Thursday, April 28, 2016

Art Shows from the Inside and Out.

                                      (My booth in last year's show)

There's a lot that goes into any artist show.  Much more than most people would think.  I know, because before I was an artist, before I had any kind of show, I went to art shows.  Decades and decades of art shows. As an art show viewer and buyer, I went and looked and, sometimes, bought.  I was on the outside side of the experience. 

Now that I've been an artist showing in exhibits, galleries and open studios, I am on inside of the experience.  I work and work and work to make art for a show.  Sometimes this work takes days, weeks and, yes, even years.  Because everything I've ever learned or drawn or painted or sculpted or thrown or sewn or beaded all feeds whatever I'm creating and showing now.  
                                     (My sculpture, "Leaf Fairy #1", in this year's gallery show)

Being an outsider and, now, an insider gives me a unique perspective.

From the outside, I see the show as an overall experience.  Is it overwhelming?  Is it too loud? Too crowded? Do I immediately see art that intrigues me?  Do I feel a sense of curiosity?  Do I want to explore more or get in and get out?  If I have found treasures before, I look forward to more.  Some shows feel warm, cozy and inviting.  Others feel cold, competitive and uncomfortable.

From the inside, I see the show as a personal experience.  Is it fun?  Is it friendly?  Is there enough work for the visitors?  Will they see something they love?  Will I answer their questions?  Will I help them connect to art with their hearts and their budgets?  Will I be able to connect with other artists with support and community? If I've sold before, I look forward to selling well again.  Some shows feel good and fun and easy.  Others feel difficult, stressful and tiring.

At my shows, I feel a bit torn.  As an insider, I wish for connections and appreciation and, yes, sales.  As an outsider, I wish for an open, warm and inviting experience.  
                                   (My leaf plate on sale this year in the gallery)

This weekend, as one artist in Portland's Ceramic Showcase, a large, local ceramics show, I hope for both.  

Will it happen?  I don't know.   


Thursday, April 21, 2016


Life is such a curious thing, really.  When I really think about all the miracles that surround my life, even the very act of living, I'm overwhelmed, awed and, yes, curious.

I watched my granddaughter, Meyer, push and pull herself across 3 feet of floor. I clapped and smiled at one of her first successful movements across the earth by herself.  She looked up and smiled and grabbed for the object of her desire: my son's cell phone.  This new technology is already changing her little life in so many ways.  Her naps and feedings and changing all are on an app that we all use to keep up with her.  Her pictures all over social media.  And the other day, she pushed the button to post her own Instagram selfie.  

I love all the baby pictures, but I'm curious, will she in 10 or 15 years? 

I also watched my daughter try on gowns for her masters graduate recital this week.  I loved watching her twirl in the gown she loved.  She's a beautiful woman.  An experienced soprano who sings everything from opera to jazz, yet, I still saw the sweet little girl bouncing in her dress up clothes singing to Beauty and the Beast.  We had a wonderful weekend, walking and shopping and eating out and talking.  Then, she went back to her home and I went back to mine.  She'll be moving farther away soon, so I treasure the moments we had together last weekend.  
Curious isn't it, how we grow and change so much in another 10 or 15 years?  

How crawling three feet turns into the feat of driving thousands of miles in one day?  How phones used to ring on the wall and now they ding in our pockets wherever we are?  How naps and feedings and baby pictures were something either forgotten or packed away in an attic and now they're on the Internet for everyone to see?  How playing dress up evolves into stage performances in beautiful ball gowns?

To my little granddaughter, crawling across the floor seems like forever.  To my darling daughter, graduating from her masters program seems like years.  To me, watching them, it all seems like a blink of an eye.

Everyday, we wake up and live life.  We never know what's going to happen or how long something's going to take us.  But we do it anyway.  How?  One breath at a time. 

How curious.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Jilly, the Miracle Dog.

Today is Jilly's eleventh birthday!  It's amazing and joyful and, yes, a miracle.  Because 14 months ago, the vets gave Jilly only 3 months to live.  But true to her beautiful soul and stubborn nature, she's here next to me playing with her new Kong toy.

She is my sweetness and light.

She walks to the park and back with me every morning.  Most of the regulars, both dogs and humans, know her by name.  Some give her treats and others pet her but everyone she meets leaves with a smile on their face.  

She is also strong.  

She is very stubborn and willful and has a very keen sense of right and wrong.  When I do something wrong, like being late with her dinner, she lets me know loud and clear.  If she wants to play ball, well, we play ball.   If she doesn't want to come in from her sunny spot on the lawn, forget trying to get her to move.  And when I'm busy and she really wants my attention, she picks up a bamboo stick and runs away with it.

She may not have graduated to be a guide dog, but I know she is my dog and my guide.  I've learned a lot from Jilly over the years about how to stand your ground, be true to yourself and make time to play.  The most important lesson of all: don't take what doctors say to be true or  absolutely right.  

I'm so very thankful they were so very wrong.

They told me she would die in 3 months.  She didn't.  They told me not to play ball with her or she'd get worse.  She didn't.  They told me she had to have her spleen removed but even that wouldn't save her from death.  She didn't have her spleen removed and she lived.  

This morning, she woke up, walked over to my side of the bed and kissed my hand.  Ok, slobbered it, really.  I reached out, patted her and said, "Good morning, sweetness and light."

She's given me so much: love, silliness, faith, hope and lots of sloppy kisses.

Happy Birthday, Jilly, my sweet, miracle dog!  Here's hoping for much more love and silliness every morning for a long, long time.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

As The Wheel Turns: Sometimes Things Blow Up.

It was a real surprise opening the kiln this week.  Most of my pieces came through the bisque firing just fine.  Even my little experiment with a new low-fire, clear glaze looked even better than I expected.  But maybe that's the real problem, here, expectations.

I had high hopes and well, maybe, a little too much self confidence.  I expected good results.

So seeing anything blown to pieces feels bad, but even worse, I kinda loved this sculpture. First, I haven't done a full figure piece in years.  Second, creating it was just spur of the moment, unplanned creative flow.  The best kind of creative experience in my opinion are the ones that just 'come together' seemingly on their own. 

I didn't set out to create her.  I was just letting myself play with clay.  Rolling it out.  Pressing different tools and textures into it.  I made a big ball of clay and started pinching it and pulling it and smooshing it around, when all of a sudden, there was a face.  A young woman stared back at me smiling.  I picked up the slab of clay on my board, pressed it together in the front, let it drape in back and, there was her gown.  I put the smiling woman atop the gown and added a whimsical hat with a button.  
Voila.  A lady appeared.  And I just loved her.

After I slipped and scored and pressed all the pieces into place, I wrapped her up carefully and set her aside to dry.  It's been over six months since she appeared.  In that time, she's been very, very, very slowly drying in my studio.  I checked the piece for cracks.  I didn't find any, anywhere.  But I still waited.  With clay and sculpture, I've learned the importance of patience and waiting for the clay to dry on its own.  So, I thought I was safe.  I thought she was safe.    
I thought it was time.

Now, I ask myself - why?  What happened.  How did it happen?

I did use porcelain for this figure, a clay I use primarily for functional pieces now.  But I've successfully made masks with it.  So I thought the worse that would happen were a few cracks which I could repair.  But there were no cracks.  Was it the clay?  Was it too dry?  Was there a bubble somewhere inside the head?

 The answers to my questions - I do not know.  

I've made many, many pieces, sculptural and functional, successfully.  I've had my share of cracking and warping and bloating.  But I haven't had a blow up in a long time.  So I guess it was time.  Too bad though, I really, really loved this sweet lady.  I'm going to miss her presence in my studio.  

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Unhooking From Praise.

Or how to change my relationship to praise and criticism.  

Another quote popped up in front of me this week from author, Tara Mohr, "Always look at feedback as giving you information about the person or people giving the feedback, rather than information about yourself." 

We all want praise and not criticism.  But what if it's not about us, but about others?

This is definitely an idea that sets me free in so many ways.  Free from the childhood of scowling nuns.  Free from the peer pressure, career pressure, parental pressure, social status pressure and now, ageist pressure to sit out my life and retire. As I expand my life from required work to creative work, it's easy to slip into thinking I am immune to the whole praise/criticism merry-go-round.  

Maybe you are, but I'm not.  But it's not because I'm weird, but because I'm a woman.

According to author, Tara Mohr, women have a harder time getting beyond the praise/criticism trap.  "What I realized was that for most of the past few thousand years, women couldn’t ensure our safety by political, legal or financial rights — we simply didn’t have those protections. Likability, fitting in, social influence — these were women’s primary available survival strategies. For many of us, doing work or expressing ideas that might rock the boat, cause controversy, or bring others’ disapproval can feel very dangerous because, for millennia, it was. Today, we’ve got some serious unlearning to do."

Wow.  Let my learning begin.  Now.  Please.

Now I see it's not about praise=good and criticism=bad.  It's about getting a glimpse of the world through someone else's eyes.  What they say, is...only what they see.  Not what is truly there to be seen.  If someone likes my work, that tells me something about their tastes.  If someone doesn't like my work, that also tells me about their needs or preferences. My work is distinctive and original.  Doing work like that will be liked by some and disliked by others.  I don't need to do different work or change what I do.  

All I need to do is see my true target audience.  And embrace that it's not everyone out there.

A weight lifted in my heart when I read this.  Thank you, Tara Mohr. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Shooting My Work.

I needed help.  My professional photographer retired and I needed new photos of my work. I've always felt that professional pictures, like a professional resume are needed basics.  I also realize that times have changed.  Social media doesn't necessarily require pro photos so taking them on my phone works just fine.  But they're not the high quality needed for shows or websites.  I knew it was time to learn to do this on my own, but I didn't know how or where to start.  

Thanks to artist friend, Michelle Gallagher, I learned. 

First, I found out how to set up a portable photo studio.  You can order these online in several sizes.  Michelle's is a 16" cube.  I ordered the 24" cube.  These come with lights, background inserts and it all folds up into a black bag for storage.  Once you get the background and lights set up, it's time to shoot.

Shooting isn't hard.

Having a tripod, digital camera with a timer and zoom is necessary.  Michelle has a Nikon.  Hers is simple and easy to use.  Michelle showed me how important it is to use a timer, something I wouldn't have figured out.  Using a timer helps her keep the picture sharp and focused.  She can set it all up, hit the timer button and step away, letting the camera do the work.  The tripod allows you to change the angle of the shot, tilting and panning as necessary without moving your work around. 

Lighting is key.

Having the lights set up to produce the right shadows, keep the hot spots to a minimum and give an accurate picture of your piece is essential.  Personally, I think lighting is 95% of the job and the only thing that done poorly results in photography that looks unprofessional.  So I was particularly worried about this step in the process.  

Again, Michelle had figured out a space and a way to set up her lights in her basement studio that really worked.  And it's a simple set up that she can use without too much hassle.  She uses an existing fluorescent fixture behind her photo box and has several incandescent lights nearby giving her nice, ambient lighting.  The key here is her clip light covered with a theater diffuser that angles down onto the photo set up.   This overhead light really does a great job of lighting the pieces and casting the 'right' shadows.

Instead of competition, camaraderie. Or how I got by with a little help from my friend.

We all want to do our best, get into shows, sell and exhibit.  But in the rush to succeed, we can, sometimes, let competition get in the way of community and camaraderie.  I believe that the best art comes from the heart and to be true to that on all levels can be challenging. Artists begin to look at each other and their work as players on an opposing team instead of a community of like-minded souls. 

Spending the morning with Michelle in her studio, learning about photography and sharing our work, showed me not only the art of photography, but the art of friendship as well.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Life: Banquet or Starvation Diet?

"Look at yourself then. Consider everything you have fed yourself over the years.  Was it a banquet or a starvation diet?" 

This quote by Ray Bradbury popped up last week.  It opened my eyes letting me see life in an entirely new way.  I've always known there were choices out there.  Sometimes the choices get a bit overwhelming, sure.  And, sometimes, you don't get to choose because life or laws or circumstances get in your way.  But what I really saw is how much I self-limit my life.

Starvation diet: I was taught to count calories, budget my time and save my money.    

Now, sometimes these are good things to do.  I want to be healthy and energetic.  I want to be creative and productive.  I want abundance to support my loves and my life.  This means choosing wisely on many levels.  But a steady diet of limits leads to a life lacking in joy and enjoyment.

Banquet thinking: See my life as a plate to fill, refill or change with what really feeds me.

Again, that means choosing people, experiences, creative projects that fill me with yummy plates of soul satisfying sustenance.  It does sound wonderful, doesn't it?  It also sounds impossible.  Egotistical.  Or is it?  

Curiosity.  My word of the year pops up again, here.  

I'm curious.  What if just for a day or two, I look at my every little thing in and around my life as an item on a banquet table.  Seeing this moment, hour, day all as sections of the plate of my life.  I get to browse through all the experiences; people, sights, sounds, tastes, ideas and information and choose what and when I feed it to myself.  If there's too much of something or too little, I can change the menu.

On the banquet menu now:  Curiosity.  Creativity.  Fun.  Family.  Friendship.  Truth.  Connection.  Happiness.  Soul food.  Peace.  Fresh air.  Sunshine.  Flowers.  And, of course, Coffee and Chocolate.  Not necessarily in this order.