Changing Course: How the Sweet Paul Makerie Creative Retreat shaped me


My name is Keely; I am a lefty. And I can’t cut. There, I said it. The first step is admitting it. (Actually my co-workers know it; I once botched some event signage with my bad Exacto knife skills and I never do the cutting styling shoots.) I literally cannot use scissors because they’re just not made for left handed people and those grade school left-handed scissors were just lame and didn’t work. So, I set out to conquer my self doubt and shame of 33 years and change my story.

Last weekend, I had the most fortunate experience to attend an event. I attend a lot of events for my job as a regional magazine editor, to the point where I’ve admittedly sort of become an event snob. But this event was different. Photographer Valerie Smith of Grace Photos and I set off on assignment from Lancaster at 6:45 a.m., happily, and giddy with excitement.


Walking into URBN Headquarters in Philly (where all the Anthropologie, Urban Outfitter brand magic happens) we were greeted first by Sweet Paul himself, with hugs! Swoon. I could have turned around and left right then happy. But there was so much more to come.

A shaft of rainbows spilled across the concrete floor of the naturally-lit creatively composed space just calling to us all to stop and be in wonderment as if to say “‘you are meant to be here, right now.’ –hugs, the universe.”

We met Ali DeJohn and the Makerie team, picked up our swag bags – more on that fabulouslness later – and proceeded down the corridor of creativity – where workshops with renowned artists from all over the country would later take place.


Following the scent of bacon, which we would later learn was maple espresso bacon, and essentially the best thing ever, the first person we met was Jocelyn Gayle who said, “This place is like hipster Hogwarts,” as we all laughed in heartfelt agreement to be surrounded by so many awesome people.


—> Look! Sweet Paul is holding my magazine, Susquehanna Style!


I immediately connected to Jocelyn over her story – but she had me at her craft – I’m a sucker for felted anything, and the expressions on her animals’ faces melted my heart. She had recently left her corporate job in Atlanta, GA and moved to Kingston, NY where she thought she’d go back to jewelry making, she had trained in school as a silversmith so that seemed natural. Except when she sat down to do it, it didn’t. It didn’t make her happy. So she thought “What is the opposite of this?” Naturally, soft wool was the polar texture and her hands must have been happy because the characters she births from them is pure love. PetitFelts was born and guests at the Sweet Paul Makerie were lucky enough to make their own needle felted lamb puppet under Jocelyn’s teaching.


After meeting Jocelyn, we continued our journey to the bacon, picking up Valerie McKeehan along the way. An old friend of mine from my early days with the magazine where I work (and more of those obligatory events I used to go to is how we met – and the event we met at was actually a cool one – at a fabulous gala at the home of the owners of Utz, yep, the chips). Fast forward nine years and Valerie is now THE expert on the art of chalk lettering, has published a best-selling book and in my eyes has just become a super star and I couldn’t be prouder to know this talented gal, owner of Lily and Val. My photog friend Valerie Smith got to take Valerie McKeehan’s class on chalk lettering which I’m sure will be showing up on some of her session sets soon!

IMG_2645Next we met Elsa Mora and I found a soulmate. Over a breakfast of grilled brioche with homemade ricotta with berries, sweet potato latkes with arugula, red-onion pickled eggs, and sausage strata, we shared stories.

In Elsa’s workshop, she led us almost through a meditative introduction to bring our focus and intention to the present moment (after all we were going to be using sharp knives and I quite frankly was kinda nervous about that given my lack of cutting skills). But that was the whole reason I signed up for her class. That, and her work is absolutely amazing.

“Nothing else matters,” Elsa told us. “Come to this with intention,” she coached as she walked around encouraging the practice.

On either side of me sat Kate Sommers, a digital director for Earthbound Organics who recently moved to Colorado and her work sent her to the creative retreat (she also has a cool blog, Flock of Broads) and trauma surgeon who flew in to Philly with her best friend to celebrate her birthday at the Makerie event (what a wonderful birthday weekend!) We joked how Gwenda the surgeon was sure to be a pro at paper cutting, we talked about our kids (Gwenda and I both have daughters named Hazel, more kindred spirits!). But then as we all got into our art, the space naturally fell hushed.


“I’m a really energetic person,” Elsa explained, which is not always a good thing, she admitted, because she can’t always focus (I get it, right there with ya). “We have to practice…force our brain” and the art of paper cutting allows her that, which she patiently taught us, to have patience.

At the end of the three and a half hour session, I made something I am really proud of. It is already framed and searching for the right spot on the walls of our home.

It was unbelievably relaxing to do nothing but create, making tiny little paper cuts, for over three hours. I can’t think of the last time I sat and did anything for that long – besides work.


Over lunch, more delicious Sweet Paul magazine recipes impressed with a palate of dill and yogurt radishes, cornish hens, beet and goat cheese terrines, grilled radicchio (and I’d talk about the beautiful desserts but in a room of 125 women, they were three words: beautiful, delish and gone.



During lunch, were surprised again by a special guest, because oh yeah, Tiffani Thiessen (you know, Kelli Kapowski from Saved by the Bell) was just casually hanging out with all of us at breakfast, taking classes with us (she had been featured in Sweet Paul’s latest issue, an entertaining enthusiast, and we would later have happy hour with her green tea cherry cocktail).


Back to lunch where Grace Bonney, founder of Design Sponge revealed her forthcoming book cover and inspiration from its pages where women from 19 to 92 are chronicled in their work spaces in their pursuit of balance and business. (I recently spilled my heart about that after my step down from running the magazine I work for, transitioning to sort-of part time.) Which leads me to a great point Grace brought up: “It’s never over, it’s always reforming, reshaping.” Even when you think you’ve arrived to the highest place you can reach in your career, you better be thinking of the next step, because someone is out there ready to eat your lunch. Similarly, being open to the possibility allows you to do things you never thought possible. For instance, at what I thought was the height of my career managing a monthly magazine, sales, events and digital, I was too busy to think about the things that actually make me happy – creating, art, design, writing, crafting, cooking – and couldn’t have dreamed that this summer I’d be surrounded by happy children doing all these things I love with my new Hunting & Gathering Summer Camps. I believe when we do what we love, growth happens organically within self and community. Grace said, “Sure, you can make these felted objects, but it’s the people that you learned from that you end up taking with you.”


There was the light of the space, but there was also a glow, an aura of the like-minded people, the beauty of all of these beautiful artistic souls beaming in one space was so bright. We joked over dinner how we all wished we could live together in one place and then laughed how nothing would ever actually get done. Because, at the end of the day, as they say, it does take all types to make the world go round. It was just nice for one weekend to be surrounded by our own type – creatives – as we’re often dubbed. Makers: the new buzzword. Inspiring individuals, who make the world more beautiful – and thanks to this gathering, made the world between us all, that much smaller.


The next morning as my daughter sat painting, as she often does each morning, I thought how lucky she is to be so carefree, how important it is to me as a mother to give her time and tools for creative expression, but how little of that I give myself.

When Monday rolled around, I approached the photo shoot I was styling with refreshed energy and excitement. After over 10 years of producing content for the same magazine, it can be easy to slip into the “good enough” slump. But I got out the paint cans from the basement and created a beautiful mess, I dug through my prop shelves inspired by Paul Lowe’s styling workshop, and just had fun with it with childlike joy.

I am still chuckling at the story he told how he wanted to have a museum. His great aunt gave him a lot of antiques (and I think fondly on my great aunt Jean Oliverio whose treasures fill my own home). Paul recalled how he would set up little vignettes and charge admission to neighborhood kids to see his collections! Such a budding creative entrepreneur! But he also left me with a really good nugget of wisdom that I want to share with you. Whether you’re styling a photo shoot or trying to helicopter over your kids’ outfits or create the perfect holiday (guilty on all counts): “Perfect is boring.” 


PS: Thanks to all the sponsors of the 2016 Sweet Paul Makerie for the fab swag!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s