Yesterday’s grace

Ambition could be the title of the hopeful list of ware to be included under the next craft show tent. But I’m taking things one day at a time; throwing a dozen bowls one afternoon, and a clay brick’s worth of mugs on another. Large bowls next, and yesterday, it was teapots – only four teapots, to be exact.

I needed time to allow for personality, teapot personality. Cane handles were a must, but the rest was up to the flurry of happenstance and the what-if’s that come about when throwing has ended and hand-building commences.

From a utilitarian point of view, how would each member of this little quartet function? To fill, to pour, and to carry when tea is about to be served? How would this dark brown clay enhance the series of glazes I plan to use? Thoughts pause hands to consider these and other things, as little periods of grace make room for the future possibilities of each teapot.

 

 

Off road authenticity

Of course my aim leans towards some image of near perfection, yet the spirit of authenticity, with all of its foibles, resides in my pottery. I admire what I consider to be the perfect balance in others’ ware, never in my own, though. I’m brutally honest about it – seeing through to the hand in the work beneath the finished glazed surface. I inspect with care until I uncover the flaws that lead me right back to making more.

Tiny Increments

Some things happen in tiny increments of time, especially those less glorious tasks. Fun jobs like planning and gathering, then using a mitre saw to chop wood into usable pieces for portable shelves occur in a time warp of effortless bliss. Framing shelving units – not so much.

So, I had researched long enough and had to prepare for the eventuality of the craft event. It was time to stop procrastinating; the shelves were going to happen. There would be no distractions – shelves would be built.

And they were. It took less time than anticipated and of course they aren’t perfect – they have fallen over once, taking a dozen or so pots to their doom. However, with some minor adjustments for improved stability,  these two sets of shelves should serve their purpose and function, for they are lightweight, portable, easily set up and taken down, and will hopefully not continue their villainous rampage against my pottery.

 

 

 

 

Precious Time

So, there was another hiatus from most things pottery. Only the rare occasion of throwing occurred, while new endeavors in my career as a high school design teacher elbowed their way to the forefront of each waking hour. A few years ago it was translating and teaching a high school web design coding course as a college level course – great for the high school students, opportunity-wise, and great for me, as a professional/intellectual challenge. I’m always up for a new challenge.

Last spring, another opportunity dropped into my somewhat-already-occupied lap.  Yearbook advisor! Of course I applied for the position; smiling when asked why I thought I’d be better than the other candidates for the job – there were no other candidates. You see, yearbook  advising squeezes like a boa constrictor on your free time. So, the next time I looked up from yearbook work, I heard song birds chirping in the spring morning sunshine and knew I had to return to my studio. That window of pottery time appears smaller now, and makes my throwing and creating time all the more precious.

The next little step

 

Thanks to my stylist-extraordinaire niece, mskfitz, and Sato Salon Organics, my pottery has been displayed and sold in a brick and mortar setting for quite some time now. When this retail opportunity fell into my lap, it compelled me to act upon part of my long ignored business plan to-do list (note the passive voice). Oh, I knew what needed to be done, but always considered every step forward a commitment to taking on that one big facet of pottery-making that didn’t hold much appeal. While making pottery provided an inherently creative process filled with countless opportunities of discovery, let’s just say that selling pottery did not rev these engines.

So, I performed some basic tasks: made a business card, set the pricing, and even showed up at a ‘meet the artist’ moment. Well, the business card revealed its hastily-made existence; the pricing was perfunctory thanks to a potter friend’s sage advice; and I survived the ‘meet the artist.’ I now found myself, unwittingly, on the potter purveyor’s path.

As far as branding was concerned,  I noticed that I desperately needed some professional help, and when I mentioned this observation in passing to my daughter, she replied, “That’s kind of what I do.”  After a quick comparison of our respective business cards, it became evident that she was my branding creative (eileenalot.com). So with my friends and family discount, I sent my down payment  via Venmo, contracting her branding services. I told her to take her time, that I was in no hurry.

Knowing full-well what the next mini-step required, I purchased the obligatory 10′ craft fair Ez-up tent with cloth panel sides and wheeled storage bag.  After watching several YouTube videos of how to set up the tent and how to put the cloth atop the frame, I made a sandwich and planned an evening with friends where margarita consumption and inaugural tent raising would occur.

Now, to heavily research how to build display shelves and make an itemized list, with pictures, of the necessary wood and hardware required to do so.

 

The unreal artist

There it was again, another discussion of how to determine what a ‘real’ artist was. Shaking my head in utter dismay, I read a plethora of back and forth positions in the online blog. Oh so long ago, I had been introduced to this topic, had no idea what the term ‘real’ artist meant, and hadn’t found it necessary to evaluate whether I was real or unreal.  But there it was again and still being discussed, so this morning I began to wonder why this real vs whatever-other-type-of-artist discussion exists and persists. To quote an awesome woman whose name escapes me, “can’t we all be fabulous?” Is a ‘real’ artist more authentic or true in some manner, maybe in skill, or in number of ideas, or simply in their prolific outpouring of repurposed and/or aesthetically pleasing matter? Could it be that the ‘unreal’ artist accrues lower than a certain level of occupational income, such as van Gogh during his lifetime? Or, is it some other distinction that drives this seeded vs seedless rye discussion?

What I can’t figure out is, who has the time and energy to bother with this distinction? Aren’t artists too busy making art?

 

 

Extruded execution

So I decided to give my North Star 4″ extruder a workout this week, building two large 20lb. coil stoneware planters. I actually made the bases for the planters last week, using coils as well, then ‘threw’ each base on the wheel to smooth out what would eventually be the interior surface. I left the bases lightly covered in plastic on plaster bats for several days to get leather-hard.

The first leather-hard base was placed on the banding wheel, then scored and slipped, ready to receive the first coil. As each coil row was added, I used a wooden modeling tool to blend one row of coil with the next, then smoothed the outer sides with a small plastic rib.

The process was repeated until I had added several rows of coils and gradually widened the form to a final upper diameter of 17″. Since my extruder is installed right next to the work table, the process of cranking out coils, application, and building the form went quickly and efficiently.

Selecting just the right coil-sized die was essential for quick work, and keeping a bucket beneath the extruder made cleanup a lot easier.

Halfway through the building process I stopped building to allow the coils to set up, wedged more clay for the upper half of the form, and made some decorative tiles to later affix to the outside of the planter.

After the full height of the form was reached, I added one more coil row, this time using a slightly greater width coil to serve as the planet’s rim.


Lastly, I added some decorative surface patterns and attached the decorative tiles I had made earlier. The planter on the right below is shown further along in the drying process, and after the base was smoothed with a damp sponge.

When pottery moves in

Little corked jugs are curious forms. They nestle into any space and seem perfectly willing to take up permanent residence there. A case in point: some of these little guys have been on display for sale at SATO Salon Organics for a while and recently we figured out that they look so comfortable in their spot on the shelf that they avoid moving day. So, they’ll soon be placed in a new location at the salon, but my guess is that they’ll settle in comfortably once again.

“Inspiration is for amateurs…”

That Chuck Close quote is my go-to saying, especially as a high school art teacher, but also as my personal artistic mantra. While I haven’t experienced Close’s seemingly life-long non-stop prolific profusion of ideas, I’ve encountered blinks of time when I believed ‘inspiration’ had eluded me.

imageWhen I look back on those snippets of idleness, I realize what appeared to be a lack of inspiration was in reality a form of quasi self-doubt. So I was curious to figure out how that doubt took up residence in my thought process in the first place. Why at times in my life, was there even the hint of a notion that I wouldn’t make art?

Well, that question brings me to another point, one I share with my art students all the time, specifically the difference between product and process. Usually it goes like this: I ask my students to identify themselves as either a product or process person.  The product people tend to focus on the end result throughout their art-making, while the process people travel from one possibility to another, never wanting to finish.  As an art teacher, this distinction of contrasts between product and process helps me tremendously to understand my students’ motivations as they engage in art making, and the preliminary product/process discussion also establishes a basis for dialogue when we talk about their approach to their work. Of note, I’ve rarely seen a student, who identifies as a process person, ever struggle to get going, although I’ve had countless long conversations with students, who identify as product people, to help get them started. More often than not, I’ve discovered through these conversations that the product person believes getting started requires them to have the finished work in mind; in a concept-driven art course, this rigidity of thought impedes the emergence of creative energy at the outset. The process person meanwhile, is off and running, allowing their creative energy to take them somewhere, anywhere. This brings me back to my question: why at times in my life, was there even the hint of a notion that I wouldn’t make art?

And there was the answer. These days I revel in my creative process and, in the spirit of Chuck Close, I just get to work.

 

Back to making mugs

I hadn’t thrown any mugs in over a year, because there were bins-full in the kiln shed. My niece had gone through the bins a few months ago to bring with her to Sato Salon Organics, an all-organic salon where she works, and where my pottery and mixed media pieces are displayed and offered for sale.  Some of the mugs she left with that day were for use in the salon, for customers to enjoy a cup of coffee while they waited, while other mugs (and various pottery) were designated specifically for sale. Last week my niece called to say someone liked one of the coffee-designated mugs, and wanted to know if I would throw a new set for her. So yesterday,for the first time in over a year, I was throwing mugs.

I threw a dozen stoneware mugs, half in white and the rest in speckled brown. After trimming and attaching the handles to the white stoneware mugs, I trimmed the speckled brown ones and wedged up some clay for more handles. Now, I’ll go out to my studio and finish the rest today. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed throwing and ‘handle-ing’ mugs.