balance

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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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~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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Billy’s car

During high school, my friend’s brother Billy would sometimes pick us up after school in his c.1965 Ford Falcon. His generosity was almost always used as leverage later for a favor. (read: alibi)

I remember that car didn’t have seat belts. (I think I prayed for a seat belt on a couple occasions) The key could be removed from the ignition and tossed out the passenger side window into the desert while the car was still running. (a different adventure altogether) And, the best operating procedures demanded that while idling, the driver shift into neutral and lay liberally on the gas or she would die.

I idle a lot like Billy’s car. It nearly kills me.

~original with broken parasol

~original with broken parasol

A couple months ago I found myself at a standstill. Everything shifted into neutral. It’s almost painful for me. I just don’t idle well.

So, when a friend asked if I could repair a ceramic figure of some sentiment that had been broken, I did what every ceramic artist does…I hesitated. When I first saw the piece I knew full well I probably couldn’t fix anything. (sometimes broken is forever) I held in my hands a finely cast, translucent porcelain geisha figure with a delicately detailed, broken and pieced together parasol. Nope. Can’t fix it.

However, I could replace the broken piece. (sweet! a project) So, yeah…a replacement.

I went about creating a substitute for the original parasol with a piece that felt similar. Knowing there was no way I could reproduce an identical piece, I posed this question, “how might the visual elegance of the geisha be altered by this one element?”

geisha2_300

And so it goes. My replacement form is less formal with a tighter negative space between the figure and the parasol than the original; making the figure seem more provincial – even a bit novice.

geisha3_300

When a little color and a western umbrella form are introduced, there is a certain visual shift. The surface treatment still speaks to Japanese tradition. Yet, the modern form allows the figure a closer proximity to 21st century culture. Here, a young contemporary girl learning the traditional arts.

geisha4_300

The idea of introducing a complicated rhythm to the slow elegant line of the figure occupied my head for awhile. Another dynamic through that one element. Yeah…I went all Winnie-the-Pooh on her. (a blustery day indeed!) Would that I could look so collected the next time my umbrella gets whipped inside out.

Ah…a much appreciated shift. Thank you friend for the opportunity to get through idle.


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an anthology

The 2nd Occasional Cup and Mug Sale

BethShook_300

Let me start with a huge thank you to all those who came out to spend a little hard earned cash on a mug and donate a backpack for a junior high!! Also, thank you to all the artists that participated in the sale – couldn’t have done it without you.

Our goal was to collect new backpacks for a local junior high by creating a big tadoo about cups and mugs. Here’s the Cliff Note version of the sale weekend: 32 participating artists, 576 mugs and cups, ¼ of our inventory sold in the first hour of the 10 hour sale, awarded 8 mixed sets of cups and mugs to drawing entrants, and (this is the very best part!) collected 55 new backpacks for one grateful junior high school.

That was fun!

Dear John, you left so soon

On the morning of October 13, 2014 my studio-mate from graduate school passed away. He was 54.

John's studio space, 1989.

John’s studio space, 1989.

John and I shared a divided 500-600 square feet of studio space during grad school. He always had parts and pieces scattered about (drove me crazy). Somewhere in his process all these parts made sense.

I considered him a friend. Graduate school creates a special bond – cemented by stress and lack of sleep. We tried to provide practical support for each other. For instance, John helped document a large site specific piece for me and another grad student. By document, I mean – he ran along the Mill Avenue bridge at the break of dawn for three consecutive days photographing our progress as we worked to draw from the shadows cast on the dry rocky bed of the Salt River. I bought breakfast.

On one particularly cold morning, I rid the studio of the black widow that made her home under the wall heater, next to the switch. (John had grown considerably weary of arachnids after sleeping with a scorpion on more than one occasion) He bought me lunch.

And so it went….

John seemed to lose his way a bit during grad school. But, I’m confident he was drawn back before he left us so soon for home.

A Conductive carbon

I’ve been working on what seems like the longest continual commission ever – that, from this day forward shall be referred to as ‘the dinnerware’. My progress has been stymied by an unruly class schedule, a cup and mug sale, kiln repairs, and a clay problem.

With my class schedule under control and the sale a thing of the past, I’ve only got the kiln and clay issues to solve. (which are really linked…I think)

It seems in my attempt to squeeze the last red cent from my turnip, I inadvertently doubled my trouble.

The setting:
I’d been keeping an eye on a sagging element near the bottom of the kiln. If I could just get one more firing in….(that went all wrong) After a slower that normal bisque firing, I checked the elements before reloading and noticed the sagging element touching itself on the return. All the current was running through about six inches of the element (yeah, yeah…replace the element and get on with it)

The conflict:
A month or so later, I’m unloading a glaze and notice micro-bloats* on the work – actually, only the mugs. (geeze, just in time for a mug sale. perfect.) After considerable research and a few impromptu interviews, I’ve come up with a theory. A theory that may well violate one or more laws of thermodynamics, but….

Lichtbogen_3000_Volt

The foil:
My fuzzy science suggests a few things (and some stuff I actually know…like, actually)

  • • the clay I’m using has been known by ceramic artists to bloat. The manufacturer disagrees, but suggests firing the bisque to cone 04 as a means to remove all organics. (not sure what’s in this clay that survives 1860°F…but, okay)
  • • during at least one bisque firing, the second to the bottom element shorted itself; creating a smaller circuit with half the resistance.
  • • the mugs were loaded on the bottom.
  • the shorted element would create uneven heat in the kiln – a cooler bottom.
  • (here’s the fuzzy part) the shorted element would create a voltaic arc, releasing a conductive carbon into the kiln’s atmosphere; meaning there was some localized reduction going on.

The moral:
A penny saved isn’t worth the price of that turnip.

*bloat: the permanent swelling of a ceramic article during firing caused by the evolution of gases. (sounds a bit like too many chimichangas, eh)

 



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This summer I spent most of my time in the studio throwing. My goal was to finish the making of a large dinnerware set before classes started. I was diligent about creating a certain number of pieces each week. And yet, I fell short of my goal. (a dozen or so dinner plates short) Now, everything has slowed to a sluggish crawl.

Once August rolled around, I started losing steam. At some point, the tables and kiln were filled with greenware and the bisque was piled three shelves deep. I needed a break. Needed to refocus. For a week or two I spent half as much time in the mud so I could work on a drawing.

why1_96

As part of the process, I’ll take photos of a drawing at the end of each work session as a way to document progress and as a tool to see the image a little differently. The photos help me identify areas that need to be strengthened or reworked. Often I’ll post these images on twitter and Facebook; an opportunity for others to see what’s happening in the studio.

why2_96

After I’d posted a few progress images, a friend sent me a message asking, “Beth! How do you discipline yourself as an artist?” (you talkin’ to me?) If my name hadn’t been included, I might have been inclined to believe that message was for someone else.

My response begins, “Hmmm. I’m not sure I’m the artist to ask. I know artists that are far more disciplined than me.” (really…I’ve already confessed that I still have a slew of dinner plates to make)

My reply continues, “I will say, a huge part of creating is obedience.” Now, I realize all the line-jumping-cliff-note-color-outside-the-lines-rebel-artists can feel the hair on the back of their necks stand at the notion of obedience. (or any related synonym) But, if we’re going to be real honest here, we are all submissive to something – a deadline, a production schedule, fame, fortune, bread and butter…. (yep)

I added, “For me, that translates as obedience to God…God moves me.” Our obedience to (pick something) creates the momentum to create. Motivation.

I concluded, “So, my motivation: if God intends to use my voice, I need to be good. Good enough to communicate clearly. Good enough to be taken seriously.”

why4_96

My work is largely autobiographic. Autobiographic in that I can’t speak effectively into any event/issue/relationship except through the faith and hope that ground me. I am motivated to share that story.

Just doing something often or regularly isn’t discipline insomuch as doing that something with the same focus and purpose with which you live everyday. It’s the everyday that makes it regular. But, it’s the purpose that makes it discipline.

~Mark your calendar~

The 2nd Occasional Cup and Mug Sale

~a sale of handmade cups and mugs by more than 30 artists~

October 24 & 25, 2014

Friday ~ 6-9pm

Saturday ~ 9am – 4pm

dessadog studio
1410 W. Guadalupe Rd, bldg.1 ste.103
Gilbert, AZ 85233

~enter to win a mixed set of cups/mugs with the donation of a new backpack for Rhodes Jr. High~

cupandmug14 copy_72


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