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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?”


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.


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.


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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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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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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sweet dreams


~French Butter Dishes by Keith Phillips


In the Seinfeld episode, “The Heart Attack” (season 2, episode 8), Jerry goes to bed after watching a science fiction B-movie, only to wake up in the middle of the night laughing.  He then writes down the joke for his stand-up routine.  The next day, he can’t read what he wrote down.*

This episode reminds me of when I was first learning to throw and work with clay.  I would practice; struggling for hours in the studio to learn the skills I needed to be proficient with the tools and materials.  Our professor, John Arnold, would watch us work and then ask, “Are you dreaming about clay, yet?”  His proceeding comments suggested that once the ceramic process invaded our dreams, we’d find our inspiration; follow through with our creative ideas; progress.

I’m not sure how much follow-through I was willing to apply back then, but lately I’ve been dreaming about clay.  However, I feel the need to qualify my subconscious efforts in part because I’ve been away from the studio and perhaps a little drug induced.

My absence wasn’t completely unplanned…well, it was hoped for.  But, not for this long.  Short.  Minimal time away was the thought.  Nothing is as we wish it would be.

A few days after final grades were posted, I was scheduled to have minor surgery on my arm.  Emphasis on the minor.  It was outpatient.  The doctor said no lifting for a week.  I can do that.

By the evening of my surgical encounter, my body began to betray me with a reaction to the anesthesia.  Nothing serious – though increasingly uncomfortable as I approached my follow-up appointment four days away.  After seeing the doc, with a prescription in hand, I felt like everything was under control.  We were headed to see family for a few days.  I’ll be good to go as soon as we return.  Ah…”the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”**

By Christmas Eve (with one day left on my Rx) the annoying reaction had become more than exasperating.  Harassing me day and night. (ugh!)

Four days later, I found myself in the doctor’s office with the telling signs of an oncoming cold and the ever growing Andromeda Strain that occupied my every thought. (please, just make it go away!)  Two weeks since surgery…another round of meds…AND my head is now heavy with snot.  I guess I won’t be hitting the ground running.

Nonetheless, my fitful sleep brought on dreams of clay.  Butter dishes to be exact. (very odd)  There are a number of potters who make butter dishes.  But, since most people buy a butter-like substitute that comes in a handy plastic tub; butter dishes seem part of a bygone era when folks actually used a table clothe, place settings consisted of more than a plate with a matching mug, and napkins were placed on one’s lap when dining.

There are numerous creative designs for the forgotten butter dish.  We have the French butter dish (see examples at the beginning of this post).
How it works: (just a bit high maintenance…it’s French)

~French Butter Dish


~Butter Dish by Cindy Gilliland

The thrown circular butter dish.  Hmmm…often these pieces are also referred to as a butter dish/garlic roaster.  (perhaps, because butter is generally of a different geometric form)

~Butter Dish by Liz Zlot Summerfield

The more practical brick shaped butter dish takes a bit more creative energy.  This is where my dreams took me…though, I’m not sure how much follow-through I’m willing to apply.



Go here to see Keith Phillips create the Classic American Butter Dish!





*The episode ends when Jerry remembers what he wrote down – a line from the movie he had been watching.  It’s then he realizes it isn’t funny.
**To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in the Nest with the Plough, Robert Burns, 1785.


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I worked frantically heading into Thanksgiving so I could get a bit of inventory delivered the week before the holiday.  Now, as the semester winds down, I find myself in a strange lull at the studio.  It’s not that I don’t have work to do, I just don’t have the days (consecutive days) available to see the process through.  I’ll likely get new work made in the next couple of weeks, leaving it to dry over Christmas.

So then, in the absence of a hectic studio schedule, I’ve been tweaking and rewriting my Spring semester Sculpture class.  Over the years that I’ve taught Three-Dimensional Design and now Sculpture, I’ve observed students struggle to visualize their ideas beyond the two-dimensional plane.

“If I can draw it, why can’t I sculpt it?”

I believe visualization begins with seeing (go ahead and laugh a little at that sentence…read it again if you must).  Perception.  We miss a lot because we process quick visual cues and then just fill in the blanks.  Our ‘filling in’ isn’t always accurate and often void of details.  We create a good, general image in our head and can probably provide an adequate description.  However, if we really (really) saw, we’d be amazed at what we gloss over.

While searching for some inspiration, I read an article about jump starting the creative process.  Several artists were asked what they do when they need a creative push.  One artist suggested choosing a color and then taking photos of that color in any shape, shade or texture.

I thought this might be fun to try, so I grabbed my point-and-shoot to record the color red for the next half hour.

When I looked at my images I immediately noticed that I kept to a fairly narrow value range (no pinks here).  I can see how this exercise could be expanded (hmmm…thinking, thinking).  Just allowing time to thoroughly seek out a color would begin to push students.  In fact, well after my allotted half hour of searching for red, I caught myself being drawn to the color; accompanied by a mental note that I’d seen it (Where’s Waldo run amok!).  This exercise sparked a renewed awareness of color, surface, texture and even shape.

An exercise in perception that I find myself returning to is creating line drawings (a collection, actually) in my sketchbook for the surfaces of functional work.  These drawings help me see form.  The simple visual cues on the two-dimensional plane suggest spacial relationships as well as speak to the form of the clay.

~sketch for 'Forgive Me for Believing I'm Immune'

The line drawings are an abridged version of the images I draw on paper (really lousy paper) for my drawings on clay.  I develop a detailed image on paper – far more detail than I will ever be able to translate onto the ceramic surface.  This might seem like a waste of time and energy; creating such finished sketches.  But, they help me to really (really) see.  Develop my perception.  Jump start the creative process.

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