Workshops and Weekends (and possibly a cold beer) with Denyse Schmidt

a drawing I did of Denyse and her design wallSo much about this summer's workshop schedule feels like a homecoming, in my mind. I'm hosting two one-day workshops on my very own rooftop (where Denyse Schmidt will be making a guest star appearance!) following a whole lot of travel in May, and then I'll be heading up to Bridgeport CT to help Denyse with one of her brand new weekend long Advanced Improv Workshops.

When I first moved back to the east coast and was struggling to find my footing and adjust to muggy summers  again, Denyse invited me up to Fairfield on weekends, which is just an hour away by subway and train. Denyse is what my grandmother would have called a Great Yankee Hostess. I would always arrive to find beautifully packed picnic lunches, starring bacon sandwiches, which we would put into a sturdy tote and carrry to the beach on a pair of heavy vintage bikes. In the evenings we played Scrabble and drank beer on her porch as the sun set.  Denyse always has a solid plan with plenty of art, outdoors, and good food, regardless the season. That was the thing that I remembered quickly about living in places with four seasons: that each of those seasons moves quickly, and must be savored.

Regardless of season, my favorite place to be with Denyse was and still is in her studio, in the hardscrabble town of Bridgeport, which is a place so like so many of the small towns in the Northeast whose boom years have come and gone, leaving behind the tall sturdy buildings made of stone and brick and wood with their huge windows to let in the sunlight. Denyse's studio is in on the fourth floor of one of these buildings, and the windows are so big and the light so beautiful in her workspace that it's no wonder the colors in her fabrics and quilte feel so pure and true. Like so many people, her studio is also where I took her amazing one day improv workshop. She has been hinting about developing an Advanced Improv Weekend for a while, to show off the best bits of her hometown (and her real life), and this summer it's finally happening. It sounds, in my opinion, too good to be true.

I'm also looking forward to our (sold out) Blueberry Hill Inn workshop in June. We missed being there during our hiatus and can't wait to pull in and see our big scissors flag flying. In case you don't know, it's tradition for an English Inn to fly the home counry flag for it's guests. When TC and I got married at Blueberry Hill in 2007 we had friends who came all the way from London, Ireland, and New Zealand. It took them days, literally, to get there, and when they came to the clearing at top of the mountain where the little Inn sits and saw their respective flags flying they were beyond touched. It occurred to us after six years of workshops there that we needed our own flag, so we made the one above. That was during our last visit so this summer will be it's innaugual hoist, and the first time I'll see it waving through the trees when I come up the gravel road. 






Coming to a City Near You: How To Catch A Frog Book Tour!

How To Catch A Frog Book Tour:

Come say hello and pick up a signed limited edition art print, we're giving them away with every book purchased at a book tour event. Support your local bookseller!

May 10th, 1:00pm: San Francisco, CA at Book Passage (Ferry Building Location)

May 12th, 7:30pm: Portland, OR at Powell's City of Books (Burnside St Location)

May 13th, 7:30pm: Denver, CO at Tattered Cover (Colfax Ave Location)

May 14th, 7:00pm: Austin, TX at Book People

May 15th, 7:00pm: Wayzata, MN at The Bookcase

May 17th, 2:00pm: Chicago, IL at Book Cellar (Hosted by the Sulzer Library)

May 22nd, 7:00pm: New York City, NY at Powerhouse Arena



Sneak Peek: Far Far Away Re-Print!

Slightly new colors, on soft quilting cottons, same cranky, sleepy little princess. In stores this summer...

Contact Windham directly for wholesale info, join our newsletter e-mailing list for updates!



Introducing: How To Behave at a Tea Party

I'm so pleased to finally be able to tell you about this book, which will be out in the fall of 2014.

I dont think it's a coincidence that picture book illustrators often have a lot in common with the characters they help create. I'm not sure if art is imitating life or the other way around, but it happens a lot.

How To Behave at a Tea Party is the first of a series about a little girl named Julia, who at first I failed to see myself in at all. But then I told my neice Mattie (who was maybe thirteen at the time) about Julia. "She wants to throw a tea party, and have it all go perfectly and beautifully, but she ends up getting really upset because she's got ssome control issues and things don't go as planned." And she said "Like you at your wedding?" I shot a glare over the breakfast bar in her mother's - my sister's -  direction, but she quickly pretended to be loading her dishwasher, conveniently disappearing from view.

I loved every part of working on this book, and not just because of Madelyn's brilliant mind and wonderful writing style. I also loved it because Julia came into my life at a moment when I was looking hard at how I was spending my time, now made more expensive by becoming a mother, and my own work, wondering if I was living in a lifestyle or a lifestyle brand. Feeling like maybe the perfect scenes I was seeing (and, OK, placing) in social media weren't maybe making our lives harder somehow. If blogs and lifestyle brands and exposure were really adding value to my life, or pulling me away from it, into a virtual world of illusion that made me want more things, want more perfection, more beautiful vignettes. I thought, while sketching the illustrations in this book, about the tea party I had thrown for my one year old daughter, for twenty eight mostly adult guests, on linens and fine china, styled, sometimes forced, and photographed to the umpteenth degree.

Around the time I wrapped up this book I made a new rule in my own life. I would say yes to the work that meant more time actually drawing and writing, regardless of pay. I would say no to anyone who expected me to accept "brand exposure" as a form of compensation for my time or my work. And because these two points would mean that my job would involve a lot of hours working in isolation, I would develop my teaching events into celebrations of the handmade community, which is full of people that I love and respect, and am inspired by. And, most importantly, I would try to hard to not compare (and compete with) my life to perfectly styled scenes, and that when I had the urge, as I do every time something good happens, to take over the scene and manipulate it's composition to make a good picture, I would instead try, as my daugher now likes to say, to "put my phone back in my pocket."

And then, OK, I did throw another crazy fancy party for Bee, on her 2nd birthday. But this time I didn't mind so much when things were spilled or broken, and I put out the good china for the toddlers, and I ecouraged every kid in our neighborhood to come, which they did, fresh from the gravel roads with their little dirt bikes, piled up in a crazy heap with their tires still spinning, in my driveway as though they were left by a biker gang who had just run into a bar for a fight. I didn't even freak out when they moved the party upstairs, moving like a swarm of yelling locusts up the steps and bursting through the hinges on the safety gate with it's sticky latch and leaving it lying on it's side, looking relieved. We ate piles of cake and didn't look at our watches, naps were skipped and the dog ate a lot of things that he shouldn't have, and we did have some very pretty moments, of which we did take pictures, but this time they were of moments that were actually happening on their own.

small steps, I hope, towards really mastering the art of knowing How to Behave at a Tea Party.








Mother Daughter Weekend Sewing and Crafts Workshop, Full Report!


We had so much fun.

Both of our Palm Springs weekend workshops were new formats, both based on our weekend sewing workshops but with some twists and new directions. The first was a mother-daughter weekend, with guest teachers Annabel Wrigley of Little Pincushion Studio, and Jodi Levine, the genius behind Martha Stewart Baby and Kids Magazines and author of the upcoming book "Super Make It". It was like a big crafty slumber party, with moms and daughters stitching away on beautiful Janome sewing machines (once the girls realized they could write things wiht them the workroom becamse a cloth id/friendship bracelet factory) and the kids crafting paper chandeliers and sewing up ponchos and bags, making jewlery with painted wooden beads and felt flowers, and building fabric covered scrapbooks. And when everyone got a little craft-weary we piled up together on beanbags for movies and popcorn. Remember the 1970's Disney version of Robin Hood? Its as good as you remember. We swam, we made friends, we made pom poms. Its was super duper. Bee is still too tiny for a sewing machine (even the teensy little "pink lightning" models that Janome is making, which we love to bits) but she and TC came along. The paper chandeliers became so large and full-bloomed that we had to make super-big kraft paper bags for them, and then we had to cover them in portraits of the kids , just because. That was the sort of weekend we had, lots of "I know, lets try THIS!"

Here are some of my favorite shots, many of them thanks to Annabel's photography....

jumping for joy with our new cross body bags...

our bead painting workshop became the everything-painting workshop...

Annabel and her lovely paper chandeliers, made even easier for kids with the amazing Janome Sihouette CAMEO paper cutting machine...

Making bags....

on our adorable and amazing little Sew-Mini's, Janome's coolest kid's machine...

I was a yarn holder for pom pom making. Gladly.

And Jodi Levine helped everyone make the most amazing necklaces from handpainted wooden beads and felt flowers, each of which was a lovely and wearable take-away...

First time sewing moms made silky kimono-shrugs...

and everybody made friends.

STC Craft sent us stacks of their beautifyul books for gift bags...

some finished chandeliers....

and embroidered portraits still in process...

and Courtney, with her lovely little girl, Molly. This is the same little girl who was just a tiny bump under Courtney's blouse the first time she joined me for a workshop in Vermont, at Blueberry Hill, so it was especially wonderful to have them there for our first Mother-Daughter workshop, making a strawberry bookend together.

and when we got weary, we did a little bit of this:

 We';ve got another Mother Daughter workshop coming up in Vermont, but it's completely sold out. If you'd like us to let you know if another one makes it's way onto our 2014 schedule, sign up for our newsletter, which is where we announce those types of things first.

We are looking forward to more of these amazing weekends.

I'll be back in a few days with the re-cap of our weekend sewing and crafts workshop....