• Creative Timing

    On: August 17, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 803
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    One of the absolutely, positively, hyperbole-intensified, hardest things for me to learn and retain in ceramics is to wait for the right time to do the right thing to the right amount of clay at the right moisture content. There are delicious names that potters give to describe the stages of clay wetness, and here are some common “cheese names”: brie, mozzarella, cheddar, and parmesan. (Hungry?) If you just think of how relatively wet these cheeses are and how they might behave when modeled a la ceramique, you get the idea a teensy bit. For years now, I have come up crying when I tried to get clay to stand and behave when it is brie or even fresh mozz consistency OR when I try too zealously to shape or bend it when it is cheddar or, heavens, parmesan hard. You see those cracks?

    So Creative Timing in ceramics not only includes when the Muse/Genius arrives and tells you NOW!!!! but also includes where your clay piece is at when that alpenhorn sounds. Riding this magic carpet of Creative Timing is part of avoiding the ultimate frustration and embarassment of know-better failure as well as grabbing the soaring, roaring upwelling of spirit and plain ol’ fun that nailing it gives. And I suspect that speaks true in any sport or creative endeavor. Probably even poker.

    That said, I am full of ceramic pertinacity, so slowly, slowly, slowly I have gotten better at the Waiting Game. Yes, it is possible to rewet dry clay and to dry out wetter stuff, but it is totally sweet to have the rhythm in place, because then it matches the creative surges that might be accompanying the reason I am in the studio in the first place!

    So, this directly applies to what I am doing in my Art Swap with Karen Koch. There is that Big Idea: take the art she has sent me and rework it in some way so that it becomes new art in the loosely interpreted spirit of “Erased DeKooning” by Robert Rauschenberg. (And see my last post for the most interesting particulars and links.)

    Yet, as I have heard someone who eschews vacations say, it’s because, “Wherever I travel, I take me along,” the bald fact is I am just me, livin’ my day-to-day. Some days I have good ideas and energy, some days I am dull, distracted and dissident. But I really have not survived this long as an artist to mind any of it. I just know to go in the studio regardless of what the finger-to-the-winds of my creative mood reads… and it generally is the right thing to do.

    I stalled in addressing this project today, for familiar, but ultimately dismissible, reasons. Karen and I have agreed to a deadline and deadlines are conducive to showing up, at least to me. Also, the clay was ready for my next impulse. Deadline + clay readiness = dismissible reasons for creative avoidance.

    I wanted to apply a subtle nubbly texture to the bottle form I am working on because Karen, in her note to me, mentioned that she made her art with “colored pencil, paint, and Sharpie marker on patterned paper.” I can’t replicate the pencil, paint or marker, directly, because they would burn out in the kiln, but, hey, I can do texture! So the first shot above is of the homespun fabric that I applied to the perfectly-ready (mozzarella-hard) clay and then rubbed a bit with a nice rounded wooden tool. Second shot is what that left the clay bottle looking like: happily it is reminiscent of patterned paper!

    So it was a few hours well-spent. All in good time, especially in clay.

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  • Art Swap! What If?

    On: August 12, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 743
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    Oh, what have I done? It all started innocently with a “What if?” And that one “WI?” led to another and another, so that I presently find myself in this fun little puzzlement: How to alter the art sent to me by Karen Koch in the spirit of Robert Rauschenberg’s “Erased DeKooning?” (And I take great satisfaction knowing she has the same conundrum over the work I sent her.)

    See, first it was what if I joined a book club organized by artbiz maven Alyson Stanfield on Twitter (yes, Twitter: #dekooning.) We read, more or less together, DeKooning: An American Master by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. And what if one of the other readers pondered if any one of us could let our work be destroyed as in “Erased DeKooning.” And what if I tweeted that I thought I could and what if I and that other reader actually did this?

    Fast forward to today: Karen and I have sent each other a piece of our work and are independently gathering our ideas about just what to do. She has blogged several times about it and you can see both works there. What I hope to record here is how I develop my response. So up top you see a photo in my studio with a bunch of slabs of a nice white porcelain-type clay called Geostone, and behind it the work (on the right) and card and envelope that Karen sent to me.

    Below that photo you see what I did with those slabs today, a beginning container of some sort. I DO have a Big Idea, which I got in the shower, but I won’t spill it all out right now. Let’s just see what happens and I will make posts as I go.

    What I think makes this a bit more difficult than just making OR destroying one’s own work, or even trading privately with another artist:

    Goes against the creative grain a smidge. Need to stretch, though, and that is good.

    Feels wrong to wreck someone else’s work, even with permission. Again, more stretching. Still feel a strong urge to honor this destruction. Make it holy, even.

    This particular experiment is being done in front of an audience of sorts, as both Karen and I are posting and blogging and tweeting and emailing and showing and telling and talking to many other people about it. Although it was born in a public forum, it did not occur to me that this would be the case when we traded and created, so the watching eyes and ears add another factor. Fine, so the performance ham in me can come out and play too! It’s been awhile.

    This is definitely NOT like the “Erased DeKooning” because of the two-way exchange and the fact that we were not intending to replicate that. We are more interested in seeing how it feels to let go of an end product, something we both cared enough about to not erase/edit ourselves. “What if….” is a pretty endless proposition.

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  • Local Talkers Close Up

    On: August 6, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 784
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    Taking a closer look at two of the small face jugs I am making all this year, as described in my previous post. On top is Week #16 and below Week #20. I affectionately call them Bland Man and The Dude. They both were unusual experiences in the making, and that is is why I am featuring them. (You are able to see front views of them in the group shot from my last post.)

    There are typically four faces to choose from each week in the Local Talk column. I am often magnetically drawn to just one and, while I don’t decide for sure until I am actually sitting down with the wet clay to make that week’s jug, it doesn’t change all that often.

    Bland Man was my response to NOT getting any buzz going that week. (No offense to any of those folks featured in that column!) This project has always been more about responding to what I see rather than creating a portrait, but even creative responses benefit from close observation of the details. No matter what I did, nothing niggled or intrigued. What else to do but to go with that then? I am happy I did. There is something timeless in this simple little jug. It has whimsy and wisdom and a calm abiding sense that recalls more ancient art. Bland Man, then, is a tiny little joke, really. Beneath that calm exterior lies….

    Now The Dude I talked of last May in the Mother-Daughter Double Jug post. If you recall, I was tempted to make another two-person jug, but the angles were wrong, so I went with this covered-up but still full of personality (or attitude?) young guy. And, usually I put the week’s number on the neck or hair in back, but the big ole “20” got pressed into the front of the cap. There is swagger and self-satisfaction in this one for both him and me.

    Of the six weeks I let this project ride while I studied ceramics at Skyline College in San Bruno with Tiffany Schmierer, the Thursday columns lined up on my studio wall like fence posts. I spent time studying them yesterday. I mentioned before that I had never seen anyone mugging in a Local Talk column…well, dear readers, I have a Mugger for you. I also have the lovely face of a local classical sculptor who teaches European methods (gee, am I intimidated? Nah.) And there are LOTS of people in sunglasses because it is summer in Santa Cruz! Not quite sure what will develop because of that. We’ll all know in October’s post.

    Like I also have said, nearly all are smiling or doing something to make ME smile. Such a gift. At mid-year I am very pleased with this project and looking forward to bringing it into its fullness. I consulted with Tiffany about applying colors and glazes, so I even have some insight into where I will go with that when they and I are ready. It all feels just right.

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  • Local Talkers Class Picture Day

    On: July 31, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 803
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    It’s been fun thinking up how to show you all thirteen weekly small face jugs from the second quarter of my 2009 year-long series based on the Local Talk column in the Local Rag Called The Good Times. It’s basically a face-a-week proposition I have been working, working, working.

    But ever since hitting the half a year mark in June, at 26 weeks, I have been letting the columns pile up and taking some time away while I did a six-week summer intensive at Skyline College in San Bruno, CA with Tiffany Schmierer. (Much more wonderfulness on that later.)

    This group shot is reminiscent of an elementary school shoot: line ’em up on some risers and try to capture everyone looking their best. Obviously, some have misbehaved! Love that.

    I also have stylist tendencies, because I put them all on a 2×4 on the laundry room water heater. Let’s go urban funk. It excites me in some great way to do anything BUT the perfect gallery shot. I’m saving that for when the whole series is decorated, glaze-fired and complete. Which is, gee, a whole six months or more away. I’ll wait. In the meantime, I will photograph whatever and wherever I like.

    So here are their sweet and lively bisque-fired faces. What I have learned in the Second Quarter is that the smiles really speak to me, even if they are “window smiles.” I know I talked about smiles in a previous post, but responding to them goes deep and satisfies.

    I also have to admit to understanding my work better when viewed through a lens, blogged about and published. It’s a bit like putting a frame on a painting because it sets it apart and allows another understanding of it to come forth. So does good lighting. So do 2×4 water heater risers in the laundry room.

    I also have learned to stay loose and interpretive this quarter. Hence the Bland Man: I’m sure you can pick him out. But there is also the Temptress and the Dude. (No, not that The Dude, who abides, but a relative.) Such fun.

    I have a few close-ups to post soon. But I wanted to share this Class Photo from today to get things started. It was a great July away..and you will hear me talking about that soon enough…but for now, just enjoy another small body of work that leads to a huge one.

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  • Quinn’s Traveling Journals Project

    On: July 10, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 819
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    Those two (formerly) blank journal pages up there were mine to do anything with: write, draw, apply thin collages… whatever called me. I had a deadline I wanted to honor before mailing it back to Quinn McDonald in the padded envelope provided, but that was it. I took my sweet time and for once was blessedly serene. No Blank Page Problem here! I was in the tree-stand waiting to trap some lovely creative prey. I was drowsing at the Old Fishing Hole, knowing I would lightly spring into action when I felt the niggling idea on the line. I’d say it was deliciously downright recreational and a grand way to allow art in.

    Since this was the Unthemed Journal #3568 from the Traveling Journals Project, the only thing I felt vital to the effort was my well-considered and deep authenticity. Oh, and don’t fuss. Yeah, yeah: go deep in the most spontaneous way possible! The more this thought grew, the more it seemed the pages needed to be about a moment, and not much more. I wanted an enso, a Japanese brush circle. That much was settled.

    Here came the technical, logistical, physical, spatial, practical, formal, artful problems shuffling in their predictable queue right behind that enso-shaped wish. I kept on waiting. I invited them to my campfire, my drum circle, my tea room. We got along great. They left, tipsy and sated, their ears ringing a bit and I received turquoise and amber, opals and jade!

    They (by now very old friends) suggested that to make an enso in an unthemed traveling journal I use: high contrast, blankish simplicity, pen stippling, my own handwriting, label machine printing, red, humor, and a tiny surprise, but not to plan it in the slightest, just begin. The real-time making was over in, say, 27 minutes. Sweet.

    May I recommend you give yourself a similar creative gift? Sign up for one of the Traveling Journals: Unthemed, Travel, Dreams, and/or, if you’re near Quinn, Summer in Phoenix. You’ll see how by clicking on that link in the second paragraph up there. You also can see all the other pages completed so far. Quinn is definitely in my emerging online family, and I told her I loved doing this so much, to please put me on the lists for Travel and Dreams. Maybe I will see you there.

    And, thanks, Quinn, for letting me use the photo you took, since I forgot to!

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  • Zend of the Semester

    On: June 3, 2009
    In: Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 838
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    One of the many things I do during my week, besides making and blogging about my own ceramic art, is to help beginning ceramics students at nearby Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA. My special love is the handbuilding program, and this semester I volunteered in two classes taught by Kathryn McBride which met on Mondays and Wednesdays. I have a fairly long affiliation by now (25 classes worth, which I will describe sometime), and I have developed a delicious meta-awareness regarding the cycle of students and their passions, struggles and astonishments.

    We just finished a profound Finals Week. Folks, the depth of discussion in the Ceramics Lab was Graduate Level. By that I definitely do NOT mean slinging some highfalutin’ BS about one’s ART, but a real attempt to describe this convoluted process in individual terms: learnings and meanings. What happens, for example, when you think you’re in for an Easy A by Playing in the Mud, and instead you find yourself curious and caring, confused and committed? Chalk one up for the misconceptions abounding about clay! Happens all the time.

    Among the more common surprises to students is that there are hundreds of clay types, glazes and decoration possibilities and nearly as many firing options. Right now I would rank primitive pit firings as one of the most profound for students, electric and gas kiln firings as the most frustrating in terms of having to wait a long time for results and for NOT Getting What You Want, and Raku (pictured above) as the most terrifyingly giddy instant happiness ever.

    What you see in the photo is that exact Zen moment of aliveness: that glowing kiln full of redhot pieces, emitting insane heat and sparkling with melted-glaze works that students are removing with gloves and tongs to transfer to their prepared reduction cans filled with sawdust and newspaper shreds, to smolder and cool and turn the unglazed clay black and the glazed areas crackly and flashed with metallic highlights.

    At no time in a semester is there more presence and focus, except maybe when it is one’s turn in the Final to chat a bit about what happened to you in the past four months in Room 3013. In both cases, the observation of “how you do anything is how you do everything” is true.

    I am happy at the end of most semesters: it is good to start and it is good to finish. This semester I am bursting with joy from the students’ loving descriptions of their engagement with this whole huge magnificent endeavor, because it matches my own.

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  • The Mother-Daughter Double Jug, or How I Learned to Love the Process

    On: May 22, 2009
    In: Artmaking, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 658
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    When my Art Salon met at my studio recently, I showed them all thirteen of the 2009 First Quarter’s Local Talkers, the small face jug series I am making based on photos from a weekly newspaper column. (Read my previous two posts for the complete backstory!) This mother-daughter double jug from Week 9 was quite a favorite of the group. It is the only double face jug and the only one of a child, at least so far, and it sure is sweet, even if I do say so myself.

    I had an opportunity last week to choose another double, a mom and baby, but the angles were kinda strange, the heads were apart and a hand was involved, so I passed on it and did the scruffy bearded dude in the baseball cap and wraparound sunglasses, even pressing the week’s number (20) into the front of the cap! (I plan to feature all of the Second Quarter jugs in July’s posts, so look for him then.)

    Anyhow, as you may see in the photo, the clay has been bisque-fired, but is waiting for decoration. It is pretty raw looking, but it sure lets the form of each piece be the star. Each one is a stand-alone sculpture. I think I have already mentioned that I plan to do the decorating early in 2010 when I have all 52 or 53 jugs together in a complete body of work. That is both a good and a bad thing.

    What’s Good:
    Able to develop a deeper perception of parts/whole before randomly colorizing or glazing

    Plenty of time to gather ideas and test them out on other pieces first

    Able to consult with others, especially ceramics colleagues

    By decorating them all at once, there will be the same “hand” at work and the same kiln for the finish firing, creating unity in a subtle way.

    What’s Not So Good:
    The earliest made ones are bound to get dusty and oily from being handled more. (I already store them under wraps, but will probably need to re-fire them first to burn off what they have collected over the months: dirt and oils do affect how colors and glazes look and stick.)

    Always the possibility of breakage….but I will just deal with that if it happens by re-making it.

    Might develop real conflicts over several decorating options which seem promising, which would be just like me. *Sigh*

    Might get to like them un-glazed a little too much and consequently be so blocked by that as to not know how to take them to the next place. This is pretty common in the ceramics world: by the time we meet a piece after it has dried and been bisque-fired, we need to reaquaint ourselves with the spirit of it in order to know how to continue the vision. (Unless, that is, one has been thinking about the finishing all along…which I definitely have been doing, so this is probably not going to happen!)

    Well, like I have said, I have never worked this way before and weekly am finding out new things. Know that I am also getting glimmers of how they all will be displayed to best effect…and I will probably talk about that in a future post, too.

    Somewhere in the past I read that artists are not so much problem solvers as they are problem seekers. It’s not by asking WHAT so much as by asking WHAT IF? that creates the itch to make art. To pose a personal “What If” is to seek out challenges. I like this problem which I have put before me. I like that is it just out of my control, just a little bigger than I can understand, that I must wait for it to reveal itself over time and yet has measured chunks of responsibilities for me to execute. It’s a fantastic way to live and has already made this year a memorable one. Can’t wait to see where it takes me!

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