Thursday, July 28, 2016

Firing, Closets(again) and Smiling.

Yesterday, I was nervous.  I always feel this way when I fire up my kiln and it's not about what you might expect.  I'm not nervous about the kiln not functioning or something happening to my studio.  I'm not even really nervous about the outcome, it's only a bisque fire and usually this is an easy firing step.  What makes me nervous is the process of loading the pieces into the kiln.

Dodging, weaving and the dog.

The process goes something like this: load 3-8 pieces on a tray, weave through a hallway, down some steps, and around the dog.  Then unload the trays onto several small tables and start the fetch and carry process again.  All the time, hoping nothing falls off the tray.  Once all the pieces are outside, I arrange them by height, figure out how high I need to build the shelves in the kiln and start loading.  It feels like it takes forever.  It usually takes an hour.

Anxiety and closets, again.

Two more closets got cleaned this last week.  My daughter's bedroom closet had no floor space left and towers of stacked boxes labeled 'stuffed animals'.  She is married, has a master's degree and is pursuing a doctorate.  I don't think she really wants or needs 3 boxes of stuffed animals anymore.  While she was visiting, I got her to go through the boxes. 

A sad and sweet trip down memory lane.

Inside the boxes were her first white stride rite baby shoes, baby books, and very well-loved stuffed kitties, unicorns and pooh bears.  Most of the stuffed animals were recycled or donated but it was her baby books that she treasured.  Books like 'Goodnight Moon', 'Sunshine', 'Moonlight' and 'Lady and the Tramp' but her favorite was a book of goodnight poems that I used to read her so often, we both still remembered the words by heart.  The books and a few stuffed animals were lovingly re-packed into one box, instead of three.  Yes, they went back onto a closet shelf because she's moving to L.A. Soon.

Floor space.  Shelf space.  Even wall space.

Here's what I'm finding about all this closet cleaning.  When I open the doors, I look at the empty shelves first and smile.  There's something about seeing a cleared floor, an empty shelf or two, and labeled boxes that feels so good.  

I can't really explain my closet cleaning drive, yet.  I'm not sure what got me started or whether I'm finally done(I hope and so does my husband) but I will keep my mind open and curious and I'll write about what I find out here on my blog.  

Until then, I'll just open my closets and smile.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

As The Wheel Turns: Summertime.

I've never thought of art as being seasonal.  And I've been known to push the limits of creating regardless of weather or holidays. But as I've found out before, many times, pushing doesn't always lead to success in art or life.  Especially when it comes to working with clay.

Summertime, when the living is easy.  Except for clay.  

Because it's made of earth and water, clay is especially affected by weather.  Days that are too dry or hot make working with clay a challenge at best.  At the worst, things literally fall apart.  Add porcelain's persnickety personality to this equation and kick it up quite a few notches and you can see why a beautiful, dry, sunny day can turn into an ugly studio day.  If I had a temperature controlled, humidified environment in my studio, I could play with clay all the time.  Since I don't, I'm at the whim of Mother Nature.

Nobody messes with Mother Nature.

Oh, I've tried and tried and tried.  I've spritzed and wrapped and closed blinds and doors.  Sometimes, I luck out and my pieces don't break, initially.  I get optimistic only to have these same pieces develop cracks later on in the process.  At first, I thought it was me, my inexperience or a bad batch of clay which can be very good reasons for bad results.  And that kind of thing can still happen even in the best of clay conditions.  But now, I do know and have finally grudgingly acknowledged Mother Nature wins.

Giving in isn't giving up.

I have to trust.  It's a very hard thing for me to do being the year-round worrier that I am but trusting the cycle is the only way.  Sunny, dry days do not make for good clay pieces.  I can, however, paint existing pieces.  I can bisque pieces and glaze and glaze fire.  And luckily, I do have a shelf or two of pieces almost ready for all three stages.  But there's still a lot of waiting to be done and I'm not good at waiting.

Life lessons from porcelain.

I chose to work in porcelain.  I love its luscious, velvety feel and beautiful snowy finish but it is not a clay that likes to be pushed.  Working with porcelain is teaching me not just about its own nature but mine as well.  Pushing does not produce success.  Grace, patience and trust does.  Going with the flow has never been my strong point, but porcelain is showing me the way.     

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Life's an Empty Nest Cyle.

A robin built a beautiful nest on the right side of my patio about two months ago.  I was so excited!  I was going to watch the nest fill with eggs, baby birds hatch and learn to fly from my patio.  I could see it rain or shine from inside or out.

But it didn't work out that way: empty nest.

Mom robin flew in and out of the nest for a day or two, but never seemed to settle.  Finally after a few days, momma quit showing up at all. I waited and waited.  I watched everyday.  But she never came back.  I worried my dog scared her away or a predator killed her.  I gave up waiting for her to come back to the now, empty nest.

Surprise: Another nest!
One morning, my granddaughter looked up to the patio cover and giggled.  I looked amazed, too.  Because there under the opposite corner of my patio cover was a new robin's nest!  And inside sat a happy mama robin.  When the eggs hatched, she and dad began feeding two little chicks until they disappeared one morning from the nest.

Empty nest, again.

I googled 'robins' and asked on Facebook.  Here's what I found out: Robins build nests and leave them until they're ready to lay eggs. But if something disturbs the robins before the eggs are laid, they will build another nest.  Then mama comes back, lays the eggs and sits on the nest only leaving to eat for 14 days.  When the eggs hatch, mama and daddy robin take turns feeding the chicks again for about two weeks.  Then the baby birds 'fledge' and leave the nest.  Mom and Dad still keep feeding and protecting the chicks until they can fly, again about 2 weeks.  

What's that outside my utility window?  Another nest.

My son-in-law discovered it this week while helping to mow the lawn.  I thought the robins were gone for the season, but again, I was wrong.  Robins have 2-3 broods in each breeding season from April to July.  Once one brood has learned to fly, they start a new nest.  

Nesting isn't just for robins.  I can see my life in their cycle too.  

There's the obvious cycle in parenting.  I had a full nest with two children.  I fed, nurtured and watched them grow up from babies to fly off into lives of their own.  And, then, my nest was empty.  Or so I thought.  Then my daughter and son moved home filling the nest and moving out again, emptying it.  My granddaughter spends days with me and my daughter and her husband came to stay for a month, filling and emptying the nest once again.  

Creating follows the same empty nest cycle too.

We all nest and sit and create and our creations move out into the world and we begin again.  
I have an idea that incubates.  It hatches into a painting, mask, cup, vase or bowl.  I feed it with the energy and spirit that comes from my hands and brush and heart.  Then, it makes its way out into the world through a show or studio sale and the cycle begins again.  So, even as I sit in the quiet of my empty nest that was filled just yesterday with my children, cats, dogs and babies, I know a new brood of ideas will be hatching soon.

Who knew Mama Robin and I had so much in common? Curious, isn't it?


Thursday, July 7, 2016


I'm a go, go, go girl.  I walk and throw and trim and paint and run and do yoga.  I rarely sit. Still.  
But after a week at the Blues Festival setting up, selling art, arranging and re-arranging in the sunny, hot, dusty, loud party atmosphere, I found myself in an opposite world.

Dark.  Cool.  Clean.  Silent and still.  

I didn't create it or do it with any kind of planning or thought.  I found myself in my room with the blinds closed, fan on, feet up with a lavender-vanilla candle scenting the air and my eyes closed.  After a while of sitting there, still, awareness dawned: I needed to stop.

Stopping scares me, I think.

I know it's past conditioning at work; pushing and producing equals value and security.  And I also know after years of personal work that creating takes soul and heart and that all comes in its own time and at its own pace.  Although I've succeeded at pushing out the birth of ideas, slogans, ads, writing, and, even art, it's not sustainable.  

Going with the flow.

My normal flow is like a burbling stream.  But this week, my go-go is gone and my flow is more like a small, circular pool in the middle of a stream.  I'm trying to float there, trusting that in time, I will move into the flow again, burbling happily.        

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Art, Music, Family and the Fourth.

Take 6 pallets of pottery, 12 artists unpacking and filling shelves add 4 music stages with bands playing the blues, 50 thousand festival shoppers, mix in dust and you've got a recipe for a fun and busy 4th of July.

For the past four years, I've worked at Oregon Potter's Empty Bowls booth at the Waterfront Blues Festival selling ceramics and glass to benefit the Oregon Food Bank.  I'm always amazed at the boxes and boxes and boxes of beautiful pottery and glass that goes on display.  And equally amazed at how we pull it all together into a creative and intriguing display that brings smiles to festival buyers and food on the plates of needy people in our community.

I love the 4th.

Many, many happy memories of dancing with sparklers, cheering the fireworks, eating  barbecue and marching in the neighborhood parade.  Now that my children are grown up, it's usually much more quiet.  But this year, there's a lovely family 'crowd' with grown up 'children', their spouses and a precious granddaughter.  

And, yes, music plus fireworks to dance around in the cool, dark night. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Art Making Happens.

I've been busy but not necessarily in the active, creative zone.  Or so I thought.

If you've been reading my blog recently, it's all been about cleaning things out and discovering old work, not making new work.  It's definitely been a trip in many ways, down my writing career memory lane, through the cul-de-sac of my children's childhood, and files from the last 20 years of art classes both taking and teaching as well as gallery shows, open studios and publications.  I'm still not exactly sure why all this closet cleaning was necessary and I'm sure it will all come out in one of these days in another blog.  

But today, I'm through with throwing out stuff and I want to throw. Clay.

I haven't been on my wheel in a while, so I sat down nervously expecting to be disappointed in what I threw.  Why, after all this time, would I expect to be able to just sit down and produce?  I'm not a production potter.  I haven't been throwing for decades.  And I don't do it everyday, lately, not for weeks.  Throwing didn't come easily to me and I let that stop me for a very long time.  Decades.  But I refuse to let it stop me anymore.

Music, clay and water washed my self doubt away.  Thank goodness!

I threw a few mugs, a couple of vases and all was well. Later in the week, I found myself hand building.  Hand building, now that's completely different for me than throwing.  When I roll out a slab, it just seems so easy to make a wine caddie or platter or jar or mask.  This week, I got out my underglaze colors and painted a jar.  
I don't feel I've spent any time at the wheel or in my studio at all for the past month or so.  But amazingly, there's new art in there.  Mugs.  Vases. Wine Caddies.  Plates.  Even a new mask.
I felt like all I'd done was clean closets, organize and recycle.

But I guess I haven't just been getting rid of the old.  I've been creating something new.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Digging Up The Past.

Studio closet 'before'
For the last month or so, I've been in closets, drawers and the attic.  Excavating.  Recycling.  Cleaning, donating and reorganizing.  It all started innocently enough when I opened one drawer and discovered my physical therapy equipment from my broken wrist almost 10 years ago. 

My wrist is strong enough to throw clay now.  It healed and so did I.

Granddaughter wearing one of my daughter's sun rompers

Next came the attic.  Oh, I have dreaded opening it up for years.  Every time I heard a weird sound at night, I'd see squirrels eating my books or making nests in my children's baby clothes.  On dark and rainy nights, I pictured streams of water turning all my photos into mushy piles of mold.  But with the birth of a new granddaughter, it was time to see if the toys I'd so lovingly boxed up could be passed on to a new generation.

Up into the attic, my husband climbed.  My dread turned to delight.

My son's two favorite toys and robot overalls

The boxes were sealed and dry.  Books came down by the dozens and just needed dusting.  Toys, too!  There were boxes of wood blocks, Brio trains, My Little Ponies and the best of all, a wooden bead roller coaster.  Baby clothes were warm and dry and ready to wear.  Ok, they needed to be re-washed and some needed to be donated but both my 'kids' have a nice box of baby to toddler clothes to use for their children.  My husband found some pictures from his first radio job.  But I left my high school yearbooks boxed up for another day.  

Oh that, closet under the stairs.

Ad for Portland Radio Broadcasters

I wrote a whole blog about my closet excavations.  You can read it here.  It was quite a dig but in the end, well worth the effort.  I've since gathered up all my bigger oil, acrylic, watercolor and pastel paintings and put them in the back of the closet behind the Christmas decorations.  It's a great space for them and they are all together for the first time in years.  Now when I open the closet, it feels so fresh and light.  

Space, really is the final frontier, especially in my studio.

The piles of old studio stuff ready for recycling

I shuddered when I confessed to several friends the horror hidden in my studio closet.  It was so bad, that I had to push things inside so I could close the doors.  I've always thought of myself as a no-clutter, organized person, so this was growing into a nightmare in the closet for me.  Yesterday, I thought I would be able to pull some handles, and get the closet cleaned while they dried, then put the handles on the mugs.  Wrong!  

The closet took all day.  And again, it was a trip into my past.

A collection of old paintings and pastels

This time, I dug up my journals, sketchbooks, watercolors and acrylics. Some sketchbooks were my 'toys' I played with on weekends or vacations after my day job in advertising.  Others were from my early Mom days, then onward to art school classes and studio ideas which turned into art pieces I've shown in gallery shows.  
"Two Faced" A fiber art piece with embroidered drawing of Katherine Hepburn on one side, abstract on the other.

There were fiber art pieces from my 'Pieced Imagery' class.  Drawing and painting class assignments.  Stacks of old print and watercolor papers. A few masks along with drawings of all my mixed media pieces and copper masks.  Binders of slides of my older gallery work.  A box of masks made by children in my mask classes.  Photos of me in the classroom during my artist in residence. Lots of art materials from pastels, paints and paper to copper, screening and beads. Some were definitely ready for recycling but others were happily rediscovered.

Lost and found projects.
The misfit shelf

One shelf was my land of misfit pieces.  There were quite a few clay busts in there along with some copper work.  It's the first shelf I see when I open the closet and, I realized today, makes me sigh. It's my 'should' shelf.  I should finish them.  Paint them or make bodies for them or get bases for them or...  

Maybe their not lost at all.
Clay sculpture: male and female faces, lion and raven

Taking all my misfits out of the closet, I was forced to touch them and really look at them.  Really, really see them.  And what I saw weren't misfits or unfinished work at all.  I saw finished work, ready to go out into the world with just a few little adjustments.  They were ready.  But I was not.  

It's hard to let go, isn't it?  

Maybe that's why I've been in and out of all those dark closets.  Digging up the past, I've found a lot of dirt and dust and memories but I've uncovered a lot of surprises, too.  Like awards and pretty baby outfits and precious toys, books and, yes, some unfinished projects and some that are ready to go out into the world.
Studio closet 'after' can see the floor!

Maybe, so am I.  It's time to let go of the past and move onward.