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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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As I write, I’m sitting in my very warm studio firing a bisque.  The AC is set at 90°.  An occillating fan is moving the air about a little (it helps).  My kiln is old (read: not computerized), so I’ve got a few more hours in the studio while I turn up switches.  Once I get them alll on ‘high’, I’ll head home – only to return at the approximate time and temperature the witness cone should drop.

My faith in the kiln sitter has been shaken since I had a pyrometric bar fuse to the sensing rod on the sitter.  Overfired the load and warped shelves.  Created several redundant shelf sculpures that took endless hours to chisel apart (no fun).  So then, I make every attempt to be back when the witness cone goes down.

This firing is the first I’ve done since May.  Feeling a bit unproductive during these sizzling summer months.  Nevertheless, I have lived vicariously through a few ceramic artists’ blogs – people that seem to have more creative energy than I ever will.  They are not just productive, but prolific.  (Wow, feeling tinges of guilt…call me a slacker)  I guess I should be doing much more.

But, the day only has so many hours.  And, frankly, there is a correlation between the dry summer heat and clay work.  That delicate balance to successfully deal with handles without them cracking (tea bowls vs. coffee mugs)…or the precise hour available to trim when the clay is still cooperative (light, well designed work vs. paperweight).  If you do any decorative surface work early in the process, your window is shorter still.

Excuses? eh….

What I’ve taken away from those prolific producers of ceramic wares is that I’m not them.  Ceramics.  Clay.  Art…is what I do.  I love what I do.  Create.  On many levels it’s how I communicate – through process, image, surface and occupied space.

However, it is not who I am.  If I were to make a list of roles I fill, ceramic artist would be but one.  Those roles will change over time.  But, who I am will remain constant.  I am a child of God, a follower of Christ.  That doesn’t change.  Yet, it drives the ways and means of the things I do.


What I do is secondary and clay would follow things like wife, mom, friend, chief cook and bottle washer, preferred human obsession to our quirky dog (seperation issues), et. al….

I suppose until clay makes it’s way closer to the top of the list, I will never be as productive as some artists.  I think it important to keep perspective.  What I do is not necessarily who I am but an avenue to be myself.

(Man, it’s getting hot in here!)


Mark Your Calendars!  Plan to Attend!

Cap, Cup and Mug Sale, Show and Trade

October 7-8, 2011
Friday, 6-9pm
Saturday, 9am-4pm

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

~a sale of handmade cups and mugs by more than 30 local artists.
~bring in a new knit cap or socks for Set Free Ministries and receive a 10% discount on one cup or mug.

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life markers

Lately I’ve been thinking about life markers.  Not milestones so much, but life markers.  Milestones seem to imply happy ‘firsts’, like a child’s first steps, a first kiss, or a first job.  It’s a reference mark of completion; signifying distance traveled in a general forward direction.  Accomplishing a task that leads to the next logical step.  Children walk, then run, then they ask for the keys to the car.  Milestones.

~sketch detail

However, life markers don’t always seem the result of a happy first; not always moving forward.  Sometimes they make me sit still (if just for a little while), maybe even turn away.  Perhaps semantics.  But, that’s sort of how things roll around in my head.

Visually, I see milestones marked with a gold star, an endearing awkward photo, a framed dollar bill.  Whereas a life marker might be denoted by a wrestling of wills, vulnerable prayer and petition, revelation.  One might lead to the other – a first job develops character and independence.  They sometimes cross each other – the accomplishment of graduation and the beginning of a new reality.  Despite the fuzzy edges, they feel so very different.

As this semester was coming to an end, I was fielding a lot of student questions.

  • What next?
  • What do I do with this passion?
  • Where do we go from here?

Common queries as students begin to look ahead.  The questions, answers, and discussions brought me back to a languishing photo I had taken for a drawing.  The image is one of struggle and determination; an altar.  A marker as a reminder that God has revealed Himself  – at this time, in this place, for His purpose.

Once classes were finished, I started a bit of research and began a little ear bending (thanks, Monica). The dialogue continues as I consider those times in my life that have brought about a transformed vision; revelation.  The tumbling of the idea of life markers is distracting, sometimes painful.  The struggle is part of the process.  Apropos.

In the works!

The Cap, Cup, and Mug Sale, Show and Trade
October 7 and 8, 2011

~ a sale of cups and mugs from 30 artists (and counting) from around the valley.
~ the collecting of knit hats and socks for Set Free Ministries.
~ more specifics will be available as we get closer to the event.

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love to all –

I like getting mail.  Not junk mail.  But, real honest to goodness mail – particularly actual paper mail; that which keeps the postal service from shuttering it’s doors and requires a stamp.

Because I enjoy having the cobwebs knocked out of the mailbox by an occasional decorative envelop, I tend to send notes and letters; anticipating that others find as much joy as I do in a handwritten note.

This past Christmas, I sent out several Christmas cards – as I do most every year.  When I was a kid I couldn’t wait for the mail to arrive around Christmastime.  I would rush to pick up the mail as soon as it was delivered so I could read the cards first.

Not much has changed.  Each day during the holiday, I anticipate getting a couple cards.  I so enjoy the notes and sentiment.  However, this Christmas I had several sent cards returned.  They came back with postal service employee scribbles, question marks and a few acronyms…NSN (No Such Number?), AWK (Awkward?), etc.

This is a bit confusing since most were people I am fairly regularly in contact with.  I even felt the need to check the obituaries of one returned card sent to a dear friend that I worked with at the university (I was an undergraduate work-study student and she was on staff at the library).  Good news.  After a quick search, she appears to be alive and well.

With so much returned mail I came to this reasoned conclusion: the post office can’t read my handwriting.  Truthfully, they wouldn’t be the first.  My husband can’t read it (with ease) either.  In my own defense, this is not because I write poorly or indiscernible.  More so because, as my husband puts it, my ‘letters are loopy’.  Ok.  So I’ve got a bit of a flourish to my script.  It’s nothing out of the ordinary.  Really.

~detail: cursive chart

No.  I think the underlying culprit is that children are no longer required to write in cursive.  They learn it.  However, it doesn’t seem to be the required standard in the classroom.  Instead there is a focus on keyboard.  And so, they don’t master reading and writing cursive.

So then, if the postal worker sorting my mail is anywhere in their 30’s or younger, they likely can’t read handwritten cursive.  Just a theory.  We could test it by asking any teenager or 20-something to write a sentence in cursive with proper punctuation.  It’s even a bit of a struggle for some to provide an actual signature.  Theorizing….

One returned card was addressed to a home on Ash Street.  Scrawled (in block print) along the side was, “I s L E t a ?”.  Really?  There are twice as many letters.  The only thing they read correctly was the ‘s’.  This is sad.

~detail: Gregg Shorthand Manual, 1936

It occurred to me as I was met daily by my own cards in the mailbox: if we aren’t requiring cursive writing, and the population is quickly becoming unable to recognize the script, then we will soon extinguish another creative form of communication (…anyone remember shorthand?).The lines of the words connected by cursive lettering provide character, beauty and tone to a note.  There is a speed and fluid run from one letter to the next.  Even the spaces between words create a rythym on the page.  Beautiful lines!  Will we lose the ability to create lines connected with elegance and purpose?

I once mentioned to a collegue that I wished I could see a particular exhibition in Chicago of the works of Cy Twombly.  Her response was, “Why would you want to see Twombly?  Just a bunch of lines.”

Hero and Leander, 1985. Cy Twombly

Just a bunch of lines? No. I don’t see it that way.  They are marks that show emotion, direction and value.  Likewise, cursive handwriting illustrates those things with the added responsibility of a message.

I will continue to write – by hand.  I’m sending my grandmother some note cards and stamps.  She writes – in cursive (she’s 91…probably learned shorthand too).  Her letters are created with care as she jots down news about her day.  I’ll be looking for her letter in the mailbox.

love to all,

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