Open Studio Report

First unpromising, the day turned out beautifully. I hustled on down to the studio a little after 10 a.m. and began working on tiles. It was laborious work and I seemed to be getting nowhere. If I had not been on autopilot, it would have been exasperating. Then, by chance, I picked up a homely little tool, a plastic soup spoon that just happened to be in my tool case. I used the tip of it for definition and the back to smooth the background of the tile I was working on. Soon, I was feeling greatly relieved. I was able to make progress more quickly with that white plastic spoon than with any other than tool I had in my kit! It worked splendidly. I was reminded of cats: they will often completely ignore real cat toys and play, instead, with a Hershey bar wrapper. Well, that’s what happened with me. Kemper tool? Pffft!  At some point, I broke for coffee and surveyed the scene. I was working on five tiles, at that point. Finished and placed them in the damp room for drying. After we returned from lunch, I completed nine other tiles. Nearly bone dry, they will be fully dry before the next kiln’s loaded. So, all in all, I was industrious, though things started slow. In the back of my mind, I’ve started making plans for glaze treatments on the escutcheon/door plate tiles. I will first experiment on each quarter of a sample tile. I have something particular in mind, but often we’re surprised and something unplanned looks better. Today, I get serious about some stamps I’ve been thinking about,too. I am studying WPA woodblock prints. The rustic look appeals to me and I wonder how a simplified version would translate in clay. I love the backgrounds, created when slivers of wood are strategically left to create visual interest: a thing of beauty. For the rest of the week, I will fully develop some designs and began carving, aiming for a congruent set. The Dover art book/CD-ROM series is inspiring me… Before anything else, I must follow up with WordPress…it was supposed to have completed the switchover during the last 24 hours. That is why I hadn’t posted this a little after midnight, as usual. I wasn’t supposed to within that window. However, the URL remains unchanged. Anyway, after I follow up, I will switch to designs. Oh, some good news! The china cabinet my husband got me for my birthday arrived. It is absolutely gorgeous. It was made to order by Amish woodworkers in Nebraska. Thank you to our neighbor, Robert, for helping Mark lug 300 lbs up 30 stairs and into our home… I have never received such a generous gift and am so touched… And talk about display potential! We finally have a place to store our china appropriately and to display things I have not seen for a good long while. On Canadian Thanksgiving, this weekend, you’ll find me snuggled up on our sofa, a fire burning, with me sipping tea and marvelling over family history, as shown in little bits of clay and glass in our new work of art.

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Preparing the clay by hand for Acoma pottery

Acoma water girls, 1926, by Edward S. Curtis. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Preparing clay by hand. It starts with prayer. I suppose it must be similar  to the way the traditional First Nations women prepare medicine here. They go to the desert near Kamloops, B.C. They pray over plants, leaves, berries, and petals which they forage. Then, they pray over the medicine while mixing and pouring it into little cloth bags women have been sewing since the previous giveaway.  This amount of prayer probably sounds foreign to you. But, it also reminds me of my Hindu friends who begin praying over their food in the grocery store. They pray over it while choosing, prepping and cooking, then, finally, before eating. Most of us cannot imagine such devotion. But this is also the way the clay for Acoma pottery  is treated. With great reverence.  In August, my mother reminded me that when I was in high school, our class dug clay north of the area we lived in. I’ve  done it a few times. When I have, it was always in the form of a field trip, nothing done regularly.  I can only imagine what it must be like to make all your pottery from clay you have dug and prepared specially.  What an incredible connection you would have with each piece you made and what continuity would exist between the source, the earth, and your pieces.  So, the potters who make Acoma Pueblo pottery start out by praying and finding the right clay beds.  They drive into an area, then walk the rest of the way, dig it out, then carry it back to their vehicle. A memorial site for Acoma potter Rose Chino Garcia states that “in its original form the clay is rocky and slatelike, and large chunks must be broken up to manageable size. If it was damp when dug, it must be left to dry for many days in the sun. When dry, it must be cleaned thoroughly by sifting and winnowing to get rid of all unwanted matter, such as twigs and pebbles. With a stone, it is crushed and pulverized.” Acoma Pueblo is located  60 miles west of  Albuquerque, New Mexico. Also known as Sky City,  it was built on top of a mesa around 1100 AD,  according to Wikipedia, and “is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities within the United States borders.”  About 2,800 people live there or on off-reservation trust lands. In olden times, people reached the top of the mesa via stairs cut into the sandstone.  An article by Patricia Malarcher in the New York Times reports on a book called Lucy M. Lewis: American Indian Potter. Quoting the book, Malarcher says that “Acoma residents believe that the clay is a special mixture put there especially for their use.” Dolores Lewis Garcia, Ms. Lewis’ daughter says, “We believe in the power of the clay,” according to Melarcher. “The pots are spirits. The clay is sacred. You can eat it raw, and you’re going back to it when you die.” I’ve read that the areas where an Acoma potter’s clay deposit is found is kept secret. After the clay is prepared, crushed shards are used to temper it. That’s not all, though. This site on Pueblo pottery says,”Time is also spent gathering the tempering, slip, and paint materials. Even fuel for the fire must be gathered and dried…Paints are also prepared by hand by grinding rocks or clays that produce different colors or boiling plants to produce black carbon paint.” This last photo shows a reproduction of a seed pot. Seeds were stored in it and when they were needed, the pot was broken.

This mesa plain had an appearance of great antiquity, and of incompleteness; as if, with all the materials for world-making assembled, the Creator had desisted, gone away and left everything on the point of being brought together, on the eve of being arranged into mountain, plain, plateau. The country was still waiting to be made into a landscape. — Willa Cather,

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Breaking through a creative block

There are few things more discouraging than being stymied by a creative block. It’s a wasteland. If you can’t break through it shortly, you are bound to start suffering. Without anything to work on, you are also at loose ends, which can lead to the nattering of pessimistic self-talk. Malaise and depression sneak through the door after anger and frustration burn themselves out. If your livelihood depends on it, a creative block can become quite serious. We don’t have to give up, though, and while the effort itself can be hard, inertia is worse. There are a few tricks to counter the dreaded block. Of course, there’s only one way to find out if they work. Try them.

  • Take a break: Get completely away from your project and don’t think about it. Taking a break will not only give your mind a rest, it will purge you of the brooding and frowning that comes with frustration. With a light(er) heart, you are more apt to come up with something new. How long a break? It’s up to you, really. A good way to prevent overthinking is to try a simple behavioral change method I’ve used. Do this only if you find yourself obsessing, though. Place a rubber band around your wrist. Every time your thinking drifts back toward your creative block or the project you’re working on, pull the rubber band and snap your wrist. Sounds and is primitive, but it really works. Pretty soon you won’t be thinking of your block at all!
  • Become inspired: Pore over books and magazines about ceramics. Go to an art gallery gift shop and pick out several books that catch your eye. Libraries are also good. I just checked out two on tiles today. My library sells off old issues of Ceramics Monthly, too, and I’ve bought a few issues there. See if you can get a guest library card at a university; it’s bound to have a good choice of books in its holdings if ceramics classes are taught there. If you are associated with an art centre, peruse any books on hand. Enjoy your time. You can’t force inspiration.
  • Do something else: Not a break, more like shifting gears. If you’ve made boxes, start throwing. If you have used certain glazes, use stains with a particular decorative technique. Your neural pathways are in a rut, but you can pave new ones by doing something else. It’s also Alzheimer’s prevention because it’s known that people who do things habitually are more prone. Just as you’d change your route to work, change what you’re doing. Changing habits can also free you up, give you more energy.
  • Move somewhere else: If you find that nothing works, that you are experiencing a perpetual creative block, move. I guarantee you, there is nothing like a move to shake things up. According to feng shui tenets, stale energy builds up in a home if nothing’s done about it. But if you move, you have to discard, and discarding frees up energy. Whether it’s just several houses down, as I’ve done, or across town, it’s change. I wouldn’t recommend moving over a border, like I did, though. Your creative block will be put on the back burner while you sort through immigration red tape. All your time will be taken up by it and who knows when you’ll get back to your precious clay? It took me years to get back in the groove after coming to Canada.
  • Get others involved: As they say, two heads are better than one. I would only ask people who are truly on your side. Avoid people who have an agenda or who will use it against you. Seek out people who understand and truly care about your efforts and who believe in you. We have to protect the energy around our ideas, especially while they’re in their infancy. This would be the case when we’re on the verge of a breakthrough. I can’t stress this enough. New ideas can become easily poisoned by a lack of well wishers. If you can find a true gem who is willing to dash around ideas with you, you are doing well and are on your way. They won’t necessarily give you an idea…and let them know that’s not why you’re asking. Just hashing things around can lead to something new.
  • Doodling: Whether  you’re out for coffee  or are sitting at your kitchen table, doodling is a good way to go. I have a friend who is a die-hard napkin doodler. He comes up with his best ideas that way. Partly, because he’s thinking with ‘averted vision,’ with his mind only partly on what he’s doing. While the cook is working on his order, he doodles away and asks for another napkin when his order arrives. I actually have saved a number of those napkins, his ideas were so brilliant!
  • Be domestic: You know about the need to become busy while you are procrastinating? Got a test to study for? Gee, the fridge needs cleaning out. A difficult conversation needs to take place over the phone? Hmm, this room could use some vacuuming. Well, use the same tactics tackle a creative block. It’s a mini-break or diversion, if you will. Clean the stove top, unload the dishwasher or drying rack or do some dusting. Use your shop vac, guys! But keep it domestic. Those ordinary, homely chores we do seemingly without thinking can actually dislodge an idea or two because you are on auto-pilot and have room to let something new in.
  • Do more research: Are you working in a particular vein? If so, investigate it. The web is full of info… Sign up for Ceramic Arts Daily and search its site, run by the Potters Council. It’s terrific. Many free e-books can be downloaded from there, too. There are many forums and groups… LinkedIn has many ceramics groups. Find a niche that is working on what you’re doing and look into it. Maybe you want to do hard copy research…that’s fine, too
  • Use symbolic sight: View the situation through the eyes of symbolism. What does the block mean? See if you can find a root cause. Also, consider whether there’s a bigger issue going on that is being covered up because you are focusing on the idea of a creative block. Maybe something else is transferring over into your artistic domain that needs to be kept out or dealt with in its rightful territory.

Persevere and your dry spell will soon be history…

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Ceramic News Briefs International

England: Boost for Staffordshire schools, Creative Boom – Such good news! It isn’t often you hear of schools receiving extra funding for art these days. Staffordshire is one of four Firing Up organizers program in England. The others include Bath, Manchester and Sunderland. It is being done with an eye toward potential professional ceramists. “The Crafts Council and Staffordshire University have teamed up to reinvigorate ceramics teaching in Staffordshire’s secondary schools.”

United States: Modern living: A 2011 spin on a 1951 photo, LA Times – Here is a fun piece… The Times re-created ia 1951 magazine cover using modern decor. The original scene was staged by the Los Angeles County Museum of art. Both old and new versions feature ceramics. The color palette has been retained, as has the placement of objects.

United States: Rare Moravian pottery owl bottle, circa 1800-1820 to highlight Bonhams sale, art daily – This sweet little bottle is expected to fetch between us $60-$80,000. “The Moravian potters produced press molded animal bottles in the early 19th century for everyday use, such as dry spice storage. Two variations of owl bottles were made but their molds have never been located.” The owl has a tortoise slip glaze, inspired by English pottery called Whieldonware.

Canada: Ceramics put a halt to disc brakes, Autonet – This news story  surprised me, for I never thought I’d be posting about automotive news. However, it’s worth a look. “Ceramic brakes were originally developed by British engineers working in the railway industry for high-speed rail…in 1988.” Ceramic discs are much lighter than steel discs, by upwards of 50%. The stopping power is much quicker, yet, at present, they are very expensive.

United States: Firing on all creative cylinders, Sequim Gazette – These zany sculptures make you feel good just looking at them And they remind me of a friend’s style. Splashy, some fantasy-based, others are interpretations of real-life creatures. He also does raku. The artist, Steve Wry, will be exhibiting his work at an art walk on October 7 in Sequim, in northwest Washington. “Because I don’t do functional ware, I consider them works of art rather than crafts,” Wry said. “Art doesn’t need to be equated with craft. I don’t consider myself a craft person, but a sculptor.” The Blue Whole Gallery, 129 W. Washington St., at 681-6033, http://www.bluewholegallery.com.

England: Little clay commuters fired for Stoke ceramics festival, BBC – “An army of around 6,000 terracotta commuters has been scattered in Stoke train station and at various sites around London. People are being encouraged to pick them up and take them home.”  The figures have been created by a British artist for the British Ceramics Biennial.  The festival last 6 weeks and the figures will keep being replaced during that time.  For more news about the event click here.

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Studio space to call my own

The Hindus call it Anāhata, अनाहत in Sanskrit: the Heart Chakra. It creates a very warm feeling when something produces a profound sense of joy. I am experiencing that warmth now because of something new in my life. Something that has made my efforts feel more legitimized, more recognized. I speak of my new studio space in my home. It has produced a great sense of joy. Before, I was nomadic, working on a canvas-covered board  I shifted around. It inevitably got in the way and we know that isn’t the way to create. But, now, to borrow from Virginia Woolf, I have room of my own. In addition, it’s not in some cramped area, cold and dark. My new space is well-lit and warm. Plus, I have a lovely view of the ocean from a big picture window. As leaves fall, I’ll be able to see more. Warmed, but not so much as to dry out the clay. I also love my work table, a beautiful oak library table from the 1940s. I’m going to look into ways of protecting the surface but, in the meantime, it’s covered by a huge board covered with canvas…. There is something about a workshop in a home that I love. In my salad days, in Eugene, Oregon, my roommate and I turned part of our living room into a work bench. I’ve never forgotten that little rented house, in good part because of that bench. I love tools and working with my hands. If I’d recognized my inclinations then, I could have saved myself a whopping amount of student loans, I suppose, but live and learn. Having a work space makes a home feel complete to me. So, this evening, I worked on a tile on the whiteness of the clean, new canvas. Studio space to call my own. I don’t have to break camp and hie on down the road. It feels so right. In many ways, fall is the perfect time for this to be happening and I look forward to snowy winter days when I can work with reflected light, seeing birds at the feeder. The Farmer’s Almanac says we’re to get more than less snow this year, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll have stowed my pots and trays in my greenhouse, mulched by raised bed, done my outside winterizing. Having completed my outdoor chores, I can concentrate on home indoors. A good book and a cup of coffee. My rocking chair by the fire. My cat, Rosie, snoring. I have a set of shelves filled with my ceramics supplies and next I’ll come up with an area that will make a good mini damp room. Yes, the heart chakra is smouldering away, I am content and life is good…

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British Columbia: Cowichan Valley Artisans 2nd Annual show and sale

Eagle Heights and Koksilah Ridge, Cowichan Valley. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Cowichan Valley Artisans

2nd Annual Show and Sale

September 14 – October 22
Artist Reception:  October 7, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Benchmark Gallery, 28 Station St., Duncan, B.C.
info@cowichanvalleyartisans.com

Among the 13 artists showing, three are ceramic artists:

Mary Fox: wheel-thrown and sculptural pieces

Cathi Jefferson: salt-fired ceramics

John Robertson: functional pottery

If you would like to see a brochure for the event, click here. For a map of the area, click here. For more information about the Cowichan Valley, click here.

Cowichan Sunrise. Source: Arthur Vickers/Wikimedia


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Changing to www.janestreetclayworks.com

Hello, readers, artists and curiosity seekers! I wanted to keep you in the loop. Jane Street Clayworks  will shift from https://janestreetclayworks.wordpress.com to http://www.janestreetclayworks.com any day now. It will then be a wordpress.org site. I chose Host Gator for my hosted server, thanks to Connie, who uses it and gave good reports. My domain is Canadian, but I opted for .com instead of .ca because it’s more universal. As soon as WordPress gets back to me about a site redirect question, we’ll be good to go. By Tuesday. I will give you more info as it comes down the pike, but want to let you know what’s happening. The site may look slightly different, but they’ll keep as much of the appearance as they can… I will miss wordpress.com; it’s been a sweet home and an amazing venue. Anyone can create a blog, choose from umpteen different designs, customize it, pick bells and whistles. The WordPress Happiness Engineers are on hand and highly responsive if need be. It is a lovely community and it’s where I learned how to blog. I am so grateful and appreciative. If you are interested, I’m sure it would be a great experience for you, too. And it is free! (You may have noticed a small ad at the bottom of my blog. It’s WP’s, not mine, and I think it’s the only way they made money from my blog. Quite discreet.) I know wordpress.org has its own group of devoted members, too, and I’ll soon be among them. I want everything to be up and running seamlessly before the one-year anniversary of this site, Oct. 26th. There is much work to be done and I am not a techie but, as they say, baby steps. I thank you so much for your support of this site and for returning for more. The site redirect means you don’t have to do anything but sit back and relax till we reach our new destination. The training wheels are almost off…

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