A few weeks ago I had the privilege to speak to a group of students from the University of the West Indies and Guyana, Martinique about their ‘big picture’ view; a discussion (I use that word figuratively since they spoke mostly French and my Spanglish was of little use) that really had much to do with God’s plan and purpose in their lives. Therein lies the big picture.

We began with a big question (or three).

What are you going to accomplish with your life?

then we broke it down a bit,
What is your five year plan?

A five year plan. Not a bad thing to have. In fact, beneficial…unless. No, until the plan becomes an obstacle to the big picture.

Allow me to introduce you to my friend, Bill.
Bill attended the University of Texas at El Paso when I was an undergraduate student there. He was an intellectual sort, a man of faith with a humble approach to every day. Bill was four or five years older than our motley crew that spent precious hours avoiding whatever we could around the dinner table each evening. He was a graduate student in geology (yes, I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from a top ranked mining school)

We always knew when Bill was on our floor (he was dating the RA) as he would announce, ‘man on the floor’ when coming through the door and then whistle a tune with incredible perfection as he walked through the hall (we owe a debt of gratitude to Bill for his chivalrous behavior; saving more than one of us from a ‘most embarrassing moment’ story when a risky dash down the hall from the shower to our room was averted by a show tune whistling through the air)

Bill was never without a book or two and a stack of papers. Always researching. When I enrolled my first semester, Bill was already there. When I graduated four and a half years later, I left him behind. I remember him applying for an extension at one point. Not because he needed more research time, he just didn’t know what he wanted to do when he finished. Bill’s plan was to study. He hadn’t given much thought to anything beyond school. His plan (at the time*) was an obstacle to the big picture. It happens a lot, getting caught up in the study – the process of studying to the neglect of application; the purpose (ceramic people – glaze freaks in particular, might recognize themselves…ahem)

In Martinique, my discussion with the students lent caution about getting caught in the five year plan without ever applying what they’ve learned to the big picture. The third question I posed; What are you doing today that points to the big picture?

To illustrate my point to the students, I showed a drawn study on paper for what would eventually be translated to an image on clay. As the image of the paper study and clay drawing were viewed adjacent to each other, they noted (I hear it often), what I refer to as studies are very finished drawings (on very bad paper) I understand. I see what they see. The drawings could easily be seen as an end in themselves.

~study: Why Do You Make So Much of Me?

Except.

Except, I use these drawings to study form, light and dark, textures, and technique. I practice seeing (really seeing) and record detail (stuff I know I’ll never realize on clay) They are only studies. Not my purpose. Not my big picture. The paper drawings are the means by which I learn line, shape, create texture, layer image and process the glaze surface for clay in order to communicate; tell my story. Really, God’s story through me. The big picture.

*My friend did eventually complete his thesis work, then on to receive his PhD.

• 




Mark your calendars

2017 Ceramic Studio Tour
February 25-26
10am-5pm

My studio is a host site, #12 on the tour this year.
~with:
Sarah Brodie, Sam Hodges, and Genie Swanstrom

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on being Piglet

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

~AA Milne, The House at Pooh Corner.

There are uncertainties that encourage reckless daring (those seem to happen mostly in the movies) Or doubts that make you question what you know (the goal of every multiple choice test) And then, the second guesses that manage to override your heart (like Piglet, I struggle here)

For a long time I’ve wanted to create a large drawing on clay – like, Gulliver-size large. OK. That might be a little ambitious considering Gulliver’s towering figure, but yet….

Gulliver's Travels, Johnathan Swift illustration, Arthur Rackham

Gulliver’s Travels, Johnathan Swift
illustration, Arthur Rackham

A work of significant scale is dependent on a few necessary components – not the least of which is an exhibition site. And then there’s the matter of engineering and subject. The more I’ve thought about how I might go about creating a drawing of this scale, the more I’ve wanted to make it happen. I’m not much of a public art artist. I love public art and percent projects that bring beauty to much of our functional every day. However, it’s not really the best venue for my current work (and it’s scary!)

After securing a location to show my foray into big drawing, I threw my motivation into drive. My thought is to get all the tiles bisgue fired so I can marathon glaze. But, some how collecting bisque ware runs counter to motivation. That growing stack of tiles is overwhelming. The lengthy process allows for considerable doubt. I’ve second guessed the initial design (too late to turn back, now), the feasibility of the installation (this may be an engineering nightmare), and the surface/glaze is now in such flux I’m not sure how to read my notes (not counting my indiscernible handwriting)

Most bothersome is the uncertainty that makes me question my intent.
Why am I doing this?
What am I trying to communicate?
Which lends itself to, where was I in the process?
Often followed by, why did I come into this room? (that might be a completely unrelated thought)

I feel like I’m in a constant state of righting my perspective (read: attitude)

So then, back to my original notes.
Reorient my thoughts to the initial vision.
Think beyond where I am in the process; making sketches and notes to keep moving forward.
Stop being Piglet.





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celadon banner_small

According to the internet, where truth reigns ::sarcasm:: the color blue is the favorite child across gender, ethnicity and culture. In one survey conducted in 10 countries over 4 continents, blue came out the overwhelming winner every time (brown, not so much)

I like green. I don’t dislike blue. It’s just that green has so much more to offer…like, yellow (see what I did there?) Compositionally, green is an Everyman; holding it’s own, yet plays well with others. Green has the ability to function in the foreground as well as the background…because, yellow.

My love of green has never been a secret (neither has my annoyance with the overuse of blue) I’ve been known to base a decision solely on the availability of green. And then…and then in the ceramic world there is celadon (ah, yes) A traditional celadon glaze is characterized by a soft gray-green color resulting from firing iron oxide in a reduction atmosphere*.

In my forth semester as an undergraduate in ceramics, our assignment was to design, create and fire dinnerware for eight, including service pieces. The set would require at least 50 some-odd pieces and a lot of prayer to finish with enough surviving work to complete the assignment. My first solo firing of the kiln would be the culmination of this semester’s work – with my entire dinnerware set inside (eek!)

I went about making my dinnerware with an iron rich, toasty clay decorated with a white slipped rim that just cried out for celadon.

Some of you are already ahead of me, here. What was I thinking?

My first solo firing.
The kiln loaded with my entire semester’s work.
I chose a glaze that is dependent on a specific firing atmosphere.

When you don’t know what you don’t know, you occasionally find yourself in a pickle. More often – no…most often, novice potters focus on the making rather than the finishing (there’s your pickle)

I’m a little beyond novice these days. Still love celadons. In fact, I’ve recently committed to develop a family of celadon glazes for my functional work. Firing in oxidation**, celadon really just refers to green(s) since oxidation eliminates the mystery of the iron-in-reduction-resulting-green. My hope in developing related celadons is to approximate the beauty of the subtle surface variation I saw when I opened the door of my first solo firing.

* reduction atmosphere = creating a surplus of carbon in the firing kiln
**oxidation atmosphere = preventing a surplus of carbon in the firing kiln




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~illustration: Lee McCormick

~illustration: Lee McCormick

A couple weeks ago as I was headed to class I saw something I’ve seen a hundred times over; young almost-adult men on bicycles that are considerably too small for them to ride comfortably. I reason this boy/man to bicycle relationship comes about slowly and organically (read: unplanned). Somewhere around that 9th or 10th birthday, there awaits the gift of a bicycle. The best gift because it amounts to some measure of independence and freedom. Boys on bikes doing risky things: pullin’ wheelies, jumpin’ ditches, racin’ down ravines (events that precede emergency room visits) Life is great!

But, there’s this phenomenon that occurs sometime between the endowment of emancipation and four or five years down the road. The bike doesn’t change but the boy does. The boy use to stand on the pedals to produce the most possible downward force for his 70 pound frame to go as fast as the wind. Whereas, the young man stands on the pedals to keep his knees from relentlessly smacking the underside of the handlebars.

photo credit: Chris Harvey

photo credit: Chris Harvey

It’s a work-around. Instead of getting a new bike you make it work (besides, there’s hope for a beater car in the near future) It’s not as freeing. It’s not as comfortable. And, it’s increasingly more difficult to keep those low slung pants up when you can’t sit to pedal. I believe this is probably an imperative right of passage in American culture for boys.

The work-around is well rooted in our ethic; necessity being the mother of invention and all. However, when necessity finds itself in that slow, organic relationship we tend to spin our wheels (or maybe, smack the top of our knees on the handlebars) We didn’t see it coming. It worked before.

The pain and frustration we feel happens when it doesn’t work any more and there’s a realization that things are different now – girls become women overnight (like…overnight), I need God more than He needs me (but still, He chooses me), math gets really hard, reading glasses (’nuff said),…

I have students paralyzed in their frustration with clay; having employed the work-around far too long. It takes some time, but once they’re aware their battered knees are the result of not paying attention while the assignment became more complicated, grew increasingly sophisticated, the lesson is half learned. The rest lies in a different approach, a change in mechanics, a fresh perspective, a new bike.

Suddenly, the familiar taste of freedom.



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we get stuck

l to r: Sarah Brodie, me, Sam Hodges, Genie Swanstrom photo credit: Lynn Trimble

l to r: Sarah Brodie, me, Sam Hodges, Genie Swanstrom
photo credit: Lynn Trimble

I mustache you?
Did you make it to the tour?

Two weeks ago I participated in the 15th Annual Self-Guided Ceramic Studio Tour (the event title that keeps on giving – it’s quite a mouthful) I can hardly believe it’s been fifteen years since this gig began.

The entirety of this year’s event was a week long with collector’s studio and gallery tours, lectures, the weekend self-guided tour across the valley, and the Ceramarama (talk about a mouthful…) gala and auction. If you missed it, let me suggest penciling in the 2017 tour near the end of next February.

~here’s a little highlight reel:
Artists Open Studios During the 2016 ASU Ceramic Studio Tour.

During the tour, I spoke with a group of attendees about design. Specifically, the process of moving into new territory with your work (we also played a rousing game of Good Pot/Bad Pot…should’a been there) It’s scary to leave the sure-fire-blue-glazed-always-sells-at-the-craft-fair thing. Hear me clear. Walk away!! Do it! The sooner, the better.

l to r: where I went, where I was

l to r: where I went, where I was

As soon as we get comfortable, we get stuck. Stuck is only a challenge if you try to move. So, move.

I’ve found the best way to refocus in a new direction is to begin to ask questions. Then, answer them in your sketchbook. Paper is still cheaper than clay (particularly the 60% post consumer recycled stuff that fills an inexpensive sketchbook) Make every effort to eliminate the crappola through your sketchbook.
Begin to ask:

~detail: new work

~detail: new work

What do I need to eliminate?
What can’t I do without?
How should the surface respond? What part of that can I control?
What’s my palette? Warm, cool, dark, light?
Look at other peoples’ work. What is it that makes the piece appealing (or not)? Can I make that mine?

Then, make it happen. If at this point you believe you’ve arrived at the next great ceramic sensation, you’ll need to adjust your attitude and throw your ego back in the reclaim bucket once you open the kiln (it’s amazing how much ugly escapes the confines of my sketchbook) Now, begin again.

If I’m going to be honest, this process is never ending. I constantly ask myself to move away from what I know in order to approach the possibilities of what might be. Do it! Move!!

related posts: a hard lesson, move on, nothing but possibilities.

sketches in the studio photo credit: Lynn Trimble

sketches in the studio
photo credit: Lynn Trimble


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