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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

turn it off

I grew up with public radio, and nothing soothes me like a calm and uninflected public radio voice. When I moved from Santa Cruz to the Bay Area, one of the perks in my mind was access to KQED, which is talk 24 hours a day, my favorite. Early on, I developed a studio habit of always having the radio on, always listening.

After 9/11 happened and the wars that went with it, I started recognizing that having tragedy pour into my ears all day was visibly eroding my mental health and ability to concentrate while I worked. For the first time, I started listening to music stations in my studio instead of talk all day. Then I discovered podcasts.

I'm addicted to podcasts, especially story telling and interview ones. Don't worry, fellow junkies, I'll list all my favorites below in the comment section, and I expect you to do the same. I will download 6 or 7 hours of podcasts to listen to while I work. Nothing soothes me like the opening music of my favorite podcasts.

But I've been noticing something about listening to podcasts all day while I work. My brain is constantly tuned in to listening, and when I'm tuned into listening, I can't do much of any other kind of thinking, like creative thinking, which is a problem. Then, a flood of thinking starts happening at inconvenient times, like when I'm trying to fall asleep or at my other favorite time, at 3 in the morning. I've noticed this problem while I'm gardening as well, and I stopped putting in earbuds while I garden over a year ago.

So I did something crazy last week, which was to turn off all my podcasts while I work. Also, since this is a cold-turkey kind of thing, all music too. Why music? Because even music tends to sweep me away, and I want to train myself to be present again. Complete and meditative silence in the studio while I am working.

I was afraid I would be bored somehow, but I wasn't. And isn't it a weird thing to be afraid of boredom anyway? Our whole culture is afraid of being bored. No, I wasn't bored and after I got over the initial discomfort of not feeding my podcast addiction, I liked the silence, didn't need the voices. And I was able to concentrate on problem solving some business-related things, and even come up with creative ideas as I was moving along. I've actually had to start keeping a notebook at hand to write down all the little things I was thinking about.

I think those of us who have a studio practice are prone to constant radio or podcast listening, even if we use it as a "background" thing. We generally work alone, so having that voice presence can make us feel comforted. I'm pretty convinced that for me, having an auditory distraction always going on is undermining my creative thinking, and I've been doing it for years. What do you think? Do you listen to anything while you work, or even watch things? Let me know if you think it affects you creatively.

Monday, October 06, 2014

okay with okay

It's not a secret that I am prone to anxiety. This is how my anxiety works, and maybe yours too: 
  • Take something that is causing me discomfort or uneasiness, like slow sales or the California drought. 
  • Use that shred of doubt or uncertainty and spin out a scenario, usually a worst-case scenario, into the future. 
  • Spend time thinking about how that is going to feel and what is going to happen. I'm going to lose my business and all my friends and colleagues will pity me; I'll witness the desertification of California and be one of millions of evacuees that are forced to leave the state due to lack of water. 
  • Take those feelings of fear, dread, and panic, stuff them right into my chest, and bring them back to the present moment. 

All of you fellow anxiety sufferers know precisely what I'm talking about. And I know exactly what I'm supposed to do: stay in the present moment at all times, because the present moment is all we have. When you find yourself living in some dark corner of the future, very gently and without judgement lead yourself back to the present moment. Over and over again, that is what one does to overcome the pulsation of anxiety.

I've been getting a little better at this, here and there. My trick is to just say to myself, "what if it's just going to be okay?" Like, all of this worry energy is just a waste of time. Things are probably not going to be horrible, they are definitely not going to be perfect, they are just going to be normal, totally acceptable, and okay. I mean, obviously we are doomed, but things are okay right now in this moment.

I was having a instance last week while I was installing my paper butterfly sculpture into the window of a store, and it was taking me about 4 times longer than I thought it would. It didn't really matter because the opening wasn't until the next day, but my natural reaction when things don't go as planned is to start the anxiety drum. This can make me a really annoying person to the people who love me best, by the way.

I was stringing each butterfly, one by one onto this fishing line, but my mind was somewhere else, working out a play-by-play of a future disaster regarding the balance in my bank account, because I obviously don't know how to manage time or paper installations. All of the sudden I noticed that I really loved the process of stringing each butterfly. It was labor-intensive, but I was enjoying it. I liked stepping back after every few minutes and seeing how the thing was shaping up. It gave me a moment of freedom where I was able to say to myself, "what if it's just going to be okay?" I'm okay right now,  I'm doing something totally enjoyable that will bring others delight, I'm not hungry or thirsty, I'm able to just stand here and do this thing. At some point I'm gonna die and it will all be over, but for now I'm finding the pleasure in living, and it's okay.

The second part of this exercise is being okay with things being okay. Anxiety sufferers are always waiting for the other shoe to drop so it can be difficult to be okay with okay, because it's not comfortable. We'd rather be chasing thoughts down a rabbit hole because at least that gives us a sense of doing something, of being in control. Being in the moment challenges us to let go, and anxiety types hate that shit. If we let go, who will keep the world spinning?

Little by little, every day, I'm working at being okay with okay.

Monday, September 29, 2014

papercut installation

This Friday, October 3. I'm doing my first paper cut installation in the window of Marion and Roses's Workshop, a store in downtown Oakland that I've been working with for several years now, selling the pottery. I've become pals with the owner, Keri, and I was idling around in her store one day when she said, "I need to do something new with this window next month," and I said, "I should do a paper cut display in your window!" 

It took about 6 weeks longer than I thought it would to come up with the concept and actually do the work, but the Oakland Art Murmur is this Friday, so it seemed like a good deadline to actually stick to. Here is my statement about the installation:

I became aware of the annual Monarch butterfly migration when I was living in Santa Cruz, blocks away from a Monarch wintering site in the eucalyptus groves of Natural Bridges State Park. As millions of the butterflies passed overhead, single Monarch wings and dead butterflies could be found throughout my neighborhood, a phenomena  I found mysterious, intriguing, and disturbing. This did not begin to prepare me for the site of the living butterflies in the groves, colorful insects completely covering the trees and hanging off branches in giant teeming clusters. The beauty and strangeness of it has stayed with me for over two decades.

This papercut installation represents my ongoing fascination with the Monarch migration and my awareness of the severe decline in the Monarch population, which has been reduced by over 90% in the past 20 years. This decline is unseen by most people. It is an invisible waning, a silent dissolution that takes with it the transcendent beauty of a natural wonder. With each butterfly papercut I make, the death of the Monarchs becomes seen, if only for a second, and creates its own transcendent and fleeting beauty.

There will be a reception from 5-7 at the store, and we will be giving away free milkweed, the food that Monarch caterpillars survive on, to the first 30 people who want it. Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 26, 2014

what it takes

I'm going to graduate from college next year have been making pottery since I was in high school. I really love it and it is my passion. I read your post about quitting your day job and it made me think about whether or not I should try to make pottery my living. I think I am talented and I can work hard, but I'm not sure I can be successful. Do you think I should pursue my dream or should I do something more practical and keep pottery on the side? I'm sending you some pictures of my work, do you think I have what it takes?

I get this email or some variation on it a few times a year. I assume people contact me with this question because they want permission to pursue their dream, which to my mind is fundamentally at odds with having what it takes to pursue the dream. Never ask anyone, especially a stranger, if you should pursue your dream. You can ask for support, solicit advice, you can even listen to opinions, but never ask anyone for permission.

Running a pottery studio-- or any kind of art studio-- and selling work is an entrepreneurial endeavor. And this is what it takes: have some talent, work really hard, and hustle.

A lot of artists don't want to hear this because they don't want to hustle, they want to make art.

When I quit the last remnants of my day job back in 2000, I hustled by doing every single show and street fair I could while getting the name and address of every person that bought something from me so I could invite them to the next show.  That helped me build my name and a small local following. It wasn't easy because I am an introvert and it took 2 days to recover from these shows, but I knew I needed to hustle and I was willing to do it.

The hustle has changed a bit these days. The time I used to spend at shows I now spend in front of my computer, analyzing traffic and tweaking my various websites, managing sites that sell my work, posting my work to Etsy, twitter, instagram, facebook, and now (god help me) pinterest. I'm very new at pinterest so I'm reading articles about using it effectively, and I read lots of articles and even books about marketing and branding generally. I also write this blog, and a monthly newsletter, and spend days photographing my work. That's just the marketing side. The business side involves tracking all my expenses and income and analyzing what is going on there, paying all my bills, ordering supplies on a regular basis, and about 10 other things that are too boring write down here. You get the point; a Business 101 class won't kill you either.

Some people think this kind of activity is beneath an artist, and great art should sell itself somehow, or that an artist's only job should be to make work. Sorry, but only art stars get to do that. I am not an art star and the chances of any one of us becoming an art star are minuscule. Art school kids, listen up: the chances of you becoming an art star are infinitesimally tiny no matter how much you are paying for that art degree.

We have been handed a thousand mostly free tools to get ourselves and our work out into the world in the past 15 years. If artists can't see what an amazing gift this is, how more than ever we are being called to use our creativity in all of these areas that used to be left to the experts to manage for us, then I really have no words of encouragement.

The truth is, many artists don't want to put themselves out there because they fear judgement and failure. To that I say: both are absolutely going to happen. Get used to it. It will build your character and resilience, and maybe even your sense of humor.

Now get out there and hustle.

Friday, September 19, 2014

back to school

I've been trying to maintain a back-to-school vibe in the studio for the last couple of weeks. I went roaring in on September 2, with the idea of throwing off the remnants of summer vacation mode and kicking some ass. I threw a bunch of stuff, and got down to the work of it. Then I had this horrible, dark realization: I want to make new work and grow as an artist, and here I am working on a cake stand... again.

I think this thought sent out some weird energy out into my studio, because for the rest of the week I managed to "accidentally" crack, break, chip and snap every single piece I had thrown. By the end of the week, with virtually nothing left that was salvageable, I just had to laugh at myself. When it comes to monkey wrenching, my subconscious knows exactly when and how to bring everything to a grinding halt. Talk about back to school.

I spent a couple of days walking in circles, and then just decided to face it: I've gotten lazy, I like my comfort zone, and everything I think I've learned about being a perfectionist nutcase doesn't mean that much unless I apply it to my work and duke it out with my demons.

I started again this week, with the idea of trying for a balance: some safety zone work so I can feel like I'm actually accomplishing something, and pushing on some new things so I can hold myself accountable to being an actual artist and not just a producer.

It's uncomfortable, like stepping into a slightly too-steamy hot tub. I know it's going to be good at some point, but right now it's just really freaking hot. As I was having these uncomfortable moments, I kept reminding myself that this is what learning is like sometimes: you feel like everything is a mistake, but if you keep trying you eventually get some finesse, or find your way to a better path.

All new work eventually becomes a safety zone.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

quit your day job? maybe not.

A couple of months ago I was asked for advice on quitting a day job as a teacher to become a full-time potter. I've been screwing around with a response, trying to couch my answer in such a way that I don't squash anyone's dream, or offer stupid pat answers that you can get anywhere. In my draft queue, I have 3 posts al lined up and ready to publish that answer this question, and I can't quit put my finger on the button because I think all the posts basically soft-pedal the answer and make for a sucky read.

I can't base the answer on my own experience because I think my experience is not the norm, and there are a lot of reasons for that. For starters, I have never had a job that gave me health insurance, paid days off, a retirement plan, or hope for career advancement. For me to quit and pursue pottery was not a sacrifice of any kind of security.

Also, I am very talented at what I do. It was clear almost immediately when I started working with clay that I had a gift, and I advanced far more quickly than any of my classmates through the basics and up the learning curve. I had a job as an assistant within 18 months, because I was good enough to assist a professional potter that quickly. I have four close friends who make a living at pottery, so one may be fooled into thinking that anyone who is good at pottery can make a living at it. The thing is, these four friends are also supernaturally talented. Their work is copied and emulated by ceramic artists all over the country, if not the world. They are outliers.  I am an outlier.

I also know a few people who make a living at pottery who are maybe not the most talented or have the most artistic vision, but they work harder than anyone else. They endlessly promote themselves through social media, maintain multiple websites for selling, are constantly researching to figure out what to make next, go to every show they can get into, take every opportunity to show their work whether it pays or not, are expert production potters, and are in their studios 50-60 hours a week.

And by the way, the people I know who are supernaturally talented work this hard too.

To start your own art-based business takes a certain type of person to succeed, and you need to have a hard and honest look at yourself to know if you are that person. For someone considering quitting a teaching job, you have to ask yourself, "Did I become a teacher to answer a calling to teach, or did I become a teacher because it's a safe gig with lots of time off?" It's one or the other. Teaching is challenging, and people only do it because they love it, or because the few known perks outweigh the difficulties. If you have a calling to teach, it would be a shame to quit, because you will likely never be as good or bring as much to the world as a potter that you will as a teacher. If you teach because it was a safe gig and you couldn't figure out what else to commit to, then I would say you are likely not going to enjoy the pressure, insecurity, uncertainty, lack of time off, and hard physical labor of a full-time pottery studio.

There are a lot of self-promoting people out there with a book or program to sell you who will tell you that the best thing you could ever do for yourself is quit that day job, follow your passion, and that anyone can do it.  I will even admit to buying into this type of thinking in the past, and there may be some blog posts to prove it. But it's not true. Not everyone can do it, and it's not necessarily the best way to live either. I'm not even going to go into the pitfalls turning your passion into profit.  I've written about that plenty of times before. But there is nothing wrong with being an artist, and having a day job. In fact, thinking you are not an artist because you have a day job is a cop-out and buying into someone else's definition of an artist. Maybe the culture says that you are not a real artist unless you are killing yourself pursuing it full-time, but the culture is full of shit and doesn't know what it's talking about when it comes to your life.

And I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to your life either. So if you really want to become a full-time potter or artist of any kind, bank as much money as you can, make a plan, build up your resilience to failure, and fucking do it already.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

the problem with perfection

When people tell me they are a perfectionist, I take note. I am a recovering perfectionist and I’m interested in what being a perfectionist means to other people.  I generally regard perfectionism as a neurotic condition and I want to offer support, if possible, and learn more about letting go of perfectionism within myself.

Often people will say they are perfectionists with a little bit of pride. Proclaiming yourself a perfectionist is a sort of humble brag, because you are subtly sending the message that your standards are high, higher than most. And if your standards are higher than most then your work is probably better than most… right?

I’ve struggled with my own perfectionism because I believe my desire to be perfect and make perfect things has held me back from being a fully realized artist more than any other one of my tendencies. For me, being a perfectionist means rarely deriving satisfaction from the work I make because it’s not as good as I want it to be. That striving to be better is a trait of many artists, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with seeing how the work you just made would be even better if you did “x” differently. It’s called innovation and it’s how you get from A to Z and make amazing work. Amazing work doesn’t just come out of nowhere. Amazing work comes from lots of small failures and having the tenacity and drive to overcome each small failure. The problem with perfectionism is failure is often regarded not as a step forward, but as a sinkhole.

My studio is filled with half-realized ideas that did not come out as planned, so I drop it. My head is filled with ideas I’ve never tried because my perfectionistic fear-monger picks it apart before I give myself a chance to experiment. I started recognizing this tendency a while ago, and I’ve taken steps to recognize the voice of perfection, and dismiss it.  That voice disguises itself as a helpful friend who just wants you to make good work, and it's easy to confuse it with your intuition.

Given all the time I’ve spent thinking about perfectionism and trying to track it within myself and other people, I have some more ideas about the drawbacks of being a perfectionist:
  1. Being a perfectionist is just not fun, because you are more focused on controlling the outcome rather than focusing on the process. As an artist or creator of any kind, you gotta love process, because to make anything takes time and attention to take each step toward completion. If you lose your way with that and focus too much on how it's not perfect before you are even done, you've crushed your own creative joy. Keep doing that, and the Muse gets reluctant to come around.
  2. Unrecovered perfectionists will often try to use their perfectionism as a way to justify not sharing or completing their work because "it's not good enough yet." Perfectionism and procrastination hang out at the same club. They don't like to acknowledge each other because perfectionism thinks it's too good for procrastination, and procrastination doesn't like to acknowledge anything, but if you look closely they are swaying their hips to the same beat.
  3. All of us have holes in our hearts that we are trying to fill, and perfectionists have a hole in their heart that they are trying to fill with an impossible ideal. Clinging to an impossible ideal doesn't fill your heart, it seals it off and makes you defensive and careful. As artists and creators, we must unseal our hearts wherever we have resistance so we can communicate the truth and beauty of what we are hiding in there.
  4. Most perfectionists I know are workaholics. Again, these traits go to the same club, but they are besties, taking pride in one another. Like many "isms," perfectionism and workaholism function more as crutches rather than genuine support, and disguise our inner feelings of unworthiness and judgement.
  5. Being a perfectionist means living with the constant fear that you are never going to be good enough, and people are going to find out. While striving to be a perfectionist may temporarily soothe our troubled souls, in the end there is only you, imperfection, and the choice of whether or not to accept it.

I love that people like Brene Brown are spreading the concept of the gift of imperfection so widely. I hope that on some level it's changing the way we all think about ourselves and the world.  As I was thinking about how to finish up this post this morning I was asking myself what I think the greatest gift of imperfection is. My answer (to myself) was that being imperfect gives us the opportunity to keep trying, keep going, and keep the fires burning. There's no where to go from perfection because... it's perfect! You can't grow and learn from there, it's done. What do you think about the gift of imperfection? Put your perfectly imperfect answers in the comment box.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

new work this weekend

A little last minute self-promotion: this weekend (July 12 + 13) is the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. I will be there. Booth116. With a bunch of new work! And maybe a new dress if I can find some time to zip out somewhere and pick one up. I hope to see you there. Don't forget your sunblock.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

little fame rush

I'm having a little fame rush right now. I was recently interviewed in front of an audience by Ben Carter for his Tales of a Red Clay Rambler podcast, and it was posted yesterday. You can listen to it right here. The conversation centers around writing on a blog, using social media as an artist, burnout, and what it means to share your world with customers and fans. I get a little tongue-tied sometimes, that's why I like writing so much.  I listened to myself talk and I only winced a couple of times. I'm like most people-- I hate the sound of my recorded voice, but somehow the voice I heard didn't sound like my voice so I was okay with it. I have a moratorium on self-hate right now and listening to yourself talk for an hour without wanting to punch your own self in the face is a pretty good test.

Listening to the interview I had a few moments of wishing I had elaborated on a few things or shared some more thoughts. It was like listening to an interview where you are thinking, "Ask this question! What about that, ask about that!" Only I was thinking, "Answer this! Why didn't you talk about that?!"

I'm going to listen to the interview again and take some notes on things that I want to elaborate on, and I will write a post about it, or maybe a few if I need to.  If you listened to the interview and you have some follow-up questions or something you want me to talk more about, please feel free to post here or send me an email. I said in the interview, and I will say it again here, that part of my mission is to share as much information as possible about running a pottery business, making a living as an artist, and all the challenges that go with that. I want to be a resource of support and information, so send me your questions or share your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

the rush hour of life

I heard an expression the other day: "We are in the rush hour of life right now." It refers to people in mid-life who are busy raising the next generation, working their asses off at whatever job they're doing, making big money decisions around buying a house or how to invest retirement money, and caught in a metaphorical traffic jam with everyone else doing the same thing.  Inching forward, honking their horn, anxious to get where they are going.

I feel slightly outside of this rush hour because I can avoid the literal rush hour-- my studio is a 30-second walk from my front door-- and I've managed to dodge a lot of adult responsibilities that other people take on, like mortgages and kids. But I still feel a lot of pressure to accomplish and to get things done, and it makes me anxious.

I'm going through an anxious period right now. I have a lot of ideas for work, things I want to make, and I want to corral all of these ideas into a nice long list titled "Things to Make." But the ideas will not be organized in this fashion. Every time I try to sit and make a written list or even draw pictures, I get so bored I forget what I'm doing. And boredom is my kryptonite, so it seems pretty useless to try and control the process in this way. Something in me wants to stop thinking, and start making.

But I feel rushed. I just want to be making stuff in the studio all the time to quell this feeling of rush and anxiety. The late spring light makes it easy to work later and later and I even found myself trying to get into the studio to work over the weekend, which I know is a habit that leads to workaholism, which leads to burnout. I keep asking myself, what is the rush? What is the point of rushing anyway? What is the good in rushing through anything, which is ultimately rushing right toward the end of our lives and death?

Being rushed is mindless. It's answering the call to our most ego-driven self which wants to accomplish and get ahead, literally and figuratively. Ask yourself right now: are you being a thoughtful person when you are trying to rush? Are you truly engaged in the flow of life around you or are you trying to frantically swim faster than the current is carrying you?

Having the presence of mind to not rush is the opposite, it's mindful. It's taking the time to question our deadlines, our timelines, and what we are truly trying to accomplish. I'm usually running a few minutes late whenever I go anywhere, and as is my habit, I rush to get to my destination. But I've stopped speeding through yellow lights because I want to remind myself to give every task the time it needs and deserves. Trying to shave off 40 seconds is crazy.

I have a hard time believing in any kind of god I've been told about. But I've always felt a presence of a creative force in my life, which can feel like the highest, most enlightened version of myself, compassionate yet completely detached from the things which drive me. Whenever I start displaying symptoms of rushing-- heart rate elevated, chest and face tightening, snappishness-- I ask this presence for help.  The same thought comes beck to me every time I ask, "You are right where you are," which reminds me that yes, I am where I am and also, right in where I am. I'm right where I'm supposed to be, even if my ego thinks differently.

Friday, May 16, 2014

lack of gratitude

This is a gratitude tree in my neighborhood.
I found it on my walk two days ago.
I've been thinking about gratitude, and the lack of it I've been feeling lately. I'm catching myself having a lot of unpleasant thoughts with a whiny edge. Things like wondering why a person didn't write me back to place a possible order, instead of thinking about the person who did just place an order for the exact same thing. Or worrying about a super slow week on Etsy and thinking it's all over for me, I'm washed up, instead of thinking about the super fat order I got off my website. Or wanting to resist a deadline and feeling like it's impinging on my work, instead of thinking about how it's all a part of my work and how fortunate I am to have meaningful work at all.

I think these are are pretty normal thoughts and I don't expect to be a perfect person and not have them. But I'm just noticing how crappy it makes me feel when I whine to myself, or when my ego starts squawking that I deserve better, more, now. It's been worse lately since I am going through a transition with my work, I've made choices to not take on so many orders, and I'm uncomfortable with it since I have no idea where that's going to land me financially over the next few years. Or artistically. Or anything else.

The man who planted it told me it's
been there since the recession
started almost 5 years ago.
There's part of me that has complete faith that the changes I've made in my work and personal life are going to take me where I need and want to go, and that place will also bring me more peace and a deeper expression in my art. And there's another part of me that craves success in the form of wider recognition, steady accolades, and financial rewards. This part of me can be very ego-driven and is never satisfied with what I have. It takes my ego about 2 minutes to forget the good thing that just happened to me and start demanding more. It makes me feel tremendously ungrateful.

It's very annoying and emotionally draining to listen this voice and for a while I was smacking it around and telling it to shut the fuck up. Well, that never works, the voice just gets louder. I've been doing some reading on the study of gratitude, the tremendous benefits it brings to your life in the form of better health and more happiness.  The recommendation to feel more gratitude is to simply keep a gratitude journal, write a few things down every day that you are grateful for.

I couldn't believe I didn't notice it
until a couple of days ago.
I've done this before for a few days, and then I lose interest or focus. But since I am trying to detoxify myself from ingratitude, I took this as an opportunity to buy myself a new notebook and get serious about it, and I've been writing 5 things in the morning, in the afternoon, and again before I go to bed. I'm committing to doing this everyday for at least a month, and I'm hoping it has a positive long-term impact on my attitude.

I'm feeling gratitude right now that I have people who read my blog. I'd love it if you would help me with my gratitude work over the month by telling me what you are grateful for.

Monday, May 12, 2014

happening now, coming up

I have been lost in my world of clay, which is better than being lost in my own head.

I've been working on these random pieces that I put together into a collection and called it the Pretty Random Blossom collection. The whole reason why it came about is because when I was finally getting my hands back in clay earlier this year, I couldn't get started. I didn't know where to start. You think that feeling inspired means you know exactly how to direct that energy, but I didn't. Every idea I came up with didn't seem right for the moment. Okay, I'll be honest-- every idea seemed to suck and I shot it down with my judgement gun. I have so much ammo, I will probably never run out. So I froze myself in place, couldn't do anything... you guys know how that one goes.

I finally had to have a serious talk with myself about judgement and the importance of just having some fun. There were tears. I started throwing these "clay pancakes" just so I could play around with some drawing and mishima.  I started like that because the pancakes had very little value so there was no weight to whether or not they came out "right". Those pieces morphed into some pretty little plates. I also had some fun doing mishima on some flower-shaped bowls, sort of a new twist on an old idea. I did a few rounds of throwing and glazing, and put them up on my website and sold most of the pieces within 24 hours, which was so great and gave me a glimmer of hope that I am not totally washed up yet.  You can see the whole collection here. Though some of my favorite pieces did not make it through the firing which made me feel doomed. But then, I got over it. I always do.

Some of the best pieces are still there. I am obsessed with scallop edges right now. Actually, I have always been obsessed with scalloped edges. I love carving them, I love looking at them.

I love the ridiculous raised dogwood centers on this tray. 

I have always loved mishima but never tried to incorporate it into my work, it really hits all my OCD buttons in a good way.

What's coming up is I'm going to be interviewed by Ben Carter of the Red Clay Rambler podcast on May 17. It's going to be a live deal where people can come and watch because that's exactly how much of an attention whore I am. But really, the subject of the evening is social media, telling your story, crafting a voice online, and marketing. So if you show up, you can ask questions and be a part of the conversation. Tickets are 10 bucks but if you are a student, you can get a free ticket. There will be an after-party where we can all mingle and drink Lagunitas beer. Seating is limited, so get your tickets here. Hope to meet you there!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

never starving

Since I am an artist, I hear the term "starving artist" more than the average person, and it creates a deep fission of annoyance in my heart and mind every time. It's the term itself, and the way people say it.

Sometimes it's said casually, which shows the speaker is not thinking about it, just taking the myth as an understood truth. Sometimes with an edge of derision of self-righteousness, as if the artist in question-- or maybe all artists-- asked for starvation by choosing art and will get what they deserve. Sometimes it's said with earnestness, and this is the worst, because it often comes from other artists who think they must suffer in order to be an artist. Or their current low economic status is correct and will never change.

Also, I deeply dislike what the term implies: that for anyone to choose to be an artist in this world of practical need and hard realities means you will go hungry, not be able to provide for yourself, and suffer deeply.

I have a client, a good, longtime one, who discussed with me how his daughter wants to be an artist but he has persistently tried to steer her into a profession where "she can make some money." When I suggested she could make money making her art, he waved me off.  No no, honey, people don't make real money doing what you do, is the message I got from the encounter. Never mind he's handed over hundreds, if not thousands of his dollars to me for my art.

Artists don't starve, they are too creative and smart for starvation. They figure out a way to survive before they starve.

I understand the starving artist myth is a metaphor, and I find it to be an supremely annihilating one. The metaphor implies that creativity is of the lowest value in our culture, unless it directly serves the culture in the form of generating money. Lots of it. And that people who choose to be artists are of similarly low value.

I think the metaphor persists because people understand there's truth in there, but it's backwards-- it's the culture that is actually starving for artists, dying for beauty, gasping for the meaning art brings to us. I believe there is a deep fear of articulating the truth of this because of the long hard look we would have to take at the way we live now, which debases and profits off the destruction of the most beautiful, valuable things we have.

I encounter people all the time who wanted to be an artist, but because of parental and or/cultural pressure, chose to go into a money-making or conventional profession.  And because their true calling has been denied and they are not creating for us, for the world, we all starve. What beautiful works have not been made, what deep truths have not been uncovered, what leaps of evolution have not been made because the people who would have brought that to us were coerced and intimidated into serving another calling?

For those of you thinking right now "real" artists will always yield to their calling, we haven't lost anything, I say bullshit.

I aim this post directly at teachers, parents, and other people who have any kind of authority over young people's lives. I want you to ask yourself how you respond when a young person says they want to be an artist when they grow up. Do you say, "Artists have really hard lives"? Do you say, "I hope you plan to learn something practical too so you have something to fall back on"? Do you say, "How do you plan on making money by being an artist"? Then I want you to recall what you wanted to be when you grew up, and try to feel how it would feel to hear those words when you stated your intention. I think that not many people who read my blog would say any of those things, but maybe you know someone who would, or has. Send this post to them.

I wonder what would happen if people let go of this myth. What if every child who stated they wanted to be an artist was met with "What kind of artist do you want to be?" What kind of new world could we create with that simple response?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

signs of burnout

I have been a little bit off the radar-- no newsletter the past two months, one blog post, very little on the social media network--but there is a lot of things happening behind the scenes right now.

As I step back into a routine of making pottery-- and I use the word "routine" very loosely here because for every day I manage a whole day at the studio there is probably a week of barely getting in there-- I've been re-imagining and and re-designing a bunch of components that make up my creative life. My creative life is also the engine that powers my livelihood, so it's a lot of work. Everything from redesigning my website, business cards, and the way I process the orders I receive; to deeper work around the way I create, how I approach my work, and what I put into the world.

I recently hired a business/life coach to help me stay on track with all of these different paths, because it gets pretty thick and I don't know what I'm doing.  I just know where I want to be. But I keep running into this question: where is the joy? Right alongside that question is: are we having fun?

Joy and fun are the reasons why I started making pottery. It was fun, that gave me joy. I never questioned whether or not it was a good idea to turn pottery into a money-making enterprise. When I was in the process of creating my business, I was in my 20's and if someone had asked me that question, I would have thought the question was stupid. Why shouldn't you make money doing the very thing that brings you so much happiness? It would have never occurred to me that there would come a day when making pottery could be as much of a grind as cubicle work (whatever that is) and I would be as worn out and empty as any other person burned out on teaching, lawyering, climbing the corporate ladder, or working any job that requires us to show up day after day.

My coach asked me for my personal signs of burnout, and here they are:

  • Boredom: not excited by the work I am making.
  • Resentment: toward difficult customers, toward the work I have to do, toward pieces not coming out as planned.
  • Rushing: trying to get it over with rather than being present with the process.
  • Procrastination: we all know that one. Procrastination equals avoidance.
  • Anger: when anger starts replacing my other emotions, like sadness, I become a ball of fury that is downright dangerous. Cars get kicked when they cut me off on my bicycle, fights get picked with people who can kick my ass, the cat starts hiding under the bed, my husband wonders why he ever married me. 
I doubt these signs are unique to me.

What I'm learning about myself is that I take my creativity for granted, I use it up. I'm like a teenager who borrows the parent's car and burns all the gas with no thought, because the assumption is the parents will just re-fill the tank. And they do, until they get totally sick of being taken advantage of.

I've started feeling pretty sad for my inner artist, who gives and gives and gives to the taskmaster-- me-- and is rarely rewarded with the things that will keep her inspired. I'm a hard-ass boss. The more I look at that picture, the more I don't like it. I want to protect my inner artist at all costs, always yielding to that little voice that pipes up, "I think I've had enough for today, let's go have fun somewhere else." Yes, sometimes that voice pipes up at 11 in the morning.

I know a lot of artists and creative types read this blog, so what do you do to keep your inner artist flowing,? Or are you just a taskmaster too?

Friday, January 24, 2014

a new page

When some people want to change something in their life, they may buy a membership at the gym, join a like-minded group, enroll in a class, or get a therapist.

Me, I buy a notebook.

This is a collection of my notebooks. In the interest of full disclosure I will say that this is not all of them. All have been acquired within the past 3 years, with the exception of #12, my wedding notebook that my Aunt Shelly sent to me back in 2001 when I got engaged to my husband. She knows the power of the notebook.

I have always wished that I were the type of person who could carry around a moleskine notebook and jot all of my thoughts and ideas into that one place, and when I was done, file it and buy another exactly like it. And when I needed to refer back to something, a genius thought or creative idea-- of which I have many-- I could simply crack the moleskine. My inner creative life could be documented in a linear way that would create a beautiful pocket of order in my universe.

But that's not me. I am addicted to the new beginning a fresh notebook represents. When I decide I need to make a change in my life, such as getting more exercise,  a new notebook must be purchased (#15) so I can use that notebook as a way of tracking myself. I can't write down my daily exercise in notebook #10, which holds my grocery lists and menu plans, or notebook #21, which lists all the annoying household things that need to be taken care of, and certainly not notebook #9, which lists my studio to-do's for the day. Crossover creates confusion.

And it's not just lists of things that I like to have going. #14 is my daily journal (always spiral bound and college-ruled). #13 is strictly for pottery ideas and drawings, while #3 is for other creative ideas, like papercuts. #4 is dedicated to happiness and happiness resources รก la Gretchen Rubin, and #7 stays in my purse for moments when I am struck by inspiration when out to dinner or a museum (empty except for notes on directions and places to eat). #3 was for when I decided to start doing sketches with little stories underneath, of which there are two in the past year (sketches, not stories), and somewhere in there is a notebook related to money, but I'm not sure which.

I'm going to confess what you probably saw coming from the beginning of this post: the only notebook that regularly gets any use is my journal, my day planner, and my sketch books. In large part, the rest of the notebook are testaments only to my ambitions, desires and goals. 

For people like me, who believe in the strength of words and writing, notebooks and paper hold a powerful sway over our psyches. As I was writing this post, and reading about notebooks and moleskines, I found this notebook, and my heart started beating a little faster. Maybe this is the ultimate notebook. Maybe this is the one that can change everything.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

old blog posts, new thoughts

I received a new comment from another potter on an old blog post the other day that brought up some thoughts I wanted to share it with you all:

I'm still trying to figure out my message. My (blog) posts have a tendency to be all over the place. Some about pottery, some about my daily health struggles, and some just because! Do you really think that it is beneficial to narrow the point/audience of a blog, or will the "wide net" approach I've got going on work?

When I first started this blog just over 7 years ago, I knew I wanted to share my world with people, but I struggled with distilling my world into interesting blog posts.  My biggest mistake initially was thinking I had to maintain a professional facade for the sake of potential customers. Like my blog is a fancy store or I'm going to sell you an appliance or something.  I wrote about a dozen polite, very restrained, heavily edited posts that I hoped gave the impression that I was a serious artist with deep thoughts. By the way, only click on those links if you are feeling suicidal and think being bored to death might be a painless way to go (it's not).

Then, I had a terrible weekend at a bad retail show and I let loose in a blog post how I felt about it. I was completely honest about my anger, discomfort, and disappointment when I have to stand around like an idiot all weekend and people don't buy my work, or even talk to me.

That post was a lot of fun to write, and I was so scared to publish it because I was afraid of what people would think of me, complaining like that.  But I did publish it, and it was the first time I had more than one or two comments. I made the great discovery that people pay branding companies lots of money to manufacture for them: authenticity creates connection.

Authenticity is scary. Knowing who you are deeply enough to show your authentic self is work in itself, and you also have to accept that some people are not going to like you and what you have to say. And you know what? Fuck them. Not in a personal way, people aren't bad for not liking you. In a general way, fuck the people who are not into your world. The people who love your world can't wait to see what you do next, and they are the people who matter.

The question about narrowing the point/audience of a blog vs. wide net is not what needs to be considered, that's approaching it from the back end. The front end approach is  honing your point of view through writing and sharing. If you don't know what your point of view is, keep writing until you figure it out.