Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A review of my summer in the studio

End of the Summer
It's August. At this time of the year I always start to feel panicked and anxious. The summer is almost over (it's hot), school is going to start soon and have I gotten anything done yet?  I was planning to do so much. And now I only have weeks, days, hours left!

This week is the last week I have (according to my own schedule) to build and finish forms. I should be firing, glazing and taking slides in the coming weeks so that I can pack away all my stuff for the long cold winter when I hibernate in my office or in the studio on campus.

You see, normally I can't get much work done during the school year. I teach full-time and WA state law means that I can't make my "own" work in the studio on campus. I can make work in on campus but it then belongs to the school, so, really, the only work I make at school is demonstration work. Often I have difficulty getting around to finishing a piece I did as a demonstration because it isn't really mine. Of course I have time constraints that interfere as well. Usually it would be a better use of my time to grade papers, prep classes or mix glazes than to trim or decorate a bowl I threw to show a beginning class how to use a chamois.

I can sometimes sneak in a little extra time in the late afternoon to work in the studio at home, but this entails leaving campus (preferably before 4:30), driving home, starting work in the studio and wrapping it up before it is time to drive back and pick up my daughter. My husband works nights, so I am the sole caregiver in the evenings most nights. I am pretty strict with myself about leaving work at work; just as it is hard to play dollhouse and cook dinner while grading papers, it is hard to give baths and read bedtime stories with hands in wet clay.

Summer's Accomplishments
As I look back on this summer's work, I feel the usual mixture of accomplishment and disappointment. I made more work than last summer, yeah! I didn't do all 47 things I hoped to do. Time, of course is always too short, deadlines are always coming up, everyone has other things to attend to, so the end-of-summer doldrums shouldn't be a surprise in any field, at the end of any measure of time.

I am disappointed because I have working momentum in August in the studio, but will have to cut it short. In just the last week I have felt a surge of energy and inspiration to move forward with pieces I haven't yet started. Instead, to ensure that work will be finished, glazed, fired and photographed before the quarter starts, I need to be done forming this week.  (My students always grumble about "last wet clay day." I feel the same way.)

As I look back on the whole summer, though, I feel farther along than I think I did last summer at this time. I've created about 30 pieces (not counting the two that are wrapped in plastic, sitting on foam, awaiting finishing touches after they dry a bit). Part of it is that I had more "events" to squeeze in last summer (I had jury duty, among other things), but part of it is that I had a bit more momentum going into the summer this year.

The Start of the Summer
During Spring Break 2011, I spent some time in my home studio because I was preparing for a lecture I was to give on campus in May. The lecture was on my work and I wanted images of myself working, as well as some works in progress to show during my talk. Of course I didn't finish these pieces during Spring Break, so I had to work on them sporadically during Spring quarter. I snuck in hours or half hours in the afternoons after work and before picking up my daughter. I convinced my husband to take my daughter to Grandma's for a weekend while I stayed home and worked and I snuck in a few weekend nap-time studio sessions as well.  (It is frankly amazing how much slower one works when one's child comes into the studio after nap-time.)

But because of the studio work started in March, when June rolled around I had three pieces essentially finished and two more almost done. I also had spent some time throwing pots and odds and ends* during Winter Break instead of flying home for vacation right away.

*Digression: I don't consider my main work to be pots and little critters but throughout the year, people are always asking for donations (or having birthdays and getting married). I am often unsure, when people ask for a donation, what they expect. They're holding this fundraiser and they'd like "something, whatever you've got" for the raffle or the door prize or the centerpiece. Do they expect me to give away something that took 2 weeks to finish? Do they want an old chipped piece that I wouldn't sell?  I have discovered that the safest bet is to have some pieces around the studio that are essentially expendable. I throw some bowls, practice a new kind of lid or a different shape handle and press-mold some forms to which I attach legs and eyes. They aren't as much thought or labor as my "real" work and I can have them around in case of an emergency (like my brother's friend's wedding). *end of digression.

Anyway, I finished the extra stuff, the fluff that shouldn't eat my "official" studio time in December and I sorta started my "official" studio time in March and suddenly it's like I have an extra month's worth of time and thought-space for working in my own studio on my "real work."

This feeling that I found extra time during the year, even if it was in tiny bits and bites, does make me feel better about what I've accomplished.  And better yet about what I can accomplish next year. Maybe I don't have to hibernate from my home studio all academic year.

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