On Growth

Three years ago I sent myself to a life drawing/painting intensive because I wanted to be able to execute portraits well. What I gained from the experience was a completely new perspective of art that I had never experienced before.

I had very little arts education. I was given the paint and the glue and the brushes and paper and charcoal and all manner of tools to create art with. But I was never taught how to use them. Not well anyway. I never learned how to use the materials and I certainly never learned what had been done before me to capitalize upon.

Now I certainly was taught some things. My college art history classes were a torrent of memorizing dates and time periods. But there was little time spent exploring technique, artists and their contributions. In fact I was so confused and disenchanted with the course that I wrote a paper entitled “Art is Dead”.

I was required to take ONE drawing course in college. I also took a course on color in which we, well, used color. My time in the college art department felt like someone said – “Well in this class we’ll be using color. So do whatever you want that involves color” or “In this class we’ll be drawing. Draw.” And while simply drawing and playing with color have their place and are beneficial, this sort of instruction is not educational. It certainly doesn’t smack of higher education to me.

Imagine if physicists or architects were treated to the same sort of education. Instead they are treated to in depth educations in which the history of what has come before them is discussed in detail. The knowledge that has been discovered, techniques, ideas, hypotheses, the math, the vocabulary, etc. I also studied business and believe me, the courses were much more challenging and abundant with facts and figures and truths.

Art students are expected to simply “express themselves” within the very loose confines of a course. Instead of learning painting techniques based on various masters, I was told to “paint”. While I painted with oils for the 4 years I attended university, I never once learned how to use them. And maybe I was supposed to have figured that out before hand. After all I’m sure the math students had used calculators prior to enrollment.

I think it is very unfortunate that schools are so flippant with their art degrees. And maybe this was just my own experience. But I have talked to many others with similar stories.

So when I decided to revisit my education 3 years ago it was something that I’d been craving for a long time. I knew that there was more and that I had missed something in my arts background. And holy moly did I find it.

What I was introduced to is ancient art knowledge. It is art making that has been happening since the first men recorded dying buffalo on walls. It is observation. It is seeing. It is recording the world through my eyes.

The techniques used to do this have changed throughout the years, but essentially since the beginning humans have observed and recorded their surroundings. The Greeks did it exceptionally well.

When Rome fell and Christianity gained a foothold, it became somewhere between forbidden and frowned upon to make images of realistic humans as we are not supposed to worship false idols. Around this time Islam pushed into what is modern day Europe, also forbidding any recording or imitation of god’s creations. So for a great deal of time, the skills were lost.

In the Renaissance and later the Neoclassical eras observation coupled with skilled recording came back in full swing.

But here’s the thing – all art, all of it, is abstract art. After all we cannot possibly capture the precise reality of a moment. My simply looking at the object of my still life distorts the object. Then my attempt to record the object distorts it. And so people played with this notion and pushed it and pushed it. And some of them stopped looking and turned inward for expression. So things changed, as they do and new art forms were born. And skills were lost. Again.

Historically you’ll find that most artists known for their expressionist and deeply abstract work are well educated in drawing and painting techniques. They have learned the basics and from that place been able to make new choices as to how to use the materials. They built from and distorted what they knew. I get the impression that this foundation is no longer an expectation.

I stopped painting highly abstracted work because I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no foundation that I was working from. And the work was fine. I sold it. People loved it. But, it wasn’t enough. I knew and I know I can do better.

Here are some reasons why I am only painting from life:

First of all I absolutely love it. The hours I spend in meditation and communion with an orange or flower are beautiful. I would meditate all day if I didn’t have other tasks to do. To sit and truly see and appreciate what I am looking at for what it is is absolutely magical. This is primarily why I paint from life.

I see painting from life as practicing to quiet the ego and still the mind. Instead of freely giving into reactionary feelings (anger, red, drip paint, swoosh, push, pull, screams, cries, splash, somber, purple), I am quieting the mind, breathing in and out, staying in the present moment and carefully being with my surroundings. This is a practice I see taught nationwide. It is hurts me that people don’t see the association of their yoga or meditation practice with my own. This is the same practice. 

Then, I am eager to attune my senses to realities that work and are true. I look at my past work and see shapes and shadows that even in an abstracted figure don’t work. And having this understanding is what I believe will take my work to a new level of expression.  Because even in the wildest abstraction, something based in reality will sing more truly, more vividly. I met a man who sells abstractions in Santa Fe. They look like wild landscapes with deep layers and pockets of earthen colors. Every single line he draws is the outline of a figure from life drawing.

If you were to speak with any of my teachers they will tell you that we are painting light. Not flowers or figures. Light. I am seeking to capture the play of the one thing that we truly see. Without it we would see no colors or transitions or separation. The light is all we see.

I don’t know what to make of all of this yet. I only know that right now I am dedicated to following in the footsteps of so many who simply sought to record their experience on this planet. And for now that means practicing my skills and communing with lemons.

Shiny Things

I keep getting the same lesson over and over again – beware of the shiny things.

I have a vision. Work hard, practice, make my shop better and better. In time I do believe I will be selling my artwork regularly and making a decent profit from my store. So far this plan has been working. Every year sales are better. My abilities as an artist are improving and I do have a waiting list of people who want to purchase artwork (lemons…everyone wants a lemon!).

But sometimes I get distracted and I call this my shiny thing syndrome.

Sometimes the shiny things are opportunities that take me away from my studio. A free plane ticket somewhere cool…why not? Sometimes its the lure of a paycheck. I keep thinking I need a “real job” to supplement my income. But what I NEEd to do is ignore these shiny things and stay focused in the studio.

So lets hope this was the last time I needed to learn this lesson! Say no to shiny things!

4 Weeks in Panama

About one year ago, I asked if I could tag along for part of a friend’s adventure to Panama. She had moved to Boquete with her husband, daughter and doggies to experience another way of life for the year. I figured a month painting in  new environment would be ideal. At the time I was still painting in a strongly abstract manner. I had a vision of canvases, drop cloths and a lot of experiments.

After one week at Studio Escalier I knew that my entire understanding of art had changed forever. I am now committed to realism and truly mastering (or coming as close as I can in my lifetime). And as fate would have it, upon my arrival I found myself with the sweetest little room and a north facing window.

I have found that the momentum of painting daily for a sustained period of time is transformative. There is an ease with which I could slip in and out of painting that I had never experienced before.

I only was able to paint for 7 days while here. My husband joined me to explore Boquete for one week. I was also invited to join my friend in Cartagena, Colombia for 5 days following this. Here I am with 2 days to go and some wonderful experiences under my belt.

I began writing this blog just under one year ago with the intention of documenting my “Dharma Year”, a year committed to exploring my purpose and passion. I am determined to continue this practice and build a career as an artist.

Boquete is beautiful. I enjoyed some very challenging hikes and a combination of cool and hot weather (we are nestled in the mountains).

Glaze Fire #3

Finally some good news. This firing went so well and I am so thankful. Nothing cracked, fell apart or melted!

A few things that helped:

  • I flipped my clay when centering to ensure even compression in the tumblers.
  • I purchased a greenhouse to use as a wet cabinet, allowing my work to dry much more slowly.
  • I put the little hearts on the bottom shelf. This tends to be the most volatile and dangerous area. I figure the hearts are simply little pinch pots and can handle that sort of attention.

I am recognizing that my kiln is not going to make delicately, pristinely fired work. It is a raku kiln after all!

Work that is closer to the propane side tends to get over-fired, so I think I will just leave that area empty from now on.

I used Coyote glazes for the tumblers and will be sure to put on a third or even fourth layer to get better coverage. The snowflake white is the glaze around the top of the tumblers. I don’t think I mixed it properly when I made it and find that the coverage is lacking. I may just brush it on from now on. Or I suppose I can make another batch.

The planters are just beautiful and I’m thrilled with how they turned out. They are painted in underglaze, then dipped in the SG-157 clear glaze.

I drove 90 minutes today with the intention of drawing a model. But as fate would have it she was a no show. I offered to pose since it’s something I’ve been wanting to do. I think I needed to listen more than draw today and left feeling empowered in my continued studies. It was my first time posing and was a 3 hour pose to boot. Hoping to make this a regular thing. Ready to revisit some books and keep digging! #dharmayear #seekingjoy

via Instagram http://ift.tt/2f5TcQI

I drove 90 minutes today with the intention of drawing a model. But as fate would have it she was a no show. I offered to pose since it’s something I’ve been wanting to do. I think I needed to listen more than draw today and left feeling empowered in my continued studies. It was my first time posing and was a 3 hour pose to boot. Hoping to make this a regular thing. Ready to revisit some books and keep digging! #dharmayear #seekingjoy

via Instagram http://ift.tt/2fPGIxM

Glaze Fire #2

I have had several other firings in this kiln before I started writing blog posts. So when I say that I’m frustrated it isn’t because after 2 firings I’m giving up.

I am wondering if a day will come when I will open the kiln with glee and 95% of the ware is useable. That day is not today.

For the master potter reading this please keep in mind that I am very new and very learning right now.

The first problem I’m noticing is that the bottom shelf is very hot. Possibly cone 7-8 hot. I need more cones to know for sure. The middle shelf hits cone 5 just fine and the top of the kiln just makes it over cone 4. So the heat is not dispersing well. Possible solutions – plugging up peep holes? My concern is lack of oxygen. Maybe a reduction environment isn’t as bad as I thought. I originally thought that it was to blame for the more grey than white colors, but that seems to be a clay issue.

Nothing came out pure white, but it is looking better than the 1/2 and 1/2 with clear glaze. I am wanting to see pure white finishes and just not getting it (haven’t tried a lot of variations). I dipped some work in porcelain slip. The 1/2 and 1/2 dipped in porcelain looks quite nice. I’d still like a shinier, more brilliant white, so I’ll probably look into other clays and white underglaze.

I had a solid amount of cracks today in what would have been beautiful pieces. I think there are a few factors lending towards this. 1 – I have been drying my work way too quickly. I just received my mini greenhouse order and this should help the problem. I haven’t had a damp closet to store my pieces. 2 – I haven’t been wedging anything. I don’t know if this works for the planters though because those get run through the slab roller. 3 – Over firing. I’m pretty sure that’s my biggest enemy right now. I need to learn about distributing the heat more evenly in that beast of a kiln. 4 – Many of my thrown pieces developed s cracks during the bisque firing so they didn’t make the cut to glaze. This is most likely due to lack of compression and no wedging. I apologize. No more short cuts.

The magnolia mugs are AWFUL. I’m so embarrassed. There are large bubbles in the mugs. Not the glaze (more on that in a moment). In the mugs. This probably indicates poor compression. Again from not wedging. On top of those bubbles the glaze blistered in an impressively terrible way. I should have known something was wrong. When I dipped the mugs into the glaze, it didn’t dry. It took almost an hour for the glaze to dry. So something was fishy there. 

So I have a giant BBQ of a kiln that I need to play with to achieve somewhat more refined results. I purchased the kiln because I could only buy one and I want to do raku someday. I couldn’t buy an electric kiln because I don’t have access to the 240. I’m frustrated because I never had problems like this with the electric kiln in the high school, so I know that my job is to learn the ins and outs of this beast I’m working with. I can’t afford another kiln. I could possibly ask the school if I could use the school’s kiln and pay per load, but frankly I don’t want to spend time there anymore.

After reading some posts from the online ceramic community I can confirm that working with an Olympic Torchbearer is not ideal. No one seems really happy with them and it appears that most people purchase them out of affordability. This makes me feel better and worse. Better because the work I’m doing is suffering PARTLY from the beastly nature of the kiln. If I recognize the kiln’s limitations I can make work designed to be successful in that kiln (thinking rustic, earthy work). Worse because I want to create delicate, beautiful work. This means I will need to purchase a new kiln in the future AND I need the proper outlet. Now I could put the kiln in my new studio space, but the electricity in that building is TERRIBLE and I wouldn’t trust it to support the 20 amps needed. So that involves hiring an electrician to do a lot of work and I don’t know maybe I’ll just paint more portraits.

This is where my gofundme account gets created and suddenly I have everything I need.

Worst of the firing: Magnolia mugs. I’m so embarrassed. I can’t even.

 

Best of: This style of planter is working quite well for me. I need to make about 30 next time and stop experimenting with things that aren’t working yet.

After writing this post I did a little more reading. The ware all suffered from a severe overfiring.