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