Rain in the Studio


I wish!

We are in the middle of serious drought here, no rain to speak of for months. 

I added my voice (visually) today, as I started work on a series of Rain Dances. These are a couple of in-progress photos as the day and the ideas developed. This piece is in the vein of a couple of large textile paintings I did several years ago for an exhibit at the Martin Museum of Art at Baylor University. As you can see, I work on a large table rather than a design wall -- I want to be able to put down as many layers of image as I need to and pinning to a wall is just too time consuming. Thus, I stand on a foot stool (or climb an 8 ft ladder) and take a photo when I need to get a better distance view. Works for me!

This one is going to be called Pond Prayer, I think.

Here's a little bit of ethnographic info from Wikipedia:

Julia M. Butree (a wife of Ernest Thompson Seton) in her book,[2] among other Native American dances, describes the "Rain Dance of Zuni."[3] Feathers and turquoise (or any sort of blue shade) are worn during the ceremony to symbolize wind and rain respectively. Many oral traditions of the Rain Dance have been passed down[4] In an early sort ofmeteorology, Native Americans in the midwestern parts of the modern United States often tracked and followed known weather patterns while offering to perform a rain dance for settlers in return for trade items. This is best documented among Osage and Quapaw Indian tribes of Missouri and Arkansas.

I also found this line beautiful prayer for rain from the Sehardic Jewish tradition:

"So open, we pray, Thy goodly treasury of rain, to revive all in whom a soul is breathed, as Thou makest the wind to blow and the rain to fall."

I am expecting this to become a series of ongoing pieces ... I have been searching for a theme that had real meaning to me, and right now, this prayer is that, this dance is that. For all of us in the drought and all of us in the floods, let's have our blessings reversed!

Hoping for the Chance to Say THIS


Last month I submitted a piece for Lesley Riley's upcoming book of illustrated quotes. I was actually assigned a quotation from Lesley. That made it difficult to slack off and forget the assignment, let me tell you...

I ended up making two versions of my quote and sent them in. Sometime soon, we submittees will know the results, and sometime a little later, you'll have the opportunity to purchase the book, filled with ideas on how to use words of wisdom to inspire pictures worth those few words.

I've often said that my creative genius (P.S. that's NOT ME, see the TED TALK  below for what I mean) walks the tightrope between words and pictures. Both inform each other, and I'm not completely happy unless I am somehow honoring both in my creative life (waiting for said genius to blow through).

Lesley's newsletter is a great inspiration to my work, so if  you're not a subscriber, read this issue and see what you think!

And for more from TED on ideas, see this PLAY LIST at http://www.ted.com/playlists/20/where_do_ideas_come_from.html

How to Get Unstuck. Part 2

A video suggested by Rachel!


I polled other artists about their unsticking strategies and what a flurry of responses! I love all these ideas and comments. Thanks to you all and anyone else whom I missed on this roundup -- I'll keep adding. This is starting to look like a great article.

Michele Lasker says: 

I have been watching the multitude of DVDs I bought from Interweave and Double Trouble for inspiration and it seems to be working. It's hard to get going after the holidays.

I find that when I get stuck it's typically because there's been an interruption in my normal flow of work. usually it's because I just finished a major project (a typical project for me takes eight months to a year, so finishing one is a Very Big Deal) and need some time to get my head unwrapped from the project - there's a bit of a grieving process as I come to terms with the end of my (working) relationship with the piece, and I usually feel pretty emotionally drained by the time I finish.

Tien Chiu says:
(Website: http://www.tienchiu.com
Personal blog: http://www.tienchiu.com/category/blog-posts)

I typically do two things:

(1) Embrace boredom. That sounds really bizarre, but I've found that when my Muse has fled, it's because she needs a vacation. So I accept that I'm going to be bored and relatively unmotivated for a couple ofdays - it's part of the natural creative cycle for me. So instead of kicking myself about it, I let myself wander aimlessly about for a few days. Read books, clean up the kitchen, etc. I loathe being bored, but sometimes I need "time off" to recharge. In my experience trying to jumpstart faster doesn't work and just gets me more frustrated.

(2) Once I start feeling intensely bored (as opposed to bored and depressed), I start flipping through my idea notebook (mine is online, but they can be physical too), books on technique, books of swatches from sample exchanges, etc. I think of it as "teasing the Muse" - if you roll enough balls of tinfoil past a young cat, sooner or later its tail is going to start twitching and it will pounce. I figure the idea notebook and other idea sources make great balls of tinfoil for my Muse, so I simply parade ideas past her until something catches her/my fancy.

And after that, it's off again!

Barb Hilts says:

Me, I clean, which I do after every big project, Christmas included. Cleaning, puts things in order for another project. Out of the cleaning, ideas resurface.

Creative blocks are a period of growth. A dear friend of mine would suggest to work through the blocks in any creative medium, and your new path will emerge. 

From Barbara Schneider: (www.barbaraschneider-artist.comwww.barbaraschneider-artist.blogspot.com)

I watch DVDs of other artists and try to use that time to go to Art Institute or somewhere like that. The Art 21 series on PBS is wonderful. I think there are 7 seasons worth of those with interviews and videos of artists in all kinds of mediums. It's a great way to see a variety of things and get out of your head for awhile. 

And then I clean the studio which always leads to something.

And Lisa Kerpoe chimes in from nearby:

Ha! We're thinking along the same lines. I just did a blog on creativity blocks and was planning to follow up next week with ways to overcome them! My favorite? I keep a drawer of unfinished items. Things that are fairly far along, but for some reason I just never finished them. I pull those out and start playing. That usually generates ideas that then work their way into other projects.
Lisa Kerpoe

And from Rachel in Arizona

This helped me when I was in the grip of the "Oh but I can't do art because..." monster and it gets me out of places where I'm not making any art, and I don't know why. It has also helped with the times I've gotten stuck because everything I make looks godawful and fit only to line the cat box. 

I read a book called Art and Fear, and it made me all indignant because in it somewhere it seemed to hint that I make a lot of excuses to avoid doing art. But but but my excuses are -- er my reasons, yeah that's it -- are all good exc-- reasons. I'm not feeling well! I'm feeling happy, so I should celebrate! I'm tired. I'm bored. I need to go to the store or I ought to clean the refrigerator. And on and on. And I began to have the sneaking suspicion that maybe I could somehow put all these important excuses aside for a little while and just make something. 

That alone didn't quite get me going, but I think it opened me up so that when someone sent me a link to a Youtube of writer Neil Gaiman's commencement speech to the graduating class at an art college, and I heard the following, a light came on and I started looking at art as something I maybe could do anyway: 

"Remember, whatever discipline you're in, whether you're a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a singer, a designer, whatever you do, you have one thing that's unique: you have the ability to make art. And for me, and for so many of the people I've known, that's been a lifesaver, the ultimate lifesaver; it gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

"Sometimes life is hard; things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: make good art. I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you're doing is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow; eventually time will take the sting away and it doesn't even matter. Do what only you can do best: make good art. 

"Make it on the bad days. Make it on the good days too. And . . . while you're at it, make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do." 

Or maybe it's just going back to that speech and listening to Neil reading that aloud. :) But sometimes a reminder of why I want to dye cloth is exactly what I need to sweep all the rubbish aside. 

JC at Wellstrong Gallery suggests:

The best advice I've received for coping with writer's block is to write anything. Write a shopping list, a thank-you note, etc. Writing a journal is different, because that's a continuation. Journals do it for some people, but not me. It needs to be something new, and original (the shopping list has to be considered (in its nature) to work, e.g., if for food, for a new recipe, rather than milk, eggs, bread).

I do the same thing to get unstuck in the studio. I have what I call "mindless sewing projects". It could be an old project that has all of the conceptualizing done but needs finishing work (new and original isn't as important, because just handling the art gets me in an art frame of mind), or it could be a "crafts" project like a baby quilt. Or maybe it's prep work like dyeing etc. fabrics. Basically, working is working, and if I just keep working, things start to flow and the ideas and inspiration just come.

My biggest block is a cleaned up workspace. I try to leave something that's ready to just pick and get going on, either on my table, or in a milk crate ready to dump out. That way there isn't any of that breaking into a tidy space reluctance.

And from June Steegstra

I find reading through my books (I have an extensive library) and magazines gives me lots of ideas to addapt for my own.  I usually have two or three projects that are waiting for me to begin.

Su Butler chimed in:

 I remedied it by going to a meeting with people who do entirely different work that I do...I am primarily a weaver and dyer, but the people at the meeting were quilters, paper makers, felters, thread painters etc.  It was terribly inspiring and really invigorated my creative senses.  I am working on a piece entirely out of my usual medium and adjusting to the learning curve, but facing it with tremendous freedom because I honestly don't know what I am doing wrong....and that reminds me of how I need to feel when creating without my own "world"........ and I am feeling more and more creative as a result.   I call this "shock therapy"....introduce something so new and unknown that only creativity can make it happen....even in my ideas are old hat to someone else, they are new to me and it is very helpful and satisfying.

Hope everyone can find a renewal of their creative freedom this year!

Where Do You Start with Art? Part 3

Drawing in a new medium might be your inventive step. Think outside your usual constraints.


The next step in making a study (see the past two posts for more information) is the big, fun one of actually doing something with all that brainstorming, experience and research. This is, of course, the point of it all. But even if you shortcircuit the PRIMING and just take one or two of my previous suggestions, you will end up with a much deeper, more resonant and powerful piece of work in the invention stage. 

If you have the time and inclination -- and the deadline isn't looming -- here are some of the INVENTION exercises we use with kids, and that I use in my fiber arts creativity courses. These activities may not be exactly in your comfort zone, but that's the point.  Whatever textile art (or other art) you create after playing in these ponds will be rich, rich, rich.


After the priming experiences, choose and play with materials in one or more of the following ways, and then express your own version or personal definition of the subject as uniquely as possible. You may have other suggestions or ideas for media or genres. This is just a wildman version of ways you can take your ideas! 

Movement Play

Use some or all of your bodies and/or locomotion (movement from one spot to another) to explore the subject, and then create one or more of the following:

  • ·         Physical games
  • ·         Dances
  • ·         Pantomimes
  • ·         Dramas
  • ·         Improvisations


2-D Play

Use the subject to create one or more of the following:

  • ·         Drawings -- on canvas, paper and fabric
  • ·         Paintings -- on canvas, paper and fabric
  • ·         Collages -- fibric, mixed media, paper cloth
  • ·         Prints -- screen, stencils, stamps
  • ·         Art Quilts
  •   Art Cloth
  • ·         Maps, graphs or diagrams
  • ·         Stories or poems related to your drawings


3-D Play

Use the subject to create one or more of the following:

  • ·         Puppets
  • ·         Masks
  • ·         Models
  • ·         Sculptures
  • ·         Constructions
  • ·         Stories, dramas, environments or exhibits related to your creations


Word Play

Generate words related to the subject and use the words to create:

  • ·         Stories (written or tape recorded)
  • ·         Poems
  • ·         Tongue twisters
  • ·         Monologues/dialogues
  • ·         Slogans
  • ·         Invented words and definitions
  • ·         Riddles
  • ·         Books or a library of books 

Tech Play

Use technology to create with the subject, creating one or more of these:

  • ·         Slide shows of photographs
  • ·         Transparencies on the overhead projector
  • ·         Videos
  • ·         Animations 
  •   Digital books
  •   Photos to print on fabric

If you'd like to have a guide through this process, and you live somewhere near San Antonio, consider taking my course at the Southwest School of Art. The first four weeks of the course will be devoted to Making a Study.


Where Do You Start with Art? Part 2

 A trip to a museum to see and photograph (if allowed) related art could be a "big experience."

MORE WAYS TO PRIME THE MIND. See the last blog post to figure out what and why-for this is all about!


Start with a list of questions about your topic. Write as many as you can. Review your questions and, if possible, discover additional questions to ask and answer about the subject -- perhaps by sharing with a group. Use one or more of these methods to track down answers, possible answers and even just hints of answers to your questions:

Search the internet.

Look in the library.

Read related books or magazine articles.

Interview someone.

Create a survey.


Check out YouTube or other online sources of video or audio.

After researching, draw, write about and/or graph what you learned, what was most important.

Generate ideas.

Use your imaginations about the subject in these and other ways:


Ask "what if" questions.

Brainstorm or mind-map

Consider the subject from as many viewpoints as possible

Think WAYYYY outside the box

Big experience.

Design for yourself, if possible, a large, concrete, “unforgettable” experience related to the subject or theme of your study. Examples:

An excursion (can be imaginary)

A live animal

A live demonstration/performance 

Participation in a big group or collaborative event

A visit to a museum or park or historical site that gives you ideas about your theme

See a movie or documentary related to your theme, if possible on the big screen!

PS: Dr. Cynthia Herbert (my friend Cindy) added two more great ideas to her list. Since she inspired this whole series, I want to include the ideas, so look below in the comment section -- and add your own ideas, too.

The next post will feature ideas for INVENTION.

Where Do You Start with Art? Part 1

 A collection of ethnic textiles might be where you start.

One of the creative skills I will be taking my Southwest School of Art class through is that of making a study as a way to develop ideas and images for a series of art quilts. As we work though these ideas (the course meets weekly on Mondays from February 4- March 25) we'll be building a stash of ideas and information focused on one theme or topic. This is often the way I work on a piece of art for a submission when the theme is one that I am considering for the first time.

These notes were written by my Missing Alphabet colleague Dr. Cynthia Herbert, and were originally developed for our teacher training program in Dallas for our afterschool program (part of Big Thought). I've adapted them for artists, with her permission, and will share them here in a series of posts his week.


A STUDY is a sustained investigation of a single concept, thing, theme or idea. In a study, a child explores many, many different viewpoint, contexts and materials. The Sensory Alphabet is used as nine “lenses” through which to view the object of the study. After many explorations, the child expresses a personal definition or viewpoint through one or more original forms.


Current brain research and cognitive psychology tells us that human beings can only learn very low-level tasks and ideas through drill and rote memorization. For learning to be faster, longer lasting and of a higher order, each of us must “construct” our own personally meaningful definitions. Although we will all have common notions, the depth and variety of our experiences will determine the depth and dimensionality of our understanding.

For any one of us to be able to use a concept to solve problems, make decisions, express ourselves, and enrich our quality of life, we need a well-elaborated mental representation—a concept that looks very like a complex spider web of interconnected experiences and ideas. The STUDY makes the development and elaboration of mental representations an overt process that leads to “deep understanding” and “transference,” what has been called the “so what?” of learning. This is a valuable way to start an art project or any project that needs more than superficial responses.  

FORMAT: A study is divided into three parts: Priming, Invention and Reflection. Today, I'll list the kinds of activities that are part of priming. Some of these are more appropriate than others for the kind of thinking that art-making is about, but since we do all of these with kids in our classes, I'm listing them all!

PRIMING: Priming activities are intended to prepare each mind to be ready to construct (create)  his or her own definition of the subject being studied. Here are the first two ways to PRIME the mind (more coming next post).


Connect the subject with your former experiences, current feelings or opinions and curiosity. Write, journal or search through your collections, stash and memories to make a connection to the theme. IF you can't find a connection, this may not be a good topic for your art -- but most of us, give our lovely capacity for experience, have many connections to much of the world!

Observe and Collect.

Make direct observations and collections in regard to the subject. Focus observations using the Sensory Alphabet and physical "lookers"  to make notes or drawings. Sometimes new ideas for note taking are employed. Take photos, videos or recordings to project/replay and share and use all your senses.


Working from Limitations

 Sometimes what makes us powerful are our very limitations. I'm fully devoted to the notion that we find our best and strongest work by working from our strengths -- that is, after all what my book The Missing Alphabet is all about--  but defining one's strengths takes astute and deep consideration. Sometimes what looks like a weakness or disability to a parent, a teacher, the culture at large, or even to oneself can become, with a change of perspective, our greatest strength.

This article in the New York Times about artist Chuck Close makes the point.

“I wanted people to notice me, not that I couldn’t remember their faces or add or subtract,” Close said, referring to the learning and neurological disabilities that set him apart from his classmates when he was growing up in Monroe, Wash.

A terrible writer and test-taker, Mr. Close used art to make it through school. Instead of handing in a paper, he told the children, “I made a 20-foot-long mural of the Lewis and Clark trail.”

What are you calling a limitation that could be a defining element of your work?

All good and fine direction is defined by the "rules" that limit its scope. We don't (often or successfully) try to include every trick pony in the stable in one piece of art. Or use every color in equal proportions.

Some limitations need addressing, maybe a technical skill we need to improve, or our eye for a strong composition. But some things that I hear artists bemoaning on line --- their age, that they aren't good at drawing, that they only have a couple of hours in the week to make art-- might be just the "rules" that can help define their work. For example, in my case, I don't draw very well, I am getting better, but sketching is probably never going to be my FAVORITE art activity, and certainly understanding and mastering line and value, as good sketch artists do, is not something I am cut out to do.

I long ago figured out that I could cut shapes and forms far better than I could draw them (go figure, its just the way my brain works). I had to figure that out in order to proceed in making my work have the narrative content I wanted to share.  I don't compare my weakness in drawing to Close's neurological inability to recognize faces, but I do count finding an approach to art that was a work-around one that is a great gift and strength in my work.

Some limitations, like Close's, might even turn out to be the great stand-out quality in our work.

For more about Close, listen to this podcast from PBS.

Pulling Me all Together

Perhaps you have this problem, too. Lots of different people living under one head (or in one).

I've been challenged to tell the story of how and what I do that ties it all together. This book, The Missing Alphabet, my teaching (here and there), art work (big and little), my work with Central American teachers...the occassional foray into designing kid's programs, training teachers at Big Thought in our New World Kids programs or volunteer work in pr for the upcoming SDA conference. (Whew!) What is the strand -- well, perhaps multifiliment cable is a better image -- that ties it all together?

At the core of what I do is a deep and well-grounded interest in the creative process, an interest, and profession, that has 50 years of history behind it. I was one of those lucky kids who found a creative path at a young age, nurtured by a very, at the time, radical children's theatre program. That was not only integrated racially, but integrated creatively. And this in Waco, Texas, go figure. 

What those early experiences in inventing, presenting, working long hours, delving into personal and collaborative visions did was to give me a grounding in both the how and the what of creative work. As a result of that children's theatre I had experiences as a teen, young woman and young professional that took me from, at age 18, running a visiting  children's program for 20,000 participants at HemisFair '68 to the Year of the Child with Erik and Joan Erickson (PS she was also a weaver) at the Smithsonian Institute, to a fulltime model school that won international accolades and a Ford Foundation designation of model educaitonal program, to the Kennedy Center for exhibit and program design, to Cleveland in the era of serious racial disharmony to teach in inner city neighborhoods, from there to Neiman-Marcus with window designs and products that showed up in the Christmas catalog. (again, whew) I am so grateful for such a rich and complicated creative path.

The new book for parents, The Missing Alphabet, is ONE summary of thaat informed inquiry that started when I was twelve and developed through that career in first in arts education, then in journalism, museum exhibit design, writing and art making. This book is what's come of my experiences and those of my co-authors (with similar and diverging paths) as written for parents who want their children to meet the challenge of 21st Century thinking and literacy sklls.

Other summaries have developed into courses I teach to adults, such as Creative Jumpstart, Finding Your Path as an Artist, and the Artist's Journey. But the philosophy and approach informs all of the workshops and retreats that I teach -- even those that are somewhat technique oriented. I always try to move beyond or below or above or inside of a technique or tool, teaching it as a means for someone to find as the ideal expression for her or his story. At the core of my teaching is a deep and abiding belief in the power of individual story and expression. I do firmly believe that each person on this earth has a unique, powerful and absolutely unrepeatable experience to express in some or another medium, be it art, science, music, research, homemaking, poetry or any other field you can come up with. And I make art myself because I am passionately drawn to figuring out what it is I have to say -- and, besides, how could I have any credibility in this world of wonderful artists I find myself in, if I didn't make my own statements?

I've had many ways to express my story and my creativity in my life, in my art, in my relationships, in my teaching, writing and designing. I love having the opportunity to open the doors for other's creative work though example and through nurturing connection and conversation. The personal values I have selected as guiding stars for the next stage of my creative life are: CREATIVITY, CONNECTION (CONVERSATION), ADVENTURE, IMAGINATION, and ALIGNMENT

Post Script: And speaking of conversation between the this and that of our lives, here is another wonderful piece from David Whyte:

Gifts for Those Who Love Shape

Continuing in the vein of gift-giving, I'm working on a series of posts for The Missing Alphabet blog that reccommends gifts for kids who have proclivities and strengths in a particular sensory alphabet element (line, color, shape, movement, rhythm, space, texture, light, sound). You may be interested in that post about creative gifts if you have a child, grandchild or other child in your life whose creative imagination you'd like to spark. But maybe you would just like to honor your own inner artist child who loves shape!

So, I adapted that blog, expanded and edited it here for the grown-up lover of shape. You may recognize yourself or a friend, and find something here that makes for an imaginative gift -- or maybe you just need to gift it to yourself! We all need to do a little encouraging of creative playtime in our lives!

Stencils and stamps

Any shape lover will have a ball with different kinds of stamps and stencils. Find a set of simple geometric shapes, perfect for fabric or mixed media uses from Discount School Supply: set of 14 geometric Easy-Grip Shape Stampers. Though made for kids, these are really ideal for fabric stamp work, and the alphabet stamps at the same company are great, too. 

You can also buy giant ink stamp pads from the same source and use them with thin fabric inks or paints. Discount School Supply also carries a wide variety of stencils, best to use with rollers or foam brushes. Some basic shapes are in this kit

Origami paper and how-to books

SHAPE lovers might be interested in origami and other paper folding crafts. This is probably one of those activities you should “test out” before investing in books or materials. Your public library (and the web) has plenty of origami resources.  Here are some websites to check out: http://www.origami-instructions.com, http://www.origami-fun.com

And if it’s a go, you can find beautiful origami papers, at this site (and others)  http://www.origamicorner.com

A shape collage kit

Fill a plastic shoebox with shapely stickers, glue sticks, double-sided tape, paper die-cut shapes, hole punches that make different shapes, a good pair of craft scissors and colored origami paper (fun because of its two-sided color). Give this kit along with a pad of bristol board or card stock, some sturdy paper that holds up to collage fun and games. Die cut shapes are available at local dollar stores often, or you can find them online, too. 

Great shape collectibles

If the shape lover you know likes to look at shapes, consider a collectible such as a beautiful ceramic piece, a woven vessel, Mexican folk art masks, antique bottles or jars, or any wonderful shap-ey object of beauty. 

I've mentioned some of these apps before, but all of them are good for shape sensitive minds.

Tablet and Smart Phone apps for the SHAPE Lover:

If you have a digital tablet (or smart phone for some of these), there are some great art apps out there with lots of shape fun to be had. Some of our favorites:

Stencils from 7Twenty7  at http://www.7twenty7.com/apps/stencils

Draw Free from David Porter Apps for Ipad, also available for Android. This free app (has ads in a small banner) strikes a great compromise between features and ease of use. 

Hope Poster makes a strongly shape oriented graphic poster design of any photo in your photo file with just a few clicks and swipes. , also available for Android. Poster is a similar app at

Digital Tangram Puzzles can be found with these and other apps: Tangram Mania (non-traditional tangram-style puzzles with different shapes), https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tangram-mania-free/id514992796?mt=8 and New LetsTans Premium, a traditional puzzle set (free version is available, but lower ratings) is at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/new-letstans-10-in-1/id548830132?mt=8

PS: I've linked up with Nina Marie Sayre's Friday gang of creative posters/bloggers with this post. Check out the site here. 

The Workshop of the Mind

How does your mind work? And what might it look like? Answering these two questions can give any (creative) person (and we are all creative) interesting insight into his or her process of invention, collection and creation.

 Led by my colleague, Dr. Cynthia Herbert, we traveled the road of looking at one's mind at a recent workshop at Ballet Austin. Attending were about 18 arts educators from diverse arts organizations (and/or interests) who took our New World Kids training. This exercise takes adult through a very personal image/collage/sculpture making process based on what currently is known about how the mind perceives, uses and stores information -- and how each of us differently uses that information to create new "products." Products can be as complex as full-blown works or art, as business plans, as research designs -- or as simple as a room arrangement, a lesson plan, a travel plan, a meal.

I'll be leading the same activity in my play and imagination workshop later this summer at El Cielo Studio, and also a parents' version at my weeklong course on creativity for your kids at the Southwest School in August. (There is also a Southwest School of Art weekend course there for teachers on teaching fiber arts, but we will start with this mind=picture activity.) 


July 29-31

Making time to play with odd-ball materials; learning to focus upon artful tasks at hand -- sounds like opposite sides of the coin? At this exploratory and full-of-play weekend, we’ll explore the relationship between the time, play, art and focus. Where does time management intersect with open-hearted fun? Expect bubbles, playdough, sparklers, jello, yoga and seeing the world from new angles and attitudes. Fee $165, including most supplies and meals. (For details, email me through the contact form on the sidebar).


special parent class
on raising creative kids
Susie Monday
Mon – Fri, Aug 1 – 5 | 9:00am – 12:00pm 
Tuition: $140 (Members: $125) | 5 sessions
Discover more about your child’s learning. Explore their world of creativity, and find ways to stimulate and enhance it. With artist-educator Susie Monday, co-author of New World Kids: The Parent’s Guide to Creative Thinking as your guide, find out how to support, direct, and defend your child’s creative thinking at home and in their school setting. Hands-on activities, handouts, problem-solving, and an interdisciplinary approach characterize this invaluable class for the parents of creative kids.

sAug 1 – 5 | 9:00am – 12:00pm Tuition: $140 (Members: $125) | 5 sessions


But here's one little taste that might provide insight (this is actually the final part of the 2 hour experience).

Think of a metaphor or analogy for your mind at work on a creative project, big or small. For example -" my mind is like a bee hive with bees and different tasks buzzing and communicating," or My mind is an assembly line where sensory input goes in at one end, gets organized and reshaped and comes out the other," or "My mind is story telling stage with lots of storytellers taking turns."

Now create a model or drawing of that analogy or idea! This is even more fun in a group, because you will be amazed at the diversity of ideas and of their expresssion.


The Seeds You Sow

Gary Sweeny's art work sums it up.

Here, I step back and send a message that goes beyond this specific travel experience, one perhaps that will resonate with my  artist friends and readers who perhaps are a bit confused by all this education stuff making its appearance on my blog.

The bigger lesson is: I am reminded minute by minute during this trip that we all do reap the seeds we sow. This trip that will last a little less than 3 weeks is like walking into a garden I planted 8-9-10- even 20 years ago. Perhaps forest is more apt than garden since I see these teachers as towering trees in their local forests.

As a teacher of creativity and art techniques  I discover daily  that what really matters is the process, not the product. Seeing the work these teachers are doing in Central America is not seeing their work in a museum, it's not seeing an exhibit, rather it's an amazing exhibition of talent and dedication on the ground, often in situations that would daunt the most dedicated U.S. teacher. (I know I have complained bitterly about situations, classrooms and resources that are far richer and more supported than the day-to-day schools that many of these teachers experience.)

For example, many of those who teach in rural schools teach large classes (30 or so 4 year olds at a time). Schools here are just making the transition to full days, so most teachers teach two 5 hour classes, often of different grades. Primary teachers have three different classes a day. Supplies are often basic; in rural areas many students drop out before grade 6 because they are needed for work in order for their families to eat and keep shelter over their heads. Many schools have no potable water, pit toilets and bare walls. 

But the teachers are resourceful, and we feel (as do they) that the CASS experience has made them more resourceful, able to develop curriculum appropriate for their worlds and for the future to come, for the best education possible for their students, far beyond the rote learning/teaching models that most of them started with.

I challenge all of us in the "first world" to make careful use of our so abundant resources, to recycle, to stay focused on creative work rather than creative consumption, to live as lightly as we can, with the knowlege that our wealth is riding on the barefeet of many children and adults in other situations. The world is small, and our "neighborhood" is growing more crowded and more diverse. You can't get on one of the planes to El Salvador without realizing that we are all Americans, dispite political borders.

If you'd like to know more about the educational work here and in Guatemala, check our the What can School Be? blog at http://escuelacass.posterous.com

Questions for Artists and Would-bes

This is a rerun, but a friend asked me for it last week, so here it is again. And reading it was a happy nudge out of the doldrums. Onto the drudgery of finishing! This is long, so you might want to print it out and work on it in your journal over the next few days/weeks/months.


Assessing Strengths (A disclosure – this list was adapted from one written about observing children for our NEW WORLD KIDS book. But, why not? We need to make and reflect on the same observations about ourselves in order to find our paths as artists, our visual voices on the page.)

One-on-one. One-of-a-kind. Each of us is absolutely unrepeatable.

How do you look at yourself with new eyes, outside of the daily get-dones and to-dos? It helps to have a certain distance, an anthropologist’s viewpoint even. Step beyond judgment (this is good stuff; this is bad) into a position of value-free observation. It often helps to use comparative information--sometimes it’s easiest to see your own unique combo plate, when its sitting on the table next to someone else’s menu choices.

Here’s a checklist to help you observe, collect and compare. Start with observation. Ask a friend or colleague to use a camera to catch your typical actions and behaviors, or just reflect and write. Or try setting up some self-portraits that capture the real you. Answer the questions from your present life AND from memories of what you were like as a child. Are there parts of the “real you” that have faded from sight? Been dampened by circumstance or age?

How do I sound? What’s my voice like? Do I hear clumping or tiptoeing or trotting through space? Do I have soft or strong sound qualities? Am I talking fast or mulling things over before I speaks? Am I a story always in the telling, or a dramatic announcer of all things important?

How do I move? Am I a whirlwind at the center of any activity or a slow observer who has to watch before jumping in? Do I have wings on his feet and a kinesthetic grasp of each and every movement through space? Or not? Do I have a facility with hand-eye coordination, or am I a person whose favorite exercise is mental gymnastics? Do I fidget and wiggle my way through the day, daintily twirl at every opportunity, or cut through space with conviction, ignoring obstacles and rules at every turn?

What is my rhythm? If I clapped a rhythmic score, would it be regular and evenly paced? Or erratic and unpredictable? Would I be a march or a tango? A jive or a three-ring circus? Am I fast, slow, somewhere in between? Surprising or forthright?

How do I use my face and eyes? Am I an open book? Or a mysterious stranger who seldom lets my emotions show? Is drama the operative word? Or is methodical my method? What happens when I meet a stranger? Am I out there or on the sidelines keeping score?
How do I present a public face? Is it different from the private life behind my front door? How do others respond to me?

What kind of roles and functions do I take on? Alpha dog? Follower? Listener? Starring role? Backstage director? Conformist? Devil’s Advocate?

What makes me laugh? What makes me funny? Where’s my funny bone? What brings me joy? What is sure to bring a smile to my face?

What questions do I ask over and over and over again? Am I a “What?” or a “Why?” a “How do I?” or a “What if I?”

What makes my work different than anyone else’s? One-of-a-kind?

Another way to collect information about yourself is to note preferences – the things I collect, choose, concentrate my efforts on. Here’s a second checklist of observations and inventories to make.

What catches my eye? Movement? Color? Light and shadow? Strong patterns? Interesting shapes? Or is it all about touch? Or movement? Or telling the story?

What holds my attention? What things do I do for longer than other people seem to do them? Music? Putting things together? Routine chores or tasks with repeating actions? Puzzles and brainteasers? Walking or running or other movements?


What do I surround myself with? The choices of clothing, of possessions for my home, for regular activities? Is it other people? Color? Music? Animals? Things to build with? Stuff that moves?

What qualities do my favorite free-time activities have? Are they all big or small movement activities? Do they have procedures or linear rules? Do I see strong sensuous qualities, tactile elements or sound and motion? How about emotional or analytic components?

What does I collect, naturally? What gets picked up on the street, from a dollar store? Rocks and shells? Magazines, bugs, or little glittery bits of foil and glass? If I could make a collection of anything, would it be hats or robots, ribbons or sports equipment? Do I find and save magazine pictures, maps or cartoons? Character dolls or jokes? Stacks of fabric and threads or antique lace?

What kinds of things -- especially in a new place or space – am I most likely to comment about or remember? The people or the colors? The sound or the story? The size or the materials? The construction and engineering or the aesthetics and theatrical sense?

What does I pick up? Save? Store? Look up on the internet or follow up from a TV or radio show?
What are the qualities of the materials I like best? Track these favorites through the sensory alphabet! (Line, color, shape, movement, space, texture, light, sound, rhythm)

COLOR: Are these materials colorful or monochromatic? What kinds of colors? Bright or subtle? Dark or bright? Contrasting or soothing? You may HAVE to have that new box of watercolors or oil pastels, while another person just needs a big black permanent marker or a Chinese calligraphy brush and ink.

TEXTURE: How do the materials you like feel to the touch? Are they smooth or nubby, plastic or hard, malleable or rigid, natural or manmade? Is that collection of glass jars on your window a textural necessity or a set of shapes to arrange with little hidden dramas in your mind?

SHAPE: Do these materials – clothes, games, collectables, art media, favorite objects -- have definite shapes? Or are they ambiguous or amorphous? Are they simple in contour or intricate? Do they have structural parts or components? Is a morning in one museum gallery or a day in the sand at the beach the ultimate entertainment?

MOVEMENT: Do my favorite materials move? Or have movement implicit in them? Is there a rhythm to them or to their use? Is the movement smooth, fast or floating? Humorous, serious or unstable? Do I simply have to move no matter what or where?

SOUND: Do these favorites make sounds? Either by design or by my use? What kind of sound quality – musical or percussive, wind or string, whistling or thudding? Is there a definite rhythm to the sound produced? Do I make sounds with things that no one else would ever think to turn into an instrument?

RHYTHM: Are they stacked or patterned? Put in order or grouped? Repeated or reorganized over and over? Put away in categories or lumped together any old way? Is there a rhythm to her play, a beginning, middle and end? Does patterned work or games with words or rhymes have a particular charm?

LINE: Do these favorite materials have a linear quality? Are they curved or angular? Strongly directional, repetitive or meandering? Is there always a storyline going on, a movie in the mind?

LIGHT: Is this material one that has qualities of light, dark, opacity, transperancy? I like to play with light and shadow?

SPACE: What spatial qualities do the materials have? Are these favorite materials two- dimensional or three-dimensional (ie, given a choice do I choose clay or paper-and-pen?) What’s
the scale I like best to work with – a desktop or a playing field, tiny miniatures or large brushes and a 6-ft tall roll of paper? A wall-sized quilt or multiples of mini artist trading cards?

OTHER ASPECTS: What spaces and places do I prefer for my free time? Am I always on the porch or in my bedroom or other private space? Alone in the backyard or in the kitchen with everyone else? Do I need a run in the park to stay healthy and sane? Is time alone essential? Or is time spent with a group mandatory and energizing? Am I always planning parties or trying to avoid them?
When we interact, is it playful or serious? Directive? Organized? Improvisational?
When we work together on a task, do I stay on track or need to come and go? Do I need a process or a product? Do I have to know why, or why not? Where’s the payoff?

When we play, do I want to be the boss of you? Or want to watch and follow? Am I open to coaching or resistant to change? Do I worry about getting it “right”? Am I making up new rules as we go along? Or sticking to a strategy?

CREATE Workshop this August

I'm part of the lineup for CREATE, the new Mixed Media workshop extravaganza and conference near Chicago, sponsored by Cloth Paper Scissors and Quilting Arts. Here's some of the rundown:

CREATE will be held just outside of Chicago in Rosemont, Illinois, August 25-29. It's 4½ exhilarating days of hands-on workshops in many technique themes. You can choose from 60 sessions on: Fabric Fusion, Bookmaking & Art Journaling, Surface Design, Sewing & Quilting, Printmaking & Collage, Mixed Media & Metal, and Mixed Media Jewelry. CREATE classes must be registered for in advance, and they are filling up. So, be sure to sign up for your favorites ASAP on the CREATE site

Mixed Media Workshops, Art Exploration and FUN for Textile Artists

Embark on an artistic journey and be a part of the first annual CREATE with Cloth Paper Scissors Mixed Media Retreat August 25-29, 2010 at the Rosemont Hotel in Rosemont, just outside of Chicago, Illinois. Learn more and register now.

Fuel your passion at CREATE, four-and-a-half exhilarating days of 60 hands-on workshops in seven workshop themes: Fabric Fusion Bookmaking & Art Journaling, Surface Design, Sewing & Quilting, Printmaking & Collage, Mixed Media & Metal and Mixed Media Jewelry.

CREATE was designed by the team behind Quilting Arts and Cloth Paper Scissors magazine—it’s built by artists for artists.

The 29 instructors at CREATE are a Who’s Who of top mixed media artists. Learn more about the instructors and explore the 60 workshops at www.clothpaperscissorsretreat.com. You can plan your personalized class roster with the help of the handy schedule-at-a-glance. Other activities include:

Shop for hard-to-find supplies and one-of-a-kind finished artworks at the Artists’ Faire
Meet the Cloth Paper Scissors team, Instructors & new friends at the first CREATE Mixed Media Mixer
Showcase your talents in a series of Artist Challenges to win special prizes
Sign up early for the full package rate (your best deal) or make your own schedule and pay per class. Be sure to enter email code: QD71. We look forward to seeing you in August!

Here's what I'll be doing:

Rainbow Printing with Water Soluable Crayons (6 hours)

Date: Thursday, August 26
Time: 9:00am-4:00pm
Technique: Printmaking & Collage
Instructor: Susie Monday
Price: $140
Kit Fee: $5

Using all manner of water soluble media--water color markers, water soluble crayons and oil pastels, chalks and pastels -- you will create original fabrics using hand painting, screen printing, and stencils. Construction methods for a small wood-framed art quilt will be demonstrated, and many examples of use of the fabrics in multimedia work will be shared, but the emphasis will be on making a variety of textiles that can be used in work back at home. These techniques use textile paints and polymer media in interesting multi-color applications, with layering, tinting and color washes used to add depth and subtlety. The improvisational prints are similar to mono-printing, but can be used for highly detailed realistic imagery, as well as for abstract color field experiments.

Tools & Supplies List: Small to medium sized screen printing frame for fabric printing (available from Dick Blick and other art supply companies), squeegee for fabric printing (rounded blade), any brand of water soluble crayons or pastels (ie, Sargent, Prang, Crayola, Caran d'Ache), 1 set of water color markers (non permanent), towel or padding for printing surface, tray large enough to hold printing frame, 2-3 yards of smooth textured light colored fabrics and/or papers, variety is good, with 20" by 24" minimum size for each piece of fabric and /or paper, foam brushes, 2-3 empty cans for water and paint, 1 small jar set, color or other colored fabric paint, to use and to share with others, plastic spoons for paint 

El Cielo Workshops


The brochure's in the (e)mail; here's the scoop. I hope you can join me on one of these FUN adventures into your own creative process, the world of mixed media textiles and adventures in ideas (not to mention the beautiful setting here at El Cielo). Please register as soon as possible, hold your place with a $25 deposit, or pay in advance (3 weeks, please) to get a %10 discount.

Nurture your creativity as you come away from a weekend with renewed energy, new materials and techniques in surface design applicable to fiber, ceramics, jewelry, painting and mixed media work. Susie Monday leads artists’ retreats and workshops throughout the year at her studio near Pipe Creek, Texas, about an hour from downtown San Antonio. El Cielo Studio workshops are designed with the needs of the participants in mind; free time is scheduled throughout the weekend for reading, reflection and personal work in the studio. You are welcome to bring projects in process for Susie’s critique and for peer feedback in an environment of trust and respect. You’ll share meals, poetry and stories, music and advice for living an artist’s life. Enjoy the 25-mile vistas from the deck and strolls down the country roads. A spa and pool, and large screen media room are also available to participants. The fee for each workshop retreat is $165 for a 2-day event with $15 discount for early enrollment/payment. Comfortable accommodations and meals are available from $15 - $30 per workshop. Limited enrollment. Most supplies included. Call 210-643-2128 or email susiemonday@gmail.com



APRIL 16-18

(optional Fri. night potluck)

Discover your artist's path and creative strengths as you explore the Sensory Alphabet, the non-verbal vocabulary that each of us uses to take in the world around us, to play with ideas and to create form. In this workshop filled with multimedia experiments and investigations --  including drawing, sculpting, painting, moving, collage and photography -- you'll discover more about your strong suits as an artist and maker, and learn more about what cognitive scientists know about the ways our brains work and invent.


MAY 7-9

(optional Fri. night potluck) How does an art quilt idea grow from nature’s inspiration? Learn two dimensional design skills as your take some of your favorite images from nature into your own art work. Explore surface design techniques that use the power of nature (sun, water, and rust) and explore several techniques that use your nature photos on the surface of fabric. Take home a journal quilt or small wood-frame quilt ready for stitching. ($10 additional supply fee if you wish to work on a wooden frame piece.)


JUNE 4-6

(optional Fri. night potluck)

Many artists have found inspiration in prehistoric and archetypal imagery from caves, cliffs and ancient ceramics. This is the first of a series of “creative study” workshops that will illuminate how you as an artist can take inspiration from the images and imagination of the past, while transforming the images into something uniquely your own. This workshop models a time-proven creative study process (based on that developed at Learning About Learning Educational Foundation and the Paul Baker Theatre) that can be adapted to many inspirational sources. We’ll go from collection through synthesis to creating, and explore textile and mixed media techniques that relate to the aesthetic and philosophical qualities and intent of the earliest art-makers. Explore some simple natural dyes; use handmade brushes as tools, make pigmented paints with ashes, earth, rust and minerals


“A workshop at Susie’s is always money well spent. I learned techniques I have read about but never tried ... I also now feel confident that I can make art quilts!” “This workshop was a fabulous, uplifting, nurturing environment to create in. The journaling was particularly helpful, I would definitely recommend it to a friend.” “This weekend was totally awesome! I am humbled by Susie’s talents, her teaching abilities and her hospitality. I will come back as often as possible.”

Susie Monday has taught creative process and art techniques to adults and children for more than 30 years. Her art is in numerous private and public collections around the world. She will be a featured artist on QUILTING ARTS TV in the new season starting June 2010. Susie is also the co-author of NEW WORLD KIDS; The Parents’ Guide to Creative Thinking.

For a free quarterly newsletter, email susiemonday@gmail.com www.susiemonday.com 210-643-2128 3532 Timbercreek Road Pipe Creek, TX 78063 Read Susie’s blog at http://susiemonday.squarespace.com

Are you interested in a custom designed workshop at El Cielo (minimum 5 participants) or on site for your guild or other group? Many of Susie’s workshops go on the road! Please write for available dates and fees.

If you wish to download a copy of this brochure, please see the sidebar for a link for downloading.

Back on Travel: Line Photos

Carved type from the V&A, London

Now that business is posted (if you missed the latest on the workshop front, either download or go back a day for details) I want to continue my posts of photos from the summer's wonderful journey through Scandinavia. I'm posting these by Sensory Alphabet category --just for fun, and because this blog serves me as a kind of collection jar for memorie, studio actions, future ideas and playdates with ideas.

So today's idea is LINE. Here are some of the photos I took that jumped out of iphoto:

Potsdamplatz, Berlin

Stockholm horizonVasa rigging, StockholmRepainting the line

Bridge between Sweden and Denmark

Tallinn street scene

The line the wall made, Berlin