4 Sep 2014

About ends and beginnings.

These past few months have been occupied with readying work for an exhibit at Dickinson State University. The last of the work was delivered to the gallery on tuesday, September 2. After months of busy-busy the exhibit is installed and ready for viewing. The pressure to scurry and make is off.


Two things I have learned from this exhibit so far: I’m not out of ideas for Bison and I don’t want to schedule exhibits at the end of the summer. The first is promising. I’ll spend some time working on the ideas in my sketchbook while I work out a few Greyhound ideas in clay. The second may not be able to be controlled. Opportunities have no respect for preferred schedules.


There was time for working in the garden this summer – and is there ever enough? Probably not. I didn’t get to my favorite greenhouse, didn’t hike much at all and my bicycle never left the garage. When I looked at the bison sculptures when they were finally installed in the gallery space, I noticed all them had their heads down. Was that a conscious choice? Maybe a reflection of how I felt this summer – content, but with my head down and working hard?


There is a week to go before the reception and gallery talk. The studio hasn’t seen much work begin done this past week except for some cleaning. I worked on the website and email and such instead. Good to take a break from the making. But it is time to get going again. Holidays are looming and the list for memory boxes is getting too long for comfort.


These are good things. Time to start up again.

31 Aug 2014


Posted in Art making

The original title for this post was “Readying for the next exhibit”. The draft, describing how I prepare for an exhibit, has sat in my unpublished folder long enough that the exhibit has been packed and delivered to the gallery. It has been that kind of summer. Blink, and it is gone.

Sarah Regan Snavely working on a bison sculpture

I did get loads of things accomplished this summer. It is just that the summer months – and North Dakota’s short growing season – are so precious. Selfishly, I’d like the long light to last a little longer. Working in the studio during our long summer nights is a delicious experience – with the studio door open and the greyhounds lounging on the beds in the yard and in the studio. My garden is looking good too.


A biggish Bison was built and a bunch of smaller works too. Most of these works will go to an exhibit with fellow North Dakota artist, Cris Fulton, at Dickinson State University Klinefelter Gallery in September.  The reception for this exhibit will be Thursday, September 14th – if you’re in area stop on by. I’ll be demoing too.


Originally the date of the exhibit was November 2014. What’s the difference between a September deadline and November? Lots of time for work to dry. At the point at which the new exhibit date was determined, I had made all of the maquettes for the November exhibit and begun on the smaller piece. The new deadline threw me a bit. There wasn’t going to be enough time to dry and fire the work I had in mind when I’d initially planned the exhibit. Darn it.


And so, one pivots. My ideas for life-sized badgers, pronghorn antelope and other North Dakota creatures became an exhibit based on a study of the Bison figure. Smaller works but a deeper study. Added to that was the process of working on several clay bodies, firing temperatures and surface treatments. Looking at the results, I’m pleased. I learned things about surface and glazes and have a better understanding of the anatomy of a bison. Good stuff. The work for this exhibit came together nicely.


Well… looking at the results in my studio I feel confident about the exhibit. Still I harbor the tiniest trepidation that things might NOT be okay when the work is properly displayed in the gallery. Nerves. What if people laugh? (And not good laugh). Vulnerability. These feelings get easier with experience. So what if people don’t like the work? The work is mark of where I am at with the ideas I’m exploring through the making of this work. And work that is never shown, never presented to the world, what’s the point in that? Still I’ve got a tiny teacup of apprehension. Maybe stage fright is healthy.


So where does one go from here? Install the last piece in the gallery. Then reception and demo. At the studio, clean up. Order more clay. Buy a new sketchbook. Then back to work with greyhounds. The waiting list for memory boxes and mugs is long again (Thank you!). They’ll be on the to-do list first. Then on to sculptural work. Must get to it.

6 Jun 2014

Never explain.

Posted in Art making

Elbert Hubbard is quoted as saying, “Never explain – your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.” I agree with the root of this. Do I have enemies? If I do I’m not too concerned with what they think anyway. I agree with refraining from too much explanation.


With art, one is encouraged, and often required, to write an Artist Statement. Statements are a way for an artist to provide a  little explanation for their motives. This can be a good thing.  It is a way for the viewer to find an entrance into the work. For example, an artist chooses to heavily use the color orange in their work. One can see orange over and over and the viewer’s eye is drawn to it. Why orange? An artist statement can provide a bit of an explanation why. “I use orange as a symbol of my grandmother. She made a bright orange quilt for me when I was six years old and since then I’ve associated this color with her memory.” Etc.

With that explanation, I, the viewer, get a way into the work. I had a grandmother who quilted too…


In school, we were required to attend the weekly critiques. Put your work up and take the comments from students and instructors. Learning experience. Sometimes painful. Within this process one learns to defend ones choices. “Why orange?” they ask. One learns to anticipate the questions and have answers at the ready.

Autumn Joy Sedum

I love process. When I made prints, I loved the process of inking the plates, dampening the paper, turning the handle on the etching press. Step-by-step. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

And clay is the same. Many sequential steps to achieve a desired outcome.

Critiques became part of the process. An offshoot of putting work in front of an audience.


I learned quickly that during the critique process I needed to talk about the work I had done – not the work I intended to do. Only take comments on the work that had already happened.

Making the work was my way to describe the idea I was attempting to communicate. If I had words to describe my intentions, I wouldn’t need to created the art. Using words to describe an idea confused the issue. My classmates and instructors created different images in their heads. Show not tell was the unofficial rule.


Never explain. Mostly.


18 May 2014

Busy busy

Posted in Buy Art Here!

Turns out vacations are a good thing. Or what passes for a vacation in my world. I like to work.

On the road - bison is my co-pilot

Driving to southern Utah for the Greyhound Gang‘s Greyhound Gathering, setting up my booth, peddling my wares and volunteering where I can seems to be the best vacation for me. This trip is the F5 on my computer keyboard. Refreshed.

Pugh Canyon Kanab Utah

If you are at all interested in Greyhounds you need to get to the Greyhound Gathering. Its been on hiatus for the last couple of years, but now it is back, back, back. Mother’s Day weekend, I believe. Do it. I’m already planning for next year.

Film Buff in Kanab, Utah

To get there I snake through Wyoming, then across I-80, cut through Provo and down I-15 – about 17 hours drive. I worried a bit about the drive this time. Wyoming is a special state. I see plenty of white pickup trucks with Wyoming license plates blurring through US85 each day. Wasn’t too interested in seeing more. But the drive to Kanab was uneventful. I was armed with an iPhone full of audiobooks.

On the way back? Now there is where the fun began. I encountered heavy snow in Utah State Route 20. Full on North-Dakota-like fluffy flakes. No worries. Up I-15 I went. Until Wyoming. Interstate-80 has been closed three times during my trips to Kanab. Once due to an accident. Something about a high-speed chase ending badly. Then there was the time when one semi-truck collided with another – spilling the contents of one of the trucks onto the roadway. Chili blocked the road. And then this time. I-80 closed due to ice and snow.

Home now after a slight detour. Happy to see the hounds. They seemed to weather my absence just fine. Why do I think that they will suffer without my care?

Jack-a-lope Sarah Regan Snavely

One of the best things about a successful event is riding the after-event momentum. The little procrastination bug I’ve been suffering from lately is gone. Let’s get these things finished! First was the jack-a-lope and bison sculptures that I had been working on prior to the trip to Kanab. The bison was not quite ready to be fired before I left and the jack-a-lope needed its final finish. Finished both pieces after getting back.

I struggle with photographing the sculptural work. I know enough about the camera to get a half-way decent photo, but my photo light set up is not what it should be. At best it is a Pinterest project gone wrong with lights from the hardware store, shower curtain liner and foam core board. This makes the task harder and more frustrating than it needs to be. I’ve got a nice seamless backdrop for the photo (see above) but it is too small for the sculptures (also see above).

Sarah Regan Snavely

Since I moved the table I used to use to photograph, now I use the floor. This presents other difficulties – like Greyhounds wanting to see what’s going on…

Rust and Stardust Sarah Regan Snavely

Today I ordered proper lighting and a larger backdrop. Finally! I want good photos of the work. Why not make it easier to get them?

I’m moving things to make a dedicated photo set-up space. Then cleaning the studio to get ready for making more memory boxes. Busy, busy. This is good.

25 Apr 2014

Looking to north.

Posted in Art making

Things in the studio are looking up and I’m pretty darn pleased. Deadlines are a blessing. Stressful blessings.

Hank Dreams of Espresso (But He Knows He is a Bison) Sarah Regan Snavely

First there was the sculpture of the bison with pigeon on his back. Look there, all finished. With finished walnut base and everything!

Hank Dreams of Espresso... Sarah Regan Snavely

This is where we last saw Hank the Bison on this blog – in his unfired clay state. He rested comfortably on his side, spending his days slowing drying.

The finishing process was uneventful – save for my minor meltdown questioning my design choices. Well just the one design choice: What was I thinking when I decide to make a standing Bison with all that weight on those little legs? I had no plan for how I was going to fire this guy.

I figured it out.

So this is Hank dreams of Espresso (But Knows He is a Bison). Hank is on his way to an exhibit at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Primitive bison Sarah Regan Snavely

The next deadline is the raku firing at Dickinson State University. This time I made a series of little bison. Two and a half inches long. Roughly.

The first firing – the bisque firing – will reach a different temperature than what I usually fire work. Will this make a difference?

I have big dreams for this herd to expand. More on that later.

Bison Sarah Regan Snavely

And then the possibility of an exhibit with other North Dakota artists arose. Short deadline, but I’m motivated by deadlines, right?

I can enter three works for the jurying process. The committee with pick one or two or all or none. Since it is a North Dakota show, I wanted work that had some connection to North Dakota. Sure there is that Custer-owned-Greyhounds thing, but I wanted something a little more specific.

I started a jackalope piece earlier this year. So I finished the antlers and rocks that make up the base. The jackalope piece is drying comfortably.

Also in the studio is a Pronghorn/Greyhound piece I began ages ago. It is both weird and requires hanging in a somewhat complex way. This might make display in the exhibition space impossible.

Then I started this big Bison. Big is relative. This time I thought about how I was going to fire him before I started construction. I wanted this piece to be as large as possible and still be fired in one piece in my kiln. The kiln shelf this work is sitting on in the photo above is 23″ in diameter.

Bison - Sarah Regan Snavely

I should buy a bigger kiln. To get the one I want I would have to spend around $7500. Or I could build one. Can only muse about this now. Must stay on task. Deadlines!

Now I wait for big bison to dry so he can be fired. Will that happen before the deadline for entry?

3 Apr 2014

No mud, at least.

Maybe that last post was a little too whiny? I’m feeling like it was. Snow shoveling does not bring out the best in me. (sorry…)

Greyhound in light

You read this blog, you know that occasionally I get to feeling like the fishbowl that is life constricts. The end of winter is one of those times. My brain craves novelty and this time of year, the quest for new and interesting feels the most intense. Andrew Wyeth said,

I prefer winter and Fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape — the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.

While I don’t have a preference for winter I do appreciate the changing of the landscape and light, how the trees turn skeletal and the landscape seems sparse and how everything wakes up in the spring. But enough already with the snow. Maybe some April showers?

I’d like to get past this frustration with winter. Everywhere has its ups and downs, right? No hurricanes here. And this is North Dakota. We are going to experience some type of winter weather. Come on now.

Greyhound in light

Its just that, with every shovel of snow, this damn season reminds of me of the things that frustrate me. That old Human Condition. We want what we don’t need, don’t appreciate what we have, and wish for our relatively easy lives to be relatively easier. And more time. Add that one in there too.

The antidote to this feeling is to live in the present. Be present. This is what draws me to making mugs. They are reminders: what does the rim and handle feel like? How do you bring it to your lips? Can you fill it with coffee or is the rim uneven to you’ve got to be careful when adding cream? What is the sound of the spoon on the bottom (if you’re adding sugar)? What does the mug feel like in your hand?

Greyhound in light

When winter runs long my focus shifts to the future. “Soon it will be spring,” one can’t help but think when the snow is drifting and accumulating in the driveway one just shoveled. One seeks thoughts of gardening and plants and renovations. Time to rebuild the fence. That trip to the good nursery with the nice plants. Maybe where to put the pad for the gas-fired kiln? These are things that need the snow to be gone and that isn’t going to be today.

There are lidded jars/urns waiting to be finished in their studio. I’m waiting on them to be the last of the pots to fill the bisque kiln. I’m waiting to have a mug sale until after I’ve fired this kiln. So finishing the lidded jars/urns would be a step in the right direction. Must get to it. No time like the present.

2 Apr 2014

The big blizzard.

As far as blizzards go, this last one was uninspired. Eleven inches of snow, schools and businesses closed, and the threat of one to three more inches of snow today. Eh. I’m thankful the power stayed on, that area ranchers didn’t lose livestock, and that my back muscles got a free workout courtesy of shoveled snow. But this blizzard did not have that distinct feeling of slowing down life to a maple-syrup paced crawl.

I blame Facebook.

“I’ll make a cup of tea and curl up with that book after I take photos of the snow, my dogs running around in the snow, the ice sickles on my neighbor’s shed, the snow plow, etc.” Must let everyone I know (and barely know) that it is snowing in North Dakota!

Factor in the time spent looking at the road conditions map and at everyone else’s snow pictures on Facebook, and inventorying and procrastinating the household chores that must be done, I barely got a page turned or a sip of tea.

Plates - Sarah Regan Snavely

Feeling like it’s time to wean myself from the cell phone/iMac/iPad. Unless it’s for audio books. I need these devices for audio books! And email… Maybe just a Facebook sabbatical…


Earlier I unloaded the glaze kiln. Plates and mugs occupied the majority of the firing. I did take some time on Blizzard Day to contemplate the results. I am pleased. The plates are almost dinner plates and salad plates. Clay shrinks. Must get those dinner plates a little larger.


Making plates is a new thing for me. I worked on form – trying to get a pleasing and functional shape – and also finding designs that decorate the form without interfering with the function or obscuring the purpose of the plate. Fun brain puzzle.

Unloaded several mugs also, some with new glazes and combinations of glazes. 


Next step is to measure and photograph each of the mugs. This batch is for the online shop – the next batch of mugs is for the Greyhound Gathering in Kanab. Lots to do in limited time. What I need is another blizzard.

26 Mar 2014

Social media.

There are phrases I don’t need to hear again. Point in time. Politically correct. Safe haven. Social media. One must be able to find better words in our rich vocabulary of possibilities to describe these things?

And – oh no! – Facebook is changing the reach of its pages feature. What will we do without Facebook disseminating information!? I think I’ll keep blogging and building my email newsletter (and still posting to Facebook and Instagram occasionally).

And, hey, I’m going to the Greyhound Gathering in Kanab, Utah. If you are going too, we can talk without the aid of these computer-thingies!

Smoke firing in a barrel kiln

Many things to be done to prepare for the event in Kanab, Utah. I’m also looking to have an online mug sale between now and then. I’ve been working on throwing pleasing bottles and plates. Firing more mugs right now.

Last week I ferreted out all the mugs and bowls I consider seconds. Some are not-quite-right. Others are pieces that are functional but not a design I want to make again. All are coming with me to Kanab. Three big totes of seconds with reduced prices. All are too good to subject to Mr. Hammer, but not good  enough to photograph and measure and list on the online shop. Come to Kanab!

Sarah Regan Snavely Bison

I’m also working on an exhibit for Dickinson State University. I’ll be exhibiting with fellow North Dakota artist, Cris Fulton. Excited. My plan is to work out some of the ideas that have been living in my sketchbook – work about living in North Dakota. The photo above is an early look at one of the bison for the show. Challenging. The form is one thing, but the narrative is another. How to revise the story am I trying to tell? Time and work.

Sarah Regan Snavely plate design

Art & fine craft is social media. I make a mug and you use it to drink your favorite tea. My sculpture reminds you of your greyhound with the big ears and extra long snout. It is the making of social objects – over and around which we share stories and thoughts and experiences.

10 Mar 2014

Yesterday was 61.

61 degrees Fahrenheit. Really! And now the time change. Spring must be coming soon. Even to North Dakota.

It has been a long winter. Even for North Dakota. The winter malaise seems to have struck everyone around me. Include me in that too. Keep plugging along. My north facing driveway is almost ice free.


Work in the studio has been going well. I’m pleased about this. I gave the last of the low-fire coarse earthenware clay body to the high school for use in their sculpture class. If I don’t like  working with that clay, why should I keep using it? Time to move on. Tomorrow I’ll take 250+ pounds of Raku clay to the University for the students there. Good deal. Someone can use it and I don’t feel the guilt for throwing it out.

Time to move on.

Here’s the other thing on my mind: I need to take a break from tile making. The tiles in the online shop are going to be the last of them for a while. I’m thinking I’ll retire most of the designs, maybe all. And start over. Or not.

There are new ideas to try. Must make room for them. 

11 Feb 2014


Posted in Art making

I love raw clay. It would be helpful to the blogging process if I could articulate this. I’ll try but with all great love affairs there is that part that is unexplainable. Yes?

The first time I remember being aware of the love of clay was in a Sculpture 101 class in college. The assignment was mold making – to sculpt an object out of clay that was then covered with plaster. Into the plaster mold went hydro-stone or some other artist’s plaster stuff. Making multiples was the object. Good stuff to know.

I made an Afghan hound. All that flowy hair was helpful – no undercuts. A ceramics major in the class – a girl I regarded as a mean girl – came over to my work table. She shifted her weight to one hip, raised one hand to her chin, and eyed my piece. I braced. Here it comes.

She reached out and ran a finger down the spine of the Afghan. “Shame it can’t be clay forever,” she said.

At the time, I didn’t know what to say. I remember saying something like, “sure,” or something else short and non-committal. Experience with previous conversations with her had taught me to say as little as possible. But I didn’t understand, really, what she was talking about that day.

Clay Rabbit on armature

Of course, I figured it out long ago. (I’ve been out of college for how long? Sheesh…). Now when the sculptures reach the point like the one above – what is called leather hard – I wish, wish, wish I could keep it in that state.

Impossible. Not practical. The work must be dehydrated – dried and fired. Turned to stone.

It’s okay. But I’m thinking about the surface of these pieces a lot lately. Changes afoot.

5 Feb 2014

About making jars & work

Posted in Art making

There was a kid standing in front of the library desk the other day. She’s a nice kid. Clever. She looks at me like I’m the lamest person in the world if I tell a silly joke, then she’ll roll her eyes. But I can tell she likes it.

She asked for a page to color. I did a google search. Post-modern life has no room for the bound newsprint based pictures. Google brought up an image of an owl. “Nope, too hard” she said. Then another. Same response. I think she’s a fourth grader.

Too hard. Really? She’s not the only kid that says this. “Too hard.”

Greyhound jar Sarah Regan Snavely

I wish I could remember what I was like in fourth grade. I wish I could teach this kid how much I enjoy doing hard things. How much value there is in the process of trying, and, sometimes, failing. That the process has value.

Granted, it’s only a coloring page. I would understand if she said boring.

Sarah Regan Snavely rabbit jar

I’ve been making lidded jars. Some have two lids – a flat, knobbed interior lid and a cupped exterior lid with figure on top.  Some have only the cupped lid with figure. Some of the bodies of the jars have drawings. All are to some extent tests. Glaze tests. Shape tests. Lid design tests.


I’m having so much fun making these jars. Man, is it difficult. I struggle with centering the clay, making shapes that I find appealing, incorporating a narrative in the drawing, engineering a lid that fits, maintaining the integrity of the figure on top while keeping scale and proportion in mind, and applying glaze with efficiency.


Then the tail cracks, the clay warps during drying or firing, or the glaze is uneven or unappealing. But this shape is more successful than that shape. This lid fits really well. This design is visually harmonious. Next time they will be better.

Jack Rabbit jar Sarah Regan Snavely

We continued the search for the coloring page and settled on one that was more difficult that she liked. A little more complex. Slightly.