Porkies…so much to consider

PackingScrapFest is over and this week I can finally focus on getting ready for the artist’s residency. Two weeks, a cabin, no running water or electricity, and an outhouse—all in exchange for two uninterrupted weeks of making art in one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in the state. Fair game.

Piles are piling up—clothes, food, art supplies, safety equipment (including every imaginable format of bug spray, bear, and people spray). Art supplies will trump all if I can’t fit it everything in my car. I’ve never been to summer camp, but this looks like it’s about right.

So, what’s the point of all of this? I’m honestly not sure yet. I’m hoping to really SEE the upper peninsula and capture some essence, larger or small. I’m hoping to sketch, write, paint, notate and just see where these processes lead. I’m hoping to crack through to some deeper level—one that really speaks about the area, but also to where I find my motivation, my true connection with art, my justification for the choices I’ve made my whole life in favor of a lifestyle and pursuit that feels genuine and, I’ve always hoped, valuable in some degree. Might be a lot to ask, but two weeks alone seems like a good way to start.

I am taking water-based oils, poetry books/notebooks, gouache, pencils of all sorts, and some clay, canvasses and sundry substrates. I have NO idea what I’ll be drawn to observe or record/interpret. I just can’t wait to get to work.

Finding Voice

A lot of artists struggle with finding/recognizing/developing their style. Style is all well and good. It may help others differentiate one person’s work from another. But, in my humble opinion, style only goes so far. What transcends style is voice.

This has become clear to me as I’ve been working in clay of late. It’s still all relatively new to me, so I’m trying out lots of shaping techniques and surface treatments…and REALLY trying to concentrate on craftsman ship. It’s been really fun and interesting to find a good fit here and there. Like Cinderella’s slipper, when something fits, things get a bit magical.

I’ve found one stoneware clay that meets all my needs, so for now I’m not looking further. Working with this clay is not a constant battle, but rather a letting go to the medium—knowing what I can expect, naturally making my kinds of marks, and all with happy hands (that part is REALLY important…I hate greasy clays). To my own surprise, I’m not much interested in surface decorations that involve painterly techniques or lots of layering and sgraffitto. You’d think that as a painter I’d be all over that, but I just find it tedious and boring, even when the piece turns out nicely. What I prefer are finishes that enhance shape and surface. I have a really long way to go till I’m happy with what’s coming out, but I can check off a number of techniques as not-a-good-fit for having tried them. That’s progress in its own right.

Choosing materials and palettes, and making certain types of marks that come organically from preferences applied to work over time creates style. Voice is more about how  such choices support the story behind the work (this might be narrative, symbolic, or simply an expression of form).

What makes an artist get up and go to the studio over and over? It could be meditative, or escapism, or it might be to change the world. Whatever it is, when that motivation starts to drive the work itself, there’s voice. That’s the magic…when the materials, techniques, and story all resonate together.

Looking for that magic is a life-long quest. I’ll think I have it figured out, then might lose it again. This week I had a hint of it when I remembered to come back to trusting my hands and the clay to know what’s best for me. Suddenly the work changed. Now, please, let me hang on to that for at least a little while (dare I ask for longer?), not get sidetracked, and take it further, one piece at a time.


Getting Methodical

I’m never going to be a production potter, but I’m taking a page out of that notebook to give me a stronger foundation for my work. It’s hard, but I can make myself do it..be methodical and linear…and I need to.

I realized recently that I’ve had WAY TOO MANY variables in my clay exploration, meaning it was hard to find patterns and retain what I’d learned so as to be able to do something I liked again.

In order to do a great ceramic piece the form and the finish have to work together and enhance one anther. I need to know what finishes work for my aesthetic so that I can create suitable forms.

I bought a number of glazes that in themselves aren’t much, but that in combinations can be quite wonderful (or ghastly). I’m doing test after test of combos and finding there are just a handful that I really like. Here are a few examples of those on test tiles.

Test Acorns

I’m going to limit myself to bowls for awhile. I love bowls, so that part is easy. It’s just another way of minimizing the variables. Once I’m comfortable that I can predict (to at least some extent) some results, then maybe I’ll branch out. Or, I’ll revert one day to just making any damned shape I want and take my chances on the finish.

This afternoon I’m going to glaze up the latest bisque batch using what I learned from the last test run. Well see!