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By Caroline

nurturing creativity :: autumn gathering

autumn gathering

She’s almost here, this autumn season of ours, her smouldering colours preparing for their blazing show.  This week we’ve been observant, looking, looking wherever we are for trees of autumn colour, gathering for today’s first Autumn Adventures in Art workshop.  She’s a little shy, our Brisbane autumn, and not nearly as showy as her cooler friends, but still there are bursts of colour to be found when you go looking.

autumn adventures in art wk 1

And this is a simple and stunning way to display your autumn finds.  In the coming weeks be on the lookout for trees of autumn colour and trees with leaf shapes you like.  Gather your leaves and carefully press them flat between the pages of a thick book.  Or use a thin book, and pile some other books on top.  Let them dry for a few weeks and then display in this beautiful way.  We took a sheet of recycled cardboard and used some craft glue to attach the leaves.

So grab a basket, hold a little hand or two, and head outside along your street or to your local parks for some lovely Autumn gathering.

mid-week creative :: cultivating creativity

mid week creative abstract stitching

He’s the most watched speaker on TED.com, with his ‘How Schools Kill Creativity’ talk watched over 32 million times and subtitled in 59 languages.  With this kind of airplay you would think Sir Ken Robinson has something important to say.

And he does.

When a talk is titled ‘How Schools Kill Creativity’ you would think the speaker would slam and lament the education system and leave it there.  But while Sir Ken acknowledges the flaws found in any systemic education system, it only takes him 20 minutes to deliver a bigger message of hope, encouraging us to move beyond and above the education system our children might be part of and we might be a product of, and take personal responsibility for nurturing creativity in ourselves and in our children.

We’re not here to debate the pros and cons of the various education systems, but rather grab Sir Ken’s message of the importance of creativity for all of us – for our children and for us as adults.

It’s never too late to discover your talents and passions.

Have a listen.  It will take 20 minutes of your time, and might open your mind to pursue this idea of creativity with more purpose.


travel notes from cambodia – part 2


I don’t own many clothes, and not many came back from Cambodia with us when we moved.

When you are packing your family’s life into 108kg of luggage allowance, every item is carefully considered.  But this dress of bold pattern and bright colours was always going to move to Australia with us, even though I doubt I will ever wear it again.

You see I’m a blend-into-the-background plain and neutral girl – black, white, taupe, chocolate, grey – so this strappy pattern and floaty colour is unlikely to sparkle and shine in public.  But I treasure it because each time I open my wardrobe it speaks to me of love.  Abundant, glittering, generous, handmade love from my friend March.

She stitched it while she and her three sons lived in a faraway province, caring for her ailing father-in-law while her husband stayed in the city to work.  We hadn’t seen each other for more than half a year yet she stitched it without any measurements, guided only by her practised eye and memories of my form.  A surprise gift, her shy smile became laughter as I slipped it on, her uncertainty melting as we both marveled at how well she’d made it fit.

Creativity motivated by love is a beautiful thing.

We met March’s husband Sengley in our first week in Cambodia, and he became our regular tuk-tuk driver, our go-to man when we wanted to get anywhere.  (Tuk-tuks are a common mode of transport in Cambodia, an open sided, two-wheeled carriage which attaches to the back of a motorbike and carries up to six squeezy adults or a large extended family if you don’t mind hanging out the side and crouching on the floor.)  We soon met his family and over the years they shared their lives with us – the birth of children, the dying of parents, the shy hope of dreams.  We helped March train as a dressmaker so she could sew from home while her children were small, and she took her sewing machine with her when she moved to a town bordering Vietnam to care for Sengley’s father after his mother died.  There she sewed.  And there she cut and stitched and tucked and hemmed a hot pink satin lining under flowers sheer and bright.

She gathered what she had, pieced together what she could and used threads of love and gratitude and generosity to stitch this gift-dress.

I have worn my dress many times, for it is perfectly sa-art (beautiful) for Cambodian celebrations.  Wedding celebrations are full of tradition and ritual; community events with arms of welcome opened wide for 250 – 500 guests, and we were invited even with a slim sliver of relationship with the bride or groom or their families.  Mostly weddings are held in marquee tents constructed outside the bride’s parents’ house, often extending across the width of the street and stopping the flow of traffic.  As you sit at a round table using chop sticks to gather rice and duck and beef and cashews from the spinning lazy susan there may be only a wall of plastic sheeting between you and the packed traffic beeping and maneuvering their way through the snippet of footpath the tent-builders left clear.

The bride and groom wear brightly coloured, elaborately sequined and jewelled outfits – up to eight over the course of the full day celebration – and female guests usually have their hair and makeup done at their local side-of-the-road beauty shop.  Rain and street-side tent-weddings don’t go so well together, so before the rainy season’s clouds start to gather there is a flurry of wedding activity.   The custom is for guests to give a gift of money in an envelope handed in as you enter the wedding tent.  Your usually elaborately embossed invitation conveniently includes an extra envelope with your name, and as you hand it in at the gift table it is opened and the amount you have given is marked off on a list next to your name.  The newly-weds hope the amount contributed is enough to cover the cost of the celebrations; if not, it can cast a heavy financial burden on the couple.  In the height of wedding season our friend tallied 70 wedding invitations in one month, and there is a social expectation to attend weddings if invited.  Weddings are not always held on a weekend, but there were days when our friend arrived at a celebration, handed over his gift envelope of money and walked out again to make his way to the next celebration, repeating this five or six times in a night.

cambodia 1

We visited March and Sengley and their family during our recent trip to Cambodia and March showed us photos of her at a recent wedding.  She looked beautiful.  But she will always be beautiful to us because of the threads she has stitched into our family’s story.

And because she taught me that creativity motivated by love is a beautiful thing.

nurturing creativity :: mother’s day love

nurturing creativity mothers day bottles

Mother’s Day is peeking around the corner and with a week of days left to create, here are some sweet and simple gifts for the mothers you love, made by the children you love.

We’ve raided our kitchen cupboards and collected some empty glass bottles and jars.  We love to repurpose and recycle and these ideas will give some old jars the chance to twinkle and bloom again.

Dried + gathered bottles:  Look out for different or interesting bottles and fill with collections of dried and gathered lovelies – leaves, seed pods, branches, bark.  Here we’ve used a tall clear bottle which once held balsamic vinegar, and the short brown one is a medicine bottle.

Tea-light holders: My daughter was painting a school project this week and with her leftover paint, brushed white on the bottom of some jars.  When dried, we scraped some dots of paint off using the point of a key (you can also try scissors or a butter knife) so when you place a tea-light inside the spots glow golden (jar on left in photo). Instead of dots, why not try scratching words or simple pictures?

She also decided to paint some jars with clear glue, just to see what would happen.  She liked the air which bubbled as she brushed it on, but the glue dried fairly invisible on the glass so she decided to paint over the top with paint and the result was a crackled, textured effect (jar on right in photo).

glass jars candles leather twine

Air-plant vase:  We found an empty jar, wound it with leather twine, tied it with a simple knot and teamed it with an air plant.  These no-care lovelies don’t need soil and just an infrequent water misting and are available from nurseries or some plant vendors selling at markets.

Have a lovely time celebrating the mothers in your life.

mid-week creative :: turning the page on picture books

mid week creative picture books

Do you ever find yourself sitting on the library floor flipping through child-height boxes of picture books?  Or how often do you stop to linger in the children’s section in your favourite bookstore?  Maybe never. Maybe every Tuesday because Miss Four and Master One and a Half would like more books.  Or maybe you are drawn to these spaces often because you love picture books for what they mean to you (and not just your children).

I love how picture books can make me smile, they can make me think, they can make me teary and they can make me giggle.  The beautiful marriage that is words and pictures, bound together on pages, living forever after.  The wordplay, the concepts, the unspoken and the implied.  Pictures telling the story, words revealing the pictures, colour and light exposing emotions, .

When our family moved to Cambodia, it wasn’t clothes or household items which took most of the space in our bags.  It was books.  And because our girls were young, these were primarily picture books.  By the time we came to leave six years later we gifted our collection of dog-eared and much loved books to the library at our international school, wanting to share the joy they had given us with those who would come after us.

And now there sits upon our bookshelf four picture books, the four books we did bring back to Australia with us.  With girls who now choose to read chapter books, sadly our book-buying budget doesn’t stretch to pages with too many pictures.


These past few weeks Melissa and I have spent time researching and planning for our upcoming Autumn Adventures in Art workshop series, and one of our first jobs was to find books to launch our creative adventures.  We spent hours in two of our favourite book places (Riverbend Books + Café and Teenie & Tiny), searching for great picture books which would weave stories, concepts and art tecniques through our teaching.  I discovered authors new and illustrators quirky; art design surprising and typography bold.  I rediscovered what it is I love about children’s picture books – that they are not just for children.

As C.S. Lewis said “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”

Author and illustrator Shaun Tan [The Arrival, The Red Tree] explores this further:  “The simplicity of a picture book in terms of narrative structure, visual appeal and often fable-like brevity might seem to suggest that it is indeed ideally suited to a juvenile readership. It’s about showing and telling, a window for learning to ‘read’ in a broad sense, exploring relationships between words, pictures and the world we experience every day. But is this an activity that ends with childhood, when at some point we are sufficiently qualified to graduate from one medium to another? Simplicity certainly does not exclude sophistication or complexity; we inherently know that the truth is otherwise. “Art,” as Einstein reminds us, “is the expression of the most profound thoughts in the simplest way.”

Have you not picked up a picture book since you were a child?  Have you read ‘The Lorax’ so many times to your children you don’t need to bother looking at the words but your mind has been overexposed to its messages?  Have you only digested easy  fast-food versions rather than feasted on delicious, award-worthy picture books?

Why not take some time this week to stop by a bookstore, linger in a library or raid your nearest knee-high bookshelf.  And may you find pages that are worth turning, words that are worth pondering, and pictures that are worth seeing when you later close your eyes.

[Are you wondering what some of our favourite picture books are?  We’ll share some of them with you in the coming weeks.  In the meantime if you’re looking for a list of read-worthy picture books, look here and here.]

mother’s day love with some copper + warm words

fabric paper van gogh copper 1 1000

Is there a mother in your life who’s a lover of words?  Someone who hangs her thoughts on letters pegged together and strung on a line, softly blowing ideas and emotions and snapping sharp memories and reminders?

fabric paper stack 1000

Maybe this Mother’s Day you know someone who would like a piece of handwoven fabric, ruled with lines blue and red, stamped with warm words, and hung over a smooth copper rod.  An artwork of words and fabric, text and texture.

fabric paper van gogh copper 3 1000

This lovely little sliver of copper is the perfect way to hang your favourite piece of our artisan fabric paper.  You can choose from the quotes we’ve selected or we can custom print a quote of your choice.  If you’d like to order one for Mother’s Day on May 10, please do so by this Sunday 3 May to ensure it is delivered in time.

Pop into our shop to take a peek at this and some other lovely gift ideas for Mother’s Day.

travel notes from cambodia

cambodia temple

One day in October 2007 my husband and I packed up our life in Australia, and less than a day later we unpacked our family in Cambodia.  A just-turned three year old, an almost five year old, a superhero daddy with a heart to help, and this mama – a family full of purpose, ready for adventure and eyes wide with wonder.

won·der [wuhn-der]
1. to think or speculate curiously
2. to be filled with admiration, amazement or awe
1. something strange and surprising
2. a feeling of surprised or puzzled interest, sometimes tinged with admiration

Living cross-culturally opens your eyes and mind, and hopefully your heart, and the wonderings swirled around me in those early Cambodian days.  I shared my wonderings with a few, but tentatively, uncertainly, because I knew I didn’t really understand or appreciate all that I was seeing.

cambodia baby in bicycle basket

cambodia lake

cambodia fried bugs

Our family returned to live in Australia in 2014, and just recently we had the opportunity to again travel to Cambodia for three weeks reconnecting with friends and the place that was home for six years.  It was beautiful, for each of us, in many different ways, and today I thought I’d share just a bit from my travel journal:

We arrived in Cambodia a week and a half ago and tootled around Phnom Penh catching up with friends. The girls also went to school, three days of rediscovering friendships in between maths and art and PE.  HOPE School’s policy to allow students to return to school has been a rich gift for our girls and will likely be the highlight of our days here.

Friendships and food, we have realised these are our memory makers. When we gathered to plan our trip we scribbled a wish list which turned into a progressive eating fest around the city. For in a place where the only thing you did outside the house was share food, our memories are of kaffir lime gelato from Blue Pumpkin, and the $7 family feast of Chinese noodles and dumplings in a grimy and cramped plastic chair restaurant; the ice-coffee man at Psar Toul Tompong whose eyes crimp happy as he gathers glasses of ice and mixes the espresso and condensed milk for Jason, and warms the lime juice and sugar for us girls; our favourite kerbside fried banana lady and we search to see if she still parks her cart in the same dusty spot.

Cambodia has opened her arms wide and warmly welcomed us back.  Her humidity has enveloped us, but more importantly her people have remembered us. The man we bought DVDs from remembers which are our favourite TV series. The guard at school who exclaimed ‘Sophie!’ as though she’d been walking through that gate each day for the past 15 months. The tuk tuk drivers who remember where we used to live.  The neighbours who ask if we’ve come back to stay.  Our dog Sunday, now living with friends, who wags happy each time we visit her.

cambodia traffic

The dusty roads are spread with jams, motorbikes and bicycles thick and sticky with large 4WDs and enormous trucks.  There are parts of this city’s edge I’ve struggled to navigate, her once open spaces now blocked high with concrete people-holders, lakes filled and populated, roads wide eating their way through rice fields. Change has got spikes on her feet and is racing her way through this city-scape, churning up dust in her wake. The crowds seem to welcome her speed, embrace her and herald her as progress. Unfortunately change is blazing ahead of her team mates planning and forethought and wisdom and quality, so while she might wow the crowds I am concerned hers will be a sprint rather than a marathon, a false-starter who might have to return and run a more sensible race.

But for now we have retreated from the city to a small place with cooled rooms and a pool. While we can hear the rumble of trucks on Highway 1 and the loud music of the neighbours, if we are still and if we tune our listening we can also hear the birds in the trees, the wind in the leaves, the lap of the water. The gardener here waters his plants every morning and in gratitude for this daily love they have grown tall and lush. Mango and fragrant frangipani, banana and rambling bougainvillea. Wild ginger and tall bamboo, coconut palms and hanging orchids.  Milky grey geckos scurry vertically. Small red ants form battalions along the pool edge, attacking any feet that stand too long.  This morning we ate rice and BBQ pork for breakfast under a mango tree, a squirrel with bottle-brush tail scampered high and dropped mango babies from the branches.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel coming back. When we left 15 months ago I only seemed to pack my bag with tiredness and regrets and hurts and pain.  But in these days I feel like God has given me the chance to pick up all the pieces of myself I left behind, making my memories of Cambodia more complete.  Less holey.  More holy.

cambodia bike on dirt road

We will rest amongst trees for a few days before we head back to the city. We will then celebrate Easter by the ocean with friends, and return to the city once again for final catch-ups, farewells and memory-gathering before we fly back to Australia on the 10th. We are thankful we then still have a week of school holidays for while the unpacking of clothes is quick, the unpacking of emotions and feelings and responses always takes more time. I’m hopeful it won’t take another 15 months for Cambodia to piece herself together peacefully in my mind and heart.

nurturing creativity :: beauty can be found in everyone’s story

beauty can be found in everyone's story

Oh you are in for a feast with this creative chat with a photographer who has eyes to see the beauty found in everyone’s story.  Pull up a comfy chair, tuck in your napkin and feed your creative soul with all that Emma shares!

Images fill our days, our eyes constantly processing all that we see around us.  There’s no way that we can retain all that we see, yet images are our story-tellers and the custodians of some of our most treasured memories.

This visual space is inhabited by our lovely friend Emma Saunders, who believes there is beauty to be found in everyone’s story.   She captures photo and film stories to fill our memory vaults and launch future wanderings down the lane called memory.  Emma runs the visual storytelling company beauty found and is a wife and mother of three mini-creatives in the making.

In this week’s Quick Q+A we talk with Emma about how she inspires and nurtures creativity in her children:

What inspires you about your children?

I am inspired by my children’s ability to so easily abandon thoughts of what others may think of them and leap fully into life, whether that be dancing or drawing or writing or running along the beach or diving into a pool with wild abandon.  Their fearlessness and courage with which they tackle new things also inspires me. I am also inspired by their sense of curiosity and wonder. When we walk along the beach and they find treasures that I haven’t noticed, or when they laugh with delight when they see how if they blow through a straw into their drink they can make bubbles – seriously simple joys!

What are your favourite ways to nurture and inspire creativity in your children?

I think the principal way I do this is by creating plenty of space and opportunity. I do this in a few ways. Firstly my children have very limited “screen time” and they do a limited number of activities after school and on weekends. I have been very intentional about this because I believe it creates space for them to dream and wonder and find and explore and then create. This may be creating imaginary worlds, or it may be something with tangible output.

What are your favourite ways to nurture and inspire creativity in your children?

I think the principal way I do this is by creating plenty of space and opportunity. I do this in a few ways. Firstly my children have very limited “screen time” and they do a limited number of activities after school and on weekends. I have been very intentional about this because I believe it creates space for them to dream and wonder and find and explore and then create. This may be creating imaginary worlds, or it may be something with tangible output.

My favourite way to nurture and inspire creativity though is via lots of freedom in nature. We spend most of our weekends at the beach or visiting a national park and I love to let the gift of boredom and freedom expand their minds and develop creativity.

What are your tried-and-tested ways to weave creativity into your family/work/life mix?

Because I mainly play in the photography and film (video) world for my business, I am a big believer in taking my children on shoots with me wherever possible. They watch and observe and feel the courage to “play” and experiment like I do. Because we are all still learning aren’t we?

For example I photographed a wedding last month where our family were also guests. I had two cameras with me and when it came time for the reception where I was only using one camera my eleven year old son picked up the other camera and started taking photos.  Because I have taught him to be extremely careful with expensive equipment I knew I could trust him. He took a few great photos, one of which I used in the selection I gave the client (Sshhh…don’t tell anyone).

What are your top 3 tips for encouraging children to experiment and play with film and photos?

1. Teach them to have respect for the tools.  In my case, these are expensive tools, but also giving them cheaper options to play with (disposable cameras, or polaroid cameras or old cameras that you are no longer using). Again, it comes down to freedom once you have educated them on valuing the equipment. At the moment my boys love making time lapse films, stop motion films and music video clips on an ipad or ipod.

2. The other way I encourage them to play with this medium is by being my muses and inspire them as they watch me play and experiment. I always talk them through my process by asking them questions – why do you think that location would be better than this one? Can you feel the light on your face? Do you see the shadows there? Wait…I need to change my ISO before you can jump around in this dark space or the image will be blurry, or I need you to be quiet while I am recording this audio.

3. I give them some tools but don’t give them too much instruction. My thinking around this is that if I tell them exactly how to do something they won’t learn and discover things for themselves. Sometimes they figure out new ways of doing things and then they teach me! Also, I always show them my finished photos and videos and I talk with them why I think something worked well or where something could have been improved. And I ask them to give me feedback too. We also do this as a family when we see a film or an ad on a billboard or on TV – always asking questions and getting the children to think about why an image looks good, or not, or why a piece of music works as a soundtrack or doesn’t.

What are your go-to creative kick-starters for school holidays?

Less is more – Less toys and fewer materials as a general rule.  But my number one go-to is plenty of free unstructured time outside in nature. On days we need to be at home though I always pull out the Lego. If they are bored with Lego I suggest making a stop motion video of their creations.

My daughter is crazy about drawing and crafting so I need to have basic materials on hand and as much recycled rubbish I can get for sculptures, and other than that there is dirt and leaves and sticks outside to create.

What tips do you have for reconnecting with your own creativity when you’re feeling uninspired?

As a general rule I try not to look at other photographer’s work (or short films) because I prefer to tap into my own creativity. So when I am feeling uninspired I try to stimulate that deeper part within me and watch what flows out.

One of the main ways I do that is to plan an adventure – a drive to the country for a picnic or a hike in the hills or travel further afield like an overseas or interstate trip.  I’m always inspired by new surroundings.

Other ways I find inspiration is by finding new tools – that may be in the form of a film camera or a new app for my phone or I may try only taking black & white photos or only using one prime lens on my camera.

Another way I try to light a creative spark is to set myself small goals and then use sheer discipline to start it. It is usually when I am feeling the least like doing something I say to myself “tomorrow morning when you wake up you are going to grab your camera and capture xyz”.  Or I might set a goal that this month I am going to take some film portraits of my children or make a video of our holiday.

I was profoundly inspired on this topic when I read these books:

The Creative Habit” by Twyla Tharp about the world of modern dance.
The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield about the world of an author.
Turning Pro” by Steven Pressfield

They each talked about creating habits and routines because you will only find creativity when you keep trying and continue to move forward. The spark won’t ignite all the time but we need to learn to practice our craft even when we don’t feel inspired. The more often we are practicing,  the more often we have a chance of igniting something deep within.

Would you like to share some of your favourite images with us?

Emma Saunders beauty found 2Night time dancing
I took this on holidays in Cambodia. Obviously it was night and as my daughter danced with joy (there was no music, only waves lapping, laughter and gentle conversation), I tried to capture the moment. I love that it’s not a perfect photo, in fact some might say it’s terrible from a technical point of view. But for me, it captured the heart and spirit and feeling of that moment that a “perfect” photo couldn’t have done.

Emma Saunders beauty found 3

When film goes wrong
I was “playing” with my Hasselblad medium format camera and the film jammed (user error) so instead of one lovely photo, this is three images overlapping. No post processing here – this is directly out of the camera (or off the roll of film). My children learnt so much in the process of me using this film camera as I had to ask them to stand still for much longer than with a digital camera. It’s a tricky camera to focus so it takes time, and they learn patience. In the end, I love my “mistake” photo because it speaks to the power of learning and the beauty that can be found in imperfections.


Thank you Emma for sharing!  

Our family is loving Brisbane’s crisp blue skies and the cool that is slipping into our evenings.  Oh Autumn days you make us swoon!  This morning we stood on a street in our local village watching medals on proud chests march by, and joined in a gathering of gratitude and respect.  May you too have a wonderful weekend remembering all we have to be thankful for.

midweek creative :: a little idea

mid week creative hessian texture

Some days my thoughts are snipped short and jagged, tumbling over and spilling messy.

Today has been a snippy messy day.  Words gathered and discarded, sentences typed and deleted.  Paragraphs left dangling.

As I sit here in the cool shadow waiting for soccer practice to finish an idea sits quietly beside me. She’s been there most of the day, patiently waiting as I try to gather the snipped words and smooth the tumbled sentences so she can be heard, so that she can explain herself.

But today I’m thinking that sometimes ideas are best left unexplained. In the hope that their essence is enough, their words plenty.  That their potential ambiguity will gift space for personal interpretation and individual understanding.

And so, here she is, this idea which has been sitting beside me today.  She’s a little shy but she’d like to meet you, in her raw, unexplained form.

The pursuit of creativity should not always be about making and doing, adding and gain, better and new.  Allow your creative self to make friends with the concepts of removing, deleting, editing and allowing voids to exist.

Maybe one day I’ll gather the words to weave sentences to wonder through this a little. But for now I’m following my own advice and allowing a void to exist.

So why not sit with her awhile, this little idea?  And shall we see what happens?

Quick-snap! Our early-bird special ends Saturday!


There’s Autumn crunch in the air and underfoot, and there’s a special little early-bird fluttering low. She’s singing a sweet song of savings, and diving and looping low to make sure she catches your eye.

If you’d like your children to join our Autumn Adventures in Art series starting in just a few weeks, pop on over to our bookings page because our little early-bird will flit and fly away this Saturday, taking her special prices with her.

We’re collecting and gathering basketfuls of creative ideas and inspiration for these workshops celebrating one of our favourite seasons of the year.  Colour and texture, paint and clay, printing and weaving. And books. Delicious, gorgeous, tingle-worthy books which make our eyes look wide with wonder and our minds giggle and think. We’ve enjoyed the process of choosing and picking books (oh there are so many gorgeous children’s books which inspire us!) and teaming them with autumn-inspired art and creativity.


Our art workshops are designed to inspire and nurture creativity, using great children’s books to stimulate discussion, launch ideas and inform art techniques and theory.  We are looking forward to working alongside your children through this six week series and encouraging their creativity to take wings. Find out more about our Autumn Adventures in Art series here.


Our early-bird special ends this Saturday, 18 April, so book now!

PS – Our sincere apologies to those who tried to book in the last few days and couldn’t get our website to cooperate. It’s all fixed now, but please email us if you do have any problems with your booking.