Monday, July 31, 2017

Art in the Village

Come visit if you please. I'll be at Art in the Village, Carlsbad, on Sunday August 13, all day, 9-5. It's a nice show, big and variable, comfortably on the coast, in downtown Carlsbad.

And, yes, of course, new pots. The latest kiln load came out well! And rather blue.

Friday, July 21, 2017

How much Do You Plan?

There are people who plan a pot in detail before starting to make. They sketch the pot and its parts and decoration, and decide what glazes will go where. They do design. But what do they do when the plan doesn't work?

There are people who follow what comes, who make "what the clay wants". They work through intuition.

In Potters on Pottery, a lovely very British book from 1976, sculptors Alan and Ruth Barrett-Danes describe the ways they work:

Ruth: "I... probably draw a lot around the subject before I begin, but my work is not something which is thought out beforehand. I feel that ideas come through working  -- what might not necessarily have been a very good idea to start with has to go through the process of working, and from that other things follow."

Alan: "The making has got to be directed at an idea. A lot has to be thought around the subject, and then you move into the making slowly, going farther and farther from the original thought, until finally you make something which has nothing to do with it and throw the work away."

Most of us, I suppose are in the middle, in the amount of preplanning we do and the value we place (or see) in pots which come out very different from our intentions. The Barrett-Danes are competent; when their pots diverge from the original idea, it is probably not from mistakes in the making.

Mine, yes. I make mistakes and benefit often from them. With the intent to make teapots, I've made a couple of jars I like. Just too big to be practical as teapots, but skip the spout and handle and they will be fine jars.

Most of the interesting detail in my pots start as mistakes.

I very much like the bent footring. Sometimes I make it on purpose, often not.

The braided edge is the most interesting part of this bowl, added because the rim was thin and irregular without it.

All this says I am inclined more to the intuitive, a way of keeping the process loose, in hopes of results with a light looseness. Fun, too. It requires constant close looking, to see how the pot may develop.

Friday, June 30, 2017

"Without Wonder, One Can't Create Anything."

I've been reading In Other Words, by Jhumpa Lahiri. It's fascinating. She is an Indian -American writer, who took on Italian as a preferred language. She lived (still does?) in Italy and writes in Italian; this book is about the process of learning and identifying, more or less successfully, as Italian. So, a creative person, stretching mightily. She says that, in Italian, she has a different voice as writer, is a different person.

The relevant part to making pots: She quotes Carlos Fuentes: "It's extremely useful to know there are certain heights one will never be able to reach". And says "I think that these heights have a dual, and substantial, role for writers. They make us aim at perfection and remind us of our mediocrity... I think that an awareness of impossibility is central to the creative impulse. In the face of everything that seems to me unattainable, I marvel.Without a sense of marvel at things, without wonder, one can't create anything."

I'm thinking yes, and no. It's not so just for writers, but potters too, actually anyone aiming for any action of quality. To marvel at wonderful work and be alert to the distance between that and my work inspires me and impels to improve.

But impossibility? mediocrity? It never occurred to me to aim at perfection. Maybe she does. All these extremes seem overdone to me. Her perspective is wonderfully unsentimental, though. No silly "shoot for the stars" nor "everyone is fabulous".

Back to work,  nose to the potting wheel.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Do Less Better

I've heard that often. I've said it often. But doing it!

In the past week, I've had my nose rubbed in this idea. I've played concerts, not well enough, by not preparing thoroughly enough. I've gotten pots back from 3 different firings, and most are seconds at best.

What are seconds? In the fruit market where I worked in high school, they were the misshapen fruit, sold for less. In some ways good, but not good enough to be fine. In my pottery, they are the pieces that are too good to be trash, but not fine. It's a judgement call, and one I find hard to make. It's about having and using standards for quality. Making less better means raising standards.

For example, this one is good, to my eye.

But  all these cups have serious problems. Trash?

 I love this glaze and I like the shape, and those things came out partly well. But each cup has spots where the glaze was thin enough to come out boring, and thick spots where the glaze crawled, leaving colorless areas.

And one has glaze where it shouldn't be at all  --  the glaze is white when liquid and I didn't notice it there. So hard to toss in the  trash.

That's another thing to learn, not to treasure each piece, or past effort. In Grossmont College's ceramics studio, I've heard, there used to be a bullseye target set up over a trash can. Students could express disappointment by hurling a bad pot at the target. That seems overkill to me; you learn by looking closely at failures too. But a good lesson in letting go. This is not only about pottery, of course. How hard is it to toss material relating to work I haven't done in years and won't do again?

I've recently seen very high standards at work. Helping unload Ellen Fager's kiln, I followed her judgements of the quality of her new work. Some beautiful things are seconds to her.

And I've been in a number of galleries in Portland, Oregon, that also reminded me what spectacular pottery looks like. Check out the Eutectic Gallery, And the Skutt factory hallway gallery

That's maybe 14 inches across,by Meira Mathison.

Yes, a nice set of Stephen Hill piece.

With all that help, I'm intending to raise my standards for my own work.  Not easy, but a step ahead.. Make less better.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ashraf Hanna-- oh, wow!

I was in London a couple of weeks ago  --  and isn't it fun just to say that?

I've been there often enough that I have a round of favorite ceramics galleries to see. At the Contemporary Ceramics Centre, there was an exhibit of Ashraf Hanna's relatively new work. It's stunning. I stood on the street and stared, before even going inside.

His pots are hand-built, from large coils, pushed and I guess paddled and reshaped.

This one really caught me. It's maybe 20 inches high. It sits quietly, exuding presence and glow.


Oh, you aren't in London? Not the same, but websites are everywhere.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Empty Bowls and Sales Events

This is a scheduling post. Calendars, please.

Empty Bowls is a lovely, nationwide (maybe more, wherever someone wants to organize it) fundraiser for organizations supporting homeless people.

In San Diego this year, there are events at
Coronado High School, April 27, from 5-8 and
La Jolla Methodist Church, May 13, from 11-1.

You donate money, choose from hundreds of bowls donated by potters, choose from soups and breads donated by restaurants and bakeries, have lunch or dinner, perhaps with music, and keep your bowl.

These are my donations this year.

And I'll be at San Diego art sales the first weekend in May, with lots of new pots:

The Serra Mesa Craft Sale, May 6, 10-3, at 8404 Phyllis Place. This is a fairly new show, my first time.
The Talmadge Art Show, May 7, 10-4, at  the Liberty Station Conference Center. A long-established sale of very classy handmade work, and I'm glad to be in  it.

See you?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Funding Arts

So here's the current national government budget proposal, planning to remove funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities. Yes, yes, shock and horror. And discouragement.

I keep thinking about it. As usual, I am tangled somewhat in understanding the relationships of art and craft, and of both of those and entertainment. They have fuzzy edges.

It's no news that our country does not much value art. If it makes sense to measure our valuing by our choice to pay for it, artists come out low. Dancers rarely make much money. Potters rarely make a living. There are some exceptions: the work of stars and celebrities in any field, while their fad continues; art that makes a good investment, because it is generally recognized as marvelous ( and inherently rare); art that is popularly entertaining, like good movies. And there is the support of people who artists treasure, because they like what we make.

If I am not interested in car racing, should I have to support it? If you walk by my booth at a craft fair and are not attracted to my pots, should you have to buy them? Surely not. This is the market at work.

So why should there be national endowments for anything? It's the difference between public and private choice.  Like other government support, an endowment for the arts is meant to encourage what is not taken care of by individual or commercial interest. No one seems to think we should pay for highways just by individual user fees.  But there are people who say; I have no kids, why should I pay for schools? And there have been proposals to fund state parks by user fees.

So the question becomes: what rates public support? Clearly, things which contribute to public welfare. Public health services, for example, because germs don't care if you can pay for your own medical care. Your unvaccinated child's illness threatens all too-young-to-vaccinate children. The person who provides your food, and has the flu, can give you the flu.

Clearly, public schools, because a well educated next generation supports us all, economically, civically, and personally as we age.

The purpose of government is to think and act on a bigger scale than individual people or businesses for what is beneficial to the society, large scale and long term. So should it support art? Should there be an active national endowment? Should public schools be able to fund music classes and performing groups? Should grants support ceramics residencies for training? Where are the edges between private concerns and public ones? We need the conversation about this, not just the rants.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Working with a Learning Goal

I am taking Pamela Kozminska's pottery class at the ECC, a part of the San Diego Community College. It is presented as a beginners' class, though we may take it many times, treat it as a community studio and help each other learn past the beginner class. I was not expecting to learn much, beyond the sharing of ideas and an occasional technique. I started there to have company in making pottery, for access to cone 10 reduction firing, and for the stimulation of other people's work.

Last term the school required all students state a learning goal, and write formally how we plan to approach it, what obstacles we expect and how we may overcome them. There was, of course, a bit of eye-rolling at participating in a generic, structured format (This is art, a studio class works differently from other learning...).  At the end of the term, we reflected on our work in light of the goals and plans.

Surprise! I found it wonderful and very helpful. I had a real goal: to make pots that weigh less. It required patience largely, throwing slowly and carefully, trimming more, not being satisfied sooner than a weight light enough for my approval. Got there! No, not for every pot, but I am pleased, and making light-weight pots. I had not noticed how complacent I had become, accepting as finished less good pots than I can make. No way to show that in a photo, but here are some.

I knew how to do that, just needed to actually do it. This term I intend to make pots with clean, even bottoms, still light-weight. Do I know how? Somewhat, but I think I'll need to search out some teachers among the students for help. This is real education, to discover what one needs to learn and how to get there, and then to pursue the learning. I appreciate the push.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Floating Pots!

That's what I'm after.

Last weekend I participated in playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto. I am reminded that the most moving parts of the piece, for me, are the spots where the solo melody floats light and high, way above a simple, thin accompaniment. That barely tethered lightness is the thing.

My favorite flowers float on long stems above the leaves and shimmer in the wind. Like the local ubiquitous weed, oxalis. It's beautiful right now.

And those are the pots I want to make, with that quality. Is that a contradiction? Clay is earth, not air, and heavy. But it is also completely flexible, and can make forms that look light. I've been working on literal lightness, less weight. Getting there, though not with every pot. I'll focus on making shapes that lift and wave. I've got a few.

This has some of the right feel, but a bit chunky.

Do these cups look light? They weigh very little, so I think so, but if may be more feel than appearance. That's ok. I want both.

What makes that effect? A narrow base, which is hard on balance. Maybe just not a solid footring. A spreading form? Thin walls. Simplicity. Not too much precision or geometry. This will be pure pleasure to explore.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Street Pots

In the latest Ceramics Monthly, there are 2 articles about little mobile shops for pottery.

 One, by Andrea Denniston, describes her hand built trailer for exhibit space, meant to drive and set up easily at craft shows or anywhere. It's lovely, and evidently, very effective.

The other shows an urban version, even smaller. Frank Saliani built two "art carts" on wheels, small enough to push around city sidewalks and take on the subway. He considers them outreach tools, as much as places for sales, and sets them up on the street and in parks in New York.

What is so charming about these mini-galleries?

They are tiny, and have all the attraction of cuteness. But the work by both potters is not cute; it is elegant, and so there is more quality than that.

The displays are beautiful.

The idea of easy and obvious mobility attracts me. It suggests that any place people gather may be a place to present pottery, and that I might not need to search out organized sales. It's a kind of freedom.

My experience in selling my pots is opposite, though. Well-established sales where people come to buy seem to be most effective selling points for me. In setting up my displays, I go for a maximum of display space, worrying that the piece I have no space to show might be just the one that attracts a passing person.  And I have a lot of mess to hide under the tables at a sale: the bubble wrap and bins in which I've brought the pots, extra pots, bags, display supplies. Like living in a tiny home, selling in a tiny space requires stripped down gear and neatness. How do they do it?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Striped Pots!

I'm really liking this stripy stuff.

 Officially it's agate clay. It's so casual, and variable, and unpredictable, it needs a casual name: stripy stuff. You wedge together partly several colors of similar clay, and make pots on the wheel from it. The clays blend and spiral as clay always does on the wheel, but you can see it happening. With enough trimming, scraping, sanding of the throwing slip, the colors show up separately on the pot. I've just been using a dark and a white stoneware for this and getting blond and brunette variants. With stains to color white clays, you can have all sorts of color mixes. That's a mess to make, and, I think, can easily become garish.

I think I prefer a more even clay mix than that, but it's interesting.

It's OK with a clear glaze, but definitely wonderful unglazed.

Dark, or light.

And the stronger color contrast, the better. Do I prefer blonds?

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year

This is from Barb Johnson at Chrysalis Pottery, forwarded to me by someone else.  I really like it, and wish it to you potters for this new year. And their equivalent to all others who work with our hands.

Hands and hearts seem to me close together. I love working with my hands. So far I have not been able to include housework in the pleasures of working with my hands, but maybe I'll get there too. Hands are our original tools and it pleases me especially when they prove to be the best pottery tool for a task. I do plan pots before and as I make them, but there is always a part of the process that goes through some path other than my intention. From heart to hand, bypassing brain?

Happy New Year.