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ARTstarters: Creativity at pLaY!

Blogger:  Nicole Steiman, The Creativity Coach, Founder of The ARTbar Hands-on Studio

  • 01 Mar 2019 6:03 PM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    I confess, I was doing it all wrong when I first started making art. 

    I was creating simply to make a particular outcome.  I was comparing my art against others’, and feeling like what I made didn’t measure up.  Or I would follow step-by-step results in order to make it look like the sample.  And of course, if it didn’t, I would again feel like it wasn’t enough.  And on a deeper level, like I wasn’t enough.

    I hadn’t yet realized that being an artist is also: 

    1. creating something that may be unknown to you in the beginning 
    2. trying things in new ways and new combinations  
    3. making “mistakes” and then because of them, discovering new ideas.
    4. allowing your art to look “bad,” imperfect or unfinished, simply because it is still in the process of becoming. AND BEING OKAY WITH THAT.  (And with ourselves too.)

    I was also forgetting that art is a PROCESS, not just an OUTCOME.  It is meant to be journeyed through, not just obtained.  It is meant to be an adventure.  Like life.

    And when I started to enjoy the process itself, I started making my best art.  I began to let the mess of art guide me. The better I got at experimenting, the more I started to find my own style.  Things that felt like “me” and things that didn’t.

    Here are the questions I ask myself, that I still use to this day with my clients:

    1) what do you like about it.

    2) What do you not like about it.

    3) If you were to do one more thing to it, what would it be?

    4) How are you FEELING about it?

    But here’s the question I learned that changed me for the rest of my life:

    5) Listen to what your art has been telling you:  What do you HEAR?

    If I ask, “what do you think it means,” it seems way too logical and analytical to answer.  But if I ask “what do you HEAR,” it becomes about what you are hearing your heart tell you.  It bypasses the logical mind.  There’s no right or wrong about it.

    Your art might be telling you:

    • “I’m a mess!”
    • “My colors are so dark, and it makes me feel angry.”
    • “I’m not sure what I’m doing or where I’m going.”
    • “I am willing to change, to start over.”
    • “Don’t give up on me!”

    I learned to use the process of art to LISTEN because it has so much more to say to me than whether it looks good or not.   Art is not meant to be judged, it’s meant to SPEAK!

    And it speaks things we often cannot often express with our logical mind.

    That’s what allows us to use it to connect to our heart. And to connect to our Creator.

    And that’s the gift of creativity we all have inside us.  If we stop to listen to it.

  • 12 Nov 2018 10:19 PM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    November is a great month to create art with your family and friends!  And why not involve a little nature walk too?

    Whether it's collecting rocks and painting them, or finding twigs and wrapping them in yarn, nature provides many free art supplies all around us.

    Although my family lives in California, it's still possible to find some fallen twigs and leaves -- sometimes on the ground, and always at Michaels.  LOL!  Tracing silk leaves on watercolor paper and painting them is always one of my favorite ways to welcome in Fall!  You can read more about it from our blog post a few years ago.

    When I first start sharing this art exercise at nonprofit organizations, I wanted to make the project more meaningful by having them choose colors to reflect changes in their lives -- both the good and challenging. The contrast of the colors is what made the leaves so beautiful!  We started to see the dark veins of black and purple (hard changes from our past) as necessary components to the art of our lives.  Surprisingly, we LOVED the black color the most.  And after painting our first leaf, we found ourselves all wanting to add a little bit of black to other leaves we painted!
    You'll see examples of this in the video here:
    Here's a video that shows my family painting Leaves of Change.

    I hope you take the time to walk a little in nature, count some blessings, create some art -- and have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones.
  • 09 Nov 2018 12:53 PM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    I have always loved creativity and the joy it brings to life!  I've often felt it was my mission to convince people that they are creative, whether they think they are or not, (or even want to be or not, LOL!)

    That's why I opened The ARTbar over 15 years ago.  To help EVERYONE feel like an artist and find their inner creativity.  It's also one of the reasons why I fell in LOVE with the Zentangle process.  It can be done by any age, any artistic level -- and it's relaxing and fulfilling!

    But on a personal level, although making art made me FEEL better, it didn’t truly fill the hole in my heart.  It was a hole that kept getting bigger the more I wandered away from God.  Yet because of my love for creativity, the process of art helped me to slow down and open my heart to Him in ways that the busy-ness of life wouldn’t allow. 

    Lately, I've been wondering how to best share with you some of the creative exercises that I use in my personal life.  Most of the in-person classes I do are for teams and nonprofits.  It's not possible with my schedule to offer classes for individuals on a regular basis, which is why The ARTbar is only open to the public during our monthly ARTwalk (1st Saturday night).

    So I made this video of one of my favorite spiritual practices, using ART to draw my PRAYER.  It helps me to take a deep breath and calm the chatter in my mind.

    And that’s how HEartPRAYERS were created. If you are on my newsletter list, you already received the very 1st video.  If not, I hope you enjoy this preview of the 1st HEartPRAYER video from October, titled Holy & Whole: (2 minute overview version).

    My goal is to share a new FREE video prayer with you monthly, so if this resonates with you, please subscribe here, and choose HeartStarters/HEartPRAYERS as an option on the mailing list.  We'll send you the complete step-by-step of the video above, as well as an additional video on our coloring/shading tips.   Plus we'll let you know when the next one is available for viewing.  

    Don't forget to join us on Facebook and enter the Challenge!  I'm offering a surprise gift for one lucky winner, just as a way to encourage you all to try it!

    This gift will include a CD from Salt of the Sound, who graciously provide the lovely background music on the video.  I love creating art to their music!  I call it the soundtrack to the movements of my soul.

    Happy creating and creative praying. 

    - Nicole

    Nicole Steiman, Creativity Coach

  • 11 Oct 2017 1:46 PM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    Paint by pouring is one of my favorite ABSTRACT ART PROJECTS!  We've been sharing this project for over 10 years at The ARTbar and at various centers around the community.  It’s intuitive, it’s fast, and it always turns out amazing! 

    It’s no surprise that it is ALWAYS a highly requested project from all the centers I visit so we end up doing it several times a year!

    The process itself is very easy.  You simply mix a colored pigment into a liquid gel. And then you pour it on!  Anyway that you like!  

    Keep in mind that canvases should stay in place for at least 24 hours to dry before they are moved.  So although the process itself is fast, the total drying time is not.  However, most of the paint will set (not DRY) after a few hours so you can carefully move your canvas to another location to dry at that point.


    1.  Start with a Deep Breath and a Connection to Your Heart:

    I encourage people to choose colors that represent something to them (whether they are painting their feelings or an abstract of a special memory).   Their abstract painting will then be more meaningful to them, like a secret representation of something important to them.

    2.  Pour the Gel into Mixing Cups

    The gel is what creates a pouring consistency to your paint.  If you pour paint directly on a canvas, it may drop in globs and just stay there, like a splatter effect.  Using gels allows you to try different effects and consistencies.

    Liquitex Pouring Medium is one of my favorite gels for pouring abstract paintings  (see link below).  Pouring Medium is designed to have a fluid movement and to self-level over the canvas, creating a smooth, glossy sheen that almost looks like resin.  (However it is not as hard as resin, so you could leave marks if you pressed something sharp into the dried surface, like your fingernail.). Dried paintings with Pouring Medium will still look wet because they are so shiny!

    To create colors to pour, I like to use small plastic condiment cups and thin red sip straws (coffee stirrer straws).  When teaching this project, I will give each person 3 cups (each with about 1 oz of Pouring Medium) and a small pile of stir sticks for them to create 3 colors (step 3). 

    You can use as many colors as you want with this technique!  But starting with only 3 is a good way to control the use of paint and the cost of the project.  They could then share leftover paint from each other if they want to add more colors.  

    3.  Add the Color:

    Choosing colors is the fun part!

    You could choose any type of pigment that is water-based or acrylic so use the best acrylic paint that you already have on hand.  Inexpensive acrylic craft paint is usually easily available and will still work fine.  Depending on how thick or thin your paint is, it may change the consistency of your Pouring Medium, so ONLY ADD A FEW DROPS (no more than 20% paint, that's a 1:5 ratio of paint to gel.)

    Pouring medium looks like a cloudy white when it is wet, but it dries SUPER CLEAR and GLOSSY.  So keep in mind that your colors will dry darker than they look when you are mixing them. So don’t be alarmed if you mix in a few drops of red and it looks more like a cloudy rose color.  Don’t keep adding more red to get the color you like!  You will just end up with globs of paint that won’t pour smoothly.  Remember that the cloudy white of the gel will dry clear and you will get your original paint color back. I promise!

    It’s also fun to play with mixing colors at this step and make custom blends— it feels like a super fun chemistry session!  Add a small drop of a few different colors to create a new color.  It’s also a fun way to experience the color wheel.



    Make sure to mix a contrast color, such as white, yellow or black, depending on the colors you pick.  I also recommend choosing a metallic color for special effects, such as bright gold or silver.  

    2). USE DRY PIGMENTS vs Paints: 

    My favorite way to add color to Pouring Medium is to work with a dry ground pigment of color (see my recommendations below).  This way ALL the liquid is pure POURING MEDIUM, keeping the perfect consistency.  

    Dry pigments sometimes look a little different when mixed with liquid, depending on the mineral.  They are darker and more concentrated in their dry mineral form.  

    It may be helpful (and fun!) to create a color chart first by dipping your clean brush in the pigment and then mixing it into a drop of gel on a scratch paper.  Make sure to label the color so you can find it later if you want to use it.  Dry pigments are especially  fun for creating custom colors  -- even if they turn out as a surprise sometimes! :).  

    My favorite dry pigments are Polished Pigments (see link below) since they come in so many intense, beautiful colors and contain a little mica for a subtle shimmer/metallic effect.

    4.  Pour It On!

    This is my favorite part of the class!   There really isn’t much instruction to give for this step.  You can pour it on, drip little drops, drop color on top of another color, drag the red straws or toothpicks through it for marbling, and even blow through the tiny straws to move your color around the canvas.  Another fun effect is to pour some clear gel and watch how it moves the colors you already poured. 

    I was just going to make some videos to share with you, and then Michaels happened to share the same project on their blog.  Click here to watch their videos of different pour techniques.  But make sure to come back here for my special tips & product recommendations (and better pricing).

    IMPORTANT:  My only caution is not to STIR the colors on your canvas too much or you will get one muddy color, instead of the beautiful dance of colors that you started out with.  

    When the painting is done, let it dry for at least 24 hours.  You can then easily use scissors to trim off any excess paint that may be hanging off the canvas.  When it dries it will still look wet!

    5.  Reflect on Your Finished Painting

    So many times we are tempted to judge the finished outcome of our art.  Did it turn out how I wanted it to?  Did it turn out as beautiful as someone else’s?  Paint by pouring, like most abstract techniques, is about letting the painting become what it is supposed to become in that moment.  It requires you to let go of some of your control.

    After creating your painting, this is a good time to reflect in your journal:

    • How did the process of pouring feel?  
    • What does your painting represent to you?  
    • How is abstract painting like life?


    Well, that’s basically all you need to know to create a beautiful canvas with Pouring Medium!   Go ahead and try it — I know you’ll have a lot of fun!!

    Here are some more pictures from a recent class:


    Checklist of Supplies Needed (note: NO paintbrushes for this technique!):

    • Canvas (for this project I prefer the thicker canvases, called “gallery wrapped” in a small size such as a 4" or 5" square)
    • Liquitex Pouring Medium (see link below;  thank you for purchasing through us!A
    • Any paint or pigment  (any will work but the Primary Elements pigments are the BEST!)
    • Coffee stirrers, toothpicks or skewers (to move paint around)
    • Disposable mixing cups (I like the little sauce cups from Smart ’N’ Final)
    • Magazines or wax paper

    Optional Supplies:

    • A level - to make sure the surface of the table and canvas is level (add toothpicks under one side of painting if needed)
    • Masking Tape - to tape off bottom of canvas to keep it neat in case of dripping underneath
    • Thumbtacks - to insert into the 4-corners on the bottom of the canvas to raise it off the surface (then your canvas won’t get stuck in dried paint)
    • Styrofoam meat trays (Smart 'N' Final) - they have a nice flat surface along with a lipped edge to capture running paint


    Shop on Amazon for cheaper prices (and support this blog too! We get a tiny bonus on your purchases with no extra cost to you!). Thanks SO much for reading and for your support.

    These are my favorite supplies for this project.  Purchase all of them together and you'll be all set for a paint party or to make a 9-piece gallery display for under $75 (and all in a day's pour!):

  • 02 Oct 2017 7:24 AM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    Abstract:  Finding Meaning in the Midst of Uncertainty

    Transitions in life can be confusing times.  Any time we go through change, whether bad or even good, it can be an awkward period of readjustment.  These days, just hearing the world news can cause uncertainly in life.  Things may seem unclear, discombobulated (yes, that’s a word, and I may even have spelled it right), or like they are going nowhere.  We may have many unanswered questions for God.

    Creating abstract art can be a way to embrace the unknown through the process of art.  Although we have control over some of our creation (such as choosing colors, creating shape and movement), there is still some of the process that is not planned out ahead of time.  I let clients know that even though we don’t know exactly how the project will look in the end, we can stay open to surprise, stay true to our own authentic expression, and allow our art to unfold into what it is meant to be. (Hmmm, so similar to life!)

    Abstract art can be a way to paint our FEELINGS, CONFUSION OR QUESTIONS — all without using images.  Instead we paint our feelings with COLOR and SHAPE. This is helpful for times when we can’t put images or words to what we are feeling, and even if we could, perhaps we would rather not.


    Untitled by Jazmine

    At one time or another, we all feel somewhat ABSTRACT or unclear.  These are the moments we may want to represent with abstract art:

    1. In whatever art media you prefer or have handy, choose some colors to represent your feelings or questions. 
    2. Take a deep breath and feel your questions inside your body.
    3. Let your feelings guide you as you paint or draw.
    4. After creating, try writing your thoughts about the moment or feeling and see if you have gained any peace or clarity about the situation.

    In upcoming posts, I’ll share some of the ways that we’ve been teaching specific abstract art projects, including the Paint by Pour project pictured above.

  • 18 Aug 2017 9:05 PM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    Etegami: Just a Little Note . . . 

    Recently, ARTstarters has been out in the community sharing a fun artform called Etegami, kind of like a Japanese mail art.  Etegami is perfect for sending just a fun little note! Senders usually draw a quick sketch, add a few words and then send it off postcard-style.  It literally means “picture letters.”  Like a quick “hi there” text with graphics except you get it in the postal mail!  How old school is that?

    I love the expressive nature of the drawings!  They are meant to be quick and spontaneous, as if a random object caught your eye, usually something right in front of you. They are best done when you are on the go, sitting at a coffeehouse sketching the drink in front of you, or at the mall doodling a pretty dress from the display.  You may be out in your yard when you see an interesting flower or bird that you want to draw.  With modern technology we can even quickly snap a photo of a fleeting moment and then draw it later.

    Pictured above is an etegami postcard that an artist did in my Monday morning session.  I love how Becci captured the fun of the wood grain pattern with her colored pencils and also her written reminder to "Drink your H2O. Mmmmmm"!

    To get started, you need very few supplies:

    1. Black permanent drawing pen (we like the Fudenosuke Pen, a Japanese Brush pen to get thick and thin lines; see supplies below) *
    2. Watercolors, markers, colored pencils or crayons
    3. Index cards or cardstock cut to postcard size (Yes - you can mail index cards and they’re cheap!  Plus they already have lines on the back for you to write your message.)

    During our art sessions, I place a variety of objects around the table to draw (such as art supplies).  

    I also print out pages of sample doodles that they can copy.  The goal is for everyone to loosen up and feel comfortable drawing.  Call it doodling if that helps people relax!  

    If I have more time with a group, I break it down into a curriculum of 3 weeks of playing with the brush pen: 1) Brush Basics and Modern Brush Lettering (words), 2) Doodling with Brush Pens (images) and 3) Putting images and words together into Etegami Mail Art. (See the supplies below that I like! *)

    Because etegami art is drawn or painted quickly, there is no time to stress about perfection.  It’s the imperfection that makes them so fun!  And the quirkiness puts a bit of the artist’s personality into the art.  You can even time yourself and see if you can create 10 of them in an hour!

    Imagine getting one of these in the mail and thinking, “Huh?”  “What’s this?” “Oh, it’s a random note from Nicole. Cool!”

    It’s a visual, “Hey, I’m thinking of you.”  But so artsy and so unexpectedly random!  Wouldn’t that just make your day!

    Watch out - you might just get one in your mail!  Better yet, sketch something quick on an index card and brighten up someone else’s day.

    Send one to The ARTbar, and we’ll show it off at our October ARTwalk!

    The ARTbar

    207 N. Broadway, Suite B6

    Santa Ana, CA  92701


    IMPORTANT!  Want to keep receiving expressive art ideas like this one?  Make sure you are subscribed to our ARTstarters email list!   Just a reminder that our old email list will be ending after this, as we are cleaning up our addresses into a new system.  If you are ONLY subscribed to our local events, you will miss getting our blog posts filled with inspiring art exercises.

    Interested in having ARTstarters at your organization?  Email us at Info@ARTstarters.org


    * My favorite supplies for this project:




    (Thank you for using these links - your purchase helps support our work with nonprofits!  You still get the great Amazon price and they pass on a small commission to us.)


  • 06 Jul 2017 1:06 PM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    Hope you all had a SPECTACULAR 4th of July!  It’s a special privilege to celebrate America and the freedom we enjoy in this great country –  and of course the fireworks are fun too!  There’s something magical about the colorful explosions of light that shine against the dark sky.  Each one is different as it bursts into the air!

    This month at the various nonprofits we teach at, we have been sharing some COLORFUL NEON projects using Moonlight Pens from Sakura:

    Using colors on black paper, we draw circular patterns (or “Fireworks!”).

    We create our patterns by connecting pre-drawn dots that radiate from the center at various degrees.  The dots can be connected in all sorts of ways to make endless combinations of patterns.   Zentangle patterns can also be drawn on dark paper!

    Scratch Art:

    Another fun "Light from Dark" project is using pre-coated scratch art paper.  We discovered these fun printed designs and our clients LOVE them.  

    Tip:  To share them with a group, simply bring some wooden skewers and let them each pick the design they like.  

    Here are some reflection questions to meditate on as you draw  “Light from Dark” art:

    1)  What challenge would you like to overcome in your life right now?

    2)  What tool/resource/process can help you shine light on your challenge?

    3)  How can YOU be the LIGHT in the darkness in this situation?

    4)  Is there a verse or quote that will keep you motivated going forward?


    Moonlight Pens now come in a Finepoint (06) that make drawing patterns fun and easy!  We also have gems, glitter & metallic pens (and more) to add additional accents to your artwork.  You can try them out at one of our Open Studios and create all sorts of original designs, cards and drawings, plus try one of our “Light from Dark projects.

    You can purchase Moonlight Pens at our studio or here on Amazon: *

    *Note:  There are a variety of Sakura gel pens and Moonlight sizes so don't order the wrong one!  The link above will lead you to the Fine point pens that we use for drawing.  And we so appreciate you using the link to support the services that we share!


    Upcoming NEON Open Studios for an extra hour of step-by-step instruction & quiet reflection time (plus 2 hours of  open studio time to follow):

    July 15th, 10 – 1pm

    Or come only for the Open Studio time to create whatever project you like:

    July 15th, 11 – 1pm

    July 29th, 11 – 1pm

  • 07 Apr 2017 4:24 PM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    Happy Spring!  Warm sunshine with cool breezes, flowers blooming and birds singing . . .  Now if only the temperature would stay in the low 70’s all year! 

    I love the Spring!  But wow – is it here already??!

    Lately time has felt like it’s been zooming by . . . so fast!  It finally dawned on me that TIME isn’t moving quicker, it’s me!  And the faster I move, the faster my life seems to blur around me.

    In my ARTstarters book, we explore the Creative Mindset of seeing Beauty, and the ritual of taking a Slow Motion Day.   Can you imagine the CONTRAST in your life if you took a full day to MOVE SLOWLY, intentionally, on purpose.  Imagine what it would feel like to purposefully take your time with every action you take, everything you say, every place you go, every interaction.  Because it is so different from what we do everyday, it invites inspiration.

    If time has been moving too fast for you, maybe it’s a signal for you to slow down.  To take a walk.  To take it all in.  To ZOOM in and focus on the tiny details, the holy moments of life, the sacred seeing of creations all around us.

    Try scheduling a slow motion day, and afterward reflect on your day in your journal.

    Please share your thoughts and comments on our blog after taking your SLOW MOTION DAY!

    And if you would like to take that concept further, here is a fabulous opportunity to take a 7 –week spiritual journey of visual discernment . . . 

    I invite you to join me and the Abbey of the Arts in a special online Easter retreat:

    Eyes of the Heart

    Photography as Contemplative Practice

    Are you seeking a way to bring more presence and prayerfulness to your creative expression? Are you longing for ways to practice the contemplative life which are more visual and kinesthetic? Would you like some structure and encouragement in the creative path?

    Register here with The ARTbar group and receive a special bonus at the end of your journey

  • 22 Mar 2017 11:20 AM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    (Artwork above:  "The Caring Tree" by Michelle Hughes, published in the Cancer Foundation's 2017 Calendar)

    It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that my friend and ARTbar partner, Michelle Hughes, unexpectedly passed away late last week.

    Michelle has helped hundreds of artists at many of our ARTwalks, parties, event booths, and workshops.  I couldn't have done so many events without her!  But more than her help, I will miss her creative spirit!  An artist since she was young, she found the ARTbar over 5 years ago, and then became a "regular" at our Zentangle and painting workshops. Before long she was featured in a book, with other publications and art boutiques soon following.  It was fun to see how she would take a technique and then apply her original style to it.

    Below is Michelle's artist Bio that she handed out with her artwork just recently at the December and March ARTwalks . . . I am honored to have several of her original drawings and cards to treasure.

    We will miss you so much, Michelle!  Thank you for sharing your creative spirit with us.

  • 05 Mar 2017 10:46 AM | Nicole The Creativity Coach (Administrator)

    The March ARTwalk was a blast!  Thank you to everyone who stopped by to create art -- and then see it materialize onto a cool button!  And special thanks to Michelle Hughes and my kids for helping artists create and making it a crazy fun night!

    My son, Jakobi, was operating the button-making machine, and wearing about 20 of his own creations on his jacket.

    My favorite part of this project is that ANYTHING looks cool once it is turned into something wearable and collectible and professionally finished off with a pin-back.  Images from magazines, cut-out words from dictionaries . . . even just regular ol' handwriting!  There's something magical about seeing what you create . . . turned into something professionally made.

    If you missed it, don't worry!  We're going to have our button-making machine back at the April ARTwalk -- plus Jenna, creator of LZPencils, will be back again making custom-imprinted pencils. 


    Here's one of my favorite pencils she just created for me, pictured below!  At the end of a long night, in response to his teenage sister's drama, my 8 year old son told her: "Suck it up, Buttercup!" What a way to end the night laughing!!  (I swear I never taught him that phrase!  Where do they pick these things up???)

    What witty saying would YOU love to see on a button or a pencil??

    I smile every time I write with one of these! :)

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