1914753_1053798144661581_5564570931144068029_nIt’s been an uncharacteristically long time since I blogged here.  How considerably my life has changed in the last two years.  In the face of such enormous change and transition, adequate words have failed me and I’ve turned away from blogging on a regular basis.  Through it all, I have continued to work, to teach extensively and to write in different venues.  Interestingly, much of my work over the last year has related to art journaling, and I have finally achieved the break away from my attachment words that I sought for so long.

I am drawn back to this blog at an interesting time.  Months ago, I wrote about the end of my thirty year marriage.  That has entailed a two year long process involving a combination of hard work and slow acceptance.  A year after my four months of travel through the UK and Europe with my daughter, I am now putting a change of life into process that began to formulate in those travels.


By this time, I am replete from a month of farewell lunches, get-togethers and gatherings.  The tidal wave of love and caring I have received from coast to coast has tumbled me and humbled me, learning the depth of regard in which I am and have been held.  I rode the crest of that wave into my journey to a new life.  I finally resigned from my full time job, sold and disposed of most of my possessions and furniture, packed my suitcase and departed on a journey to finally becoming the fully itinerant artist and teacher I have worked so hard to be.  I am grounding firmly with six weeks of visits to dearest family and friends.  Once steady on my feet and ready for launch, I will board a plane with my daughter to return to our beloved England to make our home there once again.


Is that the end of the story?  Oh no.  It is the barest beginning of the vision I have.  I have worked more than a decade to build a business that can come with me.  Though based in the United Kingdom, I will begin to more fully and regularly divide my time between Canada and the US and the United Kingdom.  Free of a demanding full time job, I will be able to turn more fully and readily to my studio to bring the many manifestations of my creative vision to life.


As I dismantle my old life, I am quietly sweeping away my footprints behind me.  I am filled with love and gratitude for the life I have led the last twelve years, and to all those who have shared my path over those years.  It is time for a new path, stepping fully into the artistic life I was born for, and that has grown and grown around me over these years.  Riding the crest of that uplifting wave of love and regard, I go forward.  There is so very much to look forward to, and you will begin to see me in some new ventures and venues as the year advances.  Watch out for upcoming workshops and some new online workshops coming for 2017, two new articles in Cloth Paper Scissors magazine and my work venturing further afield for exhibition.  The images included in this blog post show two recent artist book works completed:  Anonymous and Rime.  You can check them out on my Facebook page!  I look forward to seeing you about.

Oh my dears, Spring is in my blood!  My eyes see her colours everywhere; drink in the high, flawless azure of the Alberta sky; scent the rich loam thawing under the sun’s gentle caress.  The blood is racing in my veins like sap rising.  I’ll have to strap myself to the saddle to keep my seat on the gallop this season will bring.

There is so much to do.  I will be teaching solidly through March, April and May, before taking off on a three-and-a-half-month adventure with my daughter . . . .


March and April

The first offering is a two-part workshop, “The Book as Art”, being held here in our stunning Bow Valley of Alberta.  I have not offered a workshop like this here since 2011.  It’s my custom to repay my community every year for its support by offering locally-delivered workshops at greatly discounted rates. I am offering these workshops for just $100 plus a $15 materials fee for two 12-6pm days.  This is a third or less of what you might expect pay to join me for these workshops elsewhere, so it’s well worth the journey if you’re willing to make it.  Part 1 is 21 March 2015, and part 2 is 4 April 2015.  If you are interested to take a spot or two, please message me through my contact form.

Book as art poster 2015-page-0

I am also offering my training workshop “The Care and Mending of Books” at various times and locations in Alberta.  This is a workshop I have delivered to the staff of public, university and school libraries for a few years.  I taught it at the Canadian Library Association Conference in Victoria, BC last May and have now been asked to offer it in Alberta.  This is a full-day workshop and I have one or two places available at the Three Hills Public Library, Three Hills, Alberta on 28 March, and also at the Paul D. Fleck Library at the Banff Centre in Banff on April 7th.   The cost is $150 per person.  Please contact me if you are interested in attending.

IMG_0491 (640x360)

The Care and Mending of Books Workshop

A healthy collection is a happy collection!  Is packing tape your best book mending friend?  Join Dea Fischer of Canmore Public Library to learn the skills and tools you need to mend and repair your own materials.  Extend the life of your collection materials at minimum cost, and reduce your reliance on bindery fees and replacement materials.

In our morning session, you will learn and practice repair techniques on several most common repairs (e.g., broken spine, torn pages, replacing pages, repairing torn hinges).  In our afternoon session, you will learn and practice more advanced mending and conservation techniques, including re-casing a book, replacing a spine, repairing and reinforcing corners.  During the day, you will also learn aspects of collection maintenance and handling, and some reinforcement techniques to avoid or delay some common problems.  You will also participate in a question and answer session to deal with your mending and repair questions.


Then, in mid-May, I am flying to Portland, Maine.  I am excited and delighted to be the featured artist at a getaway with Idyllworks of Maine!

Idyllworks offers extraordinary getaways for busy women around the globe to connect and unwind. Designed to encourage relaxation and spark creativity, each of their getaways is a unique opportunity that I’m thrilled to be a part of.

One of the perks of making a living as an artist is that I get to share my craft with others. At this getaway I’ll have the opportunity to teach an intimate group in a beautiful setting about what I do and spend the weekend with them as they embrace their own creative spirit.

I’ll be working with guests to hand construct your own unique and beautiful long-stitch journal.  You will then go on to work with another featured artist, Leslie Beattie, to work on content for your lovely journals.  As an added bonus, this getaway takes place in gorgeous coastal Maine. When we’re not developing our artistic skills, there will be plenty of time to explore the surrounding areas or relax on the porch and take in the views from Grey Havens Inn.

Find out more about the getaway here. It’s worth mentioning that Idyllworks accepts both full retreat registration and also day registration for those living more locally.  I would love to have you share this incredible experience with me!

Idyllworks_for_Day_Students__Page_1 What’s next?

June through October this year, I am so excited to be taking a leave of absence in order to travel through the UK and Europe with my beautiful, soon-to-be-graduating daughter, Millie.  It’s in the nature of a grad trip and the chance to move her toward her goal of attending the UK art school her father graduated from.  I am working on setting up some teaching in the UK while I’m there, so watch this space and I’ll let you know.


And of course, if you aren’t able to join me for one of these great workshop opportunities, I have an instructional DVD and download with Cloth Paper Scissors: “Handmade Book Essentials”, and a web seminar, “Tags, Flags and Memories” available from the Interweave Store and Craft Daily.  Whatever you do, I hope you will get out, get your hands mucky and your heart singing this spring!



This is my Fifty-one-year-old-day-off-face selfie. Freshly scrubbed, no makeup or hairdo. Looking in those windows to see how I’m faring in this enormous life transition. A bit less tear-swollen, a little less haunted maybe. Still standing. Feeling love and empathy and caring and gratitude for my husband and my daughter as we help each other through each day with loving kindness. One more day.

2014 will bear a single word to mark its passage:  Transition

I have wrestled around with what the next blog post would be, with how on earth I would address the changes occurring in my life.  In my perspective.  In my learning.  In my family.  In the very fabric of my Self.  Then, today, I saw this quote from Ernest Hemingway:

about-what-hurts-670x321Today, I am deep in a pile of pillows and quilts, nursing aches and pains everywhere as the ubiquitous ‘flu virus burns its way through my body.  It is another day like so many there have been over the last four or five months, when I am alone in a silent and empty house, filled with the loudness of silence created by absence.  I read this quote and was immediately resolved to tell it how it is.  Not pretty.  Not easy.  Not sweet.  Life hurts like hell at this time in my life.  I’ve carried on with my work, my life, my service to my community, my caring for my home and family.  Behind it all, I am weeping.  Three months ago, my husband of nearly 30 years and I separated.  In the aftermath, all I ever thought I knew has crashed into brittle shards, and I am engulfed by silence, deafened by the blast wave.

The whys and hows are known to a few, and really aren’t the issue.  We continue every day to work as a family to help each of us through this time with loving kindness.  We are close.  We are working hard.  We will resolve, and we will move forward, one way or another.  Whatever the eventual outcome will be, we have been grieving the separation for three months now, with no ease yet coming to our divided life.  I turn to my studio, to the pages of my journal, to my tools and supplies and can find no expression of the revolution going on inside me.  The soul agony and grief cannot be denied, but there is some good to come from it too.  We have some distance, an ability to back up far enough to get the whole picture into the viewfinder; to see what is good and what is not good; to see what we treasure and refuse to lose.  It has been hard to speak brutal truths to myself, to be honest about my ways of doing things that helped bring us to where we are.  To find strength to learn and grow without sinking into self blame.


Teaching at CREATE in both Dallas and Seattle this fall gave me a chance for distance and thought.  It was with deep sadness that I received the recent announcement that CREATE has come to an end.  I am so deeply grateful for the creativity, travel and kindred spirits my participation in CREATE brought me.  How much I will miss the opportunity to see all of you!  Among the other endings of my life, this news brought home the deep sense that life is going into a major transition.  The path before my creative feet is well illuminated, and I feel sure of the direction I should take while I wait to learn what comes next.  Change1

I have been overwhelmed by the gifts this year has also brought.  The growing opportunities, the open-hearted reception to my work when I have finally let these difficult stories be told and expressed. The work that has emerged from my hands over the last two or three years has all been about healing journeys.  In the next month, an editorial article will be published in Pages magazine featuring the body of work created around the loss of our children and the birth and life of our daughter.  The series is long from finished, and even in this, I believe the story is not over.  There is a new beginning in here somewhere.  I don’t know what it is yet, or whether it will be with my life partner’s hand in mine or alone.  But somewhere in amongst all the tears and the grief and the pain, there is a kernel of hope in the future.  The last few months have been all about endings.  An ending of one thing always heralds the beginning of something else.  I can feel its approach, even if I can’t yet make out its features in the gloom.  holding hands

011My customary summer break from my blog is at an end.  My feet are once again under my desk, and I have already begun on a series of new work and projects set for the winter months.   I have so very much to tell you about the events and travel of Summer 2013 that I will need to write a series of blogs over the next four weeks to cover it all.


It is hard to know where to begin.  I guess the best place is to pick up where I left off, when I wrote about the devastating flooding that hit our dear mountain town just as I returned from my birthday trip to southern California.  Our dear mountain town and all those other communities so deeply impacted by the flooding slowly move toward healing in the deeper layers, well below the surface functioning that resumed within days.  The scars on our landscape remain despite the continual work on remediation.  The scars on our memories remain even deeper.

In all, despite those painful days and weeks, it was a lively and exciting summer, filled with events of amazing magnitude.  For this post, I will tell you that the summer saw two significant acquisitions of my work.  I haven’t got over a bit of jumping up and down excitement over these!

'River Worn' page detail

‘River Worn’ page detail

The Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at the University of Toronto acquired my concertina book “River Worn”.  This piece was a much-beloved concertina nearly 6 feet in length at full extent, illustrated with river-worn rock images taken on a visit to the Kootenay River in British Columbia, and containing the lyrics to an old camp song, “Peace, I ask of thee, O River”:

Peace I ask of thee, O’ River
Peace, peace, peace
When I learn to live serenely
Cares will cease.
From the hills I gather courage
Visions of the days to be
Strength to lead and faith to follow
All are given unto me
Peace I ask of thee, O’ River
Peace, peace, peace.
~ Author Unknown, Camp song

The piece had previously passed through the hands of two California rare books dealers before finding its final place in the Thomas Fisher Library.  I am honoured  to have my work included in their special collection, and hope to get to Toronto to see it there myself one of these days.524284_423843824323686_1004332719_n

Over this same period, I had some work on display at the Abecedarian Gallery in Denver as part of their Artist’s Book Cornucopia IV. I had received email notification from them that one of the pieces had sold and would not be returning to me, but that was all the information provided.  When the package arrived in June with the returned work, I didn’t open it right away, knowing as I did that it was just my returning work.  A few days after its arrival, I finally opened the package.  In the top of the package was a letter from the gallery to advise that the piece had been purchased by Yale University.  I must admit with a blush that there was a certain rather shrieking and incoherent telephone call placed to my sister some three thousand miles and two time zones away (ergo, 1am her time . . .) before I recovered.  To her great credit, she advised me that shrieking phone calls at 1am from my home were generally welcome, as they usually meant good news!  A Sense of Place has now been catalogued and can be viewed in the Haas Arts Special Collection at Yale University Library.29304_393947807267_2001527_nWhen I next write, I will tell you about my adventures in California.  And then there is New Jersey . . . and New York . . . and South Korea.  As I said, it was quite a summer!

I wrote a few months ago about the creation of my artist’s book ‘withlostlongedfor’, and what it meant to me.  Though coming from a raw place far deeper than I usually share through this venue, your response to the piece has been universally positive and overwhelmingly kind.  I promised when I wrote about its creation that I would share the piece with you when it was done.  ‘withlostlongedfor’ is currently on display at the Sunny Raven Gallery here in the Bow Valley.

I created a scroll book out of stitched layers of stained silk.  This is a very personal piece for me, and one into which I put the voice of grief over the loss of my children.  This is not a story I have had the courage to tell up to now, and going into it, I felt fear and trepidation. I was not at all sure I would be able to complete the story, but I thought if I could, it would ultimately be very healing.

The Concept

The title of this book is derived from a poem I wrote many years ago, after one of the many miscarriages, and the text of which I included.  I have told the story of the events that transpired and that ultimately led to the creation of this book, so I won’t tell it again here.  However, to understand the meaning and power of the piece, you may wish to understand its source.  If so, I encourage you to read my original post, which I wrote as a part of my commitment to finally bringing this piece to life.

The Process

I have detailed the process through this picture diary, showing the steps I went through to create the scroll, and my thinking as I did so.

The Piece

I love this piece in the sort of mixed love/sadness you might expect.  It was indeed the release for me I believed it to be, and the response to it has been tremendous.  Thank you.


I will never forget.  Elephants for remembrance and garnet beads to symbolise drops of blood.

I will never forget. Elephants for remembrance and garnet beads to symbolise drops of blood.


I hand stitched a protective pouch from silk dupioni, labelled it

I hand stitched a protective pouch from silk dupioni, labelled it

The scroll.

The scroll.

Here, you can see the floating text, applied to different layers for it to fade in and out in appearance.  Segments of the crimson stitching bond the layers together loosely.

Here, you can see the floating text, applied to different layers for it to fade in and out in appearance. Segments of the crimson stitching bond the layers together loosely.

Here you see the old mill bobbins with their steel trim.

Here you see the old mill bobbins with their steel trim.

As a book artist, I am endlessly fascinated with all things book related and can’t see enough of the imagination employed by artists to re-interpret this form.  I participate in some online communities whose focus is on book binding and book arts.  My participation in these groups fills my life with a wondrous and at times quite breathtaking array of book-related arts and works.  With participation has come the gift of friendship with some of these talented artists.  They bring so much pleasure and inspiration to my life that I thought it would be nice to share my favourites with you.  There are, of course, many well-known and talented book artists in these groups whose names are frequently seen, and I would love to share all of them.  However, I thought today I would like to share the breathtaking work of some lesser-known artists you might not be aware of.

Copyright Su Blackwell.

Copyright Su Blackwell.

An artist whose work never fails to catch my immediate attention is the British artist Su Blackwell.  I have frequently shared her works on my Facebook page for their perfect detail and winsome atmosphere.  Su took an MA in textile art from the Royal College of Art in London, but it was her travels in Thailand that opened her eyes to the wonders of paper.  Su has become known for training her delicate focus on fairy tales in her works.  She does so with a perfect feeling for the nostalgia of the piece, and breathes life into precious stories we remember from our childhood days.   Yet these are not sugar-coated pastel-painted children’s stories. Through her innate sense of staging, her use of lighting and backdrop, Su creates an atmosphere with an undercurrent of slight menace, the lurking wolf among the trees . . . the child lost in the woods, the beckon of a lit window.  The vignettes she creates invite.  I want to peer through the tiny lit window . . board the illuminated rail car and discover the even greater wonders that must be hidden within.  I hope you will visit her website and see these treasures, and how she has moved to interpreting the magic on a larger scale.

Copyright Su Blackwell

Copyright Su Blackwell

Copyright Nancy Trottier

Copyright Nancy Trottier

One of the greatest gifts of friendship that has come through my door has been with Nancy Trottier of Ducks in a Row Press in Ontario.  Nancy combines her beautiful sense of colour and pattern in printmaking with sweet artist’s book forms that want to be handled and enjoyed.  Nancy imbues her work with her truly thoughtful and deeply spiritual nature.  She has shown a generosity of thought in our friendship that I have rarely encountered in another human being, and our shared vision for the voice this work can embody has bonded us across the thousand or so miles that lay between us.  Nancy and I continue to pursue opportunities to work together, including studio time on Skype!  Nancy created a deeply moving piece for the Sketchbook Project 2012.  Do check it out.

"You Will Decide", copyright Nancy Trottier.

“You Will Decide”, copyright Nancy Trottier.

Randi Parkhurst is an artist whose work simply takes my breath away.  This US artists describes herself as “a paper geek that LOVES to make artists’ books that move, flip, spring open and surprise.”   The sheer cleverness and vision embodied in Randi’s works thrill me on every level.  I love her exuberant use of colour, and the interlocking, interdependent, hidden treasures in her pieces thrill with delight and mystery.  Randi’s piece “Patience” can be viewed on video – it simply cannot be fully appreciated any other way.

"Patience" copyright Randi Parkhurst.

“Patience” copyright Randi Parkhurst.

"Colony 45" copyright Randi Parkhurst.

“Colony 45” copyright Randi Parkhurst.

An artist whose works intrigue and please me is Michele Riesenmey.  She creates soft, appealing artists books filled with intriguing imagery and illustration, but Michele also makes ‘books’ in the form of curio boxes that just shout to me.  Michele is a multi-disciplinary artists from the Loire region of France whose work explores memory, time, matter and the relationship between the infinitely small and the very large.  The content of Michele’s works intrigue and draw me to study their detail repeatedly.  There is a cabinet of curiosities appeal to them that I never tire of.  Michele doesn’t seem to have a website, but her work can be viewed on her Facebook page.

Copyright Michele Riesenmey

Copyright Michele Riesenmey

My most recent love affair is with the work of Elizabeth Beronich Sheets.  It is difficult to find out much information about this artist, other than that she lives in either Seattle, WA or San Diego, CA, and has been an illustrator all her professional life.  Elizabeth sprung up on my Facebook quite recently, and I can’t imagine how her work didn’t come to my attention before.  I have voraciously consumed everything that has been posted about her other-wordly work.  There is something rather “Mad Max” about Elizabeth’s works, as though they have been excavated from another time or even another place.  They have a richness of aging appearance and an unusual and very individual form, filled with a beauty of illustration.  Jules Verne may have envisaged such a book . . .She has a Facebook page and an Etsy store.  Check it out!

Copyright Elizabeth Beronich Sheets

Copyright Elizabeth Beronich Sheets

Copyright Elizabeth Beronich Sheets

Copyright Elizabeth Beronich Sheets

There are so many more artists out there who are doing the most amazing, inspiring work.  I hope these introductions will lead you to discover even more, and keep on looking . . .

The New Year is well upon me and I am deep in the throes of 2013’s first deadlines.  I am committed to submitting work to CBBAG’s The Art of the Book 2013, and the deadline is looming.  I completed the first book for the submission months ago, and knew I wanted to complete one or two more.297520_428117443896324_1274117134_n

Since completing “The Voice of Silence” a few months ago, I have repeatedly stalled.  I feel a great, pounding momentum rising through me, but my approach to the precipice has been dithering and fearful, building up courage to throw myself off a cliff into a deep, black, impenetrable sea of pain and sorrow.  The pressure building within me, the conflict and resistance, are driven by an untold story within me whose time has come.  More so, a story that refuses to remain silent.  I did not know until this time that “The Voice of Silence” has a companion piece.  “The Voice of Silence” is grief’s ghosts, silent and white and poignant.  Now that the silent, interminable grief has been expressed in that book, the companion has come forward for its turn.  And that companion piece insists on birth, yet carries sorrow on the back of its wings like a magpie.  And so I have procrastinated, dithered, resisted and done no work.  I have skirted, shied, resisted and done no work.  I have written before about trying to bring to birth a story that was not ready to be told.  And now, it is time to tell a story that will not be silenced any longer.  My soul and my psyche have known that I could give birth to no other meaningful work until this piece, this story, had been told.  At last, yesterday, I could stand the stalemate no longer.  I reached within and found my courage to begin.  This post, and perhaps the piece that is emerging from it, will very likely be raw and brutally honest.  I will again cry the limitless tears there are to cry over this story.  I will tremble and shake with fear and sorrow.  But it will be told.  And so we begin.001

The piece that I am creating is a scroll.  Once again constructed of layers of silk organza, this time there is no pristine and funereal white.  This time, the silk is stained and rumpled.  Its length will be wound onto old mill bobbins and housed in a brass-bound wooden box.  And between the ethereal, aged layers of the silk will flow the words of a poem I wrote in the late 1990s.  Because this book is about grief.  This book is about raw, bewildered, uncomprehending and interminable pain and sorrow and loss.  This book is about the death of my children.

I wrote the poem after miscarrying twins.  That, in itself, is not so remarkable in the world.  What was – is – remarkable is that I was miscarrying for the eleventh time.

As a young married couple, we had embarked on our dream of a family as any young couple does.  With hope and starry eyes and longing and romantic visions of downy heads and dewy cheeks and plump limbs.  Six months after our wedding, I miscarried for the first time.  I was in the first year of my law degree.  It was right in the middle of exams.  I scraped through.  I raised a brave jaw to the world and moved on with a heart full of hope and all the statistics for how at least one in ten pregnancies ends in miscarriage.  I learned years later that it is suspected that it may be more like nine out of ten.

In the fall of that year, I once again conceived.  Christmas was a secret delight of hopes and dreams.  We told no one, but held the secret to our hearts and hoped.  On New Year’s Eve, in the middle of a party with all our friends and miles from home, I began to bleed.  It was the first of several miscarriages that occurred around that time of year and sapped all joy from the holidays.

And so, each year, at least once a year, for a decade, this scene repeated itself.  As I charged through law school, as I struggled with mute and overwhelming grief in articles under the critical and unforgiving eyes of my partners.  As I travelled hundreds and hundreds of business miles as a young lawyer.  Miscarrying alone in a hotel room hundreds of miles from home.  Sitting in an exasperated doctor’s office after my ninth miscarriage, mute with misery, while he tried to tell me it ‘must have been a mistake’.   Years and years of investigations, of laparoscopies and drugs and reconstructive surgeries.  And miscarriage after miscarriage.  There were no answers. There was no comfort.

Yet, through it all, our longing for a family of our own shone undimmed.  People shook their heads over us, they remarked about our resilience.  I tried once to explain what it was really like.  It wasn’t about crawling through life in perpetual pain.  It was more like having the most incredibly dear person, who you love without limit, die.  And then when you think you can’t stand the grief another day, that person comes back!  And with them comes back all the love and the hope and the joy.  Only for them to die all over again.  And that kept happening.  I couldn’t describe it any other way.   After nine years and ten miscarriages at that time, we were both mired so deep in grief, we could hardly speak to each other.

Finally, in 1997, we were given the chance to try in vitro fertilisation.  Ostensibly, this was to try to learn what was going right and what was going wrong.  We were terrified but hopeful, and embarked on the regime of drugs and injections and procedures bravely.  Well, I tried to be brave, but I cried every day of those injections just from the pain.  I will never forget the day we arrived at the clinic for the pregnancy test.  At 7:00am.  To hear the nurse announce that it was positive.  And then to continue carefully with the supportive drug regime, walking cat-footed, protecting my precious cargo.

At nine weeks, we were set to have our first scan.  All had gone well to that point, we were eager but terrified.  Returning to the clinic with our hearts in our mouths, I submitted to the scan.  In the silence of the room, the technician’s words dropped like stones.  They could detect no heartbeat.  A howl of wildness was rising in me.  We were dismissed, the failures, to stand weeping on the pavement in the pouring rain, bewildered and alone in our grief.  I didn’t believe them.  Nothing had changed, my body was still pregnant.  The clinic was adamant and insisted I cease the supporting drugs.  Against every instinct, I finally complied.  Four days later, I went into a mini labour and miscarried our two children on my bathroom floor.  I do not believe to this day those children were already dead before that day.  I never will.    I held our children in the palm of my hand and knew them and loved them as though we had shared a lifetime.

I descended into a pit of grief and depression so deep I did not believe I could ever emerge.  For a year, I lay as though at the bottom of the sea, my skin grey and slick, my mind writhing in a dense fog.  We could find no comfort for or with each other.  I buried my grief in the roots of the roses I so loved, one for every anniversary, one for every child, and dewed their petals with my tears.  It was at that time that the poem was written.


Am I dead?

It is dark
in and out.

where there was pain.

where there was joy.
I count my breaths.

Count them
as ticks of time
back from this point,

Look  at my life
from the
wrong side of glass.

Have I
all these years been
with child
lost child
longed for child?

What is there
if there is not
with child
lost child
longed for child?

No bend.
No end.
Just death days to mark.

Yet I live.

There is light
in and out.

where there was pain.

where there was grief.

I count my breaths.

Count them
as steps to life
on from this point,
look for my life
in the eyes of my love.

There is more than
with child
lost child
longed for child.

And I live.

© Dea Fischer 1998

A year after this loss, we were contacted by St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.  They were the highly successful IVF unit of which our local clinic was an outreach.  They asked us to try again.  They told us they had learned so much from the first treatment that they really thought they could help us.  I was difficult to convince.  I was terrified.  I was lost in grief.  We were offered a few months of grief counselling, geared toward helping us to accept the likelihood that we would never have a child of our own.  With the help of counselling, and in a more even state of mind but without hope, we agreed to try again.  And so, once again, drugs and daily injections and procedures and many trips to the hospital in London.  The regime was adjusted to account for what they had learned.  Each stage was more successful than it had been last time.  We crawled through every stage, utterly without hope.  Just get through the pregnancy test.  The pregnancy test was positive.  Just get through today.  I talked to my little pearl every day, every minute of every day, encouraging her to stay, flooding her with love.  We bargained.  I stonewalled.  I refused to have the early scan.  We bargained for a scan at ten weeks.  The clinic relented.  I bargained with my little pearl for her to sit up nice and proud and wave at the camera.  You may imagine, I am sure, our abject terror on the day we attended the clinic for the scan.  I lay rigid on the table, my eyes screwed tight and tears pouring down my face.  The room was hushed while the technician operated the scan.  And then, in a soft, kind voice, she said “. . . There . . . . ” and turned the screen towards us.  And there, on the black screen was the unmistakable flutter of a tiny heartbeat.

Every day of my pregnancy was a bargain, just to get through that day.  I could do no more than cross the days off one by one.  I could not look forward.  I would not look forward.  In any event, steadily and by stealth, my body began to change as our child grew within me.  I began to bloom.  I was well.  I was healthy.  Life began to assume a patina of normality.  I wrote every day, committing every day’s events, however tiny and insignificant, to memory in case it was the last day.  I talked to my little pearl and played her music.  And then, on the morning of the first day of my sixteenth week, I suddenly started to bleed.

That day is etched in my memory forever.  The tense, white, silent drive to the hospital with my parents-in-law.  Meeting Phil at the hospital.  Another rigid, clenched, weeping scan bed.  And then, to see the technician’s face relax . . . again to turn the screen towards us and show that our little pearl’s heartbeat was still strong.  We learned later that I had miscarried a second tiny fetus.  Nobody realised there were two . . .

The rest of my pregnancy continued on the same way, our hearts in our mouths.  At five months, a large tumour was discovered in my abdomen.  I spent much of the last three months of my pregnancy in hospital.  I continued to count one day at a time.  I prayed and I bargained and I would have hung upside down like a bat for nine months if that was what it took.  But finally, we reached the point in the pregnancy where our child could survive outside the womb if she were born.  Every day after that point was a blessing.  Despite hospital stays, I carried her nearly to term.  Because of the tumour, we were told a cesarean was required.  Again, I fought medical intervention at every step.  We had so much of it, I wanted to finally greet my child in the most natural way possible.    I had to accept the cesarean.

On April 7 1999, at 9:22am, our beloved daughter Millie Rose was born.  Words are completely inadequate to express the overwhelming emotion of that day, or the days that followed.  The surgeon came to visit us late on the afternoon of Millie’s birth.  She told us that it was a very lucky thing Millie was born via cesarean in the end, because she had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck twice.  If I had tried to deliver her normally, the surgeon believes she would have died during the birth.  At that moment, I released all I had been carrying and laid it firmly in the hands of the Greater Spirit that was so clearly guarding my little pearl.  Millie Rose was born of my twelfth pregnancy.261461_199785876738721_6360191_n

As the days of parenthood have passed, the terror for Millie’s survival has slowly been replaced by intense joy.  We have celebrated her days and her milestones.  We have seen the glints of the sun on her tumbled mass of white-blonde curls like a halo, carrying the light of her siblings.  We have learned not to check her breathing when she is asleep.  Now, at 13 years old, the joy has been joined by a healthy dose of aggravation and we are at last a normal family.  I miscarried three more times after Millie’s birth, until another two tumours finally took my ovaries and my fertility.

I believe we are given the experiences we are given for a reason.  Whether it is, as some believe, to repay a karmic debt, or to fulfill our destiny, I know this valley of sorrow we travelled for so many years was for something.  I have believed I would write about it one day, to provide help and support to some other poor family experiencing what we have experienced.  I have a decade and more’s worth of journals to plunder for the right material.  Yet, I have never been able to do it until now.  I have wanted to live the joy of Millie’s childhood days unshadowed.  I have not wanted to dwell on sorrow or grief, or to burden her existence with the lives of her siblings.  Millie knows the story.  Maybe not the details, but she knows what we went through to have her join our family.  Now, as a wise, beautiful and talented high school student, I guess she is mature enough that I can trust the story to be told.  295124_427262743991032_1600707521_n

I know this is a raw story, and not the usual fare I bring forward in this blog.  If you have read this far, I am honoured to have you share my story.  Some stories just have to be told.  And what will emerge from this telling is a piece of work I think will be one of my best.  The threads of the story will be woven through it, along with the richness of experience, the veil of deep sorrow and the light of love and hope.  I look forward to showing it to you.  And from that work will come a greater work, and finally to fulfill my promise of help to those who suffer as we did.  Thank you for helping me make the first step.

I am ahead of myself this year in doing a studio turnaround . . . Suitcases are away for the winter – all my out-of-town teaching is finished until next Spring.  I am clearing things out and re-organising others to make way for some new occupants in my small studio space.

Paper box, size 5

For quite some time, I made do with digitally-printed text or hand script for my books, but the lack of craftsmanship to this approach has always disappointed me.  Digital is flat and characterless.  Hand script is a horror, for I am no calligrapher.  I tried finding tiny rubber stamp fonts to use, which met with more or less success.  Gradually, I moved to using my grandfather’s old Smith Corona typewriter from the 1960s.  This approach to text insertion spoke more deeply to my soul, and helped to bring my grandfather’s writer spirit into my work. Last year saw me acquire in rapid succession an Underwood Universal typewriter from 1938, and then a small and perfectly formed Royal from the early 1950s.  Those typewriters have had a presence in my work over the last year or so that I find oddly satisfying and pleasing.  However, my longing has always been for the deeply textural, craftsman appearance of letterpress.   I have a deep attachment to the craftsman feel of letterpress, and have longed to be able to print the content of my artist’s books in this way.  Now I can, at last, begin to produce the pieces my mind has been hoarding for this moment.  Yes, indeed, I have lucked into something I thought I would not realise for years yet.  With the fortuitous help of a dear friend in Ontario, I have this week acquired an Adana tabletop 5×3 letterpress.  

I can hardly wait to begin.  Along with this piece of machinery entering my space, it has become time to move to more hardwearing surfaces and to incorporate a workbench and the paper cutters recently gifted to me by a friend.  I am moving into working more in leather, metal and glass, and need space for a drillpress and clamps, etc.  Between a workbench and the letterpress cart, replacement of the thick carpet with a more hard-wearing surface and the addition of a ventilation system, my lovely antiques-filled studio is starting to take on a harder edge.  As much as I long for these tools and equipment, I will be sorry if my studio starts to lose its cocoon-like quality.

Image by Richard Berry

The sanctuary of my studio is deeply important to me.  In a recent interview, I was asked whether there was a process or ritual I go through before I begin creating. I told the interviewer I usually tidy my studio before I start working.  My studio gets into a hell of a mess when I’m teaching alot and running running running.  I tend to just put stuff down and close the door.  But I can’t work that way.  I need to have my tools and materials accessible and under my hand, and to be able to move freely around the room. Otherwise I get irritated and frustrated.  I avoid that by tidying up the room and my desk first.  That time helps me to connect and get into the right zone or head space and prepare for work. It also inspires me by ‘visiting’ with my things.  This place is my sanctuary, the cradle of my creativity. I bare my soul to its walls and it embraces me with tenderness.  Through the changes, through the growth and development of my practice and my interests, and through the morphing of my studio into a harder-edged workspace, I mustn’t lose that.

To help me maintain the atmosphere of sanctuary, I keep things around me that touch my heart. This includes some of my daughter’s tiny sculptures that she has gifted me over the years. I always have a meditations deck on my desk if I need help to centre or focus.  I tend to work in silence, and so working in my studio is a deep thinking time for me.  Sometimes the thoughts carry me off in different directions and away from my intended focus.  Meditation helps.   My vision board next to my desk contains words to inspire me (and another of Millie’s tiny sculptures).

The moon and star symbol has been the symbol I have used to sign my work for more than 35 years. I keep this charm on view to remind me of the creative vision I have carried throughout my life, and that it is always present even during the dark phases.

My grandfather’s typewriter continues to preside over all. It makes me feel like he is watching over my shoulder as I work. He’s been my greatest inspiration and still mentors me even though he passed more than two decades ago.

These two little Cloisonne buddies remain at eye level on my desk shelves. The penguin was a gift from my sister when she returned from a tour of duty on Guam. It was made in the year of my birth. The little frog was a gift from my dearest old friend Lyn.  They remain there to remind me of the endurance of love.

My guardian angel, gifted to me by my dear friend Tiffany Teske, watches over me as I work.

And the painting that became the block print that became the drawing that became my logo stands over my desk.  I will never part with it.

Surrounded by the symbolism of these things, I realise that these are the things that create the sense of sanctuary.  It is not really about tools, or machinery or surfaces.  It is about a sense of place.  From this grounding place, I am ready for all 2013 will bring, and eager for the exploratory work of my hands.  I can have hoped for no greater things from 2012 than to have grown in my practice and my ability to realise my potential; to have companionship and camaraderie with a growing worldwide circle of creative visionaries;  and for an ever-burgeoning creative vision of my own.  There will be many things to share with you throughout 2013, and I look forward to doing so from my newly revamped space.

From the vantage point of the beginning of the summer, it seemed to stretch away, full of endless possibility.  Suddenly, the golden leaves in the woodland outside my window beckon my eye, school has begun again . . . and autumn is upon us.

Autumn is my favourite time of year.  The spicy scents of the woodland blow through me, the sunlight is mellow and golden, and the world seems to be under the Midas touch.  This autumn for the first time carries with it my first time teaching at the Art & Soul Retreat in Portland, Oregon.  I am excited to be making the journey to share creative richness with our west coast participants.  I am looking forward to the time, to the extra days allotted for driving the west coast, enjoying the autumnal scenery and discovering the city of Portland in my spare time.

After a day’s exploration, I will be joining the Retreat on Friday, October 5th to teach you how to create the starbook form.  It is a multi-layered, complex-looking book form that opens out to a full and dramatic circular display.I’m here to tell you it is not as complicated as it looks, and I will be with you to walk you through step by step to creating this wonderful book form.

Image by Greg Yavorsky

Detail from “Dictionary of Sorrows”, Dea Fischer

On Sunday, 7 October, I will spend the day teaching you many techniques to build and enrich your collage surface.  We will work from preparing our substrate board up through many layers to final embellishments, to give you the opportunity to really learn these many techniques for building depth and richness into your collage.  Photographs can’t ever quite convey the visual depth that can be achieved in these ways, but you will come away from the day chock full of inspiration and with your mind teeming with ideas on how to utilise these techniques to your best effect.

I am really looking forward to meeting you!  See you in Portland . . . .

“Remembering”, Dea Fischer

Home again, home again, jiggity jig . . . .

I have just returned from my first ever trip to Chicago.  My purpose was to attend and teach at the CREATE Mixed Media Retreat in the Chicago suburb of Lisle.  Not ever having been there, I really didn’t know what to expect.  Boy, was I surprised!  Chicago is truly a beautiful city in all the ways I had been led to expect.  Downtown is gracious, and full of beautiful juxtapositions of wonderful architectural styles spanning the last hundred and fifty-ish years since the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

Yet even more so, there was an atmosphere in downtown Chicago that I found incredibly charming.  People were happy.  People were friendly.  It helped that the city was bathed in a golden light from the slanting summer sun that made the entire city shine with a nostalgic light, but the thing that blew me away was the people.  It brought out the inherent friendly chattiness in my own nature, and I found myself having engaging, entertaining exchanges with people of all sorts, everywhere I went.  There was a genuine quality to their interest, not a ‘customer service’ be-nice-to-the-customer niceness.  People met my eye, returned my smile and my gaze, shared my laughter and extended themselves in my direction.  Not everywhere you travel gives you that, and in return, I fell in love with Chicago and its people.

Four full days were spent teaching and sharing with the most diverse, interesting and fun groups of people.  We made books, we learned collage techniques, we photographed and printed and transferred images together. And all along the way, we laughed, we talked, we shared, we hugged.  In my last class of the week, I was chatting away in a happily animated conversation with one student when I happened to glance down at her nametag and noticed her hometown . . . was the same town my parents live in in Missouri, a few states away.  I found myself saying, ‘Hey, my parents live there!”  One of those wonderful conversations ensued where we gave each other clues until we reached the meeting point:  This student was a member of my parents’ church and sat in the next pew!  Of all the hundreds of students and dozens and dozens of classes, she had become a student in my class.  This big old world of ours shrank a nice bit for me then.

The products to emerge from the classes were pure lusciousness, and I enjoyed the different aspects of the classes.  The only drawback was to be unable to attend the other workshops as a student!Evenings off led us on some wonderful adventures in other Chicago neighbourhoods, and a dusk sojourn to the Queen of Heaven Cemetery to photograph the old monuments . . . . Did I mention the behind-the-scenes tour of the Newberry Library?  I left Chicago with a keen appetite for more.  So much to discover, and I hope I will get back there soon.I would like to say a very big thank you to all my students for their keen interest, enthusiasm and creativity; to the ever-lovely Tiffany Teske, my travel companion, roommate, co-teacher and all-around partner in crime; and to all the staff at Interweave and on the CREATE Event Team for their organisation, calm nerves and stamina, and their ever-ready smiles.  What a wonderful week!