Artist Journey/Artist Journal

What is it we want in our creative lives? Why bother with art? Working as an artist, whether as a full-time vocation, a parttime avocation or an occassional when-I-can-fit-it-in whimsy takes some measure of commitment. It's far easier in this era of consumerism, digital distraction and financial pressure to sit on the sofa or under the covers with one or more devices pouring words, images, sounds, stories and distraction into our brains. Easier, that is, than using our hands and minds to make words, images, stories and sounds of our own. I don't make judgements about the tools used or the media -- paper and pen, digital camera and keyboard, cloth and dye, paint and canvas, tabletop and kitchen stove -- any will do. 

But I do think we all need to keep our creative selves alive and thriving. That some part of us withers and dies without exercise. And that takes a plan. That's why its become a tradition around El Cielo Studio to offer a workshop each January to allow me (and those who come for the facilitated experience) time to reflect, plan and set goals. Make calendars. Imagine what's needed to make it easier to get to the studio. 

I confess, my January calendar-making reminder forms don't often make it through the entire year (but I know one workshop participant who has been a faithful adherent to the format she set last year), but I do know that even a few months of on-target, on-track creative work gets me off to the start I need for the year. GIves me momentum and reminds me to keep at it. Whatever it is.

In preparation for the January 20-21 workshop (see the last post for the full calendar), I thought I'd share one of the exercises that has proven helpful and insightful for the process.

Where I am right now - Make a circular pie chart of your life as you are living it now:

1. Start with a circle on a large piece of paper.

2. Divide the circle into equal wedges for WORK, PLAY, ADVENTURE, CREATIVITY, BODY, MIND SPIRIT. (OR any other set of categories you prefer. (Or make two different circles if that makes more sense to you)

3. Draw, write, collage fast images from magazines, add colors, lines, patterns to each wedge. 

4. Put a dot, star or sticker in each wedge describing how satisfied or how much time and attention you spend in that sector of your life -- the closer to the center, the less satisfied or less time/attention; the closer to the circle edge, the more satisfied, the more time and attention you spend. You might even want to do these as two different dots or stars, if time and attention is not aligned with satisfaction (oftenr the case). Then connect your dots with a bold line. What shape are your dot-driven circles? How wobbly is your life? 

5. On a separate paper, or on the areas of the paper outside the circle, list 5 things you could do in the  coming year to even out your wobbly circles. 

I don't think our lives are always in balance in the short term. I don't even think they should be -- sometimes work or family or adventure takes over. But in the long term, we want satisfaction in each of these areas. And it takes work -- mostly attention --  to keep the wheel round, the circle spinning.



Artist Retreats at El Cielo Studio


Coming to a workshop near me!

Finally I have determined my winter and spring workshops and looking forward to resuming these this January. I took a break during the fall -- partially for family duties, partially because I had some exciting contract work to do. But I'm looking forward to seeing a group of friends and artists here monthly and hope you'll be among them. If you want a downloadable copy of the flyer, click on the file on the sidebar (it will be up by the end of day!)

Here are the workshops in short:

"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. The fee for each workshop retreat is $175 for a 2-day event with discounts for early enrollment. Comfortable accommodations are available from $15 -  $30 per workshop. Most workshops offer a Friday night potluck option. Limited enrollment. Most supplies included. 

To register, call 210-643-2128 or email

Susie 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.



(optional Fri. night potluck & critique session)

This annual workshop has become a tradition at El Cielo Studio. Spend the weekend in creative activities that help you set the stage for a 2010 filled with productivity, imagination, focus and artistic goals. Using original and time-tested exercises gleaned from sources around the globe, we’ll banish procrastination, make an annual love letter, work on a goals and artist date calendar for the year, and find ways to remind us of what really matters in our artistic lives. Meanwhile, you’ll work with mixed media and surface design techniques to start your artist’s journal.



(optional Friday night potluck & heart-centered gentle yoga session)

In this workshop, you’ll start with common and familiar symbols -- like the heart shape of Valentine’s Day for example --  and through a series of creative generative exercises, you’ll make something new and different to incorporate into your design, composition and surface design. And then, in honor of the season, make some one-of-a-kind Valentines, too. Tools and techniques explored include paper lamination on fabric, hand-cut stamps, and gelatin plate monoprints.



ONLINE course at

MARCH 15- APRIL 12 includes 4 fully-illustrated weekly lessons, plus a bonus week, $45

Have you ever wanted to incorporate a favorite word, poem or quote into an art quilt, garment, art doll or other textile project -- going beyond simply writing or embroidering the text? This surface design/mixed media class will give you a set of process tools for making text and words an integral part of artfully designed fabrics that you can use in a wide variety of projects. Starting with design exercises, you’ll learn three specific techniques for transfers of text, words and writing to fabric using ink-jet printing, polymer medium and textile paints. 



MARCH 23-25

(optional Friday night potluck & work-in-progress critique)

 Spend some time thinking and working on using your inner crew for work and support. In this workshop we’ll explore archetypes, inner voices, gut reactions and their influence on your art and art-making with lots of improvisational exercises to loosen up your approach to art. Make a small artist's altar using fabric and mixed media techniques including mono-printing, collage and digital printing on fabric to remind you of a practical and sacred part of your life. (artist altar frame, $10 supply fee)




And at Southwest School of Art: FINDING YOUR ARTIST VOICE,  Monday afternoons, Feb 6-March 26 



“ The exercises we did this weekend were freeing on the one hand, but will also help me focus.”

“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.”


3532 Timbercreek Road

Pipe Creek, TX 78063

Read Susie’s blog at

May is Artists Soul Retreat Month

Thanks to dear friends Robin and Emily for the color-coordinated orchid! In honor of the recovering Linda. And the current chief chef and bottlewasher. And to those looking for a little visual treat where ever you are.

Just a reminder to you, me and all of us. (As I post more than one blog entry today to try and "catch up," that impossible and daunting task.) Here's an excerpt and some links from the CREATIVITY PORTAL by artist and coach Chris Dunmire:

"Self-care coach Linda Dessau was the first on Creativity Portal to write about the Artist Retreat, a kind of vacation that helps artist's (of all kinds) to get outside of their usual routines, connect with other artists, and contemplate their creative dreams in a larger context. In her article 10 Signs You Might Need an Artist Retreat Day, Linda encouraged awareness for signs of creative burnout and showed how we can incorporate elements of a retreat into our daily lives.

"My first retreat came 20-some years into my working life and consisted of two weeks alone in a rented cottage in the Arizona mountains where I had no creative expectations and took replenishing daily walks and naps. I focused on being "unplugged" from work demands and spent important "me" time reconnecting with my body — and myself — under cool starry night skies. I did some creative things and read a lot, and discovered the new joy of snail-mail art. I came home to a full inbox and lots of work waiting for me, but that stuff is always there. The nourishing gift of a retreat, however, is not.

Some may call them retreats, vacations, or sabbaticals. I like the idea of combining the best of them all into an Artist's Soul Retreat (with emphasis on self-care of the soul). Let's celebrate May with creativity and self-care!

And, in the same vein, I have rescheduled the Markmaking Workshop to June 10-12, to accommodate home schedules - fortunately, those already signed up could make the switch, but there is still room for a few more participants -- as well as for the other summer El Cielo retreats. Here's the text version descriptions:


Sign up early (at least 30 days in advance with a $25 deposit) for a $15 discount on the $175 fee. Email me for details. Workshops generally start with an optional Friday night potluck and fun activity or two, then continue through 3-4 pm on Sunday afternoon. Most supplies included.


UFO, “unfinished fiber object.” Bring along work that needs finishing, needs one more layer, needs some concentrated time and attention (or work that’s stuck for need of constructive critique). Enjoy the resources of the studio and the advice and support of peers. We’ll customize the techniques to the tasks at hand.


Markmaking can be what distinguishes one person's work on paper or fabric or any medai from another's - their personal style. Using color, line, shape, rhythm and textures, students will explore traditional and new media as well as techniques for personal markmaking. Techniques to be covered include deconstructed screenprinting, stamping, using paint sticks and monoprinting with gelatin plates. No matter what your experience level, you'll gain confidence in working with layered media and find your strongest media for the marks that make your work unmistakably your own. 


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. 


Embrace your inner goddess of summertime. Design and make a small art quilt “altar” for kitchen or dining room with tools and materials that depend on heat, sunlight and passionate delight: sun-printing, vegetable prints, fusing, hand and machine stitching and “found” fabrics from attic, thrift store or kitchen closet. We will recycle napkins, tea towels and other like objects and design a thermofax featuring a meaningful symbol, favorite fruit, icon, saint, culinary heroine, angel or other meaningful design as the centerpiece for the altar. (This workshop has an additional $12 fee per person for the altar boxes that the quilts are stretched upon.)

This spring and summer I also will be teaching occasionally at the Southwest School of Art: June 18-19 - From Photo to Fiber (using various techniques to design art quilts from photographs), August 1-5, mornings, New World Kids: for parents wishing to nurture creativity in their children.


Flying or driving in from afar for one of these weekends? Or just want some solo supported work time in the studio? Add one or two days of instruction in the studio for learning techniques that you are interested in. Each custom designed workshop and night’s lodging and meals costs $225 per person. Limit, 2 artists per session Many of Susie’s workshops go on the road! Please write for available dates and fees.


“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.”



Something New. Something Old.

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. Use handmade brushes as tools, make pigmented paints with ashes, earth, rust and minerals. Learn to use two different techniques for transfering photos and sketches to fabric using a home printer/copier-- directly printing on fabric you  prepare with Bubble Jet Set and doing a transfer print with polyester film and gel medium.

We'll also have a chance to drum, share poetry and stories, and share a meal under the moon and stars. And, of course,  enjoy the beautiful early summer weather in the Texas Hill Country. We've added a sleeping porch to the house, so if you wish, you can even sleep (sort of) under the stars, though the airconditioned comfort of the bedrooms are also available. Only one $30 private room remains, otherwise, for $15 you can sleep in the studio, or for free on the porch or air mattress. Remember to bring swim suits and towels for the pool and hot tub! The workshop fee is $160 whether you stay two nights or one!

Art Retreat Special, Buy this one, get one half off!

I was late scheduling my September workshop, From Scribble to Symbol, Personal Mark-Making, and now I need at least a couple of more people here for it to be fun (and profitable) for me and everyone participating. So for those who sign up for this workshop (including those who have already registered), pay for the September workshop before Sept. 20, and I'll give you a certificate worth one-half off the next workshop/retreat you sign up for here at El Cielo -- that's an $80 value. This offer is limited to the next four people who take me up on the offer, email me and then send the check! I also take PayPal.

A reminder of what we'll be doing:

In this workshop, start with simple sketches and doodles and end the weekend with an arsenal of new surface design tricks and tools.  Explore doodles and scribbles as sources of unique and personal imagery that will give your art quilts, wearable art, or mixed media work personal depth and layers of meaning. Any artist will benefit from these exercises, whether you make your mark on paper, clay, quilts, art cloth, metal or any other media that has an element of decorative motif or imagetic narrative.

Take a favorite symbol -- for example a heart, star, spiral, circle, leaf, apple -- and by taking it (and yourself) through a series of creative generative exercises, you’ll make something new and different to incorporate into your design, composition and surface design. Then develop something even more personal from the kinds of doodles and marks that show up on your notepads and napkins! Tools and techniques explored include paper lamination on fabric, large scale “mark-making” rollers and monoprinting -- also some hands-on work with some computer programs that you can download for free and use in your image generation process. (bring a laptop if you have one.)

Some examples of some of the kinds of mark-making that I'm interested in are shown below in these photos (the one at the top of the post was developed with a program called SCRIBBLER).

xs and os


Bird of Loss, from hand shape

Pomegranite image - a personal/ universal symbol I use often in my work

30 spokes wheel, symbol developed from a Tao saying

Hear, deconstructed screen print and stitch