Invest in your Art: Empty Spools Retreat

I spent last week at “Empty Spools”, a quilt retreat located in Asilomar. Asilomar is a California State Park located just north of Pebble Beach. It is stunningly beautiful. The retreat lasts for five weeks and offers workshops in traditional and art quilting.

Participants often return year after year with friends who make this more than learning experience; it becomes a tradition. I went with a seasoned participant who knew the routine and helped me find my way around the various buildings on the property . We have already decided to take the leap again next year.


Taking the time and investing the money to go to a retreat like Empty Spools has helped me to sustain my creative process. The class I selected was Map Play. As you may know, I focus on creating portraits and have dipped my toe into landscape. You might wonder why I took a class that focused on something outside my area of interest. There are two reasons I chose this class: the instructor and to learn a process I can apply to my own work.

The instructor was Valerie Goodwin. Valerie is a Professor of architecture teaching in Florida. According to the description of the class, the focus would be on understanding and using design concepts. She presents the class with a visual problem to solve. This kind of instruction allows students to experience a process of visual decision making that can be applied in their own studio.

Valerie described how a map is abstraction of a place that provides the reader with information. She showed examples of maps that show undeveloped plots of land in a urban setting, a map of a power grid, a map of burial ground discovered when a building was being excavated and many more. Each map tells it’s own story.

In my simple map quilt, I created a highly abstract map of drive through the Pebble Beach Community. The composition had three zones which stretched the length of the surface. I focused on my memory of the drive and isolated what I saw; homes, the road, fences and  the coast.

The visual problem was to make a map that included two opposing concepts: expansive/enclosed, order/chaos .......

The road would divide my opposing concepts. On one side of the road was the ocean. The other side were buildings in stages of construction. The view was from above. What struck me during the process of making the composition was how easily it flowed.

  • Using systematic thinking helped. First Decision: What place was I going to map? Next Decision: What information did I want to provide? Big Idea: What were the opposing concepts found within this map?

During the work period I thought about how we could only see the coastal waves when there was hole in a construction fence because the established properties where enclosed by walls and barriers. This struck me as being important. It was a metaphor about the wealthy being able to control their lives in a way that is impossible for most people.

I took a risk and cut some holes in the surface. Valerie was very interested in this idea and suggested I add a few more holes to balance the composition. I was pleased with the result and was happy to have a skilled teacher guide me in making design choices.

In the my June blog I will share with you the techniques I learned in this workshop and how applied them to my own work.

Until next time....