Archives for category: General Musings

Some Mind of the Artist stories begin late in life, with a big change or sudden discovery.  Others, like Naomi’s, begin in childhood, evolving into the processes and materials that have come to define the artist’s practice.  Naomi’s story comes back to the art at the center of her life, although, like many of us, her journey has not necessarily been linear.  Naomi’s story, in her own words:

My mother tells me that when I was very young she thought I wouldn’t be very interested in art, because while the other children were drawing pictures of dogs and houses, I was scribbling patches of color across the paper. In a way I guess I’m still doing that in a different medium. Now it’s acrylic paints, pens, and sometimes bits of collage on large and small wood panels. I work out of my home studio in Washington, DC, where I live with my husband, young son, and daughter.

in a minute there is time

in a minute there is time

I began my formal art training at the high school of Music and Art and Performing Arts in New York City, where I was introduced not only to painting and drawing but also to printmaking, ceramics, and photography. In college at Washington University in St. Louis I majored in illustration, thinking it somewhat more practical than painting, and back in New York worked at a graphic design firm designing subway signs for the transit authority.

In 2001 I met my husband in a painting class at the Art Students League in NYC. We noticed each other across the nude model we were painting and have supported each other in our artistic pursuits ever since.

After September 11th work was slow and I left the graphic design firm where I worked to pursue another interest, teaching. I taught elementary school for ten years in New York and then Washington, DC until giving birth to my son in 2012 and deciding to take the time at home to revisit my art. The following year I had my first solo exhibition at the FoundryGallery in Washington, DC and from there began exhibiting and selling work. While it’s been challenging at times to find the time and space to paint while taking care of my children, it’s also given me balance, taught me the value of using my time productively, and most of all has let me to truly appreciate my time at the easel.

which way the world turns

which way the world turns

My paintings have evolved over the past several years from representational oil paintings to colorful acrylic abstractions based on pattern and geometry. Even as an illustrator in college I came to realize that I was less interested in creating figurative compositions and more excited by drawing patterns on a shirt or letting the leaves on a tree take on an abstract form.

My other obsession is color- I am endlessly fascinated by the way colors shift and clash when placed alongside each other, and this interest has become perhaps the most prominent aspect of my work. I’ve never been able to plan a painting in advance- even when I try the composition takes on its own life and I just need to follow along and listen to it.



To follow along and see more of my work and my process, you can find me on instagram @naomitaitzduffy and at my website,

Interested in learning more about the Capitol Hill Art League?

We’re three quarters of the way through our Mind of the Artist series here on the blog, and what better way to celebrate than with Rindy–inimitable CHAL chairperson and CHAW fixture!  Her story is one of creative evolution, and we are so excited to bring you a little insight into the art and lens of Rindy O’Brien.

Framing the World, by Rindy O’Brien

Ten years ago, I stepped away from my frenetic life as an environmental lobbyist. Digital photography was just coming into its own, so it seemed to be a logical step in restarting my art.

The digital camera functions were similar to the film camera, but the post-production was a whole different experience. No longer did you have to be cloistered in a dark basement room, breathing in toxic chemicals and swearing under your breath when film tore or paper spotted.

Suddenly, you could shoot as many frames as you wanted to, unlike film, where the cost of film, paper, and development limited the photographer. The software to take the digital files from camera to paper, Photoshop, opened up all kinds of tricks of the trade to improve a photograph. And over the past ten years, the technology of printers has vastly improved to where now an inkjet print is considered museum quality.

Garfield Park in Spring

Garfield Park in Spring, c/o Rindy O’Brien

When the world is your oyster (what an odd saying, but so true), photographers explore everything. I shudder to think of the thousands of poor frames I have taken over the years. Photographing for the Hill Rag as part of my monthly gardening column began to focus me on a body of work: photographing Capitol Hill throughout the seasons. It was a labor of love to produce a photographic book, @Home on the Hill, in 2011. The project had taken two and a half years to produce 50+ photographs.

In the course of the book, I switched back to a basic manual camera, the digital Leica M 8. The camera, a throwback to the old days, requires each frame to be set manually. The depth of field is set, no automatic focusing. Instead of being limiting, my creative life exploded.

I had to focus – choose how each frame looked through the small viewfinder. The world was now framed for me. I still could shoot as many photographs as I wanted, but by being forced to slow down, hand-focusing and setting the speed and light, I also began to choose my subjects more selectively, putting more creative intention into my work.

California Solo

California Solo, c/o Rindy O’Brien

I also began to think about what caught my eye as I raised the camera to take a picture. Color! My frames are full of intense color. It has become an important key to my successful images. Of course, light is the ingredient that makes the colors work and I have to work with the camera’s settings to capture it the way I want the photo to be seen. I also began to be bolder in making sure the person or object in my frame was positioned to be captured at its best.

It was returning to the more traditional photographic methods that helped me move from a person shooting photographs to an artist creating pieces of art by selecting just the right frame.

Learn more about CHAL here, and come check out their upcoming gallery opening at CHAW on June 11!

Happy spring!  This month, we’re diving into Kay Fuller’s light-filled studio in Capitol Hill and learning more about her journey to art.  It may have started later in life, but she has taken full ownership, even serving on the board of the CHAWsome Capitol Hill Art League.  Here’s Kay:

I am a native Washingtonian, but spent most of my adult life in Prince George’s County, where I raised my family. My first husband died in 1985, and I remarried in 1987 and moved to Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, where I paint in a wonderful, light-filled studio in our home.


MY ART: I was a cactus flower when it came to art and never picked up a paint brush until I was 62. Thank goodness I met an artist, Janice Beck, in 2005, who taught me how to use watercolor paint, while enjoying the ambience of Provence. The painting bug bit me hard and I started taking every class I could. Eventually, one of my teachers suggested that I enter my work in the student show, and then in local juried shows. I became a signature member of the Baltimore Watercolor Society and Potomac Valley Watercolorists. Then, I entered a national juried competition, the MFA “Strokes of Genius,” show and my painting, Abstract Landscape, was accepted and used on the postcard. Now, I belong to several other art organizations and serve on the steering committee of the Capitol Hill Art League and the Board of Governors of the Baltimore Watercolor Society.

Several years ago, my representational watercolors became mundane and soon morphed into expressionistic acrylics and collage pieces, and then into non-representational abstracts. Now my paintings go between representational and abstract. I find inspiration from other artists and workshop instructors. My husband is also an artist and we enjoy taking workshops and painting vacations together. My work can be viewed on my web site, and my blog,

CHAW and ME: My early watercolor painting instruction was from Gina Clapp at CHAW. She encouraged me to enter the CHAW student show and, later, to join the Capitol Hill Art League. I enjoy calling CHAW my home base.

Learn more about opportunities to pick up a paintbrush (or camera…or clay…or tap shoes…) for yourself at CHAW!

It’s that time again–wherein the CHAW blog is turned over to a fantastic member of the Capitol Hill Art League (CHAL), and we get to zoom inside his or her creative brain! This month, we’re talking to Margo Johnson, longtime art-lover, traveler, teacher, and more.  Read on to learn more about Margo and her process of capturing place.

Originally from Wilmington, Delaware, Margo is a lifelong student of the arts. Having taught art in the public school for 36 years, she was trained in the fine arts and later in education, receiving a B.S. from the University of Delaware and later, a graduate degree from West Chester University.

Margo began her interest in art while in high school. Her art teacher would take those who had a serious interest in art to various shows in Philadelphia and New York. She became enamored with the work of the impressionist artist Claude Monet and in later years, visited his home in Giverny. After seeing both the watercolors and oils and having visited many of the places that John Singer Sargent painted, she was deeply influenced by his style.

Margo Johnson, CHAL Artist

Her Greek roots are the primary influence in both her approach to painting as well as her love for the outdoors. When traveling, either in Europe or locally, Margo stays in one location long enough to get to know the people and observe the influence the environment has on them.

Margo Johnson, CHAL Artist

In painting oceans, in whatever country she finds herself, she tells a story and creates a feeling about the location. Her oceans are filled with lush, sensual colors that create a certain atmosphere. She relates and retells a story in a variety of visual ways.

Margo Johnson, CHAL Artist

In the painting of her landscapes, be they urban or fields, she tries to relate an impression of life in that location. Again, with her rich colors, she creates a feeling of what it is like to be there. Lighting and palette are primary in Margo’s creation of that feeling.

Margo Johnson, CHAL Artist

She fell in love with the art scene in Washington, DC when her son, Todd, was a rower at Georgetown University and she became “food Mom” for their rowing team. She made repeated trips to D.C., during which she made time for visiting local art galleries: including the Corcoran, the National Gallery, the Freer Gallery, and a variety of others. The diversity of the people as well as the art in D.C. is most appealing her as she incorporates the importance of place into her own artistic practice.

Margo has participated in a number of juried invitationals and exhibits in Wilmington, Delaware; Chester County, Pennsylvania; and Philadelphia.

Some of her awards include:

Darlington Art Center – Best in Show

Center for Creative Arts – 2nd Place Winner

Delaware Valley Art League – 2nd Place Winner

Art Along the River – Featured Artist





Welcome back to our Mind of the Artist series, featuring members of the Capitol Hill Art League (CHAL), a program of CHAW.  Today’s featured artist is Carolyn Rondthaler, an artist who came to painting later in life–and is an inspiration to anyone who feels like there’s no time to fit the arts into the day. Read on to hear her story in her own words!

I didn’t get serious about painting until I was in my late 40s. I sketched a little and made drawings for my family, but my real interest didn’t begin until I visited an aunt who was a watercolor artist and teacher. As she was showing me the paintings in her home, I remarked that I had always wanted to paint in watercolor. She looked at me very directly and said, “I don’t think so. Knowing you, if you wanted to do it, you would.”

Around the same time, I had a dream that I had found a room in my house with beautiful things that I had forgotten about. I understood that dream to refer to my creativity and interest in art, which I had neglected. I wrote about the dream in a journal and found I was writing more and more about painting. I realized that I could be doing art instead of writing about it, and gave up the journal. I was working out of town on a three-month assignment, but went to an art store one evening after work and put together a simple watercolor kit and started painting an hour every day—even though I was working full time. I gave up my writing time, but it was worth it.

P1060989 (2)When I returned home to Portland, Oregon after that work assignment, I enrolled in a watercolor class at a nearby art center. I was fortunate that the teacher was Dory Kanter, who has written a book called Art Escapes. Her book is pretty much like her classes, with exercises that are simple and help build confidence. She also teaches color triads, which have been useful for me as I continue painting. She no longer teaches, but definitely got me started.

P1060919My favorite paintings are plein air, and I have included a few DC plein air paintings. For more, please visit my website,, and also my art blog,

Check out more CHAL work at their March exhibition at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, co-hosted by CHAMPS (Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce), “Appetite for Art.” The opening will take place 5:00pm-7:00pm on Saturday, March 5th at CHAW, 545 7th St. SE, and is free and open to the public. The jurors, Deirdre Ehlen MacWilliams (public art expert) and Stephen Cheung (local restaurateur), will speak at 5:30pm and present awards to the prize-winning artists. General gallery hours are: 9:30 am–9:00 pm (M-Th), 9:30 am–6:00 pm (F), and 9:00 am–2:00 pm (Sat).  The exhibit will run March 5 through April 15 in the Gallery. For more information, visit, or call (202) 547-6839.

The next in our series of Capitol Hill Art League (CHAL) artist interviews, we’re excited to feature Jorge Luis Bernal as our final artist of 2015! Read more about his process and inspirations here, and join us right back here on the blog in January to kick off the new year with your monthly dose of Mind of the Artist.

We asked Jorge: What is your medium, and what inspires you to express yourself?

I work in clay, glass and jewelry, but most recently have been focusing on cold wax painting and encaustic monotypes, which have received numerous awards.

I’m best known for my non-representational visual language painting of form, color and line. My work investigates and creates compositions that exist with a degree of independence from the world of visual reference. The work is narrative and often references elements of architecture flowing from my architectural training. I create abstract representations of reality, imagination and cultural critiques, often-transparent forms referencing the landscape. I’m always investigating human emotions, history and universality merged with my own personal experience by mixing and combining opposites, playing with analogies and ambiguity through the fragmentation of images.

In addition to participating in numerous exhibitions, including multiple solo shows, in 2015, Jorge will be presenting his works in early 2016. We are lucky enough to get a preview of his Pueblo Series:

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“The Pueblo people are located primarily in New Mexico and are descendants of an indigenous Native American culture established over many centuries. The 19 Pueblos of New Mexico are: Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, and Zuni.

My most recent abstract painting are influenced by the brilliant light, colorful sunsets, earth tones, and ancient architecture of the American southwest, but most importantly by the Pueblo people who are rooted on this region. This body of work celebrates their art, culture and spirit.”

-Jorge Luis Bernal

Catch more of Jorge’s work at these shows in 2016:

Small Works Exhibit New Mexico Art League NMAL
3409 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque, December 1 through January 16, 2016

Horizons: Contemporary Landscapes – Duo Show with Eric Garner
Art Space Herndon April 5 to May 1, 2016
Reception April 9th
750 Center Street Herndon, Virginia

Or visit his work online here.

Thanks for a fantastic 2015! For more information or to attend a class or event at CHAW, come on over and visit our website, Facebook, or Twitter. Wishing you all a warm–and creative–holiday season.


Published novelist Hannah Sternberg is back on the blog to share thoughts and strategies for aspiring book marketers everywhere!

You can find a blog post somewhere on the internet supporting nearly any hypothesis you might have on book marketing. Authors should Tweet more, and less. Publishers should spend more on promo, but also step back from over-advertising. Everyone should engage with their fans, but not give away too much for free. It’s completely understandable if your head is spinning after your first few days of trying to educate yourself on the book world.

It’s true that things are changing fast, and in big ways, in how books are published and how they reach their audience. But certain things are eternal, and one of those things is that there is no magic formula that will make marketing your book easy, or guarantee success. I think that may explain some of the heightened emotions surrounding book marketing theories. Blog posts and articles on book marketing from authors, publishers, and bystanders are full of shoulds, don’ts, and other absolutes that imply it’s outrageous for someone to try it any other way — that your bad marketing isn’t simply ineffective, it borders on offensive. I think this probably springs from our shared bewilderment; we all desperately want to find that key that will open every door, and other ideas threaten the supremacy of our own acquired wisdom. If I don’t know that, do I really know anything?

As a marketing director, I’ve assisted in the promotion of multiple New York Times bestselling books. But as an author of two novels, I manage to sell just enough of my own books to buy a nice lunch once a month. The thing is, I consider both of these sides of my career to be successes.

The other eternal truth of book marketing is that every book, and every audience, is different; and those differences don’t just fluctuate based on the content of the book, but also the place and the time it’s released, and the goals of the author and publisher. That’s why it’s virtually impossible to pinpoint a single method that works every time. As a marketing director, I was promoting established authors, with the support and collaboration of a seasoned team of professionals. As an indie novelist, I’m just getting started establishing my reputation and building an audience, and I build my team as I go along — partnerships with places like CHAW and the library, local businesses, friends with a passion for marketing or design who are willing to offer their support in exchange for a silk scarf I have lying around, and the bartender at my local pub who keeps his copy of my book on the bar for people to pick up and explore.

That journey has put to the test my own marketing philosophy, which I developed over many years, starting in my childhood as the daughter of author Libby Sternberg and learning from her publishing adventures as well as my own. That philosophy: don’t write for financial success. Write only because you can’t live without writing. Market your books in the same way. If you’re seeking publication, it’s probably because some part of you seeks connection with your readers — to share the ideas and stories that you previously carried silently in your heart. I’m not telling people to give up on financial success; just don’t let it be your primary motive in marketing. That sounds counter-intuitive, and would give every sales director I’ve ever worked with a heart attack. (Sorry guys.) But readers can tell when you’re using them as a checkbook, and unless you’re already a top-tier bestseller, it’s going to be a major turnoff.

Instead, make connection your priority. How can you become more intimate with your readers? How can you make them part of the experience, rather than just a ticket-holder? How can your book change the world, you as an author make people’s hearts warmer, your story and your message bring people together? Build a community, and maybe financial success will follow. Maybe it won’t — sometimes financial success in the book world really does seem like a lightning strike, and maybe it will hit or maybe it won’t. But this way, whatever happens, you’ll be improving yourself as a person and making the world a little nicer, and that’s not a bad consolation prize at all.

That’s why I thought a brief class on book marketing would find a good home at CHAW, a place that’s all about arts and community-building. This is not a get-rich-fast book marketing class. You’ll get the basics of how the book biz works and how to navigate it as a first-time author, but I can’t promise you the magic formula to success. What we can do is talk about how to build a community around your writing that supports you and your readers, and maybe on the side experiment with ways to hoist your own financial lightning rod.

Hannah Sternberg is the author of Queens of All the Earth and Bulfinch, which was named a Notable Teen Book for 2014 by Shelf Unbound magazine. She is teaching a three-week book publishing and marketing seminar at CHAW on Monday nights in May and June. Register here.

It’s tough to catch teaching artist and master engraver Will Fleishell without a pencil in his hand or out from behind the printing press–so when he took some time out to answer a few of our most wide-ranging questions over a lunch break, we were especially grateful. Check out his thoughts on the importance of drawing, the benefits of working from the figure, the role of the studio community, and many more insights below–and you can find Will in-person (though don’t count on him being without a pencil) at CHAW every other Friday, facilitating our Figure Drawing class.  Click HERE to learn more and register, and experience Will’s creative energy in person…if you can catch him!

1) What drew you (no pun intended) to drawing?

Drawing has been an integral part of my existence since childhood and art is my profession as an adult. I was told as a boy by my father that if I could learn to draw beautifully I could always make a living. My dad was also a professional artist, and he was from an old German-American printing family here in DC, and growing up I never heard the derogatory epithet,  “starving artist.” Creating images and three-dimensional structures out of basically dead materials – and breathing life into these inanimate and otherwise useless objects can be a real high.  When it goes right, a drawing, painting, or sculpture can inspire and even change how we all see – we can literally change the world with art if it is seen in the right time and place. This might be a form of power- but it can also make the world better- and turn a dismal situation into a lot of fun!  Drawing is the foundation of visual art and it needs to be practiced regularly to achieve and maintain competency and fluency.

2) What do you particularly love about figure drawing?

I often make use of figure drawings to create printing plates on copper or paintings. These figure drawings by themselves are often exhibit-grade material as finished pieces ready for framing, as I have been known to spend many hours on a single drawing.  I have made ceramic plaques, carvings, and sculptures based on drawings I have done from live models. Sometimes in our open drawing I will create scenes that we carry through from week to week to form a kind of multiple figure composition. Not everyone wants to try to tackle this, but I find it makes for a lively approach and enlivens the atmosphere to try new things like this. We often discuss future ideas for poses and I ask the participants for their own ideas. Last Friday, for example, we were working with a woman who posed in ballerina’s attire based on a Degas sculpture. The best part is that it was the idea of one of our regulars.

3) What is the most challenging part of drawing from life?

Since ancient times, the human figure has been the benchmark and part of the canon of all fine art and even architecture – and  the understanding and depiction of the human figure makes it easier to ascertain and to grasp the complexities of the world and universe. Drawing from a live human being uses all of your faculties  of observation and concentration. It is a real living  person and, as such, is alive and moving and so you must improvise at all times. The improvisation is a big part of the fun.

Art and science both meet in the human figure: even medical science recognizes the study of the human appearance. A doctor who regularly attends open drawing told me that now that he knows about drawing, he could likely learn as much about  human anatomy by drawing from the figure than most medical schools can teach with books. Figure drawing and study has a very long academic tradition in the western world, and is also recognized in other cultures as critical. Aside from these larger issues, the great works of art in the past  were all based on some sort of  human  pictorial centerpiece – and artists love to work drawings from pure study into their own more elaborate and complex compositions. It is akin to a scientist pursuing pure research – the purest form of inquiry. The most basic approach to learning is observation. Once you master even a part of it, it keeps drawing you back and you cannot get away from it!

Painting and line drawing from life or imagination is my own love and joy in art. Sculpture and three-dimensional art is also a form of perfection – I would love to pursue this more but space demands limit my access to the practice of sculpture. Figure drawing is a perfect form of exploration for new art ideas and compositions. Printmakers, painters, and sculptors who are enamored of classical art find solace and truth in the human form and in the elegance of a finished beautiful drawing.  I am  particular about observationally-based art and do not work at all from photographs for my own art. Understandably in the real world at large – when doing a portrait or commission, for instance – photos must sometimes  be used. But in the best of worlds, observation-based classical art is the way to go for me, personally. There are so many reasons for this that it cannot be put down in writing. The doing of it makes it all become more clear than words can convey. Observation and nature are the  ultimate and most basic sources for great art.

4) What is special about the CHAW community in your figure drawing classes?

As an additional aspect of figure drawing in a studio setting, one must not ignore the community at large. Some artists are so  ultra-focused on their own work as to hibernate into a shell and leave the world out.  All of the greatest artists engaged the world at large and became a part of it; in fact, celebrated it in one way or another. Having people around you as you are working is a healthy thing – it makes you not forget your ultimate role as an artist. Placing human figures into real settings with props and scenery is a way of making these studies relevant and useful.

None of this practice is a waste. Big things come from small things.

I always admire anyone who is willing to take time after a hard day of work to tackle a drawing and make something of it. To try something different like this is not an easy thing to do.  For myself this is a normal part of my everyday existence as I draw in some way every day- indeed, it is my business and livelihood; but, for someone new, it is a complete challenge. I always try to support these people as much as I can in the open drawing and to try to help them to bring out what is best. Positive words and feelings can go a long way to bring forth inspiration. Even if someone is inexperienced or does not yet feel that his or her work is “good,” there is always a kernel of honesty and  truth in what they are trying to convey if they are truly observing and striving to interpret what is in front of them. The people in the room working with you certainly have an influence on you. To ignore this is to pretend that you are not a part of this world. Humility is the key to advancing for all of us in all pursuits  in life. I always encourage people to get up and to walk around the room to see what others are doing.

You are not alone.

CHAW  Open Drawing offers the artist who is interested in drawing from life the chance to work from a living nude model for an extended period of time in the same pose. We have kept to this  standard for many years, as we have both serious painters  and draftsmen interested in creating more finished artworks or taking the time to seriously learn how to draw the human figure.  Some of our participants are there for practice, others for  learning, while still others want to try something new in art that they have not done before. We have had plenty of people who were drawing in high school or college, or who took lessons at one time or another, who wish to take up serious drawing again.

Being able to sit down and to focus on a single subject for 3 hours or more is not for the inexperienced, and I recommend prior drawing experience.  It takes patience and endurance. This is why we often lubricate the situation with shared food and drink, and play music on the radio to soothe the savage beast in our souls and to calm us down a bit after a hard week’s work at our day jobs.  We are not necessarily completely quiet, either – we often talk of art  shows, experiences, artists we admire or dislike, and many contemporary issues that thinking people engage with.

Hearing performances or events in other rooms at CHAW can also inspire, amuse, and excite the artists working from the figure. We get ideas from what is around us: we have had Shakespearian actors and actresses from the black box theatre  model for us in the garb of the latest play in which they had acted, and we sometimes put our models against backgrounds  evocative of historical or exotic locations.

5) Can you share a particularly memorable anecdote from a CHAW figure drawing session?

One time a violent thunder storm was raging outside while we were  working from the figure. It was a Saturday afternoon, the sky had darkened, and, in some ways, it made for a cozy time being safe, dry, and inside, doing something we all wanted to be doing. Suddenly we all heard a large and very loud CRACK just outside the window. All of us jumped and ran to the large windows just in time to see a huge branch from one of the street trees come down on a Lexus SUV. It missed the houses and buildings and no one was injured, but the Lexus was a total scrap heap. Soon, police showed up to tape off 7th street and  make it safe until city workers could chainsaw the remains and cart them away. Wow- this was a real shocker. It sure was frightening. At least nobody was hurt. Even a destructive storm can inspire the artist!

Oops, I missed my lunch break…

[We owe you a sandwich, Will!]

It may still feel like winter, but here at CHAW, we’re busily preparing for one of our most favorite times of the year: Summer Camp! This year, we are particularly excited to be offering camps for all ages, from Pre-K all the way up through high school. Each program will invite, challenge, and inspire the creative spirit in campers and counselors alike, and we can’t wait for long, sunny days–and the wonderful energy of kids–to envelop the building. What will your CHAW Summer look like? Find out more and REGISTER NOW on our website for Early Childhood, Youth, Middle School, and High School programs. And read on to hear straight from camp director Leslie Mansour what makes summer at CHAW so…well, CHAWsome!

1. What is special about CHAW camp?

The experience, the community, the art–really experiencing art in the type of environment we create.  The staff care so much, all the way down to the 13-year-old classroom interns.  And the relationships that are developed are significant.  It’s not just about getting through the day for us: it’s about the relationships you build and the things you learn about yourself and art.  That feeling of belonging is huge.  You’re accepted for who you are.  The staff work one-on-one not only to teach art, but also how to be a good friend, a better listener, and how to take ownership of choices–it’s who they are.  Not a lot of camps hold kids to that kind of responsibility.  We take the time to sit down and have a real dialogue about important things–I mean, they’re KIDS!  Of course they don’t know how to sit still–they shouldn’t be punished, they should be taught.  Everything at CHAW is a learning opportunity.  We love the kids–we learn as much from them as they learn from us–to be patient, to be curious, to give and take.  Children have value.  How they feel matters.  Their opinion, their voice matters–they have a voice at CHAW camp.

To us, it’s not “just” an arts camp, because art is life.  Everything we do should focus and have art incorporated into it.  So kids are not just coming in to learn about art: they’re learning about life, about themselves, and about how to fit into the world genuinely and not lose sight of that.  Art keeps the focus on those authentic feelings of identity and the community you belong to–and art provides a lens on how you can change the world with that perspective.

2. What are you most excited about?

Oh, wow. Some of the new camp offerings–getting back together with staff–having a great time planning activities and field trips–seeing returning campers and meeting new ones…there’s so much!

With the new camps, I’m really excited for the programming we’re doing for teens (middle and high school).  I feel that this is an underserved group, and sometimes the offerings out there don’t allow this age group to be as mature as they want to be treated.  CHAW’s new offerings give them the opportunity to feel like they are part of a more collaborative setting and environment as opposed to going to camp to be a “kid.”  These are intensives, institutes, workshops, training–a step further into a more adult world because they are becoming adults, but they don’t have to let go of all the youthfulness, either.

3. Favorite camp memories?

Everything always feels like such a blur–this year, I’m gonna write ’em down daily!  But watching the kids really finish their pieces–when they take a step back and feel good about what they’ve created…trips to the splash park by Navy Yard, where the kids are so happy and a lot of friendships are made…and just riding in the van, singing repeat-after-me songs. It’s so much fun to see them get excited and loud…but instead of screaming, they’re singing!

4. What might surprise people about CHAW Summer camp?

We collaborate with a lot of other artists and organizations throughout the summer.  For example, last summer we invited a gourmet Egyptian chef to come because we were studying Egypt.  She was able to talk about the country and share Egyptian lemonade and donuts, which gave the kids such a great perspective. It would surprise people to know that kids aren’t just coming into the building, doing art, going on trips, and going home, but rather getting exposed to all kinds of different artists, perspectives, and lenses on the topics they’re learning about.  Last year we also had a comic art installation, and one of the artists came in to talk and answer questions.  The kids could even interact and draw on the installation, and their work was displayed throughout the summer.

There’s something really special about all the connections that happen with guest visitors, and the tie-ins with other cultures as well as with local people, organizations, and exhibits.

5. What’s your favorite thing about summer?

I don’t know what just happened, but I just started tearing up!  There’s something about summer at CHAW that feels like home. There’s so much excitement; there are new friendships, new opportunities to learn–and a sense of freedom in the building even though days are structured and organized.  It’s a breath of fresh air and the days are long and anything feels possible.  It’s like being back with old friends.  That’s especially true for me, since I’m working in a completely different capacity in the summer and can spend substantive time with the other counselors and the kids in a really meaningful way .  Kids are so funny and have such humorous, insightful comments, and to watch them change and grow throughout the summer–it makes your heart hurt a little, just swell up, thinking about all of the possibilities of who they can be.  CHAW is just the vehicle and the meeting point–they’re the ones who are doing it, they’re transforming themselves.

CHAW Teaching Artist Hannah Sternberg is back on our blog with her #CHAWsome writing tips for aspiring and experienced creative writers alike.  Hannah is a published novelist whose latest book, Bulfinch, was named a Notable Teen Book of 2014 by “Shelf Unbound.”  Learn more about Hannah and her books at, and click HERE to check out (and register for!) creative writing classes at CHAW.

When people say writing is “hard work,” they’re talking about writing transitions. A transition is any part of the story that takes us from one scene to another, whether it’s a leap in time or a change of place or cast. Transitions aren’t just what you see on the page — they also represent the logic and context that hold a story together.

Everyone who has ever been angry knows how to write a scene — we imagine scenes in which we deliver the perfectly-worded speech, and justice is meted out to our wrongdoers in the most poetic form possible. Moving on from imagining scenes out of anger, to imagining all sorts of different scenes, is simply a product of loosening up and rediscovering our childlike ability to daydream. What slows us down, and convinces too many people that they just can’t finish that novel they’ve always dreamed of, is the hard work of writing transitions. Unlike scene writing, which is often a product of daydreaming, transition writing tends to be a product of analysis, story logic, revision, and problem-solving. In other words, it’s less spontaneous, sexy, and fun.

If individual scenes are pearls, transitions are the string that turns the pearls into a necklace. I’ve heard from a lot of writers who have plenty of pearls, but have misplaced their string. They have a great beginning and ending but don’t know how to get from one to the other, or they have a great collection of scenes — sort of like set pieces in a play — that they want to incorporate into a longer work, but don’t know how.

Transitions really get a bad rep among writers because they are the seemingly most boring, difficult, and least spontaneous parts of a novel-length story. But they’re actually the most important. If you change your attitude toward the transitions that are tripping you up, you’ll discover that they can be sources of transformative creativity.

Take this example: I decide I’m going to write a novel about a Wall Street banker who has a horrible day. Everything that could possibly go wrong, does. His life is falling down around his ears, but at the end of the day, while he’s sitting in a huge and nearly empty church, hanging his head and contemplating the failure of his life, he encounters a small boy and has an earnest conversation with him that changes everything. Maybe I decide to write this story because the first thing I imagined was that conversation, and the rest of the scenes came naturally because daydreaming about the many ways a person’s day could go wrong is something nearly everyone can do with ease — even if they’re not writers.

Then I get to the major sticking point of the story, the one that makes me want to give up, or make up something trite and easy to get it over with: why does the banker walk into the church? I tell myself it’s not an important detail, because the important part, in my mind, is what happens inside. But that transitional moment between fully-formed scenes is actually what has the potential to give my story a level of depth, relatability, and internal consistency that raises it from a daydream to a cohesive narrative.

This question of why he walks into the church can reveal a lot about the character. Did he grow up in a church-going family? Has he been to church recently? Is this on his usual walk home or is he in a different part of town? Has he seen this church before, or did he not know it was there? Did he hear or see something inside that drew him in? Is he in the habit of peering into open doors, or does he normally pay attention to the sounds of the street around him? Did the architecture appeal to him in a special way?

Answering that simple question of why he enters the church has now become a pivotal part of the story. All transitions contain these two questions: why and how did your characters get from one scene to the next? What is driving them?

If a transition to a scene you’ve already imagined is giving you a lot of trouble, the problem might not be the transition — the problem may be your overall story logic. You have to look beyond the one sticking point and ask yourself whether the entire story needs an overhaul to make things work — or whether it’s time to sacrifice one of the scenes you’d imagined earlier on, now that it no longer fits with the direction of the story.

In college, I had a film professor who told us you never get to make the movie you see in your head. You just get closer and closer to it every time you try. Writing is the same — the moment you begin, things start to change. The beautiful pearls that you thought were perfect when you first found them in your mind now have to be sanded and polished to fit the string and make a necklace.

What we often think is a difficulty writing transitions is really a difficulty coming to terms with the idea that the story you are working on is no longer precisely the one you started off thinking you were going to work on.

I’ve published two novels and completed several more. I usually feel ready to begin writing a story idea when I can imagine the ending. (This isn’t a general rule, just a personal practice.) I’ll go ahead and write the ending first, then go back and start from the beginning. However, by the time I make it to the ending, I have to rewrite it. The first few times this happened, I thought the problem was figuring out how to connect the previous scenes with the ending I’d already written. It took me a while to realize that I struggled with the transition because the ending no longer fit where the story had gone. The problem was not the transition, but a gap in story logic. But each time I’ve done this, I’ve also had to rewrite slightly less. Each time I write a book, it gets a little closer to the book in my head. My trouble with transitions was not a problem connecting scenes, but the process of transitioning from idea to reality.