Tag Archives: creative surprise

Bliss + Work = Results! Case study: Women and Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection

Janet portrait

Photo by Henry Lohmeyer.  Essay by Janet Grace Riehl

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

 –Joseph Campbell

Yes, sometimes it does happen that way. In 2011 serendipity entered my life and I followed the thread. I started making art again using the small canvas of my phone. Three years later, I’m having a show. All along the way this new art love unfolded organically. Friends saw the possibilities and flooded me with suggestions for replication and marketing. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to protect my refuge of bliss.

But Robert Powell, the director of Portfolio Gallery in St. Louis, never let it drop. Finally, he simply said: “Come talk to me.” And now? We have Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection—an exhibit and fundraiser.

People moved in to help me make it happen. Curiously, for this celebration of women these helper-angels were all men: printing, framing, and showing the work. If you are in St. Louis, join us at the opening. If you can’t make the opening, the exhibit runs through the end of August. Just call Robert Powell (314) 533-3323 and he’ll arrange a time for you to see the work. If you’re not in the area, go to my website to see all 30 images I’ll be showing. 

I can’t say it much better than in my press release, so here you go.

Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection


3514 Delmar Blvd, St Louis, MO 63103

Exhibit and Fundraiser

Opening reception August 2, 2014

7-9 p.m.

Artist Janet Riehl works big—or, did—exhibiting large-scale paintings, sculptures, and outdoor installations in California, New Mexico, Latin America, and Europe. But, sometimes things come in small packages as proved by “Women and Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection” opening at Portfolio Gallery August 2nd .

Riehl was dazzled by African expressions of beauty during her five years working in Ghana and Botswana. Thus began a love affair that still ripples through her life and art. The images in this exhibit with their creative use of color and pattern strongly reflect these African influences.

Presented for the first time these 30 high-quality framed images signed by the artist are culled from the 2,500 she’s made on her phone since 2011. Portfolio will receive all profits from the sale of Riehl’s work. Cards and books featuring women and wardrobe images ensure that something is available for all pocketbooks.  You can also see a slide show of the larger body of work.

“I’d never imagined making digital art, let alone art on my phone,” says Riehl “I started by chance when a young friend asked for something to draw with. I reached for pen and paper in my purse, and she looked a bit crestfallen.” That night Riehl downloaded her first app, called “Doodler”—thus dubbing the images “doodles.”

This unlikely media turned out to be just the right thing at just the right time. “My studio was always with me with no muss or fuss.” Whether in Illinois taking care of her father (now 98) or back in St. Louis she made art before going to sleep, when she woke-up, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or even in the grocery line.

“It was just fun and captivating with no pressure to be great or establish an empire. It made me happy. When I started sharing the images on Facebook, I discovered they made other people happy, too.” She encouraged those she met to try their hand at doodling. “It’s such a joy to see people entertaining the notion that they have a little art in them.”

She first met Robert Powell, Executive Director and founder of Portfolio Gallery and Education Center as she explored African-American arts and culture in St. Louis upon her return to the Midwest. “I loved everything about Portfolio: its mission, the power of the art shown, Robert’s dedication to community service and talent as a sculptor, the opportunity to meet artists—some internationally renowned—and the gorgeous 19th century residence that resonates with St. Louis’ history. It was a no-brainer to use my show as a way to raise funds for this organization that has brought so much not only to St. Louis but, really, to American culture.”

Who is Janet Riehl?

Janet Riehl is an award-winning artist, writer, and educator. She describes herself as a country girl who roamed the world and then came home.  Her art is in collections in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

In 1990 she mounted “Celebrating an African Experience,” an exhibit incorporating large-scale paintings on cloth, creative writing, chants, songs, dances, and ceremonies. The enthusiastic reception spurred her to earn a BFA from the California College of the Arts where she graduated with high distinction as a clay sculptor.

Janet’s focus on creating community through the arts led her to serve as West Coast Ambassador for An American Quilt, The Peace Project, and board member of EcoArts of Lake County. As Artist in Bioregional Residence (sponsored by University of California at Davis) she installed her art in state parks.

From large-scale paintings to sculpture to outdoor installations to digital art Riehl’s love of Africa ripples through.





Creative Catalyst: Imagine My Surprise…

“Red Balloon” copyright 2012 by Janet Riehl

Art must take reality by surprise.—Francoise Sagan (French playwright, novelist, and screenwriter)

Surprise lives in the realm of inspiration. You can shock surprise into being, or you can follow it when it peeks around the corner. I want to talk about the second kind.

Surprise happens when we are working. Creative people in any field know this. In the flow of our work—lightly aware of our process—surprise visits us. It’s how we respond to the surprise that matters. Think of everything from Newton’s apple (Ah, gravity!) to plastic to penicillin to silly putty.

What we do with surprise determines not only the direction of our art, but its quality. We must: 1) be in the moment to recognize the surprise and not let it flit by; 2) welcome it; 3) get to know it; 4) shape it. What does this mean for us as writers?

1)      Notice: Hey, how are you?

2)      Welcome: Sit down and take the load off your feet.

3)      Inquire: What’s on your mind?

4)      Shape: What are you?

I’m toiling at my desk writing about surprise whilst breaking pencil points and crumpling up pieces of paper. (I’m Old School.) Here comes Surprise peeking around the corner.

CC: Hey, how are you?

Surprise: My dogs are really tired.

CC: Sit down and take the load off. I’m glad you stopped by. Would you like some tea?

Surprise: Sure. Oh, oops! It just slipped, honest. I’m sorry.

CC: Oh, think nothing of it. What’s on your mind?

Surprise: A clock striking midnight, a bluebird with a worm in her beak, a chocolate éclair, velvet on concrete, belly dancing…

CC: Oh! What now? What if…?


12 clangs in the dark from the cathedral

I dance the bluebird with a worm in her beak

Nestlings stick out their necks

Velvet slippers snag bumps in the concrete.

My arms sweep the air above my head

I lay down my veil

And lick chocolate off my éclair.

Surprise: Not bad! Get a little rest and look at it in the morning.

CC: Thanks! You’ll be back?

Surprise: Why not? You’re a good hostess.


Are you a creative catalyst? Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future themes; and join in the dialog in our comments section.

Learn more about my audio book “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.” Become a Riehlife villager.(A 2011 SCN Star Blog)