Thursday, January 31, 2013

4th Annual Cup Swap


Cup Bottoms

This year's 4th Annual Cup Swap will kick off tomorrow! It's the day we've all been anticipating with much eagerness.  Each fourth grader makes two cups. Students may keep one, and trade one. Or, they may trade both. The last option is to be utterly selfish and to keep both cups. So, tomorrow we make the first of our two cups. To make the process run more smoothly, I cut out the bottom slabs for this round. That way, students can just worry about rolling out their wall slabs, and about possible handle solutions. I'll keep you posted on our progress.

Hansen Trading Cups

Student Inspiration

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mas Nichos, Por Favor

Traditional Mexican Nichos

Here's to working on a little exploration… Recently I've been making ceramic nichos. When there are enough of them, I'll do some experimental glazing. Then, the decision comes. What objects will be the central feature in each nicho? There's an outdoor clay show coming up at Bargetto Winery this spring. Hopefully, these nichos will turn out well, and I can have an entire table full of them!

Birdie Topped Nicho

Eye Nicho

Flame-top Nicho

Drying Greenware

X Nicho

Rusty Nichos

Dos Nichos

Hurry Up and Dry

Sunday, January 20, 2013

St. Valentine's Early Visit

Valentine's Day always comes early for me. Because the process of hand-building, glazing, and firing takes so long, I start early to meet the holiday deadline. Each year, my students decorate and glaze ceramic heart ornaments. We use my snappiest red and pink underglazes, finish them off with glossy clear glaze, and then these clay valentines really shine. Students glaze messages, or patterns onto the blank hearts. Then, we apply bright hanging ribbon.

Hearts represent love and affection. In my own personal work, this year I've made some wooden wall hearts. Several years of being love-lorn, and pining away, recently screeched to a halt. A large dose of gritty reality left me feeling pretty hardhearted. Yet, there is still a kernel of kindness and friendship there, as represented by the blooms. Could it be time to start anew with some other fella? Maybe. Only cupid knows for sure...  

Wall Piece Before Last Firing

Student Hearts After Bisque Firing

Wall Piece Before Final Firing

Cupids Aplenty

Friday, January 18, 2013

No More Reading Glasses?

The Nightstand

I have finally joined the world of e reading. My parents generously gave me an ipad for Christmas, and I instantly installed a Kindle app. And, not a moment too soon, as my house is slowly sinking under the weight of overstuffed bookshelves. This causes ripples of guilt, because I really do love books. I mean the feel of them, and the look of them. Ahhhh, beautiful cover designs, illustrations, typography, and the paper…  THE PAPER. However, the Kindle feature that enlarges the print, might have made me fall in love with technology. No more reading glasses in bed!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Happiness Jar

Happiness Jar Stopper

Today, I left school in a timely manner, because I had some giant clay beads drying out in the shed. I knew that they were firming up nicely, but that they would be too dry if I left them out there under plastic much longer. Carving holes in the beads was pretty easy. I also made a stopper for an antique French milk bottle that I bought at the Alameda Flea Market last weekend.  I intend to write down happy thoughts as they occur, and store them in this jar.

Totem Pole Beads

Future Stamps

Everyone Together

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Purpose in 2013

During the past few months, my resolve has been somewhat shaken. So, the New Year seems like a good time to affirm my goals as a teacher, and as an artist. Here goes:

As a teacher, my resolve is to avoid getting overly involved in the care, and the feeding of the bureaucracy. I am at work to focus on my students. Yes, I said my own students. Because, if you were my student at any time, it qualifies as a continuous commitment. They have my full and undivided attention. It is my job to protect and nurture them. It is also my job to creatively come up with lessons and activities that will help them to find success.  

          "Because the individual is creative, and creativeness outside the narrow pattern of status quo           cannot be tolerated. Herein is my revolt. I believe in and will fight for the right of the individual to function as an individual, without pressure from any direction. I am unalterably opposed to any interference with the creative mind. It may be wrong, but out of it comes the only rights we know."
                                                                         John Steinbeck

I recently removed some of my vases from a consignment gallery. I couldn't afford to pay the fees, and my contract was expiring. On my way out the door, the owner told me that my vases hadn't sold well, because they had no real purpose. "I mean, what do you even do with your own vases?" She had merchandised my work near two functional potters, one of whom was selling large bowls for the ridiculous price of $15. I was ashamed of the functional potters that were cheapening their work, by asking for Walmart-esque prices. Their work was beautiful, and skillfully made. However there were such large quantities shown, that the pieces no longer looked individual. It looked like the door of an opened gas kiln, a wall of pots, with only two or three different glaze colors. I can't compete with that. Each piece that I make looks different. There is very little sameness. There is no way that I could charge $15 for anything. It wouldn't even pay for the materials or the electric bill. Also, my work is low-fire and porous. It is definitely not useful by any means.

Her comments angered me, but also caused me to reflect on purpose in my art work. So, what am I doing? Do I really care if my work sells or not? What purpose should ceramics serve? Is it craft or is it art?

Some years back, I received a BFA in Graphic Design. After college, I worked freelance briefly. I loved typography and composition. But, I didn't love client meddling. An idea would be wonderfully complete and unified. Then, the client would interject stray ideas or concepts. Trying to sweet-talk the client into sticking with the unified concept was exhausting. Most of my projects became watered down. That is the beauty of art. It is what you want it to be. You have complete control. It is your own self-created problem, with your own solution, using the medium of your choice.

So, do I really care if my work sells or not? Sure. But, am I willing to do the hard work that it takes to market my work? Not really. Not right now. I have a day job, which takes up an enormous amount of my time. What purpose should ceramics serve? I think that there is room for both functional and non-functional work. I have many favorite artists in both camps. However, I happen to enlarge the definition of functional a bit. If a piece causes me to feel some sort of emotion, or pleases me with it's aesthetics, or with it's level of skill, then I consider that, in and of itself, as a function. It was hard to explain that to the gallery owner. Mostly because I would assume that someone who sells art, should understand what art does for us. I told her that my pieces sit in my house, and give me pleasure when I look at them.

What am I doing? Well, there is no good answer to that question! I am just making stuff. Even as a little kid, I constantly made things. As a fourth grader, I remember trying to construct a pair of traditional Japanese shoes using wood, sewing elastic, carpet tacks, and nails. If someone likes what I make, or if it speaks to him/her, then it clears out more room in my studio for the stuff that I will make in the future. For now, that has to be my answer.

          "There is marvelous peace in not publishing. It's peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy.  I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."

                                                                              J. D. Salinger