Art Is the Center of a Little Market that Changes Me

The East End Market is one of my favorite places in Orlando. In fact, I am sitting there right now writing this very post. I love it because it is filled with art. No, not paintings and sculptures. It’s filled with the kind of art that Seth Godin talks about: art that gives something away and changes the recipient. And I would add: art also changes the person creating the art.


What I love about the East End Market is that the building itself is a work of art. It used to be a little hotel squeezed in between the Winter Park and Baldwin Park areas of Orlando. Someone had the artistic vision to turn the abandoned old place into a market of artisans. Just doing that changed countless lives.

Now the Market has a coffee shop, a small bookstore, an asian market, an artisan bakery, a craft beer bar, a cheese shop, and a couple of sandwich places. Each one of the proprietors of these places is creating her own art. The coffee shop directly imports beans from Africa, Central America, and South America. It’s changing the lives of the farmers that grow the coffee. It’s also changing the lives of the employees of the coffee shop, giving them a regular job. It’s also changing the coffee business in Orlando by using beans that are “firsts” instead of the “thirds” that most coffee shops use.

The little bookstore is a treasure in a day and age when bookstores are closing. This bookstore gets to be highly selective in what they offer. There are highly specialized cook books, books on Florida culture, unique novels and children’s books, cards, and small items for your home.

The craft beer bar serves local brews. The bakery offers delicious bread and pastries you can’t get anywhere else. The sandwiches are far superior than anything you’ll get in a fast food place. The cheeses in the cheese shop come from all over the world. The asian market has pho and food you can’t get anywhere else.

Simply being in the place changes me and makes me more productive and more creative. Creativity breeds creativity. There is a certain energy that flows through creative people and places.

And it makes me wish there was more of it.

Here’s where you come in: The world needs your art. It needs what you have to offer. You may not be a painter, sculptor, or musician, but there is something you have to offer and give that will change other people. Maybe you can make sandwiches, or coffee, or beer, or bread. Maybe you could sell unique books.

A number of years ago our daughter, Ashlyn, started a blog. It was funny, interesting, and had a clever title. Unfortunately, she gave it up. Recently she’s had an idea for a new blog. I know what it’s about, and it would be such a cool thing for people to read. I hope she gets it out into the world soon and often. It will not only change the world, it will change her.

Here’s my encouragement to you (yeah you…the one reading this): stop putting it off. Make something. Ship it. And then make something else. We need your art. The world will be a better and more beautiful place because of it. Your creativity will help someone else’s. It might even challenge us to change or think differently.

Come on…what are you waiting for?

Setting Up Your Own Creation Station

A Creation Station is a helpful place or space for you to do your best creating. Recently, a friend of ours was cleaning out their home office to make a nursery for their soon-to-come new addition. As she was doing so, their young daughter decided to make her own Creation Station filled with idea notebooks and recycled materials. While she was creating the space, she hung up the “Heart for Art” award she got from school. It was “for displaying great enthusiasm and passion for visual arts.”

PARIS, FRANCE - November 23, 2014: Artists in Place du Tertre. Many artists set up their easels each day for the tourists in this famous and picturesque square in Montmartre

As the little girl was putting together her Creation Station, complete with an award for her art, she said:

“Whenever I think I can’t make something I’ll just look at this and know I earned it because I can do it; just be creative!”

You can do it, too. Just be creative. And it’s easier to do so if you create space for you to do it. Space isn’t just an area or expanse where you do your creating. It is also space on your calendar. And it is space in your brain.

Here’s how to make your own Creation Station:

  1. Make a space. Your Creation Station should be a place that inspires and motivates you. One of my least motivating places is my office at church. I find that there are far too many interruptions to get much time for deep, creative thinking. I need a place that inspires and motivates me, so I do most of my writing at a table in our eating area at home. I like to have the door open, and often have instrumental music playing. Music with words is too distracting to me. Another place that I create well is in a public place like a coffee shop or a Panera restaurant. You’d think the noises in those places would distract me, but they don’t. They energize me. If your creativity involves painting or other messy pursuits, you’ll probably have to make your space at home. But when you do, you are more free to surround yourself with art, pictures, or quotations that inspire you and motivate you to create. Creation Stations aren’t just for kids.
  2. Make time. Your Creation Station needs to be on your calendar. Creativity takes time. Sometimes it takes “empty” time, where you just do some thinking, or even something unrelated to your creative pursuit. Doing things unrelated to my writing are often the times I come up with my best ideas. But when I have the idea I need the time. I don’t want to just find the time. I want the time actually scheduled into my calendar so that it becomes an appointment just like anything else on my calendar. When it’s there, I take it seriously and use the time for making and creating.
  3. Make room in your brain. Your Creation Station starts first in your brain. You know that cluttered closet way back in your brain, with the door shut and dust collecting everywhere? It’s time to open that door, clear out the clutter, remember the times from days gone by when you were creative (because we all were), and make that old closet a Creation Station in your head. Watch a movie. Read books both inside and outside your area of creativity. Go to a museum and spend an hour taking it in. Attend a concert. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says that you should take yourself on “artist’s dates” at least once a week, by yourself, to fill your creative reserves with material. You never know how these dates and times will inspire you or give you material when you most need it.

It doesn’t take much to make your own Creation Station. So when you do, remind yourself to “just be creative,” like our little friend. You can do it.

Where is your Creation Station?

5 Creative Christmas Gifts to Bring Out the Artist in Anyone

It’s probably not a surprise to you that I like to encourage creativity by giving Christmas gifts that do the same. Christmas vacation is the perfect time for people to crack open their creative selves and start the new year on a fresh, creative note. I also find a deeper meaning in creative Christmas gifts when I remember that the Ultimate Christmas Gift was the most creative gift ever given. God, the Father, gave His Son into human flesh to bring about human forgiveness and salvation.

Packets of presents under the Christmas tree on the background of colored lights

Our human creativity is but a small reflection of the creativity of the Creator God. Why not encourage that wonderful gift in the lives of those we love?

Years ago I received a book for Christmas called: Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered. It was a book that came with a paint brush and set of watercolor paints. I loved dabbling with watercolors, but had never really had any instruction. The book I received (meant for any age) gave me both simple instructions in watercolor painting and the opportunity to actually do what I was learning. The book was meant to be painted. It was meant to be an opportunity to experiment right then and there with what I was learning.

How about reserving one gift that encourages creativity for everyone on your list this year? No matter their station in life, everyone could use a creative boost, and whether they admit it or not, will appreciate a creative Christmas gift.

Here are my five favorite picks for creative gifts this Christmas:

  1. Drawing: For the Artistically Undiscovered (Klutz) I am not a great visual artist. Having said that, I’m better at painting than drawing. This book will do for your drawing what the aforementioned Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered will do for your painting. This book is great for either kids or adults. Unleash someone’s artist!
  2. The Steal Like an Artist Journal: A Notebook for Creative Kleptomaniacs Steal Like an Artist is one of my very favorite books on the creative pursuit. It’s simple, easy to read, and yet extremely profound. Now Austin Kleon has come out with a journal that will help you interact with your creative self and begin to make great art.
  3.  The Creativity Challenge: Design, Experiment, Test, Innovate, Build, Create, Inspire, and Unleash Your Genius This book will help you change the way you usually think to help you gain creative insight and art of any kind. There are over 100 different challenges and exercises to help you with new ideas and new possibilities in your work or play.
  4. 344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic Fulfillment (Voices That Matter) This book, entirely filled with questions, is a great way to spark creativity by thinking through things and jotting thoughts and ideas down right into the book itself. The book even includes the questions many celebrities asked, or wished they had asked themselves, on the way to success.
  5. Wreck This Journal (Black) Expanded Ed. The title of this book says it all. I’m the type who cringes when a page in one of my books gets folded or wrinkled. But this book makes me change my fastidiousness and gives me the opportunity to write, poke holes, fold, and generally wreck this book while at the same time moves me massive step forward in my creativity.

What gift would you give to spark someone’s creativity? 

My 8 Favorite CD’s of 2012

I’ve always been a fan of lists, especially end-of-the-year lists. When this time of the year comes around I often find myself reflecting and contemplating what has transpired since the first day of the year (which seems like yesterday).

Every year there are certain CD’s that become the soundtrack of my life. This year I have found myself prominently listening to the following 8 CD’s that have given me joy, have caused me to think, and take me back to specific places and times in a year when my life went through significant change.

In no particular order, here are the 8 CD’s that were the soundtrack for my life this year:

  1. John Mayer: Born and RaisedMy first listen through I wasn’t sure I’d like it. But I gave it a chance, and by the third time through I was hooked. These songs show (perhaps for the first time) a maturity in Mayer’s thinking. He’s been through a great deal, learned some lessons, and wrote about them. These songs carried me through a transition from Wisconsin to Florida.
  2. Dave Barnes: Stories to Tell. Dave Barnes is one of my favorite singer-songwriters. Our son took me and my wife, Tammy, to see him in concert in Nashville a couple of years ago. It was a night, and a concert, I will never forget. Dave’s songs are the kind of songs with which one can sing along. And that’s a high compliment for a singer-songwriter. Dave Barnes tells a story and puts his finger on emotions well.
  3. Mat Kearney: Young Love. It’s no secret why Mat Kearney has become so popular. He is unique. His pop songs infused with a few creative lines of rap here and there are like nothing else on the market today. She Got the Honey and Young, Dumb, and In Love are two of my “happy place” songs of the year. I can’t listen to them without instantly finding myself in a better mood. I’m also honored to know Nathan, who plays guitar with Kearney when he’s on the road.
  4. Robby Earle: Lifted. This CD, by our son’s former roommate, is one of the things I love about music: it bursts with young exuberance. A close listen reveals thoughtful and creative production. The lyrics are beyond the years of the songwriter. I would listen to this CD every morning as I ran during the hot summer months of Florida. Though it’s not on a major record label, it’s truly one of my favorite listens of the year.
  5. Parachute: The Way It Was. Although this album technically came out in 2011, it’s just the kind of music I love. One song in particular was used on Milwaukee Brewers’ TV broadcasts during their 2011 playoff run, and I can’t hear the song without thinking of that great time. More than that, these are songs that make me want to turn up the volume, roll down the windows, and sing along at the top of my lungs.
  6. The Civil Wars: Barton Hollow. Another hold over from 2011, this album is unique because of the duo that makes up The Civil Wars. If the duo ever plays a concert near you, do not miss it. The talent and ability of these two is almost beyond belief (note: the second leg of their current tour has been canceled; here’s to hoping they will tour again). True proof that talent, good songwriting, and passion will go a long way toward a great (yes, truly great!) record.
  7. Charlie Peacock: No Man’s LandI’ve been a Charlie Peacock fan for most of his career. It had been a goodly number of years since his last release, so I looked forward to this album with great anticipation. Although it is completely different from anything he has ever done, it was better than I could have ever hoped. The CD is infused with a cajun, and sometimes zydeco flavor. But the stories and metaphor that Peacock uses are those of master songwriter. Charlie Peacock goes back to his roots for a very rootsy record. It is not to be missed.
  8. Over the Rhine: Snow Angel. Although this CD was recorded back in 2006, I didn’t discover it until a couple of weeks ago. It was a featured album on the free music web site called Noisetrade (if you haven’t even been to that web site, do so immediately; it’s a great way to discover new, up and coming artists, as well as music from well known musicians…all for free…or a tip). This duo has crafted an album of Christmas songs that is far superior to all the tired old stuff you hear on those 24-hour Christmas radio stations. Download this album for some sophisticated Christmas music like no other. It’s creative in the best sense of the word.

What are your favorite CD’s, albums, or songs from 2012?

What I See in Central Florida Clouds

You haven’t seen clouds…or lightning…until you’ve lived in central Florida. The clouds that dump the rain most every summer afternoon tower taller and higher than any I have ever seen. They roll, and blow, and flow. When it’s grayer than gray over one’s own house, in the distance there is in plain sight blue sky and puffy clouds. A mile away from us it may be raining cats and dogs and never rain at our house at all. Almost every day the clouds are a work of art on the canvass of the sky.

Central Florida is apparently the lightning capitol of the world. The conditions here are perfect for the generation of static electricity. You should see the formations and cloud-to-ground strikes, or the flashing spider webs of light, the create cracks in the sky. It is an awesome, and sometimes scary, sight.

These natural occurrences are reminders to me that art and creativity are all around. Sometimes all we need do is open our eyes to what is most familiar to us. Inspiration is everywhere.

Looking for a way to jazz up your presentation, your paper, your writing, or your art…whatever it may be? Take a look around. Enjoy a closer look at something you see every day. Linger for a moment. Slow down. Try and notice something you haven’t noticed before…

…Like the shape of the cloud as it passes by on a summer afternoon.

Where have you noticed creativity in something boringly familiar?

Creativity with Cardboard

I may be a sap, but by the end of the following video I was crying. I dare you to watch it and not be moved by Caine…and what a big group of people did for Caine that made this nine-year-old’s day.

Caine is creative. Caine is persistent. Caine is Patient. Caine is imaginative. Caine has a supportive father.

Raising Caine must be a delight.

Watch this ten minute video and chime in on how and why (or if) it moves you:

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Here’s why this video moves me:

  • As a child I was Caine, creating plays in our basement, go karts out of junk we found, space ships out of fallen trees, and carnivals to raise money for muscular dystrophy. 
  • It reminds me that we live in a different world. No one ever created a flash mob to come to one of my childhood creations. I was moved by Caine’s “success.” The internet is a powerful tool.
  • Caine has a supportive dad. My parents were always supportive, too.
  • Somebody sees “genius” in Caine and supports him by buying a “fun pass.” (Lord, help me to be supportive of creativity where I see it!)
  • I am so happy for Caine that it moves me to tears. Did you notice that there is even a scholarship fund set up for him?
How and why does this video move you?

5 Reasons to Love Milwaukee…Even in the Winter

Today as lacy snowflakes fell outside of my office window, I resigned myself to the fact that winter is once again upon us. I’m famous for telling people that Milwaukee is one of the most underrated cities in the United States….in the summer. Summers here are gorgeous. Winters are brutal and long. They have given Milwaukee a bad reputation. I’ve met people who think it’s cold and snowy here all year.

But I have to admit that even in the winter Milwaukee is an underrated city. Winter in Milwaukee is like summer in Phoenix. During the Phoenix summer people rush from an air conditioned house to an air conditioned car to an air conditioned store. During the Milwaukee winter it’s the reverse. We go from one heated place to another.

So here are five reasons to love and appreciate Milwaukee…even in the winter:

  1. The Third Ward. The Third Ward is one of Milwaukee’s oldest neighborhoods. It has recently undergone a renaissance. The area is filled with great, independent restaurants, bars, The Broadway Theatre Center, and unique shops. Bundle up, wear a scarf, and enjoy the old streets of Milwaukee filled with modern entertainment.
  2. Milwaukee Public Market. On the edge of The Third Ward is the Milwaukee Public Market, an open air collection of eateries, a cheese shop (What do you expect…It’s Wisconsin?!), a wine shop, florist, bakery, and chocolate shop. All local. All unique. A great way to spend a winter weekend afternoon.
  3. Milwaukee Art Museum (Calatrava). Not too long ago I was able to spend much of a day exploring all the nooks and crannies of this spectacular museum. Renowned architect Santiago Calatrava designed Milwaukee’s distinct landmark, the Brise Soleil. Inside it’s light, and warm, and filled with fantastic art. This winter I’m going to have to check out Impressionism: Masterworks on Paper.
  4. The Pabst/The Riverside/Turner Hall Ballroom. Three great venues. Limitless opportunities for fantastic live music. Although I love all three places, Turner Hall Ballroom is one of my favorite music venues anywhere. It’s a nineteenth century German ballroom that has been converted into an intimate concert setting. I have seen, amongst others, Shelby Lynne, Rocco Deluca and the Burden, Mat Kearney, and The Civil Wars (twice) in this retro-hip little space.
  5. Brady Street/East Side. Brady Street is a quirky neighborhood filled with hipsters, artists, aging hippies, and college students. It too has great independent restaurants, a wonderful neighborhood Italian grocery, and watering holes filled with regulars. Just around the corner is the Oriental Theatre, which was built in 1927 as a movie palace. The theater is filled with East Indian decor and shows independent, quirky, and artsy films. It’s a great place to escape a bitterly cold Wisconsin night and see some great art.

Milwaukee is a great place to live. Now if only we could get spring to make her appearance much earlier. In the mean time, I’ll try to enjoy my underrated city…even in the sometimes bitter cold.

If you’re from Milwaukee, what are your favorite places? If you’re not from Milwaukee, what do you love about winter time in your city?

Write What You Know (And You Know A Lot)

There is an old adage that says, “Write what you know.” It means that your best writing will be about the things that you know best. If you are a teacher write about teaching. If you are a son write about being a son. If you are a camper write about camping.

This applies to most any art, vocation, or creative endeavor. What do you know? How can you use what you already know to create something new?

The world is waiting to learn from you. You know something I don’t know, and you can say it, create it, paint it, or write it in a way that is uniquely yours.

If you’re a

  • teacher: show us your most creative teaching method.
  • pastor: tell us how you prepare for your sermons.
  • writer: let us read about when and where you write.
  • actor: teach us how to engage people in a story.
  • musician: share the way you craft a song.
  • visual artist: relate your thoughts about conquering a blank canvas.

You know a great deal about your craft, your life, your creativity. There are people eager, ready, and waiting to learn from you.

Write/tell/teach/share/show what you know. 

We’re waiting.

How to Be a Neighbor (“The Good Samaritan” Unplugged)

He loaded the animal for the daily trip from Jerusalem to Jericho. That city provided much needed work. The daily trek through treacherous territory was a small price to pay. Good wages and amenable fellow workers made each day a welcome adventure. But this day would find exceptional surprise.

The Good Samaritan, by He Qi. Used by permission. Go to to view and purchase prints and posters.

As he and the animal climbed the path that passed random caves on one side and a dangerous drop on the other, two men went running by. They were nothing but a blur in the dusky dawn as they passed. It was unusual, but nothing to keep him from pressing on for a days’ wage.

When the morning sun peeked over the horizon he saw a shadowy figure slowly walking toward him. As it drew closer he noticed the robes of a priest. His head slowly bowed as the holy man walked by. He averted his eyes, but noticed a nervous shuffle in the priest’s step. Glancing back he watched the robed one throwing his gaze up to the heavens.

The sun was climbing and so was his animal. Picking up the pace toward a day of work, He pressed on. The footsteps of the animal pointed straight toward another stranger on the way. In the clear light he knew it was a Levite. The day seemed doubly blessed. But as he walked by the Levite raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

Rounding the next turn brought some much needed shade. For a moment his eyes were blinded. As they adjusted to the shade a twisted pile appeared on the ground in front of him. Drawing nearer his heart quickened to the discovery that the lump lying in front of him was a man.

The man had been beaten, bloodied, and left for dead.  Now he knew why two men had been sprinting in the early dawn. Apparently both a priest and a Levite had ignored the twisted pile of a man. But ignorance and ignoring would no longer take place. He got off his animal, took out his first aid kit, stopped the bleeding, and straightened the body as best he could. He heaved the pile off the ground, lifted it to the animal, and started off to the first place care could be given.

He gently laid his palm on the twisted pile of a man and moved with purpose. The animal’s empathetic eyes looked at its load with grace. They came to the place. “Please take him in. Care for him. I’ll pay you everything required. I’m on my way to work but will return this evening. If there’s any extra expense I will pay you then.”

As the sun set he came back to the place where care and comfort was given. He sat by the bed night after night, returning from each days’ work to do all he could to help the healing. He was a neighbor.

“Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

Where have you seen mercy provided in an extraordinary way?

How Consistency Creates a Sweet Swing and Artistic Hits

To put it mildly, the New York Yankees are not my favorite baseball team. My dislike for them goes back to the days that the Milwaukee Brewers were members with them of the American League. Their dominance, buy-a-championship ways, and cockiness have only fueled my fire.

I was certainly not the first to stand up and cheer when Derek Jeter recently reached the 3000 hit milestone. But I was intrigued by an article in the Wall Street Journal that shared a secret of his hitting success.

It came out of the mouth of Tampa Bay Rays manager, Joe Maddon. What he saw in Derek Jeter over all these years was:


 “Guys always want to change guys, or if they struggle a little bit, they say, ‘Let’s change his stance, let’s try this, let’s try that.’ The really good guys look the same out of high school as they do 15 years later. And that’s pretty cool,” the Rays manager said.

Apparently Jeter’s stance looks the same now as it did when he was scouted by Major League scouts when he was in high school. Already then he was building a foundational swing that, with consistency, would make him a hall of fame hitter. Though there was temptation all along the way to tweak and change his stance or his swing, Jeter always went back with consistency to the foundation he had built.

Even in creativity, there is something to be said for consistency. Certain talents, traits, and God-given gifts build the foundation for art and creativity that is distinct and unique only to you. Step too far outside your own box or comfort zone and you may be wasting precious time and material.

Creativity demands trying something new, something different, something that may be viewed as inconsistent. But an approach to creativity that includes the consistency of practice, or a certain talent, or a specific routine, could make you a hall of fame creative.

Start with a firm foundation, a great stance, or a sweet swing, and fantastic art will flow from it in every direction. Consistency matters.

Where do you see consistency helping your creative life?