There are times you will find yourself mired in a quandary. Sometimes the solution becomes clear in a relatively short amount of time and in others it takes a while to get clarity. Making art is a great metaphor for life in this regard.
I’ve had two art pieces that were finished – but not. Some things were missing and I did not know what. So I let them sit for weeks revisiting them from time to time. I had to let the questions percolate within me for months and be patient. Recently, I finished both pieces. All that mulling worked out in the long run.
The collage (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) piece pictured was mounted on a cradled (dimensional) board. Over the weeks I added more marks and contrast but it still wasn’t enough. I finally came to the realization that it needed a more definite frame around it. Thus I purchased a bigger cradled board, flipped it around, painted it a deep plum, and then mounted the collage board within it. Voila- closure!
The ceramic mask was the same way as I tried bits of this and that over weeks. In the end, I replaced the headdress of wheat with two lovely feathers, mounted a piece of an old earring on the forehead, and then glued brass nails around the neck area. That last step made the formerly boring piece really shine.
In both cases, it took me about three months to get resolution. The muse can be slow. Rushing won’t work. I do this same process with my writing. Put it away and let it stew for a while. There is nothing like having fresh eyes when looking upon a problem.
Solutions will come. Sometimes you just have to slow down and be patient!
“Stop and smell the garlic. That’s all you have to do” William Shattner”
Lately, while others have been inside baking Christmas cookies these chilly Oregon Days, I have been outside planting garlic for the next year. Some of my friends know me as the “Garlic Queen,” for having developed an obsession for tasty, huge, and beautiful garlic. It’s become an art form for me. Yes, self-expression in growing garlic!
Being a garlic lover, I became very frustrated with the quality of garlic available in the grocery store. It turns out that most of the garlic in the USA comes from China! Surprising since garlic is a fairly easy crop to grow that most of it is imported. Thus some years back I began my education in garlic and garlic cultivation.
Originally from the middle east, 700 species of garlic are now grown around the world.
There are two main types, hardneck & softneck . The hardneck garlic has a hard woody stem and puts out a flowering scape (that is used for also used for culinary purposes). They have fewer cloves than softnecks but are all fairly uniformly large in size. I find they have a longer shelf life than softneck which contradicts other sources. Softneck or “artichoke” style garlic have lots more cloves that get smaller towards the middle. These are the garlics that can be braided. Each variety of garlic all has their unique flavors and storage life.
I grow Susanville (softneck) for their “wow” factor. They often can get quite large and have a pretty purple tinge to them. They make great gifts. For the hardnecks I grow “Musica” for the huge cloves, stronger taste. They also keep a month or so longer.
I have to give credit to the folks who raise Jacob and Churro sheep up the road at Bide A Wee Farm which I affectionately call “Poo Corner.” The composted manure from these furry darlings makes for great garlic as well as anything I grow in the garden. I also invested years ago in decent garlic seed from Hood River Garlic. I save the best heads from the years’ crop for the next. The bigger the clove planted equals the biggest bulb for the next year. Also worthwhile was purchasing the book Growing Great Garlic:The Definitive Guide for Organic Gardeners and Small Farmers by Ron Engeland which is the bible of garlic growing.
The cloves are all tucked away now in their winter bed with a generous covering of straw mulch They will appear again come summer with the turn of the shovel as delightful bulbs- Christmas in July!
I am captivated by tide pools. They are little worlds unto themselves full of creatures and plants of all sorts that seem to thrive at the restless edge of the ocean. Some organisms are attached like anemones, barnacles, rock fucus and, mussels. Some move slowly like starfish, urchins, and chitons, Then there are the quick and nimble tiny crabs and fish. Always there is a palette of color full of glowing greens, oranges, and reds.
Recently I gave myself the challenge to capture the wonder of tide pools in my art process.
Unfortunately, all my prints like the one pictured on the right either wound up in the recycling or in my collage box to be cut up for later use. Rather than doing more of the same, I knew I had to come up with a different creative solution. Instead of interpreting a tide pool in a literal sense I decided to capture the essence of one as I felt viscerally- that is in terms of color shape, texture, and feeling.
This piece on the left as pictured is what I came up with using that other creative solution. I collaged bits of my failed prints into this finished piece giving them a bit of reverence. Without those “mistakes” I would not have been ultimately successful. Overall I am very pleased with this print- it conveys what I feel.
So what does all of this have to do with math scores? After I finished this piece was finished a blurb came up on the radio about Oregon’s math scores being among the lowest in the nation. I stopped what I was doing, listened and pondered that information. Memories of teaching 6th-grade math for 2 years came flooding back and all its frustrations. A majority of my students entered my classroom without a clear grasp of basic math facts yet they were pushed onto higher-level math prematurely. Because of that many struggled, especially with fractions and division with the designer, scientifically based curriculum we were given to teach. (Not one of my 6th-grade students knew how to measure correctly with a ruler at first yet most could operate a smartphone). Yet the powers above pushed harder with more rigor and more testing.
So back to art. There is an amazing amount of problem-solving and creative thinking that occurs in the artistic process. In my baby boomer education, I started using a ruler in first grade for art projects (think required margins) on up through the higher grades We played the recorder and learned music. In secondary school, there was required cooking, sewing and shop classes. All of these required applied math in terms of measurement and understanding of rhythm in music. We understood fractions. In today’s educational environment the arts have been cut in favor of the core subjects, especially math.
My “out of the tide pool” solution to low math scores? Look for a less literal solution. Put the arts back in education on a daily basis and give students something to apply their math too. Oh…and let them have a little fun. Children need creative outlets! And to that old adage I heard so many times, “You can’t make a living as an artist” I say right back, “Most can’t make a living as a mathematician either!” Maybe have students visit tide pools too. Who knows what that kind of experience might inspire?
Every October the Art Harvest Studio Tour provides an opportunity for local artists to open up their studios for the public to get an intimate look at their work and process. Thirty or so juried artists about Yamhill County, Oregon participate. Studios are open for the first two three day weekends in October. Some artists are clustered in the local towns and others, like me, are peppered about the wine country in quaint settings. Art Harvest is in its 27th year. To visit studios there is an $8.00 fee for a button which acts as a wearable ticket to gain entry to the studios
For some Art Harvest is a purely recreational experience, making a fun day with friends, buying a few small items and going out for a nice lunch in between. Others are serious art buyers looking for unique pieces to purchase directly from the artist. Some drive as far as 200 miles away to make a weekend of it or fly from across the country to visit relatives during tour time.
For artists, it’s a chance to have a more interactive experience with people while avoiding the commissions and control that galleries levy. Often being on the studio tour can lead to other sales and contacts. I made sure I had items such as magnets and notecards of my prints that were only $5.00 for “takeaways” and for gifts. Most of my things were in the $20 to $50 range on up to a sculpture for $380.
I was on the tour 20 years ago and then had a hiatus for a teaching career and raising my son. Now in retirement, I thought I would give it one more shot. It’s a huge undertaking and expensive for the artist. The entry fee is $300 which pays for the glossy catalogs, advertising, buttons and a part-time coordinator. Artists must also volunteer on one of the many committees to make the tour function. On top of that, I had expenses of at least $200 for art supplies and display materials. That means I had to earn $500 before I would start to make any type of profit (For anyone wondering why art can be expensive, this is why!) Here is a timeline of the tour experience for the artist…
March– Submit application, images, and fees
April– juried in. Continue to amass a volume of work in ceramics and mixed media monoprints.
Summer– attend committee meetings. I served on the education committee to facilitate school children visiting participating studios. Make more art!
August– drop off two pieces of work to be in the Chehalem Cultural Center show running for the months of September and October. (Many stop by this exhibit first to decide which studios to visit). Be filmed by a local cable access show called Arts Alive. (See video here. My spot starts about 15 minutes in)
September– distribute signs and programs to local businesses and organizations. Get work framed. Clean out the studio with a dear friend who offered to help me. Drape tables, add lighting, hang wall pieces and arrange ceramics on the tables. It’s a huge undertaking to get a studio from a workspace to a display area!
October– Price all work. Place bright yellow At Harvest signs along the routes leading to my studio. Oct. 4-6 AM and Oct 11-13 open my studio from 10 am to 5 PM.
Fridays were very slow so I had time to finish up items not yet completed. Saturday & Sunday could get quite busy. I tried to spend as much time with people as I could to visit and answer questions. In between weekends I made a new herd of ceramic sheep as the first one was almost sold out. The following week was spent in recovery mode. I’m not used to that much talking and being “on” since I taught middle school!
Overall, the studio tour was a great success. Beyond making a respectable profit, it was so sweet to get such validation of my work. I had numerous visitors make a beeline for my studio after seeing my pieces at the Cultural Center show or seeing my page in the program. My new work is quite eclectic and unusual. Working alone as most artists do, I
have to work hard at times to keep my insecurities at bay so having such positive feedback was food for my soul. Thematically I range from whimsical to spiritual depending on what needs to manifest. It’s not for all but there were a fair number of people that resonated with it and gave me positive feedback. It was a great time to make new friends and connect with old ones
I let a few favorite pieces go during the sale. Thes beautiful pieces were kept in storage as I had no place to put them in my house. I was surprised at the twinges I felt as some of these were purchased and left the studio with happy customers. But art should be seen and enjoyed, not hidden away so they needed a new home. I was especially pleased when they were adopted by friends.
If you have not participated in a local open studio tour, try it! Lookup for them online in your area or afar. It will take you on a mind-opening adventure with not much expense.
“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dali
So you walk into an art gallery or an art festival and there is the fruit of the artist in all of its magical glory, looking like it was created effortlessly. What you don’t see is the plethora of mistakes and sometimes heartaches that go into making art. It’s a part of the process. If you aren’t willing to fail, you are not going to learn. This is especially true in the medium of ceramics. There’s no way you can work with mud and transform it into permanent objects without running into some challenges. There are so many variables to contend with in the making- construction, drying, firing, glazing, and firing again at a temperature around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
This week before my open studio on the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County I opened my kiln to find my share of disappointments. The beautiful grape leaf plate on the upper left (traced from one of my grapevines leaves) has a crack down from the notch of the leaf shape. It’s still lovely but not saleable. I’ll use it though. No one will notice under a pile of carrot sticks. Those three lovely bowls with incised grape leaves rubbed with iron oxide all cracked. This was a puzzle. Maybe they got jostled when I removed them from the press mold? These will become part of a mosaic on my future walkway. Then there was the barn owl sculpture with hairline cracks in two places – maybe from cooling too quickly in the pit fire? I love this piece though and I am not sad to keep it.
The failed prints I have cut up and am using in other incarnations such as “quote blocks,” little sculptural pieces with collages.
Thankfully, there will be plenty of other lovely things to look at my studio sale- but the invisible mistakes will be just as much a part of it for me.
They are the cracked
The not quite right
Products of my hands
Victims of experimentation
Or forces beyond my understanding
Sometimes their enduring beauty breaks my heart
Their fatal flaw rendering them undesirable to others
“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” -Joseph Chilton Pearce
When I was a child I would sit down with a set of crayons and draw without much intention other than just being in the moment with my colors and paper. Painting was even better. There was nothing like afternoons in school where the math and reading were put aside for time standing at the easel with giant paper and pots of tempera paint. I remember painting with big fat brushes with long handles pictures of skies, big suns, houses, horses- the usual subjects for a little girl. The paintings I made were often brought home and gifted. There was not a lot of attachment to the pieces as there were always more paintings and drawings to come.
At some grade in school, the easels were put away and we were subtlety given the message that art was not important and academics were. Art was play, nothing to be taken too seriously. Good grades, college, and a career were.
May the beauty of your day, take your breath away – unknown
I’m in sort of a lull in a creative sense. My energies are spread elsewhere now that my husband is recovering from knee surgery. This period draws parallels to an experience I had with dormancy and reblooming…
It was a gift, an orchid plant for my desk at the end of my last school year before retirement. Six blooms of royal magenta, tinged with highlights of yellow cascaded down like the contour of a woman’s haughty hip. It was one of those grocery store variety orchids, nothing too out of the ordinary except for the color of the flowers. They positively glowed like a stained glass window in the light.
I absorbed the beauty of these blooms every day for weeks until each slowly shriveled, dried and dropped. I sadly removed their spent forms one by one. What was left were several deep green ovate leathery leaves and the tall, now naked flower stem in a plain clay pot.
“I just throw them away” a friend commented on my bloomless orchid. But I could not, the only crime of this plant needing rest after a grand performance. I remember my father saying that he got his orchids to bloom again. After enjoying such a spectacular show, I felt it a crime to sentence this plant to death in the compost pile.
I left the orchid on my bedroom window sill, watered it, and waited. Over a year passed and I realized that it probably needed special nutrients to bloom. I purchased some spray fertilizer just for orchids. In a few more months, I had a stalk full of orchid flowers to enjoy again. It is now in its third bloom.
This experience got me to thinking how we humans too need to be nurtured in life to bloom and then given periods of rest. This reminds me not to give up in dry times, be patient and to get the self-care I need to be creative. The compost pile of life awaits soon enough!