What’s the point?

By Laura M.

Here’s the thing about creative pursuits: not everyone is gonna care about them. You can record an album, write a book, or make a sculpture. But there may not be anyone on the other end who wants it. This is all well and good if you’re really only interested in the journey or don’t require external validation. If that describes you: God bless. You are so lucky.
For the rest of us, it can feel a little like we’re hollering into a black hole.

Rather discouraging, to say the least, when you get no response. But no response is not an indication of a lack of an interesting topic or dearth of talent. Sometimes it’s due to a lack of influence.

Take, for instance, the class that Ellen and I designed last summer. There’s a local community education program that allows anyone (and I mean anyone) to teach a subject to adults over a series of weeks at local community centers. We decided it would be fun to lead a class on how to tap into your best creative self. We met every week for 6 weeks to discuss the curriculum. We talked about the big idea (that everyone is inherently creative, it’s just a matter of tapping into it), researched the science behind it, and talked about different activities we could do that would inspire students. We arranged for guest speakers and made inventory lists of items we would need to supply during class. We mapped out a schedule of what would be ‘taught’ in each class and even factored in when ‘assignments’ would be due, what we’d ask students to provide on their own and what to do if students didn’t have access to the technology required. We participated in an open house where we dutifully sat at a booth with our materials and handouts and talked with potential students about our class. You get the picture here, right? You understand that we devoted a lot of time to this?

We told our friends, we posted on Facebook and Twitter. Registration opened and (did you see this coming?) NO ONE signed up. Personne (that’s French for no one.) NOBODY!

So get this: two weeks after our class was cancelled due to lack of enrollment, Elizabeth Gilbert came out with her book “Big Magic.” It’s a book about, wait for it…finding your inner creativity. In case you don’t know, Gilbert sold a gazillion copies of her book Eat, Pray, Love. It was even made into a major motion picture with Julia Roberts. So she’s kinda a big deal. This new book of hers (out last September 2015) has sold a lot of copies. I can’t find the exact figure but trust me – it’s a lot. She’s doing an online course in creativity, in conjunction with the book. Guess how many people signed up? 4,228 students.

So clearly we had a good idea but not the influence or exposure to recruit students. Lest you think I’m complaining, you need to understand that this very blog you’re reading came about because of the ‘failure’ of our course. We knew we had some good ideas and we felt like there was an audience out there comprised of people we don’t know.

Of course, this blog comes with its own set of hopes and disappointments.We’ve had some lovely responses from fellow bloggers and friends alike. But many posts are published to…crickets.


Where am I going with this? Well, I’m not soliciting SEO advice or suggestions on how to draw a bigger audience. I share my (our) experience because I think it’s what the majority of creators experience. It’s my belief that when you’re in this situation you have to figure out a way to be ok with it. And in the words of Martina McBride (and Brett and Brad Warren, her co-writers), “Do it anyway.”

So my query to fellow bloggers and creators: how do you get comfortable with creating something that potentially has no reward or audience?

P.S. I’ll admit that video makes me teary-eyed.


I shared this post via FB and I got these thoughtful responses:

from Bobby, a songwriter and poet: I just finished listening to the audio book attached here. The author talks about “creating for the sake of creating, how that has diminished in our society, and how important it is for many reasons.” His comments about “flow” and “creativity” helped me to see that much of the creative experience is just about getting into “flow”–a space where the soul is nourished, a space where the mind and the psyche can play. Many of these things I have known, but thought I was alone in my feelings. This book is like a license to be a creative person who does not have to answer to those who do not get it. Create. The opposite of that is “die.” https://www.amazon.com/Creativity…/dp/B000TG1X9C…From my experience: There are writers who thrive on being in the creative process; there are writers who live to have written. I’m the first kind. : )

from Darla, a potter and Zentangle instructor (who has her own WP blog site here): It is so hard to separate your identity from your creative endeavors. I can spend weeks developing a class, order supplies and no one signs up, then I’ll have an awesome group come in for a class and it’s amazing and makes it worth it. I guess we hang in there for the Sparks of shared experience that we are sometimes rewarded with.

from Brent Baxter, a songwriter (who also has a blog here): it always has a reward. The process itself and the joy of completion. Writing a song is fun. Yeah, I’d rather millions of people hear them than just a few, but every time I write a good song I get a good feeling

Denise, a writer, commented here on WP (see below.) Her awesome blog is here.


Art vs. Science and Creative Influencers

by Laura M.

How does art relate to modern medicine? Dr. Churchwell spoke about this to a group of community members, students, staff and faculty at Vanderbilt University last night. He challenges those who believe that art and science are mutually exclusive. Instead, he believes they can act in concert. When they come together, which can happen on an individual basis by melding the left and right brain, people end up seeing things differently. Seeing things differently can lead to innovation.

In Churchwell’s case, his right brain muscle is exercised when he illustrates and designs fashion. Here are some of his illustrations (can you tell he is influenced by Jack Kirby?):


Churchwell’s father drew pictures for him when he was a little boy and that inspired him to draw. His father also inspired an interest in clothing. Every Sunday Churchwell and his siblings would line up for inspection. His father would tell them what worked and what didn’t. Check out this article about his fashion sense. Esquire Magazine has called him one of the 50 best dressed men in America (way to represent Tennessee, Dr. C!)

Flipping to the other side of his brain, Churchwell’s left brain muscle is exercised when he does his day job of leading the Cardiology Division at Vanderbilt, helming the Diversity Affairs initiative at the School of Medicine, teaching radiology and radiological sciences and biomedical engineering.

Photo Credit: Joe Howell

Churchwell’s mentors in medicine embraced ‘whole brain’ thinking. Tom McMahon oscillated between writing fiction and his science lab. Arthur Guyton believed that adversity + imagination = discovery. So, while bound to a wheelchair due to polio, he invented the first mechanized wheelchair.

Hearing Churchwell talk about the influence of these great people on his life made me question what/who fuels my creativity/curiosity. My two favorites are Brene Brown and Tim Minchin.

Because of an ecourse I took from Brene Brown, I explored many different creative outlets, many of which I passed on before because I didn’t consider myself a creative type. Here is a nice synopsis of Brene’s take on creativity.

Tim Minchin, an Australian comedian, gave a commencement address at his alma mater that I have now watched on Youtube countless times. One of my favorite pieces of advice from his speech is to examine our own opinions. Think about that. If you examine your own opinion, it naturally opens you up to curiosity. “Why do I think/feel/believe that? How did I arrive at that decision?”

I’d love to know how you, our readers, blend left and right brain thinking. Do any of you have left brain jobs and right brain hobbies? Are you able to find time to exercise the right brain muscle? Who influences your creativity?






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!

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!

The Creativity Spectrum

By Laura M.

If you’ve read any of our blog posts here at untapped, you know that Ellen and I are both firm believers in the value of creativity. Almost every post has some element of us lobbying for readers to take on a creative endeavor. And there are many folks who hear that call and resist it, maintaining that they aren’t creative.

I’m not so naïve as to say that every person has the same level of creativity. Some people are kept up at night, composing music in their head that leads to this:

I mean, James literally can’t go to sleep sometimes because “When I close my eyes, that’s all I see. I see music. I visualize it. I’m building something.”

Other artists are able to sleep but have dreams about the subject of their paintings. Meet Lancelot:

Painter Elizabeth Wingfield says “I spent uncountable hours at my easel painting this wolf portrait. .. I dreamed I heard the mournful howl of his uncertain destiny! I had to meditate to stay relaxed and to feel the spirit of the wolf guiding me … to find the energy to keep painting all that fur.”

For these people, their creativity is central to their being. To NOT create is detrimental to their health.

But if you’re not like that, that doesn’t mean you’re not creative. If you hold yourself in comparison with people with that high level of creativity, it’s no wonder you feel a part of the ‘have not’ group. Remember: comparison is the thief of joy. You can be creative in your own right, even if it doesn’t cause sleepless nights or involve wolf dreams.

My journey in creativity has been more external. Meaning I sign up for classes and put myself in situations so that I will create. It could be as simple as saying, “I’m going to dance in my living room for 30 minutes one day of the week” or “I’m going to ad lib a meal based solely on the ingredients in my pantry and fridge – no recipe.” All this to say, I don’t think of myself as being naturally inspired as the above-mentioned people are.

And then there are folks like my friend Charlotte. She will tell you that she’s not an artist. Yet look at this beautiful painting she made!

char painting.jpg

Char Char makes her argument about not being an artist by saying that her instructor told her what colors to use and how to hold the brush, etc. But just because it’s taught to you with someone giving you step-by-step instructions doesn’t mean that the process or result isn’t creative. The act of holding your hand above the canvas and going through the motions makes it all your own. Look at any group of paintings that are the result of a Sips N Strokes class – they all look different. Because everyone holds the brush just a little bit differently, and moves it a bit slower or faster or mixes the colors a tad differently.

So there is a wide-ranging spectrum for creativity. And it’s not static. It can change throughout your lifespan.

I used to be the kind of person who claimed to not be creative. I really thought that people were either born with the creativity gene or weren’t. And I decidedly was not. But I have gone from a mindset of “I’m not creative” to “I’m a creative being.” This evolution took place over a period of years. I sought out creating art as a distraction during a difficult time in my life. And what I found was there’s something about being able to point to something tangible and say “I made that” that is immensely gratifying. Even if no one else sees it. Even if it hangs on a wall in a room that no one but you goes in.

I liked that feeling so much so that I signed up for class after class, trying different art forms. Which ultimately led to this blog.

My friend Denise, a talented writer with her own blog, has had the opposite experience:

“I feel my years of legal writing have changed what I care to write, and they have slowed my ease in doing so. Legal writing is largely formulaic, and not just the contracts. Even substantial motions tend to follow the same pattern: state the facts, state the law, apply the latter to the former, lather, rinse, repeat. This routine way of working has done a number on me. Early on, I struggled to learn the craft of legal writing, as I was trained to be a journalist, and journalistic writing has its own rules, ones very different from those involving court documents. But once I learned to do legal writing, I had trouble not doing it. A few years ago, as I sat down to attempt to tackle a huge creative writing project – a memoir about a life-long friendship – I found myself almost unable not to write in that tight structure. I struggled to find adjectives and adverbs – we lawyers don’t use those too much in our briefs and motions (as much as we’d love to). Eventually, I found a new rhythm and can now jump back and forth between the two, but not without pause. I’ll admit it: it wasn’t easy to get from there to here. Forging ahead with the memoir was the first step. I refused to quit. And, sure enough, with practice, the creative side of my brain again stirred to life. So I kept going. I began working with one of my favorite memoir writers, Wade Rouse, and at my second writing workshop, I met a woman who invited me to join her blogging group. The creativity flowed that much more freely. And that connection led to yet another: an invitation to review books for Chick Lit Central, a website run by one of my co-bloggers.”

Similarly, bestie Darla Williamson always had a creative side to her and dabbled in creative projects (everything from handmade lotions to luggage tags). A few years ago she was able to go full-tilt creative when she quit her job in corporate banking to become an art instructor and potter.

spanish roses.jpg

So, creativity can wax and wane and meet different heights. If you are at the lower end of the creativity spectrum, know that it’s not permanent. It’s a dynamic state and it’s a skill, like any other. There’s room for all of us.

How to Drive Your Imagination

by Laura M.

“Only when the brain is confronted with stimuli that it has not encountered before does it start to reorganize perception. The surest way to provoke the imagination then, is to seek out environments you have no experience with.” By Gregory Burns

How’s that for a concept? Pretty cool, huh? Ellen introduced me to it last summer and I absolutely love it.

Even small changes in your everyday routine can have a positive impact on your creative output – for instance, taking a different route to work everyday, or taking on new hobbies and activities. These changes:


  •          keep the mind sharp
  •          0pen neural pathways
  •          shake loose cobwebs

As an experiment for the blog, I decided to drive different routes than I normally take to work/run errands. Before I got behind the wheel, I drew a picture of a car on a post-it and stuck it on my dashboard:


I’ve gotta tell you: this part is a pretty critical step for me. It’s really easy to get behind the wheel and go on auto-pilot. I need a visual reminder or else I’ll totally forget. Even tonight as I was leaving work feeling exhausted, I got in the car, saw the little post-it and was like, “Oh yeah! Gotta shake things up!” So if you’re going to try this particular exercise, I highly recommend using the post-it prompt.

Here’s what I found:

I discovered ALL kinds of things by going a different way:

  • New businesses
    • Filling Station on Halcyon. This is in the popular 12 South neighborhood in Nashville. The thing is it’s off of 12th, tucked behind another building – you would likely not see it if you were on 12th.
    • There used to be this really cool cheese shop called Corrieri Fromageria on Caruthers, again, in the 12 South area. Something new is going in its place. I’m excited to see what it will be!
      • [Update: It’s a new bakery! Five Daughters. Ellen says they have the best cronut in town.]
  • Incredible view – It’s never even occurred to me to go down Ashwood, East of Belmont. But I did so and discovered it features an awesome hill at the crest of which, just as you’re approaching 12th, has an incredible view. Who knew?


  • Stained glass – I drive up and down 10th Avenue constantly and apparently drove past this church all the time and never noticed it. But when I came down Caruthers to the intersection at 10th, I got a full frontal view of it and it turns out it has amazing stained glass windows. I couldn’t see them before but seeing the building from a different angle provided this.


  • Fond memories – One of my alternative routes took me down Blair and so when I approached the intersection at 21st, I could see the old laundromat I used to go to when I first moved to town. It made me smile to think about that time in my life.


  • Reminder that waiting can be a gift – I thought I was going to be all clever and duck down an alleyway to bypass a congested intersection. I was foiled by construction – the alleyway was blocked. While I sat waiting for the light to change I remembered: sometimes waiting can be an opportunity to take a breath and relax. I’ll get there when I get there.
  • Being present – When I’m not on auto-pilot, I’m more likely to be present (and because of that, be a better driver.)

I know what you’re thinking: ok, you tried something new so how did it spark your imagination or stoke your creativity? The truth is I don’t know. This is an exercise through which you might not see immediate results or be able to draw a direct correlate. But I still think it’s worth investing time in. I tend to get a kick out of the process rather than the outcome. It’s always been that way with me. Hey, if nothing else, you might find a cool new shortcut.

Let’s be clear: I totally get that time is a precious commodity and that meandering down side roads is not something that fits in everyone’s schedule. Maybe you have a long commute from, say, Nashville to Murfreesboro and you’ve got it down to a science and don’t want to fool with it. Or maybe you’ve got kids and have to figure out how to be in 5 places at the same time. I understand this might not be a feasible exercise for everyone.

If that’s the case, maybe ask yourself “What else can I do to break up my routine?” Perhaps you go for a walk each day and have a favorite path. What you could do is reverse the route. It’s amazing how things look different when you come at them from a different angle. My friend Alecia is great about encouraging us to do this when we run together.

So, why not try it? Everyday in the next week, drive/walk/bike a different route to work or the grocery store. Then come back and post in the comments. Did you see/feel/think anything new because of it?