Long time no see, eh? 

My last post in this space was half a year ago, but I stayed productive up until November, when some medical issues finally got the better of me and sent me limping home from the studio. I'm back now, feeling great and the pots are FLYING FROM MY FINGERS LIKE SPARKS. 

Okay...so that's not entirely true. It's been slow going. But that's by design. I did a lot of reflecting under the watchful eyes of Mom, friends and family over the holidays. Here's some quick notes on the reflections that came from my time in repair. 

Consider the allowances you make and receive. 
In life, at work and in clay, we make allowances. For personalities, for behaviors, for actions, for feelings, for practices, for beliefs and sadly, for our own emotional and physical state of being. Sometimes the choice is inconsequential. Other times, the cost is bigger than we anticipated and often at our own expense. We are only as good our intentions and only as memorable as the sum total of our actions. I'd like to live every moment and create with the intention of producing and giving the best of me to the world. If it's anything less than my best...I'd like to have the courage to scrap it and try again. 

Be open to love, feedback and new experiences. 
I am the most closed open book you'll ever meet. Anyone who knows me well, can attest to this. When I'm struggling, that is when I isolate the most. But...I'm working on that. For the bulk of last year, I struggled physically but kept the bulk of it locked away in my mind, which later rippled over into my emotions and made me a grumpier, less than sunny version of myself. As I drew nearer to the time to take a pause for the cause, I was forced to share with the folks who would most notice my absence. It was during those conversations that I realized just how much I've overlooked the abundance of loving people in my life. During my convalescence, I was surrounded by warm thoughts, care packages, reading assignments (lol), visits and consideration from potter pals/sages/kindred spirits/fairy godmothers/fairy godfathers and friends who reminded me that choosing to suffer in silence is folly. I was scolded, hugged, fussed over, entertained and loved to within an inch of my sanity. And my cup runneth over for it.  Now that I'm on the other side of it all, I feel refreshed, renewed and ready to engage the world creatively. With that comes new expression and the desire to share that expression of life in my work. 

Slow down, long life. 
Upon my return to the studio, my friend Bobby (the self-proclaimed "Grandma Moses of Pottery"), gave me a sound and sticky bit of advice. Slow down. Long Life. She wasn't referring to the speed of the wheel. She was specifically referring to the speed of me. In this world of multi-tasking, we give too much value to the notion of being expeditious. My day job is a demanding one where I'm whirling from one project and deadline to another. Somewhere along the way, I carried that expectation over into every aspect of my life. I'm constantly in a rush to get nowhere. Bobby reminded me to find the "zen" in the art I love so much. To slow down. Appreciate the moment within the moment. To breathe. To think through my thoughts and words and actions and remember that the only fire is the one I've created in my own mind. Every action has a purpose. Make it a meaningful one. 

What does that mean for me this year? 

Less production style throwing. More patient, critical review of what makes it through the final stages of the process of making pottery. More workshops. More reading. More time with loved ones who center and nurture my spirit. More wine sipping. More laughter. More concerts. More memories. More interaction with the artists who inspire and motivate me. More daydreaming. Less time devoted to the activities, personalities and behaviors that don't bring out the best in me. More time meditating, getting inspired and bringing that inspiration to clay. 

I hope you'll come along for the ride.

Big thanks to the cheerleaders who physically rallied me through the last few months of 2015 with laughter and love, particularly: My family (chosen and otherwise), Tracy (my other mom) and Wendell, Susan, Deb, Wes and Frank. Not sure who among you will read this, but I love each and every one of you to pieces.

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Authorcheryl

...so I make my list of things I intend to make and there's one thing I left off. Sake. Expect to see more of them this coming year, too. 

My wish for you this 2015:

May the year bring you enough challenges to make you stronger, enough adventure to inspire your creativity, enough prosperity to make your dreams become realities and enough love to make your cup runneth over. 

Happy New Year. 

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Authorcheryl

Immersing myself in teapots this year really allowed me to expand my skill set. As a result, I'm seeing a definite jump in the quality and detail of my work. Also as a result, I was woefully underprepared for the holiday buying rush. What's a yin without a yang? 

I've always struggled with balancing learning with production. As a hobby potter, I'm forever torn between both worlds. Playing with teapots this year has made me a better potter, but other than a few wholesale orders and some gallery sales I've been very "unproductive" in 2014. Now, I want to be more productive without sacrificing the time required to continue learning. There are more teapots in my future. Many more. But before I return to that obsession, I'm going to work to fill the shelves so I can do more shows and hopefully share more work with buyers online. 

I'm making my list and checking it twice - borrowing a page from Santa's book. I've checked in with some trusted friends and "shoppers" and I've compiled a short list of items I'm developing right now. What's coming? 

  • Salt and Pepper Shakers
  • Soup Bowls
  • (more) Mugs
  • Lidded Canisters
  • Kimchi Pots
  • Sugar bowls
  • Oil warmers
  • Juicers

Will there be teapots? Of course there will be teapots. I'm still deeply obsessed. I'm just going to make sure I do a better job of offering items while I indulge my addiction. For now...here's a sneak peek at some stopperless salt and pepper shakers. They've been a lot of fun to make!

May this holiday season bring you creativity, abundance, peace and joy. Let's all be good to one another. Catch you next year! 

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Authorcheryl
Categoriesstudio updates

Today was day one of Stan Irvin's workshop focusing on "the how and why of pottery making." Stan is a pottery legend, teaching for over thirty years as a Professor of Art at St. Edward's University in Austin. To have the opportunity to study with him, even for just two days is a real treat. It's also reinforced for me that the time spent traveling and attending more workshops is probably invaluable. There's so much to learn and so many amazing artists to learn from. The gift is really two-fold: you learn different techniques and philosophies about ceramics but you also gain access to bigger and broader potter community that is a rich source of information, validation and laughter. Because let's face it - if you are a potter, you are used to being frequently exasperated and nothing cures exasperation faster than laughter. 

Some of the big "between the eyes" moments for me thus far in Stan's workshop include: 

Think about WHY you are making your form/piece.
What are you designing it to do and how will it serve it's purpose? This of course includes the classification of functional versus decorative, but it also extends to the finer attributes of the piece. As it's function, what do you want to stand out or to be significant in the way it performs in its intended purpose? Having this firmly established in your mind will help you through the production, as each decision should lend itself to your intended outcome. 

I have to admit to sometimes being a bit willy nilly in my approach. Especially when it's a new form. I'm so distracted by my concerns about IF I can make the piece, I don't find myself asking the WHY until I've made the first one...and can determine the long list of what I hate about it. I can't help but wonder if the learning curve would be gentler if I assumed I have the skill level, and spent more time on WHY I'm making the form before my hands touch the clay. 

Slow down. 
This wasn't something Stan said outright, as much as it was a personal observation of mine as I watched his instruction. During his demo of one of his forms with multiple attachments, I noticed that he was thoughtful, introspective and even experimental as he worked. With spouts and handles and the process of attachment...there was no rush. As he prepared each piece, he held it up to the form at different angles and considered it's impact on the structure. How did it benefit the overall form? Did it enhance? If it didn't...how could the position or attachment itself, be modified to better flow with the piece? Did the placement enhance or detract from the overall function of the entire piece. 

I've been moving too fast. Particularly with multi-piece forms like tea pots. I am so focused to the clock and stages of dryness, that I wind up attaching pieces as if I'm on a timer. I don't "sit" with the form and visualize, I'm panicked thinking "I've got to get this on, NOW." Even when I know, logically, that I still have time to assemble without fear of catastrophe. Part of this, I'm sure, is a habit formed out of my status as a "part-time potter." I know I only have the weekend to check on my work steadily. During the week, I'm just far enough from my studio to make it inconvenient to juggle studio work with my "day job." So two days are all I have for alchemy. I need to do a better job of reminding myself that even though it's two days...you needn't work like you're trying to stabilize a ticking time bomb. Breathe. Think through your intention. You always have time to do this. Even when you swear you don't.

Keep your work "accessible." 
This was probably my most favorite statement of day one. In discussing the different ways you can enhance your work: giving movement, texture, glazing technique...it is important not to make your work "exhaustive to look at." Stan stressed the value of keeping your work simple. By giving thought to simplicity, you make your work accessible to the admirer. Not only in the literal sense of more hours in labor = higher ticket price, but in the artistic sense. You don't want to overwhelm the admirer with too many elements to have to take into consideration. Keep texture and glazing and any surface work complimentary. Make the piece workable and pleasing. Avoid too many layers of "technique" or affect. Don't busy up the work. Often, less is more. 

Those are my big takeaways from day one from the philosophical standpoint. Now if you'll excuse me...I'm about to go fill my online shopping cart with tools. Because that was the other takeaway...tremendous inspiration and the introduction of tools that I'm eager to put to the test. Most of them will come from...the hardware store and the kitchen. It amazes me how many tools we take from their intended use and carry over into ingenious studio tools. Potters can truly make a tool out of anything. I'm proud to call myself one. 

Here's a smattering of pictures of today's session. 


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Authorcheryl
Categoriespersonal

As last year drew to a close, I was sitting in one of the lounge areas of the studio having coffee and a snack with a potter pal. We were talking about our projects and I mentioned that I was thinking about making teapots one of my New Year's resolutions. I'll never forget his reply: 

"What are you so afraid of? It's a collection of pieces you already well know how to make. There's a bowl, a funnel, a handle and a lid. You're just attaching them together. What could be simpler than that?" 

"Simpler" was said tongue in cheek, as the assembly requires quite a bit of forethought and planning before you start sticking things on...but I got his point. What was the reason for all the reservation? 

In an earlier post, you may remember my friend Tracy giving me a further nudge, supplying me with some invaluable reading material to help me on my journey. I knew at that point, I couldn't spend another year afraid of something everyone felt confident I could do. 

So here we are in August, and while I've had other projects on my todo list: pitchers, and my sister's wedding centerpieces to name a few...but I have still managed to take a stab at playing with teapots. In fact, I've made 10. And you know what happened? I think I'm in love. Or at the very least, obsessed. Obsessed with the different styles, different forms, lids, handle types and functions. 

They are literally all I want to make these days. So...if you're interested in teapots, or you're one of the people who have stopped by to visit me at a show or in the gallery inquiring about one...just know that I wasn't ignoring your requests, I was just working through my aversion. Here's hoping I create something that speaks to you. 

- C


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Authorcheryl
Categoriesproduction

I am left handed. Because I am left-oriented in everything I do - you'll probably notice that my mugs feature a button or other face work so that when you're holding your cup in your left hand, the ornamentation is facing outward. By the time I noticed I was doing this, I decided that I would continue to place my handles and designs as I always have. After all...it's not everyday where the left orientation is the default orientation, now is it? 


I'm really excited that this has been the year of doing things I haven't done before. As a result of the experience, I'm learning alot about myself. Not just about what I want to make or don't want to make...but also the type of potter I want to be. The space I want to exist within. 

When I first came to pottery over seven years ago, my goal was simple: to get out of my head and into something that help me find my emotional and mental balance. I've told the pottery story before, I'll spare you that. Suffice it to say, I didn't come to pottery to master it, I came to pottery to attempt to master me. 

As my skills evolved and began to settle into myself, my goal shifted: make a better pot. As incredibly difficult as mastering myself has proven to be, trying to make a better pot would prove even more tedious. But, there's something to be said for time. There is also something to be said for the 4 p's of pottery: [passion], practice, patience and perseverance. And so I'm making better pots than I was before. 

At this stage of my pottery journey, I am still working to make a better pot. But I'm also evaluating who I want to be in this space. And so again my goal has shifted: define the type of potter you really want to be. I am drawn to function. I find tremendous satisfaction in creating something and having someone else find use for it. I want to make things that people incorporate into their day and find joy in using. I want and deeply value the validation of my peers - knowing my forms are spot on and my work is pleasing to the eye.

But, pottery is an art, and in the art world, there is an element of cattiness and elitism where people begin "ranking" themselves or others - often as an effort to quantify the VALUE of a piece and the artist responsible for creating it. There is the element of "who do you know" and more often, "who are you known by."  I don't know that I care about that part. I don't know that I care about juried shows or public recognitions. Perhaps I should, and maybe I'll learn that lesson in time. What I do know is, when I do events, what I enjoy most, what drives me most, is when someone picks of something I've made and they can't wait to use it. In that moment I feel personally connected to the person acquiring the piece, as well as the piece itself. For now, that's the potter I want to be. 


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Authorcheryl
Categoriespersonal

So far this year, I've cleared two hurdles. My friend/fairy godmother/potter pal Tracy penned it best in a gift she left me a few months ago: 

"Good luck to you in the year of the teapot!"

An amazing sculptor and ceramic artist in her own right, she's been a steady cheerleader and constant personal advocate for pushing past fear. I told her in January I would commit to two forms I absolutely avoided pretty aggressively for the past 5+ years: pitchers and teapots. 

It's about so much more than those forms. It's about pushing myself past comfort zones and not allowing myself to get too comfortable with the forms I feel more confident creating. It's about refining my abilities and upping the ante by working on advanced projects that require assembly and planning and strategy. It is also about finishing. Adding nuance. 

This weekend, I made my very first teapot. Here's to a major personal milestone. And here's a big personal thank you to Tracy for reminding me that fear isn't enough to abandon trying. 

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Authorcheryl
Categoriesprojects

In the collaborative studio where I work, I have the opportunity to interact with potters of varying levels of experience. Part of what makes the place magical is the fellowship that occurs as artists share tips, techniques, frustrations and triumphs. When someone new to the craft remarks on my work or asks for advice, I find myself repeating the same sentiment over and over..."pottery can be a cruel mistress." It almost always results in a laugh and a knowing nod. We've all been there. We've all felt it. And we all know it's true. 

What makes the practice a "cruel mistress"? The fact that so many elements of it are completely unpredictable. There are a million things to learn and just when you think you've got the hang of something, you realize there's hundreds of things you're still struggling to grasp. And the learning doesn't happen quickly. Sometimes it is agonizingly slow. Seven years ago, I accepted that there is a cycle to the art of pottery. It will feel like a barren wasteland of crooked pots and uneven rims and then, there is the unexpected acquisition of a new skill or technique. I call them "jumps." You struggle and struggle with something for days, sometimes weeks or more, and then suddenly all the pieces fall in line. Just like that, you have it. Your skill level escalates and in an instant you are making a form better than you made it just the day before. And you couldn't explain how you got it, you just know you did. Finally.  

I find that the longer I do this, the harder it is for me to realize when I've "jumped." Perhaps it is because the improvements are more subtle. Or maybe it's just that I'm looking for the imperfections and missing the opportunity to see how far I've come. 

This past weekend, it dawned on me that in the past month or so, I jumped. Nothing major, I'm not making vessels of the ming dynasty...but I can feel a difference. A confidence in my ability. I make forms faster, almost in a rhythm that feels meditative. There is a distinct sense of competence that I wasn't willing to claim before. I go into a form assured that I possess the skills I need to make what I want to make. I'm not "hoping" the form into existence. I am "willing" the form into existence. That gives me the courage to experiment and push boundaries. And to consider forms and techniques I used to rigidly and flatly object to making. This latest jump hasn't been in my form, or my technique. It's been in my perception. 

That's a jump I never saw coming. But I'll take it. And wait patiently for the next one. 

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Authorcheryl
Categoriespersonal

It's incredibly difficult trying to mingle what you love with what you do. It's especially difficult when those two things aren't at all related. 

When I began the transition from beginner to intermediate-level potter, one of my first instructors said to me, "there's no money to be made in pottery." That was quickly reinforced as I began talking with other ceramic artists outside of the Austin community. Actually let me expound on that. It CAN be done and it HAS been done, but with great sacrifice, a little financial windfall, a fair amount of luck and a ton of blood, sweat, tears and clay. What makes the odds difficult are the same variables that make the pursuit of any small business artistic venture difficult. It's not just making work people want. It's the materials required to produce it. The time and skill required to market it. The effort and administration required to manage it. It's also having a strong enough foundation to jump start it with some funds that probably didn't come from that clay habit you've indulged. Just establishing your own studio - kilns, glazes, chemicals, utilities, etc...is enough to make you shake your head. 

I classify myself as a "hobby potter." I get in the studio on the weekends. It is effectively my part-time job that I am madly in love with. Friday morning I leap from the bed in an incredible mood because I know that the following day I will wake early, put on my mud wear, and do what I love. By Sunday afternoon, I feel the melancholy seep in. The quiet mourning as I feel the sun set on my happy place and I begin the countdown to work that still keeps me on my toes, but puts no fire in my heart.

Do pottery full time! Is always what people who haven't tried to do pottery full time, suggest. It pays for itself - but it doesn't pay me any meaningful wage. Nothing close to the wage I am accustomed to. And that is okay - because I have a career. A career I have groomed and nursed fastidiously after my college days were done. But now...the illusion of career aspiration is something I'm too wise to allow my ego to fall for. I've done good work. I'm proud that I can say I've always given my best effort in any role I've had. But I'm not twenty-five anymore and I'm no longer looking for someone to spot my talent and hand me the keys to the front office so I can prove my worth. At this point in my life, I have all the professional validation I require and I'm smart enough to know my worth can't be measured in an annual performance review. I don't want the expectation that to be a valuable asset, you must be willing to work 80 hours per week. I don't believe in that anymore. My career doesn't define me. It is the way in which I provide for myself. I'm grateful for that and limited by that at the same time. 

When I am no longer here...I hope I am remembered for something very different than my ability to put together a marketing strategy. I'd like to be remembered for my convictions, my heart...and hopefully, the elements of me that go into the love I make with my own two hands every weekend. That's where I am these days. 

There may be no money in pottery...but for me, there is certainly wealth. So it's time to reevaluate how to make my two worlds more peacefully coexist. 

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Authorcheryl

Every time I venture out into a live event sale/show, I find myself coming home with a considerable amount of notes. This past Saturday at the Austin Flea was no different. There are always gifts. The gift of validation from shoppers, the gift of unconditional love from friends and family who support the effort it takes to pack and set up and dismantle. The gift of education that comes from seasoned sellers who provide tips on how to improve and expand your process. I try to log it all before I grow distracted. 

During this event, I had the chance to meet people who were familiar with me or my work - either online via etsy or from other events. I even met an extremely kind shopper who shared that she read my blog and wanted to visit me - I'm still so touched by this. This was the first time I interacted with people who knew of me - and it was such an exciting and humbling feeling as I continue to learn and grow. Those conversations allow me to observe how potential buyers interact with my work. I get additional insight on what matters to them, what feels good in their hands and what lights up their expressions. It reinforces everything I've come to appreciate about my favorite forms and gives me the inspiration I use to further refine and improve my work. Can't assign a value to something so immeasurably significant.

I introduced sake sets this year and they received a very warm response. They also triggered the question - "do you make tea sets as well?" And now that I've been asked that enough - I will be adding tea sets to my list of production items, as well as more sake sets based on some feedback and meaningful conversation. I am working this year to limit the forms I produce this year smaller, intimate items: sake sets, tea sets, chalices, mugs, cups small, functional bowls and oil warmers. I have received additional requests, but I found great improvement this year when I focused in and produced larger volumes of forms. The goal? Master forms and further establish consistent forms people begin to associate with you. 

As usual, I was sandwiched between two incredible vendors - Diane Petkoff of Tasty Jewelry and Kelly Davis-Burns of KellyDTees. Both ladies were hilarious, helpful and great folks to learn some more about the art of the show - I really hope I get to see them both again soon. 

Another consistent "win" for me is the loving support of my family. This winter was the coldest I can remember since I moved here and Saturday morning began in the mid-thirties, overcast with a damp bite in the air. Despite that, my brother-in-law showed up on my doorstep bright and early, ready to work. He's a creative mind himself, so it was awesome to leave product placement up to him and incredible having someone so engaged and excited about the interaction and pace of the day. My mom and my step-dad also endured the cold to help hasten the set up process and secured hot coffee to fuel the morning. My sister went home from work and met us with an awesome dinner, with a bottle of wine to celebrate. 

Photo courtesy of marquers.

Photo courtesy of marquers.

As is customary with me - it's never really about profit margins or any of that. I still feel there is so much to learn...that will never NOT be the case. These events for me are an opportunity to connect with fellow creators and prospective buyers. It is a chance to shake hands and talk shop. It is the opportunity to watch how people form a relationship with the item they plan to buy. I can understand why the curve of a handle is so incredibly important when I watch people pick up mugs and hold them for a moment until they find the one that feels perfect in their hands. I see the proof that each form has a person that belongs to it, and it to them. Every opportunity to place an item in the hands of someone pleased to take it home with them is just the icing on the cake and the motivation I use to continue to advance my techniques and produce more items that become a part of someone's home. It is for those reasons that I look forward to the next opportunity to meet and chat and sell. 

Without the sunburn next time, please. 

Who knew a day that could start so brisk would end with me having a lobster face? 

Ever since the workshop, I've been thinking a lot about a common thread among most of the potters whose work I am drawn to and learn from. They all have studios tucked away in almost remote, rural surroundings. Quiet, ethereal spaces with loads of natural light and free space to work, reflect and plan their next projects. 

As a city girl, I find myself bemused by my own desire to suddenly be away from the world. (If you are a DMB fan and aware of my studio playlist, you'll both note and pardon the pun)  Before pottery, the thought of being in a quiet, fairly isolated place felt boring and potentially frightening to me. In some respects, it still does incite fear - but it's not a fear I'm willing to acquiesce to. 

Whenever I have the opportunity to steal a glance into the private studio of an "introverted artist", I am green with envy. While I love working in a collaborative studio where I can exchange ideas and "talk shop" with peers who have become friends...I also know that I create my best work when I unplug for the social side of the collaborative space and close out the noise and energy around me so that I can hear and feel my own imagination offer ideas. In fact, sometimes I grow fairly irritable when I attempt to juggle the distraction of people entering my rented space with my need to follow an idea through to a finished work. Now, I'm working in reverse. The bustle and clamor of too many people in too small a space is no longer comforting to me as it was years ago. I can't create that way. I don't want to look out a window and see buildings. I want to look out of a window and see nothing but a sky waiting to be filled. 

As I was working this weekend, a random thought popped into my head. I knew a location I wanted to consider. I won't speak to it yet...but I'm beginning to allow myself to envision what that space would look like for me. Where it would rest in the country, what I need, the things I'll want for that space to be productive and blissful.  

This morning, this story was passed along to me and I took it to mean I was thinking along the right path. It was a bit of spiritual validation. Perhaps it might be time to do a bit more than day dream...

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Authorcheryl