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  • Forbidden Ceramics

    On: November 15, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Community, Studio Journal
    Views: 62
     1
    ceramic vase with sgraffio

    Dude, how’d ya make that sick bong?

     

    At the turn of the millennium in my Beginning Ceramic Handbuilding Class, I met my first artistic censorship. As it was explained: “This is a College Art Course, not Grade School, a Rec Craft Program or Summer Camp, therefore we will not encourage, fire or grade your ashtrays. Or your pipes and bongs.”  Often those sorts of pieces would mysteriously break or disappear.  I have some observations about that.  After this, you probably will too.

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  • A Smashing Success

    On: October 31, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 95
     2

     

    Re-Smashed Leeds Vase wallpiece

    “Re-Smashed Leeds Vase (After ‘Erased de Kooning Drawing’ by Robert Rauschenberg)” Liz Crain 2017

     

    For me the past couple of years have been an exploration of new artistic avenues. I wasn’t particularly stuck (once I figured out I still wanted to work with clay, that is,) I just had no compelling path forward. So while waiting for that path to appear,  I goofed around, tweaking old works and testing all new inklings, until I found myself curious again. Sometimes that re-working involved happy breakage. Here I explore a few rationales for both the rambling and the rupturing.

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  • You Go Back In The Studio and Apologize to That Clay!

    On: October 18, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 156
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    Handle ceramic drum

    Ceramic Drum with One Piece Handle

     

    First off, a hearty welcome to new readers of the Studio Journal who joined us last weekend at my Open Studio. That annual crush of enthusiasts always gives me a chance to tell old stories related to how I came to make the stuff I do. Here’s one I’d forgotten and I thought to repeat it here because it contains one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.

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  • Moving Fast, So Don’t Blink

    On: October 12, 2017
    In: Art Biz, Artmaking, Community, Studio Journal
    Views: 124
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    OPen Studio 2017 Blurred View

    A quick glimpse at my 2017 Open Studio Gallery

     I am in my final approach to my first Open Studio in two years and moving like a dervish. Like childbirth, I guess, one mercifully forgets the gory details, remembering only the love. The task this year was to trim the whole affair and still retain excellence. I think I did that. I think that stripping it down led to solutions to recurring problems such as flow, display, and labeling and here are some that took it to new levels:

    • Adding the Open Studio 2017 section in my website’s SHOP creates a whole new staging arena. It extends the weekend in-person tour mightily, with new work being added all month. Samples of everything are there, except for sculptures and sale stuff. I had a lovely first sale and a couple of inquiries. After the live weekend, I will add even the Sculpture and Studio Sale items – if there are any left.
    • Two years away let me go deep into new creative territories and find the heart of what I’m about now.  While I have plenty of vintage trompe l’oeil cans remaining, fully 70% of my work is new to my Open Studio gallery. It’s delicious to present it in such fullness and fun to find out how each new series looks best. I have lots of wallpieces, too, which is brand new territory, needing a fresh approach to my display spaces.
    • The Studio Sale table is a deep dive into the archives this year. I even got stuff from the attic I forgot I had. Not only are things wildly varied and priced to move, I am continuing something I started two years ago: Anyone still in high school (18 and under…) can choose one item from the Sale Table and get 50% off. It is heartwarming to foster new art collectors by moving into their realistic budget range.
    • In the end, I see that going simpler is essentially good editing: the story gets told with more verve and sparkle and we all benefit from it.
    Snaek peek of Open Studio 2017

    A Sneak Peek at New Works for Open Studio 2017. Don’t Blink!

     

    –Liz Crain, who invites you to visit her this weekend if you’re in the area (details below) or move over to the SHOP to enjoy a bit of the new works.

    OPEN STUDIOS 2017 brought to you by the wonderful Arts Council Santa Cruz County. My Capitola Studio is open one weekend only: Saturday and Sunday, October 14-15 from 11-5, Artist #234 in the free printed Guide or in the free App by artscouncilsc.org. My studio is also available for private appointments, so contact me directly for that, but it’s always lovely to visit when things are all cleaned up. Gotta go back to work now, being on deadline and all.  Hope to see you here or there.

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  • Short and Deliciously Sweet

    On: October 5, 2017
    In: Art Biz, Artmaking, Community, Studio Journal
    Views: 150
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    Detail of mixed media ceramic sculpture

    Detail of “Mermaid on Ice” a mixed media ceramic sculpture. Liz Crain, 2017

     

    I’ve struggled this week to write a coherent journal post. I think I have five heartily dissatisfying drafts in the queue. It happens. My observations seem both lightweight and heavy-handed.  At least I know not to inflict them on you!

    Instead, you get these random and pure talking points.

    • I’m entering the final week of preparing my studio/gallery for the Art Council’s Open Studios Art Tour 2017. It’s been an extremely challenging year on half a dozen personal (but not creative…) fronts and, a month or so ago, I was ready to bail. Instead, through some fluky coincidences, I got curious about how simple I could make my own Open Studio weekend and still have integrity. All I needed were Excellent New Works, A Stripped-Down Set-up and A Minimalist To-Do List. Check!
    • Working to keep it simpler helped me ease into a clarity I haven’t had in the past. So now, I just do the next thing, no lists in hand, and am not daunted by the whole exquisite endeavor. (“All is well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” to paraphrase both T. S. Eliot and Julian of Norwich, take your pick.)
    • A wonderful new take on what an Open Studio could be arose from my purposeful calmness: a dedicated but temporary “aisle” in my website’s SHOP titled, adroitly enough, Open Studio 2017.  Check it out. It’s intended to provide both a small sample preview and a continuation of my one live weekend for all of this month. It’s got a little bit of everything. (Everything except the mixed-media sculptures and the close-out sale works.)  I offer it as a way for anyone to tour the artifacts of the studio seachange I have undergone in the past couple of years.

    Clay has been healing me all along, through a nearly daily practice, zillions of test tiles, and an inclusion of found objects and mixed media to riff off of.  You’ll see a little of that in the SHOP (look for the crocheted-by-me additions,) but know that much more is coming. It’s just that clay work takes so much friggin’ time! My ideas are constantly outstripping my hands and materials, but that’s good.

    –Liz Crain, who invites you to visit her and her latest work in person on October 14-15 from 11-5 at her Capitola CA studio, but also knows more than a few of you cannot, so hence the genius Open Studio SHOP area, which she will continue to add to (and subtract sold items from) all month long. Best of both worlds, really.

     

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  • Fun With “American Gothic”

    On: September 21, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 167
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    Mixed media AMerican Gothic Confetti Wine Glass

     

    This is a “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” Report, with a focus on one work of art installed at one particular exhibit which needed weekly management every Friday for two months. The Exhibit was the second one organized by the open-ended local artist’s group called Masters of Santa Cruz.  The idea is for each artist to take the same famous work of art, make a personal interpretation of it and then show all of them together at a local winery. Last year we riffed on the Mona Lisa; this year it was Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.” What follows is a photo essay of my response to the prompt.

    Turns out, it’s great fun to learn the history of a painting, study its form, content and meaning and then create a personal version.  For me, “American Gothic” wasn’t so much about those two dour salt-of-the-earth people, but rather about that Gothic arched window in the house behind them (which was Wood’s original inspiration as well), and also about what that farmer’s hand could be holding besides a pitchfork. At first I thought I would make it entirely out of clay, but then the project took its own direction toward mixed-media assemblage, emphasis on the mixed.

    I discovered a Gothic arch-shaped shabby chic mirror and the race was on. Next I decided to sew and collage the clothing, but to leave the heads off in favor of a possible reflection of the viewer. With the right angles and distance, a person could line themselves up and take a selfie, so I titled it “Gothic Reflections.” As a point of ceramic pride, I did make the woman’s cameo brooch out of ceramic materials, adding the delicious macabre touch of a skull profile in a white decal.

    The other fascination for me was to make that clenched hand come alive, so I attached a wooden artist’s articulated hand and covered it with the felt coat’s sleeve extending off the surface of the mirror. Each week I switched out what the hand was holding, somewhat in keeping with the season. It was fun considering the unlimited possibilities and the logistics. Since the exhibit was at Stockwell Cellars, a local winery, I thought to begin and end with a wine glass. The first one – seen up top – is full of shiny plastic confetti.  Apparently I forgot to take a photo of it at the opening reception, so the first shot is of the completed piece mounted on a chair in my driveway. There still are confetti pieces out there glinting in the bushes, as they blew everywhere in the breeze.

     

    American Gothic with Sunflower

    It was still early in June, but schools were beginning to let out and summer was a comin’ on. I drove across town to the winery that first Friday, a week after the opening, wondering if the wine glass had hung on as I had used only a removable museum putty to tack it in place. It had, so I was greatly encouraged that the rest of my planned weekly installations would succeed. Next one: the joy and abandonment of a pinwheel, looking a little frivolous in the hands of very sober people. Yet, as a prop, it suggested a playful wryness and I hope it encouraged some mugging from the selfie-takers.

     

    American Gothic with Backscratcher

    Third week came the backscratcher. I was imagining hammocks on Saturday afternoons and not much else. Laughin’ and scratchin’.

     

    American Gothic with Flag and Fireworks

    The week before the Fourth of July demanded not only a flag, but some illegal fireworks. Doing the American Freedom part up right.

     

    American Gothic with Marshmallows

    Now it’s Summer’s camping and cookout season. This installation needed some advance testing. We toasted up some real marshmallows a week beforehand and let them sit. In a day’s time they got decidedly sticky-soggy. A couple of coats of clear acrylic sealant fixed that. Yum. Yum. This was also the heaviest and most precariously leveraged piece I put in “the hand” all summer and it was a headache to install. But it also held up. Whew.

     

    American Gothic with Flyswatter

    More hammock fantasies. This time swattin’ bugs. I LOVE this extendable flyswatter and use it at home all the time now. The telescoping action helped me position the piece for best balance and visibility against the dark jacket.

     

    American Gothic with Cat o Nine Tails

    Now for some kinkiness. Hmmm. Grant Wood said he was intrigued by that Iowan farm house because of its “borrowed pretentiousness” and the “structural absurdity” of that Gothic window. He imagined what kind of people would live there and chose his sister and his dentist to pose. Once you take the types away, though,  anything is possible, especially with a cat o’ nine tails.

     

    American Gothic with Empty Wine Glass

    And back to the wine glass, this time empty with real dried red wine residue. The show’s over, but it certainly called up some delicious Gothic Reflections for me.

    –Liz Crain, who enjoyed her Friday afternoon crosstown jaunts in beach traffic listening to KKUP’s Jewels and Binoculars Classical Show. After chatting with Jessica in the Tasting Room as she was changing out the prop, she explored the lively Westside businesses: including a gem of a yarn shop, a super bakery, a world-class coffee place, and a local natural foods store for road snacks. It’s probably a good thing it’s slightly effortful to get back over to that side of town, but it WAS a summer project to remember.

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  • Reclaiming Clay: A Rationale and Pictorial How-To

    On: August 10, 2017
    In: Artmaking, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 5027
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    The Summer Re-Run Blog Posts are running down. This might be the last one, but it’s a goodie; one where the comments are probably more interesting than the post itself. Originally published September 26, 2012, it speaks to a grown-up awakening regarding resources and costs. And while this is still a great method, I no longer work this way and my clay scraps have been reduced to near ZERO. I will let you have fun reading about this small scale reclaiming method (and be sure to peruse the comments!) and then, in the sign-off, I will tell you what I do now…Enjoy!

     

    So, how is it that I didn’t learn this early on in my clay career? And, even curiouser, once I did learn it, why did I not practice it until 2012? It was clearly due to a perfect storm of economics and sloth, involving

    • A very handy and dirt-cheap (pun intended!) source for clay

    • An all-too-convenient method of dumping all scraps into a group recycling process

    •  A strong streak of fastidiously-fed laziness cloaked in an utter lack of interest

    I had no compelling reason to deal with my scraps. Being a slow-working hand-builder, I also just don’t create the massive leftovers like those wheel-throwing potters do, therefore I was not especially forced to deal with them. The scraps easily disappeared and all I had to do was open a nice fresh bag of just-right clay instead. It was that way for a decade.

     

    In the past year, however, compelling reasons and needs to deal with leftovers have come to town:

    • I pay retail for my clay now.

    • It’s a hassle to get all those heavy buckets of dried chunks over to the college to feed to their recycle stream, and they take up a lot of room while they wait. (Plus the dog will eat them if left uncovered at his nose level!)

    • I got curious about how much more work I could get out of a bag of clay if I did this.

    Let’s take a look at what’s involved.

    As I work, I toss my scraps into a bucket. When it’s full, I chunk them up into even-ish pieces, as in the photo up top.

    Scraps get dunked and bagged.

    At the end of a studio day, in preparation for the next morning, I dip those chunks – all ranges of wet to dry  – handful by handful in water for a few seconds and then into an empty clay bag.

     

    Wetted scraps sit overnight.

    I wrap the bag well and let the scraps absorb the water at least overnight, but they will keep for a long time until I’m ready to reclaim.

    The really messy part that I avoided until now.

    Usually the clay scraps have turned into a slippery-sticky-lumpy goo. I take this out of the bag and spread it as best as I can on a flat rectangular plaster bat. The plaster is a really absorbent surface which will suck the water out of the clay in a matter of hours, but a piece of drywall or wood could work….even canvas, just change it out if it gets too damp before the clay is workable. (Newspaper or paper towels NOT recommended!)

     

    Did I say it was gooey sticky and messy?

     

     

    The plaster soaks up the water fairly quickly.

    Plaster works great. When the clay pulls away, it’s time to flop it over to the other side for awhile.

     

    Gather the now-manageable clay and wedge it.

    When both sides aren’t sticky, it’s time to ball up the scraps completely and wedge to create as even a texture as possible, in both wetness and consistency. You can throw the lumpy balls onto your wedging surface to compact and condense even further.

     

    Pound it into a thickish slab.

    Use your fists or something like this firm-squishy bouncy bonker, and flatten your wedged lumps of clay to pancakes about 2 inches thick.

     

     

    Roll the slab thinner.

    Then using a slab roller or a rolling pin and gauge sticks, roll the thick slabs into thinner ones. Alternatively, you can skid the thick slab along a surface to thin and stretch it by tossing it slightly sideways.

     

    Poke holes in the inevitable air bubbles.

     

    Air bubbles aren’t the bane for hand-building that they are for wheel-throwing, but it’s still nice to remove the obvious ones.

     

     

    A few fresh new slabs from spare parts.

     

    Continue to roll out as thin as you need for your project. I always feel rich to get this much more usable clay out of a bucket of scraps.

    And that’s the easy illustrated why and how of getting the most out of your bag of clay! Do it and revel in your own bumper crop.

    ~Liz Crain, who now pretty much uses ALL of her clay the first time around by keeping scraps workably moist and then either generating all sorts of rolled, textured and cut test tiles and tubes which she bisques and keeps on hand for quicker answers to surface design/glazing possibilities AND/OR she forms the wet pieces back into small balls and makes lovely spontaneous pinched pieces, some of which are keepers, the rest are also testing candidates.

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