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.

Friday, January 9, 2015

As The Wheel Turns: Firing and Faith.

I'm firing a glaze load in my kiln today.  It's an essential step to producing functional ceramics and my least favorite part of the process.  Because it's the most scary for me.

Why? Because it's the step where I have the least control.

When I'm throwing at the wheel, I can go fast or slow.  Stop when it feels right.  Decide the piece is a keeper or keep working.  At the under glazing stage, I decide what colors go where.  How much detail I want.  Whether I do a stamp or sgraffito design.

Bisque stage is easy.  The pieces go into the kiln and out they come.  A little sanding might be needed or another layer of color but that's it, really.

Enter firing.

Glaze firing is a whole different chapter and one filled with potential dangers that threaten to take a good piece down the road to ruin and the trash can out back.  The glaze can bubble, crack or peel.  It can be too thin, so the piece isn't well covered or too thick so the underglaze painting and detail I did is lost.  Or the clay can be faulty and bloat during the final firing phase making a successful piece that took weeks to complete, a failure in just hours.  I've researched glazes, glazing methods, meticulously recorded my firing results.  Sometimes it's good, and sometimes not.

Enter faith.

It may be my word of the year, but it's not something I've ever really embraced.  You could say that for most of my life, I've had very little faith in faith.  I realize I've always thought of faith as a cop out.  Something people said or did when they couldn't or wouldn't take action.  And I've always viewed situations from an active perspective of research, method and results.

But once I close that kiln lid, all my work is done.  I've gone as far as I can go by myself. The rest is up to time and temperature. And, well, faith.

It's a new year with new work and a new word.  Faith.

Maybe it's time to have a little more of it.  My dog, Jilly, seems to have it.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 Word of the Year.

It's been a process to figure out this year's word.  Some years, it's easy and just comes to the surface.  This year, it's been a struggle.  

Last year's word was flow.  And like the word itself, it just appeared to me.  It became a big undercurrent in my life, teaching me new lessons, showing me old blocks and rocks in my way and helping me move through my last 365 days slowly, quickly, smoothly, roughly and circutitiously.  I wrote many journal entries and blogs about the teachings of flow.  

Truth:  I didn't want to let go of flow.  

But the year was ending and I knew that true to the word flow, it was time to move on.  I began my search for a new word for the new year.

Looking, listening, writing and reading.  Nothing flowed out.  

So, I did what I do when I'm stuck, I make a list.  I started my list making with words I wanted to let go of...fear, guilt, fighting, comparison, defensiveness.  Then using my trusty Thesaurus, I made a list of the antonyms of the words above...calm, innocence, peace, connect, safe, secure.  That didn't ring any new year bells for me, so I added a list of related words...ease, encourage, nourish, empathy, serenity, light, confident, happy and faith.

Ah ha:  I was forcing the flow of my new word of the year.  

Why? Because a word I am most uncomfortable with kept popping up like a bubble underneath water.  The word: Faith.  I  was raised in a very conservative, religious situation.  I was required to attend church 6 out of 7 days a week for decades.  To me, the word faith brings up bad memories of doing and going and being something I'm not in order to obey someone else's rules.  

But...what would Merriam-Webster say?

Faith  noun  : a strong belief or trust in someone or something.  That's the first definition.  There are others that relate to religion and god and religious systems.  But the very first definition is about someone or something. 

Belief.  Trust.  In  In art? flow?

Yes.  I see it clearly now.  Flow and faith bubbling, twirling, cascading and rippling along together.  To flow, I need to trust and to believe.  So, maybe, I've always had faith and didn't know it.  But maybe, now, it's time to be happy and show it.

Here's to the New Word of the Year for 2015...Faith.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas: The Day After.

It was a fun and different Christmas holiday this year.  

On Christmas Eve, we've had a tradition of seeing the downtown holiday lights that started out of necessity.  Small children needed to be out of the house while Santa's helper hustled to get everything wrapped up.  But over the years, as I was able to get more wrapped up before midnight Christmas Eve need became a desire to celebrate the city lights and music and magic of the season together. 
This year, all the 'children' were in town and off work and old enough now to go out to an adult lunch at a downtown brew pub. We sampled the new brews, ate our choice of pub grub and talked about news and sports and, yes, even politics.

Christmas Day, our tradition is a warm and cozy pajama day.  Everyone gets new pj's, opens presents from Santa while drinking coffee and eggnog.  This year, my daughter added a delicious strata whipped up on Christmas Eve with the help of her husband and brother. It was baking while we celebrated and then, enjoyed with juice and mimosas.  And, more coffee, of course.  Then, we spent the day playing with our new 'toys', watching movies, reading or playing video games.  

Dinner is traditionally a beef roast.  This year, it was done on the Traeger while the fixings;  caramelized new potatoes, garlic sauted broccoli in tomato cups and rolls were done inside by my dear husband.  Clean up is a group affair, so no one gets left with dish duty.  Dessert was later over a game of Cards Against Humanity.    

It was relaxing, hilarious and yummy.

Today, the day after, for me is usually very quiet.  Children are off to work or their homes or other obligations.  Today, was also a little different.  My daughter, son in law and I did a quick errand or two.  I went home and they did more out and about.  I worked on a few pieces in the studio, wrote and did a little tidying up.  Then we all enjoyed my daughter's made-from-scratch macaroni and cheese.

Ok, I still have to tidy up but that's fine by me.

Because a home for the holidays that looks, sounds, smells and feels like home to everyone is the best gift to get for Christmas and even the day after.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Flowing all along.

Flow is my word of the year for 2014.  I've done many blogs on it throughout the year but as the end of the year approaches, it feels right to bring it up again.   Especially at this time of year when the flow of my life can get more rapid with perhaps some rough patches like rocks, whirlpools and white water.

I see that I react to the holiday flow in two ways.  Rushing and Resisting.

Some days, I get caught up in the fast and furious flow of holiday busyness.  Making lists.  Running errands.  Dusting and decorating.  Baking and wrapping.  Now, all of this can be wonderful and joyful unless you're like me, rushing too fast to notice it all.  I'm so busy trying to get it all done first, which begs the questions-who waved the start flag and is it supposed to be a race?  The answers- I don't have a clue and no.

Enter resistance. 

I get tired and grumpy and sick of all the rushing.  So, I stop.  I drink tea, put my feet up and veg out on junk tv.  I ignore my studio work while I tell myself that it's the holidays and time for relaxation and rest.  But what I'm really doing is resisting doing what I love which is relaxing and fun to stop myself from rushing around in a grumpy holiday haze.

Flow along with it all, whispers a small voice.

Ah. Ha. The light clicks on.  Flow is, just that, flow.

Flow is all of it.  Picture a stream during a year's worth of weather and seasonal changes.  There are rainstorms and high rushing water.  There's sun and heat and slow, muddy meandering.  There are rocks and resistance.  And sometimes, beaver dams, logs or debris  completely stop the flow and for a while, the stream stops.

So, maybe, it isn't grumpy me or harried holidays or terrible traffic or junk's just life in its own winding way...flowing all along.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Light, Stars and Magic.

There are times in our lives when the stars are aligned and magic happens.  

When it happens, though, we often don't see it.  We're so focused on climbing our mountain of goals that we miss our  own milestones.   We keep on trucking along, seeing our trips and slips and near misses more than we see our endurance and progress.

Do we miss our own movement forward because we don't look back?  

No.  I think we miss it because we do look back, too much.  

All those experiences that left bruises and scars along the way, we carry with us.  We remember those.  But we forget that there's something else that we carry with us in every moment that can bring us further along if we let it: our light.

We are each alight with energy, love and possibility at birth.  Everyone's differences are their own unique light wave that's meant to travel and grow and shine.  But, sometimes, life brings physical, mental, emotional and spiritual storms our way and to protect ourselves we cover our light.  Sometimes, we keep it covered for a very long time.  I've watched this happen to my children, my friends and, yes, myself.  

It's harder to let our light shine than it is to stay low.  But doing so serves no one, really.  We say we don't miss it, but we do and our body and those around us do too.  The world is missing a gorgeous soprano, kick ass designer, creative storyteller, inspiring dancer, artist and chef, amazing gymnast and  pitcher, gifted teacher and healer.  

Be heroic today.  Let your light shine...because when it shines in truth, everyone wins.

The light inside each of us, our own inner star is where the magic truly lies.