Thursday, April 28, 2016

Heather Schmaedeke, Photographer, Tells Her Story

Art has always called me, I’ve always been drawn to it and it’s been the one constant in my life. Over the years the mediums I’ve used and experimented with have changed but the act of creating has not. As a child, art supplies were always my favorite toys with the most readily available things being crayons, pencils, watercolor paints and paper. And, once in a while I could convince my mom to let me take a few pictures with her camera, which was a real treat.

Until I was in 8th grade, all of my artwork was self-guided and taught. Afterwards, I started receiving formal instruction, my first teacher suggested that I start keeping a sketchbook and draw every day and I followed her advice. In high school, the art department had a darkroom and in addition to drawing and painting I began to learn photography. I won a scholarship to study art at Skidmore College in New York the summer after my junior year in high school. The program was 6 weeks long and drew students from all over the world; it was an incredible experience.


Naturally, I pursued my artistic endeavors in college. In addition to the classes required for my major, I took almost every other art elective that was available; ceramics, computer graphics, typography, web design - I just wanted to explore and experiment, to learn as much as possible. What little free time I had was divided between taking photos and working in the darkroom. I’ve always thought that processing negatives and developing my own prints is magical; I love seeing the images reveal themselves.

After graduating, I continued my photographic pursuits however I no longer had ready access to a dark room. I missed the control over and involvement in the process and the switch to digital photography was just beginning. It wasn’t very satisfying to just drop off my negatives and pick up prints - so, my focus switched back to the materials I began working with, pencils, paint and paper. Of course, my exploration of other mediums continued; I took classes and workshops in printmaking, stained glass and stone carving. I am interested in everything, and it’s so much fun to learn how to work and create with other mediums.


I still missed photography and interestingly enough, it was work that got me back into it. Once I picked up that camera I very shortly thereafter had a DSLR of my own and began spending much of my time taking photos again. After almost 2 years at that job, I applied for and was accepted into an artist residency in Berlin, Germany. It was a 3-month self-guided residency with artists from all over the world. Initially, my intention was to combine drawing and painting with photography (which is still something I am interested in). However, the end result was that my focus became photography.

While in Berlin, I was eager to explore the city and see how it would influence my work as well as myself. Consequently, it was very difficult for me to sit still long enough to draw and paint. The speed and ease of photography was much more conducive to my personality and lifestyle.

Rainy Night

I was always on the go and my camera was always with me. A 3-month artist residency turned into a 3.5-year stay in Berlin. Living in Europe provided me so many incredible opportunities to travel and explore and to continue growing personally and artistically. Every time I go out with my camera my goal is to take my new favorite picture.

My photography has been exhibited in a variety of venues in Berlin, Germany and Budapest, Hungary. It was also published in books (Solrevolution & Arabische Welt) and online for a variety of websites (including and on the Berliner Fenster as a Foto des Tages (photo of the day). The Berliner Fenster (Berlin Window) is a TV screen in the public train system that displays news, weather, events, etc. and every day they feature a photo of the day. I also had the privilege of volunteering my photography and graphic design for the Kindertransport Organization Deutschland.

Sky Walking

Since moving back to the States, my work has been included in 3 group exhibits, 2 in Washington D.C. and 1 in Budapest. I’m also an Artist in Residence at Palette 22 in Shirlington, VA.

One of the wonderful things about being an artist in residence is the opportunity to connect with people. It’s great to be able to meet and talk with people that I might not otherwise have the chance to interact with. Photography brings me so much joy and I’m thrilled when other people connect with my work. Art is something very special, it has the ability to transcend the barriers of culture, language and time.

Splish Splash

The images that I’ve included in this post are part of an ongoing “Narrative” project. The photographs are pieces of a story that compel viewer participation. Just as each of us writes the stories of our lives everyday, the viewer is invited to create a narrative of the image, organizing the information, filling in the before and after.

The combination of movement and stillness makes for a dynamic image, which picks up in the middle of a scene. Like our lives, the photographs are pieces of a story, they are not the whole story, but the fragments from which that story is built and grows. The scenes are hiding in the open on the streets. It is my story, your story, our collective story. These stories inform our lives, how we see each other, how we see ourselves and make sense of the world around us. Our stories write the story of our city, our country and our world everyday.


Transience and permanence, capturing the fleeting moments in this series lends them a sense of the permanent. While the environment has some of it’s permanence shaken loose. Just as the world around us is not as permanent as it seems, we too, are also not as ephemeral.

These images, these narratives give us pause to reflect on the nuances of this paradox. In this reflection, we realize that the seemingly contradictory opposites of concrete and ephemeral, kinetic and static, transient and permanent are not inviolable but permeable and fluid. The story is us and it is larger than us.


This is Week 16 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Heather's post today! To see more of Heather's work, go to:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Helen Nock, Natural Materials Sculptor & Glass Mosaic Artist, Tells Her Story

I often refer to myself as a mud pie kinda gal. Even though my formal training is in fine art, it didn’t take me long to discover an abiding love for materials and processes. I still love to paint in between the main studio practice - one informs the other, and I just love to experiment, full stop. As for mud pies, it’s not far off the mark because my story begins on a farm in the Yorkshire dales.


Mum and Dad finished their service in the RAF, got wed and settled down near Dad’s roots living in a rented old wooden bungalow. We were there for the first six years of my life wild and isolated. The isolated part could sometimes be a bit of a bummer but the rest was wonderful. Dad was hardly ever home and mum worked all the hours she was able. I spent many content days playing with chickens, pigs, and Pim, our Border Collie, and Billie the budgie. And, oh yes, putting  worms to bed between dock leaf blankets.

Hughes Birdbath

Pim was not keen on having her fur secretly trimmed in the outhouse (yes, the Dunny - we are going back over 50 years) nor attending make believe dinners made from dirt, but she did her best. The chickens, likewise, did not appreciate rides in my wood train, though I wore my scratches with pride. My creative practical Mum spent endless hours making a charming home and garden, and just about everything we needed out of very little.

Memorial and Me

That life of dirt and make-do-and-mend, surrounded by mysterious nature and dilapidation, and unspoken wonderings shows through in my work today. Fast forward to my late twenties without any formal qualifications and huge gaps in my education (Mum and Dad separated and life became somewhat nomadic for a single female parent trying to make ends meet in the late 50s and early 60s).

I joined a recreational pottery class. The inspirational tutor and artist saw my talent and nurtured it. From there I progressed to gathering my own studio resources to furnish a part-time clay crafting business alongside the day job which, at that time, turned into 20 years as a postie. By my mid-30s I had married, gained a mortgage and three cats, and still on the post I got a yearning for more than modeling clay and thought I might like to run workshops. Lack of accreditation was a significant barrier to my credibility so I joined a part-time A level art course where I discovered I could paint, and understand (just about all) academia. This was heady stuff, and I got seriously hooked on learning and achieving.

Horse to Water Birdbath 

My path continued from further to higher education, including a basic teaching and training course. I am so grateful for those days full of opportunities for unqualified adults to access education. My educational run concluded in my early forties with a BA in Fine Art. It was hard with many hurdles along the way, but I was on an unstoppable trajectory.

Working early shifts on the post allowed me to learn during the rest of the day but many times I would doze in lectures and barely scraped through assignments. I did not need to do it, I wanted to and I suppose this is a good juncture at which to express my heartfelt thanks, as well as some twinges of guilt, to my family and friends for losing the old Helen due to my determination to succeed.

Secret Cargo Wall

Many a mature student will tell you, the changes brought about by a higher education, in contrast to barely any, comes as a shock to those around them with inevitable periods of alienation for both sides. After graduating I was offered an unexpected post teaching and lecturing art to difficult-to-engage young adults. I did this for years and can tell you that teaching art everyday to unruly teenagers who are excluded from mainstream schooling makes one swat up on different genres and techniques at an unprecedented rate to be readily equipped to jump anywhere through Plans A to Z. It was an unexpected and revelatory part of my journey but I got here and, in the end became far, far richer for it and the kids.

At fifty I packed in teaching, wanting to establish my own practice while I still had the energy to climb a new set of rungs. I already rented my studio based in our old town quarry: it’s five acres of wildlife and historical industrial sites hosts an art and craft community and was highly influential in my new direction as well as in total harmony with my earthy, mud pie spirit. 

First Show at Study Gallery

Without any business plan I was sort of free-floating and a bit dazed after the all-consuming teaching pressure was lifted. It so happened that our resident blacksmith was inundated with work and swooped in to offer me part-time employment to help ease his workload in return for some training and a small wage whilst I found myself. This became another fantastic experience. I became addicted to the furnace and I was good. Alas, I was too old to become a proper blacksmith but I got some serious skills under my belt and, again, did not look back.

During my creative time at the forge ideas for combinations of metal designs and interesting surfaces started to hatch. Mosaic was the obvious choice and the furniture and sculpture naturally followed as a neat and sustainable collaboration alongside our individual practices.


Meanwhile, I developed my first small body of studio work for the garden and was discovered by curators of a gallery boutique in Bournemouth. They invited me submit at their designer-maker show at the Poole Gallery in Dorset. It was at this prestigious venue - my coming out party - I received valuable feedback that spurred me on and, not least, including some voting with pockets. I continued to experiment with the mosaic method, combining a range of materials and techniques. Indeed, my first table surfaces were made from material found in the quarry and along our coastline, and some of my studio ceramics.

Later, I explored the inclusion of stained glass, creating a variety of understated earthy Bling features. The light through and around glass holds an abiding fascination for me and I try to incorporate an element of it wherever the light might play to advantage. I love subtle inclusions and surprise juxtapositions. 

Today, I continue to show my work through a small selection of good venues and the rest of my work comes from private commissions. I am grateful for this gift and to all those unexpected teachers, challenges and opportunities along the way, and to be fortunate to earn my living from what I love to do.

Tangerine Window

The weather, and weight and industrial quality of it all gets a bit tough sometimes …but I can always return to painting.

Fuzz Trying to Sleep

That’s the nuts and bolts of my journey. My work speaks for the arty details I have not included.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Brenda Smoak for including me in Artists Tell Their Stories. It certainly has been an interesting, even stretching exercise, in attempting to articulate a potted tale about my journey.

This is Week 15 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Helen's story today! You can contact Helen via email at or connect with her through the following sites to see more of her work:

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Kelly Atkins, Dancer & Instructor, Tells Her Story

Life has a way of teaching you to dance with it or be dragged along...

Something happened to me last November, something that so pushed my edges of sanity I was literally swept off my feet and not in a pleasant lovey-dovey dance-y kind of way. I've taught dance in the Sarasota community for over 15 years and previous to that taught traditional fitness for another 13 years. I've danced thru moving to a new city, being married and divorced, and married again. I've danced thru two pregnancies and natural births, raising my children. I've seen my husband through “breaks” in his reality as he struggled with mental illness. I've danced thru many “leaps of faith” including leaving a company I represented for 13 years and starting out on my own as founder of Kai ( ) a dance-based creative movement class that blends authentic movement with simple choreography. 

Dancing through these life changing events was meaningful and I have to say having DANCE as a constant to check in with myself was imperative to moving ahead in my life. My regular classes were my anchors when life around me was changing so fast and I found myself struggling to see the direction things were moving. Then this last November I began to experience panic attacks. Out of nowhere, in the middle of the night at 3:00 a.m. or simply driving the kids to get groceries, I would feel my heart start to race and my breath increase in short gasps. A feeling of fear would grip my heart and I would have to immediately stop whatever I was doing to try to slow it down. The attacks were coming 3-4 times a week in November. The causes were obvious. A combination of menopause hormones in flux, the end of a 6-month romance that ended in a sudden perceived betrayal, and the simultaneous ending of my 12-year marriage all conspired to disorient me.

Suddenly thoughts of darkness started to seep in and I began to wonder if I'd be able to take care of my kids, keep my business going, function enough to just get through each day. I started with writing LIKE CRAZY -- expressing every crazy thought, every emotion and weeding through the random chaos to get to some logic and comfort under the spinning of my mind. The digging in unearthed fruitful life-changing wisdom. I dove in fully, kept digging and found remnants of a teenage girl who was scared, alone, and reacting to life with a variety of tactics that simply didn't work anymore....and yet I didn't want to bury her....No WAY. A larger part of me knew it was more about integrating and soothing, maybe self-mothering would be a term. I recognized that current events were having me relive past trauma and go into a space of reactivity. Knowledge is power so I kept digging.

Each time I danced Kai I knew I felt better, I felt a deep inner peace and openness that helped me to breathe deeper, more naturally. The students whom I've watched and supported thru the years completely “got” the space I was in as their teacher and I felt cocooned. I didn't have to tell the group what was happening, it was just a knowing. The community had become sensate and wise enough that they knew, and they supported me deeply. There was one class I walked in and gulped out “ today we will focus on breath” before snorting out the ugly cry and just dissolving it into the dance that needed to move me. No one asked me what it was, they just knew I could dance thru it and that every dance isn't the “happy one” even if it does feel so good to release years of grief.

Another class felt like my inner teenager was pissed off. Every movement of my arms created lines and boundaries as a fierce warning that needed to be voiced NOW, after years of pushing it down in an effort to be loved by another. Ugh, I feel sad and embarrassed saying that, but it's true. The shame and self-judgment only made things worse. This was a new dance for me and I knew resisting it wouldn't help, and I knew I couldn't do it alone. I reached out and received…

Thru my years in dance I've made the deepest and most heart felt connections to amazingly talented people. I made appointments with my therapist, a coach who has taken my trainings, with healer friends who offered everything from shamanic ritual to essential oils and meditations. I scheduled private yoga with a gifted teacher and I attended yoga religiously. I kept writing, kept reaching, stayed with it. I took Spanish lessons to get my mind off things and to develop my voice more. I began painting and slowly, ever so slowly I regained some focus and perspective. I started with goals around eating, drinking water, daily meditation, vitamins, yoga and dancing every day. 

One particular yoga class I remember telling my teacher how I felt a panic attack coming on very subtly as I simply lifted my left arm and reached across my body. Somehow in this awareness my heart rate slowed down, and that was the last sign of the attacks. I danced in my backyard going thru the wild mix of emotions that had brewed during the storm of panic... loss, disbelief, loneliness, fear, abandonment, betrayal, anger, rage and more. I allowed them to move my body and I videoed it. I shared it with trusted friends who witnessed. A close dancing friend said, “ bring in more of that anger...try that.” It was good advice, he could see where I repressed it in my body but only spoke about it in my writing. I didn't want sympathy, but I wanted how broken I was to be seen. I wanted to share my healing path. Something inside me guided me to go thru it, not avoid it. To be real, authentic and that included the extreme vulnerability of being seen this way. I knew in some way it'd make me able to help others better - once I was better.

Each day I felt a little more whole though I wondered if I would smile again as even the muscles of my face had changed. It took effort to smile and I could not pretend something I wasn't feeling. I cut my long blonde hair to a short boy cut and dyed it red. I wanted to be changed from it all, an energetic clearing on every level. As I look back now, I realize the many gifts and wisdom I received from “dancing with” what I was experiencing versus pushing it down, ignoring, or toughing it out and not letting the feelings move. I was able to heal some very old patterns that were lurking under the surface in how I related to people, how I showed up in relationship, and in how I attracted and picked the people I allowed into my life and heart.

I am louder, stronger, more direct and still have that angry inner teenager as my backup who has taught me that saying “f*** off” is sometimes the most brave, heartfelt truth and clearest expression of a feeling. It's also a great and sometimes needed boundary of saying “yes” to self-love and “no” to anything that feels other. I've learned how to love and be gentle authentically. 

"Life as a dance" is a philosophy I teach Kai teachers-in-training. It's a practice of looking at the cycles, stages, and events that life offers and finding a way to dance with it all. To engage with life and view it all as one big spiral that we can harmonize and dance with rather than avoid. On the dance floor it's a practice of inviting the body's impulses, emotions, dreams and thoughts. We allow it to have it's expression and movement, witnessing from a place of non-judgment. It's a meditation of noticing what the body gravitates too and letting it unfold. 

Most often when we dance we “think” our way into steps, patterns, and trying to find the “socially acceptable” way of moving. Other times the patterns are so encoded within us we just move like we do in life with armor and robotic movements. "Life as a dance" is more conscious and allows one to soften into what is happening, looking at your dance as a microcosm of what is happening outside the dance room in life. In this dance room I can explore and peel off the layers of training, fear, pain, or disconnect, revealing a vulnerable yet strong core that feels so good, strangely ancient, and yet is new.... new, fierce, creative, and edgy. It's in this dance room that I get to change and grow. 

Witnessed by community with love and awareness, I found my new feet and now stand in a deeper, wider space of self than I did before. I'm more open and available and present. This is dance medicine at it's best and I am so grateful.  

This is Week 14 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Kelly's story today! To see a video of Kelly dancing Kai, go to: and visit her website.