Thursday, July 28, 2011

Procrastination sucks. Thank dogs for deadlines.

Last month, my studio was in pieces. Work in progress covered every surface making it hard to find space to work. You know that feeling, right? You know what you need to do and you just keep putting it off. There were bits of clay and paint everywhere. I had 4 new masks needing hangers, 2 new sculptures with heads and bodies needing paint, a stand, glue, patina and copper. I also started a new coiled clay piece and 3 new masks.

The real problem wasn’t space. The real problem was procrastination which is really fear in disguise. Fear of finishing, fear of failure, fear of letting go. How do you get out of that space?

Deadlines are a wonderful thing.

There’s a show deadline zooming up. I want to enter my new work, so I had to pick up those pieces and put them together. I made an appointment to get all the new pieces photographed this week.

I got out the glue and got it together.

Thank dog(god) for deadlines. Because, procrastination really does suck you down into the muck. You know that feeling. Now, I feel so much better. Relief. Release. New energy.

Ok, I still have a new sculpture, 3 new masks to finish. But that's next week. Or maybe the week after, or the week after that?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sticks and Stones and Puppies don't mix.

I keep telling Jilly and Apple that sticks and stones are not puppy chow. They chow down anyway.

Here's Apple, my son's new puppy. She is six months old and teething. Warning, do not let her near your nose. Ouch. Take a look at her new prize possession.

You can see she believes the old saying, "Bark softly and carry a big stick."

Here's Jilly, my sweet yellow lab. She is six years old and not teething. But she loves to hunt in the gravel for treats left by my neighborhood cats. Warning, do not let her near your nose. Stinky.

You can see that I've tried to tempt her with a 'good' treat and safe, chewy nylon bone. Unfortunately, it only works when I'm around. If I happen to be 'busy', well, she gets busy and, well, let's leave it at that.

Here they both are together, hanging out in the yard.

While Jilly and Apple do mix well together, I still can't get them to agree with me on sticks and stones.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fears faced. Clay rediscovered.

I was a failure. When I was 17, I took a clay class and failed at wheel throwing. So, I headed over to the hand building table and stayed there. In the years since, I’ve made clay sculptures and masks using the slab technique I taught myself. I made some nice sculptures, but never showed them alone feeling that they weren’t good enough. My failure haunted me.

Not anymore. Yesterday, I decided to quit letting my fears keep me from living and doing what I wanted to do. I got determined. I got into a dirty pair of jeans and headed to my garage.

There, you see, was a pottery wheel given to me by a very generous and sweet older man. Three years ago, he and his lovely wife, who own several of my copper repousse’ masks, were visiting my studio when he saw my small clay sculptures. He decided to give me his kiln. The day I picked it up, he insisted I take the wheel, too. I took it, remembering my total failure at the wheel and stuck it in the corner of my garage where it’s been gathering dust.

Until yesterday. I dragged it out of the corner, found an extension cord and plugged it in, figured out how to put the bowl together and turned it on. It worked! So, now it was time to play.

I got out my clay, wedged it, slammed it around, formed it into a ball and slapped it onto the wheel head. I turned the wheel on and, well, threw a bowl. Then, a mug. Stunned by success I’d never had before, I took on my biggest challenge, throwing a big bowl. I wedged a bigger ball of clay, slapped it down. Time seemed to stop for a while but the next thing I knew, there on my wheel was this large bowl. It has a nice even thickness, good smooth sides and top with a little decorative edge!

And, I did it!

Here’s what I know now.

First, I’m ambidextrous. Throwing clay on a wheel, this makes a big difference. The wheel spins in a different direction, tools are held at a different angle and hands are placed in a different way. All this created a lot of confusion for me, which hand was supposed to do what? It was a struggle, and I was about to give up, resigning myself to being a failure again. Until I realized that I’m not just learning to throw on a wheel, I’m learning to be left-handed. It’s like learning to write all over again, so of course it’s awkward and my little bowls came out lopsided.

Second, I am doing it right. Many people around me in clay class hand build the same way I do. I’d never been taught to do pinch pots or coil technique, but I did it, too not knowing that I was, once again, doing it right.

Third, I can throw on a wheel. I can make big and small bowls, and nice sized coffee mugs. I succeeded on Monday, right here in my own home because I was tired of living with my fear and failure.

Now I see, I knew what I needed to know, all the time. The biggest lesson the class taught me was I didn’t need a class at all. I just needed to get out the wheel and clay quietly in my own garage and rediscover it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Brown thumb turns green.

As a child, my only gardening experience was pulling weeds, so I grew up thinking that yard work was hard work. Not fun. Not fulfilling.

Not anymore. Today, I looked down at my hand and saw that I have a green thumb. Yes, literally. I had been deadheading my flowers. I had to laugh.

Then, I shook my head in amazement because when I was a young woman setting out for college, my Gram gave me one of her prized African Violets to take with me. I killed it. I was ashamed. When Gram found out, she gave me a cactus and assured me I couldn’t kill it. She was right. That cactus grew with me through college, jobs, marriage, kids, and several homes and finally died after living a very long life. I used to admire other people's gardens and wonder what in the world made them want to do all that work. When the kids were little, the only plants outside I really loved were my roses and only because I could cut my own long stem bouquets.

Now, I only have two rose bushes. Yes, I love them. But I’m not as exclusive as I used to be and I love my plants for more than mere bouquets. I have lemon verbena, rosemary, lavender, basil and catnip. I make basil pesto every year. My cats love their Christmas catnip toys. I have little bags of lavender and rosemary stashed in drawers around the house. My patio is filled with potted flowers pansies, lobelia, verbena, hybrid dahlias and carnations.

My yard has blossomed over the years with an assortment of flowers, trees and evergreens. I have lilacs, holly, honeysuckle, peony bushes and plum, cedar, witch hazel and crab apple trees. This year, in spite of the long rainy season, I have flowers like day lilies, dahlias and clematis all blooming at the same time.

Several years ago, I tried my hand at a vegetable garden. I loved it. Growing my own salad greens, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and kale. This year, I started some beets and swiss chard from seed. Last year all I got was leaves and no beets, so this year, I hope I get some to cook up. When dinner rolls around I love making my salad by simply going out my back door.

Yes, I still pull weeds. And, no, I still don’t like it. But I realize now that there’s so much more to gardening than bark dust and weeds. There’s flowers, herbs, veggies and holiday wreaths that come from outside in my yard. And inside I grow begonias, fig, jade, orchids, as well as African violets and a cactus, that I hope, would make my Gram proud. I guess she knew that my brown thumb would turn green someday. She was right.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Good studio days are like good chocolate.

I savor them. Words flow. Clay rolls smoothly and evenly. Copper heats up to just the right colors. A face begins to emerge from the screening. Silence. Serenity. Life is good.

Today, was not like that at all. The clay seemed to dry up, lump up and refuse to roll. As I sit to write this, I delete more than I keep, typos abound. It’s still silent but serenity is gone replaced by a freight train of frustrated thoughts.
So, as I sigh and try harder, I wonder what I am doing wrong. Why is today not flowing smoothly?

I started my day running necessary errands. I came back to a crying puppy that needed out, a cuddle and lunch. I made myself sit and have a cup of tea trying to get that studio mood back. The phone rang. A good friend and a good conversation were wonderful. I got out the clay, but the phone rang again, another good chat.

In the studio, the clay coils kept breaking. My piece cracked in more than one spot. It was tempting to fling it all in and call it a bad studio day and go eat chocolate. But I’m stubborn, if not dedicated. So, I kept rolling and breaking clay but after a while something happened. The clay started rolling smoothly, the coils stuck snugly and the cracks knit back together.

I’d like to say that I can now share with you the secret to turning a bad studio day into a semi-good one, but I really don’t know what happened. Maybe it was sticking it out. Maybe it was closing my eyes and just rolling the clay. Maybe it was just giving up on getting another good studio day and accepting that today was going to be semi-sweet.

And I don’t know about you, but I love semi-sweet chocolate. Maybe I need to learn to love semi-sweet studio days, too. (Oh, I’ve been deleting about three possible endings, here, so there’s the bitter and the sweet.) I had 3 good studio days this week and, so far, just one semi-sweet. 3 to 1, not bad at all.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Butterflies and Creative Freedom.

A butterfly crossed my path three times this morning, I take that as sign. As I walked through the park, a beautiful, yellow and black Monarch butterfly flew in front of me and landed on a tree branch. Then, another fluttered by as I walked along the lake. And, yet another, landed on a bright green leaf and sat so still. I tried to get a picture, but, of course, as soon as I had my camera ready, the butterfly flew off.

I felt a bit disappointed. But the even though I don’t have my own picture of the butterfly to share here, I found the one above online uncredited, the one below on the OSU extension service website, credited to John and Karen Hollingsworth, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are both beautiful pictures of the Monarch Butterfly, which I found out is rarely seen in Oregon. So to see it 3 times in one day is amazing.

Yes. I see messages here. Butterflies are a symbol of transformation. Starting life in the chrysalis, they grow safely in a cozy, dark place until they are ready to break free and fly. Many cultures see them as a powerful sign of new beginnings, new awareness and rebirth. To me, butterflies mean light, freedom, beauty, color and joy.

But, I felt there was more, here. So, I sat still in my meditation spot and asked my question.

What do I need to know? What is the message?

The answer that came to me is this: Butterflies only come into being by breaking free and leaving the past behind. This is what you are doing. What you need to keep doing. When those mean thoughts start getting louder and worries cloud your mind with fears, anger or sadness, remember the butterfly. It’s beautiful. It’s free. It’s left the past behind. And, so can you.