Thursday, March 07, 2019

not so sweet perfection

I have been working on a lot of new things in the studio. Probably too many new things, I have some serious backup in the brain and now it's all gushing out. I feel like after being in my new studio for a year -- A YEAR PEOPLE-- I'm finally getting into a groove.

 I'm missing the days when I used to have assistants to do all the little things that take so much time, like prepping items for shipment, mopping floors, or wedging clay. But, I also like the freedom and lack of obligation that comes with just working on my own. My only obligation is to the work, not to keeping someone employed. It's a huge responsibility to be a boss and I do not miss it. I just miss the bossing around part.

I have been working in a new clay body, a red clay called Navajo Wheel. Yes, it is insane to try and maintain a white porcelain studio while playing around with red clay, which stains everything it comes into contact with.  It's like making chocolate sauce in a marshmallow factory. But there is something delicious about this clay, its rustic feel.

I've been considering the meaning of "rustic" in my work. One of my challenges as an artist-maker person is I love to perfect an idea or concept. I will work that shit until it glows. And shines. And sparkles. And is perfect. So, so... so perfect. I can get carried away and not know that the horse I am relentlessly riding has lost its legs and doesn't want to go anymore.

What do I mean by that? I'm thinking of some ceramic artists, including myself, who have so perfected their processes, their style, and overall approach to making that the work has actually lost its energy, the static that makes it interesting. I will not name names because this is my own subjective opinion that has nothing to do with how other people feel about the work, it's something that I have noticed and have started considering as part of my own journey.

As a recovering perfectionist-- you are never fully recovered but always recovering-- it's important for me to always reckon with the costs of perfection and my internal desire for ultimate mastery over whatever I am doing. I have to consciously make the effort to kick a bucket of slop on my work in order to disrupt my drive for  sweet sweet  P E R F E C T I O N. It's a drug, straight to my brain. Kicking a bucket of sloppy red clay on my work forces me to try to tunnel my way out with a different approach. I creates energy in my work-- I think, I hope-- and keeps things always subtly changing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

simple design is not simple work

I got this email a while back:

I'm looking for a ceramic artist that might be able to make me some christmas gifts. I recently discovered *well-known potter's goddess ware* and I'm looking for something similar (I'd buy directly from her but they sell out sooo fast). I love how body-positive and woman-positive her pieces are and I love the simplicity of the design. Would you consider making a sketch of a couple pieces inspired by her work? I really like your work too, I'm pretty interested to see what you might come up with. Thanks for considering!

I immediately put this email in the trash so I would not be tempted to answer it, but then was thinking about it in the middle of the night. The way you think about all the things that are bothering you in the middle of the night. I pulled it out of the trash the next morning and tried to compose the perfect email. One that was devoid of snark and drained of hostility while declining the opportunity, and perhaps giving a little education on how this thing of ordering custom pieces from artists is supposed to work. 30 minutes went by before I realized there are no words in the English language that I can string together in the right order that would say what I needed to say without being snarky and hostile. Into the trash it went again. Thankfully, I have you people to rant to.

There are so many things wrong with this email. For starters, do I look like a fucking clay elf, sitting around my workshop, making sketches of work to see if I can tempt a customer to order something?  I will turn cartwheels and somersaults while I wait to see if you are interested in what I come up with! I immediately looked at the other artist's work of course, and literally the only thing we have in common is that we both make functional things out of clay. 

This is the thing, and the educational bit I was trying to get across, but couldn't: Every artist out there who has been able to work long enough to have a recognizable style has had to work for years to get there, refining their processes to get a consistent result that satisfies them.  This artist's "simplicity of design" has been achieved not because it is simple, it's that she is so skilled at what she does and makes it look simple.  Simple design is not simple work. 

I get that this person did not have bad intentions or wanted to insult me, which is why I did not unload on them... I'm unloading here. They are just supremely ignorant about how artists work and what moves us to make things. Or, more precisely, what moves me to make things. 

I love that moment when I am inspired by what other artists have made, it's like a light going on inside me. I live for that moment. It cannot be forced or manufactured. And when I try to force or manufacture it, I'm never happy with the result. It's not me, but a poor derivative of what someone else made way better than I did. I can't work like that, especially on purpose. Almost no artist can.

Lastly, if you are in love with what an artist makes but they are always selling out, then write to them directly and ask them to make something for you. This artist who makes the goddess ware has a contact page with an email address! Any artist who is trying to make a living recognizes that the people who hold up their hands and ask for your work are the people who really support and grow your business, and most are happy to oblige these people. Don't ask another artist to do it.

Friday, November 09, 2018

what next?

It's been over a year and a half since my mom died, and lately I've been feeling like my body is coming back down to earth. I've been feeling a little more grounded and ready to take on some things that seemed way too overwhelming even six months ago. I'm looking around, sort of the way I do when I wake up, and realizing there are many costs to the grieving process. You can't do anything about that, by the way. There is no way to grieve and not lose some shit along the way. I'm not saying you don't get some shit too, you do get something, just not the things you wanted.

The main cost to me, outside of losing my mom, has been losing my sense of direction in my work. For almost two years now I've been making stuff, it comes out of the kiln and often I have no idea why I made that thing. For example, I decided to make some whiskey cups. I spent some time coming up with a design, made them, and when they came out of the kiln I was like, "Why the fuck did I make these?" They are in no way an expression of anything I am interested in right now. I don't even LIKE whiskey. Why whiskey cups? I don't know, and I don't remember what I was thinking when I landed on the idea. I went and bought a bunch of mini succulents and planted them in the whiskey cups, which is a better use of these pieces as far as I'm concerned.

And yes, I know, they don't have to be WHISKEY cups, they can be any kind of small cup. No matter what you call them, I'm really not into making little cups.

My studio feels like a jumble of random thoughts and ideas, manifested in pottery. I spent a very long time the other day re-arranging my work on the shelf so it looked like one person worked there and not 7 different people. I was visually trying to link of the concepts and colors, which actually did make the display look better but does not solve the underlying problem. Or maybe it's a question: what next?

I know for starters, I do not want to make small work anymore. And I mean that in the physical sense, like whiskey cups and little condiment plates. And perhaps I also mean it in the metaphorical sense: I want to break out of the box I've put myself in. My comfortable, cozy, familiar little box. I want to make bigger work-- big giant bowls, big vases-- but I also want to make wall pieces and lighting and maybe weird ceramic furniture too. Also, I want to take my drawings and turn them into cards and other paper stuff. I've been saying this for a while, and now I'm saying it to you all because getting out of your box means being opening the flap enough to stick your head out and admit that it's time. It's accountability.

All of this makes me very uncomfortable, of course. And excited for what may be next, if I can ever get my shit together enough to make something new happen. Not having a cohesive collection of work makes me feel like I have not accomplished much in the past 18 months, which equals discomfort. While I don't think "accomplishing" was the most important thing I could be doing while I was in the depths of grieving my mother, I'll just say again that it was a cost. It's the price I had to pay. And the process is not over, but it is shifting into new territory. And it leaves me wanting a little more for my life.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

put aside all doubt

The studio has been ready to go for about two weeks. I still need to get a mailbox, for some reason there is not a mailbox or even a slot big enough to shove mail through my door. Weird? But the big long list of Stuff To Do has been knocked down, including getting privacy film up on my fishbowl windows, a task that really needs two sets of hands. But I did it myself because as we all know, I can't wait till my husband gets off work to help me.  Best of all, the banks of fluorescent lights are gone, replaced by some very cute and colorful pendants.

So, I'm all raring to get back to work, right? Not exactly. Yes, dying to work. But, don't know what I want to make. What I know for sure is that I am ready for a shift in my work. But I'm not sure what that looks like yet.

Right before my mom died, I was starting to think about new work and a whole new approach to my business. Months later, when I was back in my studio, I literally could not remember what that plan was, and I did not have the creative spirit to try and figure it out anyway. And I decided not to ride myself about that because clearly, it was not the time to develop new work. But now I'm in my new studio, in a new town, and I feel ready, but I'm also slightly overwhelmed by all of the new things. I love my new life, I'm just not quite used to it yet.

I'm preparing my first firing for next week with some stuff that I made, and of course it's just been torture hour day after day, trying to figure out how to find some satisfaction in making these pieces, trying to find some new expression, and questioning my ability to do so. My ego has been pounding me, which is just making my creativity want to go take a nap until that guy shuts up. WHO CAN WORK WITH ALL OF THIS YAKKING GOING ON?!

It was a hard weekend, lost in these thoughts during the day, then trying to work it out in uncomfortable dreams at night. Have you ever tried to fire in a kiln that is loaded into the back of a truck that is traveling over bumpy, windy, hilly roads? I have. In my bad dreams.

Then I decided that this is a terrible way to live. The only way to make new work is to keep making work, any kind of work, and not thinking about it. And I can't make new work if I'm staring at a piece for 30 minutes, trying to get the nerve to make a move on it. Trying to be fresh. Trying to be a genius. Just trying too hard. The only goal is this: put aside all doubt, and make some shitty work.

 It's not so bad, actually, and it's a start.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

toxic impatience

I got my new studio keys about three weeks ago and have been completely moved in to my new space for about a week. There have been many hurdles to overcome and the list is still long. The first thing I did when I had the keys in hand was to go in and pull up the gross, stained, stinky industrial carpet. What was under there? Perhaps I would find buried treasure in the form of a hardwood floor? What I found was... another layer of even worse carpet, that was glued onto ancient linoleum tile, which was glued onto a wood floor of some kind. As I contemplated the thousands of dollars this was about to cost, Sara Paloma's husband, Tom, immediately started doing some research and came up with the idea of using plywood sheets as a floor. He even volunteered his Sunday to help me and my husband install it, right over the carpet. Kind of genius.

 I'm not going to get into the other pending issues such as the electrical (needs to be upgraded) or the ugly fluorescents that make me feel mildly suicidal (just mildly, not enough to start planning anything), the floor to ceiling windows that leave my workspace completely exposed (anyone ever played around with that window glaze in a can?) and my general sense of dislocation and discombobulation. Frankly, buying a house and moving to a new city has been nothing compared to moving my studio.

Then there was the actual moving part. The truck I ordered was not big enough, which became apparent after the movers were about halfway through filling it up. Then, I locked my keys in the studio when we were about to leave, requiring an emergency rescue from my landlords who, thank god, answered their phone on a Sunday morning.

After that it was multiple trips with a friend's borrowed truck to move more of my studio stuff. One day I loaded the back with my Ikea lockers and a table and made my way back to Vallejo. Once I started unloading the truck, I realized something horrifying: one of the lockers was missing. No, I didn't leave it behind, it blew out of the back of the truck. This despite the fact I had plenty of tie-downs and I was even silently congratulating myself on really getting the hang of tying stuff down as I secured the back of the truck before leaving Oakland. I immediately completely freaked out. Like, bad. I'm going to cut to the end of the story: it didn't kill or harm anyone, and it didn't cause an accident. But it could have.

This event forced me to reckon with something else that has been shadowing me over the past weeks: my toxic impatience and general lack of care when I'm trying to accomplish tasks. My body is currently covered in bruises because of running into things and bashing myself during both moves. I had a nasty blood blister on one of my fingers from hitting it with a hammer. I've tumbled off of ladders and down stairs trying to do too much. Even before this losing-a-locker incident I was telling myself to be more careful, I was going to hurt myself if I wasn't. Instead, I almost hurt somebody else, which is far worse.  

After I recovered from that whole thing, I have been doing the work it takes for to me to accept that things are kind of fucked right now, and that's okay. In fact, it's nothing. All of it will taken care of in a timetable not of my preference, and I will somehow survive. No more rushing, no more pushing harder than necessary.

Monday, February 19, 2018

it's up to the kids

I remember where I was and what I was doing when I found out about the Columbine shooting. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were checking out a fitness club we were thinking of joining in Oakland, and we were getting a tour of the facilities. There was a television on over a group of treadmills, and I could see that there was something very wrong happening on the screen. There were kids jumping out of what looked like a school building, and that building did not appear to be on fire. Other groups of kids seemed to be running for their lives, flanked by police and people in SWAT gear. I stood there, watching the TV, while I slowly started to absorb the information, this event that had taken place just a few hours before.

The horror and diabolical nature of that shooting has stayed with me all these years, as it has for many. The mass shootings have continued, gaining in velocity and violence, with shooters seemingly using Columbine as a point of reference. Our societal response has taken on an equally horrifying and repetitive nature. An iconography of grief and outrage, familiar to all, played by our media for consumption and diversion.

The result is a peculiar numbness that has taken hold. It comes from the lack of change in our system while all indicators point to an overwhelming need for change. It's a system that has ground to a halt when it comes to addressing the realities of violence and guns in the United States.

I don't know what it is about the shooting that just happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but I felt it right away this event could shift the dynamic, that an opportunity may have been created. The only people who have any moral authority in this situation to force some kind of change are the kids who have been affected by school shootings.  They are smart enough-- kids today are so damn smart-- to realize the grownups aren't doing their jobs, and haven't been for a while. The people in charge have given up and given away their power, to corporations, to lobbies, to anyone who promises to help them keep their jobs. It's the kids who have to lead.

I hope we are at the beginning of a major youth revolt. All of the pieces are in place: the adults who are running things are out of step with the younger generation on just about every issue that matters, and they are making decisions that risk the future. The young people know it. They are equipped to do something about it, and I believe they will be formidable. Their passion and level of articulate rage puts to shame the one-dimensional, paper thin assurances of our governing bodies that they will consider change. I don't think it's up to them anymore, they have already lost everything that matters. It's up to the kids.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

short takes

I have so much I want to write, and exactly no time or space in which to write it all at this particular juncture. Here are some short takes, and at some point in the near future I will be able to be more expansive, more reflective, and say some more. But for now:
  • I found a new studio in Vallejo, in the Old Town area directly across the street from Temple Art Lofts. It is just a tad smaller than my old space, and just a tad more expensive, but it feels just about right. It looks and smells like an insurance office with a slight mold problem (I am chalking that up to being all windows on one side with the door being closed for months while the owners find a new tenant) and I plan to do some major transformational work on it over the next 2 weeks. Sage will be burned, spells will be cast, carpet will be pulled, and contractors harassed. Wow, that's a poem I think.
  • In my spare time I have been working for a friend of mine as a hired gun, throwing production pottery for her restaurant tabletop business that has been in the weeds on orders. Remember last year when I was so fucked up over my mom's death that I thought I needed to get a job? Well, I didn't necessarily get one, but working as a potter mercenary--- which I may put in as "occupation" on my taxes this year--  is the closest I've come to legit employment in almost 20 years. And it's not even close to legit,  just a day here and a day there when I feel I can spare a day to make some real bucks as I try to figure out what the hell I'm doing next. This gig has reminded me of a few things:
    1. The joy of throwing pots.
    2. The importance of asking for help. My friend waited until she was having nervous breakdown before she asked me to help her, and implied the she "knew" it was beneath me to do this kind of work. Little does she know that this work is so healing for me right now, and it gives me such pleasure to not only help a friend, but get paid quite well while doing so.
    3. The satisfaction of mastery, of becoming aware and awake to endlessly repeated acts and finding something new to appreciate. When I go in to her studio I usually throw over a hundred items and when I leave my mind is empty and I feel totally calm.
  • I read a book that I think all people-- not just artists-- need to read, The War of Art. It says a lot of things I've already said, time and time again, about the craft of creating stuff, and it's written by a guy who has done the work, and it's a good reminder to me on how to get shit done. You can read it in a few hours and it's well worth it. Though there was one thing that really annoyed me about this book, and it's a reflection of its time, published in 2002, which in current warp speed time is basically 100 years ago. The author uses "she" in place of "he" a lot, to show that he understands women make art too, and are probably the biggest audience reading his book. And that's all well and good and inclusive. But almost every example he uses of people actually making art or otherwise making things happen-- you know, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Maugham, Tiger Woods, and about 20 other examples that I don't have time to look up while I write this-- are all men. And right about now I'm pretty sick and tired of reading about men's accomplishments. We know, we know. Dear Steven Pressfield: time for a second edition.
  • I have been really happy lately. I don't understand a lot of things, including my own moods, but I have been finding a lot of happiness the past few months. I love my new (old, very old) house. I love that my husband and I, who are consummate slackers, managed to buy it together without fighting, and we are fixing it up together without drama. I am proud that I jumped through every hoop the bank put in front of me and got the money we needed to make it happen. I love that I am in a new community that is totally strange to me, and I am an outsider. I love that I am meeting lots of new people. I love planting a new garden. I love the motorcycle club that is two blocks from my house that hosted a rally on saturday night with dozens and dozens of riders on their stupid Harleys making so much noise that I woke up in the middle of the night confused about what the sound in the air was. I think I'm starting to get it. Life is hard, but it's also limited. The stuff that I stress about basically doesn't matter. My people matter the most, and they are good, which means I'm good. For now.
That's probably enough for now. I'm going to be moving out of my studio over the next week, and then I will find some new things to write about. Here are some pictures:

one of 40.
a peaceful domestic scene.

new studio.