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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.

    (more…)

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  • Creative Deep Freeze and The Spring Thaw

    On: March 24, 2016
    In: Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 890
     1

     

    CreativeProcess3

     

    When we last spoke, I was becoming curious about the workings of My Creative Block, hoping to at least ease the resistance and struggle, daring to think it could even be perverse fun. You don’t have to read that piece to understand this one, but it might illuminate. Anyhow, it was curiosity that led me to pick apart the components of the Creative Process to see if and how Blocks fit in. That’s what I’m gonna talk about here. (more…)

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  • Studio Tour Part One: North Wall

    On: September 16, 2015
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1003
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    Liz Crain Ceramics Studio

     

    Here begins a four-part virtual Studio Tour of my ceramic-making digs. We’re starting with the North Wall and will continue in the coming weeks to the other compass points. Expect sidetracks into the crannies of my small, semi-efficient  working space. I’m sharing my studio up close and personal as a way to augment my Artist Number 207 2015 Santa Cruz County Open Studio Art Tour.  During that Tour, visitors can peek in, but not enter this space.  Even if they could go in, they would not get this in-depth description. Besides, it’s all cleaned up then, but you’re seeing it un-staged and in use.

    (more…)

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  • Making Mistakes Right: The Artist’s Talk, T Minus 5 Days

    On: March 8, 2015
    In: Art Biz, Community, Creativity, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 1030
     1
    Artist Talk 1

    I was invited to give a three-hour Artist’s Talk/Demo at Cabrillo College Ceramics and it’s coming up this Friday.

    While I gladly said yes about a month ago, I am now wondering just who volunteered me behind my back, because the scaredy-catted introverted hide-in-her-studio artist has got the dithers. My Inner Critic, Scylla,  is quite sure I will suck in the most boringly didactic way possible. That the crowd will politely suffer my foolishness and drift off at the first break and it will be The Worst Talk Ever. (more…)

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  • Chase the Dream, Not the Competition

    On: October 25, 2013
    In: Art Biz, Artmaking, Studio Journal
    Views: 940
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    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? (more…)

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

    On: August 26, 2013
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1683
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    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 closeddoodling 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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  • Commissions Are Like Picking Scabs

    On: March 10, 2013
    In: Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1242
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    Of course I know better. It will just re-open the wound and make it worse. Maybe leave a scar.

    And there I am doing it again: saying yes to a commission proposal, when I swore them off.

    I’ve had some gratifying commissions in the past. The requesters are enthusiastic fans, wanting something special from my hands. Perhaps it’s a personalized beer can for a daughter-in-law, or matching tobacco cans for a family to commemorate a father, or an oil can with pour spout inscribed to honor a motorhead buddy. I treasure that they are nearly always special gifts for a loved one.

    The collectors describe their idea, maybe they even come for a studio visit. We email, we exchange images. I make a sketch. We email again. Eventually we settle on IT. I name my price. A deposit is made and then….

    I’m in trouble. (Actually, I was in trouble at the outset.) And it’s all my own doing. With a number of commission successes behind me, what could be the matter? I wasn’t sure until I started asking around.

    Exactly NONE of the artists I’ve queried are enthusiastic about commissions. If they say yes it’s often against their better inclinations and usually for one of two reasons:

    1. They believe they need the love, money, fame or doors opened.  Or,  2. They don’t know how to say no.

    Or both.

    I do both. The money, fame, or open doors don’t usually motivate me, but offer love (appreciation) and  I’m  Just a Girl That Cain’t Say No.

    Am I that much of a needy pushover? Naw, I think I’m just unskilled and unpracticed. After a decade of saying yes to everything, I’m now learning that not every opportunity is MY opportunity. (Thank you coach Cynthia Morris for this concept.) My spheres of creativity, my pursuits, my priorities have shifted, taking my studio rhythms with them.

    Sometimes the right words come along in the moment as in, “Let me think about it.” But more often it’s a version of “I’d love to, thanks for thinking of me” and right where I should insert the lovely ironclad refusal….. I say OK and am all in. Oops, I did it again.

    I need a Ten-Second Elevator Regrets Speech to parrot. I have Justine Musk’s crazy sarcastic list, It would cause the slow withering death of my soul ” + 75 other ways to say No, which is definitely good for Creative Badass laughs,  but it still won’t get me the phrase I need:  the pleasant, clear-eyed refusal that leaves the asker not feeling sorry they asked in the first place and me with my studio schedule intact. Still Friends.

    Just what IS the rub about commission work? Most times the problem is not the patron, or even the commission concept — although I have experienced disasters with both — it’s that the art-making is for someone else from the get-go. And immediately the choo-choo train of creative process needs a giant cowcatcher strapped on the front to fend off the extra assortment of expectations, assumptions, explanations, interpretations and arbitrary agendas. The presence of the patron never really leaves.

    I thought the pains I felt over commission work, the procrastination, the pique, the self-doubt, were just me being temperamental. But other artists tell me of similar thoughts and feelings.  So it’s with glad relief that I’m reading Jonathan Fields’ book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance which defines The Rub. He says free-range creativity takes a huge hit when it is subjected to expected evaluation. He speaks of the the differences between intrinsic (soul) work and extrinsic (paid) work as motivators, with the intrinsic work being more venturesome in all respects. To back this up, he cites a study by Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School  in which 23 artists created 20 works each: 10 as commissions and 10 as they wished. The artists did not know this, but afterwards all the works were put in front of a panel of artistic experts — museum curators, art historians, gallerists and the like — to evaluate for creativity and technical excellence. While they found no separation between any of the works in technical excellence, the commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than the non-commissioned works.” Significantly!

    It’s starting to seem obvious. “When you know better, you do better.” (Maya Angelou) For the good of all — me, them and my best artwork —  I need to put a bandage over my automatic-yes-to-commissions habit and let it all heal.

    ~Liz Crain, who enjoys the fact that even the venerable late Victor Spinski once got so irritated at a collector’s request for amendments to his work, he took the piece – a trompe l’oeil garbage can – put it out with his regular garbage and photographed the garbage collector’s surprise at breaking it. She’d like to have overheard his explanation to the collector as he returned the money.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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