The Art of Earth, Wind, Fire & Water

IMG_0819 (1)While I was at Ghost Ranch two weeks ago (see my post “Escaping to an Artful Landscape”)  I took a 5-day long pit firing workshop.  Long before we had electric and gas kilns to fire clay, indigenous people including Native Americans, extracted their clay from local deposits and fired their ceramic ware in pits they dug into the earth. Wood, droppings and other combustible materials were placed around the pots and then

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Image courtesy mikusa.com

covered with shards, moist clay or more wood.  The pit was then lit on fire and tended for hours.  This is the oldest known method of firing pottery.

Though pit fired ware is generally not as sturdy as those fired at higher temperatures in modern kilns, they can be quite beautiful- especially if the surface is burnished beforehand.  Depending on where the pot is in the pit can affect how the surface responds to flame, smoke, and oxygen. The addition of other salts around the pots can also create colorful patterns. Ceramic artists today are modifying the basic techniques and achieving

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image courtesy Eduardo Lazo

stunning results. I’ve been attracted to this method since it is so primitive & close to natural processes. Beautiful useful and decorative items can be created using only the four elements (there is water in the clay).

Due to time constraints and high fire danger at the time, we had to modify our firing methods.  Instead of digging pits we had to fire in galvanized tubs and had to fire for shorter amounts of time.  Our pieces did not achieve the range of IMG_0882colors that can be possible.  Still, I understood the process, had fun,  and plan to try this behind my home clay studio.

Below are are some of the pieces I made during the workshop.

 

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The 3 sheep were inspired by the black sheep running loose on the ranch.  I identify with black sheep!

 

 

Return from Simplicity

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Our lives are frittered away by detail…simplifly, simplify.   Henry David Thoreau

Transitioning from my art retreat at Ghost Ranch,  New Mexico back to my home base has not been an easy one (see my last post).  For one blessed week, I did not have to drive, deal with purchasing or preparing my food or tending house in my basic camp style lodgings.  My life was structured with making art, eating communal meals, hiking and other activities that were provided.  Cell phone service was non-existent and Wi-Fi sketchy. The news of the world was kept at bay.  I did not miss any of it.

So I am back.  I do enjoy my own bed, my partner, my dogs, but dealing with the complexity of daily life again is daunting.  Not only are there the domestic chores that my house and yard present, but then there is the pile of mail, email, computer tasks for my art and other business that needs tending.  It is easy for my creative pursuits to get put on the back burner.  This modern world we live in is rife with distraction.  I miss the simplicity of life at Ghost Ranch.

But, this is my reality.  For the last week, I put my head down and got into bull-dozer mode catching up on everything from laundry to weeding the garden.  Now I am back to finding more balance.  I have to schedule my art time and keep it sacred less it gets eaten away.  This is a constant challenge.  If I don’t write or create something every day I get moody.  It’s a spiritual food.  After being away, I realize that my life needs to be simplified so I can concentrate on those things most important to me.  Next year the garden will be smaller, we will get more help around the yard.  I will be purging the house of lots of stuff that is no longer needed and take myself off mailing lists.

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Escaping to an Artful Landscape

IMG_0875Everyone should have a special place that brings a sense of belonging and rejuvenation,  where you can leave the cares of the world behind and just focus on nature, relaxation and creative pursuits. I just returned from one of my special places, Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico where I attended a pit firing workshop.  Being there is like stepping into a Georgia O’keefe painting.  She lived and worked on this very property.

Here I am with a tribe of other creative and like-minded people.   We are hikers, writers,

singers, welders, quilters painters, printmakers, and ceramic artists.  The ideas and energy we share in our individual workshops and at communal mealtimes is infectious.  This is important to me as an artist for I work alone and need an inflow of new inspiration to keep my own creative fires burning.  There is a camaraderie that is quickly built in a brief week here.

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The Artful Garden

Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.

— May Sarton

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It’s hard to imagine that in March my garden was seven big wood boxes full of brown soil, a blank canvas so to speak.  Now it’s a tangle of vines and plants that spill over those same boxes. There are five varieties of bushy tomato plants, at least as tall as me.  The bean teepee, full of romano beans, towers over six feet tall.  There is kale, chard, dill, hot peppers, onions, cucumbers, basil, zucchini, strawberries, beets, cardoons, sunflowers, and marigolds.  Two of the beds are now empty, the garlic being harvested earlier in July.  The peas have died back and the lettuce and arugula have gone to seed.

Planting a garden is a statement of hope, sowing seeds that bear the promise of food and Garden Basket2.2flower.

Planting a garden is a creative act, painting with a palette of plants, considering what varieties will complement the other, then executing the plan with hoe and shovel instead of a brush.

Planting a garden is work.  The soil must be amended, supports constructed, seeds and starts planted.  Then the beds must be mulched, watered, weeded and then harvested.  But then the payoff is the abundance of delicious fresh food it provides for the rest of the summer.

Garden Basket3Planting a garden is an alchemy of human interaction with natural processes.

A garden does not need to be big or complicated.  Even a couple of tomato plants on the porch or herbs on the window sill is better than nothing.   It’s gratifying to tend plants and watch them grow. For children, it’s an especially enriching experience.  To be able to feed oneself and share the bounty with others is powerful.  Gardening is an anchor to the Earth. You don’t get that from a grocery store.

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The Artful River

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann HesseSiddhartha

Over the July 4th weekend we took our annual trip camping up the McKenzie River here in Oregon.  The river has its beginnings at Clear Lake, from springs that immerge from lava tubes at the North end of the lake. It then runs down a steep grade in a series of gorgeous waterfalls & pools before running free. The water is sparkling clear.  Being by the McKenzie River is healing, but being on it and part of its energy in our kayaks is akin to a spiritual experience.

I find peace in rivers, especially the McKenzie. They provide inspiration for my art & poetry.

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The River Called to Me

With a voice born out of eternity

Fluent in all languages

Come

Rest

By my sparkling water

A silver ribbon in a dark forest

 

“McKenzie Rapid”- Gelatin print & stamps over pen & ink. The feeling of being in the midst of a rapid in a kayak is so exhilarating. I tried to capture the energy here.

 

 

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Salmon Run Raku

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Intuition and Finding Your Inner Penguin

penguins-429128_1920The Emperor Penguins of Antarctica group up in the thousands during the breeding season.  Once their chicks are juveniles, the adult penguins depart for open water to feed and bring home nutrition.  They have this knack, when they’ve returned from their foraging expeditions, of locating their young among a throng of look-alikes, solely by recognizing their chick’s call in a cacophony of penguin noise.  Parent penguins have a knack for listening.

As I’ve aged and my other physical faculties are weakening, my inner voice- my intuition is growing much stronger.  Like the parent penguins, I’ve learned to recognize it from the din of voices that surround me in my external and internal worlds.

It’s a skill anyone can develop but in our left-brained, modern culture, it’s not valued nor spoken about much.  It requires quiet, stillness, and patience.  Intuition is an inner voice easily drowned out by messages we receive on a daily basis- live your life like this, look like this, buy this, buy that, your intuitive messages often running counter to them.

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Between Endings and Beginnings

Three weeks ago I finished a three piece commission that I labored over for over 2 months.  They are three 12 X12 acrylic paintings of the two dogs and one cat of my late Father’s wife, my dear “Ma Penny.”  I was pleased with them and so was she.

Completion is a good thing.  You’ve put in the time and effort and then you find yourself done!  After the initial feeling of euphoria and accomplishment, however, there you are.  What now?  It can all be a bit disorienting.  There is a favorite John Lennon saying I have “It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” What next?  Where was I with my own personal trajectory?

Luckily I’ve been in this spot all too many times before.  Here is my recipe when you wind up in a “grey zone.”

  1. Don’t panic. Be still.
  2. Write in your journal
  3. img_0705-2.jpgDo some cleaning/tidying in the studio.
  4. Look for inspiration from the work of others.  Pinterest is my favorite source of visual inspiration.
  5. Do some warm-up exercises- no expectations. Scribble, splash, write lists of words that fascinate. Dedicate them to the gallery of the recycle bin or the collage box.

Eventually, the creative fairies take the bait.  Like seagulls when you throw a piece of food to one, another will come until you have a flock of them around you.

I finally came up with the following work (after cleaning out my paper files & filling up my garbage can full of warm-ups…….)

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