I’m Not A Very Symmetrical Person

Doing art shows is a lot of work. Packing all of your work up, loading the car, unloading the car, setting up the booth, re-packing any unsold work, loading the car and finally unloading the car. The thing that makes it all worth it … beyond the art sales although those are important too … is getting to talk about your work with complete strangers.

Strangers have no compulsions whatsoever to be nice. In fact, oftentimes they can be quite rude when they think you can’t hear them talking to their friend. Its one of the best ways to get unfiltered feedback and commentary on what you’re creating.

If there was a theme to the discussions I had about my work this past Sunday at the Downtown Redlands Art Walk it was symmetry. I can’t quite remember when I’ve talked so much about the fact that my work isn’t symmetrical before in a single afternoon. It’s true though, it is not symmetrical … intentionally not symmetrical.

Most people who talked about it with me expressed that that was what they liked best about my work. It wasn’t perfection, it wasn’t round – it “had attitude,” as one woman said talking about my mugs.

All art is essentially a self portrait on some level, so my standard answer to the symmetry questions goes something like, “Well I’m not a very symmetrical person.” This is both true and not true. I have a tiny bit of OCD when it comes to certain things, don’t we all, and they have to absolutely be that particular way.

I think my art is my way of challenging that more controlled side of me. The more wonky or expressive I can make my work while still retaining functionality is my way of saying, “Up yours!” to my inner control freak. I like to think it’s a healthy practice for me as long as I don’t go too far with it and start walking asymmetrically. I’m enough of a klutz already!

Creativity Block?

Blocks are not just for writers anymore – all of us can find ourselves struggling to think up new ideas and fresh perspectives. The trick is not to avoid those times when creativity blocks happen because let’s be honest, you can’t escape, but instead to look upon it as an opportunity.

I find that I go through cycles with the texture patterns I create in my work with the same patterns emerging over and over until I’m stuck in my comfort zone. Since what else is a creativity block except getting nice and comfy, all curled up in the same old thought processes?

I have some tried and true methods for helping me break out.

For an easy fix, I set-up out in the “wild” – somewhere that will bring me into contact with lots of people. I’ve always found engaging others as part creators of my work forces me to solve for the unexpected. I never quite know what someone will do when I give them free reign to place an imprint on a piece of clay. Viewing this unknown as a problem that has to be solved (I’m not allowed to simply scrap it out of the gate) usually introduces fresh ideas into my work.

Sometimes though I’m stuck just a little bit more than one of my quick fixes will help.

I find in those situations that I need to completely leave behind my main medium, clay, and explore other mediums. Whether it’s through research into these other mediums or actually creating non-clay works, it puts me in back in the realm of a complete newbie. I can’t fall back on any past experience. I might explore outside of the world of clay for a day or a few weeks before feeling that I can return recharged for my work.

What do you do to help get yourself out of your comfort zone?

 

Bark vs Snow

It can be so hard to know where an artist gets the inspiration for their work – such is the case with this lovely little bark mug.

I’ve been making fake tree bark, or faux bois if you want to be fancy, in clay for what seems like forever. An artist I met some years back, David Gilbaugh showed me the basics of creating bark and even gifted me a special tool he had made to help create realistic bark.

I’ve never achieved David’s level of expertise – he’s a true master and can accurately re-create the bark of any specific tree with ease. Definitely check out his work if you get a chance as it is stunning.

I can, however, create basic generic tree bark easily. It makes a great parlor trick to show my students and I’ve been pulling it out of my back pocket for years as a fun impromptu demo. In fact this mug was created during one such demo a few weeks back.

I was showing some studio folks not in my class the mug pre-glaze and one of them offered up that I must be getting inspired by all of the tire tracks in the snow now that I live in the mountains.

Sadly, no. Snow has yet to inspire anything, but hard physical labor in me this winter season. Have I mentioned how much I *enjoy* shoveling?

I did, however, love getting the reminder that even in what appears an easily interpreted piece of art can take on so many variations when viewed through another lens.

Check out this mug and more non-snow inspired work in my Etsy shop!

Monday’s Muse – Nancy Selvin

I got the pleasure of meeting an artist whose work I have long admired, Nancy Selvin. In fact, seeing her work for the first time a couple of years ago got me started on handbuilt bottle forms.

While I mainly know her through her clay work, I was not surprised to learn that she additionally creates in watercolor and gouache since aspects of a more painterly approach to her surfaces is the most striking part of her ceramic work. In fact from the right angle its easy to interpret her sculptural work as a drawing. In addition to her wonderful surfaces, her forms are very loose and open inviting you to investigate closer.

The marriage of the two aspects of her work – inviting forms and painterly surfaces – creates a collage effect especially in the wall vignettes she creates.

I highly recommend checking out her website and her work for yourself!

 

 

Long Live Sloils!

Excuse me while I geek out for a moment, but the other day I got the opportunity to meet one of my all time favorite ceramic artists – Fred Yokel.

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Fred’s work is mainly figurative. What really stands out and separates his work from others is the expressions and movement incorporated into each piece. Fred draws his inspiration from cartoon characters he doodles – typically in action. I love the absolutely love of life and humor that comes through with each piece. They say that all art is a self portrait and after meeting Fred, I can absolutely see his personality shining through his work.

I first encountered Fred’s work several months ago on my never ending quest to find new inspirations and projects for my adult hand building classes I teach at AMOCA. I immediately felt drawn to Fred’s work, but what sealed the deal, so to speak, about including him as an inspiration artist for my class was his construction technique.

Fred uses a coiling technique to create his work that he refers to as sloils – that is a flattened (like a slab) coil. Slab plus coil equals sloil in Fred’s book and it is a term that my students have since adopted as their own. In fact the other day they debated the merits of constructing with coils vs sloils. It made my day!

Fred’s sculptures, which he appropriately calls “Jestures,” have resonated with my students as well. A few of them were there the weekend Fred was at AMOCA for a workshop and they were as thrilled as me to meet him in person! I think we embarrassed him a little bit.

Be sure to check out his website and work for yourself! It is not to be missed!!

Sewing with Clay

It all started out several class sessions ago when a student suggested that we should try to make clay figures using doll sewing patterns as our templates. I thought it sounded like a great idea and did all sorts of research on doll sewing patterns until I found some great ones that could be translated into clay. Before long I had expanded my search beyond dolls to include dresses, corsets, blouses, pants, skirts – you name it, I have found some kind of sewing pattern for it.

I’ve even turned some of them into clay creations from simple one to two part patterns to complicated ten or twelve piece ones. I even ultimately had my class try them out as well using both clothes patterns as well as doll patterns. My research has even led me to other artists like Melisa Cadell who, for some of her work, uses a beginning for the torso that is seems inspired by sewing pattern thought processes.

My favorite pattern to date and the one I use over and over again is a super simple blouse  template. The pattern is perfect because the sleeves for this blouse are more of a suggestion then actual sleeves. The form is feminine and when put together suggestive of the female form.

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Above you can see an example of one half of the final piece (or either the front/back of the blouse). It is shown upside down since the wider part is actually what would turn into the sleeves on a fabric piece. I have used this pattern both with the wider part at the top of the vase as well as at the bottom.

Currently I’ve been taken with the notion of corsets since with the wider part at the bottom, this template lends itself so well to that feel. All of my texture patterns on the vases I’m making using this pattern recently have been done with an eye to that garment – some kind of seam down the middle, maybe a texture to suggestion darting – you get the idea. I actually think the example above looks a lot like a bathing suit, but was very gratified when a friend suggested that it looked like a corset when I posted it recently on social media.

Just like the blouse, each vase needs two pieces of “fabric” to work, so I’ve been creating set after set of matching clay “fabric” these past couple of weeks. Below are some of my initial vases I’ve formed. I can’t wait to see them glazed!

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Well … Sally Jane??

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I get a kick out of naming my pieces. Particularly the plates and tiles I make. Something about them just asks to be named. Maybe it is because they are more like canvases for my texture patterns than the vases and bottles. Or maybe it’s just easier to see and pick up the feeling when the surface is flat.

Most of the time, I look at a piece and immediately know the right name for it. The texture and glaze combination will just reach out and grab me right away – name me this.

Every once in awhile I get a piece back from glaze firing and don’t know what to think. I won’t quite know what the plate is trying to say. Its message is more vague. Or maybe I just don’t like how the piece turned out in the end. Whatever the reason, those are the pieces I struggle to find just the right name.

This plate is one of those I’m struggling with in the naming department. I was sitting in front of my computer, uploading work to my etsy shop and having named all of those other pieces felt the pressure to come up with … something.

And I thought … well … Sally Jane. See this plate and other new work here.

This is a Takeover

Last week I had the pleasure of watching a takeover of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Instagram account by one of their resident artists, Alberto Aguilar. Normally, finding out that an organization has asked someone to manage their account for a day or week is nothing to write home about. I’ve follow other Instagram accounts that have given over control to an individual in the past.

Alberto’s takeover was different.

Alberto is a visual artist who focuses on documenting a moment in time and, even more importantly to note, on his and others interactions with that moment. I would venture that when you think Art Institute of Chicago your first thought is not Alberto’s style of work. You are probably more likely to think of old masters, the Chagall window, maybe even the lions standing guard in front of the building … all of the things that the Art Institute normally shares on their Instagram feed.

There were many unhappy comments throughout the week by followers. There were arguments between strangers about the validity of Alberto’s posts as art. There was encouragement and support offered.

All in all, Alberto made people THINK about art. They were no longer being spoon fed long established ideas of what “good” art is and instead were placed in the direct path of having to decide for themselves.

He made me think. His work forced me out of my comfort zone and view of the world around me. Even sitting here, owner of a crazy found object collection and a collector of shoe prints in clay, I’d like to think I’m predisposed to look at things beyond their normal function and purpose. I found out this past week that there is definitely room for me to expand beyond my normal viewpoint.

I’m already brainstorming how to best incorporate my learnings from this past week into my work and my teaching. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore Alberto’s world yourselves either via his website, Instagram account or his takeover of the Art Institute’s account (viewable via smartphone or computer).

Visiting Redlands Art Association

If you’ve ever taken one of my classes, you might have been on one of my infamous “field trips.” My field trips vary from simple trips to the studio kitchen to examine mug handles and discuss functionality to more involved off-site ones to find unusual clay tools. I thought I’d continue the series here, on my blog, for others to get some insight into my creative process and inspiration sources.

Today’s field trip is to the Redlands Art Association (RAA). Located on State Street in downtown Redlands, CA, it is a non-profit artist co-op and art education organization.

I’ve been involved in RAA since 2011 and am currently a youth art instructor there and show my artwork. Like many non-profit artist co-ops, it is a great place for artists to get their start and experience in showing their work to the public. All you need to do is join as a Friend of RAA to be able to participate in shows. Friends of RAA can also propose solo show ideas for the gallery’s featured artist corner. In fact, I’m having my Featured Artist show there starting January 23rd and continuing through February 13th.

Let’s take a look inside the gallery!

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First, let’s check out the West Gallery and take a look at all of the artwork there.

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There’s Sandy! She is one of RAA’s Gallery Coordinators and helps to greet customers, ring up artwork sales and much more. She is also RAA’s Publicity and Events Chair, so she is involved in lots of the great things RAA does with artists out in the community. I don’t think she realized I got her in my photo! : )

One of the first things you see when just walking in to the gallery is a hanging panel with the work of the current Featured Artist. During my trip the gallery was featuring the work of Claire Heaslip. Her work is one of my favorites!

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A few more shots of the West Gallery.

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A few close-ups of some of the work by Friends of RAA artists.

From Left to Right: Deborah George, Dan Soury, Ruth Woods, Vlad Voytilla/Won Madeline Koh/Jillian O’Dwyer (me!)

As you can see, Friends of RAA work in a wide variety of mediums and create all sorts of functional and sculptural works of art.

Let’s head over to the East Gallery!

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On the way to the East Gallery, you can see that RAA features books, etc by local artists as well in addition to artwork.

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The East Gallery serves a dual purpose. In addition to wall space for even more wonderful works of art, it serves as a place for youth and adult classes, workshops, monthly program lectures and other events! All is quiet and calm  … and clean! … right now, but during the middle of any of the classes RAA offers this room takes on a quite different vibe.

One of the best parts of the East Gallery is a wall in the back that features artwork by local artists of Redlands! The Redlands Wall is one of my favorite collections each show.

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Youth Art classes were on break when I visited, but typically there is lots of kids art hung up as well from the current classes. I did find a few animal totems waiting for pick up by one of my students from my November/December Faces in Clay class out on the patio.

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The patio is accessed through sliding doors in the East Gallery and features a create piece of living art designed and planted by Carol Pancer, a local master gardener and ceramic artist.

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It is actually another of my favorite spots this beautiful vertical garden. It reminds me that each spring the gallery participates in the annual Redlands Garden Tour by hosting local florists’ arrangements. Each florist picks out a piece of artwork in the gallery and designs a living art arrangement to compliment it. It is an annual spring time event not to be missed! This year’s garden tour is in April, so be sure to check it out.

Hope you’ve enjoyed a little peek inside the Redlands Art Association. You can see some of the behind the scenes magic that keeps it running below.

Behind The Scenes of The Redlands Art Association from Redlands Art Association on Vimeo.

 

A Blank Canvas

A couple of weeks ago I got the opportunity to hang my first solo show. I thought I’d share a little bit of the process from a blank room to finished show.

Starting with a blank room

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The first order of business is to hang the plate wall. Getting the paper template in place and staging the plates.

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The plate wall slowly comes together.

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Its done!

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Playing around with some different pedestal options

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Just right – all hung and ready for the opening!

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