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?

 

Thinking About Drainage

Every time I share my planters with plant people I learn new things about drainage. I’m always happy to hear feedback on how to make my planters better homes for the plants that grow in them.

I will admit that sometimes I struggle initially with the feedback and how to incorporate it into my planters in the most effective way. There are lots of factors to consider from maintaining even, consistent wall thickness and other structural considerations to aesthetic considerations like continuing my personal style in the final form.

One such challenge revolved around adding additional drainage in the feet of my signature planter form. As you can sort of see from this angle, the method I use to form my planters’ feet creates low points in the pot where water can collect and cause root rot.

Here is a view of the planter upside down before any drainage holes are added.

The challenge was to decide the best way to avoid the low point.

Do I fill in the inside with additional clay? Well, that adds weight to the pot and the potential for uneven drying which can cause cracks.

Do I put in a thin layer of clay on the inside suspended over the low point? Then I create a hollow section in the pot and trapped air can cause explosions in the kiln during firing.

Do I fill in that part after the planter is completely fired with some non-clay material like caulk or silicone? I tried it on some pots I had already created and it works, but needs a lot more caulk, etc than it would appear. In addition to the added cost of the filler, the end result doesn’t look great.

In the end it was my second idea above that actually gave me the best solution. To release the trapped air in the pot I tried that idea on, I put holes in the bottom of the feet. The minute I did it, I realized, “Duh! Just put holes through the feet.”

It turned out to be the easiest, simplest solution and has the added benefit of being virtually invisible unless you look inside the pot or turn it over. So, now all of my planters from the very smallest to the largest have a minimum of five drainage holes (as pictured below).

At a recent show I learned that all of my drainage holes in my feet are actually helpful if the pot is used to plant bonsai since the initial planting requires the bonsai tree to be wired into the pot for security while it roots. So, there you have it! Two solutions in one – prevents root rot and allows for wire!

Looking for a great planter with absolutely fabulous drainage? Then be sure to check out my Etsy shop!

Foot Noir

There’s a great Instagram account called Pots in Action run by a wonderful ceramic artist named Ayumi Horie that runs weekly challenges to post ceramic work on Instagram. It is an example of all that is right in the world of social media and does what often seems impossible to bring together ceramic artists and collectors together across the world.

This week’s challenge is all about the foot. Not the walking around on variety, but the part a pot rests on foot. If there was ever a nemesis to my ceramic process it would be the foot. Constructing just the right foot for a particular pot taking into account the structural soundness of the work as well as the aesthetic aspect has long been something I’ve struggled with over the years.

So, I’m taking on this week’s Pots in Action challenge on as a sort of practice and continued search for a great foot for my pieces. I’ll be posting later this week my attempts and trials, but thought I would share another use of a foot in my work with you first. The best kind of foot, in my opinion, is the one leaving a great impression in clay. Too bad it doesn’t absolve me from tackling the other!

Check out more of my foot and footwear inspired work here.

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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Figurative Work

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If you had asked me a year ago if I would be creating figurative sculptures I would have laughed and laughed and laughed. Yet here I am with several garden art sculptures slash planters created in a female form. Even more amazing is that I love creating them. I enjoy the attitude and personality each one takes on as the piece takes shape over the sculpting process. I especially love the chance to be really crazy and free with my glazing. Something about these forms seems to call for a no-holds barred approach to adding color that is far removed from my normally rather detailed and precise method.

This particular figure is my tallest yet – standing fourteen inches high – and has a lovely red midriff that I love. I hope you’ll take a little time to check her out in my online shop along with a couple others I have available.

Red Framed Plate

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I love, love this piece. I love it so much I can’t believe it hasn’t sold yet. Have you ever had that happen to you? Where you can’t understand what everyone else doesn’t see in something you love … something you so obviously see value and beauty and goodness in? It seems sometimes like the pieces I enjoy the most take the longest to sell and the pieces I create that make me question myself sell the fastest. Maybe its just the universe’s way of giving me time to enjoy my favorites.

Learn more here.

Deja Vu

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” – Chuck Close

I recently ran across the above quote from Chuck Close a few weeks back and it absolutely describes my work process. Yes, there are times when I get inspired by things outside of my work process, but when it comes to the actual translation? The actual piece I create to convey my idea? It is absolutely always found through the act of making.

As I sit back and look at all of the plates I created this past month for a show, I realize that so much of what was created was born out of all of the months of making that came before them.

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Take these plates shown above, all of them have shoe prints. In fact, a good five or six plates from this most recent group have shoe prints … most of them my shoe. Using the textures found on the bottom of shoes started for me years ago when I first came across the work of Jim and Nan McKinnell. They used shoe prints for texture and I had all of my students making “tramp” pots of we called them.

I’ve made shoe print based work off and on over the years and in January installed a show of plates with all of them based on collected shoe prints. Its actually one of my favorite ways to work when I can start from a place completely out of my control. I have no idea what people’s shoes look like before they step on the clay. I have no idea how they’ll step.

Here I am creating plates and patterns, because I do now have a specific pattern for my own shoe, very intentionally from shoes in the studio.

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Then there are the plates like these three above that feature tire tracks, bottle cap stripes and pinstripe lines just like so many of my planters. I felt during the making process for so many of these plates that I was often drawn back to many of the textures I used on my planters. I might have used them in slightly different ways. They might be combined and mixed with my past favorite patterns.

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Or these plates that are definitely a throw back to my series inspired by watch gears from last year. All of my plates for that series were round to echo the circular nature of gears, but I find I like the off-center slices of these texture patterns. We never quite see the whole thing and are left to wonder what we might be missing.

Its so interesting to be able to look back and see how your past work has influenced your current work. I can tell you that its not even intentional. When I’m creating, its only in rare cases that I specifically work a texture design into a new piece. More often, its a melding, a remixing of old and new. Each time I work with clay whether its as a demo for one of my classes or creating my own work a mental sketch book page gets added for future use.

Coils!

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I love this planter. I love doing pieces like this one with all sorts of crazy coils. Its a very freeing way of making pots. They make me happy. I don’t know if it will ever sell, but I’ll probably keep making these occasionally just for fun … and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Learn more here.