Monday, December 18, 2006

perfect : not perfect

Trying to solve an old problem can often create new ones, and then in the process of trying to solve the new problem, a whole new idea can emerge. A while back I wrote about trying to solve the problem of efficiency with my dogwood pieces. I have been experimenting with sculpting the dogwood flowers separately from the piece rather than sculpting them directly onto the piece, then attaching them after they have been glazed. Well, it's still in the testing phase, because sometimes it comes out perfect, sometimes... not perfect.

The main problem is the flowers sliding off during the firing. I mostly solved this problem by throwing the bowls flatter on top so the flowers don't have a little hill to slide down. But still, I have this piece that's great except for the flower hanging off the side. I know some people will find this charming and buy it anyway, but then there's this empty spot where the flower was. And then on a couple of pieces, the flower started to slide down but got stuck early on, so the flowers is still on top, but flipped up on its side.

To fix up a few of these pieces, I sculpted some dogwood flowers and glazed and fired them all by themselves, with the intention of epoxying the flowers to the empty spots. Not perfect, but better then throwing them away. When the flowers came out of the kiln, I thought how gorgeous they looked, just sitting there by themselves. Then I started imagining a beautifully set table, with vases of flowers and the ceramic dogwood flowers scattered all over the table, like they had fallen from trees. Perfect for somebody having guests over for a special dinner!

Now that I have a new product, it's a question of how to sell it. I made as many flowers as I could in three hours, and they come down to $5 a flower... wholesale. Not likely to be a big hit with most of my customers at that price. In my daydream time in the coming weeks I will be thinking about how to bring the price down: have the flowers molded? make them bigger? hire some oompa-loompas to live in my studio and make them? One way or the other, sometime this year you will be able to buy a package of ceramic dogwood flowers to scatter on your table, and I hope you don't have to gulp as you hand over your credit card!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

a rotten, horrible, nasty, very bad show

I have been doing craft shows for 8 years now. I used to completely rely on them for my income, and I did many many shows, street fairs mostly. I don't knock street fairs because they helped me survive as a full-time artist for a couple of years. And it was in doing these shows where I paid my dues, and continue to occasionally pay my dues. If I have given anyone the impression that I don't suffer for my art, let me now enlighten you. I suffer. I suffer at these shows.

Since I am totally masochistic, I actually get very excited about shows. I love setting up my little display, creating gorgeous flower arrangements in my vases, dressing up in my cool outfits. Since I usually look like a cross between a street urchin and a mud wrestler in my usual day to day attire, I never hesitate to buy beautiful clothes with the idea that I will look so damn cute selling my pottery in these shoes. Since I am what is considered an "established" artist, I can count on these shows to bring in a certain amount of income, I usually don't think too much about not doing well.

It wasn't always like this. Like I said, I paid my dues. I've done many shows where I've stood around all weekend and been alternately bored, angry, sad, and downright depressed as I watch my neighbors rake in the cash and I rake in admirers who have no money. I did one show in Napa about 7 years ago where I sold 3 things all weekend. THREE THINGS! I was so bummed out that I got outrageously drunk during the show-- this was Napa and it was a wine and music thing after all-- and cried so drunkenly and so loudly in the bathroom that everyone heard me. And then there was the time in Santa Monica when my car got towed from in front of my sister's house the morning of the show, another exhibitor broke my best piece, and I had a bad case of laryngitis and couldn't even complain at the volume I like to. And another time when I did a show in Blackhawk--very upscale, very exclusive gated community-- and received not a glance from the patrons. Early on in the show, a little old lady wearing a Chanel suit and pearls came up to me, grabbed my best piece with both hands, paid for it in cash, and said bluntly, "You're not going to sell anything here". I said, "I think I'll do alright". I was not offended, but amused by her approach. "No," she said, "the people here know nothing of beauty, they hire interior designers to purchase things. They'll buy that crap over there" she snorted, gesturing toward one of my neighbors, who shall go unnamed. I just shrugged and said, "We''ll see", though I had to wonder if she was a future incarnation of myself, especially when she said the word "crap". Unfortunately, she was right, and despite being located next to a fully stocked bar tended by a sympathetic and attractive youngster, that was one show where I packed up and left hours before closing. Insult me, put me down, hate on my pottery, but nobody ignores me. And if they do... well see ya later!

I tell these stories with wry amusement because they are my war stories, and I can laugh now because I generally don't have bad shows anymore, and even what I consider a bad show is way better than what most people do at the same show. I never gloat-- though I do celebrate-- and I don't spend time being a complainer except at home. Today, I had a glaring exception. I had such a bad day that it rivals the Napa show, and in my household, that's saying something. Napa is an iconic show of badness, so bad that when I have a bad day, me or my husband will say, "Well, at least it's not Napa". Today was Napa. Today was Napa squared.

I must have learned something in these years, because I didn't cry, I didn't get drunk-- not at the show anyway-- and I complained only to my closest friends and husband. I'm kind of bummed about the poor show, because I could have spent the weekend hiking or petting my cat, but not depressed or really upset, just surprised. Wow, nobody bought my work today except for a few lucky souls. Hmmmmmmmm.

Friday, December 01, 2006

art work

When one is an artist trying to make money off the art, there is always a point at which your art turns into a business. Many working artists resist this notion because to our minds, art is pure and should not be tainted by things such as money and commerce. We struggle with the business end of our art because we are artists, not accountants, and we are artistic, not number crunchers.

There is also the matter of continuing to reap enjoyment from something that has become... work. Many of us fear turning our creativity into a money making venture because we don't want to lose the pleasure in creating, or lose our focus in the creative process when we have to sell sell sell.

I started thinking about this many years ago when I started referring to what I did in my studio as "work", as in "I'm going to work now!" when I left my home in the morning. While it gave me a certain stick-it-to-the-man pleasure to refer to my pottery studio as a work place, I was also disturbed that there wasn't another word for what I did, since the word "work" seemed like something you would do in an office building under the eyeball of a boss. I tried to come up with a new word because I was afraid that if I kept using the word "work" I would somehow lose my freedom of expression or my sensibility would become dull.

I did not succeed in coming up with another word that didn't sound totally contrived to describe what I do during the day. I go to my studio and work-- that's it. And there are certain realities I have had to learn to deal with as a full-time self-employed artist, and these are the risks of being a working artist. While it gives me great pleasure to work with clay, I don't make my pots solely for pleasure, I mostly do it so I can avoid having to move into that office building. Sometimes I have to make things I don't feel like making. And I have to spend a lot of time doing things I don't really want to do, like ordering supplies, fussing with paperwork, paying bills. Sometimes I complain to myself about this stuff, resist doing it. But when I can walk by that office building and not into it, I feel like I'm still sticking it to the man, and that feeling is worth it!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

hope & despair

Pottery is all about letting go. My hopes and expectations are constantly mocked as my favorite matte green glaze comes out a different shade each firing, hairline cracks appear in pots that cooled too quickly, stuff blows up during bisque firings, glazes run over a beautifully rendered design, pots stick to the kiln shelf, other cracks come out of nowhere. Hope soars when I turn on the kiln for a firing, despair crashes in as I pull the pots out and I am forced --once again-- to reckon with my shortfalls as an artist and human being. All elements of my personality are expressed in my pots, the good and the bad, and I see it all.

Not to mention the fact that all pottery is breakable, and most of it breaks eventually. When I think of the balancing act I have to enact each day as I make my pottery, the futility of it all can sometimes be overwhelming. I will literally lay down on the floor of my studio, stare at the ceiling, and wonder why I bother spending my life making beautiful stuff that is obviously useless to the world.

After I'm done feeling very sorry for myself and the sad life I lead, I make more pots. I feel I owe it to my pots to never cry or get drunk when I'm making them, and to never lose faith that they will continue to be made. Potters are a hardy group of people-- we have to be. No matter how good you are, you are still subject to a vast landscape of imperfection. Beatrice Wood, an internationally known potter who lived near Santa Barbara and who died in 1998, wrote in her autobiography that there were times, even late in her career, where she would open the kiln and just want to give up. I think about Beatrice and all the other potters I know who keep making their pots despite their despair, and I quietly chant to myself, "Let it go, let it go, let it go".

Friday, November 10, 2006

a good, solid, soul-baring rut

Being in a rut totally sucks, and something that every human being will work themselves into eventually, more than once. While ruts are depressing and even debilitating, they are also a signal from the soul that a change is needed. I've started thinking about this because I have many artists in my life right now who are experiencing creative ruts and even depression. They all do very different things, but the symptoms are all the same: The feeling that your work is dull and going nowhere, fear that you will never be as good as you once were, and the wish to do something completely different and yet the complete inability to imagine what that may be.

I was in a serious rut about three years ago with my own work. I had chronic pain in my neck and shoulders from production throwing, I worked 40 hours a week in my studio yet I had no money in my savings account, and as I marched to my studio every day, I was tired and grumpy before I even walked through the door. It was while in this weakened state that I was approached by a California company that owned several ceramic factories in China, and they had a fistful of cash and a proposed contract to license my designs and produce them in Asia. In the face of many reservations and even my own personal pledge to never go to China to have my stuff made, I signed off on the deal. I was sold on the dream that I could move to Italy with my husband, fax in designs, and live off the royalties.

As the collection came in from the factories, I slowly woke up to the fact that China was not going to save me. While my factory collection had superficial appeal, it lacked magic and much of the detail work was sloppy. It was exciting to see "Whitney Smith Pottery" stamped on the bottom of each item, but right underneath my name were the words, "Made in China". In the end, I was forced to admit to myself that I sold out.

Despite this, I have no regrets designing a collection for this company. All of these images to the right are items from my China collection, and the bottom one was an ad for Neiman Marcus. The experience taught me some valuable lessons and techniques, and also gave me some breathing room financially to start firguring out a new plan for myself. The rut I was in, while deeply unpleasant, paved a path for me to move forward. The rut presented me with a set of choices I would otherwise have not considered, and took me places I could not have predicted. In retrospect, I am grateful for the opportunities my rut provided me.

So while I watch my friends work out their own ruts, I at once feel their anxiety and fear, and my own excitement for them as they grapple with what's next. All of my friends are so smart, so creative and visionary, I know they will come out of their ruts and move on to a better life, just like I did.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

season to season

When you think a season or two in front of the one that you are actually living in, time goes by at a turbospeed. Here we are, right at the beginning of November, and in my mind I'm already in Spring. I'm preparing for the New York Gift Show in late January and planning my spring collection that I will be showing there; themes, colors, ideas. There are also other shows to apply and plan for, most of which take place well into 2007. While the mad Christmas season descends upon us, I'm also forced to live in the ever-present now while I pack and ship orders for my wholesale accounts and try to make enough pots for my retail customers. It's enough to make a sane human being want to book a one-way ticket to Hawaii.

Probably the thing that I find most distressing about this lifestyle is watching the seasons whipping by me and feeling as if I'm missing out on enjoying each season as it comes. I know that many people-- no matter what their occupation-- are too busy to enjoy the changing seasons. This last week has been especially hard for me. As summer finally slowly slipped away from the Bay Area and day temperatures dropped from the 70's into the low 60's, I was stuck in the studio for 9 straight days trying to catch up on the orders that were running late due to a variety of circumstances. I kept looking out my windows at the last of the sunny days and thinking, "I'll be out there soon! Just hang on!" The most I can manage on these days is a walk around the neighborhood, trying to enjoy what the season has to offer at that moment, and take a breath.

Monday, October 23, 2006

working art

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how I got into doing what I do, what art school I went to, and how I manage to make a living at being an artist. I get emails from art students all over the country who ask me this. In our culture and many others, artists hold a special place in society and are worshipped as almost supernatural beings. As an artist, I am constantly admired for what I do. At the same time, the idea that you have to be someone really special to be an artist has the effect of discouraging many people from making art a career. Creating art is generally looked upon as a hobby, or something one does on the side when not working at a "real" job. People are fascinated and intrigued when they meet someone who is a full-time artist, and always want to know what my secret is.

I don't have a secret, but I really wish I had supernatural powers. I always wanted to be an artist when I grew up, and I thought I would be a painter. I started painting when I was still in diapers, and that seemed to be where my talent lay. I went to a high school on the east coast that had an excellent art program for students who were planning on going to art school. At the time, I thought art school was the only place that could show me the way to an artist's life. As I approached my senior year though, it was becoming clear that I had little motivation to apply to any schools-- I was barely attending high school by this point-- much less do the work to get the scholarships and grants I would need to pay for the expensive art schools I was interested in.

In the end, after moving myself to California and spending a few years hanging out on the beaches of Santa Cruz, I skipped art school in favor of a degree in another subject that fascinates me, Anthropology. I went to UCSC where I learned to think critically, sharpen my writing skills, and acquire knowledge in many different fields I don't think I would have had the opportunity to delve into had I been ensconced in an art school. I took my first clay throwing classes at Cabrillo, a junior college (where I also met my husband, Andrew; that was a fabulous semester), and got my first job with ceramicist Sandi Dihl as a clay assistant within the year. That was my version of art school, and that's where I learned how to be an artist for a living. I can say without reservation that working for Sandi was the single most valuable experience I had in learning how to make art a business. Eeeew! Two words that should not go together? That will be a subject for another day...

Okay, I do have a secret, and this is it: If you want to be an artist for a living, work for another artist who is doing what you want to do. There is not an artist that I know that doesn't need some kind of help in their studio. If you know how to work and show up when you say you're going to show up, call up a professional artist right now and get yourself hired. You might not get paid very much, or anything at all, but to my mind, it's better than paying that $35,000 a year tuition at art school!

Friday, October 20, 2006

good days, bad days

There are good days in the studio, and there are bad days in the studio. A lot of people think that because I get to play with clay all day, every day must be a good day, and that is generally true. There are even some days that are amazing. Today was an amazing day, and it was doubly amazing because I was rebounding from a very bad yesterday.

The bad yesterday started out normally: a big dose of coffee and an early start in the studio to finish glazing a big round of orders. The studio was toasty warm because of a firing the day before. When the kiln was cool enough to start cracking, I peeked in as I always do. I'm usually so excited to see what comes out of the kiln, but today my heart started thumping hard and I felt sick to my stomache. On the top shelf I had 5 of my cake stands with the little sculpted birds perched on them. From what I could see the little birds were... missing. They had fallen off during the firing. Insert your choice of expletives here as I paced around my studio, taking this in. The kiln was full of these cake stands, and I had made them all at the same time, probably making the same mistake in attaching the birds over and over. It was a fair assumption that all of them had fallen off. And these were for orders that were already a few days behind!

The rest of the afternoon was spent stressing out, calling accounts to let them know their orders would be late, and stressing out some more. I finally left the studio around 7, dreading the next day; I would have to ditch my plans to make new work in preparation for a show and re-make all the cake stands. When I woke up this morning though, I felt fine. I knew I had a full day of work ahead of me and probably no time to go to the gym or enjoy the beautiful sunny day outside, but I still felt good. I went to the studio and threw all day long, 75 pounds of clay total. The clay was at the ideal firmness that I like to work with, the texture perfect. The clay and I were one: all I had to do was think about what I wanted it to do and it did it. I amazed myself by throwing all the cake plates in under an hour, they just flew off my fingers. I didn't want to stop-- I threw cake stands, lidded vessels, vases, bowls. Finally, around 4:30, the clay started wobbling. The magic was over. I've learned that when the magic is over, don't push it. I turned off the wheel and went for a walk, thanking the clay gods-- or whoever it was-- for an amazing day in the studio.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

the joys of trade

I spent the weekend working in Los Angeles, and had a chance to go visit my clothing designer friend, Carol Young, at her newly relocated boutique in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. Her boutique carries her own seasonal clothing line as well as other unusual handcrafted personal and home accessories. It was a mostly pleasure and partly business visit, since I got to hang with Carol at her cool boutique and also stock up her store with some pottery.

Carol and I met years ago when we both had our work in ACCI Gallery in Berkeley. Carol made the best purses and shoulder bags, beautiful things that I could not afford back then. I really needed one of her shoulder bags to honeymoon in Italy with. I could see this bag with every outfit I was planning to bring with me, and I knew if I had this bag I would blend right in with the chic Italian women. I called her up to see if she wanted to trade some of my pottery for that bag, and a beautiful relationship based on trading our work was born. I still have the bag, and a few others from her collection. After almost 5 years, I continue to use them all the time, and people always ask me where they can get one too.

Carol is one of those people where you wonder if she has an extra twelve hours in the day that you don't have. Not only does she run her boutique by herself, she does all the design, cutting, and sewing of her work, with only sporadic help. Not to mention a patient & loving husband, a dog, and a house! Carol is a member of my tribe: still young, driven, ambitious, and talented. We always talk about how to continue to follow our artistic visions, yet still make money and be organized in our business. This is a never-ending conversation with all of my artist friends who make a living off their art. Here she is on a Sunday in her production area located in the back of the boutique, talking to a customer and laying out patterns.

Carol's hard work pays off though. I whirled around her boutique, trying on every item, while she went through bins of my pottery to sell at her store. Since Carol moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles back in 2003, I don't get to see her very often, and it's been a while since I've had an opportunity to see her clothes in person and put them on. Her clothing is so wearable, so comfortable and stylish. Carol also makes it a priority to work with sustainable and recycled fabrics, very satisfying to my tree hugging self. I walked away with two new pairs of pants and three tops to add to my collection of Carol Young wear. If you live in the L.A. area, stop by to see Carol, and buy some of my pottery from her so I can get more clothes!
Store: Carol Young
Address:1953 1/2 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Friday, October 13, 2006

art takes time

Fall is always the busiest time of year for me. The year is divided into three seasons: "busy", "really busy", and "busiest". This year I am especially occupied with creating pottery because I’m filling the wholesale orders I took at the New York Gift Show in August, and everyone wants their pottery order in the store before the end of October. I also have retail shows for the holiday season to prepare for, not to mention putting together a fresh new collection for New York Gift in January.

I used to spend this time of year in a constant state of low-level panic, always trying to catch up, always feeling like I didn’t have enough work made, never satisfied with what I did accomplish. Actually, it wasn't just this time of year, but all year 'round. A typical work week was 10 hour days Monday through Friday, then sneaking in to my studio over the weekend to make more pots. "Vacations" were my own private hell where I would obsess over what I should be doing in the studio, what I wasn't doing, and precisely what I was going to do the second I stepped foot back in my dusty little chamber. My husband, Andrew, still refers to my studio as the "clay mines". Lovingly, of course. Everything else in life was sacrificed—relaxing evenings with Andrew, weekend outings with friends, my personal health and well-being--so I could see to my goals at the studio.

After years of reflecting on this problem, and gentle yet persistent prodding from Andrew to stop being an insane obsessive person about my pottery, I now understand that no matter what level of success I achieve, I’ll always be striving to be better than yesterday. I do not claim to have found “balance” between my work and my life outside my work. Yet, I’ve learned that stressing out trying to make pottery contradicts my basic values and keeps me from enjoying the things that are most important to me, including the very process of creating pottery. I now know that I will never have the perfect collection of work all at one time. There are always going to be weak spots that only I can see. Perfection isn’t even the point anyway.

Any artist will tell you that their best work seemingly comes out of nowhere. It actually comes from many hours or error, many days of thinking, months and years of imagining. Art takes time. True beauty--aesthetic, spiritual and beyond-- is born of trial and error. I believe this is true for all things that we encounter as human beings. It is the effort in achieving what is in my imagination and the experiments that are born from that process that make up the work that I do. As an artist that's all I can do, and I'm damn lucky to get paid for it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

sailing the bay

When Frank called me at my studio Friday afternoon and asked me to go sailing with him on Saturday, I had to say "yes". Frank bought this junky sailboat, the "Del Corazon", two years ago for $1800, docked it at the Berkeley Marina, and went to work restoring it. When a man buys a junky boat and says he's going to restore it, buys any junky thing and says he's going to restore it, the women around him will always doubt him. Women generally don't spend a lot of time restoring things. I know I love the idea of restoration, but the reality is I'd rather spend Saturday afternoons having tea parties with my girlfriends. Men, on the other hand, don't want to have tea parties on Saturday afternoon. In fact, they need somewhere to get away from the tea party. And so there you will find Frank working on his boat week after week, Andrew working on his VW's or bicycles, et cetera. When the men finally produce a restored product after a week, many months, or a couple of years, the women are delighted. So when Frank called me up to go sailing on his newly restored boat, I could only say yes.

Andrew was out of town that weekend, and Sidney was teaching a Saturday course, so it turned out to be just me and Frank and Florabelle the dog. The day was pristine, a real California fall day. Clear blue skies, a little searing edge on the temperature, and a breeze. Frank picked me up in his blue-smoke belching work van and very sweetly put a mat down over the layers of Peet's paper coffee cups and other effluvia of the past months. We laughed hysterically on the drive to the Marina as Frank menaced society in his usual fashion; buzzing joggers who have the nerve to jog in the road when there is a perfectly serviceable jogging path off the road, threatening a little kick dog and its cell-phone-talking-mercedes-driving-owner in the parking lot, nearly clipping another mercedes when the owner threw open his door without checking the rearview. I know I'm a bad influence on Frank because I find these things hilarious, which only encourages this behavior.

As Frank and I were readying the Del Corazon for sailing I asked him casually how many times he'd taken the boat out. Since I knew its maiden voyage was back in July, I figured it hadn't been out much. "Well..." said Frank, eyeing me out if the corner of his eye, "I've only taken it out twice so far".
"Okay", I said.
"Are you scared?" he asked.
"Of course not!" I said. We continued getting the boat ready as Frank gave me a rundown on terms and things I would be doing. I have sailed many times but usually in boats where I'm not expected to do much. This time was going to be very different since we were two on a 31-foot boat. I tried to absorb the information he was throwing at me and then asked, "Where did you learn how to sail?"
"Where?" Frank asked.
"Yeah, like did you grow up sailing or what?" I asked.
"Ummmm..." Frank said, choosing his words, "I'm just learning how to sail... on this boat".
"Oh", I said. Pause. "So you've really only sailed twice?" I asked.
"Yeah!" said Frank in this really positive way, like, "it's so much fun and here we are about to do it again!"
I sat with that for another minute. I really wasn't concerned about Frank's ability; Andrew is quite large and would happily kill anyone who brought harm to me, and my friends know it. Not to mention my sister who would scratch the perpetrator's eyes out. And my mom who would wail horribly at my funeral and make everyone wish they had never been born. I was actually way more concerned about my own ability. I know on a sailboat you have to move fast, and when I don't know exactly what I'm doing I have a hard time understanding English and following directions. The next question I asked him, "What inspired you to buy a sailboat when you don't know how to sail?"
"Well," said Frank, unwrapping the last of the jib sail (I think that's what he said it was called anyway), "I thought there would be a lot to learn", and if you know Frank, then that is the perfect answer.

We headed out into the Bay. It's Fleet Week in the Bay Area and the Blue Angels were going to be doing their thing over the water near the San Francisco marina. It was a big party on the water, tons of sailboats and raceboats and yachts. And sailboat races. And probably some race boat races too.

When the Blue Angels came out, I was so excited. I love air technology--jets, space shuttles, rockets--and the Blue Angels are so fast, they are completely silent. 10 seconds after they go by..."BOOOOOM!" I'm not into military stuff at all, and I think about the people around the world who have bombs dropped on them by these planes and whose homes are already on fire by the time they hear the jets go by. That said, human ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. It fucks with my head that it is used to hurt, maim, and kill, but I am impressed and thrilled to witness it nevertheless.

From where we were we saw the Blue Angels make an incredibly dramatic entrance over the Richmond hills, and then head over to the Marina area to do their stunts. I pointed and said to Frank, "I want to be over there". I wanted to be in the middle of the action. We sailed over and spent an hour or so dodging through boats as we watched the planes. A huge C-130 flew so low and so silently over the water, just yards above the tops of boats. The Blue Angels flew amazingly tight formations, peeling off, flying upside-down, and coming together again. Other jets flew straight up into the air, seemed to stall, and then twisted back down toward the bay, pulling out at the last second before hitting the water. I was actually steering the boat while Frank manned the sails and I finally had to say to him, "Tell me if I'm going to hit something because I can't take my eyes off these jets". I took a hundred pictures but the planes were so fast it was hard to get anything good.

Finally, the show was over. We set our course for Berkeley and I immediately became seasick. Frank gave me instructions on where not to puke, where I should puke if I were to puke, and then asked several times if I still felt like puking. I finally had to tell him to stop saying the word "puke" or I really would. He fed me some ginger candy and I fell asleep. When I woke up I felt well enough to pretend to puke on Frank's computer, eat the cupcake he'd been saving, and help steer the boat into harbor. On the map to the right you can see most of our course for the day as mapped by Frank's GPS, which is always strapped to his person. We are the green line. Can't wait to go again!


My life as a full-time artist is, in many ways, an ideal one and the life I imagined for myself when I was still a kid. I'm one of those people you see lounging around cafes in the middle of the day. I listen to music or the radio station of my choice all day. I take long breaks to go to the farmer's market or walk around Lake Merritt, and I definitely take more than the standard 3 weeks of vacation a year. It's a life of freedom. But when I'm engaged in the business of actually making pottery, it's all about getting the most amount of work done in the smallest amount of time. It's all about efficiency.

I'm always looking for ways to do things faster. It's a constant challenge and it sometimes takes years to work out a complete solution. Once a problem of efficiency presents itself, it stays on my mind and I work it over until I find a answer. Since I tend to be an obsessive sort of person, the examining of a problem over and over is totally satisfying to me.

One problem that I worked over recently is how to deal with the sculpted dogwood flowers I attach to some of my work. There are two problems of efficiency here. One is the process of attaching the flowers to the work in the first place. Each dogwood flower is made up of four individually made petals that are attached to the pottery one by one. To make it look "natural" the flowers need to overlap in a seemingly random way. It doesn't always look right and I can end up dismantling work and re-doing it, a huge waste of time. The second problem is glazing the piece. The dogwood flowers are always a different color than the pottery underneath it--what it is attached to-- and the time it takes to glaze around the flowers adds up. On bigger pieces it can take an hour or more just to glaze.

I've been thinking about this problem off and on for weeks. On a drive home to Oakland from southern California the other day I started seeing a solution. I could stamp out a tiny pad, less than 1 centimeter across, and attach the dogwood flowers to it. I can then attach these "flowers pads" to my work, and since the flowers are already assembled, I can tell ahead of time how they will overlap, thus eliminating the need to pull apart the work I've already done. On some pieces I will be able to attach the flowers to already glazed-- but still unfired pieces-- using Magic Mender (a type of clay glue), reducing some of the time I spend glazing pottery. I won't be able to use this last solution on everything, but I can use it on a lot of things. Maybe. I hope.

The flowers have been made and are waiting to be tested. I can't wait to see if it works!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

open studio

I do love an Open Studio. When I have visitors to my studio I like to make sure everything is totally neat and organized, and nothing makes me happy like walking into a beautifully clean studio. I'm always striving to make the time and practice the discipline to keep it looking neat every day, but like many things in life, the effort is sporadic. I also like meeting people while I'm completely in my element. Being crammed into a 10' x 10' booth at a show can be awkward and it's hard not to feel like I'm on display along with my work. Not to mention the hours of small talk you have to make with anyone who wanders in. And the occasional feeling that I'm just a salesgirl.

People who make the effort to visit my studio almost always walk out with something, which is gratifying. They can also get a sense of how the work is made-- there is the wheel, there is the kiln, there is the half-done work, all of it done right here with my hands... and my assistant's hands.

I have been in this studio since 1998. It is a 30-second walk from my front door so I have an ideal situation-- close enough to monitor late-night firings but I don't have to actually live in my work space as many artists do. The studio is part of a row of old commercial storefronts that used to actually serve our residential community back in a different era. I'm told that my space used to be a hair salon. The only trace of the old salon I can find now is an inordinate number of electrical plugs about every 7 feet lining the left side of my studio.

The best thing about and Open Studio? No booth fees!