From the clay dig to the gallery, it's a 30,000-year-old human endeavor transforming the essential formlessness of clay into artful vessels and sculpture.

An ironic metaphor for everything, clay both fascinates and daunts. If it were too easy to understand, we'd be on to something more mysterious, right?

Welcome! Enjoy everything here: words and images, connections and conundrums. You fit right in.

Hot Out of the Kiln for April 2014: TYPORAMICS

Handwavium Canister, 2014, Liz Crain

Handwavium Canister, 2014, Liz Crain

This is to introduce you to a concept and a word I wish I had invented. But no, that honor and distinction goes to Academy of Art University in San Francisco Graphic Design MFA candidate Flora Cruells Benzal.

She defines Typoramics as the place “where ceramic art and typography meet.” And is creating her thesis-including-book around the artists who practice it.

A woman after my own heart in SO many ways: ceramics! graphic design! education! synthesis! word coinage!

I will let Flora’s description on her Typoramics Facebook page do the rest of the honors:

Open to all artists that use type as part of their ceramic artwork
Typoramics is a thesis project created by Flora Cruells Benzal for the Graphic Design MFA program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CA.
I need help from my fellow ceramic artists. I am starting the final push to finish my MFA in Graphic Design and now I am working on my thesis.
My thesis deals with the convergence of typography in ceramic art. I want to explore how ceramic artists use type on their work. How do they chose what type to use. If they know how to chose type. If they have any knowledge of typefonts to begin with. Anything related with typography on their ceramic work.
I am looking for people to send me images of their work; to send me thoughts or comments on the subject. I am open to everything and anything. If you know of other artists that work with type and their medium is clay, I would love to hear from them. Please pass the info along.
At the end, my thesis will involve an interactive website along with a great catalogue that will showcase some of the images that you have submitted and some of the thought process that involves the use of type on your work.
I would appreciate any feedback, contacts, ideas, suggestions that you may have in order to make my thesis a success.
Many Many Thanks!!

You can also find more of Flora here and here and here and here.

How about it, all you typoramicists out there? Find Flora and help out!

–Liz Crain, who can come close to Flora’s creativity with “Ceramigraphics” but that’s not nearly as sassy-sexy as Typoramics.


Book Review and Double Giveaway Drawing: A First Time for Everything


This post – my first official book review and giveaway -  is both an indirect and direct result of the book pictured above: Inner Hero Creative Art Journal: Mixed Media Messages to Silence Your Inner Critic, the second book by certified creativity coach Quinn McDonald.

I’ll break it down:



I follow her blog, QuinnCreative  and appreciate her truthful, sometimes pointed, often profound writing.

I am a fan of Quinn’s first book, Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art, because of its freeing “Create Imperfectly” guidance.

I have personally worked with Quinn, an insightful, empathic creativity coach. She gives homework.  In one of our phone conversations I was grousing about the clay not letting me do what I was attempting, feeling both thwarted and flummoxed and in need of a different perspective. She kindly admonished me: “You go right back in your studio and apologize to that clay!” I did and it helped me move past my misunderstanding.  I still apologize whenever I recognize I am getting bossy with my materials.

I enjoy and admire Quinn and support all of her efforts: books, writing, workshops.  I look forward to whatever she will manifest next.



I am a proud Artist Contributor to the Inner Hero book, and that is why I have two copies to give away, Dear Readers. (Details at the end of the post.)

I worked from the advance description of the book’s scope in order to make and write about my artwork in the ways Quinn requested.  I needed to describe and name my Inner Critic (Scylla, a meanie of mythic proportions, but then aren’t they all?) I also needed to ID and write a description of an Inner Hero of mine. I chose The Synthesist, who I named Maya. With her help, I am able to combine disparate elements and forge anew.

My small part of this book was completed over a year ago, so as I read the finished work, I appreciate the depths to which Quinn takes her concepts.  We have many Inner Heroes, she explains, and we may call upon any and all of them, depending on the particular vulnerability our Inner Critic is harping on. Quinn spends several chapters – the heart of the book, really -   describing art-making and writing practices for creating “mixed media messages.” Make them utterly personal, she advises.

And, here’s the lasting genius: All does not end with those personalized exercises. Your art and writing create an interactive tarot deck of personal Inner Hero cards to consult.  Ignoring or abolishing our Inner Critic probably is not possible, so what about an ongoing a dialogue? Sometimes that Inner Critic is telling a truth we need to know,  but not in a way we can comfortably accept. The enjoyable methods the Inner Hero offers help us develop ways to interact and work with the darker side of our creative selves. As Quinn writes, “Your journal, writing, art, wisdom and creativity all come together.”

Perfect case in point: I consulted my Inner Hero Deck to write this blog post. I felt I needed to write perfectly  and that meant Scylla was entering in her finest Perfectionist Robes and Headdress. I grabbed my Inner Hero Scribe card.

We worked it out.

Here’s How to Enter the Inner Hero Giveaway Drawing: Leave a comment on this post by Tuesday March 25 saying you’d like to receive a copy of this book!  Feel free to say why as well. The next day, March 26, I will randomly pick two Commentors and announce it in the Comments as well.  I will include my email address and ask the winners to send me their snail mail address.  I will send the books  -  postage paid by me – as soon after that as I can.  Bon Chance, let the Good Comments Roll!

–Liz Crain, who believes it was Katharine Hepburn who said that if one did not engage with one’s fears  – often generated by that Inner Critic – one got soggy. Ew.


Hot Out of the Kiln for March 2014: A Burning Question



What is a teapot?

(That’s the Warm Up Question, not the Burning One.)

I know this much: In the world of contemporary ceramics there are both functional and sculptural teapots.  The sculptural versions – which still reference all the right parts: body, spout, lid, handle – you might not perceive as teapots for all the imagery masking them. If you have never paged through the two Lark Books, 500 Teapots and 500 Teapots, Vol 2 – pictured up top – well, you will find it all there, straight-forward and not-so.

To be completely honest, throughout my ceramics classes and workshops I balked at teapot projects of any sort. Not interested. (Actually exasperated!) To fulfill the assignments, I made desultory objects that I did not enjoy or respect. Precisely NONE of which I kept.

Then one day in my home studio I got interested in making a ceramic version of an old red gas can: rippled sides, wood handle/wire bail assembly and dented, rusty painted surface. I was loathe to call it a gas can, even if it was. I liked the shape and found dozens of others to emulate, but the gas-petrol-oil monikers always gave me pause. I did not want to seem as if I was venerating something I was not.  My explorations most definitely were not about Pop Art,  products, or politics, but always about the fun and un-traditional pottery shapes and the dented/rusted surface.

Yet, for lack of any other description, I continued to refer to them as ceramic “gas/kerosene/petroleum/oil cans,” for that was their lineage. Stranger still, even if I did not want to make dinnerware,  I made sure they were usable, food-safe vessels – some of the handles excluded.

And…I had a teapot blindspot.


Fast forward to July, 2013. I’m showing my latest faux metal works, gas and oil cans included, at the ACGA Clay and Glass Festival in Palo Alto, and who introduces himself but Sonny Kamm, soon joined by his wife Gloria. They, of the renowned Kamm Teapot Foundation Museum. They were funny and charming as they told me they admired my “teapots” and wanted me to email them more imagery so they could select one or more for their collection.

Huh? I make teapots? Sonny and Gloria’s perception gave me more than just a pause, it erased my blindspot and changed a long-held prejudice I did not know I had. I began to see what was laughingly obvious: body-spout-lid-handle = teapot!

If I never place my work in the Kamm Collection (still working on that one…) it will be OK, because the Kamms gave me new eyes and placed me in a ceramic tradition.

Now I need new words.

So here’s the Burning Question for Y’all: What do I call them? My working title for them is Teapot Cans. (I just don’t want to leave the can world behind!) But I have also called them Can Teapots, Teapot Style Cans and simply Teapots, but that last one feels misleading, like I’m leaving something out. Any additional thoughts and angles? Words, phrases, snippets? Your comments and feedback are sincerely requested, here on the blog or on Facebook or Twitter if you got here from there. I will read and play with it all. Thank you!

–Liz Crain, who was told by several early boyfriends she was too stubborn and replied to every one, “No, I’m NOT!!!”




The Apron


My first clay studio apron is done for. Look at that threadbare hole with the wood floor peeking through right in the Solar Plexus Chakra!

For that matter, look at the stained and faded rest of it. It used to be as blue as the bottom hem. Looks aren’t all that crucial to me – it’s an apron, after all, and I am more into how it functions – but it cannot do its job now either, and that’s the truth brought home after its last washing. So, I am retiring it to Ragsville, which is actually Fine and Fitting.

In the beginning of my clay work, I did not wear an apron. Too busy. Too cool. When my All-in enthusiasm wrecked a few favorite shirts (Iron oxide wash, I’m lookin’ at YOU!) I found something to strap on in defense: this denim delight. I wore it constantly in the Cabrillo College clay lab for nearly a decade and, like my high school gym clothes, I took it home every weekend to wash.

The demise of this apron got me to examining the other aprons hanging on the back of my studio door. Looks like I will be wearing them more often. And all of them have a story nearly as rich as the one I am letting go of. Here are just a few:


That original blue denim apron is about 15 years old.  Thinking it was old and shabby about 10 years ago (hah!), I used some birthday money to buy this overpriced chartreuse fancy thing at a local art supply store. It was too stiff, too thick, too long, too precious. The neck strap was one continuous piece that slid through the sides and became the ties. A nifty conceit, but it kept slip-slidin’  down my body until I pinned and then finally sewed it into place behind those snazzy copper buttons. Still it remained largely unworn. What made it mine was a special day when fellow potter Jasper Marino brought his silk screen into the clay lab and offered to screen print a few of his custom ceramic-based designs on anything we brought him. What an opportunity! It took this apron from stand-offish to MINE and I like it a lot! Plus, with washing, it has softened and become a good friend.


Here’s a gift apron that has seen some pretty good use. It is a shorty, and the binding wrinkles the body, so it feels cheap. But it is a souvenir and features the artwork of the noted Richard Shaw of the UC Berkeley Ceramics Department: a signature trompe l’oeil assemblage person on the wheel, So the graphic is cool, even if the apron has a functional deficit or two.


Another commemorative apron. One I bought for myself, trying to avoid the problems of the green “birthday trophy” apron above. While I adore the colorful logo – the Phoenix speaks to me strongly – and I quest for the romance of Nepenthe in Big Sur,  it’s another (made in China) shorty with curling binding and pockets both too high and too deep. Function counts too, people!  I choose it over the UCB Richard Shaw apron, though, because of the personal meaning. Funny how particular this all is.


I will diligently work on wearing a hole in this one in the next 15 years. Because it’s not really an apron, it’s a mantle. Made of lovely and colorful Guatemalan cotton, sewn true, supple and strong with no design gimmicks.  Just the right length and just the right pockets. I used to enjoy seeing my Cabrillo College mentor Kathryn McBride wearing it. After she died, it eventually found its way to me and for at least a year, it hung decoratively on my studio wall. There was NO WAY I was going to sully that precious artifact with my mundane splashes and brush wipings.

Yet, with the passage of time comes new understanding and often new behaviors.  At the beginning of this year, during my annual studio dedication, I spontaneously took that apron off the wall and put it on, intentionally assuming the gentle energies of my mentor. I was completely clear that it was not her, not her talents, not her temperament that came to me, but that the powers I was aligning myself with were in support of me right now and going forward. Maybe it’s the equivalent of Dumbo’s feather, but I don’t care. I can’t say I have worn her apron that much since my assumption, having that old favorite still around and all, but today, its hole told me everything I needed to know about transitions.

–Liz Crain, who once felt one way about things and now feels another.

I Just Deleted 10,789 Picture Files



And, yes, it was on purpose.

Since I got a digital camera, like you, I have been taking lots of photos. And not really curating them. They were overwhelmingly of my artwork – in many angles, backdrops, settings, styles – and took up the lion’s share of the room. But, as a full service artist,  I also had a lot of backstory, process, documentation, activity, marketing and adjunct photos.

None of it was very well organized. The folder trees were serendipitous. I knew where to find stuff by rote – most of the time. I promised myself I would straighten it all out “Someday.” And that Someday proved to take a couple of months to execute.

I was wise to stall on this. If I knew what I was getting into – and I blessedly did not – I might have never attempted it.

I sat down and proceeded with the first folder, deleting and rearranging, file by file, as I encountered each sub-folder.

I slogged untold hours – whole evenings until I couldn’t see straight -  through my PICTURES folder.  I clicked DELETE 10,789 times.  That’s 20.11 Gigabytes, gone. (It took the Recycle Bin about 30 seconds to get rid of all of them, though, which was humbling.)

If you have a seven-year backlog of untamed picture folders, I both recommend and caution you from attempting this. It’s a life-changer, beginning, middle and end.

I have a select few suggestions and observations.

Methodology: Each time you sit down to this task, set a goal: # of folders and/or working time period. And stop when you reach it.

Intense work needs rewards. Have a few, preferably with serotonins,  like chocolate.

Record the numbers of Files, Folders and Gigabytes before you start and, if it helps, check them at the end of every session so you can see where you have been. This is important for not only efficiency, but also because this work is NOT like cleaning out a closet. While physically moving things has an immediate and tangible reality to it, when you clean out electronic files, nothing really changes shape. There’s no physical heft and it becomes an intellectual exercise,  a Sisyphean leap of faith. The way to translate that is with those file/folder and gigabyte progress numbers. It’s all ya got.

Ask Yourself: Each time you find yourself stalling over an image, wavering, repeat:  “Does this photo tell MORE of the story? Even if it is of the plain backside of a 3D piece, if it adds more information about the work, it’s a keeper. If it’s repetitive, redundant, boring or, heavens, out of focus or frame, poorly lit, or otherwise not remarkable, DELETE! But if the only photos you have of certain pieces are bad shots, well, keep some of those as pure archival documentation and call it good.

New Habits: I first began to take and keep too many photos when I became an Etsy Seller in 2009. On Etsy, there are five photo slots to fill for each piece, and it is highly recommended that you fill them.  For the shopper, those photos ARE your product. I took all kinds of views to find the perfect five, and I then got busy and never went back to clean out and straighten things. Now I know optimum views and angles and am more efficient. I also find myself assiduously deleting the poorer files immediately.

Take Away: This giant task was effectively a seven+ year review of my body of work. Because of what I saw and made decisions about as I cleaned, I have a greater appreciation for my maker’s journey and have made connections throughout it. I even found a dozen or so misfiled folders I was glad to relocate.

And I am thrilled that I am done.

–Liz Crain, who’s become more circumspect,  efficient, and better at storytelling with a camera. And she’s also resting her Delete finger.

Note on Comments:  Begone Eastern European Hackers! Let’s try opening my new posts back up to Comments, which I have missed. I’ve clicked the Settings I think should do that. It may or may not have worked. If not, please feel free to comment on the Facebook link, if that’s how you got here, or email me at lizcrainclay@gmail.com, and I will get it right next time.  Thanks.

Figuring Out What an Electric Firing Costs



Yes, it involves some arithmetic. Some dividing and multiplying, even. But you can DO this! It’s NOT Rocket Surgery, so unroll those eyes and get empowered.

I did this for each of my kilns a year ago and for me, it ended the anxious little mystery of how much I was spending on each firing, and I happily discovered it was about 1/3 of what I guiltily thought it was.

As rates fluctuate, I probably should do it twice a year as a general practice, but right now I want to know because I have a new and bigger kiln and I want a reasonable guesstimate for it before I even fire it the first time.

The Big Idea is to discover how much electricity your kiln uses, for how long, at whatever rate your electric company charges you. In these examples, everything is laid out generically, and then there’s a Real Numbers Example as I apply the formula to my new kiln. Grab a calculator, a pencil and some scratch paper and come along with me.

FIRST: Gather your kiln’s numbers



Look on your kiln’s ID Plate, somewhere on its outside.. (Or in the Manual if you have it.)

You need the Volts (aka Voltage) and the Amps (aka Amperes) numbers. Don’t worry about what they mean if you don’t know. You only need the numbers. Get them first.







SECOND: Find out the Kilowatts of your kiln

A AmpsandVoltsequalsWatts


Multiply your Amps and Volts to get Watts. Divide by 1000 — or just move the decimal over three places to the left — to get the Kilowatts.

Notice the red writing: it’s the real numbers from my really new kiln.








THIRD: Get real on your firing time


Figure out a firing length. I go with the highest temp and the longest typical firing time I am likely to do. In my case it is a normal speed Cone 6. I actually timed my old kilns from start to when the kiln sitter fell. You can guesstimate. You can see if your kiln’s manual talks about it. My new kiln’s binder did, so I used that.

You need to reduce the firing time length because all the elements are not on for the entire firing, so the kiln it not at full juice. Most of the sources I read when learning about this formula suggested an Adjusted Firing Time of about 60% of the actual firing time. So multiply your chosen firing time by .6 to get the How Long number.







FOURTH: A Baby Step Calculation




You can find out how many kilowatt hours are in a typical firing by multiplying your Kiln’s Kilowatts by your Adjusted Firing Time. Save this number for the next step.

(And you arithmetic champions can go for the Triple Dog Dare and skip this step for the final one, in which the product of all three of the magic numbers you have gleaned is revealed.)








FIFTH: Get your Electric Bill and pick the highest rate they charge you



Yes, this is the most tedious reading, but down there at the bottom of my Energy Usage is the number I seek: the highest/nearly highest rate I am charged. I only fire my kilns at night (Off Peak) so I used the $0.33201 per kilowatt hour (kWh.)









SIXTH: Kiln Kilowatts x Adjusted Firing Time x Energy Bill Rate = COST OF A FIRING!

KWhXEnergyBill Rate


That’s it: Your three numbers (OK, two if you did the Baby Step) multiplied together, give you the dollars and cents cost of your electric firing.

See, not hard….and SO worth it!

The whole of it is below. Didn’t want to scare you off with that image first!

























–Liz Crain, who wholeheartedly believes in understanding even the sticky parts of this clay stuff. She also knows that if you multiply your kiln costs by the number of times you fired it in a year, it will tell you how much to reimburse the Household Account. And if you divide your firing costs by the cubic footage of each kiln, you will see it is eerily the same for each of them.


Additional note: For the time being I have sadly had to discontinue Comments to my posts. Too much dreadful spamming, peppered with small and annoying hackings! I have taken all the updating and firewalling steps I’ve been advised of and I hope to reinstate your part of this conversation soon. Your Comments are Manna to me in the wildness of the internets! If you came here from a Facebook link, by all means leave a comment before you leave my  FB post. If you subscribe or just found me however, you may email me at lizcrainclay@gmail.com    Thanks for stopping by.


The Yearly Studio Clearing Ritual: Making Way for Awesomeness



For a few years now, somewhere in December,  I hold a little private ceremony in my studio. It lasts maybe 20 minutes and has no real agenda except for me to pay attention and respond to what I feel. (I’m somewhat allergic to prescribed rituals of any sort.)

I clean the space up a bit beforehand, nothing major. I settle in some special objects: flowers, candles, something aromatic for the air, a ceramic piece or two, a bit of fruit, a shot of herbal bitters.

Beforehand, I craft a list of studio happenings since the last clearing, another list of what I want to release, and a third list of what I want to attract. Sometimes I have images to go with. It is all very organic and sourced from inner knowing and truth, no mistakes are possible.

This year I added a specific piece of music, The Lark Ascending by Vaughn Williams, as there were more vital things to release than usual, and I was glad I did.

When I’m ready, I light the candles, start the music and…then I find out what I do next. It means taking in and honoring the space, the moment, the lists, the images, the smells, the music, attentively and purposefully.

Like I said, there were some powerful items to let go of and I found physical representations of them to transform, so I spent some time on that.

When I feel done, I eat the fruit (this year it was a bosc pear) and knock back a shot of the bitters (a homemade batch aptly named “In Bloom.”)

The music ends and I blow out the candles, happily launched into the next round of creative awesomeness in my personal space.

Liz Crain, who every year gets a little closer to understanding how the added elements of grace, personal rhythm, and, yes, even rituals feed her artistic soul.

Additional note: For the time being I have sadly had to discontinue Comments to my posts. Too much dreadful spamming, peppered with small and annoying hackings! I have taken all the updating and firewalling steps I’ve been advised of and I hope to reinstate them soon. Your Comments are Manna to me in the wildness of the internets! If you came here from a Facebook link, by all means leave a comment before you leave my  FB post. If you subscribe or just found me however, you may email me at lizcrainclay@gmail.com    Thanks for stopping by.





Reviewal and Renewal: A Yearend Molt And, Oh, Pardon My Dust

StudioRitual2013StudioRitual2013StudioRitual2013StudioRitual2013So, here it comes. Major Change. Here there and website-wise.  Sometimes it comes awkwardly and with unexpected difficulties.

I was going to speak here of my year end studio ritual and its meanings and metaphors, including a photo, but I don’t seem to be able to use my usual WordPress set-up.  And this temp one is being cranky beyond all reason.

What. Ever.

Just know all is well. All will be well and all manner of things will be well.

-Liz Crain, who knows this too shall pass.

As I Was Just Saying…

Broken Cup, WHY??? Artwork and Photo by Yumiko Aso

Broken Cup, WHY??? Artwork and Photo by Yumiko Aso


Last post I was talking about my love of reference books…and about liking to read dictionaries. A few posts before that I was discussing the mysteries of cracked work and Failure. Wellnowdonchaknow, both issues came up when my clay buddy, Yumi asked for help understanding why this one cup of hers split in half in an otherwise beautiful glaze load of her lovely – and whole – pieces. Here’s a story of connections made.

No matter how chill I might seem about cracks, don’t you buy it!!! Sure, I might write about Zen Acceptance and Metaphor, sounding all philosophical and detached. That’s me trying write myself some peace. Ultimately, though, I’m still upset because I just don’t understand what happens when works seem to fail so randomly. If I don’t understand it, how can I avoid it?

I had one clue from my Cracks Gone Sproing experiences: the pieces all had thicker than usual inside glaze applications. It made me seriously wonder about inside and outside surface tensions, but that’s as far as I got.

I kept on the alert,  and often certain words, concepts, examples around my particular cracking problem repeated: Quartz Inversion, Cristobalite Inversion, Cooling Dunting. Tell me more!

It took years though, and in the face of No Ready Answers, one turns it over to the whimsy of the Kiln Goddesses, shrugs her shoulders and says, “Mama said there’d be days like this.

And yet it turns out my one clue - uneven interior/exterior glazing -  was actually a valid lead.

In true clay nerd fashion, one day I followed up on this lead by once again reading a dictionary: The Potter’s Dictionary of Materials and Techniques. A gotta have on the bookshelf!










I started with the 9-page extensively illustrated entry CRACK.












Which led me to Cracks D and E in Glazed Ware.












Which led me to DUNTING and specifically to Cooling Dunts due to the cristobalite inversion


Which led to understanding a key expanding/shrinking change clay and glazes go through differently as the kiln heats and cools. I think I pegged my problems, which are a Perfect Storm of firing situations: Uneven clay walls compounded by uneven glaze/non-glaze applications compounded by uneven heating and cooling compounded by physical location in the kiln compounded by Luck of the Kiln Goddesses. That covers it.

Have I lost all you non-clay readers? Sorry. A clay nerd’s gotta do what a clay nerd’s gotta do.

To bring it back round, when I saw Yumi’s nearly textbook photo of the dictionary descriptions and heard her questions, it all came clear. I chimed in with my thoughts on her casualty. Hope it helps

So, as I was just saying, problems are good, so is reading up,  and so is taking them to the next level!

~Liz Crain, who will certainly have more to say about this as she applies her new-found understanding to her new works and refires.

500 Books and Two for the Desert Island



I love a wall of books. It unfailingly rightens and reassures my weary, distracted world.

Not just anyone’s wall will do, though.  I need my hand-selected wall: that mish-moshed reflection of personal passions and meaning,  in which each volume has survived at least one of my annual-ish purges, if not decades of them.

While I gather new books often, I let go of plenty. Some go to the local library, some to trade at Logo’s, the local used book buyer/seller. (Where I easily spend my cash and trade-in credits on more.)

Novels and pop culture bestsellers – if I don’t request them from the library – tend to come in and go out.

My keepers?  Vintage tomes, family works (yes, I’m related to more than one published author) and Art: history, artists, philosophy, creative process and technique, i.e. reference books.

I’ve always preferred Non-Fiction. As a slightly-bored pre-teen,  I would page through the authoritative-but-obviously-dated-even-to a-kid 1944 Compton’s Pictured Encyclopedia. Sometimes I scanned Webster’s Third, usually looking for naughty slang. I also delved into Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, Science in Your Own BackyardLost in the Horse Latitudes, or anything with “How to” in the title.  I often did not understand what I read, but my folks had an Open Book Policy so I knew I could always go back and re-read.

And that’s the beauty of keeping books handy, as far as I know. They are there when you need to read all or parts of them again. (This goes for works of fiction as well.) The wall of books I have kept has developed a definite cant towards Ceramic Art. One of those shelves, pictured at the top, contains every Lark 500 Series volume on Clay/Ceramics published since 2002, plus 500 Handmade Dolls and 500 Baskets. (If they ever announce plans to publish 500 Ceramic Cans, I will be submitting my work on opening day.) These 500 Series books go deep and wide for me. They provide encouragement, inspiration, reminders, even gentle prods towards excellence. Any one of them serves perfectly well as a pictured encyclopedia to wander in and wonder over when I need a recharge.

I have even outgrown and released some of my ceramics books. The basic intro cookbooks written for beginners have departed. Gone, too, are those exotic books about specific techniques and materials I no longer am interested in.

There are still plenty of dozens to make my shelves groan. Works by Daniel Rhodes, Marguerite Wildenhain, Robin Hopper, Robert Piepenburg, Mattias Ostermann: each goes deep into the vortex of his or her subject, telling stories, imparting wisdom and sharing great examples.  I revisit them with new questions and leave with new enjoyment. I even like puttering around in Hamer’s  The Potter’s Dictionary of Materials and Techniques. No surprise there, I guess.

Beyond those favorites, I consider two as Books for the Ages. When I’m fleeing the Zombie Apocalypse to the safety of The Proverbial Desert Island, these are the two I would grab:

A Potter’s Workbook by Clary Illian and Finding One’s Way with Clay by Paulus Berensohn.

What yin and yang at work in these works! An independent female wheel-throwing potter who apprenticed at Leach Pottery, and a pinch pot making dancing male “deep ecologist” (as he later described himself.) What they share are calm engaging voices and uber-personal points of view. They venture cleanly and clearly into and beyond their crafting advice, delving into the fine points of aesthetics, function, history and, above all for me, the meaning they found in taking their paths expressed through their ceramic art.

Paths near enough to mine for me to consider them clay gurus.  I will continue to need their guidance even if no clay is around, so they will be great company on my desert isle.

~Liz Crain, who admits to keeping a few favorite novels too. The best of those is one she’s mentioned here before. That’s because the central character finds solace and sanity in clay, a fact which she connected with on about the 6th reading: Norma Jean the Termite Queen by Sheila Ballantyne. Get it out of the library, enjoy it and return it before it’s due.




Chase the Dream, Not the Competition


After six years,  I’m stepping away from the Santa Cruz County Open Studios Art Tour for at bit. I won’t even apply again until 2015 at the earliest. Good for me!

Like eating peanuts, I made sure I ended on a good one. This year’s effort was my best showing ever, in both artwork and presentation. It had the most attendance (over 400 visitors) and satisfying sales numbers in all categories.

I know other local artists who create a on-off Open Studio schedule, some as an every-other-year practice, some sporadically, as other projects and interests allow. Might it work for me?

Once upon a time, being an Open Studios Artist was my Holy Grail. I felt it would mean I had arrived as a professional in every way.

The Dream was challenged by nearly a decade of rejections with the associated ebb and flow of crippling doubt and unreasoned bravado. I now am thankful for those rejections because they forced me to assess and improve. Did I really mean it? My actions said yes, regardless of outcomes. Being accepted at last did not mean I was a professional, though, because in my ever-evolving Dream I already was one. Go figure!

If I had been too concerned with what everyone else was doing and getting, I might not have persevered, The Competition being too overwhelming, the Dream too nebulous. Yeah, I’m not immune to professional comparisons and jealousies: because it’s what I want too!  I pay attention to the activities of others, but they absolutely do not direct my efforts. I am neither stymied nor goaded, waylaid nor propelled by them.

If one is too fascinated by the Dream to heed the Competition, there is no competition!

My Dream is taking me new directions with unknown outcomes, as Dreams should. I can’t wait to see what arises.

~ Liz Crain, who almost – teasingly – titled this post, “The Hell With It” but that would give the exact wrong impression. It’s not about rejections, frustrations or damnations – mine or theirs – but about focus. Not about shoving off, but about creating intelligent space and time.






The Artist Takes a Sierra Vacation

Stepping away from the incessant work at hand in the studio often seems nearly impossible, if not clearly mad. If I’m not doing “it,” for sure no-one else will be! Yet, step away I did for a week to a cabin at Mono Hot Springs Resort, a place dear to my soul. Getting Out and Away relieves the ego of those false impressions of indispensibility. Done properly and long enough, time spent in different places with different folks allows the senses to fill with newness, the brain’s counters to return to zero and, as a side-blessing, a BUNCH of new impressions to fill the creative tank. Here are a few ways my five senses were re-activated by NOT showing up in the studio the last week of September.




At first, smells are compromised. It is cold in the autumn shade and the air is thin at 6500 feet elevation. Gone are the fat, fully-oxygenated breaths of ocean fog,  valley agriculture, fast food grills. Instead the limbic system experiences crushed juniper berries from the tree by the cabin,  the really-dry wood fire roasting assorted delicacies: S’mores and Jiffy Pop. Later come whiffs of rain, damp picnic tables, snow flurries, mineral hot springs, and the entrenched aromas of an old, dark and end-of-season sparsely-stocked resort store.






No doubt about it, granite IS the High Sierra. Jumbled and tumbled, those boulders determine the shape and direction of the single-lane-road-with-turn-outs to get into the place, as well as the nature of the “sand” (not dirt) surrounding our cabin. That sand is DG: decomposed granite. Boulder-hopping across the river to the vintage hot pools is fine, until you lose your footing and land awkwardly on a jagged edge, trying to avoid a dunking. You have been touched by the mountains and HARD! Time to get a massage from Cherrie at the Bath House. Time for a few hours’ swing in the hammock in the afternoon sun, reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, being touched in a different way because you have the time to be.






For me, the Root Sound of a Vacation is that of a wooden screen door creaking and slamming shut. There’s plainly nothing else like it. It’s a primal imprint. Wherever my childhood vacations took place, if they were not in tents they involved that sound. From the Feather River to Clear Lake, Burney Falls or Guerneville to Beaver Dam Lake in Cumberland Wisconsin,  I associate a wooden screen door’s creak/slam with adventure, leisure, lots of family time, chilly nights, daytrips to interesting places. SO not home – yet the home of a different kind of knowing. Cabin 20 at Mono Hot Springs has the quintessential wooden screen door, nearly a character from Central Casting, and I have to admit to making it work its magic over and over on purpose this time around. Distant Second But Still Special Sounds: Thunder, the Immense Quiet With Breezes, Max’s Honda Trail 90 across the Horse Meadow.





Nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to tasting a freshly-caught rainbow trout dinner. We enjoyed both grilled and pan-fried. We also had enough leftovers to take home, which made the most exquisite trout/tuna salad in the next week. Thank you fishermen and thank you trout. The above-mentioned S’mores and Jiffy Pop were pretty good as well, but not as special as fresh-that-day rainbow trout!






As a visual artist, I am constantly framing my world and extrapolating content and meaning from it. Although I was tempted, I purposely left the clay behind this trip. What else would strike my artist’s eyes? I took a sketch pad and colored pens and decided to just let what happened inform my visual experience and what I felt moved to capture of it. Here are the same trees from the first photo in a different context and the one I sought the most: poetic, metaphoric, epic.

Thank you trees, wind, sky and clouds. I return to my studio changed by everyday yet eternal grandeur.


~Liz Crain, who expects to get back to Mono Hot Springs sooner than the five years it took her from the first time to the one described here.





After the Firing

You might tend to think a ceramic artist pulls her work hot out of the kiln, lets it cool and plops it on the sales table, doneAnd there ARE tales of potters doing just that at their kiln openingsAh, were it that simple for me!  What follows are a few illustrated reasons why, in my world,  there’s a slight cha cha interlude from kiln to market.

The particular firing illustrated here was the most recent I unloaded. I photographed the steps I usually take with my pieces.  From waiting for the right time to unload to putting a sticker on the bottom, there are lots of hoops.


The Kiln – with Thumb Genie and Humorous Caution Sticker. I double-crossed my fingers with this giant and varied load. Firing my biggest kiln, Tsunami, always feels like I have too many eggs in one basket. To add to the apprehension, the last couple of firings revealed some serious cracking issues which might reappear. Still, there is no way out but through, so I loaded, left it on low to preheat the work slowly, closed the lid on a slow firing cycle, thinking I would just sneak up on it all.







Next morning, I am almost happy when the kiln is too hot to open yet. Saves me the knowledge of certain success or certain failure and lets me stew longer.  Here’s the pyrometer saying it’s WAY too hot to even peek. Ahhh.







At under 300 degrees, it’s only sort of OK to peek briefly because it shocks and cracks the glazes. Lower than 200 degrees, I can prop the lid and help it cool faster. My first brave and nervous glimpse says all is well from the long view. I cannot stress how much of a relief this is after a night of cracked-up and distressing dreams.  I wear my well-used Ove Gloves when I unload just in case I hit a hot bottom or something.







After the long view (nothing blown  up or majorly cracked apart at first sight) there is the not-s0-small matter of whether the lids release. I  build my lids with a bit of ease (aka “shuffle”) around the spouts/flanges, but everything gets so soft in the heatwork of the kiln, it’s not uncommon for random spots to stick together, especially if gravity and proximity are involved. Before firing I paint on generous coats of wax-with-added-alumina and even so, stick happens. A completely stuck-on lid means a lost piece, so I’ve learned to breathe deeply and tap a wooden stick with gentle authority on a stuck lid. Too much force and something breaks off. Not enough, and the glassy connector-spots don’t separate. Always nerve-wracking. This was the only stuck on lid in the load and gave up after 20 or so gingerly assertive taps.







I inspect each piece as I take it out of the kiln. Top, bottom, sides, handles, spouts, seams, attachments. Anything come undone? Anything displaying movement or warping? I also test each piece for water-tightness. I put a bit of water in each one and let it sit on a paper towel for a few minutes, which is what you see here. It’s pretty clear when I’ve got a leaker and sometimes it is from the least visible places. After the close inspectiion and the water testing, I can let myself start to believe I have a viable piece.







Next comes sanding. I don’t generally glaze my exteriors, but I’ve learned they LOVE being sanded. Just a quick pass with a fine grit and we have a silky smooth surface to touch. If more is needed, there is the alumina stick or the piece of broken silicon carbide kiln shelf to knock chunks off. Every piece gets lightly sanded at the minimum. Every now and then there is  a sharp edge to amend.









Let’s measure! Height x Width x Depth….Cannot do this before the final high temp firing because things shrink just that much more. That info gets entered on the individual studio log sheet I keep detailing the forming and decorating.










Here’s a studio log sheet for one piece: Title/Description, Inventory/Category Number, Sketch, Clay Body, Underpainting, Liner Glaze, Surface Design, Firing Notes, Refiring Notes,  Dimensions, Price, Show Record, Purchase Notes. This page has evolved over the years and I need to make some updates, but the idea has served me well since my student Glaze Logs. I keep several binders of these pages, filed for the different types of work I do. Some similar groups have spread sheets instead of individual pages. I also have binders for Sold or otherwise GONE work. It’s a LOT of maintenance and worth it.







In the past year, I have added this digital way to keep track of my work. Artwork Archive is a great adjunct to my written studio notes. I don’t add every single piece, just the ones that have gone out into the world to galleries or exhibits. After the completely tedious data entry part, all I have to do is click and I can see what work is where. Helps me stay sane and feel competent.









Every piece gets photographed. This actually has to happen before the digital Artwork Archive can be completed, but the photo set-up, the shots, the editing, resizing and organizing will go on with or without that. I have several sizes of light tents, backdrops and lights, but I tend to use the simplest version of everything. Digital cameras and all are so good, I just don’t stress over the photo documentation like I did say ten years ago.










An inventory sticker goes on the bottom of each piece and the whole scene is connected. I will add a separate price sticker sometime in the future, which means I will return to the Studio Log and Artwork Archive. Before pricing,  I usually set out all my work and physically move it around trying to understand goodness, value, artistic merit, improved design, market rates and past sales in a holistic way before I price anything. It’s probably the hardest part.





The upshot of this whole process is I intimately know each of my pieces, start to beyond the finish firing before they fly away into the hands and hearts of my collectors.


-Liz Crain, who, if she had been told ahead of time about the After the Firing ministrations needed, might have not gotten so deep into this clay thing. But then again, it’s pretty much a moot point now, right?





Tales of the Workshop: In Which Art and Spirit Meet the Creative Process in a Clay-Collage Mash-up



The Workshop  Art and Spirit led by the venerable Coeleen Kiebert, is a way to access and define one’s creative vocabulary, personal imagery, art-making process and style. Held at her stunning sea-view ceramic studio in Rio Del Mar – which also manages to be intimate and comforting – we found sharing, guidance and time for insights. While I’d taken this course in a longer format over a decade ago, it simply can’t be called a repeat; I am just not the same artist as when I first learned these methods. My goal was to arrive with as few expectations as possible, stay in the moment and tell the truth. Oh, and to circle back around to the intelligent, protective energy that Coeleen provides. What a week!

Day One: Re-steeping myself in Coeleen’s descriptive creative process and beginning again with the making of a found imagery collage on a huge 18×24 paper support. We are silent and it takes hours finding the pictures and words to select, where to place and interrelate each piece.  The collage-making proved intuitive and I did not over-think it.  Coeleen suggested we pause and look for evidence of the four elements in our imagery and colors.  I found tons of Earth (natch), reasonable amounts of Fire and Water, but almost NO Air. When the seabreeze kept lifting my unattached piles of papers and blowing them upside down and into different arrangements, I decided that Air was playfully present and I did not need to try to represent it with imagery. I dreamt of my images that night and returned in the morning to attach the last ones before we gathered to share and respond.



Day Two: Collage completed,  Coeleen introduces The Map, a conceptual grid of thirds which aids in interpreting our images by where in the rectangle they have been placed. The grid includes a continuum from unconscious to conscious, higher and lower realms, fears, undeveloped concepts, dreams, outward and inward movements, archetypal and Shadow areas.  What images and colors did I repeat or put in prominent positions? What meanings can I pull from them, literal, analogic and metaphoric? These represent a language I think in: a glimpse of my image vocabulary. She suggested we pick three images and fashion them in clay,  recommending that one of them be an image we don’t quite understand or are disturbed by.  I started with the piano-playing hands and the seed image from the lower left, then went to the straight-forward ceramic pitcher, the vessel near the center.  Side pieces appeared, but it was great to work with clay independently of needing it to have any sort of outcome: just be there and be attentive and responsive to what comes up. I could not decide on a third piece, but slept on it.



Day Three: In the morning I quickly made two clay pieces from collage imagery I did not understand. They were curvilinear and abstract,  and I wound up liking both really well, even if I still didn’t quite get them.



In the late morning Coeleen guides us to The Doodle as way to access a personal style. We have a few warm-up doodles and we’re off for an uninterrupted time, moving the oil pastels silently and goal-lessly over the page however we like. And, yes, it IS touchy-feely in just the right way: a supremely visceral and kinesthetic experience for me. Outcome is not important, but I do find myself wondering what the page “needs” to express itself: Another color? Another series of marks in this corner? It was a dialogue. We hung our doodles next to our collages and began to notice similarities of colors and patterns,  the division of space, the energy expressed. The collage and doodle processes are so different, and yet the results are clearly cousins!



Day Four: Time to doodle with the clay!  Grab a grapefruit-sized lump of clay, work with eyes closed doodling in 3D for at least 15-20 minutes, open your eyes and continue working.  Out came this giganto spiky pod thing! What is similar here to my previous collage and doodle imagery? What has evolved? Insights? I’m beginning to think I enjoy seed pods and potential growth more than I thought I did.



Day Five: This last day is dedicated to refining the clay pieces and making one last foray into something we each wanted to understand better. I found myself making another collage. In this one I specifically was asking to understand what the concept of vessel means to me. The night before I had looked up all the meanings of the word, so I let myself find the right imagery for ships and veins and containers, even metaphoric ones as in, “He was a vessel of the Lord.”  I placed the new collage next to the old one, with my doodles and clay work alongside. I find only a few connections, and only the ones I had intentionally put there; I’m spent.  But the other workshop folks pointed to one similarity after another, the unity being obvious to them. And obviously I have tons more to apprehend, which I take as a Very Good Thing.


Coda: I took my wet clay pieces home,  finished and fired several.  The one I still don’t quite understand – the screw-like piece taken from the first collage – got a coat of black underglaze and after firing it,  I covered it unevenly with thin gold leaf. The aim is to have it look more like the mysterious gold object (originally an artifact in a National Geographic.) It’s hanging on the wall a glance away, just to the upper left of my monitor, the spot on The Map where dreams reside.


- Liz Crain, who is so happy to be working this way again, she signed on for six more weeks at Coeleen’s studio starting in late October!



Tales of the Festival


On a recent July weekend, I packed my artwork along with the shelter and accessories needed to create an event booth,  and got over to the Palo Alto Art Center for the annual ACGA Clay and Glass Festival.

Me: Artist #17 in a brilliantly located and lightly shaded spot along one of the main lanes, one of nearly 160 others.

Them: The collectors, students and assorted aficionados arriving in nice steady streams all day both days, the weather in the high 70s with a light breeze.

Here are some Tales:

Tales of Gladness

Rusty McBucket – I taught Beginning Ceramics to Joanie K. at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center for precisely twelve weeks over a year ago.  She was on fire for clay in a way I recognized….reading everything in sight, buying nifty tools, signing up for Every. Single. Ceramics Opportunity. She still is. Joanie came by my booth with a small treasure she had collected for me many months before. On a beach in Ireland – Balbriggan to be exact – she encountered an incredible piece of romantically rusted metal and brought it home. She lovingly watched me unwrap it from its long travels. I was astounded and consider it a work of art in its own right.  If only rust could talk.

The Sounds of The Silencer -  My conetop beer and soda cans are usually prominently displayed in the front of my booth. That way they constantly provoke curiosity and comment. (One visitor this year even sort of yelled at me when I explained that everything she was looking at was 100% ceramic. “Get OUT!!!!” she exclaimed… and I took it as a compliment.) In an afternoon lull, a pensive younger man was enjoying and picking up many of the cans. After a bit of time, he looked up at me and I mentioned to him some feature or benefit, I can’t quite recall. He smiled and then gestured that he could not hear and could not speak. But he still wanted to ask me something. I don’t know why I kept talking as I was finding some paper and pen, but he was quicker. Out came a letter to explain his admiration which was also a request to donate to his organization, of which he was the President: The Association of Parents, Teachers and Counselors (APTC) at California School for the Deaf in Fremont for their first annual “Sip, Savor & Support” fundraiser to be held in San Francisco this November. In an instinctive move, I nodded my head and plucked the donation paperwork out of his hands, indicating YES!  I will be sending him and the APTC  the shot-up beer can he favored, The Silencer. Gives me chills.


Tales of Suffering

Breakage – Nothing was broken outright during the Festival, but I have to admit to a learned apprehension when folks innocently mis-handle my work. It’s not particularly delicate, any more, as I’ve learned to bolster clay’s weaknesses when being made to look like metal. But, it’s still ceramic and not metal and the fool-the-eye aspects quite often fool the handler so well that… You can read about how I learned this lesson the hard way  in “Hey This Handle’s Stuck.” No matter what I do – and I use Quake Hold on every lid and even “Hi I’m Not a Real Handle” hangtags on the sculptural affairs -  there are folks who just Go There: twisting and turning, bumping and grinding, tipping and toppling. It was enough that last May a wind gust luffed my booth sidewall and tumbled some heavier pieces down onto the handles of my pitchers and watering cans, ultimately taking out four of them. I discovered the last one’s subtle but fatal crack during this Festival and set it aside. Disheartening. So when someone comes along and grasps, flips or clunks a tad too offhandedly, I break out in hives. Hey, they’re vessels but not crockery!

Not that Cool Chick – OK this one stung. But I think it’s also hilarious.  So here goes: When I had stepped away from my booth for less than ten minutes, a quirky guy swooped in and asked my husband, “Hey! Where’s that Cool Chick? The one that makes all these?! I talked to her before. She’s SO COOL!”   He was still there poking around when I returned.  Now, when you are in the middle of a Clay and Glass Festival, you talk to all comers, and while most are delightful, there are some who merely pass for rational. With animated bullshit he proceeded to philosophize and elucidate. (It’s hard to get out of a buttonholer’s grasp when no-one else is coming around and you’ve just returned from a break.) He pontificated about What is Art and why he wouldn’t buy the “lonely” work in the booth directly across from me, but he would buy mine – which unsurprisingly he made no move to do. With another dollop of social cluelessness – possibly tinged with the bluntness of Asperger’s -  he also said, “Last year I couldn’t believe what a Cool Chick you were, but right now, you’ve just got a Mom Vibe.”  Must be my feet of clay.  I excused myself and got out of the Maggie May morning sun,


Tales of Serendipity

The Trading Agent – Turns out the kid has been coming to art festivals since he was nine-months old, but I didn’t know that. He looked to be somewhere around 12 and had visited my booth at least twice, digging on the shot-up beer cans each time, all smiles. His enthusiasm was guilelessly genuine and when I remembered I had a stash of animal cracker pins with me, I offered him a choice of one. He took a tiger. Soon he came back – tiger pinned to his shirt – with his dad, who, as it turns out, was another festival artist. And we spoke of working out a trade to foster Ethan’s budding ceramics collection. I said I would come look when things wrapped for the day.  Before then, Ethan returned once more, this time with his mom, to cement the plan. Way to work the  ‘rents, kid! I asked what he was really interested in and when I walked over to the booth of Gerald Arrington, I carried those pieces with me. I’m enamored of how this trade transpired. I met a wonderful family and we both left the festival with treasures. Here’s mine, a very Zen-like indented thrown sphere, complete with hand-applied striations and an engaging rough/smooth surface. I love rocks and Gerry’s are perfection:


Unexpected Invitations If I don’t leave my studio and go where the enthusiasts are, I’ll likely never meet them…and they me! A premium quality festival like this affords premium opportunities, but they are still mostly related to chance. After two such serendipitous encounters, I am still shaking off the elated wonderment like a Golden Retriever after a swim in the pond. I will be acting upon them soon.

Derik Van Beers, whose work I’ve appreciated in the past at the Ceramics Annual of America, walked by, introduced himself and we talked a bit about his Roscoe Ceramic Gallery in Oakland, where he felt my beer cans would be a big hit in his front display cases. YES!!!!!  He later returned and bought one and then showed it round the Festival. I just need to box a variety of them up and get there on a Saturday afternoon sometime soon. In my personal campaign to blanket the SF Bay Area with my ceramic cans, I’m tiptoeing up on the East Bay.

And if that was not enough wonder, right after Derik departed,  here stood an open-eyed and lovely couple, speaking enthusiastically of their love of all kinds of teapots and how they collect them and, by the way,  they have this museum to house them all. A tiny flicker went off in my brain… might this be…? They continued with how they enjoyed my work, saw some of my larger gas cans as teapots (requisite spout/lid/handle/body) and wondered if,  when I made more,  since they didn’t quite see The One right then, would I be so kind as to email them some photos? And, oh, since they “get a lot of emails” if I don’t get a reply to just continue sending.  At that point he handed me his card with the email address, and yup, it was Sonny and Gloria Kamm of the Kamm Teapot Foundation. To be honest, the sculptural teapot tradition is SO strong and well done, I’ve never felt like a candidate, but if Gloria and Sonny say so….

–Liz Crain, who took a week and a half to absorb these Tales and balance them against the fact that she very nearly cancelled on this Festival this year – twice. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances she could point to, but at root was the fear of not being All That – The Cool Chick – and she managed to talk herself away from the ledge by getting her Inner Critic Scylla to agree to show up this one time as A Good Enough Artist. She’s happy to relate that she felt like her most genuine artist-self the entire time.