Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Piece of Art is Only the Tip of the Artist's Iceberg

by Eleanor Hendriks

This gaspingly honest post by potter extraordinaire, Whitney Smith, got me thinking about the life of an artist behind the end results.

The road to the painting, sculpture or pot is not all flashes of inspiration alternated with cool coffee shop conversation -at least not for me. I have never sat and discussed my ideas of art with anyone in a coffee shop -though I (romantically) imagine that I might like to some day.

Neither do I sit in an inspiring setting filling notebooks with sketches of great ideas. If I actually sit down intending to "have an idea" I usually get bogged down in to-do lists: the toilet paper stockpile is getting perilously low, a soccer uniform is AWOL and how long has it been since the last oil change anyways?

I get my ideas by working with the clay in the studio. As I make, I get ideas for more and more things to make. In a perfect world, I would sketch these ideas when they are flowing faster than I can execute them. Then I would have something in reserve for the days when they don't flow so freely. Usually though, I am too wound up in what I am doing to get clean enough to wield a pencil. But all I need to get the juices flowing again is to make something... anything...

...like these stacks of bowls...
They are not earth shaking works of art, but they are very nice bowls and making them got me going on a really great roll. After making the bowls and a few other things that my regular customers will be clamouring for when I run out, I started on some sculptural pieces. As I worked I got more and more obsessed, because I
know that making good art often depends on making lots of art, and these pieces were leaping from my hands. I felt closer to something new (for me) with each moment of shaping the clay.


Now here's where a reality of work in an artist's
studio comes in. Not everything works out. So often with clay, the technical side of something new lags behind my idea. It takes a few tries to make the materials do what I want them to do. Because of this lag, my first piece of my exciting (to me) new series blew up in the kiln...
If I were a better blogger, I would have taken a picture of the devastation that greeted me when I opened the kiln, but I was too heartbroken. My first instinct was to CLEAN IT UP -QUICK! And then to assess the collateral damage, because with a blow up like this one there is always collateral damage...
So a few bowls bit the dust, that didn't feel like a biggie, I can always make more (see above)...
But this crack did hurt...
Because it is in the biggest honkin' casserole I have ever made. Seriously, this thing could fit three chickens and still have room for veggies...
Now, I'm not going to claim that casserole as an inspired piece of art, but it was nice enough and technically challenging to make. Besides, I was going to enter it into the Etsy Mud Team Casserole Challenge later this year. For once I was going to have a piece ready well before the deadline. Not so much any more...

After recovering a bit from the shock of the damage, I was relieved to see that the prize piece of one of my newest and most adventurous students survived unscathed in the middle of everything. She may need to learn this cruel lesson of loss eventually, but it just wouldn't be fair to have it happen to her first favourite piece of claywork!

While all this was going on in my kiln, I was working away at more pieces in the series. Since I always develop new ideas by making multiples, the loss of the first piece isn't a total loss, but I know that the first piece of a series feels different to me, so it's loss is particularly poignant. In the end, the first piece of a series is often the least successful because I haven't sharpened the vision enough yet. I don't edit enough or go far enough until a few pieces along. But it sure would have been nice to have that piece for the glazing stage. I could have practiced glaze techniques on it and ruined it closer to completion!

Que sera, sera... all part of the artist's life...

And my excitement for the new pieces carries me forward...

I'm just going to show a few little bits of them here. They are still tender and new and not ready for a full showing...

...but after the first one's demise without anyone but me as witness to it's existence...
...I feel an urge to share...

...even though completion is a long way off...



... and may never come...

5 comments:

JUDI TAVILL said...

First of all...the post is great. I totallu relate to all of it! ALL. Now,I am sorry about losing the piece but perhaps it was meant to be. The glimpses af the new stuff is exciting!!! Try try try to WAIT to fire doing a preheat(for 12 hrs) to be safe but I too,cannot wait!!!

jimgottuso said...

too bad about that casserole, i totally dig your description of how the ideas come about and i too, sometimes imagine myself sketching and i would like to but the pieces never look anything like the sketches and i work much faster on idea while making something, interesting post

Todd said...

What a bummer to loose that lovely piece! All of us "potheads" can relate!! Your new work looks so exciting!! Can't wait to see it!!
Paz!
Todd in Santa Fe

Linda Starr said...

Hi Eleanor, what a timely post. Your new work looks great and so sorry about the casserole, it looks so beautiful. I have three pieces right now I worked on for hours and they have drying cracks -even though they were dried every so slowly and covered, hopefully I have repaired them, but I probably should start over - I'll see when they are fired. I feel for you and for all the potters out there for their losses. I actually do make sketches, but only if I bring my sketch book somewhere when I have nothing else to do, which is rarely. I try to sketch as ideas come into my head so I'll remember them later, but then I look at the sketch book and think - no not now, maybe later and I move on to make something totally different.

cynthia said...

Such a bummer - the heart breaking breakage!

But, I am intrigued by your new work :D

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