Monday, March 30, 2009

never perfect

One of the biggest nightmares in my life for a long while were the bird cake stands. They are one of my current top sellers, and have been plagued with problems. When I first started making them, it was no problem. This is how it always starts: you whip out a great design, a fab new glaze, whatever, and the stuff starts selling. So you make more. But there is an internal flaw in the system that has not made itself known yet. As you make more, the flaw comes out. The more you sell, the more the problem starts to exponentially multiply.

With the cake stands, the first problem was the birds falling over during firing. This took a while to address, but I finally came up with the solution. Then it was getting the right glaze to fire out on these big, flat surfaces. I had to fiddle with my kiln, my firing style, my cooling phase, and the glaze to get it right.

I was so happy when I finally landed on the right white glaze that doesn't pinhole or bubble. This is a sweet white glaze, so I started using it as my default white glaze. Problem is, as I'm discovering, this white glaze loves to crawl all over the place on round surfaces. I had to ruin about $1000 worth of work before I decided fuck this. Now I have white glaze only for cake stands and straight surfaces (up, down sideways-- doesn't matter, as long as it is straight, no curves), and white glaze for everything else. Sigh...

I was discussing this issue with my good friend, Leah, who is operations manager and designer for a bead and jewelry component company. She said, "I keep waiting for this time when everything can just run smoothly-- when silver prices aren't spiking, when the economy isn't going to hell, when I can actually get the bead back from the maker that is actually the bead I designed..." I laughed, because that's what every single person I know is waiting for: smooth sailing.

I have gradually accepted that perfection is nothing more than an ideal rarely achieved. I have tortured myself-- and my husband-- trying to reach for that state of constant perfection at the studio and done nothing but suffer in the struggle. And when I say suffer, I mean painful, gut-wrenching, can't sleep, don't want to eat, always worried, crying everyday, totally pissed off, suffering. I went over and off the edge a while ago. While I was laying there, all flattened, on rock bottom, I realized how useless my yearning for perfection is. The ebb and flow of our work includes moments of bliss and perfection, and the rest of the time just regular life. Regular life usually means shit is breaking down, because that is the nature of being on this planet: nothing stays the same, things are constantly deteriorating, and perfection--like everything else-- is fleeting. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

throwing demo

As it happens, at this moment I am writing from from the campus of Sierra Nevada College in Lake Tahoe. My pal Nick hooked me up with a guest artist gig here for a few days. I'm doing a presentation/lecture/throwing demonstration for the pottery classes here, and I'm kinda having a blast. I'm realizing that I really enjoy talking to students, showing them stuff, talking to them about my work, and giving demos. When Nick brought it up to me a while back, the idea of being a guest artist, I immediately felt a little bit nervous. I have remnants of shyness backed up way down deep inside, and in my head I was like, "No no no no no no." But of course I told Nick "Yes!" Then I had some ad hoc practice at Greenwich House Pottery in my friend's classes that he teaches there, so I felt pretty comfortable today, and I think it went really well. I have one more tomorrow. AND I'm being put up in the "Visiting Scholars Suite" that is pretty dang... sweet. My sister and husband are here to snowboard while I'm doing my thing, so I pretty much feel like I'm on vacation right now! I have open studio on Saturday and I need to fire off one more kiln, but I'm thinking we may stay an extra day anyway. Time off: good.

Timing is everything, and my good friend Frank finished my throwing demo video just the other day, so here it is people, enjoy. I'm going to get back to being visiting scholar now.

Dry throw demonstration from frank-e-t on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

monday, again

Are there people out there who actually can relax on the weekend? I know that I've done it, and given enough practice, can get get pretty good at it. But not lately. Since returning from the trade show, my weeks have been flying by, with so much to do at the studio day in and day out, only about half of what I feel needs to be accomplished to be caught up actually happens. And it's not that I took a ton of orders, it's just that everyone wants their stuff before Easter... whenever that is.

It's almost funny; in the morning I feel so energetic and hopeful, I'm convinced I can get it all done and have time to do something else, like meet a friend for lunch, or run a couple of personal errands. By lunchtime that hope has disappeared, and I'm neck deep in studio jobs. I can always tell by the state of my personal appearance-- the untrimmed and unpolished toenails, the unwashed hair, unshaved legs, non-moisturized skin-- exactly how busy I am. Personal appearance check rates me: superbusy.

Weekends have become roadblocks to getting my work done, and it makes me restless and anxious. Ostensibly, I do not work weekends. But I do end up spending tons of time doing satellite tasks: taking images of my pottery, working on my website, processing paperwork, answering emails, sending out invoices, writing for my blog... This afternoon I felt frustrated, and depressed. It's Sunday afternoon, I should be drinking mimosas at brunch with friends, or sleeping in-- or something like that--and I'm itchy for it to be Monday so I can get back to work. And at the same time knowing that even if Monday came a day early, I'm still going to be running behind. And following up this thought is recognizing that I am acting like a workaholic, jonesing for the distraction and absorption of my work to keep me satisfied. If I keep acting like this it won't be an act anymore.

So, I'm in the hamster cage right now, running running running, wondering when this damn wheel will get me somewhere. At the same time, there is evidence everywhere around the studio that stuff is getting done; orders are being filled. It's the cascade of small details, the little things that take a bunch of time, that seem overwhelming to me right now. My husband suggested to me this afternoon I blow off the rest of the stuff I was trying to deal with, and go take a walk. "But but but," I said, "then I just have to do it tomorrow." He looked at me like, "Yeah? And?" So I did it-- I blew it off, took the walk, came home, and got right back to it. If I am a workaholic, right now I'm hooked.

Monday, March 09, 2009

reinforcing the dream

Every once in a while, I like to read through posts on my blog to get a sense of how my writing may be coming across to my legion of readers. When I first started writing this blog, I was a bit tentative. I knew I had a lot to say, but I was trying to squeeze it down into a form I was not totally comfortable with. I had an idea that I needed to be professional and positive, and stay on general topics. I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea, other than I didn't want to scare off potential customers with my occasionally acerbic personality . That all came to an end with a post about a terrible show I had, and I suddenly realized I like to write about the real part of making a living as an artist, the downfalls and failures, more than trying to present a particular image. It was a hell of a lot more interesting and entertaining.

When I read through a group of posts, what I often come away with is how repetitive I am. I'm okay with that, because I have a message, and when you have a message, you have to repeat it over and over again to get heard. Just in case you missed it, here it is: Being an artist and making a living off art is a totally legitimate way to make one's way through the world. We live in a culture that has a different message: being an artist is not a legitimate way to make a living, and if you try, you will likely fail because artists are flaky, crazy people, often not in touch with reality. And you have no talent anyway. Or, you can be an artist, but learn a back-up trade, like lawyering or typing, in case the art thing doesn't work out.

I'm here to reinforce the dream, and to challenge the culture in its beliefs about what an artist is and what the artist can be. I have said before that our western society worships and admires the artist, and at the same time demeans and puts the artist down. Artists are the dreamers and the prophets, questioning the conventions and mores of culture. And we make stuff, pulling these ideas down and making it into something physical that other people can experience. This ability to make, to create, truly is a superpower. And many are blessed with it. Denying your artist time to create is an act of cruelty, and I think many artists are regularly denying themselves. I'm here to remind you: the time to be an artist is now. And that goes for me too.

Monday, March 02, 2009

you know you can't get enough of me

I have a good friend named Frank. He is the boyfriend of one of my closest girlfriends, Sidney. Frank is a true Renaissance Man; multi-talented and one of those people who never gets bored, and has zero patience with those that do. I adore Frank, and when he is doing things that drive Sidney crazy, I will sometimes take his side. One of Frank's many side passions are making videos of artists and people, and he turned his camera on me last week. The intention was to make a video of my dry throwing method, but it morphed into a video clip about... me. We are working on a more instructional-type video, and it will be done before the end of this month, but meantime, watch this:

Whitney Smith from Frank-e-t on Vimeo.