Last week I assisted and participated in a local, backyard art camp arranged and produced by my friend, artist and book making teacher, Suzi. A group of women and one man gathered early Sunday morning for four days of making art — painting paste paper, cutting paper, covering book boards for book covers, and using coptic stitch to make one of a kind, creative, and beautiful journals.
This was an outdoor summer day camp — under tents with materials & tools on tables ready to shape into journals. This was a day camp for creatives who yearned for something different to celebrate summer. (Most exciting for me was that I have never attended a summer camp! Better late than never – yeah!)
We came together in the mornings for ritual, writing, and making journals to write into later. As each day unfolded, we laughed, shared stories, learned about one another (what work we do, where we are from, where we live and why we came to this camp). Our group was creatively diverse — some were artists, some were new to the process, and others (like myself) have worked with Suzi over the years making journals and simply wanted more! What was clear, was that we were all artists for those four days exploring color, shape, design, and creating something personally beautiful. And, we were all happy to be spending four days outdoors creatively focused.
I found myself listening with all of my senses. At first, I was curious to know what brought these amazing people together — in short, everyone had some connection to Suzi who is a natural community builder in everything she does. Each day — flying by much too quickly — I continued to listen and watch as everyone was engaged and, at times, challenged though willing to work through any vulnerability that arose from lifetimes of “not good enough” messages floated to the surface. We supported and helped one another with such love and grace.
Each morning we gathered in circle under a grand oak tree and around our nature mandala to write into suggested prompts on paper intended to go into the journals we were making. To finish our circle we moved through a mudra meditation that focused on honoring, transforming, offering, receiving, opening our hearts, and grounding to Mother Earth. The mudra meditation reminded me of my connection to the earth as we worked outdoors. From the moving meditation we returned to work on our journals. Everyone was eager and focused on diving in and getting dirty in the process of creating. Each day was designed to focus on a part of the process so that we each had at least one finished (or nearly finished) journal with a second one to finish at home.
Throughout the four days I would step back for a broader view of the group as a whole gathered around tables full of creative chaos. I was in awe in realizing that we were all artists — each and every one while sharing ideas, tools, paint and story — making beautiful journals together.
Everyone working and focusing on their own work, yet within community.
At one point, on the day of the eclipse, Suzi suggested working in silence for part of the afternoon. The resulting focus and flow was palpable under the tent — everyone working and moving mindfully and slowly. The silence was a joy and much progress was made on making our book covers and assembling signatures for the inside. Even needing assistance was manageable in the silence as we continued to be aware of one another.
Silence is a powerful way to work, especially if you are outdoors like we were. We let nature be our music — the wind in the trees, bird song, even the shuffling of materials. In silence we moved and worked with ease and slowness. In silence our work became a practice in actively noticing or mindfulness. In silence we worked with greater presence — what Paulus Berensohn (Suzi’s teacher) calls radical presence. Every movement, stitch or stroke becomes art simply because of our quiet presence.
Our final circle at the end of the four days was a celebration of displaying and honoring our work both finished and in process — a display of artistic beauty we were all proud of. As we prepared our farewells, we laughed, hugged, and promised to gather again next summer. Looking at one another after four full days of focused mindfulness, we were a happy, light-filled group who had shared a truly transforming experience.
I am grateful for my friend, artist, and book maker, Suzi, for having an idea, making it happen, and inviting us to be part of a summer art camp for creatively inspired adults (and young adults).