It seems like people want me to live on the surface, caught up in the frenzy of details, most of which are just manufactured in order to promote an unspoken agenda. When I was a kid, we had an in ground swimming pool. I liked to go to the deep end and see how long I could hold my breath. I’m not just saying this to draw an analogy. When I was a junior in high school, I was able to hold my breath longer than any other kid in my school. When we sold that house, we moved to a palm lined West African beach. I swam in the hot springs at Yankari National Park in Bauchi State, Nigeria. The sides of the spring were clay, and when I dug at the sides of it with my fingertips, the water turned milky. I held my breath a long time and stayed hidden in the opaque water until those around me became worried.
This was my intent.
They make so many products to keep kids on the surface. Life jackets, water wings, boogie boards, pool noodles. I understand wanting to keep your kids safe in the water, don’t get me wrong.
My brother shared some videos with me about people who hold their breath for incredible lengths of time, swimming deep in the ocean, with no oxygen tank. They say they are tapping into some latent ability from when our ancestors lived in the sea. And yes, I draw a metaphor here.
I think people want me to live on the surface, where all the splashing and screaming, all the thrashing and drama happens. I want to see how long I can hold my breath, and watch the ribbons of refracted light undulate along the wall of the pool.
I want to find the currents that flow deep down below all that craziness. I know I’ll return to it. To the madness. To the fever, but when I am painting, or writing, or throwing a pot… when I am reading, hiking a river, sitting by a bonfire, or doing anything authentic that nourishes my soul, I just want to hold my spiritual breath and stay there for as long as I can.
I made several pieces over the weekend. One is this fish bowl. I made it to match the cup I used at work last week. I spent quite a lot of time looking at the design which only took me a minute or two to inscribe into the wet clay. There is a different feel that happens when the clay is wet, rather than leather hard.
I want to glaze it the same way, too, with that cobalt blue, and wipe it away in places to give that pop of brown clay, and the wonderful surprises that happen along the transition line and in the recesses.
I love the texture of the drawings against my fingers. It gives a secure grip, and a connection to things I love. Art, time alone in my studio, connecting to my innermost self… When that path becomes well worn, as it has, it is easily accessible… almost effortless. Some days, a touchstone like this may assist me.
When I’m just sitting, I’m drawing pot shapes. I carry a sketchbook around with me, and sketch variations on forms. Sometimes I draw the same form over and over so I can expirament with decoration. One pot design stood out to me more than the others. It was a quick sketch, and it just appealed to me. I would have paid an experienced potter to make it for me. The more I looked at it over the next few days, the more I realized it was really just two bowls and some simple handles.
I didn’t sleep much at all last night. One of the the things going through my mind was that sketch. I had nothing on my calendar for today, so I decided to try to make that pot. It was worth a try.
I’ve been in my pajamas all day.
I’ve been doing a lot of things, but I haven’t left the house. I like days like this. I can devote my entire mind to creative thoughts. Sleeplessness isn’t so bad when I know I can take a nap anytime I want to.
It didn’t come out exactly as I had hoped. On top of that, I have to make a whole new lid for it. Part of the rim broke off in trimming. That’s the way it goes sometimes. I think I can make it better.
A few years ago, I was floundering a little bit. I was kind of overwhelmed. I was in the process of adopting my kids, but I hadn’t met them yet. I felt some pressure about a painting, and so I just started painting flounders. I guess you could say flounders became my spirit animal for a while, and entered my visual vocabulary. They still show up from time to time no matter what medium I am using to express myself.
Two days ago, I drew a bottle design with a stopper in my notebook. Yesterday I made it. This morning I trimmed the bottle. Today I worked out how I liked a flounder to lay across the fat little bottle. After work, I inscribed the design into the leather-hard clay, and left it to dry. It was all very satisfying.
Today my friend Lisa sent me a picture of a stuffed halibut at the local second hand store, so I went over there as quick as I could after work, sure that something like that would sell quickly.
I really didn’t need it. I had already made a life size flounder that lives on my bed. It’s quite friendly. When I get under the covers it likes to lay across my lap. It lets me rest my computer on it, and then it lies very still the way flounders do.
I made one for each of my kids’ beds, too.
Well, the halibut was still there, but I didn’t buy it. It wasn’t the sliminess or the smell of seaweed that put me off, it was just much smaller than I expected. I was disappointed, but happy to have been thought of. Instead, I bought something else I definitely didn’t need… two earthenware jugs. They matched a collection I already had. Don’t judge me. I’m judging myself enough for both of us.
I took several days off from throwing pots, because I was in the process of bisque firing the 70 or so pots that had been accumulating on the shelves in my studio. As soon as they came out of the kiln, I glazed most of them and they went right back in for their final firing. The rest are waiting for their turn. It was a nice break. I painted, and started to get to know the new pots. They transform, you know. You think you know someone…
After work yesterday, I found myself home alone. That’s unusual. So I threw a couple of pieces. A small bottle with a stopper, and a bowl. And so it starts up again. I was up early this morning, inscribing and trimming.
Every time I go through the process, I learn something new. I learn what worked. What I want to do again. There are so many variables, that it never happens quite the same. There is always a surprise.
Pottery has given me a new appreciation for acrylic painting… for the immediacy of it. You can just dip a brush into paint and apply it to a surface. It’s that quick. You don’t have to buy expensive equipment like a wheel or kiln. It’s not a long process. I think the two mediums go hand in hand. They complement each other.
I’ve been staring at this painting (only half of it is pictured here) for many months now. Maybe a year or more. It has gone through a lot of transitions, and every one has left me feeling dissatisfied. That is just fine. It just means we aren’t at the end yet.
The calculating… the projecting and judging part of my brain has to step aside and let the more playful side… play.
Like everything else in life, every brushstroke I make is subject to change. It doesn’t really change unless I catch it while it’s still wet. It gets painted over. Embedded in layers of paint, it is more secure than ever, even if no one sees the colors.
A friend once asked me what the scratching is about. I scratch into the paint with the back end of the paintbrush.
If I put a fresh color over a color that is incorporated into the colors around it, that new color looks like it’s been painted on top, or on the surface, which it has. Scratching through it anchors it visually to the paint that is under and around it.
This painting is a neighborhood, and I’d like for the neighbors to get along. I see a white house. I see a blue house with an attached garage. I see the sushi chef and church choir. I doubt you will see what I see. If you look, you may see things I missed.
It’s not done anyway. It sits on my easel and watches me make pots. It’s in no hurry.