Thursday, July 10, 2014

new work this weekend

A little last minute self-promotion: this weekend (July 12 + 13) is the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. I will be there. Booth116. With a bunch of new work! And maybe a new dress if I can find some time to zip out somewhere and pick one up. I hope to see you there. Don't forget your sunblock.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

little fame rush

I'm having a little fame rush right now. I was recently interviewed in front of an audience by Ben Carter for his Tales of a Red Clay Rambler podcast, and it was posted yesterday. You can listen to it right here. The conversation centers around writing on a blog, using social media as an artist, burnout, and what it means to share your world with customers and fans. I get a little tongue-tied sometimes, that's why I like writing so much.  I listened to myself talk and I only winced a couple of times. I'm like most people-- I hate the sound of my recorded voice, but somehow the voice I heard didn't sound like my voice so I was okay with it. I have a moratorium on self-hate right now and listening to yourself talk for an hour without wanting to punch your own self in the face is a pretty good test.

Listening to the interview I had a few moments of wishing I had elaborated on a few things or shared some more thoughts. It was like listening to an interview where you are thinking, "Ask this question! What about that, ask about that!" Only I was thinking, "Answer this! Why didn't you talk about that?!"

I'm going to listen to the interview again and take some notes on things that I want to elaborate on, and I will write a post about it, or maybe a few if I need to.  If you listened to the interview and you have some follow-up questions or something you want me to talk more about, please feel free to post here or send me an email. I said in the interview, and I will say it again here, that part of my mission is to share as much information as possible about running a pottery business, making a living as an artist, and all the challenges that go with that. I want to be a resource of support and information, so send me your questions or share your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

the rush hour of life

I heard an expression the other day: "We are in the rush hour of life right now." It refers to people in mid-life who are busy raising the next generation, working their asses off at whatever job they're doing, making big money decisions around buying a house or how to invest retirement money, and caught in a metaphorical traffic jam with everyone else doing the same thing.  Inching forward, honking their horn, anxious to get where they are going.

I feel slightly outside of this rush hour because I can avoid the literal rush hour-- my studio is a 30-second walk from my front door-- and I've managed to dodge a lot of adult responsibilities that other people take on, like mortgages and kids. But I still feel a lot of pressure to accomplish and to get things done, and it makes me anxious.

I'm going through an anxious period right now. I have a lot of ideas for work, things I want to make, and I want to corral all of these ideas into a nice long list titled "Things to Make." But the ideas will not be organized in this fashion. Every time I try to sit and make a written list or even draw pictures, I get so bored I forget what I'm doing. And boredom is my kryptonite, so it seems pretty useless to try and control the process in this way. Something in me wants to stop thinking, and start making.

But I feel rushed. I just want to be making stuff in the studio all the time to quell this feeling of rush and anxiety. The late spring light makes it easy to work later and later and I even found myself trying to get into the studio to work over the weekend, which I know is a habit that leads to workaholism, which leads to burnout. I keep asking myself, what is the rush? What is the point of rushing anyway? What is the good in rushing through anything, which is ultimately rushing right toward the end of our lives and death?

Being rushed is mindless. It's answering the call to our most ego-driven self which wants to accomplish and get ahead, literally and figuratively. Ask yourself right now: are you being a thoughtful person when you are trying to rush? Are you truly engaged in the flow of life around you or are you trying to frantically swim faster than the current is carrying you?

Having the presence of mind to not rush is the opposite, it's mindful. It's taking the time to question our deadlines, our timelines, and what we are truly trying to accomplish. I'm usually running a few minutes late whenever I go anywhere, and as is my habit, I rush to get to my destination. But I've stopped speeding through yellow lights because I want to remind myself to give every task the time it needs and deserves. Trying to shave off 40 seconds is crazy.

I have a hard time believing in any kind of god I've been told about. But I've always felt a presence of a creative force in my life, which can feel like the highest, most enlightened version of myself, compassionate yet completely detached from the things which drive me. Whenever I start displaying symptoms of rushing-- heart rate elevated, chest and face tightening, snappishness-- I ask this presence for help.  The same thought comes beck to me every time I ask, "You are right where you are," which reminds me that yes, I am where I am and also, right in where I am. I'm right where I'm supposed to be, even if my ego thinks differently.

Friday, May 16, 2014

lack of gratitude

This is a gratitude tree in my neighborhood.
I found it on my walk two days ago.
I've been thinking about gratitude, and the lack of it I've been feeling lately. I'm catching myself having a lot of unpleasant thoughts with a whiny edge. Things like wondering why a person didn't write me back to place a possible order, instead of thinking about the person who did just place an order for the exact same thing. Or worrying about a super slow week on Etsy and thinking it's all over for me, I'm washed up, instead of thinking about the super fat order I got off my website. Or wanting to resist a deadline and feeling like it's impinging on my work, instead of thinking about how it's all a part of my work and how fortunate I am to have meaningful work at all.

I think these are are pretty normal thoughts and I don't expect to be a perfect person and not have them. But I'm just noticing how crappy it makes me feel when I whine to myself, or when my ego starts squawking that I deserve better, more, now. It's been worse lately since I am going through a transition with my work, I've made choices to not take on so many orders, and I'm uncomfortable with it since I have no idea where that's going to land me financially over the next few years. Or artistically. Or anything else.

The man who planted it told me it's
been there since the recession
started almost 5 years ago.
There's part of me that has complete faith that the changes I've made in my work and personal life are going to take me where I need and want to go, and that place will also bring me more peace and a deeper expression in my art. And there's another part of me that craves success in the form of wider recognition, steady accolades, and financial rewards. This part of me can be very ego-driven and is never satisfied with what I have. It takes my ego about 2 minutes to forget the good thing that just happened to me and start demanding more. It makes me feel tremendously ungrateful.

It's very annoying and emotionally draining to listen this voice and for a while I was smacking it around and telling it to shut the fuck up. Well, that never works, the voice just gets louder. I've been doing some reading on the study of gratitude, the tremendous benefits it brings to your life in the form of better health and more happiness.  The recommendation to feel more gratitude is to simply keep a gratitude journal, write a few things down every day that you are grateful for.

I couldn't believe I didn't notice it
until a couple of days ago.
I've done this before for a few days, and then I lose interest or focus. But since I am trying to detoxify myself from ingratitude, I took this as an opportunity to buy myself a new notebook and get serious about it, and I've been writing 5 things in the morning, in the afternoon, and again before I go to bed. I'm committing to doing this everyday for at least a month, and I'm hoping it has a positive long-term impact on my attitude.

I'm feeling gratitude right now that I have people who read my blog. I'd love it if you would help me with my gratitude work over the month by telling me what you are grateful for.

Monday, May 12, 2014

happening now, coming up

I have been lost in my world of clay, which is better than being lost in my own head.

I've been working on these random pieces that I put together into a collection and called it the Pretty Random Blossom collection. The whole reason why it came about is because when I was finally getting my hands back in clay earlier this year, I couldn't get started. I didn't know where to start. You think that feeling inspired means you know exactly how to direct that energy, but I didn't. Every idea I came up with didn't seem right for the moment. Okay, I'll be honest-- every idea seemed to suck and I shot it down with my judgement gun. I have so much ammo, I will probably never run out. So I froze myself in place, couldn't do anything... you guys know how that one goes.

I finally had to have a serious talk with myself about judgement and the importance of just having some fun. There were tears. I started throwing these "clay pancakes" just so I could play around with some drawing and mishima.  I started like that because the pancakes had very little value so there was no weight to whether or not they came out "right". Those pieces morphed into some pretty little plates. I also had some fun doing mishima on some flower-shaped bowls, sort of a new twist on an old idea. I did a few rounds of throwing and glazing, and put them up on my website and sold most of the pieces within 24 hours, which was so great and gave me a glimmer of hope that I am not totally washed up yet.  You can see the whole collection here. Though some of my favorite pieces did not make it through the firing which made me feel doomed. But then, I got over it. I always do.

Some of the best pieces are still there. I am obsessed with scallop edges right now. Actually, I have always been obsessed with scalloped edges. I love carving them, I love looking at them.

I love the ridiculous raised dogwood centers on this tray. 

I have always loved mishima but never tried to incorporate it into my work, it really hits all my OCD buttons in a good way.

What's coming up is I'm going to be interviewed by Ben Carter of the Red Clay Rambler podcast on May 17. It's going to be a live deal where people can come and watch because that's exactly how much of an attention whore I am. But really, the subject of the evening is social media, telling your story, crafting a voice online, and marketing. So if you show up, you can ask questions and be a part of the conversation. Tickets are 10 bucks but if you are a student, you can get a free ticket. There will be an after-party where we can all mingle and drink Lagunitas beer. Seating is limited, so get your tickets here. Hope to meet you there!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

never starving

Since I am an artist, I hear the term "starving artist" more than the average person, and it creates a deep fission of annoyance in my heart and mind every time. It's the term itself, and the way people say it.

Sometimes it's said casually, which shows the speaker is not thinking about it, just taking the myth as an understood truth. Sometimes with an edge of derision of self-righteousness, as if the artist in question-- or maybe all artists-- asked for starvation by choosing art and will get what they deserve. Sometimes it's said with earnestness, and this is the worst, because it often comes from other artists who think they must suffer in order to be an artist. Or their current low economic status is correct and will never change.

Also, I deeply dislike what the term implies: that for anyone to choose to be an artist in this world of practical need and hard realities means you will go hungry, not be able to provide for yourself, and suffer deeply.

I have a client, a good, longtime one, who discussed with me how his daughter wants to be an artist but he has persistently tried to steer her into a profession where "she can make some money." When I suggested she could make money making her art, he waved me off.  No no, honey, people don't make real money doing what you do, is the message I got from the encounter. Never mind he's handed over hundreds, if not thousands of his dollars to me for my art.

Artists don't starve, they are too creative and smart for starvation. They figure out a way to survive before they starve.

I understand the starving artist myth is a metaphor, and I find it to be an supremely annihilating one. The metaphor implies that creativity is of the lowest value in our culture, unless it directly serves the culture in the form of generating money. Lots of it. And that people who choose to be artists are of similarly low value.

I think the metaphor persists because people understand there's truth in there, but it's backwards-- it's the culture that is actually starving for artists, dying for beauty, gasping for the meaning art brings to us. I believe there is a deep fear of articulating the truth of this because of the long hard look we would have to take at the way we live now, which debases and profits off the destruction of the most beautiful, valuable things we have.

I encounter people all the time who wanted to be an artist, but because of parental and or/cultural pressure, chose to go into a money-making or conventional profession.  And because their true calling has been denied and they are not creating for us, for the world, we all starve. What beautiful works have not been made, what deep truths have not been uncovered, what leaps of evolution have not been made because the people who would have brought that to us were coerced and intimidated into serving another calling?

For those of you thinking right now "real" artists will always yield to their calling, we haven't lost anything, I say bullshit.

I aim this post directly at teachers, parents, and other people who have any kind of authority over young people's lives. I want you to ask yourself how you respond when a young person says they want to be an artist when they grow up. Do you say, "Artists have really hard lives"? Do you say, "I hope you plan to learn something practical too so you have something to fall back on"? Do you say, "How do you plan on making money by being an artist"? Then I want you to recall what you wanted to be when you grew up, and try to feel how it would feel to hear those words when you stated your intention. I think that not many people who read my blog would say any of those things, but maybe you know someone who would, or has. Send this post to them.

I wonder what would happen if people let go of this myth. What if every child who stated they wanted to be an artist was met with "What kind of artist do you want to be?" What kind of new world could we create with that simple response?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

signs of burnout

I have been a little bit off the radar-- no newsletter the past two months, one blog post, very little on the social media network--but there is a lot of things happening behind the scenes right now.

As I step back into a routine of making pottery-- and I use the word "routine" very loosely here because for every day I manage a whole day at the studio there is probably a week of barely getting in there-- I've been re-imagining and and re-designing a bunch of components that make up my creative life. My creative life is also the engine that powers my livelihood, so it's a lot of work. Everything from redesigning my website, business cards, and the way I process the orders I receive; to deeper work around the way I create, how I approach my work, and what I put into the world.

I recently hired a business/life coach to help me stay on track with all of these different paths, because it gets pretty thick and I don't know what I'm doing.  I just know where I want to be. But I keep running into this question: where is the joy? Right alongside that question is: are we having fun?

Joy and fun are the reasons why I started making pottery. It was fun, that gave me joy. I never questioned whether or not it was a good idea to turn pottery into a money-making enterprise. When I was in the process of creating my business, I was in my 20's and if someone had asked me that question, I would have thought the question was stupid. Why shouldn't you make money doing the very thing that brings you so much happiness? It would have never occurred to me that there would come a day when making pottery could be as much of a grind as cubicle work (whatever that is) and I would be as worn out and empty as any other person burned out on teaching, lawyering, climbing the corporate ladder, or working any job that requires us to show up day after day.

My coach asked me for my personal signs of burnout, and here they are:

  • Boredom: not excited by the work I am making.
  • Resentment: toward difficult customers, toward the work I have to do, toward pieces not coming out as planned.
  • Rushing: trying to get it over with rather than being present with the process.
  • Procrastination: we all know that one. Procrastination equals avoidance.
  • Anger: when anger starts replacing my other emotions, like sadness, I become a ball of fury that is downright dangerous. Cars get kicked when they cut me off on my bicycle, fights get picked with people who can kick my ass, the cat starts hiding under the bed, my husband wonders why he ever married me. 
I doubt these signs are unique to me.

What I'm learning about myself is that I take my creativity for granted, I use it up. I'm like a teenager who borrows the parent's car and burns all the gas with no thought, because the assumption is the parents will just re-fill the tank. And they do, until they get totally sick of being taken advantage of.

I've started feeling pretty sad for my inner artist, who gives and gives and gives to the taskmaster-- me-- and is rarely rewarded with the things that will keep her inspired. I'm a hard-ass boss. The more I look at that picture, the more I don't like it. I want to protect my inner artist at all costs, always yielding to that little voice that pipes up, "I think I've had enough for today, let's go have fun somewhere else." Yes, sometimes that voice pipes up at 11 in the morning.

I know a lot of artists and creative types read this blog, so what do you do to keep your inner artist flowing,? Or are you just a taskmaster too?