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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.



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


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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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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