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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Friday 11.27.20

November in Review

By Lark Keeler

As it is time for my final reflection, I want to begin by offering my sincere gratitude to NAEA for this opportunity.  It has allowed me to stretch and explore new ways of thinking and expressing, creating and communicating.  

This month of November I hope that you have had moments to cultivate gratitude in your life.  As we continue to move into the winter season, we begin to shift to ideas of gift giving.  With the action of giving, also comes receiving.  I invite you to take a moment and feel the rhythmic energy of giving and receiving as you inhale and exhale.  Reconnect to the space you are in.  Cultivate feelings of wonderment and awe, gratitude and curiosity.  

Send loving-kindness into the world by starting with yourself and expanding your circle outward to friends, family, community, country, and to the earth.  Try a metta, or loving-kindness meditation to start a new ritual of giving love to yourself and love to others.  

Know that your work in arts education makes you a gift to many others around you.  Know that you are the best part in a student’s life.  Your wisdom and compassion, enthusiasm and joy for the visual arts is a gift to the learners you work with.  Your passion for life-long learning and sharing lifts others.  These are gifts that you give to the world as educators.  

Remind yourself about the power of receiving, as you give so much.  Remember to breathe, to reflect, to be gentle with yourself.  Take time to fill your well.  Receive the blessings of purposeful pauses and recalibrate your bodies, minds, and spirits to be united and continue to be abundantly creative forces in the world.   Receive this hope and encouragement for a renewed resolve and approach as we conclude 2020 and move into a new year with a refreshed vibrancy, ready to continue in the work that we are called to do.  


Wednesday 11.25.20


By Lark Keeler

In January 2020 the word Friendsgiving was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary after being on their Words We’re Watching list.  Friendsgiving is a little different looking this November.  Even more this year we crave to get together with our besties, trading stories, recipes, and holiday survival tips.  I recently had a virtual happy hour date with my college roommate, spending time catching up on our lives, professions, and families.  It feels good to connect with friends and loved ones near and far through online meeting services.  I am especially grateful for my friend from grade school that has arranged a few virtual reunions, in which there always seemed to be a wonderful surprise guest that would be invited to attend.  How grateful I am that there are ways to reach out to our loved ones near and far and to remain connected through our times in quarantine and safe isolation.  

The Florida Art Education Association (FAEA) held their annual professional development conference this November in an engaging and innovative virtual format.  Although there were initial concerns about if a virtual format would allow people to feel connected, the results, responses, and reactions from attendees demonstrated that the conference succeeded in bringing us together, despite the physical distances between us.  I was so glad to see my colleagues from around the state, even if they were stacked, boxed, and in gridded camera views.  It was lovely reconnecting, sharing, and coming together in our annual reunion in this new way.

Can you think of someone that you would like to reconnect with?  These strange times are the perfect opportunity to reach out and schedule a virtual chat with a friend.  If a virtual chat does feel quite right, perhaps a piece of mail art would be a lovely way to remind someone that you are thinking about them, grateful for knowing them, and hope that they are well.  Let’s give thanks for the friends and colleagues that we have in our lives--friends from long ago, friends of today, and friends we have yet to meet!


Friday 11.20.20

Routines, Rituals, and Peaceful Pauses

By Lark Keeler

What daily rituals bring you peaceful pauses in your daily life? 

Whether it is taking that first sip of coffee, or participating in a spiritual practice, our routines and rituals can shape our days by marking out times when we purposefully pause and savor a moment, or cultivate feelings of gratitude. 

As artists and educators we may have ritualistic routines that are a part of our creative making or research.  A friend suggests lighting a tealight candle and working until it extinguishes itself.  The familiar rhythms of starting a painting or beginning a drawing are like slipping on a pair of well broken in and wonderfully comfy shoes.  I savor the preparation ritual as much as the process work.  Check out these 7 Artists on the Self-Care Rituals That Keep Them Creative and see if you can discover any new ideas to work into your daily habits. 

Cultivating a ritual of daily gratitude has been proven to have powerful benefits, increasing our feelings of overall happiness and wellbeing.  A reflective evening or morning gratitude journal can shift our feelings to positive places with an uplifted attitude.  You can find delightful prompts and tips on how to begin a daily gratitude journal online.  Experiment with the idea of a daily gratitude sketch or work of art, instead of a written reflection, pausing to appreciate the gift of artmaking.  Create your own book to fill, or begin with a larger sheet, adding sketches or ideas to the paper each morning or evening for a new healthy habit and a renewing daily ritual.

- LK

Wednesday 11.18.20

Curate a Peaceful Space

By Lark Keeler

Do you have a space where you live that is cozy and comfy?  As the winter season approaches, snuggling into soft slippers, holding a warm cup of tea in my favorite mug, wrapped in a fluffy blanket seems to nourish my being and certainly give me feelings of gratitude.

Crafting and curating a space that promotes an atmosphere of peace, calmness, relaxation, and comfort helps our bodies to unwind and switch into modes of healing and wellness.  Even if just in a warm bath and a novel for some stolen moments, create a space that nourishes you and brings you peace. 

Atmospheric energy from the space you spend time in can elevate or drain you.  Notice your space and the feelings it gives you.  How could you switch things up to spark new energy if it is feeling dull?  How might shifting lighting change the way it feels?  Could a sweet, delicate, floral, or spicy scent change the way the space feels?

Set aside a little bit of time to snuggle up with a sketchbook and a cup of cocoa.  Make a date to treat yourself to some well deserved self-care.  Focus on and recalibrate your breath.  Try some square breathing.  See if you can channel some of those hygge vibes from Denmark and spend some cozy time enjoying the good things in life with the good people in your life.  Find some gratitude for the blessing of having a warm and cozy space to find some peace.


Monday 11.16.20

Unplugging to Reconnect

By Lark Keeler

Taking time to reconnect with things that support and cultivate wellness usually means unplugging from the things that do not.  Spend some time finding the flow and making.

Unplugging from the constant stream of news, emails, texts, chats, and calls gives us the space to reconnect with ourselves, family, and even our space and creative energy.  I find it can be challenging to sit still in a quiet space at times, yet I always find it comforting and easy to sit in a quiet space and make things.  How quickly time moves as we feel our creative bodies sinking into the flow state, making with our minds, spirits, and hands, unplugged from the rest of the world around us. 

Last year during our FAEA annual conference, Sky Kim, an artist that I admire for her dedication to the flow state, was our keynote speaker.  She channels patterning and line work into meditative and massive scrolls that ebb and flow like the energy you envision she pours into the work.  The repetitive quality of her artwork seems to mark time in interesting ways.  You cannot help but imagine the hours of deep flow she was in while making her scrolls.  I encourage you to explore her online gallery of images that I’m sure you will find inspiring and imaginative.  Spend a little time mark-making and breathing with some linework.  See where your breath takes you.

Try unplugging for just a little while at first and work toward expanding your moments of tech “time-outs.”  Curate experiences that will promote immersive focus and few distractions.  Give yourself the gift of enjoying the energizing work that you know you love to do.  Get in the habit of going with the flow and the renewed sense of gratitude for your tech tools when you plug back in. 


Thursday 11.12.20

A Beginner’s Mindset

By Lark Keeler

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.”

~Shunryu Suzuki

How can we practice greeting the day with a “beginner’s mindset?”  Approaching things with a beginner’s mind, means we are greeting the experience, no matter the familiarity, with fresh eyes, curiosity, and wonderment.  It is a shifting in perspective that promotes a joyful feeling.  Even meeting water running from a faucet with wonderment, gratitude, and thoughtfulness during one of the many times you are washing your hands, invites a peaceful contemplative pause. 

Beginner’s mind can be a practice that can partner well with your personal artmaking.  Delight and savor the experience of working with art materials and media as if it is the first time you have touched those supplies.  How does it change the way the process of artmaking feels?  Can you find the child-like wonder of painting for the first time in your experienced hands and mind?  Use all of your sensory experiences in the moment to guide the act of noticing and appreciation and to remain open to all possibilities. 

As educators, greeting the challenges we face with a growth mindset, open mindedness, and a dash of beginner’s mind can help us cultivate refreshing feelings towards challenges or dull routines.  Beginner’s mind, with its openness and awareness, is judgement free.  It creates the mental space to be a non-judgmental observer, wonderer, and life-long learner. 

Find yourself today marveling at the experience of driving a car, taking a shower, drinking tea, or even breathing.  I invite you to take a moment to just be curious and grateful, to wonder and delight.  Pausing to notice the everyday magic that surrounds our daily experience can freshen up even the most challenging times. 


Monday 11. 9.20

Promote Awareness Through a Body Scan

By Lark Keeler

As a shift happens in the weather this month, I too feel a shift in my body.  Checking in with a body scan can help unlock stiff areas and energize our muscles in the cooler weather.  Here is a simple way to do a body scan, promoting wellness, relaxation, comfort, and awareness during the last days of the fall season.

- Take a moment to settle into a space. Be comfortable, yet alert.  You may sit or lay down.  Wiggle into the chair or surface until your body feels like it has accepted gravity and feels balanced.

- Begin with your feet, feel the soles, and wiggle your toes. Notice any feelings of discomfort and release any tension you may find. 

- Move up through each area of the ankles, lower legs, knees, and thighs. Notice any feelings of discomfort.  Release tension and feel relaxation moving slowly up your body.

- Move into your abdomen and chest, to your back and shoulders. Pause in each area and notice.  Take a moment and let wandering thoughts go, coming back to focus solely on each area.  Feel your abdomen rise and fall with each breath in its own comfortable rhythm.  Feel tension melting away as you focus on your breathing.

- Focus your energy and attention slowly down each section of your arm and into your wrists and hands. Pause for a moment of gratitude, considering all of the work and art your hands have made in this world.

- Revisit your shoulders and neck. Notice any feelings of tension and release the muscles. 

- Move up into your face, relaxing all of the muscles. Feel your eyes suspended and relaxed.  Try and release even your scalp, feeling a washing over your body of calmness and balanced energy.

- Take three cleansing and full deep breaths. Slowly open your eyes and return to the moment and space you are in.

Finding brief moments throughout our week to take a purposeful pause, recalibrate our breathing, and connect to our bodies in loving and gentle ways can help us move through our challenges as educators with more grace and ease.  I encourage you to build this simple exercise into your weekly routine, especially during these cooler months and unusual times at school, as it can also help you slide into a peaceful sleep after a long day.


Friday 11. 6.20

Activating Your Senses

By Lark Keeler

Fall is my favorite season full of the best smells, tastes, sights, and sounds.  Savoring fall means soaking up all things pumpkin spice and mindfully enjoying warm cider with cinnamon, the beauty of the trees changing, and the sound of crunching leaves.  Although some of those favorites might be a bit of a stretch here in South Florida, we do the best we can, eagerly welcoming the cooler breezes and cozier clothes. 

What is your favorite food or drink of the fall?  Try savoring the deliciousness in a new way.  Eat or drink it using all of your senses, slowly and full of awareness.  Pause while taking that bite or that sip and consider all of the people that it took to bring those ingredients to you.  Send them gratitude.  Can you taste the sun and rain in that bite of apple pie?  It took both to grow the apple you now are enjoying.  How decadent!

As art educators, activating our senses can refresh and revive us from dullness and savoring can promote happiness.  It can support our creative thinking and connection making.  Spend some time this month tuning in to your senses.  What are the smells around you?  Can you name or describe them?  Can you find four orange things in the space where you are?  What sounds can you hear?  Are they near or far away?  This gentle engaging of the senses enhances our everyday existence and can encourage you to reflect in new ways about common experiences.

Savor and enjoy these 12 Beautiful Autumn Scenes found in a variety of wonderful paintings.


Tuesday 11. 3.20

A Season of Reflection

By Lark Keeler

As the earth moves into a season of slumber, it gives us a moment as educators to pause and feel the change in the air and to respond to the call of rest and reflection.  Just as the earth begins its time of sleep set to wake in the spring, we too turn inward and reflect upon the past summer months and the start of this unusual school year. 

As the teacher experiences seasons, Fall is a time to start anew.  It is the moment of anticipation for a new school year filled with the potential of facilitating growth, development, innovation, creativity, and expressive making.  Let us take a moment to reflect upon the growth and development that we have had as educators in so many novel ways in which we now guide learners, even before we marvel at the flexibility of our students and their accomplishments in the start of this peculiar year. 

This is the season of reflection.  November brings us the reminders of harvest and gratitude.  I find myself thankful for the opportunities and learned skills this school year has delivered.  I couldn’t have guessed that my profession would look as it does.  What skills have you developed to remain an effective and inspiring educator?  Give gratitude for the chance to learn and grow, evolving as an educator and meeting the call with courage. 

The month of November encourages us to begin the routine of declaring gratitude.  Science tells us that a gratitude journal increases our happiness.  Keep a sketchbook or notebook near your bed.  In the evening, jot down a few things that you are grateful for.  Even if you choose not to write down, or sketch the things you are grateful for, just listing them in your mind promotes wellness.  

Reflect upon the people you need to tell, “thank you.”  Consider sending a handmade postcard or handwritten letter.  In these times when many feel isolated, contemplate who you know that could use a “thanks.”  It will do you just as much good as the receiver of your thoughtful words. 


Monday 11. 2.20

Self-care and Cultivating Gratitude

By Lark Keeler

As educators continue to move through a year unlike any other, the need for self-care and cultivating gratitude and happiness has become apparent.  Throughout the month of November, I hope to inspire you to take purposeful pauses, setting mindfulness and gratitude as important daily intentions in a variety of ways that are simple to incorporate. 

Take a moment after completing the last part of your work day and pause to remember and celebrate any little successes that occurred through the day.  Focus on the positive, no matter how small.  Take a breath and smile.  Even a faux smile can bring forth the feel-good chemicals in our systems, improving mood and reducing stress (even if behind a facial covering/mask).  Consider setting a gentle reminder alarm on your phone to pause, breathe, and smile.  Perhaps set a positive intention at the start of the day that could be revisited in these moments. 

Carving out these moments can be easier than you imagine, and once you have rewired your routine to include pausing and thinking of a daily success, positive intention, or an idea of gratitude, your wellness and happiness will begin to unfold.  When I wake up in the morning, I say with each foot touching the floor, “,” expressing gratitude that they will carry me through the day.  I like to use my ongoing handwashing as a moment of reflective gratitude for my health and safety. 

Join me on this gratitude journey throughout the month, taking stock in the abundant gifts that we receive and give to the world as educators.  Although this is a year full of uncertainty and ambiguity, we can tune in our attitudes and approaches to be filled with gladness and purposeful pauses.  Let’s use our time in November to refocus on self-care through wellness, gladness, gratitude, and reflection.