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Posts from the ‘Ellen’ Category

The Beauty of a Daily Drawing Practice, Sticky-Note Style

Ellen Olson-Brown is a creative inspiration to me in more ways than I can count. She is also a children’s book author, children’s yoga instructor, life-design junkie, Bikram devotee, and mother of twins. I love, love, love what she shares below. Enjoy!


drawing faces practice

Although I’m pretty proud of the collection above, crowing is truly not my motivation for posting. I’m posting this to make a point that is *so* important to me.

Every day this month I’ve made at least one of these little drawings on a sticky note. I find an image of a face online, paint its basic shape in watercolor, and then ink in the details with a permanent marker.

I’ve committed to this because I’ve found that mixing colors and drawing, even just a little, is one of those things that makes the rest of my day more vivid, easier.

Drawing on a sticky note is way less intimidating than using beautiful paper or a canvas, because of both the size and the humbleness of the materials. And committing to doing it every day of a short month quiets the “Should I? Why?” voice without overwhelming me.

So what’s the point I want to prove?

Well, it’s the same point I want desperately to prove when someone new practices near me in a yoga class and says, “But it looks so easy for you! I’ll never be able to do that!” and I have to tell them 1) It’s still *very* hard for me, and 2) I couldn’t touch my toes when I first started yoga. What I can do now has taken me 7 years and at least 1,000 classes of showing up and listening and trying and getting better and getting worse and having faith in the process and learning to add a gentle “yet” to a very bratty, “I can’t!!”

I love these little faces, my wall of friends and encouragers. Are they perfect? No. But I used to be scared, stiff, and frustrated when it came to drawing. I thought making art was a matter of talent, which I simply didn’t have. And now I am making things that bring me joy.

Talent is real. We’re each wired/built to optimize certain kinds of learning, performing.

But way more powerful than talent is openness, faith, courage, hard work, and enough self-kindness to let yourself be a beginner, show up, and see what happens.

Draw, run, sing, cook, garden, dance, do yoga — whatever that thing is that you’re drawn to, get your butt out there and try it 10 or 50 or 3,000 times.

Because you deserve to amaze yourself.


The One-Thing Sketching Practice

The piece below, which appeared in this month’s Creative Times newsletter, was written by my friend and former business partner Ellen Olson-Brown. Enjoy!


One Thing Sketching Practice

On the first of the month, I choose one familiar household object — a toy, a necklace, a clock on the wall — to sketch every morning of that month. I draw every day because I want to draw well, and I believe in the power of consistent practice, for two minutes or an hour, or an entire morning. I draw because I find the nonverbal work of visual observation and moving the pencil on the page to be meditative and centering. I draw because anchoring myself in wordless observation and movement ultimately helps me access my writing (the word-soaked centerpiece of the creative work that I do) from a more honest and flexible place.

Drawing the same object every morning means that I eliminate “but I don’t know what to draw!” as a barrier to getting started. It allows me to zoom in, sometimes drawing a tiny portion of an object, or to zoom out and include context and surroundings. It allows me to try and fail and try again to capture curves and shadows and relationships, to be playful, with the knowledge that I can give it another go the next day.

At the end of the month, I flip back through my journal and review the drawings I’ve done. I literally stack up evidence that I have met my commitment to myself, and this deepens my belief (and the self-fulfilling prophecy) that I’ll be able to show up again in the future, for drawing and other projects. I’m often surprised by the quality of what I’ve drawn, especially on the mornings where I recall feeling frustrated or stuck. And I’m never able to look at the objects I’ve drawn for 28 or 20 or 31 days without feeling that they’re not just props in my life, but friends I know intimately.

Would this practice work for you? Give it a try and let us know!


Ellen Olson-Brown, M.Ed., is a teacher, author of four children’s books, yoga teacher, and enthusiastic consumer of art and office supplies. Positive psychology, mindfulness, and the science of human flourishing are her current fascinations, and she loves supportively daring people to amaze themselves. Ellen lives in Groton, Mass., with her husband and twin sons.

Ellen: Play

The piece below, which originally appeared at the Open Studio Groton blog, was written by my brilliantly creative business partner, Ellen Olson-Brown. Enjoy!


music noteIt’s Monday evening, and I’m writing this post from Indian Hill Music in Littleton, Mass., where my sons take music lessons. I love it here.

I’ve settled into a deep leather couch in the lobby, a bright, wood-beamed room ringed by practice rooms. From one room on my right, I can faintly hear the piano pieces my son has been working on all week. On my left, someone plucks the low strings of a standing bass, and from other rooms piano scales and the reedy hum of a saxophone stream out, slightly muffled. I’m so happy in this space, soaking in a sound soup that’s a lot like the pleasant cacophony of an orchestra tuning up.

The woman in the voice lesson directly behind me is working on a short passage, and after 12, 13, 14 tries, she hits the high note. It’s no longer a strained squeak, but a warm brilliant color arcing through the air and into my heart. I want to applaud. Or cry. Or something.

Actually, I know exactly what that something is. I want to go home and play the piano.

Every time I go to Indian Hill, I feel the itch to make music. I want to take cello lessons and bang on a drumset and sing really loud.

I was a band dork as an adolescent. I played in the concert band, the stage band, the pit orchestra, and, yes, the marching band. I had neither the natural talent nor the discipline for excellence, but I loved making music, on my own in a tiny little practice room or within a wall of sound high-stepping across a football field. Music was a joyful part of my daily life.

And then it wasn’t. Grad school and work and raising a family and adult responsibilities took up time and space. The love of making music never went away. Just the making part.

There’s a piano at home, a piano I walk by many times each day, a piano I sit at 5 days a week with my son while he practices.

A piano I dust more often than play.

But when I go home tonight, before I fire up the grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner, before I open my laptop, maybe even before I take off my coat, I’m making a beeline for that piano. I’ve been chiseling away at Mozart’s Sonata in C major for 3 years now, and while I’m not quite at the point that Benjamin Zander of the Boston Philarmonic calls “one buttock playing” (oh, that video is a goody, embedded below, I think you should watch it!), playing the first, nearly mastered page of that piece gives me such joy.

Whenever I play, I walk away from the piano calmer, happier, more energized, thinking, “Why don’t I do that every single day?”

Is there a source of potential joy that you’re walking by every day? A set of paints? A box of yarn? Woodworking tools? Notebooks and pens? Clay? A cookbook and exotic spices? That guitar you haven’t touched in years? Your sewing machine? The Garage Band app on your new iPad?

Maybe tonight, before you start chopping onions, before you open the mail, you could play a little. Or play a lot.

But don’t forget to play.

Project: Family Mailbox

By Ellen Olson-Brown

mailboxThis project hits all the bases. Using recycled and very inexpensive materials? Check! Encouraging kids to create, decorate, and bedazzle to their heart’s content? Check! Motivating kids to write? Check! Strengthening family collaboration and communication? Check! Fun for kids aged 1-111? Check!

Remember when the daily snail-mail occasionally included an actual letter, handwritten, from a loved one? Oh, the satisfaction of real stationery, a personal message, familiar handwriting! Delicious!

Bring back the magic by building your own family post office. The project itself will absorb your family’s attention for an hour or two (perfect for a snow day!), but once you’ve created the post office, you can use it for years.

What you need:

  • One empty cereal or cracker box per family member. These will become mailboxes.
  • One larger cardboard box, which will become the post office (see image in opening paragraph). If your family is larger than four people, you’ll need a box with enough surface area to hold a cereal or cracker box for each family member.
  • Paint, tape in various colors (duct, masking, and electrical tape work especially well!), contact or wrapping paper to cover the cereal/cracker boxes.
  • Decorating supplies: permanent markers, magazine clippings, yarn, glue, fabric scraps, beads, glitter, doo-dads — any cool stuff you have lying around.
  • Paper, envelopes, markers, pens, rubber stamps, stickers, and other fun items for letter-writing.
  • A hot-glue gun (for grownups only!)


  1. Cut the top flaps off the boxes.
  2. Decorate each cereal box. These will become the individual mailboxes. Make sure each family member’s box is labeled with his or her name. Hint: If you’d like to paint each box ahead of time to cover up the printing on the box, then children won’t have to wait through drying time to add their own artistic touches.
  3. Hot-glue each mailbox to one side of the larger box. Hint: Decorating the larger box is also fun!
  4. Load the inside of the large box with writing supplies. This is now your post office!
  5. Write a letter!
  6. Address an envelope.
  7. Mail your letter, and wait for a reply!

A few more helpful hints:

  • Younger children might like a set of cards with familiar words on them, so they can write letters\ on their own. Write words on index cards, punch a hole in the corners, and connect with a binder ring.
  • A quick letter can be a great way to let your child (or spouse/partner) know that you appreciate something they’ve done that day. “Dear Mikey, I noticed that you put your pajamas in the laundry basket after you got dressed this morning. Thank you so much! Love, Mom.”
  • Sometimes older children deflect direct discussions about feelings. Sending them a letter reminds them that you care — and opens up communication — without putting them on the spot. “Dear Katie, I noticed that you seemed a little sad when Jill couldn’t come over to play today. I’m sure you’ll find something else that’s fun to do, but if you need a hug, come find me in the kitchen. Love you! Mom.”


Ellen Olson-Brown

Ellen Olson-Brown is a teacher, author of four children’s books, aspiring yogi, Minervan, and enthusiastic consumer of art and office supplies. Positive psychology, mindfulness, and the science of human flourishing are her current fascinations, and she loves supportively daring people to amaze themselves. Ellen lives in Groton, Mass., with her husband and twin sons. 

::: This piece is reprinted from the most recent issue of the Creative Times — subscribe and join the fun!

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