat with a 5x7 opening.

Cut your paper into 1x6 inch strips. This is where a papercutter comes in really handy. I'm using scrapbook paper here but remember that anything with a pattern will work.

You want the strips to be long enough to overlap the picture opening.

Cut out a bunch of strips in a variety of papers and colors and divide them up between some plastic baskets or shallow boxes. By putting them in boxes you will contain the paper and make it easier to pass around the paper so your residents can pick out their colors. I love the creative mayhem of paper and colors all over the place but it's just too much for some of our folks. Last time I did this craft one of my ladies with early dementia just simply shut down. She put her head back, closed here eyes, and said, "I'm so tired all of a sudden."

Also consider marking the opening of the mat onto your tag board ahead of time, depending upon whether or not your residents will be able to do this. Lay the mat face down on the tag board and trace the opening with a Sharpie or marker that will be dark enough to be easily visible. Again, this is a good way to put those volunteers to work.

OK- group time. Each person will need a tag board/posterboard base, frame mat, glue stick to get started.

Pass the baskets of paper strips around and have your residents select 8 pieces of paper. They don't all need to be different but at least three different patterns is a good number. Once the papers are all jumbled up in the basket it may be hard to find two alike anyway so stress that variety is the spice of life. Keep in mind that some scrapbook paper has coordinating colors or patterns on the reverse side.

Some suggestions for assisting in choosing- different sizes of patterns work well (large flowers, small dots) as do contrasting colors and pattern types (plaids, strips, circles, flowers, text). Unless someone specifically wants a monochromatic look, encourage variety. You can also suggest picking favorite colors. Encourage your residents not to over-think their choices. There are no right or wrong choices.

Once the residents have selected their papers, begin lining them up on the tag board. Play around, experiment with different possibilities. Placing contrasting colors and patterns next to each other will make the most of the paper choices.

Once your resident has settled on a pattern, slide the strips of paper off to the side so they will remain in the desired order. You don't actually have to do the lay-out on the boards but it does provide an idea of how it will look. Lay the mat over the paper to see how it will look when matted.

Start gluing the strips onto the tag board from the bottom. Glue across the entire strip, not just the ends.

Be sure to overlap the strips. Abutting them may leave some gaps, showing the board underneath, though those can easily be covered with ribbon later.

The strips can be overlapped in a couple of ways. You can simply place one slightly on top of the previous strip, which will result in a nice orderly repeating pattern.

Or you can vary how the strips are overlapped. As seen on the left photo of this mosaic, you could place one with both edges completely over either adjacent strip. So one strip would be completely on top and others completely under the adjacent edges. That seems clear as mud to me but I'm not sure how else to explain it. You can also vary the amount of overlap, as seen on the right, so that some strips are wider looking than others.

Since the strips are overlapped that's why you need 8 strips for a 7-inch opening. Depending on how much overlap happens, you could even need more strips.

Once all of the strips are glued down, you can glue on the frame and call it a day.


You can add lengths of ribbon for visual and textural variety. The solid color of the ribbon gives the eye a brief rest from all of the colors and patterns as you look across the collage.

 When you glue the mat onto the collage, make sure to get glue all the way up to the inner and outer edges of the mat. This is where you'll be really happy you have the disappearing purple glue. It can be helpful to turn the collage over and rub it down on the back to get the mat to really stick down.

Now you add the cut-outs. I feel that because there are so many colors and patterns happening in the collage, a solid cut-out is best. Use nice shapes with clearly identifiable silhouettes.

You can combine or use more than one silhouette, but again, keep in minds that there's already alot going on within the collage, it's better to keep it simple. Here's what I mean about too many cut-outs (though I do like the little bit of extra color with the leaves):

Of course that's just my preferences. Whatever your resident artist wants to go with is what they should go with, regardless of what we think. Encouraging to consider other options and possibilities is OK but ultimately it's not our place to tell them what to do.

Consider adding words or phrases. These could be handwritten, stamped, or printed on separate pieces of paper cut out.

 OK- here are some collages that were made by "my" folks.

Be prepared for lots of surprises as your residents work on their collages. There are times when one of my folks will come out with something so unexpected that I feel like I'm getting a look at one of their secrets- somethings they knew all along but never shared before.

OK- here's what I want you to do: try this project on your own. You don't necessarily need the mat or fancy scrap book paper- just cut out colorful pictures from magazines. But do try it out. Then- stop back in a couple of days and I'll share some adaptations that can make this project more accessible for some of our folks who may have cognitive impairments. I don't want the share those here because frankly this is getting to be a long post. So stop back and we'll play some more.

Don't forget- I love your comments! Just click on the pencil below.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Do We Even Bother? Random Thoughts On Creativity

Taking Shape
Photo by Kevin Harber via Flickr

Merriam-Webster's defines creativity as "the ability to make new things or think of new ideas."

Linda Naiman of Creativity At Work describes it as the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing. I do wonder, however, if a person must both think of the new idea AND produce it in order to be creative. How many of us can picture a beautiful landscape in our mind but feel we are unable to transfer that to paper?

I once designed a sideboard for our dining room but  am not a woodworker and was totally unable to produce the actual item. Yet a local craftsman, who had no idea what I wanted until he saw my sketch, whipped that baby out in about a week. That's just a side thought but do keep it in mind as you are helping your residents work through their creativity: perhaps "the end product" will need to be a team effort.

Photo via LIFE

We can all agree that creativity involves novelty (something new) but as I've looked over various definitions of creativity I'm beginning to think that an actual definition, universally meaningful to everyone, does not exist. Webster's definition may be too simplistic for some. Naiman's by be too limiting. You are going to have to hammer out for yourself what you feel is the "best" definition of creativity, mainly because I feel that our own creativity is so personal. While it does involve creation of the new there's so much more that drives our creativity. Our creativity comes from our past experiences and exposures, our belief system, our relationships, our health and values, and our dreams, goals, and desires. Our creativity is our response to the life we have lived and hope to live. It is the expression of who we are and how we feel about ourselves. It is how we communicate our inner-most being to the world.

We've all felt the sting of having someone laugh at something we've worked on diligently and in which we felt a degree of pride. That sting is because we have invested ourselves in that project- it is part of us. No one likes to be laughed at. Never, ever, never-ever make fun of a resident's creative efforts. What we create is personal and meaningful. Oh wait- it would be a "personally meaningful" activity!

Photo by L-M-M via Flickr

Do we need to be educated or intelligent to be creative? Absolutely not! I know a woman with a developmental disability who is incredibly musical. She has her radio or CDs on all the time. She sings readily. Can she read music? No. Does she write music? Maybe, when she is singing a song quietly to herself without really thinking about it. Can she carry a tune in a bucket? Well, most of her tunes stay in the bucket but some notes occasionally splash over the side into what others might call "musical oblivion." But she loves music, has a knack for knowing good music, and has emotional responses to music. Creative.

Photo by curlsdiva via Flickr

Does the expression of our creativity- the art, the poem, the furniture, the dance, the machine, the song, the whatever- necessarily need to have value to others? Does it need to be good? Is the value in the idea? Well, I think in part the answer to that depends upon why you create and on which side of the creative product you find yourself. Do you love getting lost in the hours? Do you love the challenge and technical execution of creating? Do you want others to see it or is it enough for you alone to see it? Conversely, are you looking for a showpiece painting for your foyer with no desire whatsoever to be part of its creation? Do you seek acclaim and recognition for your collection or monetary gain by re-selling?

There are countless people in the world who create incredible works that no one else ever glimpses. Some of these items would be worth a fair sum of money, some not so much. But does the value of creativity, it's worthiness, rest strictly in a dollar value or approval of others?

Pencil Crayon Carrier
Photo by Christina Herpin via Flickr

I know a lady who labors for days over plastic canvas sculptures, using a variety of colors, yarn types, and stitches to create incredibly detailed and finely crafted dolls, carousels, mobiles, cottages and anything else you can imagine, maybe even more than you can imagine. With all due respect to those of you who love it, I personally am not a fan of plastic canvas but am able to acknowledge the artistry and technical skill of this woman's work. She gives away most of her items- the thought of selling them is ridiculous to her. On the other hand, I love me some handcrafted furniture but know a guy who cranks out the plainest, most wobbly furniture you've ever seen in your life, complete with hunting scene decals. Not my tastes, not the skill level I would pay for, but he is in his wood shop every day, building furniture, cuttin' off fingers (not kidding) and having a blast the entire time. Is he any less creative? From the perspective of process, I don't think so because I think in the long run creating should be about joy. Both of these folks take great joy in their creative work.

The Self Portrait Artist
Photo by scottnj via Flickr

Creative expression begins, first and foremost, in our soul, in the essence or who we are and how we see our place in the world. There aren't two separate classes of people in the world, the creative and the uncreative. Everyone is creative, some people just don't do anything about it or never had the opportunity, for reasons we'll look at another time. Yes, some people are more innately creative, some people have simply been exposed to more opportunities to create. Regardless of skill level, however, everyone- you, me, your residents- has something to say and need a way to say it.

Photo by toastytreat87 vis Flickr

So why should we express ourselves? Why bother to speak our souls, to flex our creative muscles, to jump in and wrestle with the creative muses? I started compiling a list of common denominators as I've read through countless writers and "experts" on the benefits of creativity. Listed below are just a few of the benefits to our residents (and ourselves) from engaging in the creative process.

Sensory stimulation.
Connection with other people.
Cognitive stimulation.
Sense of control over our world.
Conflict resolution.
Physical activity.
Improved memory.
Problem solving.

Are any of those reasons something you've ever care planned? Also, there is some exciting research being done in the area of creativity, brain health, and dementia. We'll look at that too in a later posts.

Image via China Culture Industries

As we start looking into different activities, programs, and opportunities to lead the creativity out of our residents, I would also like to keep my eye on y'all, the leaders and facilitators. And yes, the creators. We'll look at ways to develop our own creativity and, because sometimes we need it, to give ourselves a creative kick in the pants.

Image via CitizenShift

How have you seen your residents change as a result of creative pursuits? How do they talk about their creative activities? Please take a moment to share your thoughts by clicking "Comments" below. Those of you suscribing my email will need to click over to the blog to get to the "Comments" link.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Painting in Twilight

Image via ABC Arts Online

I would like to share a very poignant video with you about art and Alzheimer's in which we are introduced to a gentleman named Lester Potts who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's as he began his 70th decade. We sometimes hear about people who become suddenly and incredibly creative as they progress through dementia. There is, in fact, a particular type of dementia called frontotemporal dementia that often leads to an astounding flood of creativity as the frontal areas of the brain decline and the rear portions of the brain retain their strength and functioning longer. In the case of Alzheimer's and other types of dementia the surge of creativity often seems to come as the individual seeks ways to continue to communicate with and understand the world around them. Just as a child will frequently draw pictures about things they cannot express in words, so it is with those who are dealing with dementia as they loose the ability to communicate using words.
"Alzheimer" by slauz via devianArt

I found it especially interesting that as Mr. Potts explored and communicated through his paintings, his son also began to explore his own creativity in an effort to deal with what was happening to his father. If your facility has a dementia support group, imagine the ways that you could incorporate creative exercises into that setting as a way to help the family members of your residents cope with the changes in their loved ones.

Via Edition CNN

The video is just under 8 minutes but please take time to watch it through, preferably in a quiet place without distractions. I know, that means probably not at work, right? I really think you will be glad you did.

Thank you for visiting today. As usual, I would love to hear your thoughts- just click "Comments" below. Those of you subscribing by email will need to click over to the Greenhouse (here) to leave a comment.