Thursday, August 29, 2013

Talking to the Trees: Relax and Be Supported.

(This is the sixth from my collection of essays. To read the other five go here and here and here and here and here.)

It’s a beautiful, sunny summer day.  Jilly are meandering through the woods, stepping across the little creek and up the hill from the Birch woods to the Cedar grove.  She stops to take a quick drink as I step across the water, moving my foot from one side of the bank to the roots sticking out of the other side.  Jilly just pads through the water to the other side. 

I am cautious.  She just does what comes naturally to her.  We walk on.  She’s sniffing and so am I.  The closer I get to the Cedar Mother tree, the more excited I get. 

The last time I was here, I was sad.  I needed her comfort to deal with the passing of a special friend.  As always, Cedar Mother reached out and into my soul soothing me. Now, I am healing from the loss as we all heal from the losses that life hands us.    

Today, I felt different.  I was excited to see her, to lean against her and be open. 

I leaned in and listened.

First, I felt the tingling and warmth of her spirit reaching out to mine.  I breathed in, sighed and leaned in some more.  I never know if or what I’ll hear from her.   Sometimes, it’s just a feeling of warmth and comfort.  Sometimes, it’s words of wisdom.  I had no expectations today.  I was just enjoying stopping by on a beautiful summer’s day to visit an old friend for a while.  As I leaned in, thoughts crossed my mind about gatherings I’d gone to and stories that had been told.  I remembered it wondering about what I’d heard, said and shared.  That’s when I heard her.

“Relax,” she sighed to me.

I felt my tension flow out of my left foot, leg, hip, lower back and all the way up to through my jaw, cheek and eyebrow.  I was surprised at how much tension I was carrying.  Walking through the park this morning, I thought I was relaxed.

“Relax. It’s ok.  You can be supported, too,” she counseled.

I sighed, smiled and saw that once again, Cedar Mother had seen into me truly.  My worries weren’t about what I’d shared with new friends but whether I’d find support for what I’d shared.  I don’t trust easily.  But after many years of keeping my inner walls up, I’d let them down for a few minutes.  Was it a moment of weakness that would be unacceptable?   That was the fear and tension that I’d carried into the woods. 

Cedar Mother saw it.   In her wisdom, she showed me that I could relax, let myself be supported and also, be strong.  I sighed, patted her trunk, smiled at the sun and walked home. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cure for burnout: Cooking.

Busy.  Busy. Busy.  I like being busy and productive.  But sometimes, I hit the wall.  Today, my eyes were tired.  My mind was fuzzy.  And even though, I have a lot of clay work to do, I knew pushing myself into the studio today was not a good idea.

What to do when I’m tired?

First: Bake.  I had a pile of fresh peaches from the farmer’s market.  Since this is peach season here in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve been buying peaches every week.  I’ve already made cobblers and crisps, so I decided on peach coffee cake.  I didn’t have a recipe, so I took out a few cookbooks for ideas.  I took the batter from one recipe changed the flour, added a different sugar and buttermilk.  Then, added the topping and spices from another recipe.  Here it is Peach Crumble Coffee Cake.

Second: Mix up a salad or two.  I have a pile of gorgeous homegrown tomatoes.  So I sliced them into chunks, added mozzarella balls, my backyard basil, salt and pepper, then drizzled it all with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.    The pasta salad is a basic.  Cheese tortellini, chunks of barbequed chicken, fresh spinach, and green onions all tossed with homemade raspberry vinegrette.

Third: Sit down and eat. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The weather of life: Sunshine and clouds.

Thinking about what to write here this week many topics crossed my mind, which were then crossed off?  Clay, again?  My dogs? My bumper crop of tomatoes? None of this seemed very exciting, not that I try to be exciting.  I leave that for reality TV shows.

Sunshine: Living the creative life.

In this blog I want to show and tell stories about living a creative life in every way.  Because I truly believe that life is meant to be creative whether I’m cooking, gardening or decorating.  And I want to honestly share my art process with all its ups and downs

Clouds move in: Clay isn’t always play. 

Sometimes, it’s work.  It’s sticky or lumpy or just plain stubborn.  This week, it’s been hot and humid here in the Pacific Northwest which is unusual.  The clay behaved just like the weather.  It was sticky, too dry, then too sticky again.  I threw a few mugs but getting the handles on the next day was a test of patience.  The bowl I threw was, again, not good enough.  So after staring at it in disgust, I put it back on the wheel, put my hand on the rim and pulled.  It pulled off like a ribbon and revealed this amazing fluted, scalloped edge.  I just stared at it in wonder. 
The clouds parted.

I realized later that I really didn’t want to make another big bowl right now.  I have these sculpted busts that I did a while back.  From the depths of my studio closet, they’ve been calling to me.  I tried to ignore them.  It didn’t work.  And it doesn’t have to, because there’s no one telling me what to do, but me. 

Letting the sun shine in.

Time to get out of my own way and own up to this whisper of desire: finding a way to combine wheel throwing with hand built sculpture.  I used to hand build only because I couldn’t throw.  I learned to throw and haven’t hand built much since.  Now, I see life wants me to do both.

Clouds again.

Ah-ha moments are sunshine for your soul, yes.  But living isn’t always creative, is it?  There are bills to pay, errands to run, wash to wash, weeding, cleaning and feeding the cat and dogs.
I do love my cat and dogs.  And they do present challenges, especially with the addition of Apple (see more about her here), a lively two-year old terrier mix who doesn’t always mix well with Terra, my 11 year old tabby cat.  Overcoming the bumps does require creativity on my part and flexibility on theirs.  And every time I think I’ve figured out a way for them all to eat their own food, in their own spaces, they figure a way around it.

I moved Terra’s food to the desk out of Apple’s reach.  Terra fell several times trying to get to her food.  I moved her food upstairs to my bathroom.  Apple ran up and ate it all.  I put up a gate to keep Apple away from Terra’s food.  Terra insisted on jumping the gate and re-injured herself.  Now, I’m trying closing the door to the bathroom to keep Apple out of Terra’s food, but did Terra like that?  No.  And she decided to show her displeasure by vomiting in my closet.  Yeah.

Sun breaks through anyway.

Even in this unpredictable weather, my tomatoes are red, ripe and ready.  My zucchini is getting too big and, though my lettuce is done growing for the season, I harvested enough to make salads for another few weeks.  I love being able to make a fresh green salad with my own home-grown veggies.  And to me there’s nothing better than bright, ripe tomatoes sliced with salt, pepper and fresh basil leaves.  Yum.

Sun, clouds and rain mix.

I see now that I learned a lot this week. One: I might have started out throwing a bowl, but I was really creating a new sculpture.  Two: Mistakes are not losing your way but finding it instead. Three: You can take the cat upstairs, but you can’t keep her there.  Four: Barricades are made to be broken through in more ways than you can imagine. And five: Sculpting a life means living it all, rain, clouds, sun and eating tomatoes warm from the garden sunshine. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

As the wheel turns: Mystery, Magic and Fairy tales.

The kiln was loaded.  Bowls and mugs fired.  Two days later, it was time to unload.  With this glazing cycle ended, I began loading for a bisque load.  This is the process of making clay work but it’s not been my comfort zone. 

What comfort zone?
I’ve been taking classes and learning new skills for the past three years.  I learned to throw on a wheel.  My hand building skills went from strictly sculptural to a mix of functional and sculptural.  Then, there was the whole world of glazing both wonderful and scary.  (You can read more about it by clicking through the clay section to the left or click here.)  There really hasn’t been a place of comfort for me in my work for quite a while now.

Change happens.  Scary stories are part of  life.

And the only thing we can all agree on is change is a constant.  Even though change isn’t comfortable for me, I believe in life is about learning, moving and growing.  I never thought I would learn to throw or glaze or fire my own work.  I’m amazed every day at the chances and choices I get to make.    I’ve been afraid of making mistakes and yet, I’ve made plenty.  I’ve thrown bad bowls, trimmed through the bottoms of pieces, repaired cracks over and over, had glazes turn from black to blue to brown, and clay that bloated ruining bowls meant for a big show.

Lessons learned.  Don’t take candy from strangers.

I’ve been lucky to have some good teachers and advice but there’s been some bad advice, too.   I’ve learned a lot.  First hand, on my own, here in my own little corner of the Earth, I’ve had to experiment, trouble shoot and solve these problems.  

My eyes glazed over.  I was lost in the woods of worry and regret.
I hate to glaze.  Why?  One: it’s messy.  No matter how hard I try to keep everything neat, the glaze just seems to get everywhere.  There are drips on the floor, puddles on the tables and rags everywhere.  Two: it’s unpredictable.  No matter how well I mix it or pour it or test it, the glazes never turn out exactly the same every time.  Oh, I know some feel that’s the beauty of it.  I don’t.  I want my clear glaze to go on easy and consistently, fire up clear and clean with no color changes, thank you.  You’d think if we can send people out in space, someone would be able to create a clear glaze that works every time.  Maybe, I just haven’t found it yet.   I glazed on anyway.

Fire it up. But don’t put the witch in the oven.  Yet.

The peep hole turned from red to yellow to orange.  I knew all was well with the kiln but would all the mugs, bowls and vases make it?  Would the glazes turn the black to brown or the reds to pink?  From Friday morning to Monday, I had to wait.  Wonder.  And, of course, worry.

The end is near. But is there a knight in shining armor?  Or mad Papa Bear?

I opened the kiln to a beautiful sight of bright chartreuse and yellow.   The colored mugs all turned out true to color.  The vases looked ok.  The bowls, well, that’s another story.  Two went from black to brown.  But one, turned out exactly right.  I felt a bit like Goldilocks and the porridge. 

Sometime it’s too hot.  Sometime it’s too cold.

You know the story.  Goldilocks is tries each and every bowl of porridge.  One bowl is too hot.  The other is too cold.  One is too thin.  The other is too thick.  This is a very good analogy for glazing and firing.  Sometimes a glaze gets too hot and runs or pits.  Sometimes it’s too cold and winds up lumpy or rough.  If the glaze is applied too thin, it doesn’t cover and the piece is dull.  If it’s too thick, the underglaze color might go from black to brown or wind up white or grey.

I agree with Goldilocks, I want it just right.
When that happens, it’s magic.   And isn’t that what fairytales are all about?