Paula Chaffee Scardamalia: I Stay in Dialogue with the Muse

Paula Scardamalia headshotPaula, dream consultant for PEOPLE Country Magazine, is a book coach, and dream and tarot intuitive.

You work in several medium(s). Can you tell me more about how you create your art?

For years, I worked in both fiber and in words. In fact, my MFA is in weaving and writing with the focus of fantasy.

I’ve been a professional weaver since 1993 or thereabouts. At first, I sold at local and regional craft shows. Then I started doing wholesale craft shows, and sold my work to shops, galleries and boutiques across the country. I finally stopped doing the shows in 2007, but continued to weave for a limited number of retail clients and for a designer from Maryland. I still have several looms and a wall full of rayon chenille yarns.

PScardamalia Online scarvesWhen I was pursuing my MFA, I was weaving images in a technique called doubleweave pickup that allowed me to create representational images. Later, when I was selling both retail and wholesale, I was weaving wearables and throws. I stopped doing the images. They weren’t selling enough and they were incredibly time-consuming (an inch per hour).

Most of my weaving starts with color and whether I am weaving images or wearables, the color has to sing to me—and to my clients. From there, the work is intuitive, just responding to what feels right about image or color proportions.

As for the words, I’ve been writing and telling stories since I was old enough to spell and read. In college, I majored in Creative Writing. I’ve written freelance articles for both print and online magazines. And I’ve completed three manuscripts—two young adult fantasies and one adult fantasy romance.

The first two stories evolved page by page, totally seat of the pants with a lot of rewriting afterwards. This last manuscript which is starting to make the rounds of agents and editors, I wrote intuitively through probably half and then turned to scene cards and some general plotting for the rest. Even with the planning though, I am listening with at least one ear to the Muse.

At what point in your life did you start thinking of yourself as an artist?

I think I’ve always identified myself as a writer. The art weaving was a surprise to me, that I could create interesting images by just staying in conversation with the weaving. I really call myself a writer or weaver rather than an artist.

How would you describe your spirituality?

My spirituality is eclectic, earth-based and fluid. I consider myself a practical mystic.

How does your spirituality find expression in your art?

PScardamalia wlife2My themes in my fiction writing have to do with transformation, the power of love to transform and redeem. The stories tend to reflect mythic ideas. I also have three large image weavings that are titled Transformation I, II, and III.

And out of both weaving and words came my book Weaving a Woman’s Life: Spiritual Lessons from the Loom. Because while my spirituality finds expression in my work, my work also teaches me many spiritual lessons.

How do you connect with divine flow when you are creating?

So, in 1984 my mother, who was approaching 53, was dying of breast cancer. At the time, I lived about 8 hours away from her and had three small boys who needed my attention. A few months before her death, I put my youngest, about 18 months old, in the car and headed to my mom’s. I also took my small table loom with me on which I had started another large double weave pickup piece. While trying to fix foods my mother could easily swallow, and caring for my son, I also took time to work on the weaving. I think I finished about one or two inches of the bottom.

A month or so later, my mom, whom I adored and who was my primo cheerleader, died. I stopped weaving but kept thinking about what I would weave.

Two previous large pieces had towers as their central image, towers with roots, and flames going up the center. In my mind’s eye, this next piece would show the tower uprooted on the left side. I saw it clearly.

Still not weaving, I managed to sprain my left ankle twice within a period of three months while wearing a pair of my mother’s shoes.

Finally, about nine months after her death, I returned to the weaving. I didn’t weave the uprooted tower since I already had most of the roots done, but I kept weaving, deciding I wanted steps winding up around the outside of the tower. The image in my mind now, was of a tower that totally disintegrated by the time I reached the top of the piece.

Still, I stayed with the weaving and noticed that the profile of the steps that were disintegrating around the tower had a profile of breasts, breasts disintegrating. Painful, but I stayed with it.

PScardamalia Transformation III

As the tower fell away and the steps were small and rickety, instead of totally disintegrating they continued up into the sky, ending just a space or breath away from a door. This was a total surprise to me, not what I had envisioned earlier.

By the time I finished that piece and took it off the loom, I had processed my loss and my grief. It wasn’t gone, for sure. But there, in 5/2 cotton threads, was an affirmation of my mother’s life and journey—and my own.

I titled the piece, “Transformation III: My Mother’s Journey.”

Years later, I submitted it to be exhibited at the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Arts Festival, a place where my mother had once exhibited a print of her own. My piece was accepted. Life had come full circle.

That’s a long way of saying I don’t have any set process for connecting with the Muse. Whether weaving or writing, I trust my intuition. I stay in dialogue with the work and the Muse. That’s not always easy but it is almost always rewarding.

I listen to dreams which have provided the seeds for two of my manuscripts and images for several of the weavings. I use the tarot for inspiration, breakthrough and creation.

I keep asking questions.

How do ideas come to you?

As above, dreams, myths, fairy tales, tarot—and sometimes lying awake in my bed at night.

How do you decide which ideas to pursue?

I guess just whatever seems to pull at me, to have the most potential for development and depth and imagination.

If you were going to teach your creative process to someone else, what would be one or two of the key things you would share?

Conscious dream work and using the tarot.

Thanks Paula!

Since 1999, Paula’s taught writers how to use intuitive tools like dreams and tarot to write stories from the deepest part of their imaginations. She’s taught at small private workshops on the East Coast, and at both national and regional Romance Writers of America conferences and meetings, at the 2014 San Diego University Writers Conference and the International Women’s Writing Guild. She leads intimate writing and dream retreats. Paula publishes a weekly e-newsletter on writing, dreams, tarot, and is the award-winning author of Weaving a Woman’s Life: Spiritual Lessons from the Loom.

Find out more about Paula and her work at: and

Connect with her on social media:,,

On Facebook and Twitter, Paula posts the link to her Monday Message from the Muse video where she pulls four tarot cards for the week’s read on their creativity.

Michael Belk: God’s Project

Michael Belk picDuring the past 30 years, Michael Belk’s photography has appeared in fashion publications including Vogue, Elle, GQ and Vanity Fair for clients that included Nautica, J.Crew and others.

Combining his gift for photography with a natural sense for sales and marketing savvy, Michael created a boutique fashion-advertising agency, Michael Belk & Company. He says his work has primarily been about doing something he loved while traveling the world, working with many great models and crews in the industry. Michael later owned a fine art photography gallery in Florida. MBelk 2246

In 2008, Michael began a project to produce a collection of fine art photographs that would depict messages of Jesus and show His relevance in our modern world. Published in late 2009, Journeys with the Messiah, consists of 45 images and the “parable-like” messages they depict.

“I felt a desire and prompting to create this series of photographs depicting the messages of Christ. In the end, it isn’t about the images—it’s about my relationship with God. He is the Creator. When I get carried away about the project from a business standpoint or from a creative standpoint, I stand back and take a breath. Then say to myself, ‘Not my project, His project. He’s just letting me work on it.’” ~Michael Belk

Listen to Michael’s Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

MBelk 2263He says, “I sensed that religion has given Jesus Christ a bad rap. Jesus didn’t come to start a religion. He came to testify to the unusual truth of his Father and how that frees us up to live these incredible lives while we’re here on earth. I wanted to show that Jesus’ message is relevant today—for people to realize that they can embrace Jesus for who he is rather than fear him.”

The images have been interpreted beyond the limited-edition, signed & numbered fine art original to include a coffee table book, behind the scenes DVD, posters and more. Michael travels to churches and other venues to present the images in an exciting audio/visual presentation. An exhibit and more images are planned.

With nearly 100 people on the team assembled to create the images for Journey with the Messiah, Michael believes in the power of collaboration. He says, “I learned in the fashion industry that Michael Belk taking a picture does not make the picture. It’s the collaborative effort of good hair and makeup people. Good costuming people. Good lighting people. Great assistance. Great producers. All of those things come together. God tells me what the idea is, but I’m always looking for ideas from people working with me as we’re putting the details of an image together. A collaborative effort is the most fun by far.” MBelk 2273

Visit to view the gallery of fine art photographs created for Journeys with the Messiah. Watch the four-minute video that beautifully shares the story of creating these photos as they were shot in the Italian city of Matera.

See more of Michael’s work, including his fashion photography, at

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!

Suzanne Halvorson: Weaving is My True North

Suzanne Halvorson picSuzanne Halvorson is a textile studio artist and partner in By Hand Gallery (IN). In 2012, she was a Visiting Lecturer at Indiana University School of Fine Arts, and at Earlham College (IN) and will be teaching at Purdue University for the 2013 fall semester. She has taught weaving workshops at Penland School of Craft (NC), Ghost Ranch (NM), Grunewald Guild (WA), and at HGA’s Convergence (CA) and for countless weaver’s guilds and conferences. Her work is published in Handwoven, Shuttle, Spindle, and Dyepot, and Weaving for Worship.

 “My art is my spiritual evolution. Weaving is my true north and without it I don’t know who I would be — I consider it my calling. It keeps me seeing the world as a hopeful place. I look for beauty and inspiration every day.” ~Suzanne Halvorson HALVORSON_2_warp_weft_face_bamboo_2007_display

Listen to Suzanne’s Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

She goes on to say, “Weaving is what I call active meditation. Every step of the process is slow and intentional — it is very calming. There are times when I’m weaving, when I am really in the zone and completely connected to the work, that everything else disappears.” SHalvorson IndigoBamboo

Find out more about Suzanne at Her work is represented by: By Hand Gallery, Bloomington, IN; Marigold Arts, Santa Fe NM; Penland Gallery, Penland, NC; Columbus Visitor’s Center, Columbus, IN; and Spear’s Gallery, Nashville, IN.

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Pastor Lyle McKee, from St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Bloomington, IN, is modeling the chausble.

Her liturgical line is entirely by commission. Suzanne says, “I’m learning to say ‘No’ to commissions that may not be in harmony with where I want to go with my work. I choose the ones that I accept based on if I can do something new — something that inspires me. It’s not just the same old thing.”

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Lenten tent created to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of their sanctuary at Peach Lutheran Church in Danville, CA.

Suzanne will be teaching summer workshops “Weaving Explorations” (July 8 – 13) at Ghost Ranch and “Dyeing to Weave” (July 22 – 27) at Grunewald Guild. These workshops are for weavers of all levels.

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!

Melanie Rilling: Living with Intentionality

Melanie Rilling picJewelry artist Melanie Rilling was born and reared in Mississippi, where the very land seems to be steeped in the eccentricities and literature of the Faulkner and Welty tradition. Love of the written word was ingrained from an early age.

In her early thirties, when she came to Atlanta, she discovered a passion and gift for public speaking and began being the spokesperson for several organizations. The freedom found in these new surroundings led to more artistic creativity. Camera 360

“When I discovered working with natural stones in my jewelry-making, I found a connection with nature I had never imagined. The very act of holding these stones in my hands enabled me to see the possibilities of enhancing their natural beauty with other stones, crystals and metals. I found myself ‘listening’ to their beauty and power. It became a form of worship, taking something so perfect and working with its beauty to create something more.  Actually, I feel that if one lives with intentionality, everything takes on an element of worship.” ~Melanie Rilling

Listen to Melanie’s Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

Camera 360While she will always be a storyteller and writer, finding the more tactile art of jewelry-making has enriched her life and her appreciation of the beauty this world holds.

Like Melanie’s Facebook page, MelRox, to find out more about her jewelry made from natural stones.

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!

Sarah Hunt Engsberg: Discovering a New Passion

Sarah Hunt Engsberg is a jewelry artist, painter and a professional farrier. Sarah has been serving the needs of horses and equestrians in the sports of Three-day Eventing, Combined Training, Dressage, and Endurance for nearly two decades. When her horseshoeing business was curtailed due to back issues, it was a natural progression for her to transfer from blacksmithing to metalsmithing.

“I first started thinking of myself as an artist with my work of shoeing horses. It took a back injury — literally getting thrown on the ground — to take a step back and become open-minded instead of being so focused on just the one thing. So this catastrophic event helped me discover a passion for creating jewelry. I knew I would get well physically enough to horseshoe again, but I knew that it would ultimately have to look different than it did before.” ~Sarah Hunt Engsberg

Listen to Sarah’s Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

Sarah’s Art Jewelry is created for independent-minded wearers who wish to express their personalities through jewelry. Her jewelry incorporates traditional metalsmithing, with precious gems and semi-precious stones as well as natural and man-made found objects. Her pieces are one-of-a-kind originals.

She says, “My art comes from within, but it comes from somewhere else too. The art becomes spiritual as it allows me to create and express myself, but also to express whatever it’s coming from.”

Painting is yet another avenue for Sarah to express her joy and creativity.  Bright colors, strong contrasts and a bit of a whimsical attitude are the driving forces behind her desire to paint.  She incorporates textures and colors to express the movement and energy she feels and sees in the world around her.

About the colorful nature of her art Sarah says, “I love beautiful flowers, brightly colored clothes and, of course, big gaudy jewelry. Bright colors are just who I am and I express my spiritually through that sort of brightness. Color is joyous and bright colors seem happy and inviting. I see my life as an expression of joy.”

Find out more about Sarah at

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!

Brandon Tutman: Trust Your Instincts

In 2011, Brandon Tutman turned to fashion after beginning his career in architecture. He now heads the Neiman Marcus, Atlanta Ralph Lauren boutique, as a fashion consultant. He utilizes the many labels within Neiman Marcus to style his clients.

 “I’ve learned to trust my instincts. If I hadn’t taken that chance of moving from architecture to fashion, I wouldn’t have grown. I would have been living life to someone else’s expectations and I wouldn’t have known what I was fully capable of.” ~Brandon Tutman

Listen to Brandon’s Art as Worship interview on Empower Radio.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Brandon was educated at Southern Polytechnic in Architecture. After briefly practicing architecture, he took the opportunity from a downward economy to leave his first love and embrace what has been his guilty pleasure of all pleasures; Fashion! Brandon’s foundation in architecture helps him understand each client’s physical structure and dress them for any occasion.

Brandon says, “If architecture is the art in which we dwell, then clothing is the art in which we function.”

He goes on to say, “When you get dressed, your clothing is a representation of you. The right outfit can help you feel relaxed and confident throughout your day. Let your clothing choices help you put your best foot forward.

Brandon’s latest platform to merge the arts is through his lifestyle blog to be launched in late 2012 named, S.T.O.C.C. Seasonal Trends on Classic Collections. Contact Brandon through the Ralph Lauren boutique at Neiman Marcus in Atlanta, GA.

Listen each Wednesday at 9am Eastern on Empower Radio to hear another artist’s story. Share your art and your comments on the Art as Worship Facebook page. Namaste!