Tag Archives: creative endeavor

Open Studio Update

Well, I’ve gone and done it… made myself sick over the pressure of wanting to get things done. Just a virus, but I’m very aware that it was brought on by having an unrealistic to-do list. So, for the last two days, I’ve backed off completely. Every once in a while I come back to this theme and it’s because I need to be reminded that I’m not Superwoman. Sometimes the desire to succeed, to create, to perform becomes a heckuva pressure, though. When I get caught up in it, I start moving fast and try to accomplish too much. Instead of positive motivation, I am fueled by fear, which becomes stress. Once the dust settles, I always comes back to this: “Why am I working in clay?”. After a fashion, when my answers start surfacing, they are always balm for the soul. I’ve never let myself down because it’s the true heart of the matter: “For the joy of creating.”  “To explore my creativity.” “To see where it leads.” When I consider my true, deep down intentions, then compare them to  the nattering self-talk that makes me so frazzled,White-duvet I realize I have to go back to the drawing board over expectations. When I do, I always end up acknowledging they are a trap that leads to no good. So, here I sit in my bathrobe. Yesterday, I treated myself to cartoons on television, many of which I hadn’t seen for years, and it was good medicine. Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety, the Flintstones, the Jetsons. Cushioned by pillows and blankets on the couch, I just dozed between cartoons.

When I consider what I actually have accomplished lately, I blink my eyes, wondering how I could ever think it was not enough. Here’s a rundown of what I did since last week.

  •  Made a plaster mold for some new relief work
  •  Underglazed and glazed about 36 pendants
  •  Waxed and glazed a new batch of Northern Lights tiles
  •  Retrieved newly bisqued escutcheon tiles,
  •  along with a stack of tiles from my new series

What I had planned on doing yesterday will be put off until next week because I’m going to take short break while I finish a few other things. Tomorrow, I will go to the studio to pick up about 50-60 glazed pendants, along with the aurora tiles. On Tuesday, if I feel restored, I will make several tests of my new tile series, using celadon and other glazes and glass. I will also start a new batch of 6 x 6 tiles that will be part of my new series. I’ll also check the drying stage of a batch of Sunrise tiles and new relief stamps, a dragonfly and two ginkgo leaves. And do so only if I am filled with the sheer joy of creativity, unfettered by expectations. I could have disregarded my health and well-being and gone in yesterday to work on all these things. But for what purpose? I’m not competing with anyone. So, it’s good medicine and self-love time. As I take a break and relax, my fears abate and as this happens, I start becoming well once again.

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Open Studio Update

Upper half: Cottage White base; Red Chrome berry, Oribe Green vine/leaf. Coverage uneven, dilution okay.

Today was an instructive day, a bit difficult, but interesting. I’m struggling with glaze samples. Achieving a specific effect can take a lot of time, energy, and experimentation. That bowl or plate you see in the gift shop or gallery? It can represent oodles of time spent by the artisan trying to get the right look (or having a happy accident). Right now, I am trying to achieve a particular effect on a tile: diluted and watercolory effect. But, at the moment, I feel like I’m trying to reinvent the wheel because it’s taking a heck of a lot of time. First, I’m using a creamy white matte base,  Cottage White glaze. The ‘task’ is to with find the right way to color the decorations: vines, leaves, and berries. I want the colors to be realistic but understated and, to whit, and am working with  colored and clear glazes and colored underglazes. I thought it would be easier to create the look I want, so I’d been using actual tiles

(Dim photo; not true color.) Undiluted Pine Green and Purple underglaze. Too bold and dark, needs softening.

for glaze samples, but that’s been a wasteful approach. Today, I was forced to be realistic because, once again, the new glaze sample wasn’t what I wanted. Instead, I used a vessel that had warped when bisqued and it had a big surface area to play around on. Finished it in the nick of time and it’s being fired right now. Fingers crossed! Today’s approach: mixing amounts of Cottage White glaze with smaller amounts of select glazes and underglazes, then painting it over a surface glazed in Cottage White. By doing this, I’m trying to prevent the color from absorbing into the white glaze underneath, which makes the color grainy, like in the last photo shown at the bottom. It’s an interesting process. If I were to take up some water colors and brush, I could paint it exactly the way I want it to turn out… But ceramics doesn’t work that way. =/ So, I toil, I toil. Along the way, I’d better sit down and turn out a few more tiles

Sections have different percentages of diluted Pine Green and Red underglazes. Underglazes soaked into the Cottage White glaze underneath, causing a grainy look.

because I know that one fine day the effort will have been worth it and I’ll be able to replicate it. Soft colors, but not pastels…lovely colors against a soft, creamy background. It’s something sweet and decorative to put on your wall, preferably where you spend down time. When you’re reading a book, or sipping tea, you might glance over and see it. It holds your gaze because it’s enigmatic. As you study it, time shifts, you float through the keyhole and into the land of your daydreams…. Figuratively, it is something much different, as it is meant for women who enjoy life’s mysteries and are aware of them. A key can open your dreams, can give you leave see new options in your life. A key in a door unlocks…. Back to reality: I so hope the new glaze samples unlock the mystery of how to decorate these little guys!

 

 

 

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Teaching children about art

American WPA Project, blind children at work in Art Center Workshop in Salem, Oregon

This morning, when I was at the studio finishing up my glazing for Sunday’s deadline, I witnessed Pauline teaching a children’s art class. It was a school district professional development day and her class was packed. It was very interesting watching how she worked with the kids. It reminded me of my first three years in school and the importance of teaching art. I have many of my old art projects that my mother saved for me. I remember making some of them, but not all. I remember my teachers very well, though. I was about the same age as the children in Pauline’s class today. Miss Siptroth taught 1st grade. She was a wonderful teacher and I will never forget her. A tall brunette who looked a little like Jackie O but with cat eye glasses. It must really be something to teach 1st grade then…. All those eager faces. These days, by the time a child begins 1st grade, they’ve already gone through umpteen classes and are well on their way. Preschool, kindergarten, and sundry extracurricular classes. First grade was my first experience of school, however, as there were no earlier forms of education where we lived. I was primed and receptive and my first three years were very memorable. It was during that time that I began writing (really!) and started doing art projects as assignments, unlike creative endeavors my mom initiated, which were for leisure and recreation. Exposing a child to art seems to me to be the greatest gift the world can give a child. Just think of everything involved: motor skills, for hand eye coordination, listening skills, for instruction, life skills, for confidence building. Why, we have yet to even mention creativity, let alone talk about how it affects the brain. But, back to my teachers… Mrs. Wadsworth, my 2nd grade teacher, was also a lovely influence. She was a small, middle-aged woman who wore cardigans. When I think of her, I remember the scent she used… it must have been her talcum powder.

Archives of American Art – Children at a free W.P.A. Federal Art Project art class, 1939. Source- Wikimedia Commons

Miss Potts, in 3rd grade, was a tall willowy blonde. Something about her I particularly remember was that she kept an art assignment because she wanted to use it as a display for the following year. My adult mind knows her action was a compliment; however, as a child, I wanted to take my Santa Claus picture home to my mom so she could put it on the refrigerator or kitchen wall. She never even asked if she could keep it and I felt bereft. Artwork that children make is a precious thing and, though I’m childless, I love to have kid’s artwork on my fridge. Which is why I was so surprised when Gary, one of my Open Studio colleagues, told me that much of the pottery that children make at the arts centre is never picked up. I could hardly believe my ears… Pauline confirmed it, saying she thinks many of the parents just forget about it because of their busy lives. We talked about it a bit and Gary commented, saying, “just think the type of message this gives a child…that their art isn’t worth anything.” I don’t know that a child’s thinking would be sophisticated enough to think such a thought, but this does not hold true for the parents. Are some parents letting art teachers merely ‘babysit’ their children in art classes without caring about the process? What about seeing this amazing experience through by giving the child the finished work? I know all parents aren’t like this and have seen many come back with their kids to pick up their work, but I was appalled at learning that a considerable amount is just left. I guess it is about priorities and values, which is my point precisely. Art needs to be more thoroughly valued and children need to be introduced to art at a very early age. And continue to be exposed to it. As with a Liberal Arts education, grounding a child in art broadens and balances them. The art class Pauline was teaching was also about socialization. At some point, when a little boy named Thomas started acting up, she reminded everyone that people taking classes need to use their manners. So, not only were they learning that they could create something, they were learning how to act around others. I was moving back and forth between glaze room, sink and work table and could hear what was happening. Later, I overheard Pauline tell them that it is better to finish something they thought was sub-par rather than to make nothing at all. Consider that for a moment. I thought it was a very wise thing to say. She also handled a child’s insecurity by letting them know that they really could do the project, that they just needed to act. After I came home, my eyes lighted on a magazine and the first thing I saw seemed like a bit of synchrony. An ad for Outward Bound said it all:

A Farewell to Can’t.

This goodbye does not make me sad. I will not miss you. I have discovered what it feels like to do the unthinkable. The hard. The long. The challenging. You have no business here anymore. From now on, difficult will seem doable. I will see the impossible as simply not yet conquered. Farewell, can’t. You will haunt me never again. Hello, can. Welcome to my world.

Let children come to know themselves through art. Let their view of the world be expressed through art. Let them learn to appreciate art, as well as engage in it. Let them grow in this knowledge until creativity is second nature.

Archives of American Art – A young child named Joachim at a free WPA Federal Art Project art class in Brooklyn. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Breaking through a creative block

There are few things more discouraging than being stymied by a creative block. It’s a wasteland. If you can’t break through it shortly, you are bound to start suffering. Without anything to work on, you are also at loose ends, which can lead to the nattering of pessimistic self-talk. Malaise and depression sneak through the door after anger and frustration burn themselves out. If your livelihood depends on it, a creative block can become quite serious. We don’t have to give up, though, and while the effort itself can be hard, inertia is worse. There are a few tricks to counter the dreaded block. Of course, there’s only one way to find out if they work. Try them.

  • Take a break: Get completely away from your project and don’t think about it. Taking a break will not only give your mind a rest, it will purge you of the brooding and frowning that comes with frustration. With a light(er) heart, you are more apt to come up with something new. How long a break? It’s up to you, really. A good way to prevent overthinking is to try a simple behavioral change method I’ve used. Do this only if you find yourself obsessing, though. Place a rubber band around your wrist. Every time your thinking drifts back toward your creative block or the project you’re working on, pull the rubber band and snap your wrist. Sounds and is primitive, but it really works. Pretty soon you won’t be thinking of your block at all!
  • Become inspired: Pore over books and magazines about ceramics. Go to an art gallery gift shop and pick out several books that catch your eye. Libraries are also good. I just checked out two on tiles today. My library sells off old issues of Ceramics Monthly, too, and I’ve bought a few issues there. See if you can get a guest library card at a university; it’s bound to have a good choice of books in its holdings if ceramics classes are taught there. If you are associated with an art centre, peruse any books on hand. Enjoy your time. You can’t force inspiration.
  • Do something else: Not a break, more like shifting gears. If you’ve made boxes, start throwing. If you have used certain glazes, use stains with a particular decorative technique. Your neural pathways are in a rut, but you can pave new ones by doing something else. It’s also Alzheimer’s prevention because it’s known that people who do things habitually are more prone. Just as you’d change your route to work, change what you’re doing. Changing habits can also free you up, give you more energy.
  • Move somewhere else: If you find that nothing works, that you are experiencing a perpetual creative block, move. I guarantee you, there is nothing like a move to shake things up. According to feng shui tenets, stale energy builds up in a home if nothing’s done about it. But if you move, you have to discard, and discarding frees up energy. Whether it’s just several houses down, as I’ve done, or across town, it’s change. I wouldn’t recommend moving over a border, like I did, though. Your creative block will be put on the back burner while you sort through immigration red tape. All your time will be taken up by it and who knows when you’ll get back to your precious clay? It took me years to get back in the groove after coming to Canada.
  • Get others involved: As they say, two heads are better than one. I would only ask people who are truly on your side. Avoid people who have an agenda or who will use it against you. Seek out people who understand and truly care about your efforts and who believe in you. We have to protect the energy around our ideas, especially while they’re in their infancy. This would be the case when we’re on the verge of a breakthrough. I can’t stress this enough. New ideas can become easily poisoned by a lack of well wishers. If you can find a true gem who is willing to dash around ideas with you, you are doing well and are on your way. They won’t necessarily give you an idea…and let them know that’s not why you’re asking. Just hashing things around can lead to something new.
  • Doodling: Whether  you’re out for coffee  or are sitting at your kitchen table, doodling is a good way to go. I have a friend who is a die-hard napkin doodler. He comes up with his best ideas that way. Partly, because he’s thinking with ‘averted vision,’ with his mind only partly on what he’s doing. While the cook is working on his order, he doodles away and asks for another napkin when his order arrives. I actually have saved a number of those napkins, his ideas were so brilliant!
  • Be domestic: You know about the need to become busy while you are procrastinating? Got a test to study for? Gee, the fridge needs cleaning out. A difficult conversation needs to take place over the phone? Hmm, this room could use some vacuuming. Well, use the same tactics tackle a creative block. It’s a mini-break or diversion, if you will. Clean the stove top, unload the dishwasher or drying rack or do some dusting. Use your shop vac, guys! But keep it domestic. Those ordinary, homely chores we do seemingly without thinking can actually dislodge an idea or two because you are on auto-pilot and have room to let something new in.
  • Do more research: Are you working in a particular vein? If so, investigate it. The web is full of info… Sign up for Ceramic Arts Daily and search its site, run by the Potters Council. It’s terrific. Many free e-books can be downloaded from there, too. There are many forums and groups… LinkedIn has many ceramics groups. Find a niche that is working on what you’re doing and look into it. Maybe you want to do hard copy research…that’s fine, too
  • Use symbolic sight: View the situation through the eyes of symbolism. What does the block mean? See if you can find a root cause. Also, consider whether there’s a bigger issue going on that is being covered up because you are focusing on the idea of a creative block. Maybe something else is transferring over into your artistic domain that needs to be kept out or dealt with in its rightful territory.

Persevere and your dry spell will soon be history…

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