Anatomy of a Video Prompt

 In Guest Blogs

Carla Sonheim is a virtual friend and I have had the distinct pleasure of enrolling in some of the classes she offers as well as the 365 Days project which you will read more about below. I puzzled over offering this blog exactly as Carla wrote it (1400 words plus instead of the requested 400 words) with no photos, but decided the information was important enough to pull the trigger. I am encouraging you to read, not only if creating video’s is of interest to you, but more importantly to see just how much most of us go through before we get to a project we can share with others. Process is as important as product!

And now the page is her’s.

In 2017 my husband Steve and I are producing a year-long online class where we release one short creativity video each day. So far, we have made over 200 unique videos for “365: Activate Your Art Brain” … and it has turned out to be a blast!

The videos range in length from 30 seconds to 5 minutes, and consist of drawing exercises, painting assignments, photography, and writing prompts, mini artist interviews, words of wisdom (“quotes”), supply tips, and other general prompts. Our hope is to nudge our students to choose to be creative every day, even if for just a little bit. Almost 700 brave souls have signed up!

As a rule, we try to work ahead, but because of a series of very busy weeks in April we found ourselves a little behind; we needed to create a video from start to finish in the next few hours.

We really wanted to do a good one but were drawing a blank.

But despite this dubious beginning, #119 – Get Rid of Something is one of our favorite videos to date.

Here’s how it came together:

  1. Steve and I can’t think of a single idea. Ahhh!
  2. After many “no’s” and “I don’t think so’s,” we refer to an email our nephew (Will Sonheim) had sent at the beginning of the year listing 25 potential ideas. “Get rid of something you don’t use anymore. What would be on its gravestone?” is perfect (yay!)… it works well within the context of what we have recently released and what is planned to come.
  3. We brainstorm how to handle it. Do we have time to do an animation? Yes, we decide… a quick stop-motion. I am tasked with drawing and creating two “sets” — the inside of an apartment and a graveyard.
  4. I go to my studio and start with the apartment. What should I choose to “give away”? Excited — this is the fun part of my job! — I look around for candidates and settle on our rarely used toaster. I think it would be really cute. Perhaps the toaster can even have wings and fly away….? I decide to suggest this idea to Steve after I have it all done, wings and all….
  5. But the toaster drawings turn out to be really boring looking… they are just boxes with slits! And, gosh, how can I be such a horrible drawer? Embarrassing.
  6. I decide to take a photograph and go the tracing route. I print several toasters out in various sizes and trace them. The drawings still look dumb.
  7. Hmm. What if I use the actual photo instead of a drawing?
  8. But after cutting it out, it looks even worse than the drawings had… totally unrecognizable as a toaster for some reason. I realize then that the shape of a toaster just isn’t graphic enough for what we are trying to do so quickly.
  9. By this time I have been at it for 45 minutes and I don’t have anything yet to give to Steve.
  10. I’m pretty sure that at this point I go back to Steve’s office and ask if he can just do the whole thing on the computer instead. He scowls at me of course so I go back to my studio to try and find something else to draw and pretend to give away.
  11. I spot the white guitar I had gotten for Christmas. It is more interesting graphically, but by that time I don’t feel like drawing — or, more truthfully, I have lost my confidence — so I decide to go with the photo idea. But the guitar really is perfect! I print it out on heavy paper, cut it out carefully, and find some handmade paper to use for the wall and floor of the apartment. I bring my “set” back to Steve’s studio.
  12. Well, he doesn’t like the floor I have chosen and asks if I can find something else.
  13. He considers the guitar for a few moments, without expression. Then he hands it back and asks me to tie a string around the neck of the guitar. (I’m not sure why he wants me to do this, but by this time I am getting tired and am happy to let him call the shots, so I agree.)
  14. Then he asks if I can draw a picture for the wall. What size? Any size. No, what size… and orientation? Just anything you think would work. No, what size EXACTLY?! I don’t want to do it twice!! He gives me a piece of paper cut down to the size he wants.
  15. Ten minutes later I return with the stringed-up guitar and a new floor possibility. But by that time Steve has found some wood to use as the floor and dismisses my 2nd try. But instead of one large piece of wood, he is trying to piece two shorter pieces together to make the floor. I think it looks goofy but — and I admit I am getting a little cranky now — Who cares? I don’t. It’s his problem now! I go back to my studio to start the graveyard scene.
  16. The next thing I know Steve is in my studio with his sound recorder and playing the guitar. Now, Steve doesn’t know how to play the guitar, but his sound creations are pretty great for someone who doesn’t know how to play. I figure he is going to use it as the soundtrack and feel a jolt of pride for him.
  17. But then he pounds the bottom of the guitar on our wooden floor, making a horrible sound. I start to react, but by then he is trotting back to his studio. I make a note to scold him later after the video is done. What the heck?
  18. I write the epitaph for my gravestone — it makes me laugh! — and find and alter paper to use as grass and sky, and bring the second “set” back to Steve.
  19. The writing is not what Steve has in mind. He suggests something else. I don’t like it. We go back and forth for 10 minutes. We decide in the end to keep the original epitaph, my first impulse.
  20. I collapse on the couch and start responding to emails, happy that my part is, for the most part, over.
  21. An hour later Steve calls me in and shows me his animation. It’s great! And funny, too, as he has staggered the floor so that the guitar needs to clunk down a step (the reason for the guitar pounding earlier). I forgive him.
  22. We post the video, happy to have gotten through this one fairly gracefully.

As I read through the above, I can see that the feelings I had while collaborating with Steve on this video swing from discouragement (or worse) to elation:

… discouragement (No ideas!)
… to excitement (Thank goodness for Will!)
… to discouragement (I suck at drawing.)
… to excitement (Photographs!)
… to discouragement (Can’t YOU just do this?)
… to elation (The guitar!)
… to discouragement (Who cares? I don’t.)
… to pride (Steve is so cool.)
… to irritation (No… what SIZE?)
… to frustration (YOU can just figure out the floor then!)
… to excitement (Hey, I can be funny!)
… to discouragement (What do you mean you don’t love everything I do?)
… to elation (I LOVE this one!)


When we put this class up for sale in December 2016, we didn’t have all 365 prompts worked out ahead of time. Yes, we had an outline for the year, but we only had about 50 solid prompt ideas down on paper. How would making a video every single day look for us? Could we even do it?

But we knew we would be okay. Creativity, we’ve found, is a renewable resource* … an at-times frustrating and infinitely rewarding renewable resource!

Maya Angelou is right:

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

*Wait… can I say that that creativity is a renewable resource? I wasn’t sure the phraseology quite worked, so I searched online and found this quote from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone!

“Creativity is a renewable resource. Challenge yourself every day. Be as creative as you like, as often as you want, because you can never run out. Experience and curiosity drive us to make unexpected, offbeat connections. It is these nonlinear steps that often lead to the greatest work.”

Carla Sonheim is a creativity workshop instructor known for helping adult students recover a more spontaneous, playful approach to creating. She is the author of three instructional art books, including “Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun (2010),” which has sold over 100,000 copies. In 2013 she co-authored “Creative Photography Lab” with her husband, Steve Sonheim.

Steve and Carla offer online classes in drawing, painting and mixed-media with a variety of talented teachers through Carla Sonheim Presents: They live in Seattle, WA.

  • Ann-Marie Gillett

    I loved this blog! In a succinct, and almost humorous way, he expressed something we all probably have experienced in one way or another. Jump in and sometimes you can become too busy to doubt oneself! Not a bad strategy and one that can result in knowing you are more capable than you ever thought.

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