I read a weekly opinion column in a somewhat local newspaper. Couple of weeks ago the topic centered around the writer’s experience in his high school marching band. Tidy metaphor about joining the band (and participating in life). I’ve been thinking about that column.
I was in my high school’s marching band. I played the flute. How’s that for an instrument that allows participation and get yet has no real responsibilities? Drums and trumpets are where it’s at, and maybe the guy with the sousaphone. Now those are the real attention getters. Anyway…
I loved being in marching band. See how we are on a basketball court rather than a football field? That’s a North Dakota marching band for you – our routines were court-centered. The pinnacle of the year was performing as the half time show for the State Class B Boys Basketball tournament. I wore uniform #103 – which was the internal temperature of the suit also.
But back to the metaphor. I like to join up. The skill I lack is knowing when to quit.
I’m terrible at quitting. Absolutely terrible. I’m not sure if I’m stubborn about the outcome, so optimistic that every idea can be accomplished if given enough effort, or just stuck in rut. When I explained this propensity to a friend, her only comment was, “Well you are just so darn loyal.” Blech. Yuck. Phooey. She’s a good friend – turning my character defects into positive attributes. I think it is more like a Greyhound who finishes the race despite a broken limb. Too often, my answer to adversity is to lean into the collar and pull harder.
I’m not sure this is a good “life” quality.
But in the studio, this characteristic serves me well. It is the thing that pushes past the hard part that inevitably comes. It pushes past the resistance to sit on the couch and eat Doritos. It pushes for new and more and odd and beyond. Its dialogue is, “Why not?” Couple that with its sister quality, the wild optimism about how much time it will actually take to reach a project’s completion, and you’ve got the cornerstones of my artistic practice.
I’m well aware of my deficit, so I gravitated to a medium with defined end points. I love clay for many reasons, but I couldn’t be an Oil Painter. Yes fired clay can be messed with here and there, but compared to an oil painting that can be painted, repainted, retouched or painted over indefinitely, fired clay is done. The material makes the decision for me.
And so there it is. Too much joining up. Lately I feel like I wade into the cold water, my body adjusts to the temperature, and I begin a studied backstroke. Then three laps and a buzzer sounds or something, and I’m supposed to backstroke in another pool. Doesn’t feel like I’m getting very far and its getting harder to get into the water.
Of course this may be winter malaise. Or maybe it is the realization that an expansive To Do list isn’t a measure of Done. Maybe the idea letting things go, of having more time for a single focus, is a mirage. What are the markers for an ending?
Come to think of it, I did quit the marching band before my senior year in high school. It conflicted with Art class.
I unloaded the glaze kiln this morning. Things have been fairly busy around the studio. Every surface is being used. I’ve been trying to remedy this, but with only one of the big kilns functioning it been going more slowly that I’d like. It will work out. After unloading the kiln this morning, I loaded it back up with new work ready to be glazed and started it up. Tomorrow will be more finished work.
So this kiln load included mugs, test tiles and four of these lidded jars (three of which are pictured above). They are prototypes – ideas I wanted to work out during my play days. Play days are the days that I schedule in my work flow because, unless they are scheduled days, I won’t allow myself to play and explore new ideas. The “to do” list beckons and I really, really want to get to the bottom of that list, but I also know that if I don’t work in any days to play, all the work suffers. Play is important. And whether or not anything comes of it, it ends up being important.
So I had this idea for an oval/jar/box last summer. I worked on it a little bit and discovered that my older kiln wasn’t firing quite right thanks to a burned out element in the top of the kiln. Also I wasn’t crazy about the clay body I used for those first play pieces. So around thanksgiving last fall I worked on seven boxes. Four of those boxes were in the glaze kiln unloaded this morning.
I used another clay body this time. It worked okay for the jar/oval box. However, using this clay to sculpt the greyhounds? Not so much. Too soft. Too prone to cracking while drying. But once the pieces are made and dried, I didn’t want to throw them back into the reclaim bucket. Might as well see where they will go.
So – clay? Not great (more on that later), but I love the way the glazes look on this fired clay. Yummy and not just the one above, the love the others that follow this photo too.
And this is one of the things about ceramics. It isn’t just making the thing – figuring how to construct the thing one has dreamed about – it is about chemistry. Its the chemistry of the glazes, the ingredients in the body that makes up the clay and, then, how one puts it all together to get the reaction one wants in the kiln. This makes the whole thing a lot of fun, challenging fun.
I really like the way the glaze breaks over the texture on this jar/oval box.
I prefer the figure/lid on this jar/oval box over the previous one. I like the restful feeling and how the shape of the hound visually fits the shape of the jar.
Can you see the small crack above the top running hounds head on the edge of the box where the top and side meet? Two of these boxes have cracks like that. There are three more jar/oval boxes ready to fire in the glaze kiln. We’ll see how they turn out.
As of right now, I think it was beneficial to play, and I learned something about the clay and glazes, but I don’t think I’ll make more like this. Or if I do, I’ll change the way I make them by using the potter’s wheel to throw the sides of the box and changing the way the lid/figure is constructed. And maybe a different clay body too. For right now, it is back to the square and rectangle boxes.
Along with the rabies vaccine, sulfa drugs and hot water heaters, digital cameras are a truly awesome invention. I’m taking photos for the online shop for the sale on January 25th.
I remember doing this the “other” way – buying film, setting up the photo stuff, taking photos 24 or 36 at a time, hauling that film to the one hour Walgreens on the corner…. and finding out that the settings weren’t quite right, and the process would repeat over and over. And then the photos would require scanning too.
I love digital.
It is still work to photograph everything to get ready for an online sale. And organize.
I employ a LOT of post it notes. Since each cup is one of a kind, each cup gets a number, measured for an approximately size and a short description.
The key is to keep those post-its on the cup and place the cups, in order, on a table just for online sales. No other work gets to rest on that table. Only online shop work. And the cups are lined up in the order they were photographed (which corresponds to the number on the post-it) making matching up cup and photo easier.
Here’s the hard part for me: Do Not Derivate From The System. One should resist all urges to rework the system in the middle of working the system! Also make sure one has enough post-its on hand. And fully charged batteries in the digital camera…
Cup sale! Sunday, January 25th Opens Noon Eastern. www.SarahSnavelyShop.com
As you can see from the last posts, the spirit of ceramics is one of innovation and understanding of the materials. The clay material is versatile and the results can be variable. The challenge is never ending. I like this.
As of late, I’ve been making memory boxes. I have wanted to play with the proportion of the lid of box and how the lid functions for a while now. With this batch I experimented in shape and lid. We’ll see how they looked when fired and finished.
The majority of this batch of boxes has a lid function like the photo above. Without getting too much into the process, I make the boxes, cut the lid off and add the flange (galley) into the inside of the box. The figure comes next. It takes a while to make the figure, but making that flange takes a long time too. I don’t mind time intensive work, but I like to think of other ways to solve the problem too.
This is one of the solutions. Secret lid.
The pillow on which the Greyhound rests her head holds the lid construction but the entire figure functions as the lid. I’m liking the restful/comfortable feeling that the pillow contributes with this design. Of course I could add the pillows to the other lid design also (and some of the boxes from this batch have them).
I like the function of this lid a little better. It does change the use of this box however. It moves the use into the category of urn more than that of container-to-hold-things-possibly-creamians. It also changes how one must handle the creamains to add them to the box. Is that a problem?
An informal poll of Facebook seems to be weighing toward the secret lid. What do you think? I could continue to make both lid openings. Wondering if that makes a customizable box even more customizable and, therefore, more confusing. Need your opinion.
The entire foray into pottery making is a big experiment for me. Challenging. Good to learn new things. Plus I’m interested in the ways it will affect (and has affected) my sculptural work.
With every opening of the kiln I learn something new. And get a little disappointed too. Here were results of the last firing with bowls. They are 7-8 inches in diameter. Fired in the same kiln load.
Inside of bowl #1
Side view bowl #1. The glaze ran on the inside of the bowl obscuring some of the rabbit’s hind leg. I think it works ok. I don’t mind the running especially in this one where I think it works okay. You’ll see others, below, where it didn’t work at all. I think I’m over firing the glaze? Or have a studio problem (i.e. I didn’t mix the glaze well in the bucket)? Sometimes it runs, sometimes it doesn’t. The drawing is from an etching I did in 2002.
Inside of bowl #2. Here’s were the running glaze didn’t work….
Bottom of bowl #2.
Side view bowl #2
And the next one:
Bowl #3 – inside.
Semi-side view bowl #3. I like the way the glaze pooled on this one.
Now bowl #4:
Back to the drawing inspired by the earlier etching. Not loving this blur…
Side of bowl #4. Maybe the drawings on the insides of the bowls should be simpler a la bowl #3?
Okay last one. Bowl #5.
Inside bowl #5
Side view #5
Another side view #5
So what do you think? Ceramics is challenging. I’m testing out a few new clear glazes in the next firing… Thoughts welcome.
Hope all of you are well. And your hounds too. And families and friends and the bunny that lives under your porch too. Hope we all are well. It is a New Year! The year of the sheep (or goat or ram). Maybe I should make cups with Greyhounds and Sheep together? Maybe get the other things done first, eh?
I’ve been making like crazy. I made a series of bowls – that topic could make an entire blog post. Various shapes and sizes. Decorated them with swathes of color and Greyhounds. Most of them ran during the glaze firing. Disappointment/learning experience. Feel like its back to the drawing board with the bowls. Maybe I’ll take some photos of the runny glazes and you can tell me what you think. I liked the way the glaze ran in the one pictured. Fired too hot? Glaze not correct consistency?
I’ve also been making memory boxes. I have to figure out a better way to handle the request for boxes. Right now I try to respond to everyone then keep the emails in a designated folder. This system seems inadequate. On one hand, I wish I could keep the memory boxes always available in my online shop. I can’t seem to get far enough ahead to make this happen. I made three times the number boxes in 2014 than I did in 2013.
On the other hand, I could take orders for the boxes. I am resisting this since I know how the ceramic medium is – special orders love to spontaneously combust. Okay… maybe not combust, but crack, get funky glaze problems, etc. There are many, many things that can go wrong in the studio and kiln. Special orders seem to bring out these problems. This means the safe way to tackle custom work is to make an extra or two – which takes more time.
And then how to make the ordering process with all of the different box sizes and designs, figure positions and glaze surfaces clear?
Also, I make in batches – think donuts. I make of batch of donuts (memory boxes or mugs or bowls). So if the order was for two memory boxes and seven mugs it might be months before that order would be ready to go (factoring in the drying/firing/glazing processes). Orders should go out promptly.
I could mostly solve this by making the boxes and figures available separately. But I like the box with the figure on top. I could make both ways, I guess.
So these are the things that I think about when making boxes. How can they be better? Because these dogs are important to us.
After losing Winchester in October, The Spoo became ill in the middle of November. He’d been kind of off – you know how this is – blood work is good, tests came back negative, etc. Still something wasn’t right. Then his right eye started acting all wrong. Multiple trips to the vet. We needed a specialist. Our regular vet suggested the nearest clinic – in Loveland, Colorado.
Spoo and I went to get his diagnosis. Primary glaucoma. Spoo lost an eye and has drops for the keeper. Sorry Spoo I should have figured it out sooner. The thought of losing him… heartbreaking. He’s doing great now. Acting like he’s years younger. Best Christmas present ever.
Love these dogs.
Cris spoke eloquently on her process of pastel drawing using a powerpoint/keynote to highlight the work. The students asked some thoughtful questions – always a good sign. Then I demo-ed my sculpting process in the mud room at Dickinson State University. We broke for lunch then on to more talking at the reception that afternoon. It was a really good time.
I didn’t realize this at the time we were scheduling the exhibit, but the Theodore Roosevelt Symposium at Dickinson State will be held during the time this work is being exhibited. The gallery is adjacent to the main auditorium so the work will have extra attention.
With each exhibit I try and take some time to stop and think what I’ve learned, what I would do again, what I would do differently. Exhibiting with another artist can be stressful – does the work flow? Will the gallerist place the sculpture on pedestals that highlight the content and form of the pieces? So many expectations. One really has to make a decision to be okay with the outcome however it may turn out.
Well I’m pleased to say this exhibit exceeded my expectations. Cris’ drawings and photographs of the North Dakota badlands and grasslands and the shapes of my bison sculptures complimented each other so well. The work is expertly and carefully displayed. I couldn’t be more pleased.
If you are in the area, the exhibit will be up until the 26th of September. Gallery is open M-F 8-8.
Feels so good now onto the next project!
The artist statement is one of those things that is required with an exhibition. I wonder where this requirement started. Can’t think any artist in any of the workshops I’ve attended saying, “Yipee! Statement time! My favorite!” Why do we insist on adhering to this practice? Do people actually read these things?
Who am I? What do I do? What inspires me? What was I attempting with this body of work? These are the questions that one asks to begin the Statement.
Well, this work represents the beginning of a new subject for me, the American bison. The exhibit at DSU explores my process of how I go about studying and learning about a new form.
Here’s the backstory. If you’ve been reading the blog you know that over the past two years I’ve taken a pottery class at Dickinson State University. Twice a week I drive from my home in Bowman North Dakota up Highway 85 to Dickinson. Right outside of Bowman there’s a large herd of bison. I pass them every trip I make northward. I’ve watched them moving around the pasture for these two years. I find the shapes of their bodies and the textures of their hair intriguing. There are bison-like bison and others that appear to be crossed with cattle. There is variety in their brown lumpy forms.
I’m interested in how genes are expressed. This is one of the things that interests me about dogs – all that doggie DNA in all the various packages from Chihuahua to Great Dane. I’m also interested in powerful animals that have an inherent fragility. Greyhound dogs can be aerodynamic death missiles to small furry creatures but are covered with thin skin that easily tears. Bison are strong and reasonably dangerous animals that have a bottlenecked gene pool. I like to use animals that find success in spite of of their (possible) difficulties.
So how do I go about sculpting a new animal form? I start with the elements and principles of design. I’m interested in shape and form and texture. I’m interested in volume and finding visual balance. I ask, “how can I re-create this creature without making an anatomical model? How can I simplify the form of the American bison and yet still communicate the things that interest me about this animal?” The work in this exhibition shows some of the answers to those questions.
The exhibit also shows my process of exploring several clay bodies, firing temperatures, and the surface techniques. Some of the work is glazed using an electric kiln. Some is directly exposed to flame and smoke staining the surface. Others are multiple glazes and firings or cold surface techniques like paint and graphite. Which ones satisfy my aesthetics? Which ones read “bison”? This work is an attempt to answer those questions as well as create more questions for further study.
Or exhibitions! So pleased to have these opportunities to show my work throughout North Dakota and Minnesota. Here goes:
First my jack-a-lope sculpture, Douglas Loves a Good Fish Story, will be at the Rolland Dille Center for the Arts Gallery at Minnesota State Univeristy- Moorhead. This is an MSUM Alumni exhibit – so nice to be asked to participate. August 25th through October 8th.
One of the bison works, Rust and Stardust, is in an exhibit at the North Dakota Heritage Center. The exhibit’s title is Under the Dakota Sky: Celebrating 125 Years of Statehood. Really humbling to be included with this group of artists to represent North Dakota!
These are few quick iPhone pics of the work on exhibit.
Hank Dreams of Espresso (But knows he is a Bison) spent the summer at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. He’ll go on to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn, North Dakota for a fall exhibit.
Also happening is the exhibit of bison sculptures at Dickinson State University‘s Klinefelter gallery with pastel artist, Cris Fulton. Thursday, September 11th is the reception and gallery talk. I will also be demoing sculpture making. Fun!
So thankful and grateful to have these opportunities to exhibit!
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.
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.
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.
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.