Thursday, August 09, 2012

Interviews as Inspiration ~ Lesley Riley

This is the fifth of a series of Interviews as Inspiration. I'm inviting people I admire; artists, authors, people I know, and people I don't. It should be fun! and hopefully inspirational for both you and me. 

Lesley Riley

I first met Lesley Riley 2006, when I took one of her workshops. At the time she was art director for a new magazine, ClothPaper Scissors, and she interviewed me for Jan/Feb 2007 issue, it literally launched my career nationally and internationally.

Jane LaFazio: Tell us what you do.
Lesley Riley: I am a present day alchemist, spinning straw into gold. To get all Wikipedia on you, “the heart of alchemy is spiritual. Transmutation of [straw] into gold is presented as an analogy for personal transmutation, purification, and perfection. This approach is often termed 'spiritual', 'esoteric', or 'internal' alchemy." 

I see myself as a woman who helps others turn their own straw into gold, whether it is through coaching and mentoring, teaching, inspiring others via my own art and writing, or by just being there and sharing how I turn my own straw into gold.

Self Portrait by Lesley Riley
JL: Where do you live?
LR:I've lived in Bethesda, Maryland for the last 56 years. Come August 1,my husband and I will take up residence in the main house of a beautiful thoroughbred horse farm just north of Frederick Maryland. A dream come true.

Journal Quilt by Lesley Riley
JL:   You’re known as a wonderful teacher and fiber artist and now creativity coach. Can you tell us a bit about your path to Artist Success coach this stage in your career? 
LR:  I wanted to be an artist as far back as I can remember. There was one major problem - I couldn't draw realistically. I mistakenly thought that meant I didn't have the artist gene. I thought artists were born, not created. I turned to crafts, quilting in particular, to satisfy my creative urge. I was fascinated by the creative process and what made some people artists and others not. I read something that said that you had to learn to "see" like an artist. Wow! What were they seeing that I wasn't? And so the quest to find out began.

This was decades before the internet, so I read everything I could get my hands on – and that wasn’t much. I became a student of creativity. For a time I set aside any actual creating to grow a family and a business but stayed connected through my self-directed studies.

Years went by and I began to feel there was something missing in my life. I realized I was missing my art, the act of creating (something besides babies!). Still, I didn’t do anything about until the summer of 1989. I was sitting in a darkened theater watching Field of Dreams and Kevin Costner's character spoke of his father, "He had dreams all his life but he never did anything about them." I felt like he was talking to me and knew I had to take action.

To make a long story short, I found my voice, built a website to share my vision, was asked to teach, and basically got "out-there." I had been preparing for this all along so I was ready when the universe stepped in to make my dreams come true. More and more opportunities began to come to me - a request to write a book, to send in art for an articles, to write articles, and the most rewarding, the connections and friendships that would lead to more opportunities, not just for me, but for others. And that's how I met you, Jane. I’d like to share that story with your readers, OK?

You were a student in my summer workshop at Idyllwild Arts (so talented I might add, but your readers already know that!) You showed me a photo of a wonderful piece you were working on, Ralph’s Letters.  At that time I was the Arts Editor of the new magazine, Cloth Paper Scissors and knew it would make a perfect article. It was really a joy to introduce you to the rest of the world.

Finding, inspiring, encouraging and promoting the talent of others has always more rewarding to me than anything I ever did for myself. A few years later I realized that I had been preparing for my role as a coach and mentor to other artists all along. I knew it was time to get "out there" on this new path and Artist Success was created.

Lesley Riley's family

JL:  I've got to bring up the fact that you raised 6 children, while accomplishing so much in your career. How were you able to balance it all?
LR:  The short answer is day-by-day. The deeper one is a riff on that old saying, “The more you have to do, the more you get done.” Having 6 children trains you (gradually) to become a master at systems management, communication, prioritizing and doing it all with love and a smile. As my husband said to me frequently when I was about to fall apart from it all, “The only way out is through it.” So through it I went. In order to do it with a smile I learned that taking time for myself and my art was the only way to survive.

Lesley Riley

JL:  I love that you are a blog radio host! What’s that job like? 
LR:  I have had a lifelong curiosity about the creative process and how one becomes an artist. When the opportunity to host the radio show fell into my lap I said without a blink, “I’ll do it.” So now, every other Monday on Art & Soul radio I get to ask artists all the things I wanted to know way back when. I know (most of) the answers now but part of my purpose in life is to help uncover every woman’s buried, forgotten or untapped creativity or to just make them feel good about themselves. I do it for the listeners. The radio show is another means to further my message and live my purpose. Besides it’s so much fun talking ART!
Collections by Lesley Riley

JL:  One of your newest ventures is The Red Thread art retreat. Tell us how this came about.
LR:  The Red Thread Retreat is a lifelong dream. Visions need time to grow, but also time for the right people, places and things to appear. Especially the right place. I found that place on my 59th birthday and took it as a sign that it was time to take the retreat from dream to reality.

Beginnings hold power and magic. For my first retreat, I wanted to share the experience with the two friends, artists and mentors who were there at the beginning of my art career, Claudine Hellmuth & Nina Bagley. They accepted me as an equal from day one and I owe much of my success to them.

My vision was that the retreat be small and intimate with the time and space for community and conversation as well as solitude and serenity. The ideal setting was far from the madding crowd, yet easy access to major airports. I found that and more at the Blue Mountain Retreat Center. Everything came together and fell into place...

This year’s retreat filled immediately and I have an early bird email notification list that people can add their name to for details on the next one in May 2013. And that’s really important because…….drumroll……… Jane LaFazio is the instructor for the next retreat!

JL: What is your favorite part of the day?
LR:  Can I say 2 favorite parts? My morning Diet Pepsi with lots of ice. It serves as my morning coffee and is little act of simple joy for me. The other is climbing into bed at the end of a very full and creative day after taking action on my dreams.

Every Morning by Lesley Riley
Every morning is a fresh beginning. Every day is the world made new. Today is a new day. Today is my world made new. I have lived all my life up to this moment, to come to this day. This moment--this day--is as good as any moment in all eternity. I shall make of this day--each moment of this day--a heaven on earth. This is my day of opportunity.Dan Custer

JL:  Give us some titles of your favorite books to read. Any kind~ fiction or non-fiction art books.
LR:  I am an information gatherer. On my quest to always know more, I pretty much just read non-fiction now – things I can use to help my clients and students. Don’t get me wrong, I love fiction. But once I start a novel I can’t put it down and reading them was really cutting in to my art time. (Confession: I did just read 50 Shades of Gray though. Hey! It’s summer.)

Favorite non-fiction:
A While New Mind – Daniel Pink
The Art Spirit – Robert Henri
The one I have yet to write….

Lesley Riley meets her inspiration, Jean Ray Laury.

JL:   I see that some of your workshops are based on encouraging people to identify and follow their dreams. In your very successful career, have you always had a plan? A specific dream for what you are doing today? 
LR:  I must admit, I never had a plan. I let life happen to me. I love school and learning but I somehow missed that you could actually plan your life. I have been so blessed with my success both personally and professionally and I love the life I have haphazardly created. But I often wonder how much sooner I could have found my passion and my path and how much more I could have accomplished if I knew then what I know now. And that’s another primary reason why I started Artist Success…to help others and make it easier for them to follow their dreams and create the life they want.

It’s something I really emphasize with my coaching clients now – figure out what you want, step-out how to do and then TAKE ACTION. My favorite quote (OK, one of my favorite quotes) is “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” (Thomas Edison) I got where I am because I was (and still am) wearing my overalls and seeing opportunities everywhere. I also know that when you are working on your path, that the universe presents you with opportunities. I’ve seen it happen way to many times for myself and my clients to not fully believe it to be true.

Lesley Riley, working on her bed
JL:  I always tell my students that you literally created your artwork in your bedroom, on your bed, and hold you up as an example that one doesn’t need a studio to be an artist. Now, I understand, you might, for the first time in your life, have your own studio? Do tell. 
LR:  OK, it almost seems too good to be true, but as I said above, I know how and why it happened. About three years ago I began to envision what I wanted in my next house. I knew we would be moving when my daughter graduated high school, and I know how the universe works, so I mentally created my dream house:

  • mountain views 
  • near my children 
  • no nearby homes in sight when I gaze out my windows 
  • less hustle, bustle and traffic 
  • studio space (!) 
  • gathering space for my rather large immediate family 
I didn't even go looking for it. It came to me - all six requirements and more! Call it divine intervention. Call it the Law of Attraction. Call it what you want, but I now believe more than ever that it works.

So yes, I will now have my very own studio, a generous 20’ x 22’ room on the second floor of a house built circa 1740. The walls are stone, 2 feet thick! I feel both blessed and honored to be able to create in a space with such history. I find it befitting too, as both my husband’s and my ancestors were among the early settlers in the mid-Atlantic. My father’s ancestors landed in New Castle, DE on September 11, 1725.

So yes, I will have my first studio, a room of my own at last. But to me it’s so much more than that. Words cannot express…..

Lesley's new studio space!

JL:   Future plans and dreams? 
LR The first plan on my agenda is to launch my first online class, Compose • Yourself – The Art of Composition. I think I have finally figured out how to merge my two websites (Artist Success and Lesley Riley) so that will come next. I want to start blogging again. I miss that part of me.

I want to find more ways to reach out to and help other artists, both beginners with a dream and professionals who need a listening ear, a hand to hold, an unbiased opinion or a kick in the butt! One of those ways will be one-on-one (or 1 on 2, 3 or 4) Studio Immersion weekends with me in my new studio.

Art-wise, I want to write a couple more books, create and enter some quilts in juried shows and maintain a regular art journaling practice. And of course create, create, create. 

As for dreams, just more of the same wonderful life. 

Lesley Riley

Links to my other Interviews as Inspiration:

Rachelle Archer, expressive arts therapist at a school for homeless
Cas Holmes, textile artist
Mary Beth Shaw, artist and Stencil Girl Products founder
Marcia Derse, textile designer
Lesley Riley, artist and author
Danny Gregory, artist and author
Judy Reeves, writer
Carlo Roberts, The Blue Walk travel company founder
Jane Powell, Random Arts owner 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for helping us get to know Lesley!

  3. Thanks for introducing me to someone I did not know, but know now I'd like to.
    Very very inspiring!

  4. Thank you for interviewing Lesley. I read it as I sat at my desk at my "day" job. Her story along with yours inspire me to keep on my artistic path.

  5. Thank you for a wonderful read...I hung on every word!

    Lesley you have certainly made a huge impact on my creativity when I first took a fabric altered book class from you years ago ...

    I miss you blogging and look forward to you getting back to it

    Love imagining you out in the country in your dream house and studio!

    Brightest of Blessings All Ways!

  6. Love your blog- The LR interview is really cool- just got finished with your amazing FLIKR shots of fiber work. Beautiful.

  7. Anything I have done in my art career I can credit to Lesley Riley. I have never met a more generous and supportive artist. She is amazing! We've only met once in person, but I've considered her my earliest "art friend" since about 1995. Thrilled to read that she is finally getting the house and studio of her dreams!

  8. Wonderful post! There is a wealth of creative guidance here!


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