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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?

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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!

 

 

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