Thursday, January 29, 2015

As The Wheel Turns: Imperfectly Perfect.

As an artist, perfection is not the goal.  Or is it?  

A work of art is, in fact, work.  Making art is a work process requiring concentration, dedication and physical labor.  The art work, whether it's a painting, mug, mask, script, novel, movie, musical performance or blog, is a tangible product.  And the product is subject to scrutiny and evaluation.  

Imperfections and all.

I've studied and worked and produced and shown and sold work for many, many years now. Yet, I still work to do the very best work.  Whether it's choosing the correct values in a painting, the right mug and handle proportions or a word that sings, I strive for that A plus.  And, I fail all the time.

A secret.

The harder I try to make it 'right', the faster it goes wrong.  I sat at my wheel today, throwing mugs which I really like to do and find relaxing.  Today, it was not.  The first piece refused to cooperate, it wobbled, wiggled and caved.  It brought back all my beginning frustrations and fears and failures.  I got mad and sad.  The clay got tossed.

What now?

That, I saw clearly, is the true question.  And, the answer.  I was back in time hearing all those helpful suggestions and calm comments about mug sizes and handle openings and, oh, color choices and pricing strategies.  I wasn't really sitting at my wheel, playing with porcelain, at all.  

Sit.  Now.

Take a wedge of clay.  Put it on the bat.  Turn on the wheel.  Feel the porcelain between my fingers.  Take a breath in and out and drop my shoulders.   Center, open and pull up.  Put my hands together, one in, one out, clay in, clay out, feel the rim, let go.  Voila, a mug.  

Four clay wedges later, there are four porcelain mugs.  They are not exactly the same size.  Two are a little taller and two are a little wider.  They will need and get slightly different sized pulled handles and leaves.  I see a pattern in my throwing.  I tend to throw mugs in pairs and I don't know why, it just seems to happen.  I've embraced it by putting the pairs together with the same color and treatment.   But others, I've been told, don't see it that way.  They want a perfectly matched set of four or six.

Perfectly imperfect.

I'm not perfect and I don't throw perfectly sized sets of mugs.  But, I've sold a lot of mugs, actually.  And here's what I've noticed, they go off in mismatched pairs, or one to one person and another to someone else.  I've even sold a set of four mugs to one person that were all a different color.   I, personally, think that's imperfectly perfect, don't you?

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.