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.
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.
On Feb. 21st I had the pleasure of watching “And Still I Rise,” a phenomenal new documentary about the life of Maya Angelou. Years ago I read & loved I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings & some of her poetry- but until I watched this program, I truly didn’t understand her greatness. This poem was inspired from this experience.