Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Happy Birthday To My Sweet Jilly!


I'm so grateful to be celebrating Jilly's 10th birthday!  Not just because she's such a sweet, smart and loyal friend.  Not just because this marks her 9 years of being part of our family. But because she's STILL HERE.  

A month and a half ago, she was in the vets office going through a variety of tests.  The results were scary and ominous. I wrote about it here.  

Today is a reason to celebrate.

Jilly is alive.  She's still walking to the park with us every morning.  Still sniffing the shrubbery.  Still begging for cookies.  And still with me, sleeping on the carpet at my feet.  Right now.

I am so, so happy and grateful, today.  But I confess, I didn't always feel this way.

Jilly was a challenge as a pup.  She came to us as a Guide Dog Career Changer at 14 months full of spirit and spunk with a definite rebellious streak.  She and I were not best buds then.  We were student and teacher working through a series of difficult problems.  I wrote about it here and here.  

It was tough.  It took time.  But we made it.

She learned to respond to hand signals instead of the words that brought her fear.  She learned to follow me and find me by playing games of chase and hide and seek.  Now she's known throughout the neighborhood and park as the sweet girl who greets everyone happily.  Now she knows where I am at all times and when my husband is coming home.  She plays ball not keep away.  And loves to eat strawberries right out of my garden.

She's a blessing.

And I'm blessed to have her in my life.  Ten years doesn't seem like a long time, really.  In fact, it doesn't feel nearly long enough.  

So I want to be sure to celebrate today.  And everyday, she's still here with me.

I'll even let her eat all the strawberries in my garden this year and, hopefully, next year too!




Thursday, April 9, 2015

Patience.


It's getting close to one of my biggest shows of the year, (Ceramic Showcase on May 1,2,3 at Portland's Memorial Coliseum) and I'm in a hurry to finish everything up.  But I can't.  Because I work in porcelain.  And if there's one thing I've learned about working in porcelain it's this: don't rush it.

Don't push it.  Be patient.

Patience is not my comfort zone.  I like creation, action and results.  Porcelain, on the other hand, likes calm creation, waiting and slow drying.  But what happens when I have a deadline?  That depends.  

If I get in a hurry-up mindset and throw or build quickly then try to get the piece to dry fast, I get cracks.  The top might topple.  Or the mask flattens out.   If I play with patience and plan ahead, my porcelain pleases me with a solid surface, strength and no cracks. 

Hurry up and wait. That's the true mantra of porcelain.  

Right now, I have several shelves of porcelain pieces drying.  With no show deadline looming, I'd be letting them dry slowly in their own sweet time.  With the show creeping up day by day, I find myself in my studio, standing in front of these shelves, peeking, prying, testing and hoping the pieces are ready for a bisque fire.  

"Today?" I ask the clay.

"Not yet," is the answer.

Truth is I have many good finished pieces.  I have more than enough for the show, right now.  But there are a few of these new pieces I want to bring to the show.  But I also know that if I  rush it, I'll probably lose them in the kiln process.

Faith.  

There is that word of the year.  Again.  Do you have to be patient to have faith?  Or can you have faith and still be impatient?  I don't know.

I do know that porcelain needs its own time to develop.  Maybe we all do.  Maybe I do, too.  Maybe that's why I love working in porcelain.  Ok, but maybe not today.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Experimenting.

(Gingko jar)

I love experimenting.  Asking myself the question: What if?  Taking out a material I've never tried and trying it.  Combining an old technique with a new to me process.  Catching a whiff of an idea and following it.  

It's thrilling.  And scary.  

The thrill of unloading a kiln full of new porcelain pieces is something, 5 years ago, I'd never dreamed I could do.  I'd had a bad clay experience in my past and I was afraid of more failure.  I went back to school and learned more but I was still scared.  Until one day, while folding wash, I saw I had a choice.  Choose fear and fold up my dreams or feel the thrill of throwing clay anyway.  I put the clothes down and picked up my clay.  

I'm still throwing and I love it.  Yes, I've had my share of cracked pots alongside beautiful bowls.
(Happy dotty bowls)

I love drinking coffee in my own mugs and putting candy in my own porcelain bowls.  But I'm not an expert or a production potter, and frankly, that's ok with me.  Because while my hands are busy throwing or hand building, my imagination begins to spin.  Questions come up and ideas peek out waving at me.  

What if?  How about trying this? Or why is that?

So I throw a bottom and hand build a top and it's a vase.
(Thrown and hand built vases...the tops remind me of tuxedo shirts.)

I take my favorite leaf form and try out a sculpture idea.
(Leaf Fairies)

I challenge myself to learn how to make a long, narrow neck vase.  And then I cut it off and make different shape.
(Long necked sgraffito vases)

I've got many experiments that may never come out of my studio closet.  But that's ok, too.  Because this isn't about success or failure, this is about the thrill of following an idea wherever it leads me.  Some might call that fickleness or folly but I call it fun.  
(Inside my studio closet...the pieces that haven't made it out yet.)

And the biggest surprise?  Is that years later, the failures in that closet turn out to be just the right solution to a new problem.  




Thursday, March 26, 2015

Faith In Fun.

L

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 week...is 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.