Sunday, January 11, 2015


I’ve read a lot about how to foster creativity and found that common themes include protecting the time that you have to practice your craft and showing up to do the work. One of the writers on this topic who really speaks to me is Clarissa Pinkola Estés (CPE) who devotes chapter 10 (Clear Water: Nourishing the Creative Life) of Women Who Run with the Wolves to just that. I very much like the metaphor of creativity as a river that can get dammed up or polluted. It is our job to remove the logjams and clean up the river. CPE gives us nine steps to “take back the river”.

1. Receive nurturance ~ Accomplishing this first step is as simple as accepting compliments about your craft, savor them and fight the negative talk we have with ourselves about not being good enough. Practice just saying “Thank you!” when you receive a compliment. It's surprisingly difficult to do!

There’s another form of nurturance that Julia Cameron mentions in The Artist’s Way. She refers to it as “filling the well” (again, the water metaphor, which I think is so apt). Cameron suggests blocking out time every week to go on “artist dates” to refresh the soul. This can be as simple as going for a walk or taking a bubble bath, or could be a trip to a craft fair or museum. The point is that this is your time, alone.

2. Respond ~ “Creativity is the ability to respond to all that goes on around us”

3. Be wild ~ For the river of creativity to flow we must “…allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing.” 

      In his online lecture on creativity, John Cleese also highlights the importance of humor, noting that it’s essential to spontaneity and playfulness, and that laughter leads to relaxation, which results in creativity (see April 10, 2012 posting in this blog).

      4. Begin ~ Just do it! If fear of failure is what’s keeping you back, then “Let your fear leap out and bite you so you can get it over with and go on.” 

      Steven Pressfield also looks at the issue of fear in The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, and says that fear and resistance are indicators of the importance of our endeavor to the growth of our soul. 

      John Cleese notes that fear of making mistakes stops creativity; we must know that whatever the outcome, nothing is wrong!

     5. Protect your time ~ Do not allow interruptions during your precious creative time. Put up a sign if necessary: “Artist at work. Do not disturb.”  In his lecture on creativity, John Cleese also underlines the importance of undisturbed time.

6. Stay with it ~ This simply means to keep showing up and, if necessary, tie yourself to the pottery wheel. This is a way of saying to all the negative thoughts and excuses we make for not being creative that we will not cooperate with them. Sometimes we go into the studio and it becomes quite easy to start doing trivial things, rather than the deep creative work. For this reason, it’s important to carve out enough time to be able to get past this initial busyness.

7.  Protect your creative life ~ Again, just show up to do the work… practice every day.

8.  Craft your real work ~ “Insist on a balance between pedestrian responsibility and rapture.” In other words, make your art a priority.

9.  Lay out nourishment for the creative life ~ According to CPE there are four basic food groups to nourish the creative soul: time, belonging, passion, and sovereignty.

Other really good books on this topic are:

  • Carla Needleman: The Work of Craft: An Inquiry into the Nature of Crafts and Craftsmanship
  • Robert Piepenburg: Treasures of the Creative Spirit: An Artist's Understanding of Human Creativity
  •  M.C. Richards: Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person
  • Julia Cameron: The Vein of Gold

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Sharp shinned hawk*
It is only 20 steps from the back door of the house to the studio door. The pebbles on the walk have frozen together and crunch loudly with each step. The birds and squirrels eat non-stop. The juvenile sharp-shined hawk keeps coming by for lunch. Chris worries about his birds with the hawk around. I do too, but I still don't let him scare it away: it's cold, it too needs nourishment. The hawk doesn't catch anything today and flies off. We haven't seen the rabbit in a while, but there's evidence that it lives under the studio, where it's probably nice and warm with the heater on all night. The fox hasn't been around in a few days, but we've seen the tracks in the snow and there are a lot of mousy treats around here to keep him going.

Keeping the throwing water warm.
It's 22 degrees F on a sunny, frigid day with snow on the ground. I left the oil-filled radiator heater on high last night when the temperature dipped to 8 degrees F. Last year, when the temps also got this low, I neglected to leave the heater on one night and ended up with frozen clay and glazes. Still, though not frozen, the clay and throwing water are cold. In addition to bringing buckets of hot water from the house, I put a bucket on the heater to keep the water warm. Another trick to fend off the cold water is to lather my hands with Bag Balm.

auxiliary heater
It's 52 degrees F in the studio at 1:15pm. It's warm enough, but I still turn on the auxiliary heater aimed at my feet. My feet are always cold in any weather so at these temps it's especially important to keep them warm. I have a pair of too-large green Crocs that can accommodate several pairs of socks: a pair of white cotton socks, a pair of fuzzy purple socks, and a pair of blue wool socks (handmade by Mom).

3 pairs of socks.

That was today in the studio.

* Couldn't get a photo of the hawk so I got this one online.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Channeling Dad's Cousin Chichín

Antonia and Chichín in the 1950s
 My father's cousin Rubén Benítez Heyneh ("Chichín") was a painter and university professor in Uruguay. His wife, Antonia Jordá, was also an artist. Before we came to the US, my family used to visit Chichín and Antonia and their two kids often. I have fond memories of the fun we children had running around their back yard, unbothered by adults. One thing that fascinated me was the wood-burning kiln that Antonia had in a shed in the back. 
Car headlights on a dark, rainy street, or moon over the water?

On a trip back to Uruguay in the early 1960s, we visited them again and Chichín showed my parents his sketch book and some of the paintings he was working on. He gave my parents a beautiful black, white and blue abstract painting, which now sits in my younger brother's house in St. Louis. 

by Rubén Benítez
I was a rather shy young teen then (14 years old), but could not contain my excitement looking at Chichín's work. I finally ventured to say that I really liked a particular abstract work. Chichín asked me what I thought it represented and, without any hesitation, I told him that it was the headlights of a car on a dark, rainy street. He thought that was a good enough answer (although his inspiration had been the moon over the water at night), and gave me the painting. It is one of my most precious posessions.

Chichín's painting has found its way to some of my recent pots:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

New York, New York!

A trip to New York City to show my visiting niece, Laura, the sights was an unexpected source of inspiration for my yarn bowls.

I was fascinated by the buildings and took so many pictures that it's difficult to decide which ones I like best. It was the vertical and horizontal lines w/ all the small square windows that called my attention...


... and found their way to the yarn bowls

Friday, July 25, 2014

Family collaboration: SRL joins Glynt Pottery

My granddaughter loves to draw. I particularly like her manga/animé sketches. (You can learn all you need to know about manga, and then some, from wikipedia.) As Sofie tells me drawing in the manga style is all about mood. Well, I'm her grandma and to me everything she does es excellent. And, I'm a potter so after seeing several of her manga sketches I thought : "I can put that on a mug!"

I made the suggestion to Sofie and she reluctantly made three sketches, two of which I've put on a mug as a first test on how to best work with them. I think I'll have her draw some directly on the clay instead of having me copy them. And maybe we'll try painting them on over a white glaze.

Glynt and SRL
 I'm thinking I'll make some tree ornaments for the holidays and maybe I'll put one on a yarn bowl.

In any case, Sofie has been promised a third of the proceeds from any item sold that features her drawings. And she said she will make some more sketches in different moods.

It's cool to be 9!
I think she was pretty happy with the results and especially w/ the idea that she would get paid for them! She put her initials on the bottom of the mug right next to my signature.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Still chasing after texture

Earlier this year I mentioned that I was looking for more texture in my work (see 2/1/14 entry), and working more in dark, iron-rich clay. Following the platters that I made then, I have done other experiments that take their cue from a demonstration by Bryan Hopkins that I saw a couple of years ago at Arrowmont, and which has been percolating in the back of my head ever since. The idea is to cut a section off a piece, texture it, and put it back. Simple enough! 

The first thing I did, to test the process was this little green tumbler.
I liked it so much that I made a set of four, this time using dark clay. And instead of glazing the whole piece, I used different oxides on the textured area and left it unglazed. I like the idea of having different textures in one piece, especially something, like a tumbler, that is going to be handled by the user. The unglazed, textured area provides a resting place for the hand as well as the eye. 

I used a roller to texture the clay that I removed and reinserted. The roller stretched the clay and made it taller than the rest of the piece. I left this additional height to bring even more attention to the piece. I also put an extra ribbon of clay around it to frame the textured area and draw even more attention to it. The extra height, the texture, the unglazed surface, and the frame around it mean that the pieces are all about that very small portion of the whole.

The set of four tumblers in various colors sold right away on Etsy! I also made a vase using the same process. 

Once I figured out how to do it on cylinder shapes I tried this process on bowls. So I made what I call "contemplation bowls" to be used during meditation or as a decorative item, maybe to float a bloom in it or sit a pillar candle in a bed of coffee beans.

In this case, I took out a circle from the side of the bowl, textured it and returned it to its place but, again, making sure to draw attention to it. Instead of using the piece that I had cut out of the bowl, I used a darker clay and then used oxides rather than glazes on the outside, which gives a tactile experience that is quite different from the smoothness of a glazed bowl. The inside of the bowl is where all the action is! I melted marbles on the inside and sprinkled copper oxide to make for a lot of interest as you're looking into the bowl.

I'm also using this technique on my ubiquitous yarn bowls. Here are three yarn bowls I made yesterday. It's a real move away from the flower and curlicue motifs I've been using so far. Although, the idea is not completely new since I have made yarn bowls where I would, say, cut out a butterfly or heart and then place the cutout on the other side of the bowl. This, however, is not only more abstract, but I'm trying to reimagine the portion taken out by texturing it and putting it back in its place in a different form. I plan to also use oxides in addition to glazes on these. The end result will be a lot more earthy and rustic than my usual yarn bowls. I don't know how that will over.

I also made a couple of "wrapped" vases, something that I used to do a very long time ago. In this case, I took some bandages and soaked them in slip and then wrapped them around the shoulder of the vase. My thought was to give the vase a scarf around it's neck to keep it warm. The "scarf" was washed in red iron oxide and waxed so that it would not take the rich iron glaze. It stands out because of its rough texture and darker color.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A larger studio

1. New 8x10ft space was added on to the existing studio
This week I began working in my new, improved studio. The inside of the studio addition that we started back in April is now finished. There are still a few things to do on the outside, like painting it and building a small deck and some steps. After 16 years of working in a 12ft by 10ft studio, the addition now gives me a 20ft by 10ft space, which to me seems huge!

The first image show the throwing and hand-building area which is now in the new part of the studio. The glazing, decorating, firing area is in the old part of the studio. I know that I will probably be rearranging things for a while as I start working in the new space. I am exhilarated by all the table and shelf space I have now!

2. View from the front door.
After thinking about it for a long while, I decided not to put in additional windows in the new space. Instead, I chose to use the wall space for added shelves. There already is an existing window and we installed a glass door that gives me a view as well as additional light. I might still decide at some point to put in skylights, but for now the lighting is quite good and I'm satisfied.

3. Pugmill and glazing area in the old studio.
Glazing used to involve a delicate dance around buckets as well as placing ware boards over every flat surface to have sufficient space to put down just-glazed pots. Now, I have oodles of table space for glazing, and I purchased dollies for glaze buckets (as well as the clay bin), which makes my life so much easier! 

The other side of the old studio will be for decorating and also the kiln is at the very back.
4. Decorating table

It really took a long time to get to this point. One of the reasons is that we are doing this ourselves (that is, my darling husband is doing it by himself). Another reason is the wet weather we've had (and continue to have) which meant that there were many days when we were unable to work. 

Also, the last month was devoted to watching the World Cup matches: what fun! Fútbol is part of the soul of every Uruguayan and, although I was only 10 when I arrived in the US, I still carry the imprint of La Celeste. As always, watching the games brought memories of going to the stadium with Dad when we still lived in Montevideo. When we came here in the 60s there were no Soccer Moms and no one played fútbol. Dad, however, was determined to listen to the 1966 World Cup. So he bought a short-wave radio and slung a long copper wire up to the tallest tree in our yard to act as an antenna. And we huddled around the radio to listen to the matches and yelled "GOOOOOOOOLLLLLL"

So now, I got my fill of fútbol. I cheered for Uruguay and when we lost to Colombia, I cheered for the US, and finally I cheered for every team because it was a really exciting World Cup. And, I'm back at work in a brand new clean studio. Time to get muddy!