Like many writers, I love to hear from people reading my books. Generally, I hear from social studies and English teachers, but every now and then, I hear from a child, a quilter, or an art teacher.
Lisa Grand Murphy is a working artist living in the Washington, DC metro area who offers art classes after school in her home. Her most recent class is titled Art for Change! Lisa leads students in reading several texts, including my first book, I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery, before delving into the art experience.
After reading a few poems from Stitches, and discussing who was enslaved, how the Underground Railroad worked, and what was at stake, the students drew, painted, and stitched quilt blocks of their own, to create the Freedom Quilt you see pictured above. Each block includes a poem written by the student who created it.
“I Am The North Star”
I will show you the way.
I won’t let you get into danger.
Follow me and you won’t get caught.
I am prepared.
I am confident .
I am hopeful.
I will be free.
“I Will Protect You”
I protect you when wild animals attack.
Or when white men come.
I will lead your way through the Dark.
I’ll be your eye for danger.
Here, Lisa Murphy answers a few questions on her creative process:
CG: Describe your earliest memories of yourself creating something. LGM: When I was about 4 or 5, my sister and I became fascinated with my mom’s ability to speak two languages; Spanish and English. At night in the bedroom we shared, we invented a completely nonsensical language and would talk to each other until we fell asleep.
CG: What does your workspace look like? How does it reflect and enhance your creativity? LGM: I like to think I use my art studio downstairs, but the reality is that I often gravitate towards my sun-filled dining room and work at our large farmer’s table. This tends to put me in the very center of the action and as a result, I find that my own artwork is social, topical, current and many times connected to family. This also seems to apply to my art lessons/curriculum. Last year, I taught art classes inspired by my childhood trips to visit my grandparents in Mexico. This year, my curriculum is focused on art for change and social justice.
CG: Is there a book, song, or work of art that you return to again and again to refill the creative well?
LGM: When I’m working, I listen to music. My playlist is pretty eclectic — Queen, the Ramones, Green Day, the Hamilton soundtrack, Bruno Mars, Dolly Parton and The Gypsy Kings are all included. Even as I type this, I’m listening to “Respect,” by the lovely Miss Aretha Franklin. For me, music creates an environment of energy and liveliness in which I can create. I also tend to play music during my art classes – my students are having a blast these days playing records on my new/old record player! As for inspirational artwork, I am obsessed with Picasso’s linocuts and seem to return to this series again and again to marvel at his visionary use of color, shape and line.
CG: Do you have a go-to activity that rejuvenates your creative spirit when you are feeling the well dry up?
LGM: Absolutely! I’ll give you two examples of things I do to jump-start my creative spirit. The first is easy and quick…if I’m feeling like I need a warm-up, I will do a series of drawing exercises. I typically draw in my art journal, using a black sharpie (no eraser!) and artwork or photos as my inspiration. I create continuous line drawings, upside down drawings, blind contour drawings, and drawings with my opposite hand (see a sample of one of my continuous line drawings in the attached photo.) These exercises tend to wake up my brain, focus my attention, and center my thoughts. My second “go-to activity” for inspiration is a visit to a local museum; in my case, I live 20 minutes from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. I absolutely love to stop by and see my favorite paintings. And like a great visit with creative, thoughtful, nurturing and entertaining friends, I always leave rejuvenated and inspired.
CG: Where can people can find you? Follow Lisa on Instagram @theartistworkshop365 or find her on Facebook at Lisa Grand Murphy | The Artist Workshop 365. Lisa welcomes emails from any folks who might have suggestions, comments, or questions… firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, Lisa!