Wednesday, April 22, 2015

is this thing on?

Life has been strange, and strangely wonderful lately. First, I'm just gonna put something kinda uncomfortable out there. It may wreck your image of me as a highly successful potter. This year --so far--has been the very worst year for sales... ever, I think. I mean, in the 15 year history of my business. This month especially, April, has been the deadest month I've had in years.

I don't really want to go into it, I'm just mentioning this as a way to communicate my state of affairs. In a weird way I am grateful that things are slow, because it's giving me the freedom and the time to work on my new pieces, make some custom orders, and put time into other creative projects that I have going. I also think when my assistant left last year to move to Hawaii and I did not replace her, I was signaling to the Universe that I desire a change of pace. I feel like it's a transition time, for me, for my career-- if that's what it's called-- and that transitions are by nature temporary, challenging, uncomfortable, and what I'm feeling -- like I'm walking on a very high tightrope in a stiff breeze-- is normal and natural.

But goddammit, every once in a while I fucking freak out. I mean what the fuck?! Am I here? Am I alive? Is the internet working?! Is this thing on?!!!

I've been working out all kinds of strategies to deal with the anxiety. I'm doing yoga and meditating every single day, trying to overlay the chaos with a sheen of sanity. Ultimately I know that even if it's not temporary, this is somehow the new normal, being a wreck is not going to make it better. Being a wreck will make it harder and also make my husband miserable. He hates dealing with me when I'm a wreck.

I was having a small moment last week where I was feeling alone and adrift. Very quickly I wrote down some goals for the week, something to focus on and stay engaged rather than feel sorry for myself. I wanted to share them with you because I think these are all good goals to keep in mind if you are circling the drain:

  • Connect: with a stranger and with a friend. Write an email to someone you admire and tell them they are amazing. Even better, send them a postcard. I did both last week and it made me feel good. I also took the time to connect with a couple of friends who I've been out of touch with for too long.
  • Promote: something easy and something hard. The goal here was to get myself out of my comfort zone a bit when it comes to promoting. I can do my usual thing, but what about reaching out to a store, or to another artist and suggesting a collaboration, or submitting a story to a blog/website? This is hard for me, because I prefer to have people chase after me, but it gave me something to work on and feel like I was planting a seed or two. 
  • Finish: the thing you've dreaded and the thing you haven't made time for. We all know what that is in our lives. Get it done. You'll feel better.
  • Do: something for yourself and something for someone else. Taking care of oneself is the kindest thing any of us can do, and doing something for someone else is the next kindest. Make someone else's day while making sure you are taking care of yourself too.
And here, for your enjoyment, are some pictures of my some work that came out of the kiln last week. Yes, it's for sale, you can buy it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015


I am often asked where I get my inspiration for my work, or how I get myself inspired.

Every once in a while inspiration is just delivered to me like a divine gift. A completed piece will show up in my head that I immediately understand and have the wherewithal to go ahead and make, but those times are very rare. It is magical, and I can't depend on it.

I think there is an assumption that art gets made through this kind of inspiration almost 100% of the time, that's how it "should" be. It helps feed the image of the artist as a special and mystical being, an image that I admit I can kind of enjoy, but ultimately it's just dress-up. It's not real.

The inspiration question I am never good at answering, because I get the feeling that people want a formula, or a step-by-step set of guidelines on how to pull ideas out of the ether and render them into creativity, and I don't have a formula. I mostly just do my work and hope. I think the reward for work is inspiration. And the reward for inspiration is work. It's a continual feedback loop. But all kinds of things will interrupt this loop, and that's just the reality of living in an annoying and imperfect world.

The best I can do is look for the beauty in all things. This is a habit for me, I try to find it everywhere.  Since I live in a crowded, polluted, overtaxed city environment, I have had to expand my definition of beauty. In hillsides covered will oil storage tanks. In broken down industrial lots with a small patches of flowering weeds. In the peeling paint on the sides of buildings. In the remote and withdrawn faces of strangers. Finding beauty means withdrawing judgement, and letting go of other people's definition of beauty. And as creative people, that is the first thing we all need to do.

Friday, March 27, 2015

artist date

I have been holding myself accountable for making time for an artist date each month. The idea comes from Julia Cameron's The Artist Way, a book I've been using (and ignoring, and using again) since I was in my 20's. The idea is to get yourself out of your usual creative routine in the studio and go do something creatively fun, even indulgent. I actually scheduled a year's worth of artist dates in to my calendar back in January, so I have a monthly reminder.

Coming up with a "good" artist date with yourself-- and it has to be with yourself, no one else can tag along-- can be difficult, especially for me. I want to create a beautiful, inspiring, and revelatory experience for myself, which is waaaaaay too much pressure for a date, any kind of date. I have to remind myself every month that these dates are about forming a habit of taking time out to try something a little different, not necessarily about a single trans formative experience.

Yesterday I was especially desperate, a feeling that I have been experiencing a lot lately. Desperation may not be the worst feeling to have, but it ranks in the pantheon of worst feelings. I was feeling desperate because every idea I had for my date seemed boring. I was in super judgmental mode and I could not make a decision. Finally, I did what all desperate people do when they need an answer, and I simply asked google what I should do on my artist date.

I ended up bicycling to our local Rose Garden, which is about to go into full bloom. I went with Julia Cameron's suggestion that I color a mandala. Then I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for a mandala that I liked. Which made me feel desperate again, and decided to just make my own a la Maria Ramon. I made it with my Prismacolor pens, which have to be the best coloring tool on the planet. It was very satisfying, and fun. Exactly what an artist date should be.

The experience of trying to come up with the exact right date for myself brought me back around to the general problem I have of trying too hard, being a perfectionist, and then freezing myself through judgement. It's torture. When I got back to the studio in the later afternoon, one of my new, big tall pieces was waiting for me. I decided to be completely crazy and just give myself an hour to complete it. No thinking, no processing, just go. I needed to undo a creative clusterfuck I created a few days before when I was inspired by some fabric that was pale, almost translucent yellow with some white designs on top. I worked on the idea with a piece and then undid myself with judgement. I don't know how this one will turn out, but I'm happy I just did it.

Do you keep a regularly scheduled artist date with yourself? Do you know it's something you "should" do, but don't make time? Tell me about your experiences with the artist date.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

the big work

With my new work, I have a new desire to make big things. Big giant bowls, big wide plates, big tall vases. I've always tended to work small (figuratively, I mean that figuratively, really) and that's always worked for me. But my desire has suddenly changed. And still, despite my deep desire to make bigger stuff, I set myself a challenge last week to make some small pieces, including some really tiny "stash" boxes and tumblers. My thinking was to make some items with lower price points for broader appeal, and to also have some items where I might feel freer to experiment. With smaller pieces, maybe the stakes wouldn't be so high.

By Wednesday of last week, I was cranky, and I wasn't sure why. I felt bored, which was making me sad. I felt like I was hanging out with my new boyfriend who was totally excited by me the week before, but now he kept checking his phone while I was trying to talk to him. I have no idea why I always characterize my relationship with clay as if it's my boyfriend, other than it always lends me an apt metaphor.  By the time I went home that evening, I was utterly exhausted and felt like I was coming down with something. I've squeaked through the entire winter season without so much as a sniffle, and maybe I was due to go down. I went to bed at 7:30, which is awesome even when you are feeling fine.

The next day I felt completely healthy, but I wasn't all hopped up to go to the studio, and I realized it was because I had no desire to finish the work I had started. The small things, as it turns out, do not make me feel freer to play. The surface is so small, it makes me feel confined. I can't get into the details or highlight them because of the scale. Once I recognized that, I realized that right now, I can't worry about things like price points, or broad appeal, or making anything "low stakes", whatever the fuck that means anyway. I just need to make the work, and listen to that voice in my heart.

I am continually surprised and bemused that no matter how much I "know" something, like the importance of listening to the voice in my heart to guide my creativity, the storyteller voice in my left brain can easily override it without me even realizing it. That left brain voice is sooooo clever. It actually knows that if it disguises its voice to be all whispery and feathery, instead of being panicky or snide the way it usually is, I will probably mistake it for my creative voice and listen to it. And it got me.

Also, whenever I try to make something with the idea that somehow it will magically fatten my bank account, it always falls flat. Always. You would think after 15 years of being in business, I would know that, but sometimes the only way to know is to learn it over and over.

19.5 inches high
13 inches high

17 inches high

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

weird shame

I wanted to share some thoughts about my new work with you all. I've been posting images around on facebook and instagram, so you may have already some of it. I've been pretty good about uploading it to Flickr, so if you want to see what I have so far, you can check it out there. Oh, and I am slowly uploading it to etsy, so you can see buy it there too.

My work has always been a slow morph-- it changes over time but the basic thread is still there. With this new work, a lot has changed really quickly. My work has always been tightly controlled and restrained. For many years, that's how I wanted to express myself in what I made, and it worked for me. I got so much satisfaction from making everything just so. After my yearlong hiatus from making work, the point from where I started again was even more restrained, even more dependent on making every line, every mark just so-- just so perfect. It was fun, even satisfying to scratch that itch I have for perfection, but I really felt as though I was just treading over the same ground, just in a different part of the park.

The new work just comes from a deep need to let that go-- move on or spontaneously combust. I was really inspired by a visit to Alcatraz Island, where there was an exhibit of Ai Wei Wei's work happening. I found myself drawn not to Wei Wei's work, but to the old walls of the prison, which have been painted over many times, and through years of neglect and exposure to the elements, were peeling and chipping off, layer after layer. The dated institutional colors, different hues of blues and greens mostly, were absolutely beautiful to my eyes, and I wondered how I could re-create some of that look on my pottery-- the layers, the colors, the decay of it all.

I love this new work so much, and I feel really proud of it. Every kiln I unload makes me happy, there are very few pieces that come out that I don't love. And whatever imperfections they may have are part of the work, it makes it better, which is very unlike my older work, where small imperfections could really mess up the look of a piece. And I feel like this is the direction I need to go, the work that has been waiting to come out. An artist friend of mine said to me years ago that it was time for me to get down and dirty with my work, to not be so precious with everything I made. Her words stayed with me all these years, and I felt the urgency, but despite my skill and talent, I just didn't know how to do it.

This puts me in a strange spot with my older work right now. The standard collection that I've been pumping out for the past 7 years or so is all slip cast now, and I have made the decision that a lot of that collection is going to be discontinued-- the cupcake stands, the bird bowls and vases for starters, and probably other items as I get used to saying good-bye to this work. But it's still with me, taking up a lot of space in my studio, and sometimes the things people say to me about this work makes me feel strangely defensive and even ashamed. Another artist friend of mine said, "I loved your cake stands, but enough with the cute already! I like this new work so much better!"

I've had many comments from other people that they like this new work better than my older work. Which is nice, it's a compliment and I know that, and I totally agree with them, but it gives me this feeling that I've been walking around with my underwear hanging out, and everyone has known it, and now they can tell me since I finally tucked it back in. It's just this weird shame. And the shame has actually been with me for a while, before I even started my new work, because I think I haven't grown much as an artist or developed enough new work in the past 3-4 years. It's my issue, and I'm dealing with it, so if you are one of those people who have said something to about to me and are now feeling bad, please don't. I just think that shame is a corrosive thing, especially when you don't talk about it, so me talking about it right now is just part of my process. If you have any thoughts about shame, not developing as an artist or anything else, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

little demons down dark alleys

I'm always looking for new resources and tools to deal with myself-- my reactivity, my dark moods, my judgmental nature, my sense of entitlement, and my know-it-all attitude. That's only a partial list of this things I'm working on, by the way. I'm currently reading Pema Chodron's book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears. I love Pema Chodron because even though she is a long-time Buddhist nun and has written a bunch of books about Buddhist practice, she freely writes about what a deeply flawed person she is. Even Pema can be at a meditation retreat, yet go into a downward spiral if she feels disrespected or ignored. She gives me hope that even as I fail, I can still improve my outlook. She reminds me that no matter how much I fail on a daily basis, I must still be a friend to myself.

One of the things she keeps reminding me of throughout this book is the importance of pausing  throughout the day to take a few breaths, focus on what is happening in front of me, and connect to how I am feeling in that moment. As an experiment, I turned on my meditation timer, and set it to make a gong sound every 20 minutes throughout the day. When I hear the gong, that's my reminder to take a few breaths, refocus, and also to stop standing on the outside of my feet, which is one of my bad habits. It's been an effective way for me to stay connected to the moment, and not go off chasing my little demons down dark alleys while I'm working.

Then, it all went to shit when I messed up my knee last Friday. Lately, I have been getting really harsh injuries doing things like trying to get up off the couch, crouching down all the way, or reaching for a glass. Yes, I know, as we get older these things happen, but I'm not understanding why someone as young on the inside as I am still receives this treatment.

Right now, I can't straighten out my leg all the way and I can't stand or walk comfortably. Being thrown off balance in this way made me forget all about staying focused and in the moment, and I struggled with rage and depression all weekend at my lack of mobility. I thought about how difficult it's going to be to work, and how I may not be able to go back to yoga class for weeks where I am currently enrolled in a 4-month intensive class. I thought about how much knee surgery is going to cost and then felt momentarily blessed that I am now covered through obamacare before flipping back into fear about long-term recovery. I tried to do some very limited yoga and I forgot to breathe while I was stretching. I was just holding my breath, doing yoga. At some point, I realized I was doing breathless yoga.

Pema reminded me this morning that if I know I'm failing, I'm not failing, because I am aware of myself and what I am doing, and that is the biggest battle of all. And in that moment, I can just let it go.

Friday, January 30, 2015

how to be alone

I'm reading this book right now called "How To Be Alone" by Sarah Maitland. I picked it up on a whim at the bookstore. It has a beautiful bright blue cover with white lettering, and they had it set up right next to the cash register. I loved that they had it right there, because the title is very provocative. How to be alone. Most people don't like to be alone, and I wondered how many interesting questions were raised in people's minds when they looked at that title. I had a feeling many people were put off or annoyed. I felt an immediate kinship with the book, and impulsively bought it.

Even though I have a partner, and we've been together for over 20 years-- which is ridiculous--and married for 13 of those years, I still think of myself as alone on some level. We all are, of course, ultimately alone, so maybe it's just that, or maybe it's something else. In any case,  that's how I view myself, as an lone independent person. I work by myself, all day every day, and I like it like that. When I do have an assistant, I'm grateful for the help but ultimately annoyed by the intrusion of someone else in my work space. I prefer to work in solitude.

Perhaps the biggest problem with spending so much time alone is what can go on inside my head. The usual tear-down shit of undermining questions, unsolicited critiques, current resentments. But I've gotten really bored with all that. Mostly because I've started questioning the veracity of knowledge the voice in my head really has about anything. Like, I've always thought that voice in my head is me, feeding me thoughts and information that I need, but that's wrong. The voice comes from my consciousness, but it is not necessarily concerned with truth. It's most concerned with just keeping my attention, making itself important, and it mostly does that by trying to freak me out.

But I also think that the voice in my head is a way of trying to entertain myself. And even though I like being alone, maybe I'm not comfortable with just being at peace with myself. It's too boring. No drama. So the storyteller starts up, and I get carried away into a different place. Daydreaming. I've been practicing catching myself at it and trying to bring myself back into the present moment, because it's actually not boring to just be at peace, I'm just not used to it.  Daydreaming is just kind of a bad habit, a habit I developed early on to cope with actual boring situations, like school. And since daydreaming is an expected characteristic of being artistic, I've never questioned the idea that daydreaming is maybe not so good. That being alone in a healthy way perhaps requires also being a part of the present moment, and not your own private one.

While writing this, I googled "how to be alone" and there were all kinds of interesting links. Check it out. And what about you? Where are you at when it comes to being alone?