May 24, 2021

Ants = Cooperative Work + Collective Sustainability. Emergent Strategy + Zentangle Drawing = Connective Tissue

The interplay of light, shadow, wind, water and tidal currents at Crane Beach in Ipswich, Mass. were enthralling. Noting the patterns, l thought: l feel a Zentangle drawing workshop coming on. 

Fractal Life

Oh yeah. Nothing like lesson planning.  The basis of Zentangle is awareness of patterns, so I strive to connect my real world pattern observation with artistic practice.  

Human Impact

The day after the beach I noticed a human footprint on a sidewalk anthill.  Waves, ants, footprints (carbon or otherwise) led me to create a theme for the workshop based on the ideas presented in Emergent Strategy, adrienne maree brown's book that provokes to us unite, learn from the natural world (biomimicry) and create a just and healthy future for all.

Just a Start

adrienne maree brown encourages us to understand that in the way one dandelion seed can create a meadow of beauty, a single positive idea for change can spread far and wide.

Bird's Eye

Here is the collection of patterns I wound up teaching at the workshop.  Various dots within circles echo the eye of the gull.

Fountain of Hope

The morning after the workshop, I was delighted to notice a trio of ant hills that evoked the central pattern in the drawing.

What's Going On?

Then l went to photograph the ant reference in Emergent Strategy and found three more circles, circled in black, like we drew. 

Ants:  Cooperative Work.  Collective Sustainability.

No accidents!  Thank you adrienne maree brown for provoking thought.

More on the Emergent Strategy from Akpress:

Emergent StrategyShaping Change, Changing Worlds

adrienne maree brown (Author)

Inspired by Octavia Butler's explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This is a resolutely materialist “spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.

John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program that he created at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com   Instagram: @john.nordell

May 11, 2021

Draw, Bake, Repair, Fabricate... Whatever. The Act of Creating Conjures Creativity

I acknowledge my limitations as a draughtsman.  However, I am a firm believer that the act of creating, at whatever level, whether drawing, making, repairing, baking or fabricating, leads to enhanced creativity and enjoyment of life.

How did I get here?

Engaging in the creative process of refining lesson plans for teaching Zentangle workshops, I have been drawing combinations of abstract Zentangle patterns.  With my sketchbook open and pen working away, I also began a series of character drawings.

Not sure why, but I think I'm going to cry.

The pen in my hand brought me into the moment. Suddenly, out of nowhere, my characters had sentient thoughts.

I'm waiting for Pablo Picasso to paint me.

So, back to my original premise:  the act of creating fosters creativity.

Something feels wrong with one of my eyes.

I might be the only person enjoying these visual musings... but my new friends crack me up with their insights.

Bet you wish you had hair like mine.

I impress upon my students the necessity of taking risks to jump start artistic growth.  Well, I sure feel exposed and vulnerable publishing these drawings. And, when I spend time drawing, my skills increase.

Flash light person.

I hope you will join me in risk-taking and creating.

John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com  Instagram: @john.nordell

April 13, 2021

Breaking out of a Photographic Rut by Creating Art Led to a Porcupine Breakthrough

Feeling restless, like l keep taking the same pictures, seeing the same light and thinking the same thoughts. To change this up, I brought my bag of art supplies to a nearby stream.



I dipped my watercolor brush in the stream for, well, water. Also dipped it in this unnatural liquid, sometimes catching a little mud in the process.


On another day, I continued with getting tactile, moving away from the digital life. The health of getting one’s hands dirty.
 

Using pastels and dropping rocks in a stream to create ripples.

I began taking pictures as a boy 5 decades ago. Not surprising that I might find myself in a rut photographically, especially with the pandemic limiting movement and human interaction.  How many pictures can I take in my house?

Last weekend I brought my DSLR with a long lens on a hike near the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts.  I spotted an animal scampering through the woods and then it began climbing a tree.  A porcupine!

I have photographed presidents in the White House and worn a gas mask and helmet covering riots in South Korea.  However, I am so excited with this image as I have never intimately documented wildlife.  I keep pinching myself, "I photographed a porcupine!"

Perhaps taking an artistic tactile break from photography led to this breakthrough.

John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com  Instagram: @john.nordell



February 20, 2021

Redefining Boundaries: Shedding the Parenthesis of Normal Existence

Usually held at Community Yoga in Greenfield, MA, Alexander Technique teacher Lisa Harvey guided us via the Zoom portal to slow down and notice how we use our bodies.

Explaining how it is possible to become one with a tool by extending our nervous system beyond typical and limited boundaries, Lisa set us free to explore the concept.  I immediately went for my camera.  On this website's About page, the first line of text states, "I love the feel of a camera in my hand."

Eco-Friendly Packing Material

I prowled around my house for a few minutes seeking light and to merge mind, body and spirit with camera.  

Multiple Exposure of the Packing Material

Amazingly and wonderfully, for her exploration, pianist classmate Julia played a Beethoven sonata, providing a lyrical and emotive soundtrack.

Spice it Up

Minutes later we reconvened in our Zoom squares.  Amanda shared the revelatory nature of the experience as she was able to break through her trepidation of singing into a microphone.  

Intentionally and Specifically Out of Focus

Lisa encouraged us to redefine boundaries, to shed the parenthesis of our normal existence.  Look forward to our next out of this world class!

John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com  Instagram: @john.nordell

February 17, 2021

The Glory of "Mistakes"

 This image was a mistake  It should not look this good.

Bark Snow Branch

I reveled in the pre-sunset light on a ridge above Greenfield, MA.  I thought my camera was set for automatic exposure when I captured the multiple exposure above, layering three shots on top of each other in the camera.  However, since the camera was actually set to determine the exposure manually, technically some of the layers were underexposed, which happily allowed for a smooth blending of textures.

I am Light

I later captured the same three subjects with the proper exposure. However, unlike my "accident", the result looked like mush. Running the file through a serious Photoshop filter fortunately made for this pleasing result:

Black Sheep
The image below records my footsteps as I captured the images.

Photographicus Americanus Tracks
I teach the Zentangle method of drawing. We use special pencils that have no eraser,  a physical reminder that there are no mistakes. Life does not come with an eraser.

Perhaps this spiritual artistic training allowed me to continue reveling and creating, rather than berating myself for making an "error".

John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com   Instagram: @john.nordell

January 30, 2021

A Beach in Winter - Probing for Essence

Sand whipped off the beach at Sandy Point Reservation at the tip of Plum Island in Ipswich, MA.  The brilliant blustery January day enlivened my mind, body and creative spirit.

Surf's Up

Listening to my gut brain in post production, these two photos beckoned to be joined in a diptych.

Taking Off

With my Reality-Based Abstractions, I often take a "sketch" photo before combining multiple exposures to capture a multilayered view of reality, a process akin to a painter drawing before getting out the oils.  With the sketch, I check exposure and lighting conditions.

Sketch - Better Than the Final

With the image above, I wanted to show a lost lobster trap in situ, before treating it with multiple exposures.  However, in this case, I like the sketch better than the final product.

Vision Not Realized

Waiting for liftoff: I stalked this bird as it poked around barnacled rocks exposed by the tide.

Homage to Koudelka

Driving to the beach I had listened to Jaymi Heimbuch's podcast on 6 Surprising Resolutions for Conservation Photographers. She extolled the importance of capturing a moment that evokes an emotional response in a viewer over perfectionist technical striving.  Her idea emboldened me to try my hand at bird photography.

John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com  Instagram: @john.nordell

November 25, 2020

"... and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."  - Henry David Thoreau, from his book, Walden; or, Life in the Woods

Daytime Fireworks



My 1.5 hours spent yesterday at Walden Pond pales in comparison with the two years Thoreau spent living there writing the journals he later distilled into a book.  However, in my own way I strive to emulate Thoreau and go the woods to "...front only the essential facts of life."

Pining for Life

Sometimes I have a camera with me when exploring the natural world.  Taking pictures brings me into the moment of living and helps me to "...see if I could not learn what it (the woods) had to teach..."

Impression of Woods
With these first three images, I used a Nikon D200 DSLR camera which allowed me to control the look of the explorations, whether layering frames via in-camera multiple-exposures, adjusting the aperture to control depth of field, or choosing a slow shutter speed and then swiping my camera through the air during the exposure.  The following images were captured with an iPhone.

Thoreau with a Replica of his Cabin - The Original Tiny House

Using a fully featured digital camera (DSLR) contrasts sharply with snapping iPhone shots.  There are pros and cons.  On the plus side, the DSLR allows for the control and variation demonstrated above.  However, the camera is bulky.  It does not fit in your pocket.

The iPhone rests in my pocket, ready in seconds to capture fleeting moments.  Nothing to adjust.  It is easy to hold in one hand while taking pictures.  I love to touch history and an iPhone easily allows for this process.

That Way

To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy. This catch phrase from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey often finds its place in my morning goals.

Following Thoreau's breadcrumbs to Walden Pond on a digitally mediated visit helped me define to live. "... and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."  I want to live.

John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at CreateLookEnjoy.com  Instagram: @john.nordell