Tag Archives: Creative Process

Open Studio Update

Birdhouse: I couldn’t be happier to show you my finished birdhouse! It  was made by draping white clay over two conical molds made of poster board stuffed with newspaper. Its pagoda-like feel called out for Japanese glazes: Green Oribe over Shino. My husband will thread narrow chains through the holes, then glue a metal flange over the hole to make it the exact size. First, however, I’ll have to review my notes because I cannot remember which feathered friend I made it for, believe it or not! I love the way it turned out and cannot wait to hang it in our shady big leaf maple tree, with the door hole facing East. 

Underglazes:  I asked Nan if she would mind if I experimented with a technique she has been mastering, layering underglazes, then wiping part of it off to achieve a specific effect. She gave me her blessings. I am tinkering with reliefs made by impressing my mother’s German cookie molds into clay. They are molds she bought in the early 1960s; they are hand carved and quite beautiful. I aim to experiment with them using underglazes and with tilemaking. From these first trials, I can tell I need to paint more layers of each individual color, otherwise, it is too easy to wipe through the layers and reach the base clay. You can see what I mean in this next photo by looking at the impressions on the left and top. I rather like the technique and will continue working with different color combinations till I find ones I really like.

Pendants: This coming February 25, I’ll be facilitating a workshop for my Creativity Group. We meet once a month and have been for over 3 years now. The group is made up of friends and neighbors who get together for art projects or to go to events. Of all of the projects we’ve done so far, none of them have centred on jewelry, so I have planned one that we will be able to do over two hours. I fashioned pendants of white clay, basing them on a necklace from Korea my friend Jennifer wears. It is simplicity itself and so attractive because of it. It measures about 1″ x 1 1/3″ and has been stamped. I have relied on stamps  created by others that are meant for anyone to use at the art centre. I do have a design in mind, but I have yet to make the stamp. The stamps I chose are of a dragonfly, a rose, and a geometric design. I intend to glaze the top, leaving the sides and base for workshop participants to finish with metallic solutions, copper and silver. They will also string them and use jewelry findings to finish them. As far as the rest of the pendants go, considering I made 206 of them, I will be experimenting with glaze treatments, underglazes, and stains. I adore Mary Harding’s work and would like to use stains in a similar fashion.

Tiles: I continued with my tilemaking adventures by using reverses of the individual cookie molds for relief. I am very drawn to the style and methods  Michael Cohen uses for his and I am emulating his style. He seems like such a genial man and his tiles are delightful. He is very practical, has a no bones philosophy, and is a founding member of the Asparagus Valley Ceramics movement. His method of tilemaking appeals to me, in part, because I had been looking for a way that took less time. I am constantly researching the ways people make tiles and his have made a great impression on me (no pun intended!). The photo at the right shows one of the sets of molds I am working with. They are hand carved, have fine detail, and are reminiscent of the skill with which German nativities and cuckoo clocks are made. To make reverses of these, I sprinkled them with cornstarch to prevent the clay from sticking, then cut them out and dried them between weighted down plasterboard. Since they’ve been bisqued, I’ve used some of them to create relief tiles in the vein of Cohen’s. Actually, I’d have to make reverses of the bisqued ones to truly emulate his method and I will do so. The ones I did make are going to be white white, out of B Mix and I’m using Dan’s faux celadon on them. Today, I talked with our studio tech, Dan, about glass because I intend to use broken up bits of glass on the relief area. He gave me some pointers and showed me the glass the studio has in stock, the rods Deb used to use. He also said he’d bring me some of the thicker rods used for beadmaking and I am so grateful! The photos below show closeups of the relief. The clay took to it well. Cohen’s low-tech method using string to mark out the tiles sounds like a good idea, too. I used a tile cutter that makes 4″ x 4″ tiles.  As you know, my favorite style is traditional Arts & Crafts, which started in England and moved to North America. The revival in A & E has grown steadily since the 1980s and I love seeing the furniture, lamps, and ceramics made in this style. Ceramics, pottery, both integral to the style because of its earthy and pristine qualities, depending upon what your making out of it. Eventually, I would like to pair up with my husband, with him making fumed oak frames and me tiles. It would be grand! In the meantime, I took a little side trip with these cookie molds. Maybe not so far astray, though, as the A & E motifs do focus on nature. Using the Cohen method, the next tiles will be ones I create from scratch. They will include timeless Arts & Crafts designs I’ve had on the back burner. Gingko leaf. Pine cone. Pine bough. Birds. Dragonflies. For these particular tiles, I’ll use porcelain with celadon, adding glass bits before firing. They will be larger than my 4x4s…somewhere in the neighborhood of 6×6. I can’t wait!

The Future: Over the last while, I have revisited the reasons I am involved with clay and what I am doing with it. There is an old saying about doing your duty and letting the sparrows twitter, meaning keep to your course and don’t let others’ comments get in the way of what you’re doing. It can be difficult to do at times but I believe in myself, my art and the course I’m charting. I will keep up my effort, be disciplined, associate with people who are positive influences, eschew negative ones. I must continue to culture my intuition. Case in point: I wondered aloud about Gloria in the studio today, about how she was, how her health was. Five minutes later, she walked through the door. I had not seen her since before Christmas. That is the type of intuition I’m culturing…that I will apply with clay. This year will bring great things. I can feel it.

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Open Studio Update

Maybe it was because I was in the studio Sunday night. When I arrived today, it felt as if I hadn’t left. Maybe it’s also because I’m making pieces at home and bringing them in. I said a happy hello to my friends and we all had a fun time working together. Nan painted multiple layers of underglaze on slabs, then went back in, removing part of it to achieve a specific effect. Gary started a new horse. Joan and Judy were throwing. Otto worked on a bust of a thin, balding man smoking a cigar. As to my own work, Detour plateI can only say, I’m going through a rough patch, so I’m going to back off a bit. You can’t force things to go smoothly with clay. Yet, lately, I’ve done too much striving…over glaze samples (turned wonky) and methods (were problematic). Five projects on the go, yet feel like I am spinning my wheels. Started feeling a bit glum about it. Thankfully, Pauline let me cry on her shoulder when we were out walking on Monday. She gave me some pointers and commiserated, saying that’s what working in ceramics is like. Tis true. Mark gave me a little sketch pad for Christmas and, last night, I started drafting notes about my projects: the kind and any problems. Next, I listed possible solutions, which I will test out by trial and error. As my husband, Mark,  said, if I was working with air brush, I could just go back in and  erase my mistakes with gouache. But clay is unforgiving. There is always re-glazing, though, and today I glazed over a piece I’d sprayed with starch last night (for surface adherence). We’ll see how it works. Last week, Mark compared the stage I’m at to factory machinery, set-up and testing. But not quite ready to roll. Champing at the bit does nothing. So, I’m letting go of the results for a while, in addition to coming up with simpler workarounds, ones that will net the same or similar results. Yet, with many projects at the mid-way point, I’m not sure what to do next — maybe finish cleaning up the tiles I glazed because they are that far along. By the way, Dan Severance is taking his new Ceramics Technician job to heart; he fixed shelving and labelled new glaze buckets over the week. He also wrote saying he was bringing in faux celadon for me, made for electric kilns. I’m going to buy some porcelain and start experimenting with it. In the meantime, I am so happy to be writing. I was thinking about it the other day and felt the itch to write daily, but I can’t go back to that schedule just yet. When I am able, I will, but not yet. Today, we all had a lovely lunch at our new spot across from the Arts Centre. Judy, Pauline, and I indulged in nachos. Yes, for lunch! But, but, with healthy tomatoes, red and green peppers, green onions, and jalapenos! (Plus the usual suspects, heh, heh…) We were in fine form….

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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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