Tag Archives: Janet Riehl

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.






Gold Medal Award for my father’s anthology  “Worth Remembering: The poetry of our heritage (and some of the stories).” Photo by Janet Riehl


by Janet Grace Riehl

Forget Penis Envy, Girls. Art Envy is what will do you in. Crank up the envy and watch your creative life drop dead in its tracks. It’s marked by a feeling of “If only…” and “Why not me…?” and “If I had…I could also…” and “Drat! Why are they getting the Pulitzer Prize? I stayed up later and turned in my homework on time.”

Maybe we envious types are sucked dry by our own envy. All that energy churning around in the gut instead of going into our art. All that attention plummeting outward instead of delving inward to nurture our art.  They have the talent and we don’t. They have the support and we don’t. They don’t work nearly as hard as we do, yet they win all the prizes and get the curtain calls. What’s up with that! And, heck, if I had computer equipment like that and my own study. And if I had a spouse who cooks, cleans, edits my work, and markets for me. Well, clearly, I could be successful, too.

While some of us are more plagued by Art Envy than others, I wonder how many creative people in the world have not felt this way—even a little—at some time or another?

Oh, dear. What to do?

  • Claim it and Name it. “Hello, my name is Janet, and I am struck dumb by Art Envy.”
  • Make it funny. A close friend and I use this formula to shift our view of situations that irk us. “It was sad, really, when Janet was struck dumb by Art Envy.” I mean, really, can you keep a straight face. Not us. We burst out in rollicking guffaws.
  • Up a tree without a paddle. Climb a tree with paper and pencil. See how long your hand can keep going until your legs can’t wrap around that limb anymore. Don’t fall! Be part of that Greater Mystery.
  • Declare Victory. What are your solid accomplishments? Make a gold medal with a blue ribbon. Invite your friends to an Acknowledgement Ceremony. You do have friends, right? “I, Janet, really have done some useful things in my life. So have others. Isn’t that a good thing?”

Have you experienced Art Envy? How did you give yourself a little more space to be yourself, just as you are, with whatever you have and don’t have? How did you find a way to write on?


 Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog. See the Creative Catalyst archive at http://bit.ly/9z1BQv.  Learn more about our audio book “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music”at http://bit.ly/aZVd1e. Become a Riehlife Villager at http://www.riehlife.com

11 Creative Catalyst Nudges for 2011

All you really need

By Janet Grace Riehl

Kendra Bonnett and Matilda inspired me to think in terms of eleven for 2011. Here are eleven Creative Catalyst nudges for growing yourself and your writing in 2011. Browse the Creative Catalyst archives to learn more.

1)      You know you want it. You want to write. Keep that at the forefront. Keep coming back to that wish to express, play, and find meaning through words.

2)      But, do you know why? Healing? Truth? Beauty? Connection? Fame and Fortune? You name it and you’re on your way to getting it.

3)      Who wants to know? You?  Family? Friends? Your next door neighbor? Your New York Publisher?

4)      “Dear Memoir.” What project will you focus on in 2011? Tell yourself all about it—I mean all about it—in a long letter addressed to your project. “Dear Memoir, I know we haven’t spoken lately, but I want you to know that you are 218 pages, have 18 chapters, and cover the period in my life when I crashed parties.”

5)      Mind your knitting. Set up a work schedule. Yes, we said work. Having a structure tells your creative self that “It’s time now. Go knit. Someone’s waiting for that sweater.”

6)      Hey, it’s just a draft! Use permission-giving techniques such as free-writing, clustering, cross-hand dialogue, and directed contemplative writing. Get it down. No one can read the print inside your head. It’s too dark there.

7)      Fall in love. When you love your writing, it loves you back. That passionate call and response between you and your work drives you to go deeper.

8)      How am I doing so far? What kind and degree of support do you need? Assurance that you’re on the right track?  Each writer needs her own combo. Maybe you need to write with the door closed before you let others step inside to bounce on the furniture. Or maybe a writing buddy or a critique group will help re-arrange your furniture.

9)      Soup’s on! Soup requires good stock filled with bones and vegetable peelings that simmer together all day. Strain it and start adding the good stuff. What’s the stock that marries all the flavors and sustains you? Maybe it’s a spiritual path. Maybe it’s love of family. Maybe it’s your creative broth.  Is there anything you need to strain from your soup? What are the practical vegetables you’ll  put in your 2011 soup?  Who does the dishes? What about money? And, of course, the spice: Can we go away for the weekend?

10)  Reach back and fetch it. Look at your diaries, letters, photographs, and treasured objects. What stories do they hold that you can use now? Stephanie Farrow and I call this work “Harvesting.”  We’ll be sowing, growing, and reaping this topic in our next cycle of 2011 posts.

11)  Don’t stop now! Some of us are sprinters and some are more geared to marathons. Even sprinters such as myself can complete a marathon if we run in bursts from marker to marker. Keep up your motivation and momentum until you break the tape to gasp and grin like a fool at a race well run.

Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog. Learn more about our audio book Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.” Become a Riehlife villager.

Retreating to Advance: Do-It-Yourself Writing Retreat

All you really need for a writing retreat.

by Janet Riehl

Quite often when we want to focus on our writing, we sign up for a group retreat. These serve as get-away creative vacations.

We go to an exotic place and study with someone Who Ought to Know. We drop a chunk of change. We leave inspired, pack our notes and the addresses for wonderful new friends. We may even have done a bit of writing. Group retreats may help us develop craft or spur our motivation. They have their place.

But, there is another choice: a Do-It-Yourself writing retreat. It’s cheaper and deeper. You are in charge. You pick the place and set your own structure and goals.  Writing down the goals and structure for your retreat makes you accountable to yourself.  Talking these over with a writing buddy may help you, too. Here are some questions to get you thinking.


1) Motivation. Why do you want to go on a solitary writing retreat? Do you need to live without distractions and responsibilities to others for awhile? Do you need chunks of time to increase your productivity? Do you want to gain greater self-reliance? Or?

2) Purpose. What do you want to accomplish? Will you work on a project? Write on a theme? Journal to heal and gain guidance? Select a skill to practice to develop your craft? Or?


The structure you design for your retreat contains you and your work.  Setting limits provides boundaries and paradoxically leads to greater creative freedom.

1)  Location. Where will your retreat take place? Will you weave larger chunks of time into your daily life at home? Will you travel? Or?

Although I’m not Catholic I’ve gone on several solo writing retreats at Catholic retreat places and loved it. These places are inexpensive, beautiful, inspiring, and quiet. Once I brought my own food to cook in a cozy kitchen. Another time I ate in a private dining room by myself. A third time I ate at a long table with the monks. What a social feast!

2) How long? Will your retreat be a day trip, a weekend, a week or more?

3) Schedule. Set up a daily routine—as loose or tight as you like. Make it fit to serve you and your purpose. Do you need to rest? Then wake up on your own time before setting about your daily schedule. Set times for meals, daily writing periods, walks, and reading. You can flex these, but start with a plan.

4) Make your writing periods realistic. Intersperse writing with planned breaks. You can vary these as needed. Fifteen minutes for free writing followed by lying down to look at the ceiling? An hour followed by a snack and stretch? Two hours followed by a walk in the woods? Or?

5) Get in the swing right away. Habit is our friend. We’ll bring habits with us, and develop new ones.  What we learn about our work and ourselves on solo retreat strengthens us and our work when we return home.

When you end your retreat, feel your gratitude for this time, this place, and the writing you’ve done. You’ll want to go again, and I bet you will.


Pose questions about practical creativity;give ideas for future cycle themes ;and join in the dialog. Browse the Creative Catalyst archive: http://bit.ly/9efgit

Learn more about our audio book “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music”http://bit.ly/aZVd1e.

6.3 Multi-talented Roads to Roam: Diverge & Converge

Two roads by Janet Riehl & Stephanie Farrow

Robert Frost had to choose between only two roads diverging in a yellow woods. Today we have to choose among a bewildering series of clover leaf exchanges connecting high-speed freeways. As we travel the interconnecting paths of our multi-talents, how can we possibly decide which creative roads to take? What will help us traverse the interconnected web of deciding which projects to undertake and which creative disciplines to use?

Using divergent and convergent thinking is a way to avoid the traffic jams having multi-talents can drive us to. Identified by J. P. Guilford in 1967, divergent and convergent thinking are tools for problem solving. Divergent thinking explodes outward from a central point of origin. It’s a tool to expand choices. Think of a cluster diagram or physics vector graph Convergent thinking is a tool to compress choices. It moves ideas back toward a point of origin. One is not better than the other. Both can be useful tools in decision-making.

Divergent Thinking in Action

With divergent thinking you discover along the way. Rather than stopping at what is already defined, you make something new. How? By creating your own definitions.

Try this: Cluster or mind-map your ideas as they arise.  Then use the idea bubbles to freewrite about what you want to know more about. You’ve just generated options you can build from.

Review each bubble and the web of connections in the cluster diagram. For freewriting read your work; circle key ideas and underline sentences or phrases that shine. These beginnings set a foundation for making choices, solving problems, and launching into your writing project.

Convergent Thinking in Action

Creativity can be stifled by chaos. To bring order to your creative universe, 1) search for themes, patterns, and commonalities among your choices; 2) Analyze categories that emerge from your original idea; and, 3) Ask yourself what pulls you towards a particular choice. What pushes you away?

Don’t be afraid to explore your different talents. At the same time, don’t let too many choices become overwhelmingly confusing. Include balanced sanity as part of your creative goal.

Use these tips to gain clarity:

· Ask yourself: Can I say “yes” to all the possibilities I
uncovered through divergent thinking? Do I feel comfortable with the
simplification convergent thinking provided?

· Be like Oprah Winfrey. Say “no” as easily as you say “yes.

· Accept that life is the art of improvisation.

Choose a creative road to roam. Walk to the next fork and choose a path to follow. Don’t fret about getting lost. Soon enough you’ll find your way home, enriched by your exploration.


Pose questions about practical
creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog. Learn more about creating connections through the arts and across cultures at http://www.riehlife.com.
And, heh!
“Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music” won an award at the San Francisco Book Festival http://bit.ly/aZVd1e.


Put Story Poems in Your Memoir Tool Box!

Two metal lawn chairs


by Janet Grace Riehl with Stephanie Farrow

During Stories from the Heart V (February 5-7, 2010 in Austin, Texas) Story Circle Network’s National Memoir Conference will be
abuzz with myriad ways of storytelling. Among these workshops will be mine: “Story
Poems: A Tool for Writing Our Stories.”

The story-poem is an often-overlooked form for telling our stories. We’ll discuss the genre and its unique niche in storytelling. We’ll compare samples of prose and story poems. Then you’ll practice turning your own prose into a story poem.

What is a story poem? A story poem combines highly compressed narrative, musing, and observation using poetic techniques such as alliteration, imagery, and metaphor. In the story poem, as in prose, the sentence rather than the line is the primary unit.

Besides introducing the story poem genre, we’ll examine when the form is
best used. What are its advantages and disadvantages as a writing tool? Would your own writing projects benefit from using or borrowing from the story poem form?

Poetry is an excellent genre for memoir because it condenses the story, handles emotion deftly, and is open to non-linear constructions. The story poem fosters dialogue, character, event, and understated language.  Being familiar with story poems allows you to see your story from a different perspective. They are also good teachers of craft elements that make your writing strong.

To learn more about story poems and my work browse three links from Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler’s Women’s Memoirs

Read story poem as memoir tool here.

Listen to a recording of our discussion on
story poems as memoir

Check out Kendra’s review my audio book “Sightlines:
A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music”


Become a Riehlife Villager at http://www.riehlife.com








Cycle 4.2 Critique–Group Ears, Eyes, Voice, and Heart

Wizard altar 4 weblog

by Janet Grace Riehl with Stephanie Farrow

We want to do good and help our sister writers. We join groups to do just that. When like minds come together with the same purpose—intent on trust, kindness, and truth—everyone benefits. How do critique groups produce virtuous rather than vicious circles?





Doing Good

· A good match between writer and group encourages writing. Thoughtful critique makes work stronger.

· Beyond the individual piece by the individual writer critique offers the entire group lessons in effective writing. What is good writing? How do we do it? How do we communicate beyond ourselves? Discerning critique opens our eyes to new ways of thinking and confirms what we’ve already intuited or believed.

Who are you as a group?

Know what kind of group you are. Here are a few possibilities.

1) Witnessing—Story Circles “encourage and facilitate story-sharing” without analysis or correction. Susan Albert in “Writing From Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story,” says: We are mutual presences, simply, and in that attentive being-with, that delicate, careful listening, we help one another bring forth—ourselves.” (p.12)

2) Listening Back is a term I coined as an alternative to “feedback”. How can you be useful and specific in your comments while creating a cozy, supportive environment? Clive Matson’s “syngenetic workshop” (having the same origin) illustrates a version of listening back.

Clive’s Crazy Child process is based on the writing itself. Group members take notes on the piece they’re hearing and reading in order to repeat memorable lines exactly; clearly and positively they say why these work. The author also takes notes and speaks only at the end. (Clive’s complete process is on Pp. 16-17 “Let the Crazy Child Write.”)

3) Craft-based or genre-based groups focus on developing writing skill in more detail. Such groups may be directed towards refining work to present to the marketplace.

How to Critique?

Be a Girl Scout: trustworthy, kind, and truthful.

Trust.  Act and speak so that each writer in the group feels that her work is respected.

Kindness. You would never say to a new mother “What an ugly baby!” Remember that the writer is showing you her literary baby.

Truth. If your group is one that gives feedback, make it specific, honest and respectful.

Kindergarten Rules: Structure

Choose someone to facilitate the group. You might choose to rotate this role. The facilitator keeps the critique on track and redirects unhelpful  feedback. A timekeeper is useful as well.

Set up levels of feedback. These levels provide ready made goals for each person’s turn. Ask the writer what she wants and address only that. For example, does she want her piece to be witnessed as she reads it? Does she have a specific question about craft (perhaps pacing or length)? Is she open for a broad band response? Grammar and nitpicking is off the board.

What did you like? The humor? Beautiful language? Skillful structure? The idea behind it? Specific passages? Be specific.

Follow up with concerns and suggestions. Is the writing clear? Is the language appropriate to the genre? Where and how can she improve her writing? Be specific.

Manuscripts at the ready. When we have the written words in front of us, we can more easily be helpful and specific. Small changes can be noted in the margins. These copies go back to the author at the end of the critique with names at the top.

Note it! In addition to individual notes on the manuscript, appoint a recorder to capture group responses and suggestions during the discussion.

Anything else? Have you addressed the writer’s questions? The writer may want to follow up on comments.

With practice and attention your critique group can, as Denise Levertov says, allow each woman “to say or sing all that she can, and to deal with as much of the world as becomes possible to  her in language”.

How does the writer contribute to a good critique? Tune in next month.


Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog in the comment section below.

See the Creative Catalyst archive at: http://storycircle.typepad.com/scn/creativity/

Go to http://www.riehlife.com to sign up for a free download of a 10-minute audio from“Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music.”