Thursday, March 26, 2015

Faith In Fun.


It's Spring Break in my neck of the woods and for many that means taking time off school or work.  Since I work for myself, asking myself for a vacation can get a little awkward. And, unfortunately, the conversation doesn't always go well.

Artist me to Boss me, "Ah, it's Spring Break, so I was wondering about taking a few days off?"

Boss me to Artist me, "You don't need a Spring Break. You're an artist, you play everyday."

It's true.  I am an artist.  I do use clay and create fun, functional ceramics, masks and sculptures.  I love what I do, most of the time.  But just because I love it and create whimsical, fun pieces doesn't mean it isn't work.  I have schedules and meetings and deadlines, too.

When my kids were little and had school breaks, I knew I wouldn't get any studio work done. I didn't fight it.  I gave into the rhythm and spent the time coming up with creative things to do for and with my children.  If they wanted to go skating, we did it.  A new game to play?  A movie?  Sure!  

Why do I find this so hard to do for myself?

Guilt? Shame? Fear? Sure. I fear that my clay will all dry out.  My pieces will not get finished and I'll waste my life.  If I take time off, time away, time out that I might never get back to work.  I will veg out on the window seat staring out the window.  Forever. Or run away to never Neverland and never come back. 

What if I actually did all the above and well, nothing bad happened?
What if I choose to have fun and faith in me, instead?  

Work of the heart is still work.  And doing good work also requires time out, time off and, sometimes, time away.

I'd write more, but, well it's Spring Break.  Time to go outside, smell the lilacs and rosemary, take time off and stare out the window.  See ya later!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

As The Wheel Turns: Finishing and Starting Again.

I unloaded a kiln full of newly finished work.  As always it's a mixed bag with unexpected surprises both good and bad. This time it's mostly good. And there's that sigh of relief when a special piece comes out with all my hopes and dreams fulfilled.  

In this load, my dream piece, the Gingko Jar, came out just the way I'd hoped.  I usually only clear glaze the inside for several reasons; one to make the piece functional for flowers or other uses, two because I want to make sure the colors on the sculptural elements stay true to my vision and three I'm not a fan of a super glossy and shiny look on sculptural pieces.  But this time, I decided to risk it and try clear glazing inside and out.  I'm surprised at how much I like it.  

Maybe it's time to take a few more risks with this glaze.

Or maybe not. I didn't like how this blue came out this time.  It's always been a nice, solid, cobalt blue hue but this time, on a batch of mugs and an urn all dipped in the same clear glaze, it turned wishy washy.  Deep in some places and almost transparent in others.  I'm not sure why this happened.  I've used this underglaze with this clear glaze on this same clay body many times before and never gotten this result.  It was not a good surprise for me, but as others pointed out, it has a distinct watercolor look to it.  

I do like watercolors, so maybe I need to throw out my expectations and embrace this result.

Maybe that's a good mantra for life, too.

I'm finished with those pieces and it's time to throw and begin again.  I threw a few bowls and then decided to play around.  I've always admired curvy, narrow necked vases and I've never tried to thrown one.  I have to say, they were fun to make.  I think they're a little bottom heavy because I wasn't so sure of how much to pull up for the tops, but I liked playing with them.  I especially like the shorter one, reminds me a little of Aladdin's Lamp.

Here's another reminder.  Even when a finished piece is not what I wished for, it can still be a good thing.  Either way, it's finished and it's time to start something new.  


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Faith in Furry Wisdom.

It's been two weeks now since Jilly was diagnosed with a tumor on her spleen.  She was weak and tired and maybe in pain.  But now, she's the jolliest of Jillys.

She feels good.  She feels joy.  She wonders, what's my problem?

I don't want to lose her.  Not now, ever and certainly not yet.  The vet said I could walk her but not let her get too rambunctious.  No running.  No jumping. 

She wants to play ball.  She's barking at me and throwing the ball at my feet.  She's standing in her ball playing spot in the yard holding the ball in her mouth.  Wagging. Bowing. Circling. Doing everything she can to get me to play.

She's saying, "Play with me.  Now."  
I say, "I can't.  Doctors orders."

She barks even louder and with more frustration, play with me!  I'm too scared to lose her.  That I've lost all joy in her sweet, silly ball game.

Jilly wants to play.  Now.  Today.  

The ball game is her favorite way to play.  I throw.  She jumps and catches and circles back to me.  She faces me with the ball in her mouth and barks.  When I reach for the ball, she backs away, wagging and barking some more.  If I step forward to take the ball again, she runs away.  My job is to stand still, ask her to drop the ball and wait.  When she's ready, she drops it and the game continues.  

Throw.  Run. Catch. Bark. Drop the ball. Repeat.

This is her joy.  Where is mine?  More importantly where is my faith?  Faith in the simplest of things in life like joy and enjoyment of things that Jilly and I both love to do. We love to play ball.  And we love to take walks in the park and she made it to the park everyday this week! 

My sweet, sweet Jilly is trying so very hard to get my attention and I'm not listening. She wants to enjoy the sunny afternoon in the backyard.  She wants me to enjoy it too. 

"Life," she barks at me is simple, "Play ball."  Now.

Her faith in herself is unshakeable.  My faith is always shaky.  

Maybe that's why faith found its way into my life as my word of the year.  I obviously have lessons to learn here.  My lesson for this to get over my fears, get into life and have the faith to live it.  

That means having faith in Jilly's furry wisdom.  Gotta go, it's time to play ball.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Art Making Is My Lifeline.

Music is playing in the studio.  I've been hand-building some experimental new little sculptures.  Today, I got out the wax to begin the glazing process.  Even though, this is not my favorite part of my art making process, I found myself singing along with Wicked while I worked and the waxing whizzed by.

My art work is my lifeline.  I couldn't imagine a life without it.  Yes, I've been doing something creative since I could pick up a pencil, but it's much more than that.  Creativity is my soul's refuge and art making is nourishment in good times and bad.

Last week was bad.   My sweet Jilly, the bounciest of doggies, wouldn't move.  Tests revealed a mass on her spleen and the prognosis was not good.  I was sad and shocked and scared.  

And that's when art making is magic.  

As I worked in the studio, Jilly rested on her dog bed a few feet away.  I could hear her breathe while I under glazed and notice her restlessness or a need to go out.  The more I worked, the more I relaxed, I now see, the more Jilly relaxed too.  She rested while I worked and we both got stronger.

This week, Jilly is up and around.  She's barking and walking around the neighborhood and chewing on her favorite bones.  She's eating up the chicken liver and rice combo, demanding her favorite peanut butter cookies and beef jerky.  Sniffing, eating fresh grass and napping outside in the sun.

I'm waxing my pieces and smiling and sighing with a certain contentment that I didn't even know I had in me.  

Sun shines on my heart as I work on my art.  It's magic.

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.