March 6, 2022

On Emojis and Jin Shin Jyutsu: Seeing With the Hands of Prayer

A slash of sun glanced off Our Lady of Lourdes in Northampton, Mass.


As I got closer, a person's belongings became visible.  At first I wondered if the owner was present.


Friend and creative spirit Melly Mel liberally uses emojis in ingenious ways.  The gratitude he often expresses inspired me to focus just on her hands.


I then shot an in-camera multiple exposure, layering images.

Seeing With the Hands of Prayer

In the healing system of Jin Shin Jyutsu, likened by some to acupuncture without needles, placing fingers at specific different places on the body can balance energy, thereby unifying a person with the universe and generating health.  Pressing your thumb into the palm of your other hand is one recommended technique. According to The Touch of Healing, a book about Jin Shin Jyutsu, this approach is akin to joining hands in prayer.  

"The ancients knew that this was no mere symbolic gesture but a practical, hands-on way of achieving harmony with the universe."

The next time I use the prayer hands emoji to communicate gratitude or thanks, I will strike the pose as well.

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   Instagram: @john.nordell

February 20, 2022

Patterns and Possibility - Reuse Before Recycling

Trash day and I hustled to flatten boxes and set out the bins before heading to teach at American International College.  The day before I had spontaneously decided to teach an introductory block print lesson to my History of Art class.

Trash Can Packing Box Trash

I had chosen a simple pattern to teach.  However, I fell in love with this gorgeous cardboard nest for my recently purchased cylindrical trash can.

Patterned Seat

Within hours of this discovery, I had deconstructed the pattern into elemental shapes and taught a one hour introduction to block printing.  As I Certified Zentangle Teacher, I am familiar with this process of noticing patterns in the world and then teaching workshop participants how to draw them.

The Prof's Show and Tell

As students printed their carved blocks, I inked the bottom of the cardboard packaging and pushed it down on paper.

Not a Deep Impression

After this first iteration, I refined my creative process by applying more ink...

Packaging Totem

... and this time pressing the paper down onto the upturned inked cardboard.

That's What I am Talking About

Here are some results from students:

A Complement to Looking at Art

A novice printer "accidentally" moved his block while printing, laying down two slightly offset impressions, creating this lovely, energized offering.  Where would we be without mistakes?

Only Way to Learn is to Live (Chapter Title from The Midnight Library)

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 

January 5, 2022

Vacation + New Surroundings = A Light Camera

At times, the camera seems heavy.  However, on vacation, staying at the TownePlace Suites astride the Chelsea Creek in Chelsea, MA, I headed out in pre-sunrise frigid temperatures, delighting in a fresh and photogenic environment.  A formula: vacation + new surroundings = a light camera 


Famed photographer Jay Maisel, speaking at Hallmark Institute of Photography where I used to teach, opined:  Everyone says the light is incredible in Florence.  It's not that the light is any different.  It's just that when you are on vacation and not thinking about your mortgage or job, the light is amazing. 

Angular Glow
I loved the way The Chelsea Street Bridge changed before my eyes as the sun crested the across-the-creek East Boston triple deckers, light going from flat to angular.  Working on the in-camera multiple exposure below to accentuate color and shape, the tones and shards evoked the paintings of famed Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas.  I pulled up Douglas' The Judgement Day for reference.

Homage to Aaron Douglas

Later in the morning I sat with another famed photographer Lou Jones, in his East Boston studio.  He got a kick out of Maisel's Florence and light story.  Don't miss Jones' panAfricaproject: "Redefining the Modern Image of Africa".  Jones is off to Kenya next month.

The trick is to bring the same curiosity and wonder to photography even when at home thinking about the job and mortgage.  May my camera be light.

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 

December 24, 2021

The Healing Power of Art

I went to Duxbury Beach, a place of formative family experiences, to have a driftwood fire honoring my deceased parents.  My father passed a few years ago; my mom a few months.  Grief, along with contracting Covid, had rendered me mired in creative inertia.  Imagining my mother's persistent encouragement, I brought my camera.  After a curative and invigorating fire at sunset, capped with a Snowy Owl sighting, I opened my car trunk to place the driftwood collected for student art projects and discovered my forgotten about camera!   Thanks, Mom.

Light My Fire

The above in-camera multiple exposure of the Powder Point Bridge in Duxbury is the latest in my series of Reality-Based Abstractions.  A sketch of the raw material:

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 

November 23, 2021

Academic Research - Learning to Photograph Volleyball to Teach Sports Photography More Effectively

A student working on a sports photography portfolio showed me images taken at a men's basketball game at American International College (AIC) where I teach.  After our critique session I felt troubled, as while easily pointing out flaws, I struggled to provide plentiful strategies for improvement.  

So, as an academic, I set out to do research.  I checked out from our equipment locker the photography gear students use, and set out to photograph a women's volleyball game in the same gymnasium as the basketball game.  While I worked for 20 years as a professional photographer before joining academia, I had not photographed volleyball.  I therefore engaged in the creative process, deepened my knowledge on how to capture this game, and developed a list of shots to strive for.  I did not capture everything on the list, but the process effectively focused my efforts.

I photographed the NE-10 Quarterfinal round on 11/19/21, won by AIC.  The team went on to win the NE-10 finals and earned the number one seed in the East Region Division II Women's Volleyball Tournament.  May our team continue to prevail.

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   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  Instagram: @john.nordell