staying curious

I gave a second talk at Hand Eye Supply's Curiosity Club last September, and it finally feels like the right time to post it here.

As I prepared for this talk, curiosity and creativity emerged as a useful way of approaching the questions raised by a climate in flux. In the months since, I've felt restless, wondering if there's other work I should be doing, even though I love working with clay.  

So I'm trying to experiment by staying curious about whether there might be a way to creatively use the tension between these distinct parts of my life rather than just assume the solution is to choose one over the other.  

wilderness sketches

Being part of the Portland Urban Sketchers group has really helped me loosen up my drawing. Although I've often brought my watercolor set and a sketchbook while hiking, this week's trip to Jefferson Park Wilderness was the first time I've really used them, and the first time I've attempted anything more than a small sketch of a single flower. 

tree line along the whitewater trail

tree line along the whitewater trail

I of course still did sketch wildflowers (how could I resist?).

mountain aster near Russell Lake

mountain aster near Russell Lake

indian paintbrush

indian paintbrush

But the big difference is that I also tried to capture my favorite mountain. 

Mt Jefferson and Russell Lake

Mt Jefferson and Russell Lake

Here's how it turned out.

watercolor sketch of Mt Jefferson and Russell Lake

watercolor sketch of Mt Jefferson and Russell Lake

getting a handle on a mug

pulled handles, ready to be attached



scoring the mug body where the top part of the handle will be attached



deciding how big the handle will be



lower attachment site scored and slipped



adding extra clay to sculpt a more substantial connection between the handle and mug body



it takes a bit more time, but I like the finished look and it lets me get a sturdy connection for a thin handle



new mugs, ready to dry out and get crows painted on them


the glory of springtime

It was the spring flowers that finally got me to add some color to my work, even though I've had a whole box of underglaze colors for months. There is something so joyful, and so fleeting, in the earliest spring blossoms that I knew I wanted to capture something of that. What better way than sketching directly on clay? 


The pencil marks burn out in the firing, and it's always a bit of a surprise to see how the underglazes turn out.  


And just so you know, all the pear blossoms were collected from this broken branch.


painting crows on clay

I love the shapes crows make as they fly, but finding a way to recreate their inky silhouettes on clay has been a challenge. I think I'm finally coming up with a strategy that's fairly straightforward. 


It starts with a set of custom rubber stamps that I ordered from Atlas Stamps (so much easier than the handmade option). After the pot is trimmed and dried, but before it's been bisque fired, I gently stamp the images onto the clay, curving the rubber stamp to match the shape of the fragile greenware.  


Pretty much any kind of stamp pad with do. These two were given to me and my sisters sometime in elementary school, and somehow (amazingly) still have enough ink and moisture to be usable. I start with a light color, which gives me the option of redoing the stamp if I don't like the placement. The organic dyes in the stamp pad will all burn out in the firing, so I don't worry about any extra marks I've made on the clay.


I then use a very fine brush to paint black underglaze over the stamped outlines, using the original set of photos as a reference. 

photo 4.JPG

Once the underglaze is on, they're ready to be bisque fired. It also works to do this stamping and painting on bisqued ware, but the raw underglaze sometimes resists the glaze, leaving an uneven surface on the finished piece.  

sketchcrawl Saturday

The weather the last few days has been beautiful, and what better way to celebrate it than spend the morning outside sketching the first flush of cherry blossoms along the waterfront in downtown Portland? I joined Portland's Urban Sketchers and tried my hand at sketching cherry trees against the backdrop of the Steel Bridge.  


I'm still learning how to pick out the relevant details from a landscape scene for the sketch, but being around so many talented artists was incredibly inspiring. I finished up with some close up sketches of cherry blossoms, which was so much easier. 


Afterwards, a group of us went to see TIm's Vermeer (a very entertaining documentary about an inventor recreating a Vermeer painting), then tried out a neolucida that one of the sketchers had brought along. It felt a little like cheating to trace a sketch from life, but I think I'm going to have to get one. And if Vermeer wasn't above optical assistance, why should I be? Here's a really quick sketch I made using the device. 


As I biked home, I started wondering what it would look like to use it for sketching on a curved clay surface....

the first year

This month marks a full year that I have been filling my days with clay. I began provisionally – giving myself permission to take six months away from the job search to do the one thing I still felt inspired to do. The studio where I'd been taking classes offered a monthly partnership with unlimited access at a very reasonable rate, and I was just getting to the point where I needed practice more than instruction, so in March 2013 I became a regular at the studio. And somehow, here I am, still at it. 

greenware pitchers