“You need to take a break”

People have been telling me for years I need to not work so hard.  I guess working 10 hours plus a day, 7 days a week for 6 years with no vacations may be a bit much, for sure.  But when it comes to making your living as an artist, you need to work harder, longer to make a successful go of it.  If you’re really lucky, you have a partner with a normal job, and can not work yourself to a frazzled nubbin.

This year was my breaking point. My poor old body has begun to break down.  The mind is still willing to do it but my body says “give me a break”. For the first time I’m backing out of a show.  Just can’t muster up the strength to do it.  I feel like a piker, but I’m 58 years old, dammit, and I just don’t have the energy and physical capabilities I used to have.

My goal now is to get my health back on track. What is the point of vocationally doing what you want with your life, if you can’t do anything enjoyable after your work day is finished? I need to find a way to work smarter. Of course this is the quest of most working artists…people want art in their lives, but unfortunately the days when the public bought art and fine craft at a riotously brisk rate are long gone.  It gets harder and harder to make ends meet. And if you don’t work very very hard to produce a lot of stuff you don’t wind up with a successful year.

Lastly, I would like to give public thanks to my partner, Richard Aerni. He consistently pats me on the head when I do well, and pats me on the back when I don’t. He cooks healthy meals for me, and rubs my sore back at the end of a long day. He give me advice about how to improve my glazes, how to market my work, and yes, tells me not to work so hard (funny words coming from the hardest working person I know).  He handles my various and sundry quirks with aplomb, gets me settled down when I’m in an uproar, and is basically the best friend I’ve ever had.  He’s a good man.

This year is almost at a close, and I need to start planning for the next years show season.  I will try to do it in a way that will provide some recovery time.  For all of you working artists out there who walk the same road: Kudos to you all!  We all work extremely hard for not much return because we are compelled to do what we do.  I have enormous admiration for you all, and hope you are managing to take the time to smell the roses.  I know I’m going to try to do the same.

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The special experience of having a reeeaaalllllly bad show.

So this years line-up of shows has been good.  It’s like I’ve been on a lovely trajectory of each one being better and better.  I’d hit an all-time high, and then the next one would be better.  The one after that I’d hit a new “best ever”, and so on and on it went.  I’m no fool, and was aware that I was on a wonderful lucky streak.  That at some point it would end, and the shows would go back to being “pretty good”.  Maybe I was cocky, maybe just naive, but I didn’t plan on a major face-plant.  Not at this point in my career.  Oh no, not ol’ Carolyn, not with her charming animal pots and appealing sculptures.  How would it be possible to have a Bad Show when so many people squeal with delight when they come to her booth?

Well, it happened.  Three long days of misery. My original expectations of income very quickly became reorganized. My the end of day 2 I was praying to make my expenses.  By the middle of day 3 I was horrified that the whole day could come and go with not one blessed sale.  My bright and shiny smile declined to a false facsimile of pleasantness.  I was smiling on the outside and cursing the arts-and -crafts god on the inside for delivering me into this hell-hole.

The majority of artists at this show were making pumpkins on sticks, metal Yoda’s and nail files guaranteed to make your nails happy and healthy. And they were all selling at a disgustingly brisk rate, to top it all off.  When we first pulled into the parking lot, and I saw a miniature outhouse with a cut-out moon on the door, my stomach flipped.  What the hell did I get myself into?!! Why didn’t I come here first to see the type of work that was shown? Why did I assume that just because it was a beautiful wooded setting and well attended that my sales would be a slam-dunk? I turned to Richard with a  stricken look and he looked back with what I’m sure he hoped was an encouraging smile.  We set up the tent and booth and quietly drove home, trying to muster up positivity the  next three days.

About halfway through day one, I became extremely embarrassed. I hoped that no one I knew would come to this show and see me, sitting next to giant smiling candy corn (on a stick).  I am, after all, a full-time artist who aspires to being taking seriously and earning the respect of the talented artists I normally show with. “Do NOT put on Facebook that I am here”, I hissed at Richard. “I don’t want anyone to think I do these kind of shows”  I admonished.  So naturally he takes a picture with his phone of the nail file guy, with the items in the front of my booth showing, and mentions that his partner Carolyn is doing this show.  You can guess how this went over.  He said I needed to get over it, that all artists go through bad shows, where tacky stuff is shown, and where profit is small or nonexistent. I  disagreed (at high volume) at the time, but after digesting the Demise of Carolyn’s Lucky Streak, I decided he was right. The fault was mine for not doing proper research, and I didn’t lose money. After expenses I made a smidgen of profit. Much better artists than I have lost money on a show.

So. Back to the studio I go.  My inventory is still high, so the pressure is off for the next show.  I will choose my shows for next year VERY carefully, and I will attempt to keep smiling if one goes very very badly.

Feb23 005

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Gratitutde

sept28 011It’s been awhile since I blogged.  I meant to do it regularly, but the demands of working in the arts full-time mean I’m often too tired.  Anyway, as a new year begins, I look back on where I’ve come and where I seem to be going.  I tend to do a low grade whine about the amount of work it takes to keep afloat, but when I really analyze my situation, I come back to a sense of gratitude.

I’m grateful that, although it took me a long time, I did manage to find my niche in the world.  I never really felt like I morphed into a grown-up  with a grown-up career. I could never think of anything that I wanted to commit to and develop as a statement of what was important to do with my life.  I always tried to do a good job, but it was just a job.

Now I’m doing what feels like a life mission.  I’m meeting and befriending other people in the arts, and people who appreciate the arts, which is a wonderful group of people.  Artists tend to be intelligent, caring and, well, quite different from “normal” people, and I feel like I fit in.  I never really felt that way most of my adult life.  The creative talent and need to “make”, no matter the obstacles, makes me admire these people, and aspire to deserve to belong to their clan.

I am so grateful to the people who like my work enough to acquire it.  They make it possible for me to sustain my dream.  To touch someone on an emotional level with an object that I have created is an amazing feeling.  I still am filled with doubt and cast a judgmental eye on what I make, but with every passing year I confess I feel a little better about what the end result is. Being careful with my lifestyle and expenditures, it feels like I’ve gotten to a place where I can sustain myself on the income of a working artist and not feel deprived, maybe even feel enriched.  Success is not a dollar figure, it’s about the quality of one’s life, and what you do with the time you’re allotted.

 

 

 

 

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Those Pre-Show Demons

Okay.  So now I’m going to bare my soul and admit to an embarrassing scenario, one which I experience pretty much every year with excruciating redundancy.  After the last show of the year, in December, I hunker down for a marathon of making work for the next year’s shows.  I am not a fast worker, so I don’t take a break, you see.  I bumble on, making more of the stuff that sold well, and trying to make something new and different (refer to previous post).  I think to myself that I have lots of time to tinker and tweak things so that by the time the first show rolls around I will be surrounded by nicely done work that I can walk amongst and choose the best of what I have, so folks will think I only make the good stuff.  No harf-arsed pots here- they ALL turn out perfectly!!

So without fail, every Spring, when the first show is about a month away, I spiral into a panic.  It’s where I bang my head on the table while shouting “Everything Sucks and I’m Not Going To Sell Anything!!!”  It doesn’t help any to hear the Really Good Potters saying “I only sold the little items”,  or to hear about more artists going belly-up and looking for a “normal job”.  I’m telling you, Fear of Failure is my best inspiration.  I don’t need a walk through the woods or a stroll on the beach to get inspired…I just think about paying my health insurance and that inspires the hell out of me.  I make pots and tiles and sculpture with the frenzy of a Jack Russell Terrier chasing a meat-scented ball.  Whattaya mean it’s time to go home???! It’s only 8pm!!  There’s at least another couple of hours I could squeeze out something more!!

Yesterday was a baaaaad day.  I’m glaze testing for pots and tiles.  I have a mountain of bisqueware I dunno what to put on it.  I have white tiles that I don’t know how I’m going to glaze.  I have a sculpture that needs to go on a metal post, and another that needs to hang on a wall.  I haven’t done this before and dunno how to do it.  I have a big-arsed set of four tiles that needs to be fired and mounted and framed.  Not sure how I’m-a gonna do this either.  And I’ve got a month to get it all done.

Today I’m a tad better.  I’ll get done what I can, and the rest will get finished eventually.  The final phase of my affliction will come with pricing, when I talk myself out of pricing things down.  Does anyone else go through this nonsense?  I want to be one of those cool artists who ooze self-confidence about their work.  “Buy it…don’t buy it…it’s all good”, they seem to say.  The first person who comes to my booth and leaves without buying anything usually makes me break-out with that horrible frozen smile.  You know, the one where your cheek muscle twitches and your eyeballs start to bug a little.

Okay.  So I exaggerated just a bit.  I’m a little tweaky, but not abnormally freaked out.  I’m sure it will be fine.  Just fine.  Really.

 

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The “G” Word

Most people in ceramics love to make work.  Even when you have to make a lot of it in a short period of time, it’s the chance to do what we need to do: CREATE!  For some it’s the chance to delve into new realms, taking an idea and developing it in an exciting direction.  For others, the repetitive process of making innumerable pots is satisfyingly therapeutic.  Greenware is a beautiful thing: soft and glowing, full of promise.  Bisque firing is an awkward phase: the pot looks hard and lifeless, the sculpture looks frozen.  Still…there is the unspoken potential for greatness.  An opportunity to marry the piece with a surface treatment that will elevate it to a thing of often unrepeatable greatness!  Or…you can screw it up.  Glazing is to me The Beast.  A chance to take an otherwise perfectly fine piece of art, and turn it into a thing that produces copious clouds of embarrassing verbage. 

I hate glazing.  There. I’ve said it.  It’s unprofessional. it’s whiny. I should just suck it up and understand that not all of what you make is going to survive, but I Really Really Really do Not like it, and when there are shelves and shelves of bisqued-up  pots sneering at me with that  “come on…let’s see whatchu got” expression, it just zings me into a rotten frame of mind!  

I do not throw pots very quickly, okay?  It takes me a long freakin’ time to get a good inventory up.  Not to mention the carving and sculptural additions…that makes even more time invested!  And then the Glazing Debacle begins!!  I don’t make big.  I make lots and lots of small.  That means a whole lotta time waxing and painting and more waxing and pouring and dipping and spraying and wiping and touching up and it goes on and on and on for Weeks on End!!  And then you Fire the Stuff!  Oh Lawd: then the anxiety goes through the roof. Oh Pleeeeeeze: let the stuff come out okaaaaaay!!!  If something runs and sticks let it be the pot I don’t like, not the really good one!!  Please DON’T LET THE TILES CRACK!!  That sculpture that I actually felt good about?!  Can the oxide washes come out right so I don’t have to re-fire???!!

The first moment I look into a glaze kiln I usually have my fist stuffed into my mouth, so I won’t scream.  I peek through one bloodshot eye to assess the results, and usually feel a wave of nausea wash over my trembling body.  Most times I hate what I see.  By now, I know to give it a day or two, and then it will look better.  In a week it starts to look fine.  Mostly. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever get comfortable with glazing.  I aspire to get comfortable enough so that I don’t irritate my studio mate with my foul humor during the process.  Right now, I’ve got pots to wash.  Lots and lots of pots…Image

 

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“What have you got that’s new?”

It’s not easy coming up with a new idea.  Every year, when you hit the show circuit again, your customers want to know “what have you got that’s new?.  Bless their little hearts.  You make what you know will sell, but you’ve made so much of it the fun ended a looooong time ago.  The urge to flex your artistic muscles and create something that will wow the crowd looms ever larger.  “If I only had the time!” I grouse.  “If only I didn’t have to make more of This Stuff, I could concentrate on making Real Art!”. 

There is low tolerance for griping in the studio, so most of the petulance takes place in my head, not cast about in actual conversation.  I think about the works being done by by artists who actually take time to research their projects…who Go Somewhere and Watch Something and Sketch or Make Maquettes…you know: do it the proper way.  I sit at the computer and Google stuff. 

I have fantasies of packing up some clay and a box of tools and driving to the zoo.  I sit under a shady tree, don my official sculpting beret, and go to work.  The sculpture progresses beautifully (this is a fantasy, after all), and a small crowd begins to form.  They are mesmerized by my nimble fingers, and soon word spreads throughout the zoo that an Artist…a Sculptor, is making an amazing <insert name of animal>, and the crowd swells to such proportions that a television new crew arrives!  I, lost in my creative process, am unawares of the hub-bub, until a reporter begins to question me about my process.  I answer demurely (I am a humble artist, not the chest-thumping, self-promoting kind), and the crowd is enthralled.  I finish my piece, spontaneous applause breaks out, I pack up my wares and head for the car after signing a few autographs.  Upon returning to the studio, I create my masterpiece, referring to my maquette so assiduously modeled earlier.  Sigh.

I rouse from this daydream to the reality of making a dozen cheese plates with a dozen frogs on them.  I also have half a dozen tiles setting up in molds, and a small group of rude Mood Rabbits hanging out on a square of drywall at the end of the table.  Sigh.

The way I have resolved this is to make what I need to make to pay my bills.  That I can pay my bills by making stuff no one really needs is a huge victory.  Most of the work is not exactly earth-shattering in its artistry, but it is honestly made with care to detail.  Occasionally I make what feeds my soul, and occasionally those things sell, but it is the little stuff that keeps me afloat.  For this I am grateful. 

Artists who can support themselves with their artwork are heroes in my book.  Whether  it’s a cheese plate or a sculpture…it’s all good. 

 

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Let me introduce myself…

I do not like stress.  I do not handle it well.  I am adverse to risk.  It makes me very uneasy, which in turn, magnifies my stress.  I have chosen to be a full-time artist and try to support myself with the work I make.  I am told I have unreasonably high standards for my work.  Put all these together, shaken, not stirred, and you have a nasty-tasting artistic persona.

Fortunately for me, I have an excellent support network.  My partner Richard tolerates my chronic states of angst with good humor for the most part.  He is a fountain of ceramic information and my own personal cheering section.  My good friend Hodaka, a fellow potter with vastly more experience than I, just shakes his head and then gives me excellent advice on how to do it smarter, easier and better.  I wouldn’t even have this website without him.  My friend Olivia, a phenomenally talented sculptor, takes turns with me spouting about our current issues.  Alternate Venting. Very therapeutic.  My sculptor friend Jason kindly opines bearing witness to the improving evolution of my work, when I am too close to it to always see the changes.  I have little time for socializing, and my band of fellow artists gives me invaluable support.

I am hoping to use this Blog as a means to connect with people… artists and non-artists.  That’s what it’s all about really.  Each of us doing what makes us feel we have something of worth to contribute to the world.  Making art is a difficult way to earn a living, and just reaching out to each other can make the road a little easier to walk down.  Sometimes the Blog may be irreverent (hopefully not offensive), and sometimes informational.  Feedback is welcome, but if you want to say something negative…well, please don’t.  I have shed negative people from my life, and only want to interact with the positive types. 

Thanks for coming to my website- it’s nice to meet you! Image

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