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?

Friday, December 12, 2014

slow ceramics

It's been an unusual holiday season for me, in that it has been remarkably slow. This has been by design. Of course I love the holiday bump and the attendant swelling of my bank account. What I don't love is the pressure cooker of holiday shopping, the timeline of trying to get handmade items to people by Christmas or Santa will explode and ruin every one's day.

I decided not to do any shows at all this year, with the exception of my own Open Studio and a pop-up I'm doing with friends. And I also decided that I would not participate in any Black Friday or Cyber Monday promotions by offering free shipping or other discounts. All those things do is create a bunch of extra work for myself, at a discount. One could argue that the value of these promotions is reaching new customers, and even though you are not making as much money per item, you are making it in bulk, which disguises the net loss.

But I oppose it on a philosophical level. Black Friday is nothing more than a media invention designed to panic people into spending money, and it has always disgusted me. I don't see why artists and makers should be participating in it when what we are offering is the very opposite of that kind of mindset. I just can't handle the dissonance of it anymore, and this is the year where I checked out. Cyber Monday, while not as gross on the face of it since it doesn't involve people getting squished to death in a Wal-Mart toy aisle, is still of the same ilk, designed to concentrate purchases on a single day to measure consumer spending.

I did have a sale on my own website, which I figured would reach my current customers and fans who keep an eye on what I do. Those are the people I want to reach, give a discount to. My customers are the ones who keep my business going all year. I don't have a business that needs bulk holiday sales to see me through the year, and I don't see why I should be selling discounted work to what usually amounts to a bunch of one-time customers.

All of this high-minded thinking has created the slowest holiday season I've ever had, which has given me moments of pause, but I feel like it's totally worth it. I've not worked any weekends, broken down into stress tears, or had unpleasant email exchanges with people who don't understand the term "made-to-order." I've been able to create an oasis of calm in my studio, to actually enjoy the season as we head toward the darkest day of the year.

And I'm creating a whole new body of work right now, and I'm completely immersed in it. The holidays are a side note to me compared to what I'm doing in the studio. The work is crazy labor intensive, taking hours and even days to produce a piece, which is the polar opposite of what I've been doing for years with running a production pottery.  It's slow ceramics, slow making, and I am loving it. The pleasure is so deep, and it's a pleasure I have not experienced in years. Because I also love selling my work-- a lot of it--I will probably figure out how to put some of these pieces into production and make them more widely available, but for now, I just want to ride this wave.



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

make it mighty ugly

I've been noticing lately that I've been falling back into workaholic habits: long hours at the studio, sneaking over there on the weekends to finish pieces, cutting lunch short so I can get back to work, and feeling agitated when things come up that take me out of the studio. Like last week, I woke up Tuesday morning to an eye that was swollen almost shut. I was diagnosed with preseptal cellulitis and given an antibiotic. The next day I woke up with both eyes swollen and an ugly rash on my face, neck, arms, and legs. Allergic reaction to the antibiotic. My left eye was so swollen I could barely see out of it, so I slapped a bandage over it and went to work. With no depth perception. I realized at the time that was not the right thing to do for myself, and I should be home resting. But really, I am so into what I am making these days that I am indulging the workaholic for now. Frankly, I'm just happy to know that I can still be this excited about clay again.

Something broke open for me about 6 weeks ago or so. I listened to an interview with Kim Werker, who wrote a book called Make It Mighty Ugly. Apparently, it's a book she wrote just for me, all aimed toward my personal demons: perfectionism, fear of failure, stopping before I start because of the voices in my head, blah blah blah. I've had several people tell me that I need to make something ugly, to get past that shit, and I resist that idea so much. But the way Kim talked about it made me realize that it's not about making something ugly on purpose, it's about making something and not being afraid that it will be ugly.

I've been drawing and making designs on pots for a while, and I know I can make something really beautiful and nice to look at. But there is something about these designs that bore me to death. It started when I was working on my grandma's urn last year: I made the urn with a perfectly designed trillium flower all around, and I hated how it looked. So perfectly boring. My hand, almost on its own, scratched it up. I liked it much better, and left it at that.

This year, I've been working on mishima concepts, and I really love the process. It's insanely labor-intensive, but the results are lovely and I'm having fun re-interpreting my work through this new design process. But, I'm running into that same wall of things looking perfectly boring. The work, though enjoyable and beautiful, feels like a dead end design-wise.

I had a couple of pieces in the studio that I had reserved for "fun". Meaning I could do whatever I wanted with them and they didn't need to fit into any category of work that I've made before. I kept pulling the pieces out, and just staring at them. Nothing was happening. Weeks went by. It wasn't until I listened to Kim that I was able to pull those pieces out and do the work. I still struggled with the voice telling me to not screw it up, but I worked through the first wall and made some work that was kinda ugly, and it helped push me to a different level.

The main thing I got out of it was to not judge the process or the work-- not before, during, or after. Judging is a preclude to letting the voices take over and shutting down the creative process. A couple of weeks ago I had an idea to make some small dishes carved out like Art Deco roses. Immediately the voices started in on how the concept was too simple, too obvious. Judge judge judge. I was able to override the voices and make the pieces anyway, and it is their very simplicity that makes them so awesome. I finished some other pieces last night and I was having that anxiety around feeling like they were not the way they "should" be. I caught myself judging, and stopped. The work is just what it is. It has no intrinsic value one way or the other other than to teach me about what I want to do next.

And fuck it anyway. I have Open Studio this weekend and the work is going to be finished and shown no matter what. Come see me if you can!


Monday, November 03, 2014

caterpillar wrangler

I have not posted the past couple of weeks because I have a new obsession, and I think you all are going to be as fascinated by it as I am. My new obsession is caterpillars. Specifically, monarch butterfly caterpillars.

I've been into the Monarch migration for a long time, and I'm extra immersed in the Monarchs this year. The Monarch migration is on right now, and if you follow me at all, you know I did a paper cut Monarch butterfly installation in the window of Marion and Rose's Workshop a month ago.  I've been fixated on translating the peculiar overwintering habits of Monarchs into art for years. The overwintering habitat is an art installation in itself, and trying to express it in art has been an ongoing challenge for me. Butterflies have a certain quality that can be read superficially as merely decorative, the most extreme feminine side of nature. When I see butterflies used in art or craft, it often comes off as cute, pretty. It's rare to fine interesting art created with butterflies. It's a problem that I perhaps created in my own mind, and have been trying to puzzle out for years.

Recently, I was visiting a popular destination for overwintering West Coast Monarchs at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz. I've visited many times, especially back when I actually lived about 5 minutes away. For the first time, I went into the educational center there, and as I was looking at different breeds of milkweed flower (the ONLY food Monarch caterpillars eat), shitty t-shirts and baseball caps with Monarchs on them (I get that people buy this stuff and the money goes to supporting Monarch habitat and education, but could someone please create something that is actually wearable?) and little books and pamphlets on Monarchs, I was drawn to a live milkweed plant that was in the Center, and to my surprise, I saw a live Monarch chrysalis hanging on branch, along with a live caterpillar.


The feeling I had in that moment was both a feeling of recognition-- I knew immediately what I was looking at-- along with shock at how beautiful it was. The Monarch chrysalis looks like plastic. It's smooth, with a sheen that you don't often see in nature. And the most amazing part is that it HAS GOLD ON IT. A line of golden beads, and then flecks of gold around the base, just to totally blow your mind.

After that visit, it took a couple of days to sink in, but one day as I was walking to my studio, I realized that the milkweed plants that are scattered all over my neighborhood-- thanks to one neighbor on our street who planted a butterfly friendly native habitat in their front yard-- may have some Monarch caterpillars on them.

Let's just say that my morning was hijacked by caterpillar collecting, and I now have a full indoor habitat for Monarch caterpillars. I am currently hosting 15 caterpillars in various stages of development, from just hatched babies to big fatties ready to pupate to chrysalis pods that will be hatching butterflies in a few days. I hunt them everyday on my block and it's rare that I don't find at least one.

You may ask why I have this going on in my house. Because I can. It's safe and easy to raise butterflies indoors. Going from a caterpillar to a butterfly is a dangerous and tenuous business, and in an urban environment like mine with lots of predators raising them inside can help with their survival rate. I'm doing my part to make sure the butterflies survive. Mind you, I can't be bothered with a human baby or anything. But the butterflies, I can get behind that.

Watching the caterpillars go about their daily business is better than any TV or facebook feed. I find myself standing around in the kitchen, just watching them for 20 straight minutes. There are times when they all seem to be sleeping, and other times when they are all eating. Keeping them supplied with fresh milkweed leaves is a twice a day chore, it's like trying to supply a Roman banquet.

If you want to keep up with my 'pillars, I've been posting images on Twitter with the hash tag #MonarchCircus. If you live in coastal California,  you may want to think about looking around your own neighborhood for caterpillars and hosting a few of your own. Just don't go on vacation without hiring someone to bring them daily batches of fresh milkweed.


Friday, October 17, 2014

life near the epicenter

Today is the 25 year anniversary of the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that was centered near Santa Cruz where I was living back in 1989. It's an event that was a major turning point in my life, and this week as the anniversary was approaching, I felt the need to write about it again. It's on site called Medium, and you can check it out here.