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.