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  • Moving Fast, So Don’t Blink

    On: October 12, 2017
    In: Art Biz, Artmaking, Community, Studio Journal
    Views: 300
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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: 341
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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: 344
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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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  • Pottery of the 70s

    On: September 6, 2017
    In: Community, Studio Journal
    Views: 338
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    Three thrown pots from the 70s

     

    In this new post, I look closely at the handmade pottery I bought for my plants in the 70s when, for a brief time, I managed what had to be the grooviest store in Palo Alto, CA: Shady Lane on the corner of University and Cowper, which sold cut flowers, houseplants, batik clothing and agate windchimes. It is still in business, now in Menlo Park, with one of the original owners and a slightly different sales model. And I still have my pots.

    I bought them wholesale, directly from the potters, who came by with their stuff for me to select for the shop. If I remember correctly, they were each about $6, retailing for – my goodness! – $12. (Which is $68.17 in today’s dollars.) Two have the same iron oxide brushscript ER on the bottom and one has no potter’s mark. Since discovering ceramics for myself 30+ years later, I wonder even more about the makers. Are they still potting? Who is ER? Anyone out there have a clue?

    They sport those stoneware clays and earthy 70s glazes, many of which I can name now: the classic high-fired goodness of Tenmoku, White-Orange Matte, Black Iron Oxide. A sensibility derived in part from a late 20th Century Japanese influence which still lingers, especially in colleges. (One I have to admit I personally wanted OUT of as soon as possible.)

    The pieces are expertly thrown and altered, being quite sturdy but not in the slightest clunky, each sporting at least one inspired extra feature. Two are planters, the bucket top right is a cachepot. The bold carving through the layer of oxide on the bucket always tripped me out. HOW???? So deft and yet so loose that the potter left the carved-out rumpled curls in many places. Ah, and then I figured it out: they threw/decorated/carved at the leatherhard greenware state, of course! Education opens eyes.

    The planter on the left’s flared and ruffled upper rim is just right, not too forced or too happenstance. A master knew when and how to touch. But I still can’t quite get how they created those striped zig-zags on the bottom. Maybe a wax resist pattern first? Yeah, that’s it…

    The planter on the lower right is the most workmanlike. Nice division of space and throwing rings to catch the glaze. The biorhythmic wavy carving could be better, but it’s a nice organic touch with the glaze wiped back to reveal the lovely warm clay body.

    It’s hard to overstate the houseplant mania of that time. Plant stores and fern bars were everywhere. How-to books abounded. My ex-roommate worked at the downtown San Jose store (by SJSU, of course) and I started by ink-drawing plants and handlettering care information for the store owner and all his other shops. When Shady Lane was opening, he asked me to manage it. I was young and needing a Big Change, so off I moved to Palo Alto, crashing in the store’s empty second floor storage area until I found a – what else? – garden apartment.

    When my now-husband moved in with me in that 400-square foot-apartment, (the same one where this happened) we had a combined total of around 90 houseplants. Turns out he’s the one with natural plant knack, and he has had an herb and veggie garden wherever we have lived. The Golden Pothos in the photo is the only houseplant we own now. Decades old, it’s in the same pot, alive in spite of me and my black iron oxide stained thumb.

    –Liz Crain, who also still owns a long batik skirt from back in the day, but the agate windchimes have all broken.

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  • Years Later, A Juicy Nomination Oils the Works

    On: August 24, 2017
    In: Art Biz, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 393
     1
    Ceramic Industrial Pitcher with Faux Repairs

    Banged-Up 305S Pitcher, 2012, Ceramic

     

    Here’s the first post in a new “”sometime series” I think I’ll call Loose Ends, with the idea being to look around my creative life and see what needs tidying up. Today’s missive is a belated virtual thank you card written due to a new understanding about a gift I received which I frankly did not understand very well at the time.

     

    Earlier this summer my friend Patrick S. mentioned that he thought 2010 was his peak year as an artist. He had scads of examples of why that was true for him, but one especially pricked up my ears: he was nominated for a local Rydell Fellowship administered by the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County.

    Not too shabby, Patrick! The nomination process alone is pretty exclusive. The field of nominee/applicants is bursting with superb talent. The three awards given every two years are both prestigious and lucrative. When does any artist receive wide acclaim, a museum exhibition and $20,000 with practically no strings attached?  It’s basically the Art Oscars for Santa Cruz County. Even if one doesn’t win, – and only roughly one in twenty do – one can forever append “Rydell-Nominated Artist” to one’s pertinent professional descriptors.

    Thing is, up until Patrick mentioned his, I had not truly valued my own 2013 Rydell Fellowship nomination for what it IS and not for what it was not. I am certain I did my best with the only requirement: 12 images of my finest works (the piece up top is one.) I delivered my Image CD and Application in person, trailing clouds of glory, and then went off to Mono Hot Springs on a late September vacation you really need to read about.

    In December came the lovely rejection letter. Once I saw that it mentioned there were 62 nominees and named the 55 who actually applied as well as the three winners, I was at peace. That list was a Who’s Who of local creative glitterati, many I knew. To be included at all, was, as the letter read, to be a “part of a remarkably talented pool of artists whose work reflects this region’s artistic quality and diversity. The [national] panel expressed their regard for the breadth and vitality of the artists’ work they viewed.”

    Breadth and Vitality! Remarkably Talented! Quality and Diversity! Why did I miss theses accolades and only notice the Not Winning part? Why did I put away all my files and never mention the experience to anyone? Hrmmm…

    Answer: It’s only human! When the eyes are trained on the prize, a lot goes missing in the service of that focus. Unless…

    Unless and until one wakes up to the whole of it, maybe years later. Until now. Thank you Patrick, for opening my eyes to the monumental significance of being nominated at all. It was a high point in my own artistic career, too, and one I would love to repeat, now that I get it.

    Belated Deepest Thanks to the arts organization that nominated me: I treasure your support and confidence whoever you are and wish I could have done you proud.

    So I am slow on the uptake, but seeing this juicy nomination in a prouder light is oiling my newest studio endeavors. I’m feeling a tad more artsy, a smidge more deserving, a soupçon more saucy and will soon have a whole new range of work I adore to show for it.

    — Liz Crain, who has graciously taken her seat among the rare cadre of Rydell Fellowship Nominees and will be adding it to her resume in its next update.

     

     

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  • What Dreams May Come

    On: July 27, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1845
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    Dove at the Cabrillo College “Grave Changes” Exhibit, Davis, CA 2012

     

    The Summer Studio Journal ReRun Posts continue, and I have a longer Preamble to this one:

    It’s five years on from this post, originally published June 14, 2012. I have re-posted the true story at the end of it a couple of other times and places, since it is so delicious.

    What’s not so delicious is that my mentor Kathryn’s still gone. For lots of reasons I can no longer find creative refuge in the Cabrillo Ceramics Lab. But the undeniably solid one is: she’s not there. There are some of her lovely small works and her photo in a glass case with her name writ large on the entrance doors. I am proud of her legacy, but I still hear her laughter ringing and think I glimpse her moving away similar to the first dream recounted in this post.

     As it should be by now, an artist and teacher who I admire and wholeheartedly support just earned a tenure-track position and will occupy her long-empty former office.

    Here at my studio, I have a collection of her fabulous smaller works and lovely handwritten notes, which I keep nearby, occasionally shuffling them about in an afternoon’s agitation. She’s rarely in my dreams now. So it goes. What sings to me currently were her creative dry spells, her doubts. She continues to mentor me in retrospect. I get frustrated with my artistic direction at times, yet know I am compelled to continue, just as, well, just as I saw her do. She, too, wrestled with making meaning. Felt impatient with the selling, the galleries, the shows. Worried about the same stuff. And additionally carried the onus of being a teaching legend, receiving the projections of hundreds and hundreds, most of whom largely misread her humanity, mistaking her most unfairly for a demi-goddess. I hold her utter humanity as a person and a sensitive artist to heart and cry.

    And for all that lovably warped humanity, here am I as well, shambling along, telling my tales. Forthwith, here is another worth repeating:

    (more…)

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  • An E-Mail With Everything I Know About Cold Finishes

    On: July 13, 2017
    In: Community, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 2523
     1

     

    Mended Incinerator Top with Pitt Pens and Colored Pencils

     

    The Summer Studio Journal Re-Runs just keep on comin’! This post from August 22, 2012 is essentially a reply to an email query, as you shall see. I have added a few more resources that I have learned of in the past five years, but other than that, it’s a great guide, so here it is:

     

    I don’t get a lot of emails from complete strangers, but after a few years of an active festival, gallery and online presence, I’m starting to.

    Most writers want to share a specific resource, ask an art business question, or even commission me to make something special. I take these conversations as they come and generally enjoy the new connections.

    This one, however, was from a person new to ceramics in a country on the other side of the blue Pacific. The subject line read “admire your work.”

    She explained she was seeking ways to decorate her ceramic sculptures without further firings.  She knew it was called a Cold Finish, but besides paints, she was finding precious little information about it.  She had miraculously stumbled across my work and was wondering how I got my pieces to look like they did. Was any cold finishing involved?

    I sat down to respond to her with a few ideas and out popped the following email, which does an incredibly better job of listing Everything I Know About Cold Finishes than I ever would have written without the compelling urge to help another beginning ceramics enthusiast. It’s one more reason I enjoy ceramics: we are a community of sharers.

    In that spirit, I thought to reproduce the email exactly as I wrote it the other day, with only some added bolding as enhancement. Here it is:

     

    Hello Catherine and thanks for your lovely words!

    Most of my finishes are fired to cone 6 oxidation (electric kiln) but I have a few cold finish techniques I can share with you.

    Sometimes my firing results are close but not quite what I want or I want some added bling.  At those times I have found the following list of products to be useful:

    Sumi Ink and India Ink, brushed into the lines and recesses of a piece and sponged off. Nice!
    Golden Acrylic paints, in thin washes. I especially use Micaceous Iron Oxide which not only has fun tiny mica flecks, but I’ve learned (by accident!) that it will last through a firing….so sometimes I fire it on too.
    Oil paints and watercolors are nice too, but I tend to reach for them less.
    Prismacolor colored pencils: a waxy drier finish which is lightfast and can be layered for subtlety. They won’t slick to glassy glazes and do better over very dry surfaces.

    (Which reminds me: most of these products are lightfast and archival, but probably not for outdoors.)

    Faber Castell makes a line of PITT artist pens which have tiny ink-based pen tips, and large or small brush tips that I use more for changing the tone of an area or linear emphasis. Very nice!
    Amaco makes a range of colored metallic waxes called Rub ‘n Buff which are useful for a bit of gold, silver or even blues, reds and purples, on highlights. Can help with a worn antique look.
    And lastly are two brands that market adhesives and thin gold leaf variations : Old World Art and Magic Leaf. This is if you want a bit of true shiny non-tarnishing gold!

    For a matte sealer, which is to me is better than a shiny clear coat: Delta Ceramcoat Satin Exterior/Interior Varnish. 

    That’s my brain dump. If I think of something else, I’ll send it along. I don’t know if these products can be had locally for you, but online is sure to get you most of them.

    I wish you all the best,
    Liz

    P.S. Most books don’t cover “post-firing” finishes, but I found an excellent discussion in Robin Hopper’s book Making Marks. He also discusses sandblasting, acid etching and cutting elsewhere in that book. There, you have all I know!

     

    And there, you Dear Readers now have it! I would add today that these types of cold finishes are more suited to sculptural work. If you put them on pieces used for food, even on the exterior to avoid possible leaching and toxicity, they will still suffer from the washing.

    Since 2012, I have also discovered an outdoor sealer that doesn’t change the look of unglazed ceramic sculpture or grout: Glaze ‘n’ Seal Waterbase Stone Sealant “Natural Look” Impregnator.

    And, lastly, while they involve another very low temp firing so are technically not Cold Finishes, playing with lusters, china paints and decals is pretty fun and adds a whole other dimension to things.

     

    ~ Liz Crain,  who knows it’s all a work in progress and hopes to be saying “Ancora imparo” – I am still learning – at age 87 as Michelangelo did.

     

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