Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Very Good Dog and Very Bad News.

Jilly is my dear, sweet, yellow Labrador.  She is my walking buddy, my studio assistant and my home companion.  She has been in my life for almost all of hers because, well, she's Jilly.   

Jilly was born and bred to be a guide dog.  She's beautiful, sweet natured and calm.  But when push came to shove in training, Jilly pushed back.  She refused to come when called.  She had a habit of bolting when not on a leash.  And, when she played ball it wasn't an easy game of fetch that she wanted but a hardy game of keep away.  These habits don't work with seeing impaired partners, so guide dogs went looking for someone to adopt her. 

She became part of our family.  But, it was not a smooth, easy relationship at first.  Because, as I said, Jilly is Jilly.  Sweet and smart and stubborn.  What she didn't realize is that I am equally smart and stubborn but maybe not as sweet.  Because I wouldn't give up on her.  

We walked and worked and trained.  I wrote about it here and here.

After almost 10 years together, we know each others every move and mood.  So when Jilly started to lag on her usual happy morning walk, I knew immediately something was wrong.

I just didn't think it would be this bad...not for my very good dog.

After lab work, X-rays and an ultrasound, a 2-inch mass was found attached to her spleen.  In over 75% of the cases like this, many in Labs who are around 10 years old, it's cancer.  A very fast growing and invasive cancer which even after surgery causes death in 1-4 months.

I don't feel I have a right to write about death, somehow.  I don't know why.  Many people have experienced losses.  I've had my share.  And I usually suck it up.  But this time, I can't seem to do it.  Maybe I don't want to keep quiet, suffer silently and hide my pain.  

This sucks.  It's hard.  And I want to change it right now!  

But I can't.  I can't do anything to make it go away. Even surgery and chemo for her is just more pain and suffering.  And I can't do that to her either.  Maybe that makes me a coward. I don't know.  

Here's what I do know.

I love Jilly. I want her to be as happy and comfortable and cozy and loved as she can be for as long as she can be.  If that means more peanut butter cookies and poached eggs and pancakes, so be it.  If all she can do is walk around the block, ok.  If I have to drive her to the park where she can sit and smell, I'll do it.  Hugs, kisses, and belly rubs are hers anytime.  

If she wants to follow me into the garage while I throw, like she always has, then fine.  If not, like yesterday, I let her rest inside where it's warmer.  Right now, I'm upstairs writing and she's downstairs on her bed by her choice.  And I'm trying to get used to it, not having her right with me, but it's hard.  And I know it's only going to get harder.

And I could suck it up.  Keep it in.  Let myself separate from her to prepare for her death.  But that time is not yet.  Not today.

So, I have a new mantra;  She's here.  Now.  

So, I'm going to be here, with her, now in whatever way wags her tail the most.  Because she's a very good dog who doesn't deserve this very bad situation.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

As The Wheel Turns: Faith, Flow and Plans.

I'm sitting on my window seat watching the sunset.  I can't believe this day has passed so quickly and how, equally quickly, my plans for the day went sideways.

Plans and the unplanned.

My plan for my day was simple.  Walk the dog.  Throw.  Trim and clean up my wheel and tools.  Put my new pieces in the studio to dry.  Eat lunch.  Clean myself up, after all, working in clay is messy.  Put my throwing towels and gear in the wash.  Run a few errands.  Do a few needed chores around the house.  Write my blog.  Make dinner.  

My plan started out as planned.  I walked.  I threw.  But as I was coming inside with my new pieces, I heard my phone beep an incoming text message from family.  I picked it up and found out my son had cut his finger and needed help.   

Faith in the face of fear.

Covered in clay, I dashed around putting pieces in the studio, buckets in the sink, and tools in water.  I changed out of my wet clay clothes and headed out the door to the urgent care center with clay under my fingernails and in my hair.

The urgent care center was packed.  There were toddlers with broken arms, young people using walkers and many, many with coughs and colds.  We were the third in line for the suture room and it was only 1pm!  Two hours later, my son had a tetanus shot, a finger sutured with glue, and was devouring breadsticks and soup in my kitchen.  He was okay and I was grateful.  Especially to see him wolfing down his favorite soup that I just happen to have in my pantry.  

Flowing with faith through the unplanned.

Everything that really needed to get done, got done.  No, I didn't get those errands run today.  I still haven't done the chores around the house or made dinner, yet.  But I finally got the clay out of my hair and nails.  And I'm writing my blog.   

 I let go, flowed with what life handed me. Most importantly, I was there for my son when he needed me. Because when he called, he had faith I'd be there for him. I was and will always be, plans or not.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

An Abundance of Work and Love.

Abundance and love come in many ways.  There's health and sunshine.  Flowers blooming in winter.  A softly snoring dog and cozy kitty.   A warm home loving friends and family.  And work.  

Never before in my life would I have put work and love in the same sentence.  

I grew up with work to do all the time.  Didn't you? Chores. Homework. Dishes.  Laundry. Ironing. Running errands for someone else.  When I got my first job, I dove right in working hard to be successful. Striving and achieving. I thought I liked it but it was difficult, tiring and stressful.

Then, working was always all about how hard I worked. But something's changed along the way and I didn't even see it. Now work is about desire.  Challenge.  Courage and discovery.  

And love.  

I work in my studio with clay and color and sometimes window screening.  I throw on the wheel and roll out slabs.  I paint leaves red, eyebrows purple and stamp circles into squares.  I make cups, plates, bowls, vases and masks.  Each and every time, it's a challenge to make the shapes I want, the colors work and dry the porcelain clay without cracks.  Just when it seems I have figured it out, there's a new problem to solve leading to a new creative discovery.  I'd like to say I'm an expert at what I do, but the truth is I'm still learning. That's where the courage comes in, facing my mistakes or inexperience and keep on working anyway.

I did my very best, then.  I still do.

Now, I see an abundance of work on my shelves, drying racks and sculpture stand as an abundance of love just waiting for me.  I don't know where I'd be without it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jury fees. Show fees. Is it worth it?

It started a few years back.   Jury fees for up to three images at about $10.  It seemed like a small amount, a way to help the organization compensate the jurors for their time. 

As an artist, I felt paying a small fee for the chance to get included into bigger exhibitions seemed worthwhile.  And if my work did not get juried into the show, I got my money back.  It was not something I did every year, or even every month.  I had plenty of opportunities to show my work in galleries, group shows and local exhibits for no upfront costs to me.  Yes, I expected the venue to take a percentage commission on the sale of my work. They made money when I made money.  When I joined local artist groups, I paid a yearly fee that gave me even more no cost exhibit opportunities. I paid my dues; the group got a percentage of the artists’ sales, publicity for the group which led to more opportunities for all, more members and that meant more money.

Not anymore.

Now, every show requires fees.  The jury fees have doubled or tripled and they are non-returnable.  Even galleries are requiring either jury fees and/or show fees to hang work on the walls for a month.  Some shows require a jury fee and a participation fee for the artist to pay.  On top of this, the venue usually requires the artist to pay them a commission of 25-50% should their work sell during or up to 30 days after the show. 

Adding it up.

Joining an artist group and participating in that group’s art opportunities now costs artists membership fees, jury fees and gallery fees. Yes, there’s intrinsic value in being a member of an artist group or guild for the connections to other artists, educational and social opportunities.  And I’ve been a member of several groups where I’ve made friends, learned new techniques, gladly volunteered to use my skills to help out, shown and sold my work. But now, even these groups are raising prices.  

Recently art group friend of mine, decided not to renew his membership.  Why?  He said, "Because I took some art business advice and asked myself how is the organization serving me?”

Good question. 

Another good question:  Have you ever heard of actors or musicians paying an audition (jury) fees? Or being asked to pay the producers to perform a symphony?

Yet another good question:  Why are all the costs for art shows and fairs being placed on the artists’ plates?

I realize that there are costs involved in making and maintaining a business.  Art is a business.  So, looking at it as a business, how can you afford to pay all these fees and give away a percentage of the sales as well?  I understand the economy has slowed art sales making it harder for galleries to stay in business.   

More questions:  But what about the artists?  How are we to stay in the art making business if we have to pay all those fees and give up a percentage of the sales price?   Do you, as an artist, then increase your prices to pay for all these fees?  And how does that affect your sales?

As an artist and consumer, I watched sale prices go up and sales go down.  Yet the venues routinely expect and continue to collect hundreds of non-returnable jury and/or participation fees from the artists.  It's no wonder the lists of art shows and fairs are growing.

But is it fair?

Sometimes, participation fees do make business sense.  If you’re receiving tangible marketing materials, media publicity and still get to keep the money for your sales.  I know I feel my participation fee for a local open studio tour is a valuable use of my money.  I get all of the above, catalog, signs, pr and sales plus the added bonus of creating art connections with other artists and art lovers from my local neighborhood.  Another example is an organization I joined several years ago.  The fees are reasonable and with it I get to show and sell my work at one of the city’s biggest ceramic shows.  In this instance, I do give a percentage of my sales to the organization, but I’ve made more money every year that I’ve belonged to these groups.  This is fair and makes good business sense.

Good or bad?  It’s a tricky choice.

I don’t know about you, but I am getting increasingly picky about what shows I am willing to spend my hard earned artist money on.  I want it to be fair for all.  I did gallery shows where they got a percentage of what I sold but it was even.  They made money and so did I.  I didn't to have pay an art audition fee to get into the show.   I think as artists, we have to stand up about jury fees.  We have to stand up as business people about participation fees, as well.  The symphony musicians don't pay to for the chairs they sit on to perform.  They get paid to perform.  So why are we paying for wall space on the chance we might sell something?  And then, if we do sell, we lose a percentage of the profits, too? 

It’s confusing, no doubt about it.  But, maybe as artists, we need to figure out where we stand and stand together.  Let me know what you think.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

As The Wheel Turns: Imperfectly Perfect.

As an artist, perfection is not the goal.  Or is it?  

A work of art is, in fact, work.  Making art is a work process requiring concentration, dedication and physical labor.  The art work, whether it's a painting, mug, mask, script, novel, movie, musical performance or blog, is a tangible product.  And the product is subject to scrutiny and evaluation.  

Imperfections and all.

I've studied and worked and produced and shown and sold work for many, many years now. Yet, I still work to do the very best work.  Whether it's choosing the correct values in a painting, the right mug and handle proportions or a word that sings, I strive for that A plus.  And, I fail all the time.

A secret.

The harder I try to make it 'right', the faster it goes wrong.  I sat at my wheel today, throwing mugs which I really like to do and find relaxing.  Today, it was not.  The first piece refused to cooperate, it wobbled, wiggled and caved.  It brought back all my beginning frustrations and fears and failures.  I got mad and sad.  The clay got tossed.

What now?

That, I saw clearly, is the true question.  And, the answer.  I was back in time hearing all those helpful suggestions and calm comments about mug sizes and handle openings and, oh, color choices and pricing strategies.  I wasn't really sitting at my wheel, playing with porcelain, at all.  

Sit.  Now.

Take a wedge of clay.  Put it on the bat.  Turn on the wheel.  Feel the porcelain between my fingers.  Take a breath in and out and drop my shoulders.   Center, open and pull up.  Put my hands together, one in, one out, clay in, clay out, feel the rim, let go.  Voila, a mug.  

Four clay wedges later, there are four porcelain mugs.  They are not exactly the same size.  Two are a little taller and two are a little wider.  They will need and get slightly different sized pulled handles and leaves.  I see a pattern in my throwing.  I tend to throw mugs in pairs and I don't know why, it just seems to happen.  I've embraced it by putting the pairs together with the same color and treatment.   But others, I've been told, don't see it that way.  They want a perfectly matched set of four or six.

Perfectly imperfect.

I'm not perfect and I don't throw perfectly sized sets of mugs.  But, I've sold a lot of mugs, actually.  And here's what I've noticed, they go off in mismatched pairs, or one to one person and another to someone else.  I've even sold a set of four mugs to one person that were all a different color.   I, personally, think that's imperfectly perfect, don't you?

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Digital Decisions and the Consequences.

A few months back, I wrote about my design ideas for a porcelain vase.  It's out of the kiln now and finally finished.  I like it.  It's final form is pleasing and technically good.  But I wonder if I played it too safe.  

Trying a new technique.  

This vase was thrown in two pieces on the wheel.  I've never done that before, so that was a risk.  Would the two pieces fit together?  Would it be a cohesive design coming together as one piece.  And how would under glazing affect the overall look of the piece?  

Digital Drawing.

I used my digital drawing app, SketchClub, to try out my ideas first before applying any colored under glazes to the greenware piece.  I wrote a blog a few months back.  Here are three digital drawings I felt were the best choices.  They all had drawbacks as I stated in my blog and although I'm not fond of waxing or wiping or repeated under glaze firings, I do what I feel a piece needs.  


Ultimately, I chose a different approach.  I decided on simplifying the color palette to black and red, eliminating the purple idea.  I feel working in porcelain that my clay is a big part of my art, not just for the delicious, silky feel of the clay in my hands but also for its soft, milky white color.  So, just as a watercolor painter uses the white paper as a color, I use my white porcelain clay as an integral part of the pieces I make.  With that in mind, here's a picture of the finished vase.

You'll see that I put the colors in to accent the sculptural and design elements in and around the clay by using red on the heart-shaped leaves.  And I keep your eye moving up, down and around the piece with the red and black dots.  There are more dots on the inside too, adding a the whimsical feel.  I also feel that coating the porcelain in clear glaze makes two separate thrown pieces unite as a whole and highlights the beautiful creaminess of the clay.

I don't usually draw digital designs before I under glaze a new piece.  I'm getting better at knowing how it will look in the end but this time, I'm really glad I did.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sunshine, Frost, Glazing and Window Gazing.

It's been an extraordinarily ordinary week. 

Outside it's sunny and cold.  And, I love walking through the park on a frosty winter morning. There's something invigorating about wind chill mixed with sunshine.  It may stop people from going out but not the otters, beavers, herons or geese at the lake.  

The glaze load in my kiln which I talked about last week was ready to be opened up.  Yes, it brings up faith vs fear issues.  But I also feel the same nervous excitement as a kid on Christmas morning.  I've been good, done my work and now it's time to find out if what I wanted is, actually, what I got.   This time, I got it all.   An entire kiln load of keepers!  
Sitting on the window seat and gazing out the window is part of my creative ritual.  Sometimes, I forget just how important this time is for me.  It's easy to see it as a lazy, non-productive waste of my valuable time on this earth.  But it's not.   It's what connects me to me, the earth and gives me the energy to work more creatively.  

The blue sky and bright sunshine outside becomes the color I wash on my urn and mugs.  The sparkling frost and cold chill make me long to throw mugs to fill with spicy, scented tea.  The soft, shiny glazes coming out of the kiln remind me of the clear lake water.  The trees outside my window inspire my leaf designs while the sunset colors show up inside my sgraffito bowls.

In fact, what's extraordinary to me is how everything I've done this week came from a collection of the most ordinary days.