“… and besides, he had a box of tools and a pair of intelligent hands.” from the short story “The Sea of Lost Time” by Gabriel García Márquez
My multi-talented husband is a corporate man by day, working in e-commerce and marketing, but his real talents are in his hands, and his box of tools, and his brilliant imagination. He builds furniture and turns crusty motorcycles into rowdy works of art. These pictures are of his latest creation. I call it the Unexpected Dresser, because it has many hidden surprises.
One reason I love John’s videos is that he usually ends them with some saying like, “Now go make 25 of those and I’ll see you in the morning.” Because he knows that effortlessness requires lots and lots of effort! I am excited to get the book and learn more about glaze-making.
“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.” –Chuck Close
Chuck Close (born July 5, 1940) is a painter and photographer who continued to work after becoming paralyzed in 1988 from a spinal artery collapse. He mainly utilizes a technique referred to as “hyperrealism” which means he creates paintings that are so detailed they really look like high-resolution photographs. That’s hard!!
CBS This Morning has a segment they call “Note to Self,” where artists and others read a letter to their younger selves, full of the wisdom of years. You can watch Chuck Close read the entire letter he wrote to his 14 year-old self, while he is still painting from his wheelchair, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=milXH-433vs
Though I do think we can be inspired by various things, what he means here is that if we WAIT to be inspired, we are not truly professional artists. The habit of working regardless of whether or not one feels inspired to do that work is what ultimately produces good, and sometimes, excellent work.
Close goes on to say, “Every great idea I’ve ever had grew out of work itself.” Meaning that the doing of the work is actually the inspiration for more and better work. Here’s more of his wise advice: “SIGN ON to a process and see where it takes you. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today you will do what you did yesterday and tomorrow you will do what you did today. Eventually you will get somewhere.”
This is so true! Even if one has talent, one must have an appetite for work. With an appetite for work, plus curiosity, plus some passion and heart, one can create. Who knows where that journey will go!
Linda Fahey has a great formula for the self-taught potter: Have a curious mind, and attend a million workshops! But sometimes workshops are expensive, or too far away. With that in mind, I want to recommend Diana Fayt’s online course, called The Clayer. You can take this class from the comfort of your own home at a GREAT price!
Diana is a marvelously talented potter who has created a couple of online classes, sharing her knowledge and expertise in surfacing techniques. I have taken both of Diana’s courses, and highly recommend them! She shares so much of herself, and her vast knowledge and experience. PLUS, she’s a great teacher.
I had been wanting to make some plaster molds for awhile, but was too intimidated to do it on my own. In Diana’s course, she walked us through it step by step, and now I’ve made several, and am at ease working with plaster. Sometimes you just need a little push in the right direction! This course also covers the water abrasion surface technique, along with carving and using paper stencils. It’s truly a fabulous bargain for all the techniques you will learn!
Potter Ben Carter produces a wonderful podcast series titled “Tales of a Red Clay Rambler,” where he produces thoughtful and interesting interviews with potters and other artists. This past week, he interviewed Linda Fahey, whose work is wonderful and imaginative. Linda is a self-taught potter living and working in the Bay Area, where she also runs a a fabulous shop called Yonder. The shop is located in Pacifica, about 15 minutes south of San Francisco (find it online at Yondershop.com).
In the interview, Linda talks about her journey of becoming a potter and full-time artist–and her new role now as shop-owner of Yonder. (The tag line of her store is “discover beautiful things every day.” Indeed!) The whole interview is great, but I was particularly struck by her words about being self-taught. I am also on a self-taught journey, so I find her words (and work) very inspiring:
34: 54 I’m not confident enough to think I’ve arrived, ever. it is what fuels me to get better. We talked earlier on going through an academic program and what that entails, versus someone like myself, who is essentially self-taught, worked under people, but self-taught. There are gaps there that you have to find and then you have to figure out how to make it better. The academic environment is designed for you to not have a lot of blank spots. You are going to come out of that program and be pretty tight, right?… So this over here, me, working in the dark sort of, I mean I’ve gone to a million workshops and I have a very curious mind so I’m out there trying to find the information, but I don’t know what I don’t know. I still have a long way to go.
Though Linda may feel that to be true (that she still has a long way to go), it’s clear by her body of work that she is quite accomplished at making the world a more beautiful place:
In Ben Carter’s podcast, she also talks about what she’s learned from working with Anthropologie, being a store owner, incorporating her environment into her work, and her future goals. Play her interview while you are in the studio–it’s wonderful inspiration. You can read her blog and see her new work here.
It can be difficult to make good progress in any skill when you are self-taught. Going it alone does not provide opportunity for constructive criticism from other, more experienced potters. DVDs, books, YouTube videos and the occasional class have all been very helpful, but can’t really replace the rigor that exists in a program, or provide the oversight of an apprenticeship. What to do??
My chief concern is that I might be developing some bad habits in throwing that are only getting reinforced by more practice, and with no one present to tell me otherwise, I might actually be getting good a throwing badly. But a colleague of mine who also throws and actually did take ceramics classes at university told me about a practice of his professor that I’ve adopted.
Cut everything in half.
It’s a great practice for a new potter for a multitude of reasons. First, you don’t get too attached to work that has emotional significance (look what I made!!) but little design or skill value. Second, it gives you tremendous insight into the part of the process you can’t see while throwing — what’s happening on the inside!
You simply can’t miss the giant chunk of clay that you aren’t moving up the form’s wall. You can’t miss the unevenness of the sides, or the too-narrow neck.
And third, watching yourself improve with practice is very empowering and inspires more practice. Remember, it takes hours and hours of effort to throw effortlessly.
Potter Hsinchuen Lin has a fabulous YouTube channel with very good instructional videos. I have learned quite a bit from watching them! In this one, he walks you through the process of lifting the clay into the walls of the pot. Watch this video, and then cut some of your pots in half to compare.
Speed believed that the appeal of a work depended upon the artist’s ability to capture truth and naturalness in their work. I believe this is so because universal themes and truths draw us in every art form, whether they are present in literature or the visual arts.
With exquisite forms and amazing glazes, Samantha Henneke’s work is certainly arresting (Speed’s term) and appealing. Really, I am a bit awestruck by her colors and layering. Samantha gives equal credit to Bruce for their work in creating amazing glazes. She says their entire studio is a collaboration. WOW, amazing creativity, and a love story as well! You rock, Samantha and Bruce! You can read their Blog and see more of their work. Be sure to check out Samantha’s amazing photos of insects.
Getting out of the suburbs and into the beauty of the created world is inspiring and refreshing! We saw many marvelous sights on our West Texas Journey, including an expanse of the heavens in Marfa with no city lights obscuring the incredible starry skies, beautiful and wild blooms, and the gorgeous granite batholith called Enchanted Rock between Llano and Fredericksburg, Texas.
Jeremiah 51:15 says, “He made the earth by His power; He founded the world by His wisdom and stretched out the heavens by His understanding.”
Standing at the top of Enchanted Rock and looking out across the rough beauty of the Texas Hill Country makes me feel the truth of this verse in my bones. And it awakens a hunger for knowing God more personally and intimately.
So when I read this invitation, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3), I am both exhilarated and terrified!
We get so excited to meet our favorite artists–whether they are musicians, actors or other creatives–how much more exciting to get to hang out with the creator of the entire universe? It’s stunning, really. And a bit scary!
Texas is BIG! We drove over 1400 miles, spent 22 hours in the car, and stayed mostly in the south western quadrant of the state! The landscape varied from flat and ugly to mountainous and gorgeous to dry and dusty to wet and luscious. We made it all the way to Marfa, Texas, anxious to see the famous Marfa Lights, that curious and unexplained phenomena in the night sky. We did in fact, see the Marfa lights … while the man behind us on the platform was explaining to the people next to him that he and his buddies have met up in Marfa every year for the past seven, a reunion of friends. And every year, they come to the platform and hope to see the lights. As the four of us were pointing and exclaiming to each other, “There! See them? There!” this man behind us continued to recount his sad story to the others … “Seven years, and we’ve never seen them. I guess this is another year …” I was flabbergasted! We were looking right at them!! Three twinkling lights that would appear in the distance, a few feet above the horizon, dancing and moving, seemingly advancing towards us, and then retreating, then disappearing, only to appear again a few minutes later. We soon heard the reunion of friends packing up to leave the platform, another year gone by, while we had been entertained by the very lights they sought and missed.
It made me wonder how often I am guilty of the very same thing … completely missing what I’ve sought, and what it right in front of me, because I’d been distracted by myself and my own need to be the center of attention, or otherwise remain unaware. O Lord! Let that not happen! Let me not go through life missing the very thing I am seeking to find.
We also came across the abandoned movie set used in the 1960 film “The Alamo” starring John Wayne. One part of the set was old San Antonio. Here’s the church and general store, and of course, the famous mission entry: