Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer Vacation At Last

This feels like the first week all summer that I have actually experienced leisure. I can’t believe it’s taken two and half months to get here. But for the last 5 days or so, we really haven’t had anything to do. No obligations. No big plans. We’ve pretty much checked off all of the summer-y things that we look forward to in February. The boys are sick of the pool. They’ve already had a hugely successful lemonade stand. They’ve had sleepovers with their cousins, spontaneous trips for ice creams, an occasional movie on a rainy day, bike rides, beach days, playdates.

And so we just hung out. The weather has been perfect – hot in the sun, cooler in the shade. Perfect for playing in the yard or taking a scooter down the hill of our driveway at high speeds. We are lazy and easy. It is a week where the boys have maybe even gotten a little bored. It has maybe even flashed through their little minds that going back to school may not be so bad after all. (Trust me, this thought, like a gleaming beacon of hope, has flashed through my mind a few weeks earlier.)

Sure, there are things ahead of us: Another week on Lake Michigan with all of my brothers and sisters and their families. Some back-to-school errands. Labor Day cookouts. But we don’t have to pack yet. Or shop for food yet. We can take our time. And this is the best time of all.

Leisure. I’ve even had enough time to look up the word: The use of free time for enjoyment. In an unhurried manner. Opportunity afforded by free time to do something. It even gave this example: writers with enough leisure to practice their art. Well you don’t have to hit me over the head with a definition to get me busy. I pinched some pots. I took clay outside and pinched. I visited with my mom and pinched. I pinched on the sly, with intent, just for fun. I have dabbled and played.

Things are so different when the days stretch ahead of you without constraint. I think everyone should be faced with nothing to do every now and again. A week of leisure and my dreams have expanded. I am dreaming up schemes and visions of how to market myself. Who will buy my pinch pots? Where will I sell them? I have a gallery that represents me in Chelsea Michigan, but I am making A LOT of pinch pots. After a few leisurely days, I am thinking bigger. I have ideas. This is the beauty (and the danger?) of a week of leisure. Sometimes doing nothing, sitting at home at the tail end of summer with your kids playing within earshot (but not too close), sometimes that is the best vacation of all.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Things Are Getting Messy Around Here

When last we met our hero, (that would be me) I had been working on a series of very smooth, very elegant, very egg-like pinch pots…WITHOUT ANY FACES. I knew this endeavor wouldn’t last. As I was running my fingers over the fingerprints, smoothing, sanding, buffing, erasing all evidence of the me-ness, I knew I was going to have to do something very different in a week or so. And so, here I am. Making a mess.

Here’s how I was working from about pinch pot number 40 to pinch pot number 200: I would make a fairly symmetrical pot, nice and thin. A few hours or a few days later, when the clay had stiffened up to a leather hard consistency, I would add a face. I used coils, balls, smudges, and sometimes even thin little slabs of clay shaped like eyes or Chiclet teeth. I carved into the clay with nails or wooden tools. I made marks and patterns. I enjoyed myself immensely.

For many, many months, this way of working made me deeply happy and satisfied. It’s true that my pots had a few recurring themes: Their expressions were sometimes menacing, sometimes silly, sometimes minimal. Still, I was able to generate a remarkable amount of new expressions. Hundreds of new expressions in fact.

Occasionally, I would seek out inspiration: the devil masks I saw in Mexico, the Detroit Institute of Art’s African or Native American exhibits, a drawing that Duncan made out of a ghost…that sort of thing. It’s not that I loved every last pinch pot, mind you. In the back of my mind, I worried that my pinch pots were maybe too thin and too careful. I’m sort of a control freak. I knew I would eventually need to loosen things up. But I was generally satisfied and motivated. Until that fateful day when the nose seemed ridiculous, the mouth tacked on, the face all wrong. I went blank, only to come around to something truly messy, muddled, sloppy and ugly.

For a week now, I have started with a ball of clay and gouged out a mouth or a nose. I have pinched big lips or deep eye sockets. When I have some semblance of a face, I dig my thumb into the center and pinch out a pot. Shapes shift. Noses twist, chins grow, eyebrows deepen. It’s weird and lumpy and unpredictable. Honestly, I don’t quite know what I think of all of this. I’m slightly uncomfortable which I take as a very good sign.

Tomorrow, I am going to one of my favorite places on earth: Glen Arbor, Michigan. It will be a week with just me and my favorite guys: My husband and our three boys. We will go to a different beach every day. We will hike through the woods and up and down sand dunes. We will let the guys stay up later than they should and hope they sleep in. We’ll have too many desserts. We’ll wash our hair in the lake and skip a real shower. And I will have 20 pounds of clay with me, waiting to be made into pinch pots. I actually think my timing might be perfect: to work away on this new looser style in the middle of summer vacation. Who knows what will happen next.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Today I drew a blank.

About a week ago, in an effort to switch things up a bit with my form, I made a pinch pot that circles up and over, a nearly enclosed form with a small opening on top instead of an open bowl. This big round pot got a nose, eyes, mouth: a face. But I didn’t love it. I decided to make a whole series of these more enclosed pots and try a few different, more abstract faces and see if I liked them any better.

But when I set to work, I found that I loved the simple curve of the form. The circular roundness. The smoothness. The eggy-ness of the bowls. The very idea of attaching a face with another lump of clay or a coil, well, it felt too attached. It felt arbitrary.

I have been putting faces on these pots for a long, long time. And so, this time, I left the pot blank. It is Just A Pot. Smooth and empty. I made another and left it blank. And another and another. Now I have a series of round, nearly closed pinch pots. They feel so sophisticated. Yet they feel like anyone could make them. Like they are missing the stamp of me.

I suppose this is the beauty of making 365 pinch pots. It’s not about the success of each individual piece. It’s about the process of making one piece, having a feeling about it, and making a slight change or an improvement and eventually coming to a new idea. This is true with all art-making, of course, but with my pinch pots, it has been magnified. I think it’s because I use the same basic method of working, day after day, and unlike a large slab or coil sculpture and I can finish a pinch pot in one sitting.

There is always a moment of judgment. Not while I’m working, but a few days later, in retrospect. Here’s what I decided: Somehow, the simplicity of this round circular form kept me from “tacking on a face.” Yet I still love the faces. I need the faces. They feel like my voice, for want of a better word. So, how can my faces, which still matter to me, how can they feel more integrated to the form?

Ah-ha. This is what will circle me around to next week’s pinch pots. I already have an idea of what to do. It’s probably going to be messy. It might even be ugly. But I will get there.