Saturday, February 25, 2012

Making Meaning Part II

Last night was busy as ever it was the opening for the University of Florida School of Art and Art History Student Juried Exhibition. I had a piece entitled ‘Gymnastics Plates’ excepted into the exhibition. These plates were made with a part of me and I consider them a self-portrait. Everything I make I consider a self-portrait but it was not always like that even a year ago I would not consider this true. I enjoyed making work but what created that shift in meaning. What made meaning so deep that I consider each piece a self-portrait? Well I will tell you as I unfold the night’s events. The art opening and the gymnastics meet were scheduled for the same time this past Friday night. This left me conflicted. Do I go to the gymnastics meet? I do not miss those for the world. How was I going to manage being in two places at one time. Well I headed out early for the art opening and took my time but as I walked around my heart was racing as I thought about the gymnastics meet underway. No one would have known the excitement that was running through me as I casually walked through the exhibition enjoying pieces created by many friends.

I soon enough headed over to the gymnastics meet as I walked in the Gators were on
bars and I had only missed vault my least favorite event. I sat and watched clapping, cheering, and my body felt as though I was doing each skill with them. I am entranced with the movement and the energy of the human body especially when it involved flipping, twisting, and jumping through space. My mind, heart, and body become one at these meets and I have no other way to explain this physical reaction. Last night as I pondered how I would convey this to the readers of my blog I thought of a video I had seen in undergrad on Mirror Neurons, it was put out by PBS some time ago but I feel it is still very relevant. It runs 14 minutes long perfect for a short break or to play in class. I highly recommend you take the time to watch it. It highlights a “recently discovered system in the brain may help explain why we humans can get so worked up watching other people.” It makes a connection between the seeing the doing.

As a graduate student I came in with no real direction in my artwork because I was never told I needed one. I made art to make it and out of enjoyment but it never went deeper then that. If I could change one thing about my art education it would be an educator who took time to ask me and required me to think, write and reflect on what was important to me. To help guide me to meaningful making. I am all to fortunate to have found this gift later in life. I will never let go and I have made it my personal goal to not only share my love of ceramics with other but also my personal connection to making. I believe everyone has the ability to connect art to life and life to art. If only we encouraged our student to go beyond physical making.

This post is dedicated to Linda Arbuckle a passionate educator and artist herself who took the time to ask me these questions and pushed me to become the best artist I am capable of being. Thank you.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Visiting Artist: Christyl Boger

I had the pleasure of working as the liaison for the recent ceramic workshop at the University of Florida hosted by H.O.T. Clay. We were fortunate to have Christyl Boger a figure sculpture and professor at Indiana University. Christyl is a fascinating artist who started her career in painting and went on to work as an event coordinator. She fell into clay later in life and has really enjoyed her second career in the ceramic arts. She works predominantly with the figure and frequently the female. They remain bare and unclothed typically crouched or seated. The faces seem void but the posses, hand gestures and the simple or decorative surface speaks to the intent of the piece.

My first memory of seeing Boger’s piece was at my very first NCECA the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts Conference in Baltimore, Maryland. My first ceramics professor has studied at Indiana University where she taught. He told me to stop by the IU booth. When I did, I fell in love with a figure placed in the center of the poster they were passing out. I had no idea who had made it but I never forgot it. I even went as far as to hang that poster in my room for years after.

Along with the help of many others I organized a two-day workshop to bring Christly Boger to UF ceramics. It was a lot of work corresponding, planning, and managing during the workshop. But was it worth it??

I have never made a figure but my interest in ceramics goes beyond my own studio practice and this woman wrapped in an inner tube changed my life. This was one of the first times a piece of art spoke to me in a deep way and I had not even see it in person. I did finally see one of her pieces in person and it was as amazing as I had hoped it would be. Last year, I suggested Boger as a potential artist to bring in, she was voted in and the long process began. I enjoyed the workshop and it seemed as if my love for ceramics and figures in specific has come full circle as I was able to watch her form the face and feet of a figure. This was an amazing experience I will never forget.

My question is why are visiting artists important? What benefit can come from these experiences?

I am sure I could argue over and over again the benefit of seeing, talking, and interacting with artists. I have come up with a few reasons that I will share with you. The first reason is everyone works differently and I think it is refreshing and energizing to watch an artist who does something completely different. Even if your class was working on a coil project if you bring in an artist working with coils I can assure you they will do things much different then you would expect. Second, I think the reality of the artist life is not easy to grasp as a student and bringing in someone who is doing it who can share stories is very important. Third, having someone who has never looked at your artwork spend time with you looking at your work can be beneficial for everyone. It is always a good idea to get perspective from a variety of people. When you are in a classroom with one teacher and only a few students who see your work every day or every week the feedback become similar and for me it starts to mush up in my brain. I look forward to visits from a critical eye that is not familiar with my work. I could go on forever but I have to stop somewhere. If you have questions or comments please feel free to contact me.

I also want to mention that you do not need to organize visiting artists to come from across the country. There are artists living and working in your home community who would love to come into you classrooms

Interested in the figure? a few recommended readings:

Atlas of the Human Body for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck

The Figure in Clay: Contemporary Sculpting Techniques by Master Artists

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

“Art compels observation, reflection and action, and makes them mutually dependent on each other. Science is the knowing and art is the doing. It, therefore, makes vital and alive the connection that should exist between the inner thought and the outward action.” J. Liberty Tadd

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Clay and Cats

(Part I- Making Meaning!)

What is it that drives your artwork?

What makes you excited about life?

What is your favorite thing to do?

If you had to do one activity for the rest of your life what would it be? (go on a long walk with beautiful flowers, take a ride out on a sailboat and never return…)

How would you describe yourself in three words?

What is the main emotion that you would use to describe yourself?

If you were defined by something you make what would it be?

What do you want out of life?

How do you want others to remember you?

What is your PASSION?

How does your life and your art interact?... Do they meet?

Is there meaning in making??

Reflecting back on my own art education the only thing that got me excited about making was using clay- I have been obsessed with the material since childhood. The specific assignment that I remember was a clay sculpture of an animal. I of course chose to sculpt a cat. If there were two things I have loved since childhood it would be clay and cats. So that’s what it took for me to truly enjoy art making and to create meaning in the making.

What is the meaning for you and your students... I do not have the answer but you do! I do know that making art about what is important in your life is rewarding and fulfilling. I realize that my experience may have been unique but why not give ourselves and our students the opportunity to express themselves, to find themselves, to create a part of themselves.

At times it might seem easier to plan a lesson around a skill or a historical art project. But I encourage you to think beyond this- Is the coil pot decorated with roulette decoration really helping your students? How is this creative? What are they gaining from this? Are you giving your students any choices? I believe that getting your students excited about life and art will help you in creating a place where they are free to express themselves. If you take the time to open this world of making for your students- the possibilities are endless.

“The simple fact is that our education is not broad enough on the expressing side of the brain, that too much attention has been given to the absorbing side of this organ that no adequate provisions have been made whereby it can discharge its power in work connected with the industries.” John Clark

and I still love my cats

Mikey short for
named after the
ninja turtle of course

Mike the Tiger aka Big Mike

Beast was my outdoor kitty
but Beast recently moved to Baton Rouge
and has now retired and moved indoors

Teddy also known as TR currently lives in Michigan.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Lids with Dandee Pattee

Dandee visited my advanced ceramics class this morning for a demonstration on lidded vessels. It’s my birthday so we ate cake and had an enjoyable morning watching and listening!

Dandee began her journey with clay in junior high school where she learned to throw on the wheel. She spent some time at Casper College in Wyoming where she worked with ceramics professor Lynn Munns. Lynn served as an important mentor in Dandee’s life and encouraged her to pursue her love of ceramics. Dandee graduated from Southern Utah University and went on to study as a post baccalaureate student at the University of Nebraska. She then apprenticed Silvie Granatelli one of the 16 Hands. This would prove to be one the most important clay experiences in Dandee’s life. She spoke of the disciple that this experience taught her and highly recommends this studio apprenticeship to anyone who is interested. She is currently a third year MFA ceramics graduate student at the University of Florida. Her future plans are undecided at this time but will involve making pottery and writing. Dandee has an article coming out in the June issue of Art & Perception, be sure to look for it!

Dandee demonstrated a variety of lid types for example ‘inset or drop in lids’ where the lid rests on the inside lip of the form. Once you start thinking about lids you will realize there are endless possibilities! Try making a list or sketching out the different style lids you have in your home.

When making lids you need to consider two parts: the base form and the lid. These two pieces need to fit together to create a functional lidded jar. Before you start do your research- decide what type of lid you want to make and what forms you are interested in. I recommend making multiple sketches before you start. If you are throwing larger forms it is very important that you use throwing bats. The bat will provide a surface for you to create your form and it can be removed when you are finished. Start by throwing the container/base form making considerations based on the type of lid you are planning. When you finish the form use your calipers to measure the distance across the opening. Then throw your lid using the calipers to make sure the two parts will fit together.

If you are looking for more information on throwing lidded vessels Dandee recommended a few books.

Cushing Handbook- Val Cushing page 98

A Potter’s Workbook- Clary Illian page 67-75

Functional Pottery- Robin Hopper

Sunday, February 5, 2012

studio visit with ceramicist donna flanery

It might be instinct, but I enjoy watching what others are creating in the studio. It is no surprise if you find me wondering around and asking question to my fellow artist friends. This week, I had the chance to visit with one of my classmates, Donna Flanery.

Donna was raised in Idaho with her twin sister. She moved to Montana where her sister and family still live today. She received a BFA in ceramics from the University of Montana. After graduation she participated in artist residencies at Northern Clay Center and the Archie Bray, as well as spent time in China. She now resides in Gainesville, Florida, where she is working on her MFA in ceramics at the University of Florida.

Donna’s work and processes have always been instinctual. Recently, she has taken time to research the Dada and Surrealist art movements and is currently using cloud mapping as a technique. Her surfaces are rich with narrative and have a beautiful painterly quality.

Right now Donna is working on some large storage jars with figures and animals that are beginning to appear on the surface. A lover of low fire red clay, she has spent most of her career utilizing it, but recently explored the possibilities of white clay making a series of mugs. We talked about the depth, or loss of depth, in the white clay as opposed to the red. She uses a combination of wheel throwing and hand building techniques, but prefers coil because of the surface texture it leaves behind.

I asked Donna what her most prized possession was. It didn’t need to be related to ceramics. She said, “My Yixing teapot!” She was disappointed that she recently broke the lid, but is working to make her own replacement. While studying in China, I visited Yixing and I purchased my very own prized teapots. Yixing teapots are typically made of red or brown clay (although I have seen some yellow and green). They are not glaze fired because, over time, the teapot is able to absorb the flavor of the leaves. Some say that if used long enough you don’t need to add leaves to make tea. If ever in China make a stop in Yixing, Jiangsu province… You wont regret it!

I asked Donna what the most rewarding part of her work was. She said, “The painting process and expressing myself.” I also asked her if she had any advice for aspiring artists. “Do not be in a hurry. Be aware of where you are and your development. However, do not be too eager to jump ahead. Realize that you will get better with time, and that, more often than not, artists are not born… they are made”, she replied.

Donna’s bright and friendly personality made my first offical studio visit very pleasant. Thank you Donna!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

pattern making

Today I had a meeting with Zach Castedo-Rodgers a recent MFA graduate from the University of Florida where he is currently teaching as adjunct faculty. My ceramics professor Anna Calluori Holcombe had recommended that I meet with Zach to help guide me in pattern making. Zach has exceptional skill in Illustrator and had great patience leading me through the program. He also recommended I explore which provides software training.

My current art practice involves designing personal patterns that are screen printed with underglaze. I then transfer portions of the pattern onto the leather-hard surface of my work. When I first began ceramics I don't remember having much concern for the surface, I was absorbed in creating forms. As artists and educators, I am asking you to think before you glaze and think before you bisque. The ceramic surface is rich with possibility if only you open yourself and your students to exploring it. Thank you Zach for opening me to a new world of pattern making!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

there is something special about clay

My dear friend and classmate Monica Patterson recently shared with me that this month Art & Activities is all about clay! They have articles that include several clay project ideas from masks to character bowls. As well as a short historical article on Southwest Indian Pottery. It is no surprise that my favorite article was a teapot lesson plan for upper elementary students- Teapots with A Twist. (p. 26-27) During undergrad I studied abroad in China through the West Virginia University China Ceramics Program. I came home with a new appreciation for tea and teapots. I went on to create a teapot lesson plan that was reject by my instructor because it was to difficult and maybe it was… but it is refreshing to see someone else putting teapot making into practice!

Link to the February issue of Art & Activities.