Online Teaching and our In-person Retreat

This is Jane. For my blog post this month I am reflecting on what I like about teaching my collage classes. I’ve been thinking about how I have survived 2020 by teaching online and enjoyed the experience. But now, although I am still teaching via Zoom, I’m excited and looking forward to our Artistic Alchemy retreat in September .

Ready to teach Hens and Roosters via Zoom

 It seems a long time since I have gathered with quilters or traveled to visit a quilt guild. I have kept busy presenting and teaching classes to quilt guilds and taught at many online quilt shows. I think this platform is great for sharing information with students, demos are successful because students have the best front row seat and working from home they will not run short of supplies. Also I can set up the day before and be ready at my laptop 30 mins before class starts.

This may look like a crazy amount of fabric but its enough for this fabric collage of Ruby the Cow

I do miss cruising the classroom and chatting with my students, monitoring how their work is progressing and offering tips along the way. When I teach online its harder to see the progress they are making and with collage its tricky to pick the piece up to show on camera. But recently I have received photos via email of finished students work. It makes me feel happy that they have enjoyed the process and then spent their time working and completing the project.

When I am teaching I like to say to my students “Value = Contrast = Dimension”  These words are especially important when making collage and other art practices. I encourage students to” look” at their photo. If you spend 5 minutes really looking at what is going on in a photo your brain will see things that you do not expect. Sometimes when we work we make things as we think they are. By showing what is really going will result in a better and more successful design!

Looking at contrast in a photo

In the photo above I see contrast between the color families of the two types of succulent. I see contrast when looking into the shadows between the leaves of the succulents and I see contrast between what is in focus in the foreground against the blurriness of the background.

Ruby 24″ x 34″

To achieve this I encourage students to exaggerate what they see for a successful piece of work. Where you see the shadows or the areas that are layered this would be where you need to add your dark or black fabrics. For those light reflections or highlights, use your lightest fabrics even going to white or off white. The rest of the time we can use the medium value or our fun fabrics.

Enough of this lesson!

At the 2021 Artistic Alchemy retreat in Lake Tahoe, September 6-10th, I will be teaching collage quilting starting from a photo or you can use one of my patterns.

Little succulent designs in blue and white pots

We will spend time learning to make a pattern, choosing the right fabrics to use and then jumping into my technique for making fabric collage. If you are unfamiliar I don’t use pattern pieces or use fusible on the backs of the fabric but trace the shape onto the fabric and cut it out. It is a little more freeform with fewer rules. Resulting in a finished piece that is fun and unique. I don’t want students to stress over this process as its just “small bits of fabric!”

As well as the fabric collage in my workshop we will be spending the first day playing with surface design and mark making. I love to do this when the opportunity arises. What is better than using your own handmade textiles in your collage. 

Lino Cutting and printmaking

I like to use textural print fabrics in my collage and if I’ve made them myself that is even better. I use paints, fabric or acrylic paints and a number of simple tools to create unique patterns and textures. For my workshop there will be a small fee for materials. I will provide paints, a gel plate, fabrics and other materials. You will have the opportunity to paint on fabric, make your own stamps, lino-cuts, cyanotype prints and monoprints. 

Spring is on its way in my garden.

Now looking at this photo, and I am really looking, I’m thinking about mark-making and collage. I could paint some fabric to make those beautiful violet and lavender petals. Also the texture of the sepal leaves could be created using mono-prints and then there is the blurred background to consider!

So if you are considering attending our retreat this September the registration is already open. Go to the Workshop page on the blog and you will find out more info about the pricing etc if you click on the registration button. Remember priority for lake-front rooms is given to those who sign up first.

My latest recommendation

After my post back in November when I reviewed many of the books that I had read over 2020 this is one of my newest reads. I’m over half way through and am really enjoying the narrative and the rich descriptions in this book. I believe there are plans for a movie in the works.

Let’s hope as Spring arrives we are all more optimistic. We can savor the days when we will be able to socialize and have fun together at the retreat. Keep creative as Heidi, Sandra and myself continue to do.

Zephyr Point Here we Come!

Packing up for Zephyr Point

Getting my car packed for the Artistic Alchemy retreat

Its Jane here. Just a few more days until our 2019 retreat starts at Zephyr Point, Lake Tahoe and I have so much to do. Over the last two weeks I’ve been away teaching my Love of Pets Fabric Collage class in Santa Rosa, Sunnyvale and Livermore . Today I was finishing up a T-shirt quilt for a customer. With all this behind me I have a day or so to get focused and pack up for our 2019 retreat. I can’t tell you how excited we all are!

Early morning at Zephyr Point

Tranquility at Zephyr Point

Last year was my first year to attend the retreat. I just loved getting up early and walking down to the dock to drink my coffee and this is what I’m really looking forward to again.

I know Sandra, Heidi and Mary have been busy making unique, handcrafted items to put in their stores and these photos are some of the tea-towels and the unique collage bags I’ve been working on for mine. We hope the attendees will enjoy browsing our stores and picking up special pieces.

Artistic Alchemy attendees 2018

2018 Artistic Alchemy Attendees

Here we all are at last years retreat! Looks like we survived and don’t we all look happy and relaxed. Now its time for me to get back to my packing so I’m ready to head up the hill later this holiday weekend.

See you all soon 🙂

Time to Breathe


Heidi, Mary, Sandra and Jane want to say a huge “Thank You” to all the students who attended our 5th annual retreat at Zephyr Point. We all had an amazing, creative and inspiring time and we will be back with our usual blog posts come October. Now we are taking a well deserved break.

Looks like all our attendees had wonderful fun time too!


Sign up or keep looking up the blog for details of when to sign up for the retreat 2019

Winston Debut

by Sandra Bruce

A quick note before I get into my post….we want to let your know that our Artistic Alchemy gmail account was hacked, so please trash suspicious emails that seem to be from us. This doesn’t affect the security of our posts, and and we’ve taken measures to prevent this from happening again.

Just in time for the Pine Tree Quilt Show, coming up April 30-May1st, a Matrix quilt of Winston, a very sweet Great Dane. This photograph is so perfect for the technique…..fantastic composition, some areas of detail, and some areas of just color. I love the value changes in the grey, perfect for my stash of greys!  I knew the eyes would be the biggest hurdle. Photo courtesy of Jenipher Lagana.

winstoncloseupI pulled out all my purples and greys, using the photo for reference.IMG_0408

The beginning was easy, and got me in the rhythm of things. His head appeared quickly.IMG_0449

Enter: his eyes. This is where things got interesting, and in this case, challenging! He looked a little “mad” to me, although I followed the photo precisely. I’m a stickler about eyes, they are so important. The pupils are black “Perfect Circles”, which I appliquéd on by hand.IMG_0517

Had to take some artistic license, and attempt another eye, or two. They sure do look funny without pupils!IMG_0662

The finished top before quilting, it’s about 38″ by 52″. The wooden couch arm was an unexpected challenge, it’s a little wonkier than I wanted it to be, hoping some intense quilting will help it.


Now, for some fun with thread, picking out colors to use. You know how I love colors opposite each other on the color wheel.


Couldn’t resist this shot, the batik back mounted on the longarm and ready to go!!


Always exciting, the first go round. Left to right, top to bottom.


Here is the finished quilt. Come to the Pine Tree Quilt Show at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, April 30-May 1….you’ll see Winston (and Chuck Close Two!) and Artistic Alchemy will have a booth in the Vendor building, stop by and say hello to us!P1000204

Inspiration for Zephyr

by Sandra Bruce

After a busy weekend teaching a wonderful group of quilters (including my 2 youngest students to date, 13 and 16 years old!) I’m hitting the road again today, headed for Concord and Visalia, CA.

I’ve been getting steady sign ups for Zephyr, but I do have spaces left. To inspire you to possibly come and take my Matrix workshop in September, here’s a few photos of student work that I hope will do just that!IMG_5400DSCN3645IMG_9366IMG_9353IMG_8195IMG_9692IMG_8862IMG_7347IMG_5928IMG_5901

Thanks to Trish, Kate, Jill, Pat, Janet and Robin for the great work. I am really excited to see what my Zephyr students will come up with this year. I’ll have more upcoming photos of student work as they are sent to me.

Time to pack the car, see you next time!




Las Vegas Girl Trip

by Sandra Bruce

For over a year I have been excited about going to Las Vegas to visit the Desert Quilters of Nevada. It came up in conversation when I was hanging with my friends Marlene, Robin and Michelle, and it was decided then and there that we would make it a girl trip. They volunteered to help me during my lecture/presentation and 2 days of workshops with the guild. We drove, as we wanted to enjoy the scenery which is beautiful and so different from what we have here at home in Northern California. (Yes, the snow was mostly absent, sadly!)IMG_8470

It has been over 15 years since my last visit to Vegas. The area is such an interesting juxtaposition of 150 million-year-old rock formations, expanses of land and sky, the “Strip” (old and new), and people on the street from every imaginable strata of humankind. This is in front of the Bellagio at night, where they have water shows set to music. Lovely!!! It was interesting to note that The Flamingo Hotel and Casino (seen in the photo, tiny, behind the water), for which I lettered/illustrated a logo “update” many years ago, is still using both the old and new logos on their building and everything else.


At the Bellagio Casino they have a conservatory decorated top to bottom in celebration of the Chinese New Year. Flowers everywhere!IMG_8496

We were fortunate to see an exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s work. Here are a few shots:


Lots of sights to see. Look at the display of chocolate below! I confess to picturing in my mind being inside that window and availing myself somehow of it ( face into it, mouth open and catching it, swimming in it…..whatever!) How could you not!IMG_8514

My presentation with the Desert Quilters went very well, and I was glad to have my friends with me, who were mentioned of course, in my lecture. Robin showed her video at the end, of the making of her 80-inch Matrix Self-Portrait. Fabulous! The Desert quilt ladies made me feel very welcome, and bought buttons, earrings, and my 2 latest patterns, “Hugs and Kisses”, and “Color Dance”.

The first workshop day was “Wake Up Cup”. Diana exclaimed right away, “Look!! I did it!” with her first Matrix square. It feels great to see that enthusiasm.IMG_8527IMG_4370

I had one student who worked at half size (1″ squares, instead of 2″)….IMG_8533

……and 2 ladies who tried their own color schemes. I’m happy to see the variations, and applaud all the hard work!IMG_8536

Next day, “Sew Ready” and a new group of ladies (including one who came back for more from the day before….kudos to you, Penny!)

A special thanks to Laurel who contacted me initially to come to Vegas. She saw my quilts online as a result of an interview that a blogger in India, Shruti Dandekar, did on my work (“13 Woodhouse Road”) some time ago. Love that social media at its serendipitous best!IMG_8540

That night, finished with teaching, Marlene, Robin, Michelle and I went to a fabulous show, Cirque de Soleil’s “Zarcana” at the Aria Casino. I have seen Cirque de Soleil twice before, but they never cease to amaze me. I spent some of the performance holding onto Marlene’s arm (tightly!) while these talented athletes twirled….and leapt…with such balance and beauty! Some of the acts left me truly speechless.IMG_8594

One more shot of decadent desserts. Works of art, aren’t they? IMG_8610On our final day we took a short trip outside of Vegas, past Lake Mead to the Valley of Fire State Park where we took a hike back into time, so to speak. Rock formations millions of years old marked with petroglyphs came around each turn on the rocks as we walked. The rock is red, mostly, set against a brilliant blue sky.IMG_8628IMG_8639IMG_8658

A great trip. Thanks to the Desert Quilters of Nevada (all 400 of you!) and to my friends: Michelle, Robin and Marlene, for all your help, sisterhood, and female energy! IMG_8520

A quick note about the Zephyr workshop in September…we have been working on the registration form and all the details, coming to you next week! For now, have a good weekend and those of you here in California, do a little rain dance, will you?

A Year in Pictures

by Sandra Bruce

Happy New Year to you all! Here’s to a great 2015 coming up. Today, just for fun, I’m posting my 2014 via a series of pictures. Here we go!

First, just a few shots of customers’ quilts I enjoyed quilting over the year:

IMG_7008IMG_7757Robin’s Self-Portrait….she’s a writer, in addition to being a quilter. You can see more about her here: http://robinmartinezrice.comIMG_7347

Trish’s very fun Princess Fishy IMG_7433Jane’s hippo from the Zephyr workshop IMG_8129

There’s always something new to be learned. I took a thread class from Cindy Needham.IMG_6350

I enjoyed visiting many quilt guilds in 2014. I learned so much from them all, and hope I inspired a few! I was surprised at how many Featherweights there are out there. Here’s one painted a special purple! Marty belongs to EBHQG.IMG_6924

I made so many samples in 2014!


Here’s “Octavius”, a close-up of his eye.


His suckers were made with silk organza I dyed outside on a nice warm day.


Also in the summer I took a “one block wonder” class from Cathy Stone, along with my friend Ray who came up to visit. This is a great process if you’ve never made one. Mine has red cardinals on it (made into a Christmas hanging) and Ray used an Alexander Henry print that was just made for this technique. My blocks, before sewing the rows together:IMG_7426

Ray, organizing his blocks:IMG_7997

At the July Northern California Quilt Guild’s “Meet the Teachers” I was happy to see my friend Therese May. You can check out her web site here:         She and I used to be neighbors and I credit her for getting me on the path to quilting!




Ahhhh…………Fall, and our much-needed rain!!!


Road trip to Oregon and Washington.  I taught in Sisters and Bend, great guilds and enthusiastic quilters!!


I watched my friend Wendy Hill make these beautiful little pies. She has inspired me as a quilter and lover of fabric.IMG_7905

Here’s Heidi when we were getting ready for the Zephyr workshop. We’re gearing up for the 2015 workshop, news and sign-up info coming soon!


This is my son Matteo, up in the air on his bike. I put it in here to see if you were paying attention (just kidding!) Yes, he is responsible for my growing number of white hairs!


My “Christmas on Emerald Court” class was a monthly class in 2014, and I’ll be repeating it in 2015, coming up soon in January. Please let me know if you are interested in taking it! Here’s a couple of shots taken over the months.


Here you can see one of my students’ finished tops on my long-arm, with mine on the wall in the background.

IMG_8275We, Heidi and Christine and I, had a polymer day with a couple of other friends. Here’s Heidi capturing Christine’s lovely makume gane polymer.


December is the time of year for oranges in California. Some friends in Sacramento let me pick to my heart’s content from their tree! They were incredibly big, juicy and sweet!


Christmas at my house. We don’t let a lack of a mantle or chimney keep us from hanging our stockings. Dearly departed loved ones get theirs hung too, in their memory.


Before I end, I want to show you one of my favorite Christmas gifts this year. My son made me a “coupon” for a massage (after a long day at the long-arm my feet will be happy for this!). Using Photoshop, he made this very funny gift. Those of you who have read the “Outlander” series, or seen the TV version will laugh as hard as I did.IMG_8389

In closing, after a great 2014 I am looking forward to an even better 2015, filled with lots of quilting, teaching, traveling, and of course, the Zephyr Point Retreat with my fellow Artistic Alchemy ladies! Cheers!!IMG_8379p.s. Christine here, to congratulate Laurie P. for winning our first giveaway, an ombré and Lustrous Squares pattern kit. Have fun with those fabrics, Laurie! And to everyone who commented, a big thank you for your thoughts. Stay tuned for more giveaways in 2015!

Return from Zephyr, and Fall Begins

By Sandra Bruce

It’s been a few weeks since we had our retreat at Zephyr Cove and I’m still smiling. The fond memories and great satisfaction I got from my students is going to last me a while. The combination of such a magical and beautiful place, perfect weather, and the camaraderie that the 3 of us had (Christine, Heidi and myself)  plus our great students make me look forward to next year with much anticipation. Can’t wait!

The first evening after dinner I took the first of many sunset photos.



I really love teaching and when I do a workshop where ladies bring their own images to turn into Matrix quilts it’s an extra special treat. In my class we had a variety of subjects: an African hippo, koi fish, 2 kinds of dogs, a pair of flip-flops in the sand, and a son with a mischievous smile. Everyone brought enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn that made my work joyous.

How can you beat this view from the ironing board? The color of the water!!!!IMG_7591Everyone worked hard and the efforts paid off.IMG_7686IMG_7648IMG_7649IMG_7585

It was so satisfying for us to see results start to unfold! (bottom left corner…..see it?)IMG_7609Nothing says success and accomplishment like these smiles.IMG_7646IMG_7726


The most reoccurring comment we got was that everyone would have liked to have had one more day in class. Heidi, Christine and I are working hard with the Zephyr Point folks to make this happen for next year. I will teach Material Matrix again, and hope for as wonderful a class as this year’s was. Special thanks to Jane, Cheri, Liz, Lindsey, Nancy, and Pat.

As we proceed with our plans for next year, we welcome feedback and comments from our interested blog readers about what you’d like to see at the Artistic Alchemy Retreat in beautiful Zephyr Point.

Meanwhile, I feel like celebrating the first soaking rain of the season which came today. Fall is here, after the driest spring/summer season we’ve ever had here in the Sierra Foothills. May the fires go out quickly, and I hope for the safe return of all our firefighters. Here’s a couple of before and after pictures, taken about a day apart. The first, the beginning of my driveway with smoke illuminated by the sun, and the second, my new studio deck getting wet for the first time. What a difference a day can make!



Happy creating until my next blog post!


Snapshots of the Retreat

It’s official: The first ever Artistic Alchemy retreat is history! The three of us had a great time, and judging from our students’ comments, so did all of you who came. The creativity quotient was high, the laughter was contagious, and the projects—wow! Below are some class images, lunchtime show-and-tell pics, and shots of Lake Tahoe and the Zephyr grounds.

Watch for details about next year’s retreat. Heidi is working with Zephyr on the dates, and we are hopeful we can add an extra day, for a total of three full days in class.

Take a look at who was there and what we did. (We were missing a few when we took this group pic.)IMG_7690IMG_7642IMG_7718IMG_7648IMG_7611IMG_7644IMG_7584IMG_7699IMG_7628

show & tell 3show and tell 4IMG_7660IMG_7716IMG_7738IMG_7710This could be YOU, next year! Stay tuned. . . .

“Matteo 2014” in Short Order

by Sandra Bruce

Very much wanting to try a Matrix quilt in black and white,  I saw this photo of my son Matteo and knew it was perfect for the job. Nice contrasts, good composition, and interesting value changes. Plus it’s a good picture of him! I also wanted to try a 50-inch format, which proved to be a perfect size for this technique.

Screen shotMP B:W photo copy


Below is my first in-progress photo, taken on May 6th. Yup, I was a possessed woman for about 2-1/2 months working on this project!



I made a couple of “artistic license” decisions, including making the left side/top background white so that I could use easily found fabrics in white with black prints for the edge of the hair.


As with my Self-Portrait I had a lot of fun with the curly hair an using a wide variety of prints.







I knew before I even got started that the eyes would be the most challenging, and I did them over a couple of times to get them right. People don’t have perfectly matching eyes anyway, and capturing the right “look” requires some trial and error. I decided to make the pupils by appliqueing black circles by hand, using my Perfect Circles. (the highlights, absolutely necessary, were added at the end using white acrylic paint)



It’s funny how you always start out with neat piles of fabric and a wide working area and before you know it you’re throwing fabric over your shoulder because there’s no room for it and you’re working in a tiny space!



Here I am getting close to done. This is June 12, only about 5 weeks since I started. My poor family didn’t see much of me especially in the evenings.


Top done! Now, to the long-arm.




Threads selected, and a shot of the back. Since Matteo is crazy about bikes, I put bike wheel fabric on the back, along with a strip of gradated fabrics I used on the front. There’s 15 bars since he is 15 years old.IMG_7189


ere’s the finished piece with a couple of close-up shots. I very much enjoyed this challenge! I loved working in the absence of color, but I’m ready now to go back to it and am planning my next Matrix piece.

I have space left in my workshop at Zephyr Cove in September if you want to try this technique, contact me if you’re interested! In the meantime, happy summer and stay cool.

smaller file MP2014 copyIMG_7201IMG_7263