life in balance

On the Road: Somerville Skillshare



After weeks of time spent at home, I’m finally on the road again this month, and it feels good. On the first weekend in March I caught the train up to Boston to visit Camille and attend an event she was helping to organize – the Somerville Skillshare. Somerville has one of the highest concentrations of artists in the nation, and the skillshare was organized to provide a free platform for creatives to exchange ideas and knowledge, in the form of both workshops and informal conversation. Though we’ve had skillshare groups in the District before, there didn’t appear to be an active one going this year, so of course I had to head up to Boston to take it in. Right from the start, I was impressed at the scope of the event and the caliber of the workshops. I tagged along and helped set up for the event the morning of the skillshare, and in person I was just blown away by how organized everything was; I don’t ever think I’ve seen a first-time event run quite this smoothly. The group folded me in and welcomed me right away, which was really cool and much appreciated. I loved getting an inside look at the process of putting the event together. So much work and love for the community went into every detail.


Although I helped set up, I attended the workshops once it hit noon, so I got to sit in on a ton of great sessions. The highlight for me was definitely Emily Garfield’s Imaginary Mapmaking workshop; if you haven’t seen her work, go check it out. I’ve been drawn to cartography, in particular the depiction of emotional space versus physical space, individual memory and perception versus communal awareness, ever since I worked with Rebecca at Snow Farm, and I really wanted to experiment with mapmaking in a pens-and-paper medium. Emily started us out with either blank paper or paper that had watercolor tributaries pre-established, which I loved. As someone who doesn’t feel natively comfortable with drawn artwork, it was so helpful to have a place to jump off. From there we worked with a host of materials, including watercolor pencils and micron pens, to establish our own landscapes. Emily also laid out samples from other artists as well as actual maps; I worked next to another woman and both of us were studying the actual maps to see how city blocks are shaped. It was an interesting exercise to study the map as still life (versus prosaic object). We have a good friend in DC who’s an urban planner and the whole mapmaking exercise made me want to take my sketchbooks to lunch with him and talk about urban growth.

Imaginary Mapmaking; photo by Courtney Frazee

Imaginary Mapmaking; photo by Courtney Frazee

I almost didn’t take the Felted Orbs class and I’m so glad I did. I’ve always wanted to be able to needlefelt three-dimensional shapes, and in just an hour Jodi Colella taught us how to form shapes and (in my case, because I asked) how to join two shapes together. I’m fortunate that I’ve done lots of flat needlefelting and have the supplies at home, so I’ll be continuing to work on my piece from Alexandria. I’m going to model this first piece after Jodi’s work as a tribute and then begin to take the next piece in a new direction that’s all my own. I can feel that this workshop is going to have a lot of reverb for my work this year and I’m looking forward to seeing it play out. Jodi was such an enthusiastic, energetic teacher and her positivity just filled the room.

Needle felting in progress; one of Jodi's pieces in the background

Needle felting in progress; one of Jodi’s pieces in the background

I was also thrilled to be able to attend jewelry making, link stitch bookbinding and urban beekeeping. The former two classes were just total bliss-out maker-fests for me; fun, straightforward and really well taught. In the bookbinding class I saw examples of handmade binding troughs, and I think I’ll be making myself one this year – so much easier than trying to punch uniformly on a flat surface. Urban beekeeping was absolutely fascinating; of course the Boston-specific bits didn’t apply to me, but most of the lecture was globally applicable and I learned a lot of fascinating things. I was very impressed with Jacqueline Beaupré’s level of knowledge about beekeeping; it was an intelligent, articulate presentation. If I lived in the area I would absolutely want to work with Best Bees to start a hive. And jewelry-making was just tons of fun; I got to connect with a couple of other attendees and we all experimented with forming hooped earrings with wire.


Although I didn’t get a chance to take her workshop, I also got to speak with Miranda Aisling for a brief time; she’s the author of Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something. I love her focus on beginnings, putting in the effort and cross-pollination. It’s an expansion of Anne Lamott’s whole “butt in the chair” concept. She has a TEDx talk coming up at the end of the month and I can’t wait to watch it!


I missed a lot of socializing and sponsor time because I was so into the workshops – in fact, when the last workshop ended at 6p, I realized I hadn’t stopped to eat all day! Fortunately Camille rustled me up some leftover flatbread (which was, by the way, incredible). I did take a break in the third hour to hang with a few folks in the social space the organizers set aside; I reconnected with a fellow Squam attendee who I met briefly at Taproot Squam, who was working a two-color Nuvem where her color changes were determined randomly using a deck of red and black playing cards. I am shamelessly and wholeheartedly stealing this idea. I also got a chance to chat a bit with Emily and some folks she knew. The exchange of ideas and conversation was so vital; I really felt supercharged in several new directions by the time we were on our way home on the T Sunday night. It was also really wonderful seeing families attend, small kids getting great early exposure to a robust creative community. I really cannot believe the whole event was free; tip of the hat to the Kickstarter funders, sponsors, teachers and volunteers who made it possible.


6 thoughts on “On the Road: Somerville Skillshare

  1. I was going to have an awesome time at the Skillshare no matter what, but having you there made the whole experience EVEN BETTER. Your curiosity and enthusiasm are a continual inspiration to me. xoxox

  2. Pingback: Vegan for the Weekend - Comet Party

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