Wednesday, December 30, 2015

the way of the half-ass

I've mentioned before that I am a recovering perfectionist. One of the ideas that I've embraced since going into recovery is the idea of half-assing it.  The mantra that goes with half-assing it is: "Half-ass is better than no ass". 

The idea first came to me around how I exercise. I'm one of those people who decides I'm going to get in shape and then sets up a whole regimen: daily routines, a DVD workout set from Jillian Michaels, a little notebook to mark my progress, etc. And I'm good with that for a few weeks or a month or whatever. But then... I get lazy, and I miss a day. Missing a single day is as good as driving the train off the tracks and into the gully, and I know it. I know that as soon as I am achieving at less-than-optimal standards, I give up. It's a symptom of my perfectionism.

But one day I was floundering with my exercise routine, and I decided that rather than skip the whole thing, which was my inclination because I was short on time that day, it would be better if I just took the 10 minutes I had a do some squats and some pushing around of the arm weights and that would be okay. It was half-assed compared to my usual effort, but also literally better than nothing, and the easiest and least I could do while still doing something. It also kept the train on the tracks. Since I came to the Way of the Half Ass, I've been getting more regular exercise.

Half-assing it also goes hand-in-hand with doing the easiest thing that is available to you rather than not doing it because you can't trust or value something that's too easy. This is another aspect of perfectionism: one must unduly suffer. If it's easy, it ain't worth doing. I really believed for years that I was not expressing my deepest artistic self unless it was hard and I was suffering in some way. But really, I think it was a finely tuned fear and procrastination system. I have been so much more creative in the past 18 months because I don't care as much about making "perfect" things anymore. I don't even care about finishing if I don't feel like it.

I think a lot of people out there who are running art-based businesses flounder with things like marketing and creative development because they think they can't do it unless they do it 100% "right", locked in with a beginning-to-end plan, executed with perfection. I say fuck that. Floundering around and doing things whether or not it's "the right way" or shows you at your very best creates its own forward momentum that is more valuable than sitting around in your studio thinking about all the things you're going to do as soon as the time is "right".

It's the things that I don't half-ass that haunt me more than the half-assed things I do. Right now I'm feeling overwhelmed by putting together a new marketing and promotion plan. I have to reach into new areas to get my work out there because my old way of doing things is not working anymore. The fact that I'm overwhelmed is my own little clue that I'm struggling with my perfectionism, and then nothing gets done because the whole thing makes me uncomfortable and I would rather procrastinate. It would be a far better thing to think of a few of the easiest things I could do right now-- send off a few emails to showrooms, ask for help-- than to sit alone in my head.

The bottom line of half-assing-- so to speak-- is not about lowering your standards, but about being kinder to yourself.  Stop with the lashing of the whip, stop with the impossible ideals, stop with the procrastination. Half-ass it. You'll feel better.

Monday, November 16, 2015

sharing the work

I'm posting pictures of some of my new paintings on the blog today. Here they are:

Sharing art work can be weird. Last weekend, when I had a party and sale at my studio, I put all the paintings I've been doing on the wall.  I didn't put prices on them because I told myself that I just wanted to show them. But the truth is I didn't want to put prices on them because I was afraid if I did that, people would feel sorry for me because obviously the paintings are awful and it's just a little pathetic that I actually thought I could sell them.

I don't think the paintings are awful and I like them quite a bit, actually. And I had fun making them which was the most important thing to me while I was creating them. And it's not like I lack confidence. It's just that showing your art is weird and it puts you in a vulnerable spot, and I was doing my best to dodge that.

As it turns out, people did want to buy them, and I wasn't prepared with a price. It was awkward, and people had to come back later after I made up my mind. Note to self: don't do that again, unless you truly have no intention of selling something. It's annoying to everyone concerned.

I'm a firm believer in not sharing work until you are ready. Showing work too soon can backfire if the work is still in some kind of process or you are not emotionally prepared yet. But I don't know where that line is between "not being ready" and "fear".

There are amazing artists out there who never show their work to anyone, ever. Part of me thinks there is a strange nobility in that, to just do the work for the sake of the work. But when it comes down to it, I have to change my mind about thinking it's noble. It's not noble. It's just fear. It's okay to have fear, but I don't think fear should be the decider about important things, like whether or not to share your work.

Sharing is part of the artistic process. I believe art is there to give something to humanity-- something to think about, a new idea, a connection, a moment of beauty, even a moment of transcendence. If the art isn't shown, it can't do its final job of changing people's hearts and minds. If your art is just for one person-- for yourself-- maybe there is a good reason for that. But I don't know what that would be.

Selling is another thing. I don't think art has to be sold, but there is something to be said for moving it along. I really like these paintings, but I can see that I will quickly be drowning under a pile of canvas if I don't find homes for these pieces. So, that being said, I will be posting paintings on my website within the next week or so, and I'll be announcing it through my newsletter and Facebook. You can also contact me if you are interested in any of them.

Friday, October 30, 2015

a tiny lesson in creativity

I've been painting with acrylics for the last couple of months. I used to paint all the time, and in fact there was a time when I thought I would be a painter when I grew up, but then I met pottery and I dropped painting immediately. I literally have not picked up a paintbrush since 1993.

I started painting again because I realized I make too big of a deal about creativity in general and there is no reason why I can't make pottery and paint. I can paint, and it can suck and be awful, and that's okay, because it's not important and nobody cares. I don't have to sell it and it doesn't have to make me famous. But I can still have fun while making terrible paintings. When I came to this important realization around late August, I ran to the art supply store, bought everything I needed, and started painting immediately. I mean like, right away, that day.

My approach to painting has completely changed. When I was younger, I would start in on a canvas with a very clear idea of what I wanted to paint. It was never as good as I wanted to be, and that was always a frustration to me. I think part of the reason why I was so willing to move on with pottery is because with pottery, I was quickly able to make pretty much what I had in mind. It was way easier and more satisfying and the reward of having something useful when it came out of the kiln was even better.

Now when I stand in front of a canvas, I have only the vaguest sense of what I want to do, and I usually just start with color. When I'm about 30 minutes in, this voice always starts up: "Oooooh... I don't like this very much. I don't know about this.... It kind of sucks, don't you think? Please... make it better before you kill me with your bad taste." This voice used to totally throw me off track, because I used to believe that it knew what it was talking about. Now I understand that it knows nothing  and I just ignore it. I keep ignoring it and after about 2 minutes it fades away. I call this "the hump". I have to just get past that first hump and then I'm fine. I can just keep painting away until I feel like I'm done, and I'm usually pretty happy with what I've made. If the hump comes again, I know it will last about 2 minutes so I just wait it out.

This exercise has totally been helping me with my pottery too. I had this piece, a really big piece that I threw in two parts, and when I put it together, it wasn't matching up in the way I envisioned. I wanted it to be a smooth bullet shape, but it had a little curve where there two piece met and I didn't have enough clay to trim it into shape. I did not like it. But it was so damn tall-- 22 inches!-- and I had put so much work into making it that tall that I wasn't going trash it. I decided to approach it like a painting, not give a shit if the surface decoration was good or not, and just have fun with it in the exact same way I am having fun painting.

As it turned out, this piece ended up being one of the strongest in this collection of vases of tall vases I made for a gallery, and it sold for over $1000 within a couple of weeks.

So what is the lesson? The lesson is to have fun with your creative work, of course, and not to focus on the outcome but on the process. But it's also about taking the time to notice your own process and pay attention to its hills and valleys. I think with pottery I am so used to my process that I don't necessarily take note of some of the negativity I bring to it. But painting is feeling so fresh to me at the moment that I really notice all the feelings I am having with it, and then when I immediately move on to making some pottery that action of noticing myself and my feelings is still there. It's very helpful. On difficult mornings when I feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing, which is really all the time, I just whip out 30 minutes of painting just to get things going, and to prime the pump of not being too attached to any particular outcome.

If you are looking for an assignment today, here's one: go get some supplies and make something that is out of your wheelhouse but you think will be fun. Go get some fimo, some shrinky dinks, some watercolors, some styrofoam and spray paint. Whatever. And make something just purely for fun. Notice what is happening in your head while you're making it. Let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I'm havin' a party

I'm having a pre-holiday studio party sale thing on November 7. I always want to have a party at my studio around the holidays, but it is really hard to get people to do anything around the holidays. So I'm scheduling it before the holidays, and I'm going to see if that works.

The studio will open at 5, and my vision is that people who want in on the sale part of the party will come early. All my regular priced items will be 15% off between 5-7 PM. I will also have every last second on a special table, along with randoms, orphans, one-offs, and prototypes. It's a space clearing exercise too.

Around 7 PM I will turn up the music, and perhaps dim the lights a bit. I will have food and drinks and that kind of thing. You can still buy stuff, but you will have to find me to give me money. Perhaps I will have some kind of special bell you can ding or a balloon you can pop to alert me.

If you are in the Bay Area, by all means, please show up. Here are all the details you need. If you are shy about parties, come early before there are too many strangers to interact with, slip in and out, or bring a friend.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

no plan b

Mention to someone that you want to be an artist when you grow up, and you will most certainly be met with a pat on the head and the question, "What is your back up plan?"

For most people, there is no back up plan.

I was listening to one of my podcasts, Bullseye with Jesse Thorn, and he was talking to the comedian Brian Regan about why he dropped out of college before finishing his degree so he could pursue stand-up comedy:
What motivated me even further was when people would say, "Why don't you just wait and get your degree, so you have something to fall back on if this comedy thing doesn't work?" And I didn't want to think that the comedy thing might not work, I didn't want to feel I had something to fall back on. I wanted it to work. It had to work. It was going to work. It was very difficult for me to pursue a goal that I didn't want to happen.  For me to get the degree was for a life that I didn't want for myself. That was the safe route. I was like I was like how am I supposed to wake up, and go to class, so I can get a degree for this "fallback" plan? I don't want that plan, I want this plan that's murky, and weird, and scary, that's the plan I wanna go for. So, I went that route.
I'm not saying not having a Plan  B will assure your success in the arts, but expending a lot of energy on the "back up plan" means that your Plan B is actually Plan A.

I'm feeling a little  Seth Godin today.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


All of the sudden I am very burned out on social media. This came up for me because I've been working in some new mediums, and of course I feel the need to whip out my phone and document my process and some images. And then I think ought to share them, but I really don't feel like it.

I know exactly why I don't feel like it. Putting it out there is inviting people's thoughts and opinions about what I'm making, and I'm not interested right now. I just want to focus on getting better at what I'm trying to do and I don't want encouragement from strangers or passing comments on Instagram.

My friend Sara Paloma has said many times over the years that she thinks it's very important for young artists to protect what they are making from the public while they are still in that steep learning curve of figuring out what they are trying to make. Too many opinions, too many voices is distracting and even confusing.  They can create value where perhaps there is none or undermine an idea before its had time ripen.

Right now we live in a culture of "A year of making" or "daily drawing" where artists post every single day the thing they are working on, and I do think there is a lot of value in not only sharing work and ideas, but creating a visible example of commitment to your craft. Being an artist is about doing, making, creating, and social media is in many ways a natural  outlet for creative expression.

But there's the flip side to that. The outlet can become an end in itself, the seeking of approval, positive feedback and "likes" from strangers as a way to feel a sense of accomplishment. I would be a liar if I said I don't feel a bit buoyed when I post an image that gets a lot of attention, and conversely a sense of disappointment when I get little attention from another image. And I have to recognize and question those feelings, because in the end it is little more than distraction. The more I've been thinking about it, the more I have been questioning the whole enterprise and my own participation.

As much as there may be value in sharing work--even work that is not very good--there must be value in not sharing it, in holding it close, in forcing people to be seekers rather than passive observers. I can't help but wonder: what would Georgia O'Keefe do?

"It was all so far away - there was quiet and an untouched feel to the country and I could work as I pleased."

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

the cost, the price

I'm in recovery mode from the Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival. It's always a good show for me and this year was no exception, though Sunday was one of the worst days ever. So it was way out of balance-- Saturday was excellent, Sunday was not-excellent. It is very strange, how the energy of a show is set and how it affects everything. The energy of Sunday was downright lethargic, and by noon I was limped out in my chair, wondering if anyone would notice if I just crawled under one of my tables and slept for a little while. People were nice enough, but few were in the mood to buy anything. Though they were still in the mood to come into my booth and touch everything, which believe it or not, sucks up a lot of energy.

Early on the first day, one of my fellow exhibitors came into my booth to check out my work. He's a glassblower, older than me and very experienced with the whole making-a-living-at-making-art thing. He picked up a few pieces, and then got blunt with me. "Your prices are too low."

I was blunt right back. "I hate it when people say that to me." And I do. I take it personally. I feel like what is being said is that I don't value myself enough, and that makes me feel defensive. I think I value myself but also, maybe I don't sometimes and that makes me embarrassed. Also, I hate it when people try to tell me what to do. That's my goddamn job.

"This bowl," he said, pointing to a giant bowl, "should be at least $475. It's way too cheap." (It was $250.)

"Okay, " I said. "It is my favorite bowl." (And it is. It's fucking amazing.)

"There you go," he said, "at least leave yourself some room to negotiate. How are you going to feel when that bowl walks out of here for $250?"

I changed the price to $475.

Later, we had a more in-depth conversation about pricing. It was good for me to have the conversation even though it was pushing some of my little buttons. I realized that I have been letting my prices stagnate or even drift down, much in line with the wage stagnation of low and middle income Americans. 

For example, 8-10 years ago it was very common for me to sell vases and other vessels for $400 and up. It wasn't a stretch, I did it all the time. Most of my work was well over $100, I made very few pieces for under $75. The work I was making at that time was very labor-intensive. I was always pushing the price as high as I could, and I had no problem with it.

But I also wanted to develop less expensive pieces to broaden my market reach, so I did. Then my etsy shop took off, and over time the only things I was making were the less-expensive pieces, cause that's what was selling like crazy. I literally did not have the time or focus to make more elaborate, more expensive work. And over time I basically painted myself into a corner with the $44 item.

Oh, and bored myself to death too.

And now I've gotten more cautious about pushing my prices higher. I did do a nominal price hike on most of my smaller items last year for the first time in ages, but I've been reluctant to take a hard look at the way I've been pricing my newer items. I think it's underpriced-- I know it is-- but I also want to get it out there. I'm still developing and learning a lot and quickly moving up the learning curve so I don't want to get overstocked on work. I want it to move. But then I have to think about setting the expectation. If I underprice too much for too long, it makes it harder to get the prices up to where they belong later.

Pricing is tricky for artists, it's one of the most common struggles we have. My glassblower friend made the point that when you get into a certain market-- the high-end market-- price is not the first thing that is considered, and usually doesn't represent a barrier at all. Even in the lower-end market a price differential of 20% will not stop the people who really want the thing you are making. And pricing too low has the unintended effect of making people value the work less. Even wondering what is wrong with it.

I walked away from the conversation realizing that I cannot continue to be passive about my prices, that I have to think about what the work is really worth and price more appropriately. What about you? If you are an artist I know pricing is something you have to contend with, what are your thoughts? And if you are a buyer of art and craft, what do you think about when you are considering the price of an item? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival-- this weekend!

The Palo Alto show is this weekend. Usually, I go into a fever about 6 weeks before the show. I stop taking care of myself, I cancel all social engagements, and I start drinking even more wine so I can focus on making stuff. It sounds like a mental illness, doesn't it?

This year, I did a 3-day getaway to the mountains with a friend LAST WEEK. I haven't skipped any meals, I'm drinking more water than wine, and I even went and got a pedicure yesterday. Shit is changing around here.

I'll still be unloading a hot kiln the morning before the show, but oh well.

I'm rubbing my hands together in anticipation for the show, and I'm also a little nervous. I'm bringing a bunch of my new work, and I have some of my old work too, and I have no idea how I'm going to make room for it all, or how it's even going to all go together. I decided a couple of days ago that I have to re-design my table coverings and curtains-- I have to inject some insanity  into the process or it's just not me-- because the old colors and textures just don't work. I'm not freaking out because it's just a show, but I'm feeling pretty amped up.

If you're in the Bay Area, for god's sake-- stop by! I'll be in booth #61 in a new dress that I sewed myself. (I also decided I need two new dresses that are sewn by me, I've recently sworn off shopping, but that's another blog post.) You can get all the details right here.

I hope to see you there!

Monday, June 08, 2015

is it time to leave oakland?

I recently returned from a trip to Spokane, Washington. My husband and I went there to do a preliminary assessment of Spokane's real estate market and potential as a possible future home for us.

It was not randomly chosen. It's beautiful, outdoorsy, with a river running through it and more city parks than I have ever seen. I was born 100 miles away from Spokane in Moses Lake, and lived in Spokane for a time as a child when my mom was in grad school. I liked Spokane when I was a kid, and I have two artist friends who live there now, so that provides a link back into the place.

My husband and I are finding ourselves in that horrible spot that you hear about all the time, but you hope to never experience yourself. Our beloved Oakland has hit the big time-- this article made me and everybody I know cringe with a bit of horror and outrage --and we are finding ourselves priced out of the city that we have lived in for 20 years.

We have felt the creep for years, so it's not a surprise. Oakland's hidden charms and diamonds in the rough have been coming to light more and more as people look for alternatives to San Francisco. It's the same reason we moved here; we couldn't compete for housing in San Francisco during the first dot-com boom of the 90's, but the stakes were different back then. We saw the potential of the city, and believed in its intrinsic strength and beauty despite what many saw as a blighted and crime-ridden area.  By chance we happened to settle into what has become one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the city around Lake Merritt.

Right now we have a pretty decent 2-bedroom apartment with both of our studios located within 30 seconds down the street. Because we have rented all of these places for well over a decade and have fairly non-predatory landlords along with rent control protection, our overhead is manageable, less than half of what we would pay if we were just starting now. I really wonder how younger Bay Area artists today can manage, if they manage, and do they even try?

But it hangs by a thread. All it takes is one landlord deciding to sell their building, or some other unpredictable event for us to be in an untenable situation. One-room studio apartments that used to sit empty for months for lack of renters a few years ago are now going for $2000 in our neighborhood. And people are lining up to rent them.

For us, buying a home here is not an option.  Houses with no heat, rotting window frames, foundation problems and leaking roofs can easily be bid up to over $500,000. We could move to the fringes of the Bay Area for perhaps a few hundred thousand dollars less, but why? We like the Bay Area, but we love Oakland. And part of what makes Oakland so livable for us is the easy access to our friends and cultural life we enjoy. We don't have to get in the car to do most of what we need to do, we can often walk or ride our bikes. That makes our lifestyle buffered against many of the things that make city living kind of stressful. Do I want to give that up so I can hang on, keep my feet planted in the Bay Area?

It's very painful. I moved myself to California when I was 18 because I always wanted to live here and I felt instinctively that I would find my place here, that I would find a sense of belonging. And I did. But it's almost 30 years later now, and the lifestyle that we love so much continues to be eroded not only by overpopulation, gentrification, and the real estate boom, but by the catastrophe of our current drought and continued environmental degradation. I have to ask myself if staying with my Oakland tribe is the smart move. If staying in California at all is a wise choice. Or if it's time to create something new, somewhere else.

Also, as an artist who contributed to Oakland becoming a mecca for creative types, I feel the sadness bitterness of being kicked out because I don't have enough money to stake a real estate claim. People say they want the cultural life and diversity that artists create, but what is being delivered to us are new and better restaurants-- sorry, not restaurants, but "kitchens"-- and bars. What was revolutionary, offbeat, edgy, and different has mutated into high-end retail with a strangely conformist feel. And it attracts residents who mistake gentrification for culture, which in turn propagates more of the same. How long it will be before downtown Oakland turns into a clone of Los Gatos?

I know my complaint is an old one and not even the most poignant or compelling. My own move to this city in 1996 was an early signal of the incoming wave of gentrification, and my choices and tastes have helped to shape it. There is no denying or getting away from that truth. People who have lived here for generations and should be benefitting the most from an improved city and public life are getting thrown out of the Bay Area as if none of their contributions matter, and that is far more painful than our dilemma. And many don't have the same choices that I'm privileged enough to have.

Meanwhile, who out there lives in Spokane? I'm going to need more than two friends.

Monday, May 25, 2015

beautiful mistakes

I was working on one of my new pieces a couple of weeks ago. It was a large platter-type thing. Wide and flat with 90 degree sides that were just over an inch high. I sketched in a lotus and lily pad motif on both sides over layers of green and blue underglaze, and I liked how it looked. I put well over an hour into the piece when I totally cracked off one side. I got carried away with the detail work and did not realize that I had all the weight of the piece leaning on one edge.

Whenever I fuck something up, my reaction is always the same. First I yell in complete dismay, "Ooooooh NO!" Followed by a series of swear words. Depending on the severity of the fuck up, I contemplate crying and I often put out a couple of experimental sobs to see if it's going to take. Usually is doesn't, because my method for dealing with pottery fuck-ups, honed over almost 20 years of dealing with them, is to immediately throw them in the trash and move on. I can't get stuck on pieces getting broken, it's just part of the process and there's no point in ruminating on it. I'm kind of harsh that way.

But this piece was so nice. I really liked how it was shaping up. Yeah, I could make another, but there is nothing like the magic of the first. And then I just decided to repair the broken pieces, stick them back in their broken spot and secure it with slip, and not even try to hide the fact that it had been cracked, but emphasize it with some black glaze and really show it off. I felt like I was on to something.

Then, last night I was watching the first in a series on Netflix called "Chef's Table", a set of documentaries about some of the top chefs in the world. The Italian chef Massimo Bottura was talking about how one of his chefs dropped a lemon tart, breaking apart the crust and splatting the filling. Rather than freaking out, he was inspired by the idea of this, of presenting the lemon tart broken on the plate to the customer, because he thought it was beautiful, not destroyed. He says that to make mistakes is human, and therefore mistakes can be beautiful. The art comes from being able to see that, and then making the invisible visible for others to appreciate. His broken lemon tart is now a signature dish on his restaurant menu, and it is called, "Oops! I dropped the lemon tart!" Who would have ever thought to do something so whimsical with food presentation?

I just loved this whole concept of the broken lemon tart, and how the drive toward achieving perfection just misses the point of creating something beautiful. And now, my personal homage to the broken lemon tart dessert:

Oops! I cracked the edge of the platter!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

is this thing on?

Life has been strange, and strangely wonderful lately. First, I'm just gonna put something kinda uncomfortable out there. It may wreck your image of me as a highly successful potter. This year --so far--has been the very worst year for sales... ever, I think. I mean, in the 15 year history of my business. This month especially, April, has been the deadest month I've had in years.

I don't really want to go into it, I'm just mentioning this as a way to communicate my state of affairs. In a weird way I am grateful that things are slow, because it's giving me the freedom and the time to work on my new pieces, make some custom orders, and put time into other creative projects that I have going. I also think when my assistant left last year to move to Hawaii and I did not replace her, I was signaling to the Universe that I desire a change of pace. I feel like it's a transition time, for me, for my career-- if that's what it's called-- and that transitions are by nature temporary, challenging, uncomfortable, and what I'm feeling -- like I'm walking on a very high tightrope in a stiff breeze-- is normal and natural.

But goddammit, every once in a while I fucking freak out. I mean what the fuck?! Am I here? Am I alive? Is the internet working?! Is this thing on?!!!

I've been working out all kinds of strategies to deal with the anxiety. I'm doing yoga and meditating every single day, trying to overlay the chaos with a sheen of sanity. Ultimately I know that even if it's not temporary, this is somehow the new normal, being a wreck is not going to make it better. Being a wreck will make it harder and also make my husband miserable. He hates dealing with me when I'm a wreck.

I was having a small moment last week where I was feeling alone and adrift. Very quickly I wrote down some goals for the week, something to focus on and stay engaged rather than feel sorry for myself. I wanted to share them with you because I think these are all good goals to keep in mind if you are circling the drain:

  • Connect: with a stranger and with a friend. Write an email to someone you admire and tell them they are amazing. Even better, send them a postcard. I did both last week and it made me feel good. I also took the time to connect with a couple of friends who I've been out of touch with for too long.
  • Promote: something easy and something hard. The goal here was to get myself out of my comfort zone a bit when it comes to promoting. I can do my usual thing, but what about reaching out to a store, or to another artist and suggesting a collaboration, or submitting a story to a blog/website? This is hard for me, because I prefer to have people chase after me, but it gave me something to work on and feel like I was planting a seed or two. 
  • Finish: the thing you've dreaded and the thing you haven't made time for. We all know what that is in our lives. Get it done. You'll feel better.
  • Do: something for yourself and something for someone else. Taking care of oneself is the kindest thing any of us can do, and doing something for someone else is the next kindest. Make someone else's day while making sure you are taking care of yourself too.
And here, for your enjoyment, are some pictures of my some work that came out of the kiln last week. Yes, it's for sale, you can buy it.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015


I am often asked where I get my inspiration for my work, or how I get myself inspired.

Every once in a while inspiration is just delivered to me like a divine gift. A completed piece will show up in my head that I immediately understand and have the wherewithal to go ahead and make, but those times are very rare. It is magical, and I can't depend on it.

I think there is an assumption that art gets made through this kind of inspiration almost 100% of the time, that's how it "should" be. It helps feed the image of the artist as a special and mystical being, an image that I admit I can kind of enjoy, but ultimately it's just dress-up. It's not real.

The inspiration question I am never good at answering, because I get the feeling that people want a formula, or a step-by-step set of guidelines on how to pull ideas out of the ether and render them into creativity, and I don't have a formula. I mostly just do my work and hope. I think the reward for work is inspiration. And the reward for inspiration is work. It's a continual feedback loop. But all kinds of things will interrupt this loop, and that's just the reality of living in an annoying and imperfect world.

The best I can do is look for the beauty in all things. This is a habit for me, I try to find it everywhere.  Since I live in a crowded, polluted, overtaxed city environment, I have had to expand my definition of beauty. In hillsides covered will oil storage tanks. In broken down industrial lots with a small patches of flowering weeds. In the peeling paint on the sides of buildings. In the remote and withdrawn faces of strangers. Finding beauty means withdrawing judgement, and letting go of other people's definition of beauty. And as creative people, that is the first thing we all need to do.

Friday, March 27, 2015

artist date

I have been holding myself accountable for making time for an artist date each month. The idea comes from Julia Cameron's The Artist Way, a book I've been using (and ignoring, and using again) since I was in my 20's. The idea is to get yourself out of your usual creative routine in the studio and go do something creatively fun, even indulgent. I actually scheduled a year's worth of artist dates in to my calendar back in January, so I have a monthly reminder.

Coming up with a "good" artist date with yourself-- and it has to be with yourself, no one else can tag along-- can be difficult, especially for me. I want to create a beautiful, inspiring, and revelatory experience for myself, which is waaaaaay too much pressure for a date, any kind of date. I have to remind myself every month that these dates are about forming a habit of taking time out to try something a little different, not necessarily about a single trans formative experience.

Yesterday I was especially desperate, a feeling that I have been experiencing a lot lately. Desperation may not be the worst feeling to have, but it ranks in the pantheon of worst feelings. I was feeling desperate because every idea I had for my date seemed boring. I was in super judgmental mode and I could not make a decision. Finally, I did what all desperate people do when they need an answer, and I simply asked google what I should do on my artist date.

I ended up bicycling to our local Rose Garden, which is about to go into full bloom. I went with Julia Cameron's suggestion that I color a mandala. Then I spent an inordinate amount of time looking for a mandala that I liked. Which made me feel desperate again, and decided to just make my own a la Maria Ramon. I made it with my Prismacolor pens, which have to be the best coloring tool on the planet. It was very satisfying, and fun. Exactly what an artist date should be.

The experience of trying to come up with the exact right date for myself brought me back around to the general problem I have of trying too hard, being a perfectionist, and then freezing myself through judgement. It's torture. When I got back to the studio in the later afternoon, one of my new, big tall pieces was waiting for me. I decided to be completely crazy and just give myself an hour to complete it. No thinking, no processing, just go. I needed to undo a creative clusterfuck I created a few days before when I was inspired by some fabric that was pale, almost translucent yellow with some white designs on top. I worked on the idea with a piece and then undid myself with judgement. I don't know how this one will turn out, but I'm happy I just did it.

Do you keep a regularly scheduled artist date with yourself? Do you know it's something you "should" do, but don't make time? Tell me about your experiences with the artist date.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

the big work

With my new work, I have a new desire to make big things. Big giant bowls, big wide plates, big tall vases. I've always tended to work small (figuratively, I mean that figuratively, really) and that's always worked for me. But my desire has suddenly changed. And still, despite my deep desire to make bigger stuff, I set myself a challenge last week to make some small pieces, including some really tiny "stash" boxes and tumblers. My thinking was to make some items with lower price points for broader appeal, and to also have some items where I might feel freer to experiment. With smaller pieces, maybe the stakes wouldn't be so high.

By Wednesday of last week, I was cranky, and I wasn't sure why. I felt bored, which was making me sad. I felt like I was hanging out with my new boyfriend who was totally excited by me the week before, but now he kept checking his phone while I was trying to talk to him. I have no idea why I always characterize my relationship with clay as if it's my boyfriend, other than it always lends me an apt metaphor.  By the time I went home that evening, I was utterly exhausted and felt like I was coming down with something. I've squeaked through the entire winter season without so much as a sniffle, and maybe I was due to go down. I went to bed at 7:30, which is awesome even when you are feeling fine.

The next day I felt completely healthy, but I wasn't all hopped up to go to the studio, and I realized it was because I had no desire to finish the work I had started. The small things, as it turns out, do not make me feel freer to play. The surface is so small, it makes me feel confined. I can't get into the details or highlight them because of the scale. Once I recognized that, I realized that right now, I can't worry about things like price points, or broad appeal, or making anything "low stakes", whatever the fuck that means anyway. I just need to make the work, and listen to that voice in my heart.

I am continually surprised and bemused that no matter how much I "know" something, like the importance of listening to the voice in my heart to guide my creativity, the storyteller voice in my left brain can easily override it without me even realizing it. That left brain voice is sooooo clever. It actually knows that if it disguises its voice to be all whispery and feathery, instead of being panicky or snide the way it usually is, I will probably mistake it for my creative voice and listen to it. And it got me.

Also, whenever I try to make something with the idea that somehow it will magically fatten my bank account, it always falls flat. Always. You would think after 15 years of being in business, I would know that, but sometimes the only way to know is to learn it over and over.

19.5 inches high
13 inches high

17 inches high

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

weird shame

I wanted to share some thoughts about my new work with you all. I've been posting images around on facebook and instagram, so you may have already some of it. I've been pretty good about uploading it to Flickr, so if you want to see what I have so far, you can check it out there. Oh, and I am slowly uploading it to etsy, so you can see buy it there too.

My work has always been a slow morph-- it changes over time but the basic thread is still there. With this new work, a lot has changed really quickly. My work has always been tightly controlled and restrained. For many years, that's how I wanted to express myself in what I made, and it worked for me. I got so much satisfaction from making everything just so. After my yearlong hiatus from making work, the point from where I started again was even more restrained, even more dependent on making every line, every mark just so-- just so perfect. It was fun, even satisfying to scratch that itch I have for perfection, but I really felt as though I was just treading over the same ground, just in a different part of the park.

The new work just comes from a deep need to let that go-- move on or spontaneously combust. I was really inspired by a visit to Alcatraz Island, where there was an exhibit of Ai Wei Wei's work happening. I found myself drawn not to Wei Wei's work, but to the old walls of the prison, which have been painted over many times, and through years of neglect and exposure to the elements, were peeling and chipping off, layer after layer. The dated institutional colors, different hues of blues and greens mostly, were absolutely beautiful to my eyes, and I wondered how I could re-create some of that look on my pottery-- the layers, the colors, the decay of it all.

I love this new work so much, and I feel really proud of it. Every kiln I unload makes me happy, there are very few pieces that come out that I don't love. And whatever imperfections they may have are part of the work, it makes it better, which is very unlike my older work, where small imperfections could really mess up the look of a piece. And I feel like this is the direction I need to go, the work that has been waiting to come out. An artist friend of mine said to me years ago that it was time for me to get down and dirty with my work, to not be so precious with everything I made. Her words stayed with me all these years, and I felt the urgency, but despite my skill and talent, I just didn't know how to do it.

This puts me in a strange spot with my older work right now. The standard collection that I've been pumping out for the past 7 years or so is all slip cast now, and I have made the decision that a lot of that collection is going to be discontinued-- the cupcake stands, the bird bowls and vases for starters, and probably other items as I get used to saying good-bye to this work. But it's still with me, taking up a lot of space in my studio, and sometimes the things people say to me about this work makes me feel strangely defensive and even ashamed. Another artist friend of mine said, "I loved your cake stands, but enough with the cute already! I like this new work so much better!"

I've had many comments from other people that they like this new work better than my older work. Which is nice, it's a compliment and I know that, and I totally agree with them, but it gives me this feeling that I've been walking around with my underwear hanging out, and everyone has known it, and now they can tell me since I finally tucked it back in. It's just this weird shame. And the shame has actually been with me for a while, before I even started my new work, because I think I haven't grown much as an artist or developed enough new work in the past 3-4 years. It's my issue, and I'm dealing with it, so if you are one of those people who have said something to about to me and are now feeling bad, please don't. I just think that shame is a corrosive thing, especially when you don't talk about it, so me talking about it right now is just part of my process. If you have any thoughts about shame, not developing as an artist or anything else, please leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

little demons down dark alleys

I'm always looking for new resources and tools to deal with myself-- my reactivity, my dark moods, my judgmental nature, my sense of entitlement, and my know-it-all attitude. That's only a partial list of this things I'm working on, by the way. I'm currently reading Pema Chodron's book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears. I love Pema Chodron because even though she is a long-time Buddhist nun and has written a bunch of books about Buddhist practice, she freely writes about what a deeply flawed person she is. Even Pema can be at a meditation retreat, yet go into a downward spiral if she feels disrespected or ignored. She gives me hope that even as I fail, I can still improve my outlook. She reminds me that no matter how much I fail on a daily basis, I must still be a friend to myself.

One of the things she keeps reminding me of throughout this book is the importance of pausing  throughout the day to take a few breaths, focus on what is happening in front of me, and connect to how I am feeling in that moment. As an experiment, I turned on my meditation timer, and set it to make a gong sound every 20 minutes throughout the day. When I hear the gong, that's my reminder to take a few breaths, refocus, and also to stop standing on the outside of my feet, which is one of my bad habits. It's been an effective way for me to stay connected to the moment, and not go off chasing my little demons down dark alleys while I'm working.

Then, it all went to shit when I messed up my knee last Friday. Lately, I have been getting really harsh injuries doing things like trying to get up off the couch, crouching down all the way, or reaching for a glass. Yes, I know, as we get older these things happen, but I'm not understanding why someone as young on the inside as I am still receives this treatment.

Right now, I can't straighten out my leg all the way and I can't stand or walk comfortably. Being thrown off balance in this way made me forget all about staying focused and in the moment, and I struggled with rage and depression all weekend at my lack of mobility. I thought about how difficult it's going to be to work, and how I may not be able to go back to yoga class for weeks where I am currently enrolled in a 4-month intensive class. I thought about how much knee surgery is going to cost and then felt momentarily blessed that I am now covered through obamacare before flipping back into fear about long-term recovery. I tried to do some very limited yoga and I forgot to breathe while I was stretching. I was just holding my breath, doing yoga. At some point, I realized I was doing breathless yoga.

Pema reminded me this morning that if I know I'm failing, I'm not failing, because I am aware of myself and what I am doing, and that is the biggest battle of all. And in that moment, I can just let it go.

Friday, January 30, 2015

how to be alone

I'm reading this book right now called "How To Be Alone" by Sarah Maitland. I picked it up on a whim at the bookstore. It has a beautiful bright blue cover with white lettering, and they had it set up right next to the cash register. I loved that they had it right there, because the title is very provocative. How to be alone. Most people don't like to be alone, and I wondered how many interesting questions were raised in people's minds when they looked at that title. I had a feeling many people were put off or annoyed. I felt an immediate kinship with the book, and impulsively bought it.

Even though I have a partner, and we've been together for over 20 years-- which is ridiculous--and married for 13 of those years, I still think of myself as alone on some level. We all are, of course, ultimately alone, so maybe it's just that, or maybe it's something else. In any case,  that's how I view myself, as an lone independent person. I work by myself, all day every day, and I like it like that. When I do have an assistant, I'm grateful for the help but ultimately annoyed by the intrusion of someone else in my work space. I prefer to work in solitude.

Perhaps the biggest problem with spending so much time alone is what can go on inside my head. The usual tear-down shit of undermining questions, unsolicited critiques, current resentments. But I've gotten really bored with all that. Mostly because I've started questioning the veracity of knowledge the voice in my head really has about anything. Like, I've always thought that voice in my head is me, feeding me thoughts and information that I need, but that's wrong. The voice comes from my consciousness, but it is not necessarily concerned with truth. It's most concerned with just keeping my attention, making itself important, and it mostly does that by trying to freak me out.

But I also think that the voice in my head is a way of trying to entertain myself. And even though I like being alone, maybe I'm not comfortable with just being at peace with myself. It's too boring. No drama. So the storyteller starts up, and I get carried away into a different place. Daydreaming. I've been practicing catching myself at it and trying to bring myself back into the present moment, because it's actually not boring to just be at peace, I'm just not used to it.  Daydreaming is just kind of a bad habit, a habit I developed early on to cope with actual boring situations, like school. And since daydreaming is an expected characteristic of being artistic, I've never questioned the idea that daydreaming is maybe not so good. That being alone in a healthy way perhaps requires also being a part of the present moment, and not your own private one.

While writing this, I googled "how to be alone" and there were all kinds of interesting links. Check it out. And what about you? Where are you at when it comes to being alone?