My only big regret in life is that I didn’t take the time to document my experiences more. I’ve kept a journal on and off since I was 16, which is admiral, but I wish I had expanded my entries to snippets of sensory experience and fascinations other than just emotional spew. But, in my defense, I was a teenager and I avoided language arts classes finding them tedious.
Looking back even recording one thing that made my day would have been such a precious collection to look back on. No one told me then that those little vignettes from my life in Alaska, raising my son, and those hilarious “kids say the darndest things” moments teaching 6th-grade science would be so longed for. Of course, I have hundreds of photos but without some words as accompaniment, they are incomplete memories. I was always too busy, thinking I would remember everything. Then “poof” those clear memories vanish like steam. The same goes with some solution to a nagging problem or those creative inspirations I get as I drift off to sleep.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.”
Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.Mary Oliver
I notice small things. This probably started when I started birding and identifying plants in college. Little brown birds become wrens, those spikey white flowers in a bog become bog orchids, rocks in a canyon tell stories.
As I slow down and notice things around me, the world becomes less chaotic. When my cell phone is left behind and the portal to insanity shut off I can sit on the porch step and notice the honey bees probing in the flowers of autumn joy sedum and the variety of clouds in the sky. Noticing helps me to be a more imaginative writer and artist.
A book, The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker, recently came to my attention via Austin Kleon’s blog. I checked it out from the library recently and have been impressed by the plethora of unique activities that will get the novice and experienced noticer into prime form. Enjoy taking a color walk, documenting odd things from a road trip like gas stations, writing a review of manhole covers or fire hydrants, start drawing, write a field guide to the dogs in your neighborhood, write a poem about the items for sale in the check out line of a store, stop talking and inventory what sounds you hear.
If you need help downshifting into observation mode this book has the tools to do so. Who needs Facebook and Instagram for entertainment when one knows how to notice? As a new hardback it’s around $15, or check it out from the library as I did. Everyday life will become full of new adventures.
What is the metric of decision-making in our lives? What bearing do we follow? How do we hear our inner guidance among the cacophony of others? How does one approach risk? Navigating one’s life is tricky business.
Artist/author Elle Luna addresses this very topic in her recent book “The Crossroad of ShouldandMust, Find & Follow Your Passion.” I was listening to her interview on the Beyond podcast and perked up my ears. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone address this issue in such a concise way. Rather than head vs heart or gut vs brain she defines the quandry as what you SHOULD do VS what you MUST do. This could be as huge as choosing a profession to choosing to take a break and read for 30 minutes, or should I finish this blog post or go out and work in the garden? (I chose the former.)
I purchased the book and have been very pleased with both the content and its presentation, a mixture of type, Luna’s illustrations, handwritten text, and memorable quotes in a recycled tag board binding. It’s a quick reference to navigating the yearnings of one’s soul.
Age has made that process easier for me to distinguish between the voices of head and heart as I have the luxury of looking back over decades. Still, it is always nice to have a guidebook when you have lost your way. I’ve added it to my bookshelf alongside The Artist’s Way and Austin Kleon’s books. It’s worth a read- especially if you’re a creative type.
Check it out!
At the Crossroads
having tasted the straight, well-traveled road of should
“a statement of the beliefs or aims which guide someone’s actions”.
Over the years I have collected some words of wisdom that have guided me through this adventure we called life. I decided to finally write them down in a format that was easily accessible. At first, I considered a small booklet but then I settled on a poster format. This would serve as a mini “Graffiti Wall” that I could access in an instant
This was a project I did not want to fuss over (avoid perfection, just get ‘er done). I grabbed a 14” x 11” piece of cardboard, painted a coat of yellow paint over it with a little embellishment, put my cartoon self in the center, and then started writing my words and phrases on the board in different colors and sizes. There is plenty of room for more guiding principles as this is an ongoing project. You can never have enough words of wisdom.
I keep this posted in my studio and glance at it now and again. It keeps me grounded as with my personal mission statement- but that’s a whole different post…
“Live by this credo: have a little laugh at life and look around you for happiness instead of sadness. Layughter has always brought me out of unhappy situations.“
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)…
Vision– what do I see as a finished result?
Concept– what do I want to express?
Reference sources– images for a color palette, design ideas
Proper materials for the project (pull out those 25 year- old acrylic paints)
Timer to keep me on task (essential)
I broke down the project into small steps such as…
Figure out the proper size of the painting
A trip to the art supply store to pick up a cradled (dimensional) artboard of the right dimension.
Another trip to pick up the proper sealer
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.
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.
In the doldrums of this pandemic my creative image energies are ebbing more than flowing. It’s times like this at times all I can muster is to tidy up. Usually that involves just organizing my workspace. Then after years of procrastination I faced down the leaning pile of old cardboard portfolios full of aging class artwork and design projects that lurked in my closet. The problem is when you hang onto old work there’s really no room for new- physically or metaphorically.
Bye-bye charcoal nudes, bye-bye watercolors, bye-bye drawings. Yep you were “A” quality, fun, but at this point, are not doing anyone any good including myself. And woe to my son who would be stuck sorting them out when I’m packed up to the Rock of Ages Rest Home. The recycling bin is full. I have a well stocked collage box and plenty of classy bookmarks as souvenirs. I took pictures of the T-shirts I designed and donated them to a thrift store where someone can put them to use.
Bidding farewell to old creative work of any kind is like saying goodbye to parts of oneself- but thinking about it, all that hard work and practice is still with me deeply embedded in the work I do today. When I peruse all those past efforts I think of them as either good or bad but merely steps along the path to where I am as an artist today.
We are but at some total of all our work and practice. The beat goes on.