Sunday, October 30, 2011

This week in my studios

Art Appreciation students: Looking for the link and videos mentioned in class Friday? Scroll down the the previous post.

It's been a busy week, I guess. I prepared this post last weekend but didn't have a chance to post it.
This week we had a clay sale at YVCC. We did well, though I notice that the crowd has been more docile in the last couple years. Back when I started (6 years ago), people would be hovering over their intended targets for 10 minutes before the sale started. This quarter we did have a few hover-ers but they were calm and patient. 

The sale was on Thursday and that evening the school had a halloween dance. We had a few randomly bloody students hovering around the sale. One appeared to be a blood turtle. Another had blue painters tape on his face (Does anyone know why?). 

We also loaded our first glaze kiln this week and, apparently, ran out of all the glaze materials in the studio. I really need to place an order for some cobalt oxide and some tin oxide. 

the kiln mostly loaded. the tall extruded forms worry me a bit, I'm afraid they will fall when I push the car into the kiln.

I will fire the glaze kiln Monday during our assessment workday. There are no classes but I will be on campus anyway. On Tuesday I will be giving a lecture/demonstration to an art class at David High School. We will unload the kiln that afternoon or the next day (depending how excited my independent students are to see the results).

Last weekend, before the busy week in the school clay studio, I got some work done in my home clay studio. I've been wanting to put away my underglazes so I can regain most of a countertop on which to work. (I'd also like to clean out the dead bugs from the windowsill behind the counter.) But before I put away the underglazes, I wanted to improve my inventory system. 

Fired underglaze colors are very close to what they appear when they are applied, but not exactly the same. They also can change a little depending on how thickly they are applied and whether they have glaze over the top. Firing changes (like firing glazeware and bisque at the same time) can have an impact too. I wanted a chart of fired colors so I could quickly double check which blue I was intending to use when I went to put on a touch-up coat after firing. So I made these:

Each basic underglaze color has its number painted on in 3 coats and then a set of three lines (top=one coat, middle=two coats, bottom=three coats). These took me most of nap time, but my counter is clear (and mostly free from dead flies).

stack of underglaze bottles halfway through inventory

stack of bottles after entire inventory completed

I also epoxied my work from summer. I had a plate that needed a sprig glued back on and a couple pieces with other damage. I wanted to attach hanging equipment on the back of a couple pieces I might use for this winter's installation.

the center piece has a hanger inside (underneath); the back left piece has a washcloth holding the epoxied hanger.

I use PC-7 for my repairs. I try not do do a lot of repairs but I find the PC-7 works well when I need to fix something. The texture is like a past and I can fill in gaps and build the surface up a little bit. The epoxy hardens in 24 hours so I have plenty of time to work with it. The only disadvantage is that it the repair needs to be supported and immobile during that time. I occasionally use 1-minute epoxy to make repairs that aren't visible so that I can hold the pieces together as the epoxy hardens. In general I don't like the look of the shiny clear epoxy.

This weekend I took some work to several galleries for holiday shows. I took work to Oak Hollow Gallery near Inklings in Yakima and to Allied Arts on Lincoln in Yakima. Today I brought work to Gallery One in Ellensburg. I brought some functional work and small work to both the Yakima galleries. I was a little disappointed after I dropped the work off because I don't think of the small stuff as my "main" work. 

I appreciate that people like my bowls but I don't want that to become the main work I do. I did bring bigger stuff to Gallery One and a couple medium pieces to Oak Hollow. These holiday shows are about sales, not so much about showing the work.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lost wax casting

I wanted to share some sculpture techniques with my Art Appreciation students. This week they are talking about media and Friday the class discussion was focused on sculpture techniques. I though it might be helpful to have some video or visual images to help describe metal casting, slip casting and glass blowing techniques.

Here is a video from YouTube demonstrating and describing the lost-wax casting for jewelry (small-scale).

You can also search for lost-wax casting videos of people making large-scale sculpture. I've watched several "How It's Made" episodes that describe the lost-wax-casting process for making an engine block or other industrial applications. The Wikipedia entry for Lost Wax Casting also gives a pretty good explanation with pictures of a larger object at stages through the process. If you have the opportunity to visit Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, they have a good display downstairs showing the various stages in the lost-wax casting process.

To watch the glass blowing process, visit Dale Chihuly's website. I recommend "In the Hot Shop" (the video starts after a few still images).

I am also including a video from YouTube on slip casting. During the next week, I will share some other pottery techniques (like wheel throwing and coil-building). The technique shown is for functional work at a factory. The same technique can be used for bathtubs and toilets as well as by individual artists.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I was reading my new Ceramics Monthly magazine last night. They have a "yearbook" this year as part of the annual buyers guide. Usually this yearly supplement is just a bunch of ads for new tools, some reviews of materials, tools, etc and some information on technical ceramics. Occasionally some of the technical stuff is useful; I read about the changing formula for G-200 feldspar and why it has changed and that's kind of interesting.

But the yearbook stuff, well, it actually annoyed me. Ok, it is possible that the simultaneous argument between my husband and my daughter regarding the finishing of her dinner vis-a-vis watching more Caillou (Caillou=the current most annoying kid's television show) had something to do with my frustration. Anyway, the yearbook included an article about the "ceramic artist of the year," remembrances, collections and shows, like SOFA. The bit that got under my skin was the page spread on "Transitions." This is a page of 20 apparently important people who are now teaching somewhere else or running a different ceramics program. I was annoyed because I only recognized 2 names and I couldn't figure out why I was reading small bios of these people as opposed to any other people. The US ceramics world isn't so small that these 20 people changing positions matter to everyone, is it?

But the question of why these 20 people warrant a page in CM's yearbook, mirrors some things I have been contemplating lately about identity: defining one's identity (in the real world as well as the art world) and cultivating one's identity.

I mentioned, before, my various roles: mom, teacher, artist; but I also have been thinking about what is important to me within, between and through those roles. I am not, for example, a teacher. Though I teach, teaching is not the full definition of me.  But in considering "identity" I am not interested in defining my identity or listing the pieces that make it up. What I have been thinking about lately is how to maintain and develop those pieces of my identity that are most important (or that otherwise balanced might begin to turn it into something else).

Why is it important to maintain the various roles I see myself in and how much effort and time and thought do I put into maintaining these various identities? I periodically find that reading about achievements of other artists of a similar age (or in a similar position to mine) make me question why I am here and they are there. But I need to remind myself to ask "Why have I cultivated this life which is different from the one they are pursuing?"

Not surprisingly, I enjoy aspects of all my chosen roles. (Of course each one also has downsides and must-do's that are essential but not so much fun.) If it were possible, I would wish to spend more time on aspects of each of these roles. If I could, I would spend more time playing with my kid (obviously), I would spend more time in my studio (ditto), and I would also spend more time developing and prepping classes (true, if less obvious sometimes).

Of course, obviously I don't have more time. And even if I got a bonus lotto win of 50 more hours in a week (BTW wouldn't that be a great lottery? Do you think you'd have to "pay to play"? Would you give an hour for the chance to win 50?), I wouldn't be able to do all the things for all the extra time I wished.

But back to the real world (and days that include sleeping and weeks that have 7 days in them), we juggle, eh? We fit in as much of all the good bits and as few of all the bad bits and also eat and sleep and drive to things and do laundry. All of the juggling and squeezing and maneuvering (I like spelling that word) are meant to balance us out and do all the things that make us into who we are.

I see myself as an artist, even if I do spent most of my waking hours teaching and parenting. I value spending time making art and I value the time spent thinking about art. Writing this blog regularly has felt like a tiny thread keeping me attached to my role as an artist (and occasionally also to my role as a mom or a teacher). Each time I write, I put in a stitch connecting the fabric of my teacher-mom life to the fabric of my summer-studio life. And, of course, when the mom fabric bleeds into the artist fabric and the  teacher dye bleeds onto the artist cloth and I write about it, the whole thing becomes, I guess, a sleeping bag. Or maybe a Snuggie.

I teach about what I already know and I make work based on work I've made and work I've seen, but there is a gap in my knowledge and my experience. Everytime I pick up and read a book about art criticism, art theory, art history, I feel like I'm filling in this gap (or, to maintain the metaphor, darning a hole.)

I intentionally developed this life I live. I've made decisions that build on each other and have brought me to where I am. I sometimes wonder if I could be on that page of the Ceramics Monthly yearbook.  I sometimes follow a train of thought that brings me back a couple years (or further) and wonder what I did wrong that I am not there. But when that annoying Caillou is not playing in the background, I usually remember that I started making choices at least as far back as when I chose a college, that steered me towards where I am now. I didn't always have the end "goal" in sight, but almost every step along the way has been about doing things that make me happy and make me whole.

One of the reasons I am not on those pages is that the "whole" of me can't be defined so simply as to be a page in Ceramics Monthly (no offense to the folks on those pages who, I am sure, are interesting and complex people).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Reading About Chicano Art

I've been going to this "boot camp" class since a friend recommended it to me this summer. This week they had us write a "mission statement," setting a goal to do something specific that would improve our lives or health. But instead of the usual "eat more leafy greens" or "do more leg lifts," they encouraged us to think about whole-life things like setting aside time to read or meditate.

This quarter a colleague at Yakima Valley Community College is teaching a class on Chicano Art. This is her first time teaching it. She usually teaches classes on Chicano culture or other social sciences. When I saw the offering, I wanted to take it. So this week I asked her to recommend some Chicano artists I should be referencing in my classes and I asked for suggestions of books on Chicano art. My Chicano art knowledge is basically nil. If you asked me to name a Chicano artist, I might suggest Diego Rivera. (Actually, I could name Daniel DeSiga, a local Chicano artist, and Alfredo Arreguin because a student suggested him, but that's about it.)

So it turns out my colleague and I are in an interesting reciprocal situation. I know art but don't have a clue about Chicano history or culture, she knows Chicano history and culture and doesn't feel comfortable with the art side of things. So we made noises about teaching a "learning community" class sometime (so we could learn the other side of things) and she loaned me a book on Chicano Art.

For much of my adult life, when I buy an interesting book on some aspect of art with every intention of actually reading it, I set it aside to complete some pressing task or job and somehow the art book never makes it to the top of the to-do list. These texts are too much like work to read for leisure and too much like reading to take "work time" to do. Following the usual standard, I set the Chicano art book on my desk early in the week and graded papers. I looked at it longingly as I responded to e-mails. I thought about it as I left campus and when I arrived at campus in the morning. But on Wednesday I surfaced from an ocean of grading. I was caught up (for the first time in a week and a half)! I responded to a couple e-mails and got my classes prepped for Thursday, but then, I did something extreme. I read an art-related book that wasn't strictly for class.

I was surprised how difficult I found it to just sit and read. It was an academic text with some passages in Spanish and I had to keep a bookmark in the back to look up the translation, but that wasn't the difficult part. I had a really hard time focusing. I looked at the clock and told myself that for 30 minutes I would read this book. I started reading and found the text interesting, but then I thought about an e-mail I hadn't returned. I had to yank my attention back to the book. "You're reading now, focus." I'd read for a while and then hear voices in the hall that reminded me of something I had sent to the office printer but hadn't yet sent to the print shop for copies. I had to pull back my focus. I read for a while longer.

I though about my yoga teacher during telling us to watch our thoughts drift past as if on a river. She tells us to acknowledge the thoughts but not let them distract us or become our focus. (It sounds better when she says it.) I realized that I had to approach reading this text in the same way. I wanted to commit to reading this book for 30 minutes and everything else had to wait.

It sounds so silly, that this college instructor can't read a book for 30 minutes, but it has to do with the environment and the kind of reading. I can read a novel for half an hour in the evening at home or in bed at night because I can focus on the story even though I am tired or distracted. I can't read a denser academic text when distracted or tired and I don't usually read them at work unless they are specifically related to the topic being discussed in one of my classes. Academic texts, especially French assignments, put me to sleep many an evening in college and I don't think I got as much out of those sleepy texts as I did out of fully-conscious daytime reading. 

So as with yoga, I have to consciously set aside time to read this book. I have to be in a devoted space free from most distractions (my office), and I have to continually rein in my focus as my mind flits around in its typical over-excited state. My brain is constantly trying to ask me questions (What's for dinner tonight? Do we have bread or do I need to go to the store tonight?) or warn me that I should be doing something else (that e-mail inbox is so full I might have missed something...really should order more clay this week). I even caught myself thinking this inane thought while I was reading: "This is interesting. I wish I read more stuff like this. I should write myself a note to read more stuff like this." Seriously. Hey dummy, you are reading this, now! Focus, already.

In the end I read 30 minutes of a text on something I knew practically nothing about. It was interesting, I enjoyed it and I enjoyed making connections between this text and things I knew (like the similarities between the concerns of post-modern art and Chicano art) and thing I had seen (I think the all-over patterns in Alfredo Arreguin's paintings may be influenced by the rasquache sensibility that the book discusses).

So the "mission statement" that I wrote for boot camp I said I would set aside 30 minutes once or twice a week to read an art text. I need to be intentional about setting that time aside. The e-mail will just get full again, the clay can be ordered a bit later, but if I don't take 30 minutes to read about Chicano art right now, when will I?

I read 30 pages this week. At this rate I'll finish the book in 6 or 7 weeks. That's a painstakingly slow pace compared to how quickly I can rush through novels, but I can read part of a novel while waiting in line at the supermarket or while my daughter is watching Dora. The art text is probably more rewarding but it also takes more effort and more commitment.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Stamp

I got my new stamp in the mail the other day. I haven't gotten in to the studio to try it yet but here it is on a little wad of clay.  

The stamp is 1" across but the design is obviously shorter it is also a little less wide (which is good). I think the detail shows up pretty well. It isn't perfectly legible but it wasn't really intended to be.

My camera battery is dead so the picture of the stamp was taken on my phone (not great quality). It's a nice little stamp. I got it from Socwell Inc. in Whitewater, WI. The website is They've got some standard stamps too and they were very easy to work with. I e-mailed the drawing and he sent a draft in an e-mail showing what I could have at 1" and what would fit at 1/2." They were fast. (I'm still waiting on my business cards from somewhere else.)

Sorry, still the phone camera but this is my stamps and the new stamp in my daughter's oil-based clay. She's working off to the side of this picture.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Studio "jobs"

As I mentioned in several recent posts, I have been thinking a lot lately about managing my time and balancing the various obligations that come from what you might call my different "jobs" or roles.

I am an artist
I am a mother
I am a teacher
and I have to be a self-marketer and a publicist for my own work. (Isn't this the part about being an artist that all artists hate?)

I probably have a few smaller roles, too, like homeowner, wife, board member and some that are harder to define.

I spend a lot of time thinking about balancing the first three. The role of teacher stays tightly defined because I go to a different place to do that one, away from the distractions of all the others. The role of mother comes with a noisy, energetic reminder of my responsibilities.

a messy responsibility

However, the role of the self-marketer and publicist compete for my attention with the role of artist. I have to track, inventory, price, pack and transport my work. I also have to apply for shows and promote myself and my work, but if given the choice, I don't think I would ever voluntarily pick any of those tasks over the option of making new work.

building in progress

In the summer, my "studio" time obviously includes throwing or building time, underglazing and surface decorating time, firing time, glazing time, cleaning time and clay recycling time. I don't relish cleaning and recycling clay, but they have to get done. If I don't do them, it isn't long before I am forced to do them because of a lack of clay or a lack of surface area.

my studio before the summer "building season" (aka winter storage)

However, in planning my art work time, I also have to account for the time I spend on the odds and ends that are required to be a professional artist: photographing work, naming and pricing work (why does this always take more time than I want it to?), filling out and submitting applications (I remember how important this is now that I've missed a deadline for a show I'm usually in), filing time and paperwork (if I could see my desk, I might not have missed the deadline), planning, packing work, and keeping track of work and supply inventory.

Often, because they are not priority jobs, I get around to most of these "office" type jobs shortly before deadlines force me to do them. I name and price works just before I take them to a show or clean my desk when I realize a deadline is approaching. I don't expect that this is much different for anyone else who has a similar second job or hobby.

Unfortunately, the solution is pretty obvious even if it isn't much fun to implement. I just need to set aside time to do these things (ha ha, I "just" need to set aside time). I could write a list of things to do. I could designate 3pm on Thursdays for getting the work done. I could set a goal for the week or the month. I could give myself a reward or hold back a luxury (like chocolate) until I finish whatever task it is. All of these are probably fine strategies but all of them require me to find time to do the work I don't like to do and then to actually DO the work I don't like to do.

This month I managed to force myself to make business cards (of course, making business cards is kind of fun), and I started naming my pieces (not quite as fun), but I haven't started pricing them (not fun at all). I also haven't gotten around to setting out the pieces I will have in this winter's show (because I'm scared).

Really, it makes me physically uncomfortable when I think about tasks I haven't done (and should do) or when I think about whether or not I am prepared for this winter's show. I know the solution is to just walk out to the studio, take out the stuff and see whether I am ready. But if I'm not...

I always find an excuse not to head out there.

So this week's goal: Face my fears. (Go out to the studio. Ignore the excuses. Find the work that will be in this winter's show. and Feel better).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Day shift for the whole family

So we are trying out this new thing this week at the Dorn household: My husband is working a new shift. He leaves for work in the morning, stays for 8 hours and then comes home in the afternoon.

     * The status quo for the past 4 years has been that he works some version of a night or very early morning shift. Most recently he worked a 10 hour shift that had him starting in the afternoon and coming home in the middle of the night. I would be sleeping when he got home, he would be sleeping when I left. We saw each other rarely and communicated mostly on the weekends. 

So far the new schedule is working out well. It is a little bizarre. I am accustomed to being alone with my daughter all evening. I pick her up from day care immediately after work and it's just the two of us until bedtime. Often we meet Daddy for dinner or he comes home but he only has 30 minutes (including driving time).

This week he picked her up from day care before I left work. Then we spent time together and ate when we felt like it. It is strange not to be anchored by a 7:30 mealtime (plus drive time) and strange to have eaten and cleaned up by 6:30. Now what do we do?

It is also amazing what a relief it is to have a second person home. This week events have conspired to keep me late at school, grading or working until just before I left campus. It was a relief that my daughter wasn't sitting at day care all day (since she arrived earlier in the morning because I now take her before class). It was also a relief to come home Tuesday and have a chance to drop my stuff and rest for a moment before going back to meet them. (They were in the back, swinging and working on the truck.)

Today we all went to the grocery store. It was strange: the grocery store. with another adult. not trying to carry the child and push the cart (she says she wants to walk, then ends up climbing up my legs). Today she rode on Daddy's shoulders. When we got home, she went in with Daddy and one load of groceries and I brought a second load in.

Here's what usually happens at this point: I unbuckle the girl from the car. I help her down. (She usually tries to give me something else to carry.) I take a load of groceries up to the porch and unlock the door. I get another load of groceries and try to cajole my daughter into bringing in a small bag or other container. Instead she asks to watch Dora. I bring all the groceries to the kitchen and start to put them away. She asks to watch Dora. She asks again to watch Dora. She asks to watch Dora. I tell her I am putting the groceries away. She asks to watch Dora. I suggest she might help with the groceries. She asks to watch Dora. She wears me down. I turn on Dora and then feel guilty that I'm using the TV as a babysitter. I put away the groceries.

Today, because I had help, I had more energy to put away the groceries (I didn't have to bring them all in and put them away). Then I had energy to cook while my daughter put away the sodas and set the table.

It's not like she never helps with the groceries and cooking and setting the table. She does. And she's a good helper. But today was nicer for both of us. First I talked to an adult (my husband, even better) about non work-related stuff. She got to tell Daddy all about her day and talk to him and play with him (and then do it all again when I got home). And the parenting things were divided and reinforced.

It isn't hard to say "No Dora right now" or "Do you need to go potty?" or whatever other parent things you have to say. It's just that alone you have to say them over and over and over again. It wears you down. But with two people splitting it, you get a break in between. And the kid hears it from two people.

So, I've decided: I like having a husband whom I see during the week.

It remains to be seen whether I will be able to work in the studio more because of his schedule change. This week has been busy at work and I have been staying late. But at home I've been much more relaxed and happy. That's a start.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Business Cards

Thanks for your help on the business cards.

I chose this image:

I had forgotten how much space I needed to leave for trimming. I have ordered business cards and postcards from Vista Print before but when I first looked at the site, I didn't see the template. Instead I just copied down the card dimensions and made my document that size. It wasn't until I went to purchase the cards and upload my image that I noticed their downloadable template. Of course the template leaves quite a bit of space to trim. I should have known this because I've done it before and we've even had students make business cards in Design: One Byte at a Time (the learning community that I co-taught the last two years). But in the end it wasn't too much hassle to add some grey space around the image.

For next time, though I think I will try to remember to take images, in the first place, that have more grey space. Because I had to add the grey background, I ended up messing with some of the original shadows and the reflected blue behind the piece. I don't know that it is a glaring problem but the piece is less grounded than it might be. I determined not to use the other card design that was suggested by Sean and my Dad because the piece seemed to be floating instead of grounded.

The red piece here doesn't appear to be on a surface.

Finishing my business cards was a goal for this fall. Another task I checked off my list today was having a clay stamp made by Socwell LLC. I've been seeing an ad in Ceramics Monthly for clay stamps made by Socwell LLC ( The ad first caught my attention because the logo includes a whippet (looks like a small greyhound), which was my high school mascot. I looked closer at the ad and realized the company was located in my hometown, Whitewater, WI. The company creates custom stamps for clay and the advertised designs are more detailed and look cleaner than designs I can made out of clay. 

I usually make a few new name stamps or "maker's marks" every year for use on my functional work. (I don't often mark my sculpture--though once a woman had me sign the bottom of a sculpture with a ballpoint pen.) I usually make so many stamps because I demonstrate the technique for classes and because I lose them regularly. The clay stamps I made work fine for my initials but I like the idea of having a more detailed image.

I sent in this image for my stamp.

Socwell apparently will clean up even rough sketches in pencil. I wish I had read that more carefully before I spend hours cleaning up my original sketches, but it's too late now. The website indicates that they will send proofs of your design before making the stamp if you wish. After I did my online order I was given the option to have them send a proof if they though it was necessary. I like that: leave the decision to the professionals.

Anyway, that's two fall tasks done even before November. I'm on a roll.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Business Cards

After some helpful suggestions, I've altered my business card designs. I also added a "signature" stamp.
I am am planning to have a clay stamp made (for use mostly on my pottery). I've been working on several designs for the stamp but I haven't selected a design yet. I am considering putting the stamp on my card so that my business cards show my sculptural work but also reference the stamp (and functional work). Does the stamp clutter up the card too much?

The mixed version suggested by Laura (and Mom).

 The mixed version suggested by Laura (and Mom) with a stamp.
Mixed version with different stamp.

Sean liked this card, I've added the a stamp version in the corner.

 Sean's version with a different stamp.

I'm trying to design new business cards. I tend to fiddle with them quite a bit but I am trying to get them mostly done this weekend. Setting she short time limit will hopefully force me to just do them instead of fiddling with them constantly.

Here are some of the designs I came up with today. I'd appreciate any opinions on which ones I should go with. Which ones are easiest to read? Which is most memorable? Which best represents my work?

Blue arial font with shadow, grey ground & blue sculpture

 white arial font with shadow, grey ground & blue sculpture

 black arial font, grey ground & blue sculpture

other font, grey gradation ground & red sculpture 

 other font, grey gradation ground & red/blue sculpture

 blue ariel font, transparent pod background

other font, transparent pod background

Any other suggestions? Should I start over? Did I spell my name wrong?

Thank for your suggestions!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A change is as good as a rest

It's always nice to come back to teaching after a long summer break. I feel refreshed and excited about the upcoming classes and challenges. Even if in May I was ready to go away and never return, by September I have come up with new things to try in class and I can come to campus energized and ready to go. Basically it takes 3 months in the studio to reset the grumpy mood that took 9 months to crush into me.
I might look grumpy, but that's just calm and concentrating

I didn't actually take much of a rest this summer, but working in the studio all day every day is a big change. After just 3 months, I could have happily continued working all day every day in the studio, but by September I was at least interested in a change of pace.

Unfortunately, in some ways 2.5 weeks was long enough to squash my excitement. I had several complications in the first two weeks, including a cancelled class and a sick kid, so I'm going to blame circumstance for my diminished mood.

I am still excited about parts of my fall job but I miss my summer job.

my summer job

The Chronicle of Higher Education came today in the mail. There were a couple of articles about "productive procrastination." John R. Perry apparently won an Ig-Nobel prize for this idea. It is the idea that someone can get jobs done if they are done to procrastinate doing the job you are "supposed" to get done. Essentially, it means if I have to grade some papers and I have to write a press release, I'll grade the papers to avoid having to do the press release. (In my case it means I'll do the laundry or clean the living room or color code my bookshelves to avoid having to write the press release or grade the papers.)

Its an interesting idea, though the second author, Rachel Toor, commented that if you have kids (or a life) you can't get around to the "procrastination productivity" because you're too busy doing triage to get the most pressing (loudest) thing done before the pot boils over (literally) or the kid gets hurt.

The first two weeks of this quarter I felt like i was doing a lot of triage as my regular responsibilities piled up and went unattended. As the quarter began I had high hopes of keeping a schedule in which I snuck in some work time in the studio. In the first week I was so exhausted every afternoon that I just came home, popped some Excedrin and transitioned directly into gymnastics-dinner-Dora-bathtime-bedtime.

At the start of the second week I got home early and threw some pieces in my home studio to make a throwing demo video for my pottery students. I even had my daughter throw with me.

Boy can that 3 year old center!

Early the next morning instead of finishing the throwing videos, my daughter was throwing up. I spent the day "catching" and the videos still aren't done. Neither are the pots trimmed.

I asked my independent students to talk about their progress this week (week 3: 30% of the way through the quarter), the beginning students have their first (of 4) critique today. And when I look in the mirror, I realize that I don't have much to show at this progress point, myself. I haven't made any new work. I haven't cleaned my studio or made new business cards or even finished unloading the very last kiln I fired at home (it was done the day before classes started). I even missed an application deadline for a show I usually enter. (Turns out that my husband and I may have had a slight mail miscommunication that led to the lapse, but still, I should have noticed.)

All this being said, however, I am further along than I might have been. I did, after all, start the videos. And today I'm going to have half an hour (when I finish this) to start my business cards. (I also believe the mail thing has been addressed.) I'm the tortoise, slowly inching forward. If I can start 2 or 3 things in the first 1/3 of the quarter, maybe I can finish 2 or 3 in the second...or third.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Independent Student Blogs

All of my Independent Clay students have started their own blogs and have been commenting on their plans for the quarter and their inspiration. This week they have posted or will be posting images (or descriptions) of their progress so far.
Comment on their blog posts to send them a question, give them a suggestion or discuss their work.

To learn more about Mike's work, visit

To learn more about Jane's work, visit

To learn more about Les' work, visit

To learn more about Joe's work, visit

To learn more about Katelin's work, visit

To learn more about DJ's work, visit

To learn more about Sharon's work, visit

I am also "following" each of these blogs so you can click on my picture and that will link you to all the blogs I follow. You can also click my picture when you are at one of these blogs and that can link you directly to another blog without going back to my site.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

track what you value; value what you track

At the beginning of this summer, I had some vague goals in mind for my work in the studio. I had various checklists and sketches around the studio. During the school year I have time to sketch ideas for studio work but I don't have as much time to make the work itself. I keep the sketches in books and on scraps of paper and put them around the studio when the summer starts. The sketches are a kind of to-do list or reminders of works I want to make. Once I have made a work I don't cross it off the "to-do" list but I might turn to a new sketchbook page.

My to-do list: sketchbook pages, doodles and a photograph

I also kept track of my summer studio progress in various ways. I kept a tally of pieces finished every 2 week period. (I usually start several pieces at once and finish them the next week.) In most of the 2 week periods this summer I finished 5-7 pieces. I also tried to keep track of how many pieces I underglazed each week. This was harder because of how many times I apply underglaze to the same piece; the resulting tally wasn't particularly accurate. I also kept to-do lists on post-its and the backs of packaging all over the studio. Usually a daily or weekly to-do list would include "chores" like recycling clay or a list of the pieces I plan to finish that week.

Wet clay "arches" drying on my wedging table

I also kept a sketchbook page with simple renderings of works finished for a particular installation I hope to create this winter. This sketchbook index helped me keep track of what I'd done. Since something was constantly drying under plastic or firing in the kiln or moved around the studio to make space, I tended to forget what I had made.

What is hiding underneath the plastic sheets?

Of course, there are items that more readily lend themselves to keeping a tally. It is easy to track how many pieces I finish or fire or glaze. It is more difficult to track aesthetic achievements. I can tally work completed but I must become subjective when I try to count how many "good" pieces I have completed or how close I am to "ready" for a particular show.

How many good pieces are piled under my cabinet?

I try to keep track of the important things in the studio: the things I value. However, the act of keeping track can become a distortion. When it is difficult to tally the important achievements, I might end up tallying something that approximates my important achievements but is easier to count. The mere fact that I am tracking it then increases the importance of that data point.

I encounter this at school, too. Faculty are encouraged to make "data-based" decisions. But, again, what we can track doesn't always match what we value. Tests and scores are much easier to track and compare, but don't always account for subtler idiosyncrasies of an individual learner or an individual question, situation, class, etc. Interpretation is pulled at least one step away from the experience of the individual student and the individual teacher.

At home and at school I regularly make to-do lists and checklists of what I need to do or want to do or hope to do. Since January, I have been keeping track of the books I read. I started doing this because I was curious how many books I read (or listen to) in a given year. However, the count started shifting regular reading into a competition. I suspect the fact that I am keeping count means that I have read more books this year than last. Similarly, I made more pieces this summer than last summer, but I find it harder to be confident that the works completed this year were stronger than the works completed last year.

At the end of the summer studio season, I have been thinking a lot about what I accomplished this summer and how best to spend those long hours in those short months. As the school year has started, I have also been thinking about how best to spend the very limited hours I can squeeze in between school and family time. I can't say I've gotten very far in making decisions about this time, but I've certainly been thinking on it.