~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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a hard lesson

A few weeks ago, my youngest son showed me this video. Pretty cool.

That video brought me back to a sweet memory of the same son when he was about 4 years old. One of his favorite activities was to sit on the edge of the garden retaining wall and blow bubbles. On one occasion, after some time blowing, chasing and catching soapy bubbles, he came to me with a request. He wanted to color the bubbles. We discussed the possibility (or impossibility) – him insisting on paint for color and me suggesting food coloring (mom wins)

soap-bubbles_00245162

I mixed several drops of blue into the container and let loose the bubble maker. The bubbles were beautiful; glistening in the afternoon sun. But, not blue. He begged, ‘do more’. So, I added several drops of red to our blue solution to create a deep violet. Nope. No difference. They were just plain ol’ run of the mill bubbles. Oh the disappointment. My hasty dissertation on film color theory did nothing to reconcile the expectations of this 4 year old with the reality of the outcome (I’m pretty sure someone was ready for a nap about this time ::pick me::)

There are some natural laws that we cannot concede (unless you’re in space, because…well, NASA) You simply can’t color bubbles and then stretch the outer surface to just this side of it’s tensile limit and still see the color. We can’t have everything. That’s a hard lesson for a four year old (and any adult that believes like a four year old)

cups_180

~old design

I’ve been working on new forms and surface design since summer. Reclaimed a lot of clay. Wanting to be freer with the surfaces, I went about creating looser forms and playing with line. Just before the end of the semester, I unloaded a glaze with the last of the mugs of the old design, a couple smallish drawn tiles and a test piece with design elements I thought I wanted. Oh the disappointment.

This far into the process, I’ve come to that point where I have to compromise some of what I see in my head (no comments from the peanut gallery) with what I can actually do. And then, some elements that I thought I could carry over from the earlier work just need to be abandon altogether. The lines didn’t fit the surface that was too demanding for the glaze that was too delicate for the lines that didn’t fit the surface that didn’t…(you get it) Talk about expectations not meeting outcomes.

So, I asked myself what I have a passion for and (the ‘and’ is important) if I have the skill to execute that passion.

After living with my test piece for several days, I came to this conclusion: I’m more about the lines than the forms. I just really want a canvas to draw on.

I love to draw. I can do that.


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~detail: Undone In the Pursuit of Wild Hares

~detail: Undone In the Pursuit of Wild Hares

When I was a kid I was a huge fan of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. There’s some pretty sophisticated humor coming from those Fractured Fairy Tales. Between shorts, Bullwinkle would occasionally try to pull a rabbit out of his hat. In every attempt, Bullwinkle fails. He pulls a lion, tiger, rhino, bear and once even Rocky. But, no rabbit. Bullwinkle isn’t prepared to pull a rabbit from his hat because he’s always got the wrong hat (there’s a life lesson there).

~detail: Rabbit Sketch

~detail: Rabbit Sketch

This week, just shy of mid-semester, I introduced my beginning students to the potter’s wheel. They have been chompin’ at the bit to get to throw. But, silly me…I insist they start with hand building. I really think hand building allows for a less intimidating introduction to clay. It’s slow. It provides students the opportunity to pay attention and build a foundation in the clay process. While the wheel tends to mesmerize the students and they abandon the details in their struggle to throttle the spinning clay.

When giving a throwing demo I’ll hear comments about how easy the process looks…it’s like magic. I remind them that I’ve been doing this longer than some of them have been alive (seems every year my students, my doctors and the IT guy at Best Buy get younger, but I never feel a day over 35).

~detail: Rough Draft #17

~detail: Rough Draft #17

Here’s a truth they won’t recognize until they’ve gone through a sufficient struggle, it’s only easy…it only looks like magic because of preparation; having what I need to pull the rabbit out of my hat.

During yesterday’s demo, I explained that they needed to pay attention to the details in the preparation. First, wedge your clay! So many student man-handle their clay; not wedging it properly and actually introducing air into the clay (that’s never helpful). Then, there’s this idea that the centering of the clay isn’t all that big a deal – it’s just a hoop to jump through to get to the real magic of creating a pot. I needed to clear that up!

So then, I gave another demo with the clay ever so slightly off center (the wrong hat). As the process continued, I directed their attention to the increasing asymmetry of the piece as I worked against the out-of-center clay. My years of throwing allowed me to get pretty far in the process. Still, the lack of symmetry predestined the piece to fail…and it failed spectacularly!

Nope. No rabbits. Not one.

Get out and look at art folks!

Draw With Everything
Phoenix Sky Harbor
Terminal 4, Level 3, eight display cases
on exhibit now through February 28, 2016

Exhibiting artists: Beth Shook*, Monica Aissa Martinez, Mark McDowell, Jerry Jacobson, Rebecca Davis, Mary Shindell, and Carolyn Lavendar.

*my work is located at the A Gates (American and US Airways)

Make plans to attend!

Empty Bowls
Chandler-Gilbert Community College
Pecos Campus, Student Pavilion

October 20, 2015
10:30am – 6pm

Donations benefit the Chandler Christian Community Center to support their efforts to feed those in the local community who might otherwise go without food.

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move on

casseroles_72

baking dishes

With a little over a week till the start of the fall semester, a visual inventory of my summer accomplishments leaves me wondering what the heck happened?

Outside a busy summer exhibition season, a turn-around trip to catch up with family, and the chance to dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean in celebration of a milestone birthday almost two years in arrears; I’ve not got much to show for the hours spent in the studio (except, um…the floor needs a good mopping)

~detail: espresso set

~detail: espresso set

Sometime in May, I became dissatisfied with the very controlled compositional elements of my functional work. It was a long time coming as I’d been tolerating bad behavior from previously obedient glazes. While looking for some resolve to the glaze situation, I became restless. Move on.

During my research and testing I was also creating several clay drawings for upcoming exhibitions. I remember thinking, “I’d really like the surfaces of my functional work to reflect the looseness of the drawn pieces.” (yeah…)

However, a change in surface – particularly one that moves to such an opposing process – generally demands a change in form (…and away we go!)

inspiration from clay drawings

inspiration from clay drawings

I’ve spent weeks throwing cylinder forms until I thought I found a beginning and ending (lip and foot) that I was interested in pursuing. Then, I’d move on to bowl forms only to discard the week’s worth of work. This cycle has played out on repeat all summer long.

Seizing every opportunity to learn from the process; I took risks with the pots destine for reclamation, discovered marks that I want to keep and many that I’ll avoid. I’ve eliminated several compositional possibilities, left room for a few more and worked through firing processes on paper. Once I commit to a form, I’ll send a few pieces through the fire to prove the glaze/surface chemistry.

Until then, my shelves will be empty while the reclaim bucket overflows.


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