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 . . . .

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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.

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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.

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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.

May

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.

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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!

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Roll on summer!  Hilarious, considering spring seems to be experiencing considerable difficulty getting underway.  Yet the year is galloping on ahead despite the lag in the weather, and we are mid-May already!  I have already started plans and preparations for my various teaching gigs this year, so I thought it was about time I shared some information with you!  All this and more detail will go up on my website shortly, but here’s a nice little taster.

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My very first teaching engagement away from home will be, unusually, teaching in my role as a library conservator.  I will be teaching introductory and intermediate book repair sessions at the Canadian Library Association Conference in Victoria, BC on May 28th.  A chance to spend some springtime in Victoria can only be a good thing!

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I am excited to have some different teaching opportunities this year.  I absolutely love teaching at CREATE, and I will be doing so again this year.  Only . . . in different venues!  I am so excited to tell you I will be teaching at CREATE in Dallas, Texas for the first time this year, at a fabulously creative looking place called the Night Hotel.  I am offering five workshops in Dallas, and you can see details here.

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I am not long back from Texas and I will be winging my excited way to Idyllworks in Maine for a long weekend steeped in connection and art making at the beautiful Grey  Havens Inn.  A much more intimate experience, a group of us will gather to create our own journals and then work on filling them while we fill our souls with walks and wonderful food and sea air and companionship.  Just look at the details here.  Won’t you please come?

After Maine, I have a very, very exciting thing shaping up which I will need to tell you more about once the details have been pinned down.  For now, I will just say, all of you in Australia who have been asking me to come may finally get your wish!

And then, toward the end of October, it’s back to CREATE, this time in Seattle, WA.  I so love the Seattle area and am excited to have the opportunity to teach in this more northerly west coast venue.  I’m really hoping to see some of the lovely people in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada that I’ve been hearing from for so long.  In Seattle, I have seven workshops on offer, and there is so much more deliciousness to choose from besides.  Do check it out!

I will put greater detail on my website shortly, and you can always view updates on the latest on either my Facebook page or my Google+ page any time.  I hope to see you at one of these great venues this year.

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!

I wrote yesterday about teaching again at Interweave’s CREATE Mixed Media Retreat.  I am really looking forward to that . . .   What I haven’t told you yet is that I will also be teaching at the Art & Soul Retreat in Portland, Oregon in early October this year!  Another new experience for me, it looks like I will be meeting some of my instructor friends there as well.  I haven’t attended this retreat before, but I know it by reputation.  I will be teaching two workshops in Portland, including a collage session and a book arts session.  Do check out the wonderful array of workshops, and I hope to see you there!

Can it really be that I have returned home from CREATE Costa Mesa already?  My week in southern climes flew by, divided happily between family visiting and hanging out with artists extraordinaire at CREATE.  The only blot on my So Cal landscape was only getting to spend three minutes on the beach in the entire week.  Very hard for a California girl, that.

The experience of CREATE was unbelievable.  So many skilled artists full to brimming with information, ideas and techniques to share, it was often difficult to distinguish teacher from pupil.  We became equals sharing together.  I find the experience of working in such an environment incredibly stimulating.  Everywhere you look, there are wonderful things going on, a positive feast of creations to look at and pore over and discover.  So many exclamations rang through those rooms of ‘How did you do that!?” and “Wow, that’s amazing!”  I was inspired, honoured and thrilled with the sharing and exchanging that went on during the workshops I attended and taught.  Let me tell you the story! 

After a day visiting with family, I arrived at the retreat on Thursday to meet all the wonderful  CREATE instructors, crew and Cloth Paper Scissors editorial staff.  It was amazing to be greeted like an old friend by such talented artists as Pam Carriker, Jen Cushman,  Barb Delaney, Jenn Mason and Jane LeFazio, names and faces I had become familiar with through Facebook and Cloth Paper Scissors magazine.  After much visiting, nineteen-to-the-dozen talking and laughter, it was time to get along to my workshop making pendants with Thomas Ashman.

Pendants, copyright Dea Fischer 2011

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And so at last, the time to gather my tools and head to California for the CREATE Mixed Media Retreat is upon me.  The excitement suddenly hit me at a visceral level last night, and I couldn’t sleep for all the ideas and plans and things to remember teeming my thoughts.  My suitcase is mostly packed, final materials are being prepped this weekend and then I’m off for a delightful week back in my home of Southern California.
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Spring in the southern Gulf Islands . . .  Old Man Winter seems to have retired in our Rockies valley, and it felt wonderful to fill my lungs and my spirit with the sunshine of blossom-time.  My friend Jocey and I were at last making the journey to Salt Spring Island we have dreamed of and lived for over the last six months.  Easter weekend had finally arrived to carry us to our long-awaited workshop with author and mixed media wunderkind Nick Bantock.  As mixed media types ourselves, we had each absorbed every detail of Nick’s wonderful books and writings over the years, including such stars as the “Griffin and Sabine” series and my personal favourite, “The Forgetting Room”.

“The Forgetting Room” has always particularly spoken to me because of the sophisticated interplay between text and image.  Nick tells a story as much with his artwork as he does with his words, and they are inseparable.  How eloquently he told the story of a young man’s confusion and dislocated and unfocused grief for a grandfather he hardly knew.  I am moved by the tenderness that emerges from this multi-layered story, as the young man finds the artist within himself through his exploration of his grandfather’s home and studio.  We are the voyeurs as we watch a beautiful, profound work of art develop over the pages.  My hunger to learn the skill of telling story in such a way drove my steps to this workshop.

On our long journey together, Jocey and I enjoyed deep talks, smiles and laughter and the deepening of a friendship we had both sensed just around the corner for several years.  By the time we reached the island, we were softened, both open and ready for whatever would come.  Neither of us really had any idea what to expect.  No detailed description of what we were about to undergo had been given.  We were there because it was Nick.  We shared our trepidation – would he be anything like he seemed through his writings?  Would we be completely intimidated and all vestige of our own creativity would evaporate?  We both had jitters.

On Saturday morning, we arrived at the lovely Monivea Bed and Breakfast http://www.moniveasaltspring.com/www.moniveasaltspring.com/Welcome.html, where we were welcomed with humour and gentleness by John and Wendy ffrench.  The studio in which we were to work was at the top of a beautiful terraced garden woven of blossom and spring flower, bird song and the chirp of frogs in the stream.  We arrived into a group ready to begin.  Nick Bantock, the man I had long waited to meet, was at the centre:  long, lean as a whippet, shock of whitening hair and natty goatee beard on his trickster face.  Our eyes met and the first of many soul thrills ran through me.  In his eyes was soul – frank, open, questing.  A deep knell of satisfaction rang within me.  I thought, Now here is a character you can get your teeth into

We introduced ourselves around the circle.  Nick immediately apologised if he was unable to remember our names, we mustn’t be offended.  He’d be too busy seeing us.  Another knell.  We moved around the circle as each spoke in response to his question of what we hoped to get out of the weekend.  Nick made sharp observations of each person, drawing out the deeper meaning behind our words, provoking thought with his questions.  Within minutes of beginning, we were beyond small talk and deep in spirit.  With a pang, I could identify with nearly every person’s statement.  I had been in each of those places personally and with my creativity at some time.  I tried to be present, to listen with my whole self and to connect rather than be thinking of what I would say.  And so when it came to me, last or nearly last I think, I was caught out.  I spoke without thinking far ahead, acknowledging the places I had shared, and the place of creative grace I seemed to have been occupying for the last year.  My explanation that I work at speaking from the soul in my work and don’t really care if anyone else likes it drew a sharply amused look from our teacher.  He perceived, as he put it, a little ‘foot stamp’ in that statement.  Astute.  True.

Was this a collage workshop?  Yes, though not at all in the way you are imagining.  There was no instruction on how to lay paint or elements just so to create an effect.  There was intense instruction on how to build a story through a collage of word and image from our souls.  Through writing and visualising exercises, we learned how to mine within ourselves for the characters and the stories that reside there.  We learned to explore and discover what Nick termed our ‘personal mythology’.  We learned to bring those characters and stories to the fore as needed, and to use them to inform our artwork. 

As we produced our characters through the opening exercises, Nick analysed and helped us to analyse who these characters were within us, and why they were speaking now.   The analysis was intense.  We all participated in and witnessed each other’s analysis.  We squirmed, we were thoughtful, we struggled and reached for truth.  There were tears, there was laughter.  Most of all, there was bonding and spirit.   Gradually, over the two days, nearly all of us reached a crisis moment at some point – some privately, some more publicly – a break down or break through or emergence beyond Ego to the soft, chewy centre.

The first day, we produced small collage pieces as story boards of our characters.   Subject to strict time limits, we worked quickly and with little time to think or criticise.  We were to try to tell the story of who they were, the elements that were the essence of their character and reaction to their environment.  This is Katie, a homeless girl:

Katie was my first character.  She was 17, homeless and living rough on the streets of LA.  As Nick drew me out about this character, it emerged that she had run away from her Mormon family after having been married off to a 65-year-old man at the age of 15.  She was an artist.  She coped with the stark ugliness of her homeless existence and preserved the pearl of her creative beauty within by making graffiti art on the city with whatever materials she could find.  As we worked stage after stage, through astute questioning, Nick helped to reveal the person in me this character was, what this character had to say, the story this character had to tell that was deep and complex and dark.  My other character, Laszlo, had less substance to me, seemed to bear resemblance more to the emergent me, the artist blossoming forth from the lawyer.  I was far more intrigued by Katie as Saturday’s work came to a close.

I left the studio on Saturday feeling tender, almost a little bruised by so intimate a soul contact.  I felt open and a little vulnerable, aware we were working deeply, but blind at that time to just exactly where we were going and why.  As a group, we bonded on a lighter and more festive note over dinner that evening.  More laughter than tears at this stage, much interesting talk.  I lay awake long into the night afterward, feeling full to bursting in spirit as much as body.

Sunday morning, we met as old friends and were straight into our circle and then to work.  Sunday’s work was to create larger collage pieces that expressed our characters’ environments.  We set to with a good will, breaking three times through the day to return to the circle of show and tell, discussion and analysis.  Time limits were again set.  I was aware of some discomfiture as we broke for a delicious lunch in the house.  Conversation with my colleagues was difficult.  There was a deep, muddy churning going on in my depths that I was not yet able to articulate. 

As we returned to our work in the afternoon, I suddenly became aware of a breathless quality, a rising panic, panting for breath as though I had been running, running, running.  I reached my chaos point in this work where it looked like a complete dog’s breakfast.  I weathered that and allowed it to emerge and move beyond.  However, as we entered the final hour of this extraordinary work, I reached my own breaking point.  All ability, all creativity, all inspiration came to a shrieking halt and I stood staring, dumb and blank, at the piece I had created.  At its centre, there was a deep, dark hole bearing murky images that I could not leave.  My psyche felt sucked into this hole and I could not interpret intelligently what was happening around it or what to do next.  I finally cried for help.  Nick came to see me, stood studying the piece for some time.  He did not talk.  Then, he looked at me and asked if he could do something.  Despairing, I asked please . .   He studied again, then in tiny, deft movements, he dotted two small points and one small smudge of bright metallic gold paint on my piece.  He mixed up some of my sky colour and sketched in the horizon line around this sucking hole.  Then, he held the piece up and made me step back from it and look.  And then, with a fierce challenge in that trickster eye, he pierced me with a look and said, “OK, now what will you do next?”  With those humble contributions, the piece had transformed before my eyes.  It was no longer a sucking hole full of darkness.  It was a glowing glimpse into faerie, a window onto golden light for which the darkness was but a foil . . . And at that moment, the workshop was over and it was time to pack away and say goodbye.  I was trembling all the while I was packing away, feeling completely undone and unable to articulate why.  As we were saying our goodbyes, I explained to Nick that I felt somewhat panicked by the pace of our work.  I normally work in a contemplative way, silently and often through the stillness of the night, emerging after two or five or ten hours feeling as though I have been meditating.  The forced march pace of this work took my breath away.  Nick laughed at this and explained firmly that the pace was for a reason, to drive us past the critical voice and into speaking from our truthful Self.  Silence the voices and see what emerges.  Feeling as though I had been peeled like an onion, I made my goodbye to this extraordinary person.   We embraced, and I swear I don’t know how he did it, but I felt my entire person firmly embraced from my feet right to the top of my head. 

It was difficult to leave, difficult to say goodbye.  Jocey and I explored the island by car that evening, not talking much.  I continued to feel completely undone.  An hour letting the rain and tears wash through me at least helped part of an explanation to emerge.  You see, I’m a safe learner.  I always have been, it’s part of the perfectionism that permeates my family.  I learn quickly and easily, 95% in private before I risk, thereby giving the appearance often that I can just pick something up and do it right off.  As a highly skilled person, I had each of my skills and competencies systematically stripped away from me over this weekend until there was nothing to rely on or hide behind.  I had to stand and face that painting from a place where none of my skills or experience or competencies were any good to me.  I stood, bare and exposed and incompetent and facing failure.  And what Nick Bantock, the teacher, offered me was a hand.  One gentle hand to help me step over a threshold into a whole new world.  My personal mythology. 

No finished wonder of artwork emerged from this weekend.  No fancy new techniques or new skills to add to the armoury.  No, not at all.  What emerged from the time spent under the trickster eye of this extraordinary teacher was a stronger connection between soul and mind, hand and eye.  The time to rest back in the place of grace I had arrived at is over.  The next evolution is nigh, and the work has begun.  Indeed, what has been wrought is a mere beginning.  Stay with me and watch where it leads.