influence

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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.

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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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menagerie

menagerie

I have in my studio a little menagerie of objects. Truth: it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to see that my studio is full of collected things; much I intend to incorporate into narratives. But, this little grouping is different in that, I’ve collected these things because there is something about the character of the pieces that I enjoy. Some of the items were gifts, some were purchased and at least one is a demo from an Intro to Sculpture class I taught a couple years ago.

The latest addition is a small slip cast ceramic bottle that was gifted to me. The piece was a test for a wash application over glaze. My student was disappointed and a little puzzled when I commented on the beautiful lines created when the glaze pulled the washes. From his expression I could tell this was not the intended result. We talked a little about the fluid pull of the glaze, the broken edges of the red lines and…well, he wasn’t buying it.

This entire conversation (and every time I have it…which is often) brings to mind a memory as an undergrad sitting in the office of my sculpture professor. I showed up during office hours to collect some sage advise. I was struggling with focus – couldn’t find my voice. We talked for some time, but I only remember a moment in our discussion. He handed me a book on Larry Rivers (1923-2002, American), open to an image of Portrait of Edwin Denby.

Portrait of Edwin Denby, Larry Rivers 1953, pencil on paper

Portrait of Edwin Denby, Larry Rivers
1953, pencil on paper

My professor asked what I thought of the piece. I looked at the image for several minutes. It was fascinating. The smudges and marks and what appeared to be loose, callous line juxtaposed against refined rendered edges. When I answered my professor’s question I said, “it doesn’t look finished” (::GASP:: I know. I know! yes, those were the words that fell out of my mouth)

All these years later, I remember that meeting because of those words…my words. My response was telling. My 18 year old self didn’t get it…not yet.

I didn’t understand that the quality of the line creates the space; that the activation of the space records the process; that the process communicates. It is an understanding that one element depends on the others for an effective whole. I didn’t see it.

I was looking at the elements in linear thought, when I needed to see them as layers; building on each other to deepen understanding. It took me a couple more semesters to really get a handle on it and become intentional about communication. Art is communication.

Next week I have an incredible opportunity to teach creative communication to other-than-artists (the not-so-necessarily-visual-communicators) I’m looking forward to the discussion and watching students move from linear thought (a story line…see what I did there?) to a layered, expanded (without assumption) understanding.



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In a small high school situated at the edge of a little town in New Mexico, I had an art teacher that insisted we learn to hand letter specifically for the purpose of sign painting. (didn’t see that digital age coming, huh?)

I believe her requirement to learn the disciplined art of lettering was her way of demonstrating to the parents of her students that art is a viable career option. (yeah…that’s a whole other story) Hand lettering is an incredibly challenging skill set; a nearly lost art for sure.

Dusty Signs from Hunter Johnson on Vimeo.

There was a time when I progressed to fairly mediocre at lettering. I have a bad habit of dragging my hand. My teacher’s caution rings, “pick up your hand, Beth.” (I was a general source of frustration for her…imagine)

In today’s digitally-reproduced-stick-on-rub-off-pressure-adhesive-anyone-can-do-it-graphics, there’s not much call for the hand lettering process; the discipline of drawing or painting a group of symbols that represent sounds of vocal expression.

The art of lettering is controlled and challenging, focused and intentional…the perfect means to cry out to God.

lettering

 

Let me take this opportunity to help you fill out your calendar!

Marvelous Mud III
~a preview exhibition of Studio Tour artists~

Night Gallery
Tempe Marketplace
Open now – January 30, 2015
Tuesday-Saturday 6-9pm
Closing Reception, January 30th, 6-9pm

Drawn, Drawing

Bridgewater State University
Bridgewater, MA
January 19-April 6, 2015

~if you’re attending NCECA, make plans to see the show~

14th Annual Self-Guided Ceramic Studio Tour

February 21-22, 2015
10am-5pm each day

StudioTour2015FacebookBanner

Arizona Artist’s Juried Exhibition

Udinotti Museum of Figurative Art
March 15-August 15, 2015

Birds of a Feather

Tempe Center for the Arts
June 19 – September 19, 2015
Opening reception, June 12, 2015


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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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If there is one regret I have, it’s that I don’t know Spanish well. Yeah, yeah I’ve heard it all before…it’s never too late; there’s still time; your life isn’t over, yet. But, really. Really. It is too late.

elpaso

I grew up in west Texas. Not what the general public consider to be west Texas, which is really many hours of traveling at 80 miles per hour east of west. But, the west Texas. Any further west and you’ll find yourself in The Land of Enchantment. El Paso, Texas: the west-est of Texas. (half a step south and you’d better have your passport with you. ¡Bienvenidos a México!)

El Paso is bilingual. Maybe dual-lingual is a better description of the city’s most common voice.

In elementary and junior high school (K-8)*, Spanish language class was a part of the required curriculum. *(in the spirit of full disclosure, I never attended kindergarten – jumped head long into first grade) After eight years of Spanish, living in a city surrounded by the language; I came away speaking near fluent Spanglish.

journal

Despite my dismal comprehension of the Spanish language, I find I am not monolingual. I do have an excellent grasp of visual communication – image, line, color…. In this I am fluent. Image is the visual language that surrounds us. In Ways of Seeing, John Berger notes, “seeing comes before words”. It is language immersion at it’s finest; beginning from the very beginning.

And yet, not unlike my Spanish, some will speak visual pidgin. There is a talent, an affinity, and continued practice in becoming and remaining fluent in any language. So, I draw more than I will ever verbos conjegate. Su bien.

Last month, Practical Art’s Lisa Olsen stopped by the studio to take a few photos. Her photo essay (check it out here) is a perfect example of visually communicating art communicating.


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