March 3, 2017

The Joy of Carving Out Creative Time for Myself

How do they do it?

Older Couple
How do teaching artists find time to regularly create their own art?  I finally had a day off.  In between watching La La Land (gorgeous light) and Hidden Figures (resilience), I had a 15 minute creative photographic spasm. The results here.

Likely due to the wondrous creative output of my visual and digital arts students, I found myself inspired as I worked with Lightroom, Photoshop and Topaz Adjust on these in-camera multiple exposures.

Father and Son
Up until now, I have been fairly tame as far as pushing my images to the edge with filters and extreme settings.

Sketch - Calm Before the Storm
 Above: A slice of the world before I used 3 exposures to create a fuller version of reality:


I began laughing at my self-imposed aesthetic rules.   I must always maintain my reserve.  Colors should not be too bright or garish.  How tacky!  Adjustment sliders should not be pushed to the extreme.

After Charles Sheeler (Hadley, MA Cinemark)

But today, listening to Sade, and working on these files, I broke through self-posed boundaries. Convert to a negative film look?  Add a fake filed out enlarger negative carrier frame?  Why not?  So what if I draw attention to the technique?

Sketch - Raw Material

Above:  Before.  Below: Four exposures later.

Open Air

Speaking of aesthetic rules, on Instagram (@professornordell), I never use filters.  Probably has to do with my photojournalistic roots.

Would love to hear from any teaching artists out there how they fit in their creative work with the demands of teaching.

Professor 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  

October 15, 2016

"Pop Life" Exhibited Online and In a Gallery

This is an in-camera multiple exposure.  The Cubist painters inspire me to utilize multiple views simultaneously to portray a subject’s essence.  Shortly after the musician Prince died, I created this piece.  The bright colors evoked his song Pop Life.  I borrowed the title in tribute.

Pop Life
I donated a print of Pop Life to the In-Sight Photography Project (Brattleboro, VT), for the non-profit's annual benefit auction.  The organization provides photography classes to youth on a sliding scale. I invite you to bid on my image and support a good cause.  Bidding ends on October 30, 2016.

Photo by Katie Kohnfelder, In-Sight's Site Manager  
The image is also included in the 2016 National Art Education Association Member Exhibition Online Gallery.

The Best Way to Learn is to Teach - Stephen Covey

Without art, we have no culture. Without culture, we are not fully human.

Professor 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  Instagram: @professornordell

August 22, 2016

(d)evolution: Questioning Progress: Is Technology Your Servant, or Master?

"Remember, technology is a great servant, but a terrible master."
- Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Don't get me wrong, I love digital technology.  The pixel revolution transformed how I photograph and propelled me to become a filmmaker.

However,  I am concerned when it appears that for some people technology mediates daily existence.

This assemblage combines natural materials such as blueberry and raspberry ink with a hacksawed circuit board from an obsolete computer.  My artwork was accepted in The Greenfield Local Cultural Council's Fourth Annual Juried Show, “Changing.”  The opening reception is Friday, September 2, 5-8 p.m. at Greenfield Community Television (GCTV), 393 Main Street, Greenfield, Mass.

Side of a Strawberry Box
This video explores my creative process that led to creating the purple paper:

I was interviewed by GCTV about (d)evolution.

Community Television
My interview comes on at 1:50 seconds:

I invite you to consider the role technology plays in your life.  Is technology your servant, or your master?  Does technology make our lives better?  Simpler?  Easier?

Periodically staining your fingers with berry juice might be a good practice to foster perspective.  Or, perhaps, just making something.  A few generations ago, we were all makers.

Professor 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  Instagram: @professornordell

July 10, 2016

On Internet Fasting and Unplugged Living: Blocking the Internet and Making Use of a Shattered Cell Phone

I am about to embark on a three week internet fast.  This unplugging has become a summer ritual for me.  In 2010, I chronicled my first experience with detaching from the web.

Scenes from last summer's fast:

Blocked Internet - Collage on Wood

I was looking for the Minuteman Bike Trial, a rail-trail that I thought led roughly from Lexington, Mass. into Cambridge, Mass.  I asked at the front desk where I was staying in Concord, Mass., and the older woman, though she had a computer in front of her, said she did not know where to find it.  She suggested inquiring at one of the local tourist spots.

Riding the Trails

In town, I inquired at the venerable Concord Inn and was given a map of Minute Man National Historic Park, that noted a bikeable section of the Revolutionary War Battle Road.  This was not the trail I was looking for.  However, loaded with history, wooded dirt paths, tourists from across the globe and planked boardwalks with banked turns through swamps, the route was a bike ride for the ages.

Had I solely searched the web and avoided interactions with not always precise humans, I would have simply found my original destination (the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway - America's Revolutionary Rail Trail) and missed out on an unknown treat.

Printed Information

This weather report from The Boston Globe served me well.  So I got a little wet enjoying pedaling up and down the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway.  Might planning using an hourly forecast inhibit touching all of life?

Another day, as I arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I found a man struggling to take a selfie with a large sculpture behind him.  I asked if he wanted me to take his picture.  When I showed him the image, smiling broadly, he exclaimed, "Wow!"  I think that selfies may have become a culturally acceptable way to limit interactions with strangers.

However, you will have to take my word for this interaction, as I have no digital proof.  Unplugged from the web, I would be shamed in David Eggers' The Circle, a creepy fictionalized (?) world where "Privacy is Theft".

Pony Express

Back home, I wanted to send some postcards, but did not know the proper postal rate.  I asked my mail carrier, who called headquarters to find out.  They later called back: 35 cents.

"I guess you don't send postcards," I said.

"Jeez, no," he replied.  "I can't remember the last time I sent a postcard.  I guess I don't go on vacation to interesting places." He laughed.  "No one would want a postcard from where I live."

Have You Ever Gone to a Movie that You Knew Nothing About?

One day, I wanted to go to a movie.  At my library, the movie schedule was buried deep inside the third newspaper I searched.  "Self/less" was the only movie that fit into my time frame.  I experienced wonder as the movie began.  I knew nothing about the movie and had no idea what to expect.

Had I seen previews, a trailer or a review, I would likely not have chosen to see it, as I am not big on science fiction.  However, I appreciated the overall message that out of human frailty and violence, forgiveness and reconciliation are possible.

Disclosure: During this internet fast, I went online to find the closest urgent care center.  I also occasionally asked family members to look up something for me.  And, one time in a hurry, I looked online for movie times.

Paper, Pastels, Block Printing, Mod Podge, Driftwood
Over the course of a couple of weeks last fall, I found three pieces of a shattered cell phone in the parking lot as I arrived to teach at American International College in Springfield, Mass.  I later inked the pieces and printed them on paper.  I added some background color using pastels.  I used Mod Podge to affix the paper to a piece of driftwood harvested from coastal waters off Nahant, Mass.

Some of the ink unexpectedly smeared when I applied the Mod Podge with a brush.  Also, I was not careful enough when attaching the paper to wood-that-could-have-been-smoother and ended up with distracting wrinkles in the paper

Life's Over, Or Just Beginning?
So I tried again.  Over the course of several weeks, after printing the cell phone parts, I worked the pastels, striving to have the colors blend and meld.  I needed a touch of Wite-Out to remove some stray ink fouling the integrity of the circular button shape.

Paper, Pastels, Block Printing, Mod Podge, Driftwood, Wite-Out
Whereas with my first try the ink accidentally smeared when I applied Mod Podge, the second time around I purposely used the technique with consistent directionality to enhance that falling feeling.  I also sanded the driftwood to a smoother surface and took more care when affixing the paper with Mod Podge to achieve a uniform smoothness.

Solid as a Block

Even the title was a work in progress.

I Wish You Could Feel the Heft
I am ready for my next internet fast.  I am ready to encounter life without knowing what is going to happen before it happens.  I invite you to join me for an hour, a day, a few weeks, or more!

Professor 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  Instagram: @professornordell

June 27, 2016

Visual Assessment of Teachers: How Best Teaching Practices Make This Photographer's Job Easier!

One of my photography clients is Stoneleigh-Burnham School, a college preparatory boarding and day school for girls, grades 7-12, located in Greenfield, MA. 

I realized that elements of best teaching practices (see photo captions) created a classroom environment favorable for me to capture lively and engaging images.

Student engagement 

It was a delight to photograph science teacher Andrea Carnes' class as the students fine-tuned rockets they had built from scratch.

Hands-on activities

They also went over paperwork for the mock rocket companies they created.

Real-world, collaborative, project-based learning

Then Carnes introduced how to use quadrant astrolabes.  

Teacher modeling of activity

The students will use these devices to calculate the altitude of their rockets' flights.

Visually rich classroom

 Active learning 

Peer to peer teaching

Appropriate challenge

In the moment formative assessment

Student focus

Learning enjoyment

The visual impact of these best practices deepens my understanding of their value and encourages me to refine their use in my classes.

Professor 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  Instagram: @professornordell

May 27, 2016

Drawing in the Dark - Capturing Captain America with Pen and Pencil

Captain America's shield has how many rings?

Wanting to see more clearly, I brought my sketchbook, pens and pencils to the Hadley Cinemark.

Robert Downey Jr., Cap America - Ink on Paper
Drawing the action from Captain America: Civil War in a darkened theater, I could not see what I was doing.

Marvel - Pencil on Paper

When I bring my Cultivating Creativity students to the Springfield Museums, I invite them to draw the art in order to see the works deeply and to gain a richer understanding of artists' mindsets.  I ask students to do blind contour drawings.  This approach, designed to promote clarity of observation, involves keeping one's eyes on the subject matter while not looking at what the pencil is doing.  Sort of like drawing in the dark.

Red Star on Book of Russian Trigger Words (top left)
White Star on Captain America's Shield (bottom)
Hammer and Sickle (top right)

 Ink on Paper
The good guys and the bad guys both employed the symbolism of stars.  I threw in a hammer and sickle for good measure.

Captain America's Retro Helmet - Pencil on Paper 

2D Rubbing of 3D Glasses - Pencil on Paper

I had greater visibility during the closing credits, allowing for more precision as I did a rubbing of my 3D glasses.

There are three rings on Captain America's shield.

Professor 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

December 4, 2015

Undertaking His Own Assignment, A Professor Perseveres in the Face of Failure

I decided to carry out the following assignment that I give to my Digital Photography II class at American International College.

Create a Multiple Image Photo Story:

A. Choose a certain scene or location and make two visits at different times of day to photograph the activities.

B. I suggest that you spend between 45 minutes to 1 hour on each visit to fully document the situation.

C. Take a variety of types of images.  Establishing shot.  Medium shot.  Close up.  Portraits. Small details.  Extreme angles (ant & giraffe).

Saturday Farmers' Market - Greenfield, MA

I climbed atop an electrical box to capture this overview of the Greenfield Farmers' held at the edge of the Town Common.  As I photographed, an older grey haired woman passed by, pushing a cart containing fresh peaches.

"I thought out of the corner of my eye I saw someone climbing up on that thing," she told me.  "I am glad to see that you are actually up there!"

"I am glad I was able to confirm reality for you," I reply.  We both laugh.

Source of the Peaches
Seamus and Ben from Clarkdale Fruit Farms.

The lively and colorful scene offered a plethora of photographic possibilities.

Who is in Charge?

Though the morning sun occasionally dipped behind clouds, there were shadows to work with.  And I challenged myself to shoot beyond the ordinary from a unique variety of angles.


I myself bought some baby bok choy.  Later, I slathered it in olive oil and Adobo and grilled it.

Actual Social Networking
Friends Matt and Kerrita.  She was gearing up for a barbecue.

Basis for a Novel

I returned to the same location late in the afternoon, hoping for golden sunlight and long shadows.   However, I was greeted with clouds and sprinkles.

The bustling market was over and the streets basically deserted.  There was nothing exciting to photograph!

I was grateful to encounter Heather, Liam, Seoul and McEwan, waiting for a shuttle bus to ferry them to the Franklin County Fair.

Family Ties
Photography is all about light.  The overcast grey afternoon and lack of activity stymied me.  How will I show my students that I can overcome a creative roadblock?  A feeling of desperation welled in my gut.  I am going to fail!  Is this terror what my students encounter when trying to complete an assignment?

However, nearby, I noticed a neon sign at Magpie Woodfired Pizza.

Light is Life

Wanting to add life to the sign's neon blue glow, I waited to snap this image, catching a car's brake lights.  Okay, I am making progress.  What other techniques can I employ?

Making Strides

Using the reflective properties of a store window to create some mystery, I framed this setting.  Before clicking the shutter, I waited for human activity to add life and story.  Creativity can be forged from struggle.

Book and Brew
I finally stuck gold at Seymour The Pub, across the Town Common from Farmers' Market site.  So many kinds of lights.  And Anika, reading and relaxing.

Never give up!

Artist, educator and photojournalist John Nordell, Assistant Professor of Communication at American International College in Springfield, Mass., blogs about the creative process at