Beyond the Studio Door

“Failure is success in process”- Albert Einstein

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”  ― Salvador Dali

img_2951So 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.

img_2950This week before my open studio on the Art Harvest Studio Tour of Yamhill County I img_2960opened 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 img_2961puzzle.  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 img_2962incarnations 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.

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Beautiful Failures

They are the cracked

The not quite right

Products of my hands

And soul

Victims of experimentation

Poor judgment

Or forces beyond my understanding

 

Sometimes their enduring beauty breaks my heart

Their fatal flaw rendering them undesirable to others

Then sometimes their glaring shortcomings

Are so embarrassing

They are destroyed or reincarnated

Taking on a new form that will touch my soul

Or someone elses

 

The buyer will never know

That my work is built on beautiful failures

Marveling at my wonderful talent

Wishing they could have it too

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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!

 

 

The Power of Play, the Power of Clay

IMG_0003My last show is done for the year and perhaps indefinitely.  I am relieved to return to my ceramics studio without the stress of deadlines.  It’s playtime!

There is so much value in play.  I’m talking about for children as well as adults.  Taking time to play in an art form gives that other part of our brain a rest that worries and analyzes so our spirits can be released.  Unfortunately, our culture undervalues play in favor of productivity. As our schools have stripped theeducation-1814187_1920 arts from their curriculums in favor of core subjects, the population is becoming culturally illiterate, more plugged in, and more isolated.

hand-845269_1920Clay is one medium that immediately can turn adults into kids again and turn kids into kids again.  It’s tactile, versatile, and gives immediate satisfaction. If you need more play in your life, consider taking a ceramics class.  Enjoy the satisfaction of playing in mud again.  I wish everyone had access to clay. The world would be a better place.

Hands in Clay

When my hands touch clay

I lose myself

Deep in the soft, smooth sensation of mud

Sliding between my fingers

 

When my hands touch clay

I am a child at play

With infinite possibilities

 

When my hands touch clay

I become the earth

 

When my hands touch clay

I am Navaho, Pueblo, African, Asian, Aborigine

And of the ancient ones

Sharing the spirit of creation

Hidden in the clay

Waiting to be born

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A Time for Play

I’m in between right now.  That means I am in a lull between past projects and ones yet to be revealed.  This is a perfect opportunity for play which often leads to inspiration. One of my guilty pleasures is taking a selection of cast off junk and combining it into something artsy.  It’s akin to child’s play- no expectations, just fun.

I’ve been eyeing an round, rusty old grill on an equally rusty burn barrel at the back fence line of my property.  Last week I decided to see what I could do with it.

3 tone Plate2I was especially happy that I could incorporate the pieces of a favorite ceramic plate that I made years ago and then recently broke.  Also included are some old springs, washers, a silver bracelet, a hawk feather, jute, a scrap of copper & a couple of glass moonstones for eyes.  It’s now hanging on the outside of my studio. I call it ‘Grateful God.”

A BLESSING

May the light of your soul guide you

May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.

May you see in what you do, the beauty of your own soul.

May the sacredness of your work never weary you.

May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.

May you be present in what you do

May you never become lost in bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find you awake and alert,

Approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled

May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected

May your soul calm console, and renew you.

John o’Donoghue

Anam Cara

 

Air Plant Love

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Imagine you are a plant and you don’t need roots to tether you to the Earth.  Instead you live in a cluster of other like-minded individuals, anchored in the canopies of trees & bushes in tropical & sub-tropical habitats. You have a great view with the company of birds & other tree dwelling animals. Forgoing roots, you inhale nutrients from soft breezes & the rain since you have developed trichomes, specialized structures on your leaves to do so. What looks like roots at your base  are actually anchors that  hold you to another tree or shrub. Like any other plant you can flower & make seeds but additionally you can produce “pups,”vegetative clones from your base.

 

Welcome to air plants, genus Tillandsia of the Bromeliad family (pineapples are bromeliads).  There are approximately 650 types of Tillandsias that exist. They are the nonconformists of the plant world- maybe that’s why I love them. I had been vaguely aware of these plucky little plants from displays in specialty stores. My minor in college was botany I I always considered myself a plant geek. Then one of my 6th grade science students gave me an air plant on a holder that his mother made from a rock, wire & beads.  Instantly I was smitten.   iron Rockin airplant CR

I began to imagine the possibilities of other artistic applications to combine with air plants.   That was my last year of teaching before retirement.  I was looking for some kind of artistic endeavor to immerse myself in post teaching that could tie in my numerous interests and perhaps generate some additional income. Thus I created ArtisanAirplants, a creative business endeavor where I could combine my work in ceramics & found objects with Tillandsias. Up went an Etsy shop and entry into art shows.Tilly flower 3

Some months later I found myself with 200 or so of these unique plants that looked like they could have escaped from another planet.   I started designing pieces designed for a certain species of air plant in mind. Many of my ceramic air plant holders are intentionally twisted & bent playing off the whimsical qualities of the plants. My work often reminds people of something out of a Dr. Suess landscape.  I also like to juxtapose them with non- natural objects such as vintage tools & hardware.

On travels around Oregon & beyond I am always on the lookout for what universe has to offer me for my art. You might find me frequenting thrift stores & garage sales for unusual accessories. My kayak & backpack will often be loaded down with rocks and other interesting pieces of flotsam & jetsam to use for pieces. Treasure hunting is an integral part of my artistic process.

Spanish moss curtain

If you are a plant lover, one great thing about Tillandsias are that they are so small that you can have lots of them. They adorn several of my window sills, walls, and hang over my kitchen sink.  I have a living bathroom “curtain” made of Spanish moss. Kids love them.  I tell my kid customers that they are easier to take care of than a hamster.Deer SKull PE 3 crop

There is a sad misconception that abounds that Tillandsias need  little or no care. If you do decide to bring air plants into your home, please be aware that they need carecropped-monklady-1 similar to a  houseplant, ie proper lighting, ventilation, & watering.  The main difference is that since they forgo soil, you need to water them by soaking & misting.  Avoid buying from big box stores as they don’t know how to care for them properly.  You best bet is a specialty plant store or an online air plant company.  

Consider them the next time you go to buy a gift, for a loved one or yourself.  They will make happy company.