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 have been putting off writing this post. Winchester is gone. Damn it.
We know how this goes. We love them and love them and love them and, still, we confront the grand defect: lifespan which doesn’t mesh with ours. Winchester was eleven years old. I had delusions that maybe we could get to fourteen. Fourteen would not be enough.
I’m missing his big personality. And big feet. The morning snorting. The way he danced before meals – rocking back and pawing enthusiastically. His good nature. How he met me at the door always with a stuffed animal in his mouth. And if he couldn’t find a toy he’d bring a dirty sock from the laundry basket, a tin can he’d stolen off the counter, or a throw pillow from the sofa. How he’d stand on the edge of the deck on his tip toes and smell the air putting his nose as high as could. His floppy ears and how they were so, so soft. How he refused to stay out of the garden. How he shake a hamburger before he ate it. How he hated to be left behind. He was a really good dog.
Winchester. Winnie. Greycott Willful. September 2003 – October 2014.
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.
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…)
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
I know I need to write a blog post about how the mugs in the shop will go “live” and be available for sale at 7PM Central time tonight. That is number one on the “to do” list.
Also, I need to finish glazing the tiles for the firing on Wednesday. Then there is the raku firing on Friday. And I can’t forget the appointment with the dentist on Wednesday. They changed the time. Can’t forget that either. I should remember to write it on the calendar.
I wish I had some post-it notes next to the computer. They would be so handy there. I must remember to buy some the next time I’m at the big-box store.
Read in the newspaper today the new Ace Hardware is opening on Monday. I love hardware stores. The only hardware store in town closed down about a year ago. I need a chuck key for my 3/8 drill. I should put that on the list.
I also need to order the tie-dye supplies for the Summer Library Challenge kick-off party. I’ve got the new book bags designed and ordered. I should design the poster, submit advertisements to the local paper and put an ad on the Community calendar on the radio. Also the events calendar for June and July’s library programs needs to be finalized. The library budget meetings are coming up too. Didn’t we just do that?
I should start saving for a new kiln. I could sell this one, buy one with a different shape that would fit my work better. I wish bigceramicstore.com had a wish list/shopping list function.
I wonder how the reduction firing turned out. I will find out on friday at the raku firing. I wonder if my sleeping greyhound and rabbits will look good raku fired? Maybe I want a raku kiln. I know I want a gas kiln. I want every kiln.
So 7PM Central time is 8Pm Eastern Time and 6PM Mountain time. All the mugs are in the shop now so all I have to do it flip the switch and they’ll be ready to go.
I’m going to write note…
Spent Saturday morning with a friend hiking around the north edge of the Cave Hills in South Dakota. I was seeking photographs of the flower the people around here call crocus (pasque flower) for future mugs or whatnot, as well as a little respite from my busy little life.
Lest you think from the photos I post on this blog that the entire region is flat, treeless prairie, I submit these photos. Was a great morning for a hike…
Beautiful vista. Gorgeous sky.
Why do trees grow on rocks, yet not in my backyard?
Aren’t these rocks amazing? I wish I could replicate these colors and texture in a glaze.
And then the
crocus Pasque flowers appeared -covering the hillsides. Like so much of North/South Dakota, the beauty is there. You’re going to have to take some time to see it, however.
Poor blog. It ranks low on the prioritized “to do” list. The blog is one of my favorite things to do, yet the ease of sharing on Facebook leaves the blog bare. Darn it. Must work on this. Here is a recap of images of what has been going on since that last blog post in February (!)
Mr. Hammer meets some third quality mugs.
Sleeping Greyhound, upsidedown.
Sleeping Greyhound, right side up.
Large vase collaboration with Andrew McGarva.
Big Bunny + Running Greyhound mugs.
Big mug. Not fired yet. How much will it shrink? (About 16%)
More bunny mugs.
Throwing day shoes.
Bunny mug with tan polka dots – finished.
Snow. Snow. Snow.
When human and Greyhound collaborate.
Finished red polka dots.
Unfinished red polka dots.
Running hound with tan stripes. Unfired.
Runner hound sculpture.
I love grain bins.
Vein. I love Greyhounds.
An artist practice requires a commitment to time in the studio. If that studio is a private studio, like mine is, that time is spent alone and at work. In my case, the greyhounds are my company. Mostly I enjoy it. I’m not afraid to be alone. I enjoy quiet and find human activity distracting and, somewhat, emotionally draining when I’m trying to make artistic decisions. I listen to audiobooks, music or podcasts. The hounds play or sleep. It’s okay.
I blame them all, but I know they aren’t the root of the problem. Something about February gives me a bad case of “What If…” Add one part discontent to two parts boredom and you’ll get the “What If…” blues too.
What if I had someone to talk to? Without the Internet. What about if we could talk about art ideas, marketing work, working around the blocks and challenges and the big plan over cups of coffee. Like humans. Without the Internet.
Because the Internet is good. But it is a supplement, not the meal.