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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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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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It’s monsoon season. (so much for that dry heat) I’m convinced monsoon is short for: ‘a lot of heat jockeying for air space with just enough precipitation spit from the heavens to disturb the fine layer of dust deposited on the car from the haboob-we-use-to-call-dust-storms that blew through half an hour earlier’.

Fabens

Fabens

A couple nights ago I was awakened by our frantic dog shaking and panting from the thunder and lightning. I’m not sure what she thinks is going on, but she wants no part of it. I’ve learned that if she can see a light on in an adjacent room, she isn’t as neurotic about the lightning. (the thunder is a whole other anxiety issue)

After she was calmed a bit, I stumbled into bed. My efforts to settle back to sleep are fruitless. My brain begins working on design solutions for a cream and sugar service for the dinnerware commission I’m working on. (ugh…this was going to keep me awake)

As an undergraduate, I created a lot of dinnerware. The sale of individual place settings and related service pieces became a much needed (though, not regular) source of income. When designing dinnerware as a set, I try to create pieces that always or nearly always repeat in color, form or function and a few pieces that deviate from the repetition enough to provide a related variation in visual rhythm. The service pieces are the perfect catalyst for that purpose.

So, that cream and sugar service that keeps me from sleep…

This dinnerware set has both open and closed forms. I figure I can pull those together with the service set. The sugar will be a closed form similar to the bowls of each place setting; while the creamer will be an open form that relates to the mugs.

Now, back to sleep!

But…no. There are lids, spouts and handles to consider. (honestly, this is really going to screw up my disposition in the morning) Somewhere between the thunder-troubled dog, my brain overrun, and the annoying illumination from the bathroom light, I fell asleep. By morning I’ve got the cream and sugar sevice design worked out – complete with a saucer for the creamer. (a gift from that last REM cycle)

bisque2

In the next few days, I’ll need to spend time in my sketchbook to work through the details. Then, on to the ‘weights and measures’ of the design – meaning, I’ll work out structure, proportion, and functionality in clay. I will end up with several sets; all variations on my sleep deprived inspiration and all related to the place settings.

I have a lot of work ahead of me. The bisqueware is really starting to pile up.

*a related post: sweet dreams


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Goodwill hunting

 

A couple days ago I went out to look through a few local Goodwill stores for items to re-purpose. I don’t hit the Goodwill for clothes…it’s overwhelming. Besides, I think I’ve already expressed my struggle with ready-made-off-the-rack-Everyman’s-fashion here.

I did make a note that orphaned glass crock pot lids abound. So, before you say your good-byes to that avocado hued plug-in crock of cookery because the lid is chipped, cracked or otherwise broken, run down to the Goodwill. This place could be known from this day forward as the Crock Pot Lid Re-distribution Center of America (CPLRCA).

While at the Goodwill, I’m sure to scour the racks for hand made ceramic wares. Honestly. I’m hoping to stumble across some gem that was mistakenly unloaded at the donation center. It could happen. We’ve all heard tales of the Picasso discovered at the Salvation Army.

Truth be told, in all my visits to the Goodwill, I’ve never found a masterpiece. Not even a good copy. However, I have uncovered several student ceramic works. Pieces that occupied the dressers (and later closet shelves) of once proud parents.

pot stamp

I’ve also come across well made professional work. If it’s appealing and in good condition, I’m generally compelled to provide a new forever home for these pieces. Last week I found a separated pair of well thrown mugs, stamped EJ. But, I wasn’t thrilled with the stony, Robin’s egg blue glaze. So I carefully rearranged the surrounding Corning Ware cups to provide a space for the pair to sit comfortably together on the shelf.

Large Lidded Jar, Robin Hopper

At another Goodwill location (it was a good day to make the rounds), I picked up a ten inch stoneware plate with a Robin Hopper influenced floral design. The name of the potter is difficult to read. An additional stamp tells me that the piece is from St. Jacobs, Ontario. I did a bit of research to see if I could untangle the illegible signature. I believe the piece came from the Conestoga River Pottery. My trail ends there.

I wonder sometimes how once loved objects (unlike the endless shelves of glass floral vases) end up at the Goodwill. I suppose there comes a time when the student has grown up and moved beyond their naive encounter with clay. Besides, there are just so many years of dust management that a parent should feel indebted to a doorstop weighted, seven inch, water pitcher-ish form.

As for those well made pieces – particularly from all lands north of the state…you know, those places that have winters; real winters; winters that last longer than summers – I’m pretty sure those pieces traverse to these warmer climes by way of snowbirds. The sale of winter homes, shuffling of the family unit or just the entropy of life might provide the perfect Goodwill opportunity.

While on my treasure hunt, there was one piece that stole the joy from my search…if just for a second. I spotted it stacked among the discount store slip cast pieces popular with fiscally strapped students and newlyweds. Dug it out of the clutter. Yep. There it was. This was a piece created by a local potter. I recognized the form, the glaze, the signature. What brought this piece to this place? Why so easily dismissed? Is the form dated? Commonplace? Boring? Perhaps the market is hardened? Saturated?

That’s a kick in the pants. This might just as well be my work. I could have gone another day without this discovery…or maybe not. This day. This day I’m reminded to keep my purpose…my work fresh, growing, personal, and relevant.


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