Thursday, February 4, 2016

Cold Finishing.

I've worked in clay for decades but I didn't know I was using 'cold finishing' on my work.  Call it  marketing or more 'art speak', cold finishing is really very simple.  It's using paint to add color and texture to the bisqued clay body giving it a finished surface beyond the bare clay.

Even though porcelain pieces right out of the bisque kiln are beautifully white, they're still slightly rough to the touch.  They're still porous, too, so dust, oil and other debris can stain and damage the clay.  That's why functional pieces are always glazed.

Sculptural pieces don't need this kind of functional protection.  But they do need some finishing to give the clay some protection as well as a richer surface.  

When I first started making clay masks, I just painted them with acrylic paints.  Then I learned to do metal leafing in gold, copper and silver.  Adding this kind of metal surface to the clay and then adding thin layers of oil paint creates such a deep, beautiful surface.

I made several new porcelain pieces shaped around large leaves I found on my morning walks in the park.  Deep in my studio closet were two clay busts I'd called 'leaf ladies' which I'd abandoned in my quest to learn new skills in functional work.  Somehow, the porcelain leaf bowls and older clay busts seemed to be a perfect match.  My old pieces had been 'cold finished', so this week I began to re-learn this technique in order to finish these new sculptures.

In the last few years, my easel had moved from center stage to the edges of my studio and my collection of paints had shoved into the closet.  I remember thinking recently that it was time, maybe, to throw those old paints away since I wasn't using them.  

I'm glad I didn't.  I thought I was finished with cold finishing.  But what I see now, is art isn't about being finished with anything, it's always about beginning.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kin and Kilns.

It's been a mixed week.  Creativity, children and clay intermingling in and around each other in ways that I don't experience as much these days.  My 'kids' are all grown up now.  So, other than the holidays, my days are mostly my own to spend throwing, painting, writing, loading and unloading the kiln.  

My time is now my own, my tasks are ones I set for myself.  

Gone are the days of babies crying and diapers and burping.  There are no more tears to wipe or long conversations about life, love and difficulties in which, as a Mom, my job is to listen and nod lovingly.  Or so I thought.

This week, my sweet grand baby was in my care for almost a whole day.  I fed and burped and diapered.  I mimicked her and giggled and made silly noises.  I read her a story and let her grab my fingers and pull herself up.  I applauded her new sounds and her ability to roll over.  I sat with her as she fell off to sleep.  And I got to hear my son, her father, working on his car which is his way to play, and something he doesn't get to do as much with a new baby.

Then my daughter called from a state away to talk about ice, snow, grad school and life as it is going right now.  I nodded.  I agreed.  I listened and listened and listened.  I told her she could and would and will do what she so wants to do with her life.  That she is on the road, traveling along through the mists of the unknown, and it will all be not just all right, but great.  Then I nodded and agreed and listened some more.  

In my studio, I loaded my kiln and fired a new load of bisque.  I trimmed bowls and made a new jar.  I unloaded my kiln with relief and delight.  Seeing all the newly bisqued pieces ready for more color or clear glaze gives me a thrill and a few new creative ideas, too!  

It was all creative time, all part of sculpting a life which involves all the lives around me including mine.  I wouldn't have thought that kin and kilns would work so well together.  But it did.  Curious, isn't it?  

Thursday, January 21, 2016

As The Wheel Turns: Throwing and Stopping.

I threw this week.  I didn't really know what to expect.  With all the holiday happenings and baking and decorating and shopping and guests, I didn't have time to throw.  In fact, I didn't have time to work in the studio at all for over a month.

Enter guilt and fear.  

These two emotions usually mean fun and desire exit the building.  But after my curious week, I found that desire was, indeed, there.  It just needed me to be curious enough to sit down and find it.  Last week, luckily I did find my way back to play. Painting with watercolors brought the fun and desire back into my soul and gave me a new way to look at my clay.  

Throwing is not my comfort zone, yet.  

I still feel flutters when I get ready to throw.  I worry.  I have all my past mistakes creep up and bite away at my desire.  Again, that word, desire.  Such a very important word for me and one I've never used or thought about much.  But not only does desire help chase away fear and guilt, it ignites curiosity.  What will my clay feel like today?  Will it be too cold or hard?  What do I want to make?
Curious, I listened to the clay and let my hands follow.

In deciding, not to decide, I felt a calm settle inside me.  Curiosity led to a desire to play and feel which led to following the clay as it spun into a vase and bowls.  That calmness, that settled attitude, led to going a little further than my comfort zone.  Pulling the bowl bigger, the lip a little wider, and the vase a little fatter.  

It also led me to stop.  

In the past, I've always questioned whether or not to stop.  Or pull higher.  Or push wider.  And when I do stop, I still question myself.  Could I have pulled it bigger or trimmed it better.  I've never been totally comfortable and confident with my decisions.  And so, I find myself ruining beautiful bowls by pushing and creating heavy vases by not trimming deep enough.  But this week, I stopped when it just felt right to stop.  

Bottom line: I liked what I made.  

I also filled my kiln with some pieces that had already been bisqued.  I'd under glazed these pieces at the green ware stage, but wanted to add some depth of color and a black stain.  I've never re-fired my pieces this way before, so I wasn't sure how they would turn out.  Would the initial color fade or get brighter?  Would the black over power the color or add depth?  I opened up the kiln and found more blending of colors without any fading.  And the black added just the definition I was looking for!

This week's findings:  Time away from the wheel doesn't hurt my ability to throw.  Creating from a deep desire to connect with the clay chased fear and guilt away.  Adding more colors gave the piece more depth. And stopping is a good thing!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Curious Week.

My word of the year popped up almost every day this week.  I didn't set it as a goal or even an intention, but there it was all the same.

Studio Curiosity.

Instead of rushing around and pushing myself to get back in the studio and work, work, work, I got curious.  What is it that really pushes me to create?  And is it coming from the right place? Or maybe, there is no right place?  

After some forced meditation, ok I know force and mediation don't go together.  But sometimes, I have to make myself sit down and be still.  Music helps me settle and journaling helps me distract my mind enough to hear my inner voice.  Here's what I heard: guilt and fear.  Those are the forces that chase me around and around inside the studio and out.  

Curious.  I decided to try something different.  Sitting and not doing any creating until I truly felt the desire.  My mind kept throwing guilt and fear words at me like: procrastinator, lazy, and the worst: hobbyist.  Ouch.  I felt that old urge to rush, rush, rush and push some work out.  

I kept sitting.  After a while of watching the clouds move across the sky, listening to my dog snoring and my cat padding around softly, I had an idea.  I wanted to try to combine an old love with a new one.  Into the studio I went, rummaging through my closet and grabbing out inks, watercolors and even an old watercolor paper pad.  

I happily played with my watercolors and inks on paper on one side of my studio.  While it dried, I took out a few thrown porcelain bowls, got out a few under glazes and played again, treating the bowls like watercolor paper and the under glazes like paints and ink.  

Social Media Curiosity.

Last year, I was asking myself questions about social media.  Did I want to be on all the social media sites I was on?  Were they necessary for business or pleasure?  And did they actually bring me business or pleasure?  

Since then, I've said no to LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest.  Even more curious, is how the topic was being discussed at an art meeting last week, too.  There are people who have never and do not want to be online at all.  Some who are completely invested online.   When asked, I said I was shocked when I counted the number of online media sites I'd  signed up for over the years. 

While I do believe the Internet is a good resource for me, I'm not sure which sites are really right.   

Food Curiosity.

Like so many people, I've been sucked into the health and diet vortex.  Eat this food and be healthier.  Stop eating this food and lose weight.  Count your steps, your calories, your body mass index, your breath.  I'm a healthy person but what I'm sick of is all this stuff swirling around me.  And no matter how healthy someone might say it is, worrying about it all the time, isn't.  I'm going to stop buying into it, on tv or in the store.  

Instead, I'm going to follow my body with curiosity.  What am I hungry for?  What smells good and looks good and tastes good?  Where would I like to go...for a yoga...both? How do I feel right now?  What feels right to me?  

I don't know what kind of work I'll make this year or if it will be any different than last year.  I'm not sure which social media sites I'll keep for my art business and which ones I'll keep for pleasure.  And food wise, will I be doing the right thing or not?

I don't know.  But I do know, I'll be curious to find out.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Curiosity: 2016 Word of the Year.

Every year, I pick a word of the year.  Something to guide, inspire or challenge me.  The words of the years past: 2015, Faith; 2014, Flow; 2013, Live; 2012, Strength; 2011, Trust; 2010, Freedom.  I've learned in surprising ways from each and every one.

I had a lot of other words under consideration for 2016: now, peace and joy. 

'Now' was the first word on my list. With my monkey mind swinging from the past tree to the future tree and back again all the time, I always need to remember to be in the now.  'Peace' seemed to follow naturally next, because if my monkey mind is busy swinging around, I'm not in a peaceful place.  'Joy' is something I always desire, aspire to and try to frame around my life but always seems just out of reach.

Then a quote in a Facebook post from my friend, Cindy changed everything.

This quote comes from the new book by Elizabeth Gilbert, "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear." I have read several of Gilbert's books and always found something helpful, wise and soothing in her writing.  I also find her writing to be very true and telling the truth in our society is a huge risk that takes tremendous courage for anyone, especially for women.

As I was putting the quote up on my fridge, I looked up and saw a another quote.
Curious.  Isn't it?

Two quotes now on my fridge with one word in common: curiosity.

I don't consider myself an especially curious person but my family and friends disagree.  They see me constantly asking questions, wondering why and finding out how.  But when I ask all those questions, it's usually to solve a problem.

But maybe, it could be a really good way to relate to the world. Not try to fix it or analyze it or push it or pull it or like it or dislike it.  Just be curious about it.

Curiosity defined is:  a strong desire to know or learn something or a strange, or an unusual object or fact.  Synonyms:  interest, spirit of inquiry, inquisitiveness.  

Now, I see curiosity differently.  I see curiosity as a way to look at the world in an interested and non-defensive way.  A way to be in the world, now.  

This year, each day, I'm going to try to lead with curiosity.  Curiosity about...the sky, the bird outside my window, my dog, my breath, my feelings and yearnings and thoughts.  Not fight them, change them or avoid them.

But look at it all with curiosity.   I wonder how it will go from here?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goodbye, Faith. Hello, ??

It's New Year's Eve.  It's a beautiful day with sun, blue sky and very cold temperatures and I love it.  Sunshine and a frosty temperature is my favorite kind of weather.  Don't ask me why.  Because I really don't know.  It's just feels exhilarating and joyful.

With that in mind, ah and the use of the word,'s time to look at the word of the year from this year: Faith. 

As I've said off and on this year, I was uncomfortable with faith as the word of the year.  Mostly because for me, it has always had a huge weight attached to it associated with my Catholic upbringing.  It has always felt like something I had to have whether I wanted it or not.  More of a burden to carry than a dock on which to stand, supported above the ever changing waters of life.  I've written about the word and how it's changed for me many times this year.  Here are a few samples:  here, here, and here.

I've come to see faith as a friend, now.

Faith is the kind of friend that never fails to show up when you really need to know you're not alone.  When days are frustrating and disappointing, faith shows up at the end to sit with me.  And when out of the blue, something comes my way that I've wanted and needed, faith is there to pat me on the back and whisper, "I knew it would happen."

Faith has been, well, faithful this year.  Trudging through my days silently behind me in everything I do.  And I don't like goodbyes, but maybe, I don't have to really let it go.  Just let faith be there, maybe as it's always been...right beside me all along.  

It's been hard to choose a new word of the year for 2016.  But, perhaps, letting myself have last year's word, faith, beside me, it will all figure itself out in the end.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Holiday Treats.

One thing I really love about the holidays is baking.  As a young girl, my Scottish grandmother made a special trip to teach me how to make the family shortbread and scone recipes.  I loved having my hands in the dough, rolling and shaping and watching them puff up in the oven.  And of course, a buttery shortbread or warm scone with jam is truly delicious.

Every holiday, I get to bake up all of my favorites.  Shortbread.  Cherry Cake.  Chocolate  Kringles.  All the recipes for these treats come from my Grandmother Gallacher and my Gram Smith.

Both of these women were exceptional bakers.  I was honored to learn from them and go on to learn more in college nutrition and foods classes.  Cooking and baking is another way to be creative and I think both my grandmothers felt the same way.  My Gram was especially wonderful not just in the kitchen where her sauces were legend but in my life where she brought light and warmth and love.  When I get out the recipes that I copied from their files, or when I find one in Gram's own handwriting, I'm transported back to that time when I could look up and see her there smiling at me.

When I make her cheese sauce from scratch for pasta or a lamb chop with broccoli, baked potatoe and sour cream, I feel safe and comforted and loved. Everytime.  Baking her chocolate kringles with their snowy dusting of powdered sugar, I still remember her telling me not to over bake them or they'll get dry.  

She was right.  About so many things...she knew my boyfriend was going to be my husband before I did.  She told me he was a very kind man and she'd only just met him.  She loved seeing me wear bright colors and encouraged me to be bold.  She used to have me drive her around in her big Buick and had me use her apartment for a whole month so I'd see I could move out on my own and be ok.

Every holiday, it isn't just the baking I look forward to, it's the recipes and loving memories.

And that's a very special treat for the holidays.