Archive for the ‘Artist’s Thoughts’ Category

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Working in the Woods


Pinch Pot OcainaFirst of all, parked in a paved space with a motor coach at a state park filled with amenities is hardly the woods. And secondly, doing what I do with clay while sitting beside a campfire is so far removed from work that I should be ashamed for typing in the title of this post. OK. I’m over it, but Manipulating Clay in the Comfort of Resort Living is not the sort of title that gets anyone’s attention, right?

The Labor Day weekend has been glorious and restful and fun.  I pulled out a ball of clay last evening just because it was a different stoneware than I have been using for the last year. Sure, I knew that ultimately it would become an flute or an ocarina, but I began the project with just the slightest idea of what I wanted and more in tune with what the clay was telling me it was capable of doing.  The result is a piece that is a bit eclectic and full of discovery and exploration.  The clay is a high fire stoneware and I am not terribly concerned about the survival of the musical parts if the piece actually turns out to be something worthy of decoration.  That is quite a paradigm shift for me…so I’ll rationalize my title as something that the woods is doing that is working.

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Ocarina Clay – Campground Social Media


We parked the RV in a well shaded space in familiar territory at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Historically, the fourth of July weekend begins several days before the 4th when the best camping spaces are filled by other first-come-first-served-savvy campers…they were here early staking claims, just like we were.

After the normal cooking area, dining tent, RV awning, and general hook ups were complete, a small folding camp table and a circle of chairs found their way around the metal fire ring. Fire rings are the designated spots where campers are allowed to build campfires in their respective sites without raising the eyebrows of a friendly park ranger. Let’s review quickly here: Middle Tennessee, July, humidity, and a thermometer that reads like it is set on London Broil* – there will be no campfire in this space on this weekend, but it is the accepted space for conversation. To the campfire set-up recipe, I add my clay tools, a spray bottle, a bucket of water, several pounds of pre-mixed stoneware clay, and a handful of my favorite toys clay tools.

Vinepod OcarinaI’m pretty sure that I made it all they way through making the first pinch pot before Ruby, a precocious 8-year-old, walked from the adjoining campsite to ask, “Who are you and what are you making?” By the time the airway on the first ocarina produced a whistle, Ruby’s dad stopped by along with a small contingent of people who seemed astounded that some old dude was making instruments out of clay. The parade of folks stopping by to watch and ask questions during the weekend stay was never an interruption, it was the perfect ‘social media’ to connect total strangers, long-time friends, and even family members to chat about building sculptural ocarinas.

While my long-time friend, Breakfast Bob, was taping a short “how to” segment on his Flip camera, he commented that we needed to take this show on the road. Ocarina building attracted all ages and all types, including the itinerant. campground evangelist couple who suggested that the pottery building thing was a great hook for a ministry. As for me, I’ll stick with Ruby and her friends who wore the pavement out next to our site, waving and yelling, “Hi, Paul” with each bicycle drive-by.

*The weather was actually unseasonably cool for this particular trip, but the threat of steamy weather remains…and this is my story , so hush!

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The Emperor’s New Flute

Trumphlute Three
Trumphlute Two
The Emperor's New Flute

I do wish that I had images of the rest of the TrumPhlutes that were part of this series. In the rush to get these from the kiln to a sale, photography became a victim of the crunch. It is a lesson that I learned well and is the reason that I compulsively photograph at various stages of production just so that I do not forget. So what else am I thinking about?…

While forming these strange contraptions, there are a few multi-dimensional thoughts rattling around in my noggin. First of all, it is important that the whistle (or flute) actually play…not always so much that it plays well, but that it simply creates a respectable tone when the player blows air through the airway. I can visualize customers who see these for the first time..and love the change in facial expression when they hear the instrument play for the first time.

Secondly, I believe the form of the piece should allow for whimsical interpretation of some historical reference or context. Often, that interpretation is seeded with a title that provides direction for the fantasy of whimsy. The Emperor’s New Flute (the title of this piece) is a less than subtle reference to a favorite childhood story that carries illusions of royal regalia and fantasy.

And finally, I consider it crucial that a piece should display well. What?, you say??…you are thinking about how someone might display a ceramic musical instrument as you build it? It is like this: if someone pays $40-$50 for something the size of a trinket, they generally don’t take it home or to the office and hide it in a drawer…it will be visible somewhere. So yes, I try to visualize how it might be displayed and attempt to provide clues for several options. For instance, what appears to be ceramic gymnastics in the images on the right are actually different ways that demonstrate intentional efforts to allow for display options. What is not shown is the use of the loop-lugs that would allow for this piece to be suspended or wall hung…or hanging around the emperor’s neck 🙂

It is time to revisit these small instruments. They were a hit at the only sale where I featured them. I can see more of them already, can’t you?

Note: click images for enlarged view

Top 5 Tips for Traveling with Clay


Portable Work Station for ClaySo you’d like to do some hand built clay projects while vacationing, right? Sitting by a campfire making pinch pots or lounging by the pool making buttons or whistles or something sounds attractive…well, I am there with you in spirit. Clay projects on the road aren’t for everyone, but if you enjoy getting your hands in the mud as much as I do, there is something therapeutic about doing clay with a change of scenery.

Here are my top 5 tips for making this enjoyable:

  1. Do some reverse planning. Heading back from your trip with several pieces of greenware could mean disaster. Take enough re-seal-able buckets, bins, or gallon ice cream buckets along with foam padding, so that you can safely transport your work home without fear of crushing or uneven drying.
  2. Think small. On-the-road is no time to be doing full-sized sculptural busts. Remember Tip #1, you still have to transport your projects home in a fragile condition. Generally, I think of limiting travel pieces to nothing larger than a softball and my workspace as small as a computer lapboard.
  3. Streamline your tool selection. It is so easy to get caught up in the I might need that syndrome that your toolbox is larger than you suitcase. Forgetaboutit! If you can hold every tool that you want to take with you in one hand, you are on the right track.
  4. One clay only. I carry no more than 5 to 7 pounds of wet stoneware on a week-long trip along with a very small, lidded container of slip made from the same clay. OK, you can carry two types of clay if you must, but it does complicate matters a bit more.
  5. Slow down and Play! Think of your travel time clay projects as a time to experiment and do things that you might never take time to do at home. Are there different, detailed textures that you’d like to try? Wouldn’t it be nice to have some fresh, custom, impression stamps to use later? What about making a small-scale, study model of something you have been considering? All that to say, don’t make your travel time with clay the same as you home/studio time.

Paul Pottery PoolsideOne last thing for all of my networking friends. If you are sitting by the pool, or by that campfire, or lounging beneath a beach umbrella with a lapboard project in-progress, count on a curious stranger stopping by to watch and ask questions. You can figure it out from there on how to make your new friend a new link in your network…you might even use some of those business cards for something besides a scoring tool or a means of rescuing a bug from your slip container 🙂

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Primordial Face


'Playing by Ear' WhistleSome of the earliest whistles and whistle pendants that I assembled included facial features and complete faces…it isn’t an original idea at all but it is definitely fun. The “Playing by Ear” whistle on the right is a favorite concept that needs to be revisited…but not now.  Small whistles happen by a campfire when small pieces are about the only things that I feel comfortable transporting in a delicate, greenware condition and frankly, a campfire is not a pleasant image in Middle Tennessee’s unseasonably hot weather (I regress).

So last night while procrastinating over a honey-do list and watching The Fugitive for the umteenth time, a subconscious acknowledgment the face-in-a-flute concept happenedFace of Primordial Music - OcarinaThis little guy’s face seemed to find his way out of the time-consuming texturing and finger-hole placement and into the world.  The usual curly handle of this series of ocarinas somehow sprouted a nose…and the next thing you know, he is a full octave, primordial faced, ocarina.

Dr. Bowen has been jabbering about broken flutes discovered at Uxmalico… something about captured breath that enters a flute being transformed into something ethereal.  Today’s technology can explain the harmonic vibrations that occur when a column of air splits at the fipple of an instrument and produces a tone.  For ancient Mesoamericans, wouldn’t it make sense that the transformation of human breath into something god-like via a magical implement would be logical?…and the act of breaking a flute at a burial site could represent the unbinding of a last breath to release the departed into an afterlife.  Ahhh, theory and mystery…more, later from Dr. B.

Un-Titled Ocarina


Pinch Pot Ocarina - June 2010I am not stressing over the idea that each of these musical instruments needs a title, but it is something that I am considering  more seriously after reading Allyson Stanfield’s post,  5 Reasons to Title Your Art .  Looking around at different online shops that sell ocarinas, there are few that do more than identify the key, the color, and perhaps the shape…and that may be enough for someone looking for a utilitarian device.   For someone seeking a conversation starter or a pedestal piece, I believe bestowing a title to each instrument will deepen the interest level.

About a year and a half ago, Terry Holiday on the MyCreativityBlog posted an article, “Giving Your Artwork a Creative Title“.  Terry’s suggestion for brainstorming ideas are noteworthy.  I particularly appreciate the idea of including place, emotion, and color into a creative naming convention.

As I work through the processes to get these things beyond a fragile greenware state, the mental exercise of generating titles must be tempered with an old adage , “Don’t get attached to your pots until they are out of the kiln.”  For ocarinas, I’ll go with, “Don’t title your toots until they’re toast.”

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Nashville ‘Art Destination’


American Artisan Festival 2010 - Nashville, TNIt is not surprising that Nashville made the American Style Top 25 Big Cities, destinations for art. We certainly love our music and we have some amazing venues for hosting music, theater, and art exhibits.  From my perspective, the fine arts dominate the studio, gallery, and museum scenes in Nashville and that may be the justification for the American Style selection.  Of course, I would love to see clay artists (potters or sculptors) take a more prominent position in the community (and there ARE some notable choices among clay artists)… but as for a sense of community among clay folks in the area, it is a weak link in the arts’ chain and that is reflected in the absence of public studios, workshop opportunities, and cooperatives.  Perhaps Nashville is just a little too far removed, geographically, from the traditional arts of Appalachia to be a mecca for clay people. I’ll not even entertain the stale, potters aren’t artists debate…save that for the classroom.

This coming weekend, the 40th American Artisan Festival will take over Nashville’s Centennial Park and will provide a great fair-style show with 165 exhibitors. This is a show that I will meander through in spite of the hot-humid forecast.  If the attendance at the Spring TACA show is any indication, the era of run-and-gun sales at outdoor craft shows in Nashville may be on the decline. I am still hopeful, however, that low attendance is just a cyclical economic indicator.  Ya’ll come on down!

P.S.  No. I am not showing at this event.