Creative Inspiration

by Laura M.

Like many cities, Nashville is host to a multitude of creative offerings. Beautiful gardens, live music everywhere, visual art, dance, bookreadings, etc. But what’s even better is the number of opportunities to explore your own creativity. And I bet your city is like that, too (or at least I hope so!)

There are many entities that offer classes, whether they be one-offs or series. One of them, the University School of Nashville, offers one-off classes taught by alumni or parents of children who attend their school. The money you pay for the class goes towards scholarships for USN students. Now that’s a win-win!

This past Winter I signed up for 3 classes (I wanted to take 6, but was on a budget!) My favorite was a book-making class I took from these two lovely ladies, Emily Holt and Leslie Patterson-Marx at Platetone:


You can actually thank Emily for pushing me down my creativity path. She taught a book arts class for adults for a few years that was offered by Sarratt Art. That was the first time, as an adult, that I created something that I never thought I could and was proud of it. It encouraged me to try other new things I never thought I’d be good at.

At this particular class we made a simple small book:


I keep it in my purse for when I need to take notes. Super cute, huh?

The class had people of all ages and craftiness levels. Everyone was friendly and eager to make something cool. We were all so thrilled to walk away with something so easy to make, looked nifty and is practical.

I really encourage you to seek out classes like these. If you’re not in Nashville, check your local library, arts museum, JCC, university and art stores.

Here are some great places in Nashville at which you can take classes:

Gordon Jewish Community Center – I took a paper cutting class there from Kim Phillips. Such intricacy! I gave my creation to a dear friend of mine who hangs it proudly in her home.


Owl’s Hill Sanctuary – Ellen and I have taken both a painting class and a book making class there. It’s especially nice when the weather is temperate and you can sit outside under their pavilion.


Sarratt Art Studio Classes – this is the venue through which I took my first book making class with Emily. Look at all these treasures! I learned so many different binding types and was able to give many as gifts over the years.


USN Evening Classes – they offer so many kinds of classes! I’ve taken creative writing, a ‘leftovers’ cooking class, and mixed media art class. This is from the paper collage class with Beth Grubb.


Cheekwood – Probably one of my all-time favorite classes I’ve ever taken was a 6 week mixed media class taught by Cindy Birdsong at Cheekwood. Talk about creative! She has ideas and ways of making art that are so inventive and unique. Especially helpful if you’re on a budget. One of her brilliant ideas is to use spackle (yes, spackle!) to ‘build’ density, texture and dimension. I highly recommend Cindy’s classes. I made this piece as an homage to my dear friend Kelly.


Plaza Arts – I’ve taken a paper-making class here from Courtney Adair Johnson, a wonderful local artist who works with found objects and advocates for re-purposing to create art. The purple paper you see in the above painting is from the class I took with her. I took another class by Cindy at Plaza Arts. She taught us a form of art called Encaustic (see below image) where you work with wax to create an image.


There really are so many things you can learn from so many talented folks here in our fair town. What about you? What are your favorite places to take classes from? Please share your leads with us!

Update on 4/10/2016: reader Charlotte recommends art classes from Deby Dearman, some of which are held in Westhaven Resident’s Club in Franklin, TN. Thanks for the recommendation, Charlotte!


Creativity is…

(By Ellen Margulies*)

…not a question, really; just so many answers.

It’s finding the best time to create.

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It’s hitting the 3 o’clock slump when you need to focus on the writing.


It’s breaking out of your breakfast rut.

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It’s taking a walk around and around your office building to clear the cobwebs, and then walking around in the opposite direction and finding a new view.


It’s gluing coloring hammering painting tearing typing stirring draping until it looks like shit, and keeping at it until it looks good again.

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It’s finding that last-minute burst of energy you didn’t think you had left.


It’s dragging yourself upright in bed at 0-dawn-thirty because this amazing thought just struck and if you don’t get it down right now you will never remember it in the morning.

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It’s creating for the sheer joy of it, whether you’re dancing like nobody’s watching or starring in your own imaginary love story.


It’s pulling something out of your ass at the last second because DEADLINES.


It’s about being your own weird little self, even when you’re ripping off a little bit from everybody else, too.


It’s the confidence of knowing somehow, some way, you will figure this thing out.


It’s my truth.


It’s yours, too.


Creativity is an act of defiance.
—Twlya Tharp


*Most images shot by Ellen Margulies unless otherwise credited or obviously and blatantly swiped off the Internet. No copyright infringement intended.

Results from March Challenge – photo collages!!!

by Laura M.

Well guys, you did not disappoint. I tossed out a creativity challenge and you rose to the occasion! Thank you to those who took the time to pick a theme, snap a pic everyday and make a collage out of them. Please enjoy the lovely results:

Patty has a neato Facebook page called Humans of Nashville, Music City, wherein she “wants to introduce you to Nashville through pictures and stories about the people, places & things in this great city.” It’s fun for both residents and tourists. Take a second and check it out. Even better – ‘like’ her page!

Patty lives out in the country. Here is what she had to say about her collage: “I love taking the photos, and living in the middle of nowhere got me on the “country” theme.”


Personally, I love how varied the images are, yet they all represent versions of the word country.

Charlotte, who you may remember is a loyal reader and novice artist struck on a wonderful theme and expressed her feelings about the subject beautifully: “I chose clocks because I have become very aware of ‘time’ this past year! Time is a gift from God and I want to use it wisely and honor Him by having a positive impact on those around me! My goal is to learn to live in the present, enjoying those I am with and what I am doing.”

I mean, isn’t that fantastic?


Rick (I think he was the first one to subscribe to our blog) traveled to San Diego last week for a conference. An avid photographer, he took these beautiful photos on the beach:


I wish I was there, too, Rick. 🙂

Now here might be the most fun twist of my original post: photographers from all over the world (New Zealand, India, South Korea) ‘liked’ my post. I guess it was because I had used the word ‘photography’ as a tag for the post. So I checked out the blogs of people who liked my post. They were all super interesting and fun to read.

One of them, Miseol, has a really cool blog about her life in South Korea. It just so happens that she had a post in response to a different creativity challenge, also involving photographs. It’s a collection of locks and knobs. Be sure to check it out. She has a lot of interesting posts about what it’s like to live in South Korea and learn their customs (she’s from the Philippines.)

I hope this challenge made you examine your surroundings a little more closely for those who did it. And I hope those of you who didn’t do it are inspired to try it on your own!

5 creative ways to cat

For crazy cat ladies and gents, aspiring or otherwise

Some of the fun kitties from Neko Atsume.

By Ellen Margulies

I have been accused of being the crazy cat lady so often in my life that even the cats have gotten wind of it. You know how it is. As soon as you take in a cat temporarily until he can be adopted out, people with cats that need fostering come out of the woodwork. And the strays and ferals themselves must put out some sort of newsletter — they are possibly using Twitter but this as yet unconfirmed — letting everyone know about the sucker on the corner who puts out a bowl of kitty kibble for every sad puss that comes along. I’ve got 3 permanent indoor residents, and a host of changing characters outdoors who come by for a nosh and the occasionally hastily-built shelter against the elements.

A few years ago, a feral kitty I called Gypsy (for her roaming ways) had a litter of kittens under my HVAC unit one cold April morning. She moved them, one by one, to a protected nook on my roof where the porch meets the main part of the house. She and her three babies lived up there all spring. Passers-by would constantly stop and say, “Did you know you have a family of cats living on your roof?”

Why, yes, thanks, I DID know that.

When it was time for them to be weaned, Gypsy insisted each kitty follow her lead and hop down from the back of the roof onto the deck railing and then make his or her way to solid ground below. Two of them did fine. The little grey kitty, however, hung back, pathetically crying from the gutter as is two siblings and Gypsy watched, unwilling to help. I ultimately had to call a critter catcher, who nailed a humane trap to my roof until we nabbed the kitten. I put him in a dog kennel with a little litter box and some food and a comfy towel. He was terrified at first, but every time I petted him through the bars he grew more and more receptive. I named him Otis, because he was perpetually in “jail” — that’s an Andy Griffith Show reference for you youngsters out there — and by Day 3 he was so socialized that he refused to eat until I picked him up and cuddled him first. A friend of mine adopted him, and he’s happily living in West Nashville with three humans and a couple of feline siblings. (I love that they kept the name “Otis.”)

Otis the Wonder Cat, post-roof and pre-adoption./Photo by Ellen Margulies

And then just this morning, a colleague stopped by and asked, “Did you know you have a cat on your roof?” Sure enough, right in the nook where Gypsy and her first litter lived for six weeks, there was one of the little black strays I’ve been feeding. Like I said, there’s some sort of newsletter or Twitter feed happening.

So, in the end, I embrace my crazy cat ladyness and the creativity that is a necessary accessory (along with the fur on my black jeans). And you should, too — embrace your inner cat lady, no matter your gender. To keep things interesting, just in case you don’t have a cozy roof nook that all the neighborhood strays can rent out at below-market prices, here are 5 creative ways to cat, curated from all the finest sites on the Interwebs.

  1. DIY cat toys. As you may know, cats often reject the toy and go straight for the packaging. But there are ways you can engineer your own cat toys. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, you can use the term cat enrichment activities. Crazy Cat Nerd blogs about some fun items here. I also tried a few of these hacks from Buzzfeed, but my cats, being utterly useless, weren’t having it. You’d probably have better luck with the under-5 set.
  2. Let him be a catstronaut. I love this backpack so hard, even though I can’t imagine fitting one of my kitties into it without having a pint of blood on standby.
  3. There’s an app for that. Neko Atsume is my favorite new digital obsession next to Hay Day. It’s Japanese, as all truly wonderful cat things are, and it is surprisingly addictive. Put out different kinds of food, snap photos of your visitors, see who comes by and leaves you a sock or old cat toy or other gift. The kitties have names, photo albums and personalities, and yes, I know it seems perfect for a 9-year-old girl, but trust me on this.
  4. Didn’t John Mellencamp sing about felted cat houses? Felines are notorious for rejecting everything that has ever been manufactured for them in favor of the cardboard box it came in, but these are so gorgeous I don’t think you’d even care. More examples are here and here.
  5. Glade isn’t quite there yet: cat-smelling. Ok, I was not aware this was a thing. Once again, we have our friends in Japan to thank for this bizarre new accessory.  

So, what’s the point of all this, you may be wondering? Let’s circle back again to your creative itch and how you scratch it (heh heh). The opportunities are literally everywhere. Plus, doesn’t it just make you happy seeing pictures of kitties? And happiness, as you know, is quite good for stimulating creativity.

Feel free to share any of your creative cat hacks/ideas/stories in the comments below. You’re also welcome to fill us in on creative ways you care for/entertain other pets (birds, rabbits, ferrets, koalas, etc.) And I’ll keep you posted on my new crop of roof cats.

March 2016 Creativity Challenge

by Laura M.

Well friends, here we are at the start of a brand new month. It will soon be Spring…a new season. A new beginning. How about a new beginning for you? What do you think about unleashing some hidden creativity? I have a challenge I truly believe all of you can accept and will have fun with.

Here’s the deal: everyday for a span of a few days [ahem, several days. The bf recently clarified that a ‘few’ is 2-3 and anything above that is ‘several.’ But I digress…] take a photo of something based on whatever theme you choose. Objects that start with the letter A, red things, a different bird everyday…whatever tickles your fancy.

After you’ve got a collection of photos, make a collage out of them. You can use the Walgreen’s app to put one together and print your masterpiece or assemble the photos on a site like

I’ve done this exercise (for lack of a better word) before and I find it stimulating. It makes me think, makes me more aware of my surroundings and, quite, frankly, is just plain fun.

For this post, I decided to take a photograph of the doors and windows of my world. And here they are:


It was stimulating because I started to think of what these objects evoke, metaphorically speaking. The doors that lead into and out of my world, the windows through which I see the world. Who else, besides me, goes through these doors and how am I connected to them? The fragment of the earth that I see through these windows – so infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things. But as small as the scope is, it’s my world. And it’s nice to have a recording of what my world looks like at this point in my life. The doors and windows of my life in 2018 will no doubt be different. There will likely be both additions and subtractions. I’m content with what I have right now but also excited to see the changes that will surely come with time.

I remember the first time I took this photo challenge I set about to take a photo of something beautiful everyday. And isn’t that a glorious thing? Because by setting that intention of photographing something beautiful, you must seek something beautiful. And seeking out the beauty in your surroundings is tantamount to practicing gratitude. I highly recommend it.

And talk about fun! Seriously: get on Picmonkey and explore all the options! They have borders, shading, you can add text, effects…all kinds of neat stuff. I mean, look at this!


And the best part: Picmonkey is totally free and doesn’t require a login.

So go have some fun with this and then send your collages to us at We’d love to see what you come up with and hear what you think of the challenge!


Our loyal reader Charlotte S. had a great point: How do I remember to do this?

Well, Charlotte, so glad you asked because I bet a lot of other readers had the same question. Here are some suggestions:

  • set a daily reminder on your phone
  • put a post-it note on your fridge
  • write it on your calendar (if you’re old-fashioned like me and still carry a paper one)

My favorite suggestion was prompted by reader Patty A. She said “Laura – please help me remember!” And I thought, “Why not use the buddy system? ” So I texted Patty an emoji of a camera.  When she receives it, that’s her reminder to take the photo. Another option, If you want to pair up with a pal, is you could text your pal the photo that you just took. Maybe the two of you can build a collage together. The possibilities are endless!

And I figured since I was making this update that I’d go ahead and add another pass at a collage. Enjoy!

PicMonkey Collage4