Friday, June 29, 2012

In the Garden.

The red leaf lettuce is growing so fast, I can hardly pick enough to keep up with it. I have fresh beets to cook tonight. The tomatoes plants are getting bigger, slowly.
And the zucchini is blooming which means that little veggies are on the way. Yum.
I never thought that I would love growing my own little garden so much. I do. This year, along with cucumbers and chard, I’m trying eggplant.
I’ve always loved cooking from scratch. Baking my own bread or muffins. Simmering my own sauces, soups and stews. But I’d never thought about growing my own food in my own yard.
I love picking my own salad fresh from my own yard. Pinching fresh herbs for sauces. Pulling up a fresh bunch of garlic. This year, I even have a few of my own strawberries! I even got to one before my dog, Jilly ate it first.
One thing that gardening does require: patience. Even though it’s hard to wait for those tomatoes, especially in this climate of cool, rainy days, it’s worth it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Resting in the between.

I’m resting today. It’s an important day for me. And it ought to be an important day for all of us, but our culture does not recognize the importance of this kind of day.

Every life phase, creative project, study program has a beginning, middle and end. As a culture, we acknowledge these phases very well. Beginnings, like a new school year, come with freshly sharpened pencils, new clothes and backpacks. Middles are marked more by the process or progress being made. You’re in the middle of something or some part of your life and things are moving along. Endings are big celebrations with diplomas, cakes, parties, photographs, exhibits or publications of finished works.

Our culture, like many of our favorite movies, likes to end at endings, where everything is nicely packaged up whether happy or sad. It’s over. The characters or plot forever to be remembered in this nicely tucked up stage, signed, sealed and delivered.

But life isn’t like that and that’s a good thing. Life is a cycle, a circle, a wheel forever revolving and evolving from beginnings to endings and back again.

But there is still more. It’s a big piece of life that’s missing here. This phase doesn’t get any acknowledgement in our culture and it’s just as important, even crucial to our lives and creative work.

The Between. What, you may wonder, is it?

The between is a phase in your life, creative process or work progress that comes after the ending and before the beginning. It is the day after the graduation party, promotional announcement, book or article publication, art exhibition, studio or garden tour closes. It’s the quiet. The empty, open space that feels calm and reflective. It is the phase of germination. Where the quiet, openness of air and the light, warmth of sun can clear, freshen and recharge your mind, heart and soul. It is the between. It’s a sacred space. It is the place where you can and need to rest.

The question is: Can you let yourself?

If you can’t, and buy into our cultural fear of this ‘between’ phase, you can get very anxious. You might act this out physically by cleaning or packing or buying or eating or running. Or you might turn this inside yourself by swinging through your monkey mind from trees of regrets to anger to sadness and back to fears.

I’ve been to all these places and I can tell you that it doesn’t really help. Trying to vault from endings to beginnings too fast doesn’t out run your fears. Starting a new project at the end of an ending usually makes for a bumpy road. The between happens anyway, whether you want to acknowledge it or not.

Today, I am in the between.

One art exhibit has ended. My newest ceramic pieces are sculpted, fired, glazed, and photographed. My mixed media piece is wrapped and ready to go to next month’s show. My vases, mugs and bowls sit waiting for the pottery sale. My studio is clean. There are empty shelves. There is new clay in the garage next to my wheel.

But, right now, I am between. And I am resting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

When is a blog award really an award?

This week, I received an email announcing that my blog was nominated for a Fascination Award: 2012’s Most Fascinating Art Teacher blog. This nomination was for an article I wrote two years ago titled: “Tree of Life- Courageously Taking Root.” The email was sent by Matthew Pellletier, Director of Public Relations from Accelerated Degree Programs.

Of course, everyone loves to be nominated for an award. And don’t we all want to be winners?

My big question is: What am I winning? Why? And who or what is the Accelerated Degree Program? Googling it, I did find a webpage with a lot of text explaining that anyone can earn a degree in anything they want online. Ok. Glad to know that, but what does that have to do with me, my blog and what is the real deal here?

I don’t want to be a party pooper, here. And I really do believe I am a good artist, teacher and writer. And I do believe that my blog is full of meaningful insights and interesting stories. Is putting a logo on my blog for a nomination from someone or someplace I don’t recognize really meaningful? Then asking my blog followers or others to vote on my nomination so I can win a prize from some unknown place really a good idea?

I don’t know. What I do know is that there are a lot of scams out there online. That being invited to participate in a show, or book, or competition is many times just a way for someone else to make money from me. I do admit, they haven’t asked for any money. Yet. But I do know that posting their logo with a link on my blog will get them traffic and more potential customers for whatever it is they are selling at the Accelerated Degree Programs.

So, thanks for the nomination. But, I think my readers get to read without having voting demanded of their very precious time.

Dear readers, if you want to read the article that was nominated, click on the link

I did have a great time working with third graders doing repousse’ on copper leaves that I made into a 4 foot copper tree that hung in their classroom before it was sold at their annual school auction.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Beginnings easy. Endings hard.

I love starting projects. There’s the excitement. The anticipation. The clear, clean openness. The clay is new and fresh. The paper is crisp and untouched. It’s full of possibilities. I dive right in.

I’m at my best at the beginning. I thrive here. It’s even better when I have no expectations or very low expectations. I don’t plan a piece beyond the bare framework. I just get my hands moving across the page, on the wheel or sculpting with clay. I end up refreshed and calm with a deep sense of satisfaction of a good working day. I good throwing or painting or sculpting or writing day is rewarding in and of itself. I quit those days with a deep sigh of relief and awe and gratitude.

I try to keep it simple. Each day, I face each ball of clay one at a time. I reach for a bat, put it down and stay in the moment as I center, pull and shape. Magic happens in these moments on these days. As I clean up and take my pieces in to dry,

I am amazed that I did that.

But again, I stay focused on that day, those pots. One at a time.

Even when I’m painting with under glaze, pulling handles or sculpting leaves, I stay focused on that one piece, that one task. Like a horse with blinders on, I keep my head looking only straight ahead.

When I’m at the beginning or middle, in my mind’s eye, my studio shelves look empty.

So, it surprises me when I see my studio shelves are full. There is no more room to put any more cups, vases or bowls to dry. All the sculpted pieces are attached. All the under glazing is done. I am finished at the moment. Done.

You’d think I’d feel a sense of accomplishment. But I don’t.

That’s when the struggle begins. The questioning. The doubts. I see mistakes everywhere. Minute cracks, jagged sgraffito lines, bumps, slip marks and uneven throwing lines. But, you see, it’s too late. The pieces are now too dry to make any changes. This stage is finished and it’s my job to let go and move onto the next stage; bisque firing and glazing.

I’m not good at letting go.

Ask my family and friends, my dog and cat, they’ll agree. What’s weird is I’m much more comfortable throwing away paintings, stories, sculptures than I am at finishing them. Really. The big clay sculpture I trashed last month, made a wonderful crash when I threw it in the garbage.

Maybe it’s not letting go or finishing that bothers me so much. Maybe it’s control. Or maybe it’s acceptance.

Once the pieces are bisque, glazed and in the kiln, they are out of my hands. I am no longer in control of the process or the product. What comes out comes out. And it’s done. I can’t change it any more. It’s time to see the bowls, vases, cups, sculptures, masks with all their bumps, asymmetrical alignments, glaze flaws and drips as a finished creation. Now, I see all my expectations, ideas, and anticipations turned into final forms. Some amaze me. Some disappoint.

I have to accept it either way. The end. It’s always hard.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Peony Heaven.

In my very first house, there were big, old peony bushes. I didn't know what they were but one spring morning, I woke up to these huge, gorgeous flowers blooming around the house. I was thrilled at their color and texture. The best part was the wonderful scent. Even today, I am amazed at how each one has its own unique scent. It was sad to move away from these beauties, but I made myself a promise: one day, I would have big, gorgeous peony bushes again.

That was 25 years ago. It took me a while. Motherhood and multiple moves got in the way of my peony plans.

Five years ago, I planted these bushes knowing it would take at least 3 years before I’d see any real blooms. I waited each spring to see if the bushes survived or had buds. Two years after planting the first blooms appeared on the dark pink bush in my front yard but nothing from any bushes in the back. The next year I got the double pink blooms in the back. Last year, the white bush had buds that shriveled up without ever blooming.

This year all my peony bushes bloomed.

One is peppery.

Another sweet.

Another is a mix of sweet and savory.

I can see why peonies inspire fragrances around the world. Peonies are well known for their fragrance and some are actually used in perfumes today.

Here’s a bit of peony trivia. It is the state flower of Indiana and a traditional symbol of riches and honor in China. In modern China, it’s a popular tattoo motif associated with a devil-may-care attitude. In ancient lore, mischievous nymphs hid Peony petals symbolizing shame or bashfulness,

According to Wikipedia, the peony plant is named after Paean, a student of the Greek god of medicine and healing. Over 262 compounds have been extracted from peonies including flavonoids, tannins, phenols and steroids. These are used as antioxidants, antitumors, antipathogenic, and help with immune, cardiovascular and central-nervous systems. The herb known as Paeonia and the root of Paeonia lactiflora has been used frequently in traditional medicines of Korea, China and Japan.

No wonder I was so captivated by this beautiful, fragrant and health-giving plant.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Now I know why they call it ‘throwing’ clay.

It wasn’t a good day on the wheel.

The clay was sticking to my fingers. I added more water and it went from bad to worse. It got mushy. And when I pulled it up, the clay got wobbly, lopsided and floppy. Yuck.

What did I do first?

Blame myself. The thoughts in my monkey mind swung through the trees of my fears. I wasn’t centering the clay on the wheel correctly. I wasn’t adding enough water. I was adding too much water. I didn’t wedge the clay well. I wedged it too much. I was pulling up the clay the wrong way.

I was just trying to make some small dessert bowls. Small cups and bowls are easy for me. Normally, this porcelain clay has been relaxing and fun to shape. Not today. Today, it became wads of soppy, gummy mud. Shapeless. Squishy.

Even as I cut another sticky lumpy bowl off the bat, I did not give up. No matter what my mind said, I kept going and going and going. Just like the energizer bunny but in this case, my negative thoughts just kept beating me like the drum stick beating that drum. It got worse and worse and worse.

Pull harder, here. Push in softer, there. Move your hands this way. No. Put your hands the other way. The faster the wheel went, the faster my mind whirled. My monkey mind with its tangled logic tried to solve my problem.

I threw the clay, alright. Across the room it flew hitting the wall with a gooey slap. Even patient, Jilly, my zen master and studio dog, lifted her head from her cushion to stare at me. I had lost my center, thrown my clay and totally failed.
Or did I?

Maybe, there was no problem here.

Maybe, the problem was thinking there was a problem. A problem needs a solution, right? It’s the clay. Or it’s the day. Or it’s the weather. Or it’s my technique. Or it’s my wrist. Or it’s the wheel. Or the way I’m sitting or not sitting.

Thinking or not thinking.

Now, there’s a thought. Don’t think. Throw.

Give it all up. The clay. The day. And the person on a mission of perfection.

Just throw it. Go ahead. Across the room…sloop, thwack, slurp, slide and smoosh.

Funny thing. After I did that, I pulled up a really cute small bowl and a spoon holder. Not my best. But not my worst, either.

Maybe now, I really do know what they mean by ‘throwing’ clay.