Wednesday, December 12, 2018

simple design is not simple work

I got this email a while back:

I'm looking for a ceramic artist that might be able to make me some christmas gifts. I recently discovered *well-known potter's goddess ware* and I'm looking for something similar (I'd buy directly from her but they sell out sooo fast). I love how body-positive and woman-positive her pieces are and I love the simplicity of the design. Would you consider making a sketch of a couple pieces inspired by her work? I really like your work too, I'm pretty interested to see what you might come up with. Thanks for considering!

I immediately put this email in the trash so I would not be tempted to answer it, but then was thinking about it in the middle of the night. The way you think about all the things that are bothering you in the middle of the night. I pulled it out of the trash the next morning and tried to compose the perfect email. One that was devoid of snark and drained of hostility while declining the opportunity, and perhaps giving a little education on how this thing of ordering custom pieces from artists is supposed to work. 30 minutes went by before I realized there are no words in the English language that I can string together in the right order that would say what I needed to say without being snarky and hostile. Into the trash it went again. Thankfully, I have you people to rant to.

There are so many things wrong with this email. For starters, do I look like a fucking clay elf, sitting around my workshop, making sketches of work to see if I can tempt a customer to order something?  I will turn cartwheels and somersaults while I wait to see if you are interested in what I come up with! I immediately looked at the other artist's work of course, and literally the only thing we have in common is that we both make functional things out of clay. 

This is the thing, and the educational bit I was trying to get across, but couldn't: Every artist out there who has been able to work long enough to have a recognizable style has had to work for years to get there, refining their processes to get a consistent result that satisfies them.  This artist's "simplicity of design" has been achieved not because it is simple, it's that she is so skilled at what she does and makes it look simple.  Simple design is not simple work. 

I get that this person did not have bad intentions or wanted to insult me, which is why I did not unload on them... I'm unloading here. They are just supremely ignorant about how artists work and what moves us to make things. Or, more precisely, what moves me to make things. 

I love that moment when I am inspired by what other artists have made, it's like a light going on inside me. I live for that moment. It cannot be forced or manufactured. And when I try to force or manufacture it, I'm never happy with the result. It's not me, but a poor derivative of what someone else made way better than I did. I can't work like that, especially on purpose. Almost no artist can.

Lastly, if you are in love with what an artist makes but they are always selling out, then write to them directly and ask them to make something for you. This artist who makes the goddess ware has a contact page with an email address! Any artist who is trying to make a living recognizes that the people who hold up their hands and ask for your work are the people who really support and grow your business, and most are happy to oblige these people. Don't ask another artist to do it.

Friday, November 09, 2018

what next?

It's been over a year and a half since my mom died, and lately I've been feeling like my body is coming back down to earth. I've been feeling a little more grounded and ready to take on some things that seemed way too overwhelming even six months ago. I'm looking around, sort of the way I do when I wake up, and realizing there are many costs to the grieving process. You can't do anything about that, by the way. There is no way to grieve and not lose some shit along the way. I'm not saying you don't get some shit too, you do get something, just not the things you wanted.

The main cost to me, outside of losing my mom, has been losing my sense of direction in my work. For almost two years now I've been making stuff, it comes out of the kiln and often I have no idea why I made that thing. For example, I decided to make some whiskey cups. I spent some time coming up with a design, made them, and when they came out of the kiln I was like, "Why the fuck did I make these?" They are in no way an expression of anything I am interested in right now. I don't even LIKE whiskey. Why whiskey cups? I don't know, and I don't remember what I was thinking when I landed on the idea. I went and bought a bunch of mini succulents and planted them in the whiskey cups, which is a better use of these pieces as far as I'm concerned.

And yes, I know, they don't have to be WHISKEY cups, they can be any kind of small cup. No matter what you call them, I'm really not into making little cups.

My studio feels like a jumble of random thoughts and ideas, manifested in pottery. I spent a very long time the other day re-arranging my work on the shelf so it looked like one person worked there and not 7 different people. I was visually trying to link of the concepts and colors, which actually did make the display look better but does not solve the underlying problem. Or maybe it's a question: what next?

I know for starters, I do not want to make small work anymore. And I mean that in the physical sense, like whiskey cups and little condiment plates. And perhaps I also mean it in the metaphorical sense: I want to break out of the box I've put myself in. My comfortable, cozy, familiar little box. I want to make bigger work-- big giant bowls, big vases-- but I also want to make wall pieces and lighting and maybe weird ceramic furniture too. Also, I want to take my drawings and turn them into cards and other paper stuff. I've been saying this for a while, and now I'm saying it to you all because getting out of your box means being opening the flap enough to stick your head out and admit that it's time. It's accountability.

All of this makes me very uncomfortable, of course. And excited for what may be next, if I can ever get my shit together enough to make something new happen. Not having a cohesive collection of work makes me feel like I have not accomplished much in the past 18 months, which equals discomfort. While I don't think "accomplishing" was the most important thing I could be doing while I was in the depths of grieving my mother, I'll just say again that it was a cost. It's the price I had to pay. And the process is not over, but it is shifting into new territory. And it leaves me wanting a little more for my life.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

put aside all doubt

The studio has been ready to go for about two weeks. I still need to get a mailbox, for some reason there is not a mailbox or even a slot big enough to shove mail through my door. Weird? But the big long list of Stuff To Do has been knocked down, including getting privacy film up on my fishbowl windows, a task that really needs two sets of hands. But I did it myself because as we all know, I can't wait till my husband gets off work to help me.  Best of all, the banks of fluorescent lights are gone, replaced by some very cute and colorful pendants.

So, I'm all raring to get back to work, right? Not exactly. Yes, dying to work. But, don't know what I want to make. What I know for sure is that I am ready for a shift in my work. But I'm not sure what that looks like yet.

Right before my mom died, I was starting to think about new work and a whole new approach to my business. Months later, when I was back in my studio, I literally could not remember what that plan was, and I did not have the creative spirit to try and figure it out anyway. And I decided not to ride myself about that because clearly, it was not the time to develop new work. But now I'm in my new studio, in a new town, and I feel ready, but I'm also slightly overwhelmed by all of the new things. I love my new life, I'm just not quite used to it yet.

I'm preparing my first firing for next week with some stuff that I made, and of course it's just been torture hour day after day, trying to figure out how to find some satisfaction in making these pieces, trying to find some new expression, and questioning my ability to do so. My ego has been pounding me, which is just making my creativity want to go take a nap until that guy shuts up. WHO CAN WORK WITH ALL OF THIS YAKKING GOING ON?!

It was a hard weekend, lost in these thoughts during the day, then trying to work it out in uncomfortable dreams at night. Have you ever tried to fire in a kiln that is loaded into the back of a truck that is traveling over bumpy, windy, hilly roads? I have. In my bad dreams.

Then I decided that this is a terrible way to live. The only way to make new work is to keep making work, any kind of work, and not thinking about it. And I can't make new work if I'm staring at a piece for 30 minutes, trying to get the nerve to make a move on it. Trying to be fresh. Trying to be a genius. Just trying too hard. The only goal is this: put aside all doubt, and make some shitty work.

 It's not so bad, actually, and it's a start.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

toxic impatience

I got my new studio keys about three weeks ago and have been completely moved in to my new space for about a week. There have been many hurdles to overcome and the list is still long. The first thing I did when I had the keys in hand was to go in and pull up the gross, stained, stinky industrial carpet. What was under there? Perhaps I would find buried treasure in the form of a hardwood floor? What I found was... another layer of even worse carpet, that was glued onto ancient linoleum tile, which was glued onto a wood floor of some kind. As I contemplated the thousands of dollars this was about to cost, Sara Paloma's husband, Tom, immediately started doing some research and came up with the idea of using plywood sheets as a floor. He even volunteered his Sunday to help me and my husband install it, right over the carpet. Kind of genius.

 I'm not going to get into the other pending issues such as the electrical (needs to be upgraded) or the ugly fluorescents that make me feel mildly suicidal (just mildly, not enough to start planning anything), the floor to ceiling windows that leave my workspace completely exposed (anyone ever played around with that window glaze in a can?) and my general sense of dislocation and discombobulation. Frankly, buying a house and moving to a new city has been nothing compared to moving my studio.

Then there was the actual moving part. The truck I ordered was not big enough, which became apparent after the movers were about halfway through filling it up. Then, I locked my keys in the studio when we were about to leave, requiring an emergency rescue from my landlords who, thank god, answered their phone on a Sunday morning.

After that it was multiple trips with a friend's borrowed truck to move more of my studio stuff. One day I loaded the back with my Ikea lockers and a table and made my way back to Vallejo. Once I started unloading the truck, I realized something horrifying: one of the lockers was missing. No, I didn't leave it behind, it blew out of the back of the truck. This despite the fact I had plenty of tie-downs and I was even silently congratulating myself on really getting the hang of tying stuff down as I secured the back of the truck before leaving Oakland. I immediately completely freaked out. Like, bad. I'm going to cut to the end of the story: it didn't kill or harm anyone, and it didn't cause an accident. But it could have.

This event forced me to reckon with something else that has been shadowing me over the past weeks: my toxic impatience and general lack of care when I'm trying to accomplish tasks. My body is currently covered in bruises because of running into things and bashing myself during both moves. I had a nasty blood blister on one of my fingers from hitting it with a hammer. I've tumbled off of ladders and down stairs trying to do too much. Even before this losing-a-locker incident I was telling myself to be more careful, I was going to hurt myself if I wasn't. Instead, I almost hurt somebody else, which is far worse.  

After I recovered from that whole thing, I have been doing the work it takes for to me to accept that things are kind of fucked right now, and that's okay. In fact, it's nothing. All of it will taken care of in a timetable not of my preference, and I will somehow survive. No more rushing, no more pushing harder than necessary.

Monday, February 19, 2018

it's up to the kids

I remember where I was and what I was doing when I found out about the Columbine shooting. My boyfriend (now husband) and I were checking out a fitness club we were thinking of joining in Oakland, and we were getting a tour of the facilities. There was a television on over a group of treadmills, and I could see that there was something very wrong happening on the screen. There were kids jumping out of what looked like a school building, and that building did not appear to be on fire. Other groups of kids seemed to be running for their lives, flanked by police and people in SWAT gear. I stood there, watching the TV, while I slowly started to absorb the information, this event that had taken place just a few hours before.

The horror and diabolical nature of that shooting has stayed with me all these years, as it has for many. The mass shootings have continued, gaining in velocity and violence, with shooters seemingly using Columbine as a point of reference. Our societal response has taken on an equally horrifying and repetitive nature. An iconography of grief and outrage, familiar to all, played by our media for consumption and diversion.

The result is a peculiar numbness that has taken hold. It comes from the lack of change in our system while all indicators point to an overwhelming need for change. It's a system that has ground to a halt when it comes to addressing the realities of violence and guns in the United States.

I don't know what it is about the shooting that just happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but I felt it right away this event could shift the dynamic, that an opportunity may have been created. The only people who have any moral authority in this situation to force some kind of change are the kids who have been affected by school shootings.  They are smart enough-- kids today are so damn smart-- to realize the grownups aren't doing their jobs, and haven't been for a while. The people in charge have given up and given away their power, to corporations, to lobbies, to anyone who promises to help them keep their jobs. It's the kids who have to lead.

I hope we are at the beginning of a major youth revolt. All of the pieces are in place: the adults who are running things are out of step with the younger generation on just about every issue that matters, and they are making decisions that risk the future. The young people know it. They are equipped to do something about it, and I believe they will be formidable. Their passion and level of articulate rage puts to shame the one-dimensional, paper thin assurances of our governing bodies that they will consider change. I don't think it's up to them anymore, they have already lost everything that matters. It's up to the kids.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

short takes

I have so much I want to write, and exactly no time or space in which to write it all at this particular juncture. Here are some short takes, and at some point in the near future I will be able to be more expansive, more reflective, and say some more. But for now:
  • I found a new studio in Vallejo, in the Old Town area directly across the street from Temple Art Lofts. It is just a tad smaller than my old space, and just a tad more expensive, but it feels just about right. It looks and smells like an insurance office with a slight mold problem (I am chalking that up to being all windows on one side with the door being closed for months while the owners find a new tenant) and I plan to do some major transformational work on it over the next 2 weeks. Sage will be burned, spells will be cast, carpet will be pulled, and contractors harassed. Wow, that's a poem I think.
  • In my spare time I have been working for a friend of mine as a hired gun, throwing production pottery for her restaurant tabletop business that has been in the weeds on orders. Remember last year when I was so fucked up over my mom's death that I thought I needed to get a job? Well, I didn't necessarily get one, but working as a potter mercenary--- which I may put in as "occupation" on my taxes this year--  is the closest I've come to legit employment in almost 20 years. And it's not even close to legit,  just a day here and a day there when I feel I can spare a day to make some real bucks as I try to figure out what the hell I'm doing next. This gig has reminded me of a few things:
    1. The joy of throwing pots.
    2. The importance of asking for help. My friend waited until she was having nervous breakdown before she asked me to help her, and implied the she "knew" it was beneath me to do this kind of work. Little does she know that this work is so healing for me right now, and it gives me such pleasure to not only help a friend, but get paid quite well while doing so.
    3. The satisfaction of mastery, of becoming aware and awake to endlessly repeated acts and finding something new to appreciate. When I go in to her studio I usually throw over a hundred items and when I leave my mind is empty and I feel totally calm.
  • I read a book that I think all people-- not just artists-- need to read, The War of Art. It says a lot of things I've already said, time and time again, about the craft of creating stuff, and it's written by a guy who has done the work, and it's a good reminder to me on how to get shit done. You can read it in a few hours and it's well worth it. Though there was one thing that really annoyed me about this book, and it's a reflection of its time, published in 2002, which in current warp speed time is basically 100 years ago. The author uses "she" in place of "he" a lot, to show that he understands women make art too, and are probably the biggest audience reading his book. And that's all well and good and inclusive. But almost every example he uses of people actually making art or otherwise making things happen-- you know, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Maugham, Tiger Woods, and about 20 other examples that I don't have time to look up while I write this-- are all men. And right about now I'm pretty sick and tired of reading about men's accomplishments. We know, we know. Dear Steven Pressfield: time for a second edition.
  • I have been really happy lately. I don't understand a lot of things, including my own moods, but I have been finding a lot of happiness the past few months. I love my new (old, very old) house. I love that my husband and I, who are consummate slackers, managed to buy it together without fighting, and we are fixing it up together without drama. I am proud that I jumped through every hoop the bank put in front of me and got the money we needed to make it happen. I love that I am in a new community that is totally strange to me, and I am an outsider. I love that I am meeting lots of new people. I love planting a new garden. I love the motorcycle club that is two blocks from my house that hosted a rally on saturday night with dozens and dozens of riders on their stupid Harleys making so much noise that I woke up in the middle of the night confused about what the sound in the air was. I think I'm starting to get it. Life is hard, but it's also limited. The stuff that I stress about basically doesn't matter. My people matter the most, and they are good, which means I'm good. For now.
That's probably enough for now. I'm going to be moving out of my studio over the next week, and then I will find some new things to write about. Here are some pictures:

one of 40.
a peaceful domestic scene.

new studio.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

moving studio

The idea of giving up my Oakland studio to move everything to Vallejo has been a difficult decision for me. For one, my studio rent is incredibly cheap, way below market. My landlords have essentially been subsidizing my business for many years. So giving up my beautiful, high-ceilinged, light-filled inexpensive space seems really stupid. Part of me wanted to keep it just to have it, even if I wasn't using it every day. But... I've been here for 20 years, and I believe that sometimes you have to give up great things if you want to make room for different great things in your life. So, I'm giving up my space, which will be taken over by my close friend, Sara Paloma.

Sketch from the downtown Vallejo streetscape project, 2012
I'm still working at my studio in Oakland since I could not handle moving house and studio at the same time. Gotta phase it out. And the commute, which basically starts at about 60 minutes a day and can easily triple that depending on traffic, is utter hell. Hell! I realize now that keeping the studio was never really in play, because there is no way I'm dealing with a commute. At this moment, the plan is to move my studio into our downstairs area, where I have about 300 square feet to work with, a major downsizing for me. I've also been looking at commercial storefronts in the "Old Town" of Vallejo, which is very cute. The City obviously put some planning and money into this area and I would be thrilled to have a studio there. There are not a lot of shops or activity going now, but it will soon and I would love to be a part of that, just like I was in Oakland.

I hesitate jumping into a commercial space. I was really looking forward to not paying rent for a while. This last year my business has been very slow while I crashed and burned after my mother's death, and I would like to have as little financial pressure on me as possible while I try to get my little boat righted again. Buuuuuuut... I also want to be a part of this new Vallejo life, and meet people, and hustle, and spending all day at my house does not seem like the way to do that. If you are hustling and only your cat sees you, are you really hustling?

Your hustle puts me to sleep.

I'm not above asking the universe for some help or insight, so I asked, very nicely, "Please tell me what to do!" The only thing I got was that it doesn't matter whether or not I get a new studio or work in my own house, the only thing that matters is that I go where I can create and make myself happy, and I can do that in either place. Not exactly the definite answer I was hoping for, but it's a start.

By the way, I will be having a major moving sale Feb 10, both online and in person at the studio in Oakland. If you want to be notified of the sale, sign up here.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

leaving the O for the 'Jo

Back in the spring of 2015 I wrote about considering leaving Oakland, and California altogether. Well, it's done: my husband and I have left Oakland. We managed to buy a place on the outer edges of the Bay Area in Vallejo, and the last 2 months have been a scramble to work on our little fixer-upper (virtually nothing actually got done) while packing up our lives in Oakland. As my husband likes to say, we have left the O for the 'Jo-- pronounced "ho". We spent our first night here on New Year's Day.

How the hell did this happen? My husband has been chomping at the bit to buy something for years. I have always been reluctant because I hate anything that rings of adult responsibility-- having children, dogs, and mortgages being my top three things to avoid at all costs. On New Year's Day last year, I asked my husband is he had any special goals for 2017, and he said, "I want to own a piece of property by the end of this year," and I nodded my head to look supportive while thinking to myself that there was no way that was going to happen. 

A month later, my mom died, and when I was finally able to come back to Oakland in the early spring, I suddenly felt done with it. I literally said to my husband when I was getting out of the car after driving home from Washington, "I don't want to live here anymore." It's hard to describe how I was feeling. My mom died, and I felt like my old life was just over, and I didn't feel any sense of attachment to it anymore. Every small thing that had been grating on me in my life-- my jackass landlord, my inconsiderate upstairs neighbor, our cute but falling-apart apartment, and a host of other things-- suddenly was completely intolerable. I needed to make a change, I couldn't keep coasting on my current situation. 

By chance, we had a project in Vallejo a couple of weeks later, a town I have driven through on the freeway a thousand times but have never stopped and visited. I was immediately intrigued by the town-- the waterfront, the views of the Bay, the downtown with beautiful old buildings and not a lot going on, which recalled Oakland in the 90's. It also has the same rough edges that Oakland used to have before it got all upscale. Then there were the sweet neighborhoods and cute homes: Victorians, mid-century bungalows, pre-WWII stucco homes, Spanish Mediterraneans, and cottages. My radar went off when I realized that many of these homes were for sale in the $350,000 range. Now $350,000 is a shitload of money, I am aware of that. But my brain has been bent by living in the Bay Area for too long, so to my mind $350,000 for a home is CHEAP. I found a realtor and we got to work.

As it turned out, about a thousand other people had the exact same thought. We looked at house after house, every single weekend, putting in offers, writing letters to home owners telling them how much we loved their home and what good and interesting people we are, trying to get someone to sell us their house. People who live in normal housing markets are shocked that this is a thing in California, that potential buyers basically have to sell themselves to owners by writing letters about why they should sell their house to us. Yes, it's thing and this is the ridiculous world I live in.

Finally we found a house that no one else wanted. A home that did not photograph well in real estate listings and full of junk from the previous owners. There was a catalogue of wallpaper samples in one of the rooms from the 1940's. It smelled funky and the bathroom was scary. It had not had anything significant done to it since the 80's. The yard was overgrown and wild. No one had lived in it for years. It was also tens of thousands of dollars less than anything else we looked at, so we casually put in an offer, which was accepted. My first reaction when our realtor told us they took our offer was not joy, but "oh shit". OH SHIT WHAT HAVE WE DONE?! My natural disinclination for adult responsibility kicked right in.

I could write a whole blog post just about going from the "pre-approval" phase of a home loan to actually getting a loan. I thought getting pre-approved meant something, that the hard work of proving you are worthy of a loan was done. WRONG. Pre-approval basically means that you have been assessed to be alive, employed, and in possession of a bank account. That's it. For real and full loan approval there are a hundred hoops to jump through, and I had to jump through hundred more because of my self-employed status. My loan officer has a name any porn star would be proud of, and we talked daily for weeks. And I did not flip out once, except at the very end when I squeezed out of few tears of frustration, but I got us that fucking loan. At 47, I am now officially an adult.

I'm going to tell you about our house now: it's one of the cute little stucco homes on a street with
almost identical homes, all built around 1934. It has fantastic light, hardwood floors, great ceilings, and a sweet archway between the living room and the dining room. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom. The kitchen has the original cabinets and tile work. The living part of the home is on an upper level, and then the garage and a whole unfinished downstairs is on a lower level. My studio is going to be there. I'm not even going to start in on the whole moving-my-studio thing right now, because I'm trying to stay sane. The yard has persimmon, pomegranate, avocado, fig, and an orange tree. Our mortgage is less than what we paid in rent to our former landlord.

I'm writing this on my second full day here and my sense of disorientation is still very high. My closest friend is a 13 minute drive away, which is far for me. I don't have a single friend in Vallejo yet, though I've met some very nice people. Also, today would have been my mom's 70th birthday, which is adding to the overall weirdness of the day. But I also feel like I belong here, and this is going to be a fantastic home for us, and I'm excited to start this new life.