Teaching Artist Spotlight: Larissa Stephens

Photo by Diana Ascarrunz , courtesy of Larissa Stephens

As a kid, Larissa Stephens was into two things: art class and comic books.

The first passion would influence her career path, the latter her style of art, denoted by animated creatures and characters, including an illustrated version of herself.

In addition to being a freelance muralist, Larissa is a Creative Action teaching artist, where she works with Ridgetop after school students, Becker and Bryker Woods Upper Elementary Academy students, and the Color Squad teen program. All the while she has continued to produce her own work — original murals at the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, zines, autobiographical diary comics, and commissioned murals around town, including on the Mexic-Arte Museum (below).

Larissa is also a member of Hive Arts Collective, where she helps facilitate art workshops, and where she helped organize the inaugural Transform Festival, Austin’s only festival dedicated to films exclusively created by cis and trans women.

Many of her works take the form of autobiographical diary comics that detail her day to day life, while exploring themes like anxiety and mental health.

Growing up, “comic books definitely helped me process emotions and feelings and seeing visual narrative was really helpful,” says Larissa.

As a teen, she thought that adults didn’t struggle with the same things she did.

“I thought that adults don’t have anxiety, they don’t have any problems, and they understand everything,” she says.

Now, as an adult working with teens, she has the benefit of hindsight. She remembers what it felt like to be a teen with anxiety and she can use that insight to relate to the youth she works with.

“Just being vulnerable with them, with boundaries, helps,” says Larissa. “You know, ‘I have experience with anxiety too, and I understand this is causing you stress and we can talk about it.’ Just putting yourself on their level.”

Larissa also demonstrates for her students the way art can — and has — help express those feelings. After doing a presentation of one her comics about having bad anxiety, one of the teens in the Color Squad program who also suffers from anxiety was able to relate.

“I understand, this is me,” they said.

Currently, Larissa is working on a mural collaboration between Creative Action students and Easton Park, a planned unit development in southeast Austin. Using student plant presses as inspiration, Larissa has designed, and will implement, a mural that will cover a trolley-shaped play structure near Easton Park’s latest Brookfield development in Del Valle. The finished product will be unveiled in early April.

Keep up with Larissa’s work by following her Instagram at instagram.com/lurissu.

Teaching Artist Spotlight: Cecil Lockwood

Cecil Lockwood, also known as Mr. Cee, grew up creating art. It started with pencil drawings of his favorite musicians — Biggie and Aaliyah — and cars, but by high school, he was producing beats and creating websites as his extracurricular, after school activity. The beats are something he continues to do as a musician and as a professional Teaching Artist here at Creative Action, where he helps students learn, grow, and create through music and songwriting.

“That’s always been my thing,” he says. “It’s just in me.”

His dad and his dad’s dad were both creative, arts-minded men, but what really gave Cecil the confidence to pursue arts as a career was just talking with other folks in the field, like David Byrne, who have been through the same sort of doubt that he experienced.

“They’re real people who dealt with depression and anxiety and not believing in themselves at certain points,” he says. Succeeding is “all a little bit of self belief and just using a little bit of inflated confidence.”

Inflated confidence for the purpose of just getting the work done, he says. Cecil was a self-taught DJ before heading for audio and engineering school in New York from his native New Jersey. He used that same bootstrap-resourcefulness to create a rigorous creative process for himself, devouring self-help books and establishing positive habits to implement in his artistic life.

For one exercise, he recorded one new beat a day to develop consistency and to help him get into the habit of finishing things despite a fear of failure about the outcome.  

“Honestly that’s one of the things that held me back for so long. Like, ok this doesn’t sound like what’s on the radio,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean it’s horrible; it doesn’t mean that someone else might not like it. It’s releasing that [need for] perfection.”

At the end of the 30-day process, he had completed an EP.

Like the musicians who helped him push past fear of creative failure when he was starting out, Cecil models this persistence to the students he teaches after school and through our Spark School initiative at Campbell Elementary. In the classroom, he uses his skill set to help students pair vocabulary words and multiplication tables with catchy and memorable beats of their own creation.  

“If I was a student, what would be the most awesome class to me?,” he says of the kind of educator he wants to be. “I would like a teacher with energy who’s trying to do the things I need to learn, but in a different, engaging way. I just try to be fun.”

Outside of the classroom, Cecil continues to create through his new project Facade HQ, a digital collage series which merges beats with visuals to “paint the picture of what my beat is trying to say.”

The catchphrase for this new brand is “build the future,” something he’s already working on here at Creative Action.

Volunteer Spotlight

Volunteer Spotlight: Foster Grandparent Vivalyn Jones


So many people contribute to the work we do at Creative Action.

One of those people is Ms. Vivalyn Jones, a volunteer who has been helping us through the Foster Grandparents program for over a year and a half.

When Ms. Jones came to Texas to be with her two daughters, her grandchildren were young enough that she was still picking them up from school.

“Now they’re older so they don’t need grandma,” she says. Plus, at 14 and 17, they’re busy with extracurriculars, like theater. One of her granddaughters, after receiving second place in a competition, just traveled to Dallas to perform with Spectrum.

For a time, Ms. Jones was just sitting at home, not doing anything and “bored to death” before she decided to seek out volunteer work to occupy her time. She learned about and was interviewed by the Senior Corps Foster Grandparents program and was sent to Creative Action as her first assignment.

That summer, in 2016, she helped out with her first Creative Action summer camp. Since then, she has volunteered at most Community Art Sunday events, at our after school program at Maplewood Elementary, and with our Free Minds partnership on Thursday evenings. She’s even enlisted the help of her granddaughters; one joined her at summer camp last year and the other has volunteered at a few Community Art Sunday events.

“It keeps my mind sane,” she says. “Working with the smaller kids, it’s so fun that you just want to be here. . .  it’s like my second home away from home.”

One thing about Ms. Vivalyn — she does not like having her picture taken. Rather than a snap of her own visage, she sent along photos of her children and grandchildren — the inspiration for the work she does at Creative Action.

Her daughters are Charmine and Nevine and her grandchildren are Chris, Lahae, Ciara, and Cameron.

DIY Slime

How to Make Oozy, Gooey, Gloppy, Gooky, Gunky Slime

Slime DIY Understandably, this slime was a big hit at our most recent Community Art Sunday. Endlessly malleable, slime is oozy, gooey, gloppy, gooky, gunky, stretchy, and FUN to play with. Pull it out when you need to fidget, brain storm, or just dig your hands into something slimy.

If you missed this activity at the event, don’t fret! We’ve included a step-by-step guide on how to make your own slime below. Get creative with it, if you so choose, by experimenting with color, size, or even glitter!

How to make slimeSTEP ONE

Pour a glob of glue in a bowl, keeping in mind that the amount of glue you pour will be the amount of slime you make.


Mix in a dab of food coloring. The hue is your preference! Go solid or mix and match to create a new color.


Pour liquid starch into goop a little bit at a time, mixing as you go.


Stretch, pull and twist your slime for 5 to 10 minutes as it starts to form its sliminesss.

How to make slimeSTEP FIVE

Enjoy your slime! Squeeze it, smush it, stretch it, ball it up, and go again!

Continuing Creativity

Community Art Sunday Recap: Storytelling Seniors and Young Poets


At our most recent Community Art Sunday, we explored different ways to shares stories with our attendees. To do that, we created books, made mobiles, participated in story circles and laid out vision boards.

One of the highlights of the day was the live storytelling done by a few of our creative seniors.

The older adults are a part of our Continuing Creativity program, which engages community members ages 65 and up in creative writing and storytelling. Writers use their own lived experience to craft short stories that explain the arcs of their lives and offer readers and listeners the benefit of their earned wisdom.


At the event, Continuing Creativity member Betty Ussery told the story of being a Black supervisor of a white staff at the Austin State School in the 60s. Cynthia Herbert related her experience of learning about diversity while growing up, and Zenobia Orimoloye described her grandmothers and the impact they made on her young life. All three are long time members of our community — Zenobia has written two books about her life since joining our program.

Several students from Campbell elementary joined the seniors to perform a poem of their own writing and teaching artist Dave Ronn added a musical accompaniment to the performances with his guitar.

Listen to the talented storytellers and poets above. If you know an older adult interested in our Continuing Creativity classes, reach out to Christie Jean-Jacques at christie@creativeaction.org.