Friday, March 16, 2018

As the Wheel Turns: The Good, Bad and Ugly.

Working in ceramics presents many opportunities for creativity. I do throwing, slab building and sculpting. Many other people and companies use press molds or slip molds to produce hundreds of identical pieces. But what you may not know is how many pieces are lost in the process. I know I didn't know that when I started creating in clay. 

I've worked in many art media over the years. I've made a lot of ugly art, too. It's frustrating at times, but it's part of the process of creating. The visions in my head didn't always land on the canvas, copper or paper as I envisioned them. Disappointing, yes. But it was usually easy to fix, too. You just re-prime the canvas or paper, smooth out the copper and start over. 

Clay doesn't always work that way. Good can turn ugly really fast.  

Throwing on the wheel does give me the opportunity to make changes, fix a wobble or redo a slipped lip. If it's not working, I can scrape it off the wheel, re-wedge and start over later. I can do similar things with slab building, too. As long as the clay is at the early stages, I can take something bad, do a make-over and make it good.

But there are so many parts of the working in clay that can go bad. Adding color, drying too fast, using an underglaze that doesn't fit the clay, all these elements can mean a piece that never makes to the kiln at all. Even a good piece can crack, warp, or fall apart. If it gets through the bone dry phase and goes into the kiln, I keep my fingers crossed and pray to the kiln goddess. 

Fire it up and watch it crash, crack, bubble and burn.

This time, when I did my first bisque fire, I thought everything went well. I was wrong. When I had a maintenance check and a kiln coil replacement, I found out my lower coils were broken and not firing at all. I did a re-fire at bisque to be safe and set some underglazes. 

Some pieces are good. The vase is perfect, good color, no cracks. Most of the cups came out ok. Two plant pots and two bowls are nice. 

Some pieces are bad. The black glaze on the outside of these two bowls is full of bumps. Some of the glaze slid off into a thick, shiny mound and some slid away completely. The inside is good and completely functional but the outside problems make them bad bowls. 

Some are just ugly. The glaze on the two red cups bumped, bubbled up, and crawled back. It makes them completely unusable. I thought they were such cute cups when I put them in the kiln but now, they're just ugly. 

That's the difference with clay. Once it's fired, there's nothing you can do to turn bad into good. I just have to toss them in the trash, accept ugly happens and go turn on the wheel and start again. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Creating an Image.

At first glance, you might think I'm going to write about hair, makeup and clothes or resumes, social media and contacts. As an artist, some would feel the above isn't important, but of course, it is. No matter what you do or who you really are, image matters. 

Think of all the images that fly by you everyday online, news, social media. And of course, the ultimate image, the selfie or glamour shot. Images abound because they speak to us in wordless wonder. They touch our hearts, minds and pocket books in good ways and bad. 

How do I create a good image of my work?

When I'm creating, sometimes I have an image in mind. A sketch. A concept. A color. But I don't follow it step by step. In fact, most of the time, these images fade away as my hands work. Sometimes, it's only years later, that I stumble on an old sketch and realize where those pieces came from. Studio work is magic to me. 

But after the piece is done, I also have to create an image of my work that goes out into the world. For years, I had a professional photographer who took wonderful pictures of my work. He was truly talented with lighting, which by the way is key to good photography, not digital editing. If the lighting is not right, the image looks all wrong. 

I know because now I struggle with getting the lighting right. If the lighting is flat, the colors are dull. The red, blue or black colors look dark or gray. If the lighting is too bright, the colors look faded or pale. Then there's hot spots where the light hits the piece and creates glare. 

Googling doesn't always help. But, maybe, Crate and Barrel can. 

No matter how many articles I google, I am not a professional product photographer, which is what we used to call them in advertising. Traditional art photography is all about the 'glamour shot' using a seamless background, professional lighting and solitary pieces. That's what my wonderful photographer did for so many years and that's what got me into gallery shows, art publications, online sites and studio tours. Jurors expect good, professional photography. 

I loved that my old photographer was an artist himself and understood the importance of being true to the pieces I created. He didn't photoshop my work and I've always been ok with that. 

So how can I stay true while creating a good image?

I've always been a big fan of Crate and Barrel catalogs and their online site is just a lovely. I still open every email and savor every page. Why? Because the design, staging, vignettes of the  photos were just wonderful. 

What if I take a clue from Crate and Barrel? Take pictures of my work in normal settings? Group my work in a way that real people with real homes would use them? 

I love to create vignettes in my own home, so why not use that idea for my ceramic pieces? I tried it and it just felt right. I know it's not what jurors will expect to see. And it may keep me out of galleries and some shows. 

But suddenly, it feels like what I'm creating is being seen in its own image. And I like that.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Life is a Cookie.

Jilly, my silly, sweet, stubborn, smart yellow Labrador loves cookies.  Any kind. Any time. As often as possible, please. You've heard of on demand movies, well Jilly wants on demand cookies.

If she sits, she gets a cookie. Goes outside and inside, she gets a cookie. Follows me upstairs, she gets a cookie. Follows me downstairs, you got it, she gets a cookie. In fact, lately, she's figured out a new way to get cookies. If she follows me upstairs and gets her cookie, she then goes downstairs on her own and waits for me to call out for where she is, then she ambles back upstairs, wags her tail and sweetly waits to, you guessed it, get another cookie. 

Really, I am a stickler for dog training. 

I've been through dog training classes. I've trained my own dogs, rescue dogs and helped other people with their dog issues. I've even taken care of the cantankerous ones. I know how to train dogs. But I do realize who'sq doing the training now and it's not me. 

Yup, Jilly has figured out how to work the system. And it's working. And that's totally ok with me.

Three years ago, the vets found a small mass on her spleen.  She was 9 years old. They gave her 3 months to live, maybe 6 if we did major surgery and chemo. We said no, we'll keep her comfortable and happy for as long as possible even if it's only 3 more months. 

Since she was a bit tired then, we would give her cookies to cheer her up. Ok, maybe we gave her cookies to cheer us up. Either way, it's worked for 3, going on 4 years.  And Jilly was back to her silly self. 

Another scare came this year and we thought, once again, it was the end. 

It was food poisoning. I'd bought a new bag of the food she's eaten for over a decade, gave her one cup for dinner and she woke up sick. She was weak, couldn't stand up or walk without help. We thought it was the end, but 48 hours later, she walked upstairs herself to greet us. 

And of course, she got a cookie. 
She also gets homemade food twice a day, an egg scrambled, dog vitamin, glucosamine and ibuprofen(for arthritis), a pump of salmon oil and 1/2 cup of plain yogurt. I make her food every 8 days and it takes me about 2 hours. I cook rice, ground beef, chicken livers, carrots, spinach, and tomatoes. It all gets mixed together with nutritional yeast and broth, ladled into 8 plastic containers and frozen. 

Yes, it's a lot of time, money and work but she's worth every bit. So now, I know what she's eating and we haven't had any more problems. In fact, she's itching less and her eyes are clearer, too. 

The biggest bonus: Jilly is alive and lively. She has more pep in her step than she's had in a long time. She loves her walks at the park and sniffing around the neighborhood. 

I think back to how sad and scared I was 3 years ago and as I tear up, I also smile. Because she's still here, another glorious year, happily wagging away. She's proven to me that life is sweet, innocence is bliss and it's important to savor every moment.  

And yes, to her, 'Life is a cookie'. And I wouldn't want it any other way. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Where is your heart, America?

More innocent lives lost. I didn't want to face it, think about it, much less write about it. How in our country with all its beauty and freedoms could there be another devastating school shooting? How can we as a country let this keep happening? Because we all know, it's not just about guns and gun control. 

It's about fear and anger. It's about a total lack of leadership in all our branches of government. The legislative branch is too busy filling their own pockets with corporate bribes to do what they are voted into office to do: help everyone get health care, education and jobs. The judicial branch is too busy ruling in favor of gerrymandering and campaign contributions. The executive branch is in chaos because the wrong person is in the 'big house' due to a foreign interference.

Where, oh where is the true America?  I don't know. 

No one seems to know. And that, is the truly scary part. Because of that fear, I see people acting out in vicious ways. Threatening tweets coming from the top only lead to more viciousness and bullying all the way down to dear, sweet children dying.  

We're losing our way in this labyrinth of muck all around us. When even the Olympics is tainted by mean girl and guy commentators who care more about their outfits than the courage and strength and talent of the athletes, we've got a real problem.

Where is your heart America?

Our forefathers came here from a land where people were starving, beaten and jailed by the powerful English. They wanted freedom to speak, pray, live and love. They wrote our constitution to give us ALL the right to pursue happiness. 

Lately, I've been struggling to find it. I don't want to get mired down by the muck slung around by others. I don't want to shut down either. I've been avoiding my feelings because I don't want to take away from someone else's deep, deep loss by writing about how I feel about it. But I need to feel the deep sadness for those mothers and fathers and children who lost so much in Florida. We all do.

This loss hurts my heart. And my neighbors. And yours, too. 

And that's how I know our hearts aren't lost. I see it in the sweet face of my grandchild learning to count, my neighbors children walking their dogs and learning to drive, people stopping to talk on the corner and help others on an icy sidewalk.  

When I see those smiles, helping hands and friendly faces, I feel the strength and truth and roots of our hearts. It's my way, my small way to navigate through the muck and find my way back to love.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Creating Acceptance.

Ask someone to tell how they got started as an artist or writer or creative person and they'll tell you about their childhood. Some of the stories are beautiful childhood memories of a great auntie or teacher who saw their talent and helped them along. But most of the stories are memories of being different, feeling like an outsider looking in or failing. Good or bad, these stories aren't really about talent vs inability. They're about acceptance. 

Being seen. 

I love this quote from Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

“Becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive. Even talent is rarely distinguishable, over the long run, from perseverance and lots of hard work.”

I've spent my life in various stages of duck and cover. There are a lot of reasons for this which I won't go into here, but let's just say one big reason was that if I made myself invisible, I'd be more accepted.

But I was seen anyway. And it always took me by surprise when it happened. There was a little part of me that longed to be seen and a bigger part that wished to be left alone. I liked the quiet and calm and space. I still do. I believe that's what really drew me to writing and art making. 

It is a solitary sport where I get to determine the game plan. It's a safe place where I can accept myself, as I am today, where my voice whispers through the clay.
Being heard. 

Another quote I love from Ursula Le Guin:

"One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. There are always areas of vast silence in any culture, and part of an artist’s job is to go into those areas and come back from the silence with something to say. It’s one reason why we read poetry, because poets can give us the words we need. When we read good poetry, we often say, ‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s how I feel.'

Sometimes, I forget how important it is for everyone to speak up. Lately in our country, we've been bombarded by voices. Anger. Pain. Threats. Fear. And especially, one loud voice crazy with denial, lies and madness. I get to a point when I just can't listen to any more. Then I realize the louder the voices, the bigger their need to be heard. 

Being accepted. 

As a writer and artist, I love my solitary, calm, studio work. I love to read and listen to music and stare out the window. But I also want my art and words to be seen and heard and accepted. In order to do that, I know I have to open my eyes, ears and heart not just to creation but to all that is created around me. Creating acceptance to the good, the bad, the ugly that I make and you make and all of us makes. 

I figure if I can accept the messes I create. (And I hate messes). I'll be better off and hopefully so will you.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Love, Art and Learning.

As I throw or wedge or paint in my studio, sometimes I forget how much I love what I do. It becomes work with all the pressures of deadlines, deliveries and performance. I forget or, perhaps, neglect to embrace the love, play and tactile enjoyment of my chosen field of art. Luckily, this weekend helped remind me.

Love comes in many forms. 

I took a chance a few months back and entered an entirely different kind of show. I've had gallery shows, craft shows, studio shows most of which require complicated steps to even enter the shows, much less get accepted and be able to show. 

For those of you who are not artists, I'll run through the usual gauntlet: do the work, get professional pictures of the work, put together a resume or artist statement, find a show/gallery that fits your work, fill out the entry forms(which can be complicated and digital), attach the specified size jpgs with specified labels, pay the 'jury' fee, send all the elements in by the specified deadline. Wait. Months later, you'll get an email with either an acceptance or rejection. You don't get the jury fee back, even if you're rejected. 

The Love Show 2018 was a breath of fresh air from the very beginning. 

All I had to do was be one of the first 200 to email them. I got an email back the same day with acceptance into the show. Months later, I was sent an email with basic show info, a consignment agreement, link to their label form. If I chose, I could send them a jpg of my work, donate $10 to help pay for the show, spread the word on social media and bring food to the opening. 
The opening was full of people. The food was a varied and fun potluck. But best of all the art was an amazing eclectic collection ranging from funny to inspiring. I love the Love Show!  

Will they sell my piece? I don't know. Right now, I'm just proud to be a part of it and to have let myself take the risk of doing something so different and yet, such a perfect portrayal of the true heart of making art. 

Art and learning don't always go together. 

I've taken many, many art classes in my life. Structure, assignments, competitions all take the heart out of art fast. That's why going to a workshop, even a free one with people that I know, can be stressful. 

This one was so much fun!
Oregon Potter's Association is making peace poles, like totems, for our Showcase fundraiser. In addition to working with schoolchildren, OPA offered this opportunity to their members, free! I've been part of many art organizations over the years, and this is the only group to offer a free workshop to its members. 

Over the years in these workshops, I've taught mask making and learned to make plates, tiles, and now a 3 dimensional totem sculpture. But the best thing of all is the camaraderie. Tools are shared. Stories are told. Laughter and encouragement are all around. Got a question? Just ask and you have 10 other people to help out. Whether it's about clay, dogs, kids, there's someone in the room with something helpful to share.     

Sharing. Love. Learning. Three words that I don't usually link to art. But they are the heart of true art.
(A special Thank you to Veronica and Carolyn for the workshop photos)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Creating with my Inner Gremlin.

There's so much chatter out there. Leaders trumpeting. Opinions clashing. Groups shouting. Social media adds more layers to the noise tracks I hear and even though I'm glad I live in a part of the world where all the voices are heard, it's still overwhelming. At times, I just have to shut it all off. 

But when I do, a strange thing happens, another voice comes on. That voice, that inner tape track has many names which are actually listed on Wikipedia. Some of the names are: inner critic, the perfectionist, the taskmaster, the guilt tripper, the judge, the destroyer and my personal favorite, the gremlin.

The voice of self doubt. 

This voice creates not just bumps but real road blocks to my creativity. It chastises me for not working hard enough and when I'm in deadline mode, to be careful not to make mistakes. If I don't have a show for my work, I'm lazy. And if I'm in a show and I don't sell enough, I'm a failure. It's a no-win situation, obviously.

And yes, I know this voice is not unique to me. We all have some version of Sister Mary of the Many Mistakes in our heads. Granted, for me, Catholic school sure didn't help but I can't keep blaming it all on the nuns. There are many schools of thought on where these voices come from: Freudian superego, Jungian animus or the primitive, reptilian brain. 
The sound of silence. Please. 

Even though I understand what, why and how my inner gremlin operates. It still gets in my way. I've struggled to shut it up in many ways. I've argued and meditated,  journaled and jazzercised, binged on caffeine and Netflix. But all that I found out was that fighting with the gremlin is really fighting with myself and that gets exhausting, not to mention silly and ineffective. 

So I asked myself and my inner gremlin, what can I do? I can give it a seat in my studio where it's comfy. When it decides to talk, I can decide to nod but not really listen. I can put on some music that we both like. Music seems to quiet the gremlin. And sometimes, it's a great distraction for both of us, because I've found my inner gremlin really likes to sing off key. 

I'm not crazy(OK, maybe a little, after all I am an artist) or the only one on the planet with a non-stop inner critic. Having doubts is part of life, so as long as I'm living, I'll try to accept it. When I hear the voice of my inner gremlin chatting at me and around me, I'll give up the fight and give it a new place to sit in my life.