Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Saturday 05.30.20

An Unfinished Capstone

By Michelle Harrell

For this last blog post in our COVID-19 quarantine series, I feel the need to drop a profound truth bomb. The Monthly Mentor should be oozing with wisdom, right?

I’m not.

Despite spending the last year developing a self-care plan, I continue to neglect my mental, social, and physical health. Despite developing systems to integrate work and life, I’m still on my laptop when I should be spending time with the family. Despite coleading our #JournalCare challenge, my own prompts slip my attention. I have much to learn about selfcare.

In Spring 2019, I began a leadership program through NAEA School for Art Leaders (SAL). Through SAL, I developed a capstone project to synthesize what I’ve learned about integrating the different domains in my life by creating a self-care plan using visual journaling. I developed a visual journal as a form of graphic research for my capstone and created a blog to share online. I chose a visual mode of research because I prefer a visual mode of learning, plus the added anticipation of helping others learn. The format helped me chunk complex life lessons into strategies to share with other artist educators who find themselves in a similar state of creative burnout. The two modes of visual research demonstrate how I’m learning to live my most creative life.

What have I learned through this capstone? Through my visual journal, Morning Pages, and conversations with stakeholders, I observed three subtle shifts:

  • A shift in my well-being (improved health and relationship),
  • A shift in my mindset (from reactive victim to proactive leader), and
  • A shift in my focus (from professional to personal development).

I’m still shifting. In my visual journal, I can see the struggle to shift my mindset to focus on what’s within my control and influence. I have not perfected the art of self-care but I’m making progress. I have developed the confidence to be my most authentic self and share my vulnerability to help others. As a leader, I have to model the self-care I want to see my team develop so we can be our creative best and serve the needs of our community.

Today’s #JournalCare prompt is Gratitude which can have great psychological benefits as Robert Emmons describes in this article. By focusing on gratitude, we shift our mindsets and identify our blessings rather than our shortcomings. I am thankful to my believing mirrors for their continued support and the opportunity to share my journey through this platform.

Our entire world is still shifting. Our new normal evolves as we develop the tools to respond. As art educators, we support and challenge each other to “shape human potential and promote global understanding.” I am grateful to be part of our professional organization as we respond to our new normal together. We are in this together. 

Harrell_CanCantMichelle Harrell @michelleharrellart



Gant NormalSara Gant @ArtBrit

- MH

Thursday 05.28.20

Fostering Community Virtually

By Michelle Harrell

Spending time with those who share my passion for visual journaling is a huge part of my self care plan. These art educators have served as my believing mirrors long before COVID-19 forced us all into isolation. A few of us get together once a month at our local Jerry’s Artarama for what we call Journal Playdates. Art Educator Ophelia Stanton develops the night’s prompt though all are encouraged to bring others projects we need to work on or want feedback from the group. The only prompt we repeat is my favorite way to begin each year: The Word of the Year. When we began working from home, we decided to meet virtually and have continued each week. Our #JournalCare 30 day challenge was developed as an extension of this group with Jodi Aker co-leading it and the rest some of our most active participants. It’s good for my soul.

IMG_0399                      Ophelia Stanton Geli Printing at our Journal Playdate                        

IMG_8790Ophelia and Me

Connecting with a group of artists and makers is an incredible self care strategy. As art educators, we foster a sense of community among individuals who may feel incredibly isolated. I love how Melissa Purtee created a Google Classroom for all the students she doesn’t teach who like to come hang out in her Art Room during their lunch. There are countless stories in our NAEA Collaborate discussion boards about how art museums, colleges, and schools are fostering creative communities virtually. 

Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) has reimagined an exhibition related project to a virtual quilting bee reaching creators across the country. I recently chatted with TMA Educator Maria Iafelice who shared the following:

“Connecting with our community and integrating art into people's lives is what we do here at TMA, but for our upcoming exhibition Radical Tradition: American Quilts and Social Change, the Covid-19 pandemic makes our Quilting Bee more poignant. It’s remarkable how many people are using their skills to make masks for frontline workers, but we also know that quilters across the country are making things that provide solace and comfort to themselves and their families. — Toledo Museum of Art Youth and Family Programs Manager Maria Iafelice

LARGE- COVID 19 Quilting Bee SquareTMA COVID-19 Quilting Bee Square by Caitlyn Gustafson. Image courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art.

What other online creative communities give you a sense of belonging during this time of COVID-19 quarantine? Please comment below.


Saturday 05.23.20

A Conversation with Art Educator and Art Therapist Jodi Aker

By Michelle Harrell


Today, I’d like to introduce you to the last of the four art educators highlighted during this month’s blog series: Jodi Aker.  We’ve met three art educators who are helping their students express the trauma of their lives during COVID-19: Holly Bess Kincaid and EJ Gibbons,  and Sara Gant. Each educator brings a variety of expertises to help students cope and nurture their own self care and well being. My final interview with Jodi Aker gives us an insight into her practice as an art educator, arts therapist, and yoga teacher. 

In my interview with Jodi on my website, we discuss the private nature of visual journaling contrasted with the public nature of a visual journaling social media challenge. Jodi shares how she has used visual journals in her yoga practice to help make physical ailments visual and more concrete. She shares advice for those who are new to visual journaling and how she accesses student journals in beginning classes versus more advanced art classes. We talk about the challenge of grading visual journals. Jodi shares how her students are using their live sessions during remote learning and how COVID-19 has impacted her plans for teaching art in the fall.

Jodi has been co-leading the #JournalCare 30 day challenge contributing prompts such as Word Art, New Favorites and responding to all of them. Follow Jodi @3joedee on Instagram or visit her web site to see her responses and share your response by post it on social media using #JournalCare as a hashtag and follow along to see how others respond through their visual journal.







Wednesday 05.20.20

Meet Trauma-informed Expressive Arts Educator Sara M Gant

By Michelle Harrell


Art educators inspire me. Over the last three weeks, I’ve introduced you to two art educators, Holly Bess Kincard and ER Gibbons who use visual journals with students as well as their personal practice as art educators. Today, I want to introduce you to one of the most inspiring art educators I know: Sara M. Gant. At the end of the month, Sara will retire from teaching high school art to develop her work as a trauma-informed expressive arts educator in her Artworks studio in Jacksonville, NC.

You may already have been inspired by Sara through her presentation during the NAEA Professional Learning webinar last November: Supporting Student Emotional Needs Through Art: Practical Everyday Techniques for Art Educators. The webinar is even more relevant in today’s COVID-19 context than when I first heard it. Supporting students’ emotional needs is more important during these challenging times than ever before. If you follow her through social media, you also know what an amazing visual journal artist she is. Everytime I see Sara, I love to look thumb through her visual journals to see the richly layered text and doodles. Her work is bold, colorful, and fun. 

In this post on my personal website, I interview Sara about how she uses visual journals as part of her self-care plan as an art educator. Sara discusses how she has experimented with various sizes and types of sketchbooks until she found the right one. She explores how she approaches the blank page, and provides tips for those new to visual journaling. She discusses the peaks and valleys of creating as an art educator and how she felt at the end of a particularly long creative block of not working in her visual journal. Read our interview and create your own visual journal page inspired by Sara’s approach to writing and doodling to help you get into a flow or zone of mindfulness. Follow Sara on Instagram @artbrit to see her responses and share your response by post it on social media using #JournalCare as a hashtag and follow up to see how others respond through their visual journal.

Post your visual journal on social media using our #JournalCare hashtag and follow along to see what others create.

Gant News

 - MH

Saturday 05.16.20

#Journal Week 2 Review

By Michelle Harrell

What is just me or was this a difficult week? Museums are grappling with decisions about summer camps and reopening as museum educators are laid off in disproportionate numbers. Schools and universities are exploring remote learning and alternating student schedules to continue education while social distancing. There have been infinite discussions about how school closures amplify inequities as we plan for the fall. I’ve been overwhelmed by what’s out of my control that I don’t know where to begin.

How do we help children cope with overwhelming feelings? We ask them to name their feelings. Perhaps we need to do this for our own self care. Write it down, scribble what can’t be captured in words, and collage the fodder we are trying to process. Acknowledge feelings as valid: frustrations, despair, loneliness, and even the guilt-tinged enjoyment of working from home. 

Let’s look back at my last few posts in this series and how art educators are responding to this week’s #JournalCare prompts to name their feelings and process their worlds. Then, we’ll get a sneak peek of what’s ahead for next week. 

In the last two weeks of this blog series, we’ve met two art educators, Holly Bess Kincaid and EJ Gibbons, who found ways to engage their students remotely through #ArtEdPortraits and COVID-19 Altered Books. I shared my biggest tip for self care during quarantine (SPOILER ALERT: lower your expectations).

Week two of #JournalCare included a series of prompts to tap into our subconsciousness:  Scribble/ Imagery, Time Capsule, Student Reflections/ Child Within, Energy Flow, Inside Outside Self. We expressed what’s inside ourselves as well as what’s happening around us. Educators collaged, wrote, and drew about their New Favorites and their Perspective of what is bringing you peace and joy. The week also included diving into The News based on reporting, understanding, or experience through media sources.

Here are a few recent posts art educators (including myself) posted to acknowledge our feelings and process our experiences through visual journaling.






Gibbons NewsER Gibbons


Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 8.04.04 PMSara Gant


Aker Helpers

Today’s #JournalCare prompt by Jodi Aker is the Helpers. As Mr. Rodgers is known for saying, seek out the good. There are a lot of good things happening in our field. I’m blown away by art educators (like Leslie Grace in Philadelphia) who are raising funds through Donors Choose to help their students through art kits. I’m moved by how museum educators have rallied around the Museum Workers Relief Fund to support our colleagues in the field. Looking around at the helpers in our field, I realize just how much is in my control.

In the #JournalCare 30 day challenge, my co-leaders have shared prompts given their students to cope with what they are experiencing during COVID-19 quarantine. In the next week, we’ll hear from two of the art educators co-leading this challenge who also have backgrounds in art therapy and trauma-informed expressive arts education. In the next week’s prompts for the #JournalCare challenge, we’ll reflect on what we’ve learned, what we miss, and who we are remembering. We invite you to join the community of art educators responding to these prompts as part of their mindful practice of self care. Learn more about prompts at


Wednesday 05.13.20

Lowered Expectations for Creative Quarantine

By Michelle Harrell

What’s my biggest tip for self care during quarantine? Lower your expectations.

Shouldn’t I be posting inspiring stories about changing lives through art education? To be honest, I need to confess how super-sweet positivity feels unnatural to me right now. Between the uncertainty with work, school, and family, I am trying to stay in the moment. Anyone who knows me understands that doesn’t come easy for me.

In the beginning of quarantine, long stretches of time were aching for lofty aspirations. The 6-15 hours of my weekly commute were quickly repurposed into an ambitious series of art and home improvement projects. I found inspiration in lists of 100 things to do during quarantine and stories of what past inventors, writers, and artists accomplished when forced into social isolation. I began a series of life studies and prepared dozens of canvases for all the work I envisioned creating between work and family time. These canvases are still waiting on me.

In researching this month’s series of blog posts, I read about tons of museums and art educators who blew my mind with their passion for healing the world through art. This flurry of do-gooders prompts me to wonder what difference I could possibly make. Sometimes, I just want to take a nap.

In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron explains virtue traps as when creatives sabotage themselves with the need to sacrifice their own well being in an effort to serve others. We give until there is nothing left to give. I have personally struggled with burnout and know I am not alone. It’s time we consider self care as essential.

What I hope to convey through this series of blog posts is that it is ok to have days when you’re just getting by and don’t feel so fabulous. We are grieving losses and need to give ourselves time to heal. As a field, we need to invest in self care because there is work to do ahead.

Join us for our #JournalCare 30 day challenge. Or don’t. You’re doing fine managing what you can today.



Cameron, J. (2016). Artists way - 25th anniversary edition. Penguin Random House.


Sunday 05.10.20

Student Art as Insight; Eric Gibbon’s COVID-19 Altered Books

By Michelle Harrell

On the day before remote learning began in March, Eric Gibbons, the Art Ed Guru [], gave his students an Altered Book assignment [] to document their COVID-19 experiences. Each student was given hard-cover books and instructed to create a thematic cover. Each week, students respond to one of the many possible themes provided on his website to share how the Covid Pandemic had changed their lives. From documenting feelings, thoughts, contemporary events, and paying tribute to anyone who passes from sickness, students shared the impact of COVID-19 from their point of view.

Eric’s approach to art education is heavily rooted in the need for personal expression. Learn more about his work and this altered book project at at Eric has created a private Facebook group for art educators for altered books. I want to share just a few images from Eric’s project and the students’ artistic statements to give us insight into the student experience.

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 8.37.33 PM

By Maria R.H. “The “white” inside the number and letters is to represent the light at the end of the tunnel we are in, that we are close to ending this. I used the color black because when you’re in a tunnel that's really all you see, darkness, our happiness sort of ended when we noticed this was getting serious.”..

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 8.38.24 PM

By Aaron. “For this blackout poem, I took a page from a newspaper and combined words to make sentences... The pandemic has affected my ability to use all the tools I had before because of how I am stuck at home and am unable to reach out with other types of tools.”

Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 8.37.58 PM

By Niva B. “On Friday, Andrew Lloyd Webber live-streamed the Phantom of the Opera and left it on YouTube for 48 hours. I watched the entire performance multiple times and found that the more I watched it, the more I related to the Phantom. ...”

What can we learn from student art about trauma they are experiencing? In the next week, I’ll feature two art educators on this blog whose backgrounds give us insight. I’ll interview Jodi Aker who is an art therapist and Sara Gant who is a Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Educator. Jodi, Sara, Eric, and Holly make up my team behind our 30 day challenge. Eric has created today’s #JournalCare prompt Student Reflections- Child Within. Consider how youth experience the crisis, respond in your visual journal, and share through social media using #JournalCare.


Friday 05. 8.20

#JournalCare Week 1 Review

By Michelle Harrell

In my first week as NAEA Monthly Mentor, I have shared how some museums and art educators are responding to COVID-19 and learned about more through your private messages. I need a year of blog posts to capture a snapshot of how our field is making a positive impact. I’ve chosen a couple amazing art educators to highlight this week such as Holly Bess Kincaid and my colleague at NCMA, Byanne Senor, who has led our mindful initiatives.

Have you been following our social media 30 day challenge? I’ve loved seeing my art ed friends have respond to our #JournalCare challenge. Let’s take a quick look at this week’s responses and look ahead to next week’s prompts. Remember you can do them in any order throughout the month but it’s always fun to see how others are responding to the same prompt.

Our week first began by altering a book for challenge and developing self-awareness through our curated series of prompts. Jodi Aker kicked off our first day with “Hack a Journal” and describes on her website how she found an old college journal that had exactly 30 pages left- just enough for this challenge. It was meant to be!

The week continued with #ArtEdPortraits, Feelings Check-in, Moments of Hope, a To-do Ta-da collage, visualizing your Vital Signs, finding imagery within scribbles, and a Time Capsule. Below are some highlights of the responses:

Picture1Dora C. May on Facebook @CulloWheeDawg


Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 11.27.47 PMAnne Courie-Meulink @acmeulink on Twitter


Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 11.20.33 PMJeannette Stevenson on Facebook @jeannette.j.stevenson


Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 11.54.15 PMEJ Gibbons on Facebook @ArtEdGuru




Screen Shot 2020-05-07 at 10.21.58 PMSara Gant @theartbrit on Instagram


Grab a sketchbook and pick any prompt to attack during one of your next Zoom meetings when you're craving a little self care. You don’t have to do the prompts in order or share them publicly but it can be rewarding to connect to others participating.

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 2.00.47 PM
Looking Ahead to Next Week

In the Second week, we’ll explore how art educators are nurturing their own creative self care during quarantine and hear from the student perspective from EJ Gibbons (The Art Ed Guru) and his COVID-19 Altered Book Project.

We want to hear what you’re doing for self care during COVID-19. Whether it’s through our challenge or not, we would love to hear what’s working for you. Comment below or post your ideas to Twitter or Instagram using #JournalCare. 


Thursday 05. 7.20

Caring through Art

By Michelle Harrell

“An artist can show things that other people are terrified of expressing.”

― Louise Bourgeois, Destruction of the Father/Reconstruction of the Father: Writings and Interviews, 1923–1997

Making art can be a powerful tool for helping cope with the trauma of their lives. In last spring’s Art Education journal, researchers encouraged an approach to art education that responds to the needs of students and builds a climate of care (Broome, Bobick, Ruggiero, & Jesup 2019). In an upcoming blog post, we’ll highlight an on-going project with one art teacher whose students are documenting their COVID-19 experiences through an Altered Book project. In addition to making art, we can also use art as a catalyst for discussion or contemplation.

As museums let go of our pre-COVID-19 identities, we remain relevant to those we serve by addressing emotional needs (Andrea Jones- Peak Experience Labs 2020). We can acknowledge we are living through difficult times and support those who are grieving, seeking inspiration, or simply need a good laugh. Over the past year, my colleague Bryanne Senor developed The Mindful Museum programming to include Art Inspired Meditation, Yoga in the Galleries, and even a Crystal Singing Bowl Experience. Bryanne developed a series of videos for our NCMA Recommends series that support mindfulness such as Grounding and Focus Guided Meditation with Gyre and Guided Observation of Monet's The Cliff, Étretat, Sunset. With Bryanne and our team’s support, I developed a Mindful Moment in Art using the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, coping strategy to discuss a work of art. Watch the video below to listen to how I model this strategy.


The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) Core SEL Competencies has served as a valuable framework in developing resources. We have referred to this framework in developing prompts for our ongoing #JournalCare 30 Day Challenge. Learn how you can participate in this challenge here.

- MH


Broome, J. L., Bobick, B., Ruggiero, A., & Jesup, C. (2019). Responding to the Challenge to Care: Suggestions for Art Education Curricula. Art Education, 72(2), 36–41. doi: 10.1080/00043125.2019.1559604

Additional Resources

Monday 05. 4.20

Meet Holly Bess Kincaid, Her #ArtEdPortraits, and Her Journals

By Michelle Harrell

What I consider an art museum educator’s dream of a social media challenge began in March at the onset of the COVID-19 quarantine. People around the world recreated art history icons with modern-day props of their quarantine. The challenge originated by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum as Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine, otherwise known as #betweenartandquarantine, and was quickly imitated by museums around the world. The Getty Museum’s responses became so popular it has been referred to as Getty Museum Challenge regardless of which collection inspired the photograph. If you have been following it, you have probably seen photographic recreations by Holly Bess Kincaid and her art students.

Holly Bess Kincaid
Time Magazine interviewed Holly about how she had challenged her students and other art teachers through the hashtag #artedportraits. Holly joined her students in this challenge with her own artistic responses to COVID-19 with photographs like her interpretations of Christina’s World or Young Woman Drawing. Holly’s clever interpretations are my favorite in the entire challenge. Holly stated:

“In a time when we are seeing so much in the news and media that scares our students and adults alike, what better way than to go back to your childhood and play pretend — and be someone else for a few minutes?” Kincaid asked.
Source: Time Magazine

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Screen Shot 2020-05-01 at 1.32.44 PM

I’ve followed Holly on social media long before getting to know her through the NAEA SAL program because she is a go-getter in our field. Holly is the current president of the Virginia Art Education Association. She indulged me in an interview to explore how she uses multiple journals as part of her self care plan as an art educator. Read my interview with her on this post on my blog.

Visual note taking

Follow Holly @ArtLadyHBK  on Twitter and Instagram for her prompts and responses to #JournalCare, our 30-day Visual Journaling for Self-Care Challenge. Interested in joining the challenge? Learn more here.