It’s another hot smokey summer in Oregon. It appears that temperatures of 90 and above and forest fires are the new normal. Summer used to be my favorite season here but now that the jet stream has settled further south, spring and fall will get my vote. Then air quality has been so poor you really don’t want to be outside doing much.
Motivation has been difficult. My studio does not have air conditioning. If I don’t get work done first thing in the morning, it doesn’t get done. I think I’m getting summer cabin fever. Who knew there was such a thing?
Rather than just push through it, my usual MO, maybe I should learn to roll with it and make this season the one to read, watch movies, and write more? Maybe this is a good time to relax my expectations and go with the flow….
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
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
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 colors 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.
The 3 sheep were inspired by the black sheep running loose on the ranch. I identify with black sheep!
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.
Everyone 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.
The 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.
I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. She became instantly famous with her novel, Eat, Pray, Love but many readers don’t realize that she was a writer way before that and has published other noteworthy books. She writes a lot about creativity. If you haven’t read her book “Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear” it’s a great read on the subject. Also, she has a riveting TED Talk that is well worth a watch.
A friend forwarded this essay of hers on writing. I enjoyed this so much and thought I’d share. You could substitute the words creative, artist, or musician for the word writer and it would still apply.
Sometimes people ask me for help or suggestions about how to write, or how to get published. Keeping in mind that this is all very ephemeral and personal, I will try to explain here everything that I believe about writing. I hope it is useful. It’s all I know.
I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began.
I have these two well-worn images tacked up on the way to my studio to remind myself not to get discouraged. Walk away, regroup, keep going one step at a time. They are also applicable to life in general……