The Story of The Enso Circle

Creative work is rarely done by a lone genius. Artists, writers, scientists and other professionals often do their most creative work when collaborating within a circle of like-minded friends. Experimenting together and challenging one another, they develop the courage to rebel against the established traditions in their field. Working alone or in pairs, then meeting as a group to discuss their emerging ideas, they forge a new, shared vision that guides their work. When circles work well, the unusual interactions that occur in them draw out creativity in each of the members.

Michael Farrell, Collaborative Circles: Friendship Dynamics and Creative Work (2001)

After six years of hatching, percolating, and polishing this concept, Michelle Belto and I are (at last) introducing you to The Enso Circle, our Invitational Online Artists’ Residency program. When we previewed the new website to several artist friends, here were their reactions:

  • “I just read your note on the class/residency that you and Michelle will be teaching and just wanted to let you know that this sounds truly amazing. Love both of your artwork and this sounds perfect! I have been creating art for over 50 years so I think it’s time I joined your tribe.” Bosha S.
  • “Brilliant idea. Brava!” Jean D.
  • “What a fabulous idea!!! Love this! This is a BRILLIANT venture!” Christine S.

When we began talking about what has ultimately become The Enso Circle, we wanted to create a structured, collaborative community that we ourselves would want to belong to.

This community would offer a supportive space in which to both expand and focus our present art practice, and to offer us a safe place for sharing ideas with like-minded creatives. It would have a starting time and an ending time, and be long enough to be meaningful but short enough to keep the energy going.

We knew from experience that we both need certain guidelines to make this work for us. Among those are:

  • A time-defined goal to motivate us (an art show submission, an article deadline, a workshop design, a group exhibit)
  • Private time to generate or refine a creative concept
  • A concrete plan to reach our goal with focus but flexibility
  • Group time to get feedback on where we are, where we were, and where we are going with our project
  • A collection of resources, always available, that can give us both technical and aesthetic advice and answers
  • Input from mentors outside the community who have expertise and objectivity
  • Small-group opportunities to brainstorm and problem solve the small steps in the process that sometimes get us stuck

Why did we name our community The Enso Circle? Because the Enso is a manifestation of the artist at the moment of creation and the acceptance of our innermost self. It symbolizes strength, elegance, and one-mindedness.

The very imperfections and hand-created contours are exactly what makes the Enso beautiful.

If you want to cut to the chase and learn more right this moment, just click here.

(And here’s what I know that you’re wondering up front . . .the program costs $325, it’s 12-weeks long, only 12 people can be accepted, and yes, it’s absolutely worth it)

But there’s more, and it’s important – and unusual – read on:

The Enso Circle is based on the idea of an Artist’s Residency – a twelve-week commitment that results in a personal body of work, large or small, conceived and completed through goals that you set with the support of the community throughout the process. You do need to apply and have a goal in mind, although that can change over the course of the term.

The Enso Circle is a unique experience for several reasons.

  • It has all the advantages of an in-depth workshop: resources, technique videos, handouts and printables.
  • Like an academic residency, it allows you to select your individual goal and work toward it with peer and mentor support.
  • It has the power of a critique group through frequent informal Zoom meetings and discussions in our private Slack space.
  • It is led by nationally known teacher/artists Michelle Belto and Lyn Belisle, who will model the process by working toward their own goals right along with you during the three-month program.
  • And it culminates in an online exhibition.
  • Lyn and Michelle plan to offer three twelve-week Residency terms throughout the year. The first one will start on March 2nd, 2021.

Here’s an up-close and personal invitation from both of us, via our Zoom recording. Just click on the video image.


We hope you choose to apply to be one of the first twelve residents of The Enso Circle!


Thanks for reading – you’ll know if it’s right for you, and if it’s not, thanks for learning about our Enso Circle story!

Take good care,


The art and science of aromatherapy – essential oils and Alzheimer’s Disease

I’ve studied and used essential oils since 1989 and was actually teaching workshops on their uses way before I began teaching art workshops. In the late ’90s, Dr. Bill Kurtin and I partnered in sharing research-based information about aromatherapy with social agencies and college classes, and set up our informational website, called Chemaroma, in 2006.

Bill is a biochemist who chaired the Chemistry Department at Trinity University for many years. We’re married now, and since Bill retired from teaching, he’s had time to do more research on current studies about essential oils. He’s just written an article for our Chemaroma blog summarizing recent research on essential oils and Alzheimer’s Disease. Here’s the link to the complete article, which I think is wonderful and encouraging.

In his article, Bill writes, “The research . . ., as well as much work not mentioned, strongly suggest that EOs may provide an excellent alternative, natural, widely available, and inexpensive treatment for AD, particularly for easing the symptoms of the disease.” He writes for a general audience, who, like me, have trouble with scientific complexities – whew! It’s a fascinating premises that could help millions.

If you have not any in-depth reading on the science of aromatherapy and need an introduction, here’s a good background article from the University of Maryland Medical Center. And, or course, you can always go to our website, Chemaroma, for more info.

I’ve always relied on Clary Sage essential oil for getting past creative blocks – the name in Latin means “clear eye” – and its smell is intoxicating.  Here’s another take on essential oils from an artist on the Craftsy site.

Bill and I are especially interested in essential oil research that pertains to our aging population – anything that will help all of us stay alive, engaged, and creative longer is worth pursuing! Read and share the article, Are Essential Oils Useful in the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease.” It’s a good one.


On being an artist ~ a gift from Cecelia

This whole experience has brought a whole new consciousness to the meaning of creativity. My awareness is that it is not a gift that was arbitrarily handed out to some lucky people. It is an inherent quality, which for good or ill, is constantly manifesting in every moment for everyone. ” ~ Cecelia Britton

On Sunday, the rain fell steadily on Beacon Hill, and artists were scrambling to find sheltered spaces in old fire stations and community centers for the annual Art Walk. The crowds were sparse, spirits were damp. Why the heck were we doing this? Why work many hours doing our best work for so little reward? Grumble.

When the show was over and I was back in my little Boston home-away-from-home, I discovered this astonishing essay in my email from friend Celelia Britton, beloved therapist and intuitive artist. She prefaced it with, “Dedicated to you, sweet friend.”

I love what you wrote, Cecelia, because it’s dedicated to ALL of us who are searching for (and finding) meaning through artistic creativity. After reading this, I resolve never to grumble again about being an artist and a teacher. Cecelia, thanks for giving me permission to share this personal and inspiring account.

Cute little girl drawing with pencils at lesson

Being an Artist
Cecelia Britton

   The energy in the studio is palpable. Anticipation brightens the eyes of the participants.  Excited chatter ripples in the air as we survey the space.  Individual supplies are arranged like dinner place settings around a large table in the center of the room.  Bins filled with art supplies line the perimeter.  Covering the walls and looking at us from every direction are samples of Lyn Belisle’s work- presentations of years of teaching, as well as her own personal endeavors. 

    Can I really do that? I question, as I survey multi-media collages, some similar to what we were to learn today.   

   I want to learn that, I’m thinking, as I see and touch fabric art in the form of spirit dolls and wall hangings. I am amazed at the many paintings in mediums of oils, acrylic, watercolor, and pencil.  Sculpture, displayed alone as well as incorporated into textured art, boxed collections and free-standing art pieces on shelves make up a plethora of creativity that inundates my senses.  I appreciate the range of expertise around me. I am buoyed by Lyn’s confidence that by the end of the day we could each proclaim we could draw!

    Me, an artist?  the voice in my head questions. My life experiences roll out in front of me, each frame declaring the opposite.  I am reminded of the many times my attempts produced nothing I wished to share or ever see again. 

    Like ghosts of Christmas past, I see my grandmother’s Crayola lesson instructing my four-year-old self to color in tiny circles, in the lines, colors only of a traditional reality.  No purple trees or orange houses allowed, thank you very much.  Her critical eye watches me follow her demonstration.

   I am in a new school.  An icy gray Alaskan winter hangs heavily outside the fluorescent lighting of the classroom.  Second graders are required to draw airplanes for this art assignment.  I observe the boys in the class, most likely future architects and engineers, gleefully and confidently launch into the project.  The intimidation of actually drawing something that could be identified as an airplane, paralyzes my ability to proceed.  I do not know how to move my hand across the art paper in front of me.  There are no models to copy and in that moment, I cannot even conjure up the memory of the plane that brought my family to Anchorage a week ago.  The prospect of failure makes me queasy as my stomach clutches anxiously.   The shame of the low grade it earns glares down at me as it is displayed around the room, an indictment of my failure as an artist.

    I receive a gift certificate as a Christmas present for a sculpting class at a local museum.  My forty-five year old self has spent the previous twenty-five years raising children, moving around the country with my husband’s career, and then helping him pursue his dream of having his own business.  I am initially excited about stepping into exploration of new territory.  On the first day of class I discover, as introductions are exchanged, that I am the only student who is not making a living as a professional artist.  I immediately feel intimidated and my heart sinks.  To my dismay, I am will not be using my hands to touch and mold the clay as I had imagined.  Instead, I will be removing clay from my block with a knife to reveal the model’s body within it.  I look around at the realistic likenesses the other students are producing.  I can’t wait to destroy the evidence of my ineptness as soon as I complete the course.

     As we are about to start Lyn’s class, this reverie of self-condemnation comes to an unceremonious halt.  I have dropped my graphite pencil from my supplies and as I lean too far to retrieve it, my chair tips, toppling me to the floor in a dramatic thud.  After assuring myself and others in the room that I have no pain or injury, I smile inside as I realize what message I have given myself.  A more heralding positive voice is attempting to gain my attention.  I listen to the prompt to stop my negative self-talk.  I decide to give full attention to the present moment. I resolve to allow my seventy-two-year-old self to simply experience the learning, letting go of needing approval from myself or others.

    The hours seem to evaporate throughout the afternoon.  I move through each phase of my art piece in appreciation.  I do not feel intimidated by the efforts of others in the class.  Lyn moves through the room, a butterfly pollinating her flowers.  I welcome her experienced eye as she assists me in my composition.   Even though my own pace is generally slower and measured, I relax any frustration about the press of a definitive class schedule.  I am proud of not only the technical skill of my piece but also what it reveals about me during the show-and-tell at the conclusion of the day.

    Now, I have a small and eclectic gallery of art from seven different classes.  I have been moving each piece around my home so I can experience where each would like to live.  The original trepidation has no say or sway over how I feel.  My friends report that I look like a woman in love, literally glowing with the pleasure of each artistic experience.  Pure child-like joy has replaced the old internal tapes of self-loathing, shame, and competitive envy that characterized my sense of an artistic self.           

    I have reached some conclusions about the nature and meaning of creativity.  My awareness is that it is not a gift that was arbitrarily handed out to some lucky people. It is an inherent quality in everyone, which for good or ill, is constantly manifesting in every moment in the unfoldment of life.    Art is the process of consciously bringing forward my own inner landscapes.  Technical skill cannot define it and should never deprecate it.  It’s simply a learning curve.  

   I can grow because art, by its nature, is about evolution. What is conceptualized may find varied avenues into meaningful expression.  What comes out through all art-culinary, canvas, lenses, pages, sculpture, flower arrangements, and beyond-is Spirit informing me where my attention is.  If I can allow myself to hear that Inner Voice in a climate of curiosity, there are a wealth of treasures possible.  I might be expanded, entertained, awed, and possibly fascinated by an Alice-in-Wonderland complexity of my psyche. I may unearth nightmares available for healing, latent talents, suppressed feelings and emotions, or unknown dreams.     

    If I regress into old thinking, I am emboldened enough and have the capacity to laugh in its face, knowing that I have nothing to fear in the process of knowing myself.  It is, after all, fodder for my next expression. It is not unlike the broken jewelry, leaves, sticks, scraps of paper, cut-outs from magazines, etc.-all formerly considered junk-now repurposed in the next project.  I am ecstatic about my journey. This road to my authentic self is rich with satisfaction and worthy of my exploration.  My inner child agrees and is giggling with delight that I have responded to her beckoning to come out and play.


Cute little girl drawing at lesson and smiling




Mysterious FiberShards

Two things collided: one, the deadline for the Fiber Artists of San Antonio fall exhibition is fast approaching, and, two, I discovered MeinkeToy Fiber Art Supplies and its owner, Eleanor Love. Result: Mysterious FiberShards. You’ll hear more from Eleanor in October – I’ve asked her to be a guest blogger – yay!  So I wanted to show you what I’m discovering about fibers while experimenting for the FASA show.

Shards and fragments of artifacts have always fascinated me, and I’m building little re-imagined ones from various fibers (paper counts – and a few of these are papier-mâché). Some of the other materials include felt, cheesecloth, and silk – take a look.


One of the mysterious objects is part of a silk cocoon – guess what you get when you cut open a silk cocoon? Yep – a big ol’ fat dead silkworm. He’s not in there. . .he, er, went away.

Working with fibers is a lot more than knitting, y’all – it’s almost unlimited in its possibilities. Check out Eleanor’s MeinkeToy website and see what I mean.I have a feeling that I’ll be doing a lot more FiberShards in the near future. Thoughts?

Friday Freezie

All plans are on hold here in San Antonio – it’s icy! People in colder climates may not understand why this city shuts down when the roads get ice-slicked, but, believe, me, it’s a good idea since San Antonio drivers go a little nuts (nuttier?) when the “s” word (“snow”) is even mentioned. So I’m home, planning workshops and catching up on email. Alyson Stanfield’s blog today had a great quote from Niel Gaiman, English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio, theatre and films, so I’m copying it here for your reading pleasure, especially if you’re housebound and seeking creative inspiration:

gaiman“Remember, whatever discipline you’re in, whether you’re a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a singer, a designer — whatever you do, you have one thing that’s unique: You have the ability to make art. And for me, and for so many of the people I’ve known, that’s been a lifesaver, the ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times, and it gets you through … the other ones. Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.”

This quote is from a commencement address he gave at the University of the Arts in 2012. The whole thing is enlightening, takes less than 20 minutes, and is a fine thing to watch when the weather outside is freezing. Stay warm, y’all!


Guest Blogger: Carla Pineda, Viva Bookstore

Let me introduce my dear friend, Carla Pineda, writer, retreat leader and certified spiritual director – and, lucky for me, assistant manager at Viva Bookstore, one of my favorite places to visit. We were talking the other day about the upcoming Sacred Ground exhibit, and I asked her to tell us about some of the books she’s bringing on Sunday to celebrate the art exhibit, the new Cathedral Park Meditation Walk, and the empowering partnership between the visual arts and the literary arts. (Speaking of partnerships, Carla and I have some great ideas for exciting events at the Studio – stay tuned.) Here’s Carla! . . . . . . . . . . .


I am so excited abcarlaeditout the Sacred Ground Art Show at Bishop Jones Center this Sunday.

Scouting the shelves here at Viva Bookstore for books to bring to the show has been so much fun.  I’ve found ones that speak of landscape, creation, beauty, prayer ,and the elements. The words water, wind, earth, and fire, pilgrimage and thoughtful gardening grace the covers of books I’m bringing.  One of my favorite books this year is entitled, “Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems about Birds.” birds  It’s about more than birds.  I think birds are poets we often miss listening to and I wonder how many different bird voices fill the skies around the sacred ground of Jones Center.   “Nature as Spiritual Practice” is a book I haven’t read but just the idea of “practicing” nature makes me want to give it a try.  I think I’ll do a little practicing on Sunday.  Another title, “The birds2Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality” is one of my favorite books.  Yes, I know Jones Center isn’t desert or mountain but I wonder if, in the past, before the city grew up around it, and before it became what it is today, if those who settled here didn’t feel it as fierce.  So, on Sunday I’m going to listen, walk, explore and experience this special place, its history and the gifts of talented artists.  Hope to see you there!  And, course, I’ll have books!