Creative Toolbox: The Random Word Generator


My new favorite journal tool is the random word generator at  I click on the words button and the nouns button, and then 12 random words pop up on my screen.  When I click refresh, 12 new words pop up.  I love the challenge of choosing to work with ideas/words that did not come from my own brain.

This is a recent list of random words:

I decided to make word tags (an idea from my book, Show Me a Story), which are small little cards with a word and image.  Just cut a piece of card stock into small rectangles, and used the random words to inspire quick sketches.

 I filled them in with color because I love to fill things in with color. 

You can also try to draw a sketch of each word in 1 minutes, then try 45 seconds, then 30 seconds, and then 10 seconds.  I discovered this timing idea from Lynda Barry's book Syllabus.

Arrange them on a journal page and glue in place or maybe make a little envelope for them? Throw them in a jar for writing prompts? Anything goes.

From me to you: Four Valentine's Day Heart Projects

With February just around the corner, it is time to start thinking about bright colors, quirky little hearts, and sweet scribbled messages.  In New England, where everything is frozen and white, the bright colors of Valentine's Day is a nice thing to look forward to.

These are four of my favorite heart projects that I've created and featured over the years.  

1. Heart Magnets

2. Sew-A-Heart

3. Rings and Things

4. Conversation LOVE Rocks  (as in, Love Rocks! and You Rock! etc., etc..)

Have fun with these, my friends!  You have my heart(s).

xoxo emily

Read your old stuff

This morning, I discovered one of my old sketchbooks.  When I first grabbed it from the row of books, I flipped through the pages quickly, and my work rhythm was swaying me to wedge it back into its bookshelf home. I was trying to manage my time well.  But, a list of words caught my eye, and then I found a menu for a party, and a page of potential titles for my next book, and a design sketch for my new website (which is still in the works).  I found a hundred old, awesome things, and I was lost in my old sketchbook for a long time.  There was so much good thinking, musing, and sketching!  It is a reminder that looking at old journals and notebooks is SUPER important because I wanted myself to find this stuff.  I recorded it because I thought it was interesting. When I put it on a page, it allowed me to breathe easier because I didn't have to hold onto it anymore. I preserved it for future me to find.

Why not have a conversation with the past you? Read an old journal. Thumb through an old notebook or class notes from your favorite class.

Above is an old paint swatch, pasted into my current journal along with word associations written in pencil. And, below is an old design sketch for my website.

Inspire yourself.

My Second Book

I'm thrilled to announce that my second book will be published sometime in 2016 by Storey Publishing!  The contract is signed, and now my work mornings, evenings, and weekends will be packed with book writing concentration (and, also, cookies, tea, and naps).

This book is another arts in education book with a focus on the connection between literacy and art.  It is based on one of the workshops I teach, which empowers kids to harness their creative voices.  The peeps at Storey Publishing are lovely and talented and smart; they were a joy to work with when I wrote Show Me a Story, and I'm extra excited to begin a new project with them.  I'm also working with SUPER agent Kate McKean, which is making everything so easy. 

I'll be sharing glimpses of my art and writing process in this space and on Instagram and Facebook in the weeks to come.


Happy first week of December, friends.



One of the best ways to inspire creativity is to wonder about things. Encourage mind wandering and ask yourself simple questions.  Long drives, showers, walks, dish washing, and office room waits are perfect opportunities for some scheduled pondering.

When I stumble upon a random question, I love thinking that maybe other people have the same random question.  If I address it in my art, it might resonate with others.

Tell your kids that daydreaming is an AMAZING writing tool.  Teach children how to engage and disengage (when they need to pay attention to other tings) in daydreaming.  And, encourage them to take journal notes on their thinking.

Grocery lists, shoe sizes, and weather preparedness might seem off base, but even they can lead to things that will get you feeling inspired.  So, maybe, don't limit yourself?

Oh, and remember to carry a journal with you, so you can jot your ideas down.   If you are in the car, find a safe spot to pull over and record a little message to yourself.

Creative Toolbox - Cereal Box Board

Cereal box board is one of my favorite art materials in the whole wide world.  I mostly love to use it as my canvas.  It is great for sculpture and building things, which is often how my children use it, but I love to draw and paint onto the gorgeous, muted brown backdrop.

It makes colors pop.  Once you start deconstructing boxes, you'll notice that the insides of boxes are all different shades of brown -- some are more orange-y, some more tan, some a true kraft paper color.   They are all wonderful.

My tip for you is to find a nice sturdy bin, like an old milk crate or a canvas pop-up from IKEA, and store flattened cereal, tissue, what-have-you boxes inside.  When you are in need, you can just dig in.

This is a photo of my very unglamorous bin of flattened boxes (mixed with other recycled papers).  It doesn't have to be pretty, friends.

I made Francine on cereal box board in honor of Halloween:

Happy spooky Halloween night to you and your people! PSA: Beware of wandering elephants.

xo emily

Creative Toolbox: Wood

Today's creative tool is wood.  So simple, right?  It can bought or found, raw or finished, milled or fresh from the woods.  Pay attention to interesting shapes and textures as you walk through the woods, and watch for bags of scrap wood on deep discount at your hardware store.  It is a thrifty, and often beautiful, way to be creative and experimental. 

You can:
paint on wood
collage on wood
glue random things onto wood, like fabric

You can also make:
a hookboard out of wood
Story Blocks, a project from Show Me a Story
Altered Twigs and Driftwood

The possibilities are endless, really.  Just search Pinterest for wood + fabric or wood + felt or wood + paint.  You get the idea. 

Keep in mind that painting on wood can be a very different feeling than painting on canvas or paper.  It is porous and often textured, which means that your paintbrush needs to adjust for the bumps and ridges.

Happy hunting for wood!

Book Review: Tinkerlab

This book! Oh my! It is informative, inspiring, interesting, and gorgeous -- a winner on so many fronts.  When lovely Rachelle Doorley's new book, Tinkerlab: A Hands-On guide For Little Inventors, landed in my book bag, I found myself drawn (pun!) to the pages during the very few small pockets of time I have these days.  It whispered to me, asking to be perused. It is that good.

Since my specialty is words and pictures, I was drawn to the Drawing Games chapter where Rachelle offers fun, creative tinkering opportunities for those who love to draw.  The activities in that chapter (as well as in the book in its entirety) lend themselves beautifully to classroom and homeschool experimentation.  My kids and I happily gave them all a whirl.
One of my daughter's favorites is the group activity called Exquisite Corpse For Kids, where each player adds a body section to a creature without knowing what the other parts of the creature look like. We found ourselves around the table with some special family members, and my oldest decided to teach everyone how to play.  It was a wonderful multigenerational connection opportunity because everyone was laughing, and also because we found ourselves admiring our work. Like, seriously admiring! We were all so impressed with our joint creations. I'm quite fond of Mr. Blue Face Polka Dots with Webbed Feet (above) made by my husband, Aunt, and daughter.

Doesn't it look like this guy with pink wings laid an egg? Ha!  Remember, my daughter did not look at the other panels when she drew the bottom panel.
Everyone signed their names to their panels.
This tinkering was fun, fun, fun!
We've decided that the Connect The Dots tinkering activity is perfect for office room waits, restaurant table time, and airplane travel.  My daughter turned my dots (above) into The Lady in the Green Dress (below).
And, we loved all of the other drawing invitations too.  They are so thoughtfully creative and engaging. 

Thanks for writing a book that invites both children and adults to be creative explorers, Rachelle. We can't wait for our next Tinkerlab adventure. 

Friday Favorites

1. I bought these self-stick speech bubble note pads the other day.  I opened the package this morning, and encouraged the rocks on my desk to engage in a little chit chat.  I can't wait to see what the children do with them later.  These are a wonderful tool for creative writing!

2. My friend Ariana directed me to this article.  It is the story of a photographer, Nicholas Nixon, who took photographs of the same four sisters for forty years. It is a beautiful take on the journey of sisterhood.  Their faces change with time.  Each one seems to hold more of something. And yet -- we know nothing because there isn't a verbal story to go along with the photos.  The columnist writes: "This is what endurance looks like....With each passing year, the sisters seem to present more of a united front."  The mother-of-three in me shed some tears.

3. Yoga Joes! The classic green army men doing yoga.  My friend Melicia posted about these on her Facebook page.  Brilliant!  I'm going to back their Kickstarter campaign.

4. This gorgeous print of two fawns.  via Design Sponge.

5. Abby Glassenberg posted her 3rd Quarter Income Report (she has posted the other quarters as well) on her blog this week.  Her analysis helps her to do broader scale planning for her business, and by displaying it publicly, it helps other small business owners figure out the best way to nurture and grow their businesses.  It is a brave and generous.  Thank you, Abby!

Happy weekending!