Working Magic With Black Clay

I enjoy working with clay bodies other than white (see my post The Color of Clay). In my work, mostly sculptural, glaze functions as an embellishment rather than the main attraction.  This comes from my aesthetic and my dislike of the glazing process!  I find the contrast between the glazed and the unglazed piece quite interesting, especially with a toasty or reddish clay.  Two years ago I started working with this black (actually a deep chocolate brown toned) clay body.

Clay gets its color from certain minerals and pigments.  Iron oxide is what makes terra cotta clay red.  In the case of black clay, the color is from burnt umber.  It is a pigment in short supply these days so a bag of clay will cost you a few dollars more.  Any highly-pigmented clay is messy to work with and this is like working with black mud. Wearing a good apron is key.  Regardless, the end result of this clay is worth it.

My work is primitive. The pots are formed from strips I have coiled up.  The little goddess figures are pinched forms, the larger from small slabs.  I have fun dressing them up with wire, beads, and feathers after they are fired.  The arms on the larger figures are from juniper wood I gathered in New Mexico.

Waiting to be dressed up

Here are a few pieces I created this fall for gifts, for a gallery I am in, and for myself.

I have some of the small and large goddess figures left. If you are interested in purchasing one please email me at wildnotions96@gmail.com.

See my blog on sustainabile living at onesweetearth.blog

The Art of the Day Planner- How to Create a Journal of Creative Practice

The 2022 edition

Two years ago I started a daily doodle practice after challenging myself to do something artful every day. I’ve written about this before on this blog but I thought it worthy to bring around again being the New Year .

I decided about the only thing I could successfully commit to doodle in the 2” square of my day planner since it wasn’t being utilized for anything else.  The ground rules I made- use pen, no erasing, no self-criticism, go back over it later and add to it if you want.  Be spontaneous and just see what comes up. Often I only see the merits of an entry until I let it sit for a day or weeks later. Sometimes I take the previous day’s idea and make a different version of it.

The end of 2021
Continue reading The Art of the Day Planner- How to Create a Journal of Creative Practice

First Friday Art Talk- The Story Behind the Painting

This is the painting I wake up to in the morning and go to bed to at night.  It brings me a sense of peace and order when I look at it.

Why did I paint this?

The migration of birds fascinates me: What inspires them to leave?  How do they navigate their journey?  How can their tiny bodies withstand travel of thousands of miles of such rigorous travel?  Then there’s nature- always an inspiration.

In this painting with a base of sponged, brushed, and stenciled acrylic on a 12 x 12” dimensional artboard,  we look down on a flight of white birds over forest.  Stenciled ferns are below the abstracted trees.  The symbol of a river is collaged on the upper left quadrant and the collaged 4 negative triangles in the lower left quadrant symbolize direction.  Most of my collage papers are made up of “failed prints.”I bless my failures as they never fail to add the perfect touch elsewhere.  Rain is represented in the upper right quadrant by stamping a painted piece of corrugated cardboard.

To add a little sparkle I added a bit of gold leaf at the top. A stamped Asian symbol on the lower right quadrant adds a zen quality to the piece. 

I took a larger cradled artboard, flipped it over, and painted it black.  Then I mounted the painting inside of it to add a dimensional frame. This is an intuitive painting meaning I paint by what inspiration shows up at the time.  The color palette was inspired by another artist’s work and then I tweaked it to make it my own.

Even when I can’t travel, I look at this painting and I can go somewhere else.  I’m so glad no one purchased this at my last studio sale. It is called Spring Migration.

Does Your Work Matter?

I frequently find myself questioning the worth of my creative endeavors.  It’s like being on a tight rope and then making the mistake of looking down and then falling.  Truly am my own worst critic.

Today I received a gift via Austin Kleon’s newsletter in my inbox to help counter those doubts.  Thank you, Austin for posting these wonderful words of wisdom from Martha Graham…

A story about meeting choreographer Martha Graham for a soda, as told by Agnes de Mille in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham:

I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be”.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

Ok..let’s get on with it then!

Mural Magic

A much younger me, mid 1990s, Four Corners Elementary School, Salem Oregon

As children, most of us have been told “Don’t color on the walls!”, but it is so satisfying to have such an expanse waiting to be graced with marks made from your small hands.

I did get my chance as an adult.  For a number of years I was an artist in residence in an assortment of schools in a three-county area.  At times there were opportunities to color on walls creating murals with a cadre of small hands.

In the beginning was a wall..

Now that I’m retired from all manner of teaching and the monetization of my artwork, I have a chance to color on my own walls.  A boarded-up window on the outside of my detached studio building has been calling to me for a makeover.  Numerous ideas swirled around my head for months.   A cheery window scene was my ultimate goal.   I sketched out many thumbnails but nothing seemed totally right.  One thing I knew for sure, I was going to paint a black crow on the right side of the piece to disguise a hole that birds had enlarged for a nesting nook.  Also I wanted my tuxedo cat, Zander in the picture along with a teapot, cup, and some flowers (I have this thing about teapots).  I nixed the sun at the top in favor of a compass, a symbol that shows up frequently in my images.

Ultimately I settled on a basic design, a color scheme, and sketched it out on the wood.  Procrastination settled in as perfectionism (fear) took over. Then I decided the worse thing that could happen is I would paint over what I didn’t like.  So I got going.

I worked on the mural bit by bit in the cool of the evenings as the heat wave here in Oregon made it unfeasible to work during the day in the hot sun.  Eventually, I finished- yesterday!  In all I only painted over one vase that was bright orange, changing the color to more of an understated coral. 

I love this mural because it is personal to me and adds a happy focal point to an otherwise  boring wall  My next goal is to doodle all the way up my stairwell.  Let’s see how that goes!

Finished mural

Stepping Up to a Creative Challenge

Mixed media painting by the author

I needed a large piece of artwork to hang behind our bed- preferably a painting to put the finishing touch on our Covid bedroom remodel.  We started this project wall by wall at the beginning of the lockdownto light up a dark vintage 1940s bedroom in this old farmhouse to something fresh and airy.  Off came the dark blue wallpaper and the remnants of an old brick hearth- something I hated for the 28 years I slept under it.  Now the walls are a lovely light green with white woodwork and new white blinds.  This painting would be the symbol of new beginnings.

I am an artist but not a painter- not my thing. My skills are in printmaking, ceramics, and mixed media. In general I work on a smaller scale than this project required. In my mind’s eye, I had a vision of an abstract painting of a rural farm landscape in cheery colors.  Extensive research online turned up nothing that I liked.  Original art was out of my price range.  That left the task up to me to manifest the painting. 

Often when I am faced with a large creative challenge my first default is procrastination.  That was not an option in this case.  I wanted this room to have closure. So I fleshed out my recipe I’ve used before (which with some revision works for writing projects)…

  1. Vision– what do I see as a finished result?
  2. Concept– what do I want to express?
  3. Reference sources– images for a color palette, design ideas
  4. Proper materials for the project (pull out those 25 year- old acrylic paints)
  5. Timer to keep me on task (essential)

I broke down the project into small steps such as…

  1. Figure out the proper size of the painting
  2. A trip to the art supply store to pick up a cradled (dimensional) artboard of the right dimension.
  3. Another trip to pick up the proper sealer
  4. Apply gesso
  5. Set my trusty timer and paint for an hour straight with no interruptions- no matter how scared I was of screwing up. Keep going– paint until the timer dings.
  6. Repeat the above step over and over until done, make tons of mistakes, and paint over them. Revisit reference material for guidance.

I wish I documented the process to show how muddled the first attempts were but I was too involved with the process and making a mess.

Eventually, I started to find my voice which beckoned me to add familiar media: collage paper, water soluble crayon, colored pencil, paint pen, a little gold leaf to add to the sky, and a few ceramic shards from an old pioneer homestead found closeby.  Then I started to enjoy the process and looked forward to visiting my studio every day.  To get to that point though, I had to push through my insecurities.  In that regard, my timer was my best friend.

The finished piece now hangs in the bedroom.  It may not appeal to the eyes of others but that was not the goal.  I love it. The design represents the landscape around my home. There are details that are personal to me within the piece.  Moreso it represents to me that by pushing through your one’s fears, you can accomplish your goals.  Just start and keep going.

Have a Happy Day (Planner)

Last year I was looking for a daily creative practice that I could stick to.  I was not much of a sketcher or morning pager.  I needed something kind of short and sweet.  Then I noticed the 2’ blank square in my 2020 day planner.  Not much going on there but a few spillovers from my to-do list.  I committed to filling up those square every day with a doodle or something creative.  The ground rules are to use pen and have no judgement on what I come up with.  Spontaneity is key.

Fast forward over a year later- my day planner practice is my creative kick start to the day.  Not only does it get my pen to the paper in a nonthreatening way, I have created an artifact of my life to look back on though this crazy time of Covid and political craziness.  Mostly I create a daily doodle, a weather report, a cartoon, quote, poem or something about my life with words and/or pictures.  It’s been an evolving practice.  Some have become finished pieces, most I don’t appreciate until I look back at them.

This year, 2021 I couldn’t find the same day planner so I made my own.  I purchased a simple blank spiral sketchbook and glued some decorative paper.  I customized it for words of the year and monthly goals and then grid out each week as they come along.  At first I measured but now I just eyeball it letting the lines be as wonky as they want to be for interest.

My planner is now less about what I need to do but how I need to be…creative and fully alive, paying attention to the inspiration each day has to offer.  I highly recommend trying out this daily practice.

Life is more than a to do list

Please visit my other blog about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

A Zine is Born

Zine (according to the Urban Dictionary)

Some sort of publication, usually mass-produced by photocopying(in some cases, scanned, put on the ‘net, or copied via fax)on any range of topics, but usually filled with passion. A means of telling one’s story, sharing thoughts, and/or artwork/comics/doodles.

The instructor for the Zine lesson of my year-long Words & Pictures class made a 16 page zine of his favorite mustards.  Now there’s a quirky idea.  How could I top my favorite mustards?

 I took a look back in my sketchbook and came across some silly doodles of triangles.  The triangle doodles eventually morphed into silly triangle birds.  Then I noticed that all the triangles happened to be isosceles triangles (two sides of equal length).  Hmm.  How about if I made a zine just about silly things made up from isosceles triangles.  Thus I went about writing and publishing my first zine, The Isosceles Triangle Illuminated.

This was a perfect pandemic project.  I had a hilarious time brainstorming and drawing my triangle ideas.  The hardest part was correctly photocopying the back to back so the pages would be in the correct order.  Instead of Holiday cards, I sent them out to friends for a good laugh. 

Want one of my isosceles triangle zines?  Use my contact page and for only $5.51 I will send you one!

For more info on making a zine click here

The Color of Clay

Clay can be dirt in the wrong hands, but clay can be art in the right hands.

Lupita Nyong’o

I work in clay when the mood arises.  In its simplest form, clay is mineral earth, devoid of organic matter. 

For millennia humans have dug their own to make vessels and pieces of art. The clay most artists use in modern times comes from factories.  Different formulations of minerals will mature at different temperatures and will have different properties that are specific to wheel or sculptural pieces. The hotter the temperature the clay fires to, the stronger the finished product.   I generally work in a midfire range clay that matures at approximately 2200 degrees F. 

Within that temperature range there is a variety of colors to choose from that range from white, tan, rust, and brown.  The color of the clay is from pigments or minerals that have been added.  For example, iron oxide gives terra cotta its deep rust color and burnt umber makes clay a toasty brown.

 I like to experiment with different colors of clay.  Since I work with sculptural rather than functional pieces (such as mug and bowls), I use glaze more as an embellishment, preferring to showcase the color of the clay body I’m working with.

When you purchase clay, the fired product will be a different color than the wet clay in the bag. Often white clay will appear gray in its wet form.  Dark clays will lighten or darken depending.

The firing process used to be literally done with a wood fire and in some places still is. I use an electric kiln to fire my pieces.  When the kiln gets up to temperature the individual particles of clay will vitrify, or fuse, creating a permanent, waterproof object.

The clay will perform the same, no matter how it’s colored- it’s how it’s molded that creates differences in strength.  It’s only by fire that clay unites as one.

Clay has so much to teach humanity.

Visit my other blog about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

Pandemic Ponderings with a Pen

After months I’m getting used to the “new abnormal” ……

One thing I forgot on this list in P is for PROCRASTINATION. How can I have this much time and get so little done? Tomorrow is my current default goal.

Alanna also blogs about sustainability on One Sweet Earth

Artwork by the author.